Sunday, December 28, 2003

Hamonic Progressions

Camp Harmony doesn't start until Tuesday, but I realized tonight that I needed to get all my packing done now, since I won't have time tomorrow night, when I'll be visiting Mom and Lacey and Quena. Packing's not too bad, though I always get paranoid that I'll forget something that's important to have when you're stuck out in the woods for five days. Oh well. Progress is being made.

I've also been trying to prepare a bit for the music theory class I want to teach. I should have started that a while ago. I haven't really been teaching at all this year, so I'm not in practice. I resurrected my old notes and handouts from last year, though, so I've been making more copies and just generally reviewing stuff and trying to remember how to go about teaching it. We'll see how it goes. I'm not sure yet what else I'll be teaching. Maybe cross-step waltz again, since that's gone over well in the past. Polka might be fun to do for a change, too. I haven't really thought of anything new to do, though.

Anyway, don't anybody bother to try to contact me this week. No computer and no cell-phone reception up there. But it'll probably be good for me to get away from a computer screen for a while. I'll be back sometime on the 4th. Happy New Year!

Friday, December 26, 2003

Merry Christmas!

Happy yesterday to everyone!

Lacey and I spent the first part of the day at Dad and Betty Lue's new house with various Waldon-side relatives. (Dad and Betty Lue moved in last week and, as expected, they seem to have been there forever.) The gift exchange was the highly amusing part, of course, though there were some rather odd presents involved this year. I ended up with 3/4 of a set of four wine glasses (I don't drink wine) and a package of Hanukkah candles (doubly ironic, since Hanukkah is almost over). They're pretty candles, at least. And I'm very glad to have gotten them since they were an act of mercy from my cousin Pam, trading me for the jar of olive tapenade I had gotten. I don't know what tapenade is, but I don't like olives in general and these particular olives looked like several people had already not enjoyed them much, either. Blech. Jaime won the prize for most presents opened because he kept getting things that were very much not rowdy-six-year-old-boy presents (he seemed to gravitate towards delicate glass objects). So adults, on their turn, would relieve him of such presents, allowing him to open more. That kept him a lot happier than anything he actually got, I think. Anyway, lots of fun there.

We spent the rest of the day at Monee and Pa's house, making an unprecedented two days in a row with the entire batch of Waldon-Boone cousins visiting together. That was great. I think the most fun story to tell of the evening, though, would have to have been Pa receiving his iPod. Faced with the open box, he decided the most efficient way to get the iPod out was to upturn the packaging and dump it all unceremoniously onto his lap, styrofoam, manuals and all. This crime against beautiful product and packaging design sent Paul and Greg into absolute conniptions. They took it all away from him and proceeded to lovingly reassemble everything from their memories of opening their own iPods. Then they gave it back and walked him through it, making sure he savored every bit of the presentation. Either way, he definitely liked it....

Curtis (to me): "Do you have an iPod?"
Me: "No... but I'm starting to want one."
Pa: "Ooh! Ask me if I have an iPod!"
Curtis: "Do you have an iPod?"
Pa (beaming): "YES!!!"

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Mordor Gingerbread

Today was the First Ever Christmas Eve Boone-Haas-Waldon-Cavalli Gathering. Much fun was had by all, particularly in the making of the gingerbread houses. We had three very nice, standard houses, covered with candy and all very happy looking. Cristie, being the archaeologist of the family, created a site of ancient gingerbread ruins. It included crumbling pillars, bones, pottery shards, and roped off areas of excavation. The candy decoration was on the sparse side.

Curtis, however, had what I thought to be the genius idea of the group. He built Orthanc out of gingerbread. That was cool. He even got a round, orange gummy candy, put a dark M&M in the middle, and made the Eye of Sauron at the top. I got to help him create the rest of it, and I spent quite a while trying to make a gummy bear Nazgûl on an evil candy cane beast with pretzel wings. There was a marshmallow Mount Doom, with red licorice lava, and Frodo, Sam and Gollum creeping up the side (more gummy bears). The black gates of Morder became white, since we had to use sugar cubes. A gummy bear orc army waited behind while two circus animal cookie cave trolls stood gaurd on top.

That was all set up. The real problem came when we started to decorate. Once you start sticking frosting and colored candy all over something, it starts to look decidedly less evil. Still, we did our best and I think we really made it about as evil as could be expected of a gingerbread house. Take a look at some of the pictures, though, and judge for yourself.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Happy birthday, Maya!

Saturday, December 20, 2003

An Achy Breaky Week

Things have been breaking this week. It's very silly. It all started last weekend when I took fRed in for an oil change and ended up with him getting three different valve or gaskety type things replaced to stop various leaks. Then there were the broken modem difficulties, which have already been chronicled here. On Tuesday, we woke up to find the bottom of our water heater (in the hall outside my room) had rusted out, and water was slowly covering the hallway. Arthur, in one of his standard acts of heroism, got us a new one and installed it. This was followed shortly after by our bathroom sink springing a leak, and also being fixed by Arthur (I assume, since I was gone at the time).

I'm pretty sure something's got to be broken in Alameda, because I get lost every single blessed time I try to go to the Friday Night Waltz there. I also think that many dancers had broken cars last night, since the dance was about a third of its usual size (lots of room for redowas and polkas, though). One thing that was certainly not broken, however, was the dance to Chopin's B minor waltz. That was a good dance.

Meanwhile, though, fRed was starting to experience new problems. The oil light started flashing ominously on the way to the dance, and when I got out of the car, I could smell the oil from a leak that had supposedly been fixed last weekend. The dipstick registered absolutely nada. Luckily, I stayed overnight at the Attias' house, and Armand took me out to get some oil this morning. I had to pour four quarts in before heading home and taking fRed back to Midas, where they found that, in the process of fixing something last week, they busted something else. But they're repairing it for free right now, at least.

So I guess it's just been one of those weeks. Hopefully things will get back to normal soon. Right now, everything seems to be under control (knock on wood). So I'm just relaxing inside with a nice cup of hot Thai iced tea. Which, I guess, would just be Thai tea. Whatever it is, it's good.

Happy birthday, Carol!

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The Return of the King

(Note: This shouldn't be too much of a spoiler, but still... if you haven't read the books, well, you deserve what you get.)

The movie was awesome. There were still a lot of battle scenes, but I enjoyed them a lot more than in The Two Towers. The scenes with Gandalf riding out to meet the Nazgûl and with the Rohirrim gathering to charge the orcs outside Minas Tirith were especially powerful. (Minas Tirith was beautiful, by the way.) I also really appreciated the views of all the cool creatures. The Mumakil and the winged steeds of the Nazgûl were particularly awesome. There were also some shots of cave trolls, a warg, and some giant mutant rhinoceros sort of things towing a siege tower. I liked how the lead orc was white, in a sort of visual parallel to Gandalf the White.

As for things that were left out, well, the obvious one was their last adventure returning to the Shire. I kind of expected that, but I was still a bit disappointed. No, it probably wouldn't have fit within an accepted flow of action for a movie, but if it was good enough for Tolkein it would have been really cool of them to have taken a shot at it. Oh well. Overall, I thought it turned out quite well, so I'm happy. Go see it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

The Templar Revelation

"Scholars have confessed themselves puzzled over the basic question as to why Christianity -- out of all the Messiah cults of that time and place -- should have been the one to survive and flourish. As we have seen, the reason why the Jesus movement was almost the only such group to have gained lasting ground outside Judaea was that it was already recognizable as a mystery cult. The secret of its appeal was that it was essentially a hybrid, a blend of certain aspects of Judaism and of pagan, mystery school elements. Christianity was unique because it was reassuringly familiar to many Jews and also to Gentiles, while at the same time being excitingly different."
- Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, The Templar Revelation

This book has a lot of very interesting stuff about Jesus and early Christianity. One of the most surprising things was this connection of Christianity to pagan religions, particularly the Isian religion of Egypt (the worship of the goddess Isis). Pretty much all the mythological aspects of Jesus' life (virgin birth, resurrection, the various miracles, etc.) can be traced back there. The Lord's Prayer came from an Egyptian prayer to the sun god, beginning "Amon, Amon, who art in heaven...". Baptism was an Egyptian tradition (I had always assumed it must have been Jewish, since John the Baptist baptized Jesus). While Jesus may have been ethnically a Jew, there is a lot of evidence for his teachings being pretty far removed from Judaism.

The authors also spend a lot of time exploring the roles played by John the Baptist and Mary Magdalene, which have been considerably edited and downplayed by the Gospels and the Church over the centuries. The information about Mary Magdalene was particularly interesting because of the implications it has for viewing women as the spiritual equals of men. Apparently, in the first couple centuries C.E., women could not only be priests, but even bishops. Things changed around the time of the Council of Nicaea, of course, with the decisions and declarations about what was and wasn't Christianity, and the labeling of so much documentation as heretical.

The Council of Nicaea is something I still want to learn more about. The interpretations tend to come in two versions: 1) The council members were divinely inspired, had the right idea, chose the most accurate sources to base the religion on, etc. or 2) They made their decisions based entirely on what would work best to give the Church the power, control, or whatever that they needed. It seems that I tend to read things that work off one assumption or the other, whereas I would like to see some direct discussion of it to see where such an assumption would come from. That's actually the same issue that came up for me when I was reading The Case for Christ (by Lee Strobel) about a year ago. The whole argument of that book was very good if you accept his trust in the Gospels, which to me was the weakest part.

The Case for Christ is something I should probably go back and re-read parts of now, though, for comparison. One thing I did notice about The Templar Revelation was that the authors seem to assume that Jesus didn't necessarily die on the cross (which of course means that he wouldn't have been resurrected). Given that Strobel made a very good argument for that, I would have liked to see it addressed more. But still, Picknett and Prince had a lot of good stuff to say, regardless of which way you go on that particular question.

What I did like about this book, though, was that they're not just pulling all this stuff out of their hats and making up conjectures. A great deal of what they do is just collating independent research from many different historians, and showing how much historical evidence has been accumulated over the last century or so that isn't necessarily common knowledge, particularly in the Christian community, where a lot of the ideas would be rather problematic.

So anyway, this is an extremely interesting book, which I highly recommend. It's certainly a good follow-up to The Da Vinci Code, if you want to see where some of that stuff is coming from.

Monday, December 15, 2003


A little while back I might have mentioned trying a new approach to working on sight-reading/piano-playing. So I've been trying that out for a few weeks now with some Joplin tunes. I've been working on playing the Swipesy Cakewalk all that time (as something constant to try to get decent at) but then I've also been cycling through others. I spent a week each on Magnetic Rag and the Sunflower Slow Drag, and now I'm starting the Pineapple Rag. They're all in B-flat, and of course they're all in the same style, so there's a lot of similarity for them to reinforce each other. But there's still enough difference that I can practice my sight-reading. I find that after a week on a piece, even just playing it once a day, I've got it in my head enough that the reading practice isn't doing as much good anymore, but it's given my hands a better chance to actually learn something from it than if I were just playing something different each day. So that's when it's time to move on (I can't play a piece in any remotely presentable way at this stage, of course, but that's not the point). Today was sort of cool because I actually noticed myself doing one of the things they always say you're supposed to do when sight reading, which is to recognize shapes and formations in the notation, rather than reading each individual note. I've known that advice for a while, but this was the first time I really noticed myself applying it in a useful way. Very encouraging.

Another good thing about this practice is that it's gotten me liking the key of B-flat a bit more. It's never been one of my favorites, but it's pretty heavily represented in Joplin tunes, so getting to like it is good. (Flipping through the book, I see absolutely nothing in some of favorite keys, like B minor or E major. Sounds like a future composition project.) The E-flat episodes have a particular lack of appeal for me, but the Pineapple Rag might change that a bit. Those C-flat chords thrown into it just make everything so much cooler.

At some point I want to start working on classical stuff again, too. The problem with that is that I'm much less confident about figuring stuff out on my own without lessons. Someday I'll have to seek out a teacher again. Of course, it may have to compete with possible singing lessons, an idea planted in my head by Mom recently. So many things to learn....


Thanks to housemate-network-guy-Dave, we now have a wireless network here at home. This is very exciting, and not only because we can connect to the internet again. It also means that I can get rid of this darn ethernet cord that comes out of the ceiling in my closet, goes under my bed, under my rug, and across my floor before it reaches the computer at my desk. It will be strangely satisfying to roll that up and out of the way after almost two years. I think I'll go do that now.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

A New Home for the Contra Dance

The dance last night was much fun, as usual. (Contra dancing somehow always makes me happy.) One of the best parts of the evening, though, was finding out that we found a new home for next quarter. We've known for a while that we were going to have to be out of the YWCA (along with everyone else) by the end of the year, but this is the first anyone's heard of where we'll actually be. The new location will be the First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto, literally about 3 blocks from my house. All selfishness aside, I'd say it's a pretty good location. Downtown will be convenient for people wanting dinner before the dance, and for the traditional excursions to the Creamery afterwards. Best of all, it's nice and close to Stanford (easy biking distance) so maybe that will help get more students going there again. We'll see. If anybody wants to come contra dancing, see and/or ask me about it.

Daniel and Dave were playing around with upgrading some part of our modem or something yesterday and succeeded in completely demolishing our internet connection here. (I posted yesterday's entry during a brief visit to the library.) So Phileas and I are going to go look for another connection somewhere. We can probably mooch off our neighbors' wireless connection long enough to download some email and post a blog entry. If you're reading this, it worked.

Saturday, December 13, 2003


Wow! My blog is blog of the day, over at Feedster. Thanks, Betsy!

Friday, December 12, 2003

Musical Surprises

I had never seen My Fair Lady before I started it tonight, and didn't really know much about it, but certainly something I did not expect to find in it was overtone singing.

For those of you who don't know the story, it's about a linguistics professor taking a bet to teach a London commoner to speak like a duchess. That's enough of a synopsis for our purposes. Early on, there's a scene where Professor Higgins (Rex Harrison) and Colonel Pickering (someone else) are having some sort of linguistically geeky conversation. Higgins taps a tuning fork, sings an A with it, and proceeds to sing overtones! It only lasts a few seconds, though, and then he asks Pickering how many vowel sounds he heard (claiming 130, surely some artistic license there) but I immediately rewound the tape to hear it again. Sure enough — there it was, a very basic example of exactly the Tuvan sort of stuff I've been trying to do. It was sort of fuzzy (and pretty obviously dubbed-over) but there it was. Wow.

This movie was made in 1964. I don't know for sure, but there can't have been much — if anything — known about Tuva or Tuvan throat singing known in the West around then. I wonder what other sorts of overtone singing were going on then? I'm really curious about that now.

I Feel All Important Now

My business cards arrived at work today. Real live business cards, with a logo and everything, not like those old ghetto ones that I used to print out and cut up myself. Pretty cool.

Now.... who on earth do I give them to? I have virtually no actual use for business cards. Oh well. At least they're nice to look at.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Journal Drawing

Every week at the Menlo Park Library I make sure to poke my head into their little booksale room to see if anything interesting has shown up recently. Last night I found a neat little treasure called Off the Road: An American Sketchbook, by Elisha Cooper. I very consciously tend to gravitate towards books (and music, art, etc.) that somehow exemplify something about what I want to do, or ways I want to be. This is a case of that.

The book begins thus: "I'm going to drive around America, New England, the deep South, the plains, Rockies, California coast, and back. I'll go to farms, factories, roadside diners, and ball games — just pull over when I see something neat. I have a sketchbook, my watercolors, a sleeping bag, a set of road maps. I want to see what's out there." Driving around the country is certainly something I'd like to do someday, but what I particularly like about this book is his style of journal keeping. The illustrations are the focus: landscapes and scenes, alternating with individual figures scattered around the pages, and combinations thereof, with only minimal text interwoven with the pictures. What fascinates me is how the images seem to be very simple and yet they still feel like they convey a very high level of detail. I would love to be able to draw that way.

I would also love to be able to include more drawing in my own journal keeping. There is something very appealing to me about quick, informal sketches accompanying written description. Of course, it sort of depends what you're writing about. I did a bit of that sort of thing back in middle school or so, before I was interested in the usual sort of journal writing. What I had instead was a junior-biologist's notebook sort of thing, because that's what I was really into at the time. I'd do detailed drawings of bugs or flowers, a map of our backyard showing where I caught critters, that sort of thing (like this). When I switched to keeping a music notebook, the drawings pretty much disappeared, since there weren't a lot of ways they would have made sense in that context. When I finally decided that it was okay to keep an honest-to-goodness journal (I was sort of against the idea for a while, for no good reason) they came back a little bit. I still only use unlined notebooks, so I at least have the option, but I've hardly done any drawing for ages. I should do more of that.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003


No, I still don't cook. (C'mon -- I work at Google for goodness' sake. When I'm at home, I make sandwiches. A quesadilla if I'm feeling fancy. That's pretty much it.) I cooked today, though. Sort of. Okay, so I still didn't literally cook anything. I was more in the chopping and mixing department. But close enough.

We had a group outing at work today to go to a cooking class at Whole Foods. We made Ahi Tartare on Sesame Crisps with Wasabi Cream, Vegetarian Egg Rolls, Ginger Peanut Soba Noodles, Spicy Sweet Beef and Napa Cabbage Salad, Thai Spiced Chicken in Lettuce Cups, and Banana and Coconut Ice Cream with Sesame Cookies. Then we ate it all. Mmmm. I was in the group doing the noodles and the egg rolls, which came out pretty well, I'd say. My favorites, though, were the Thai chicken and the ice cream with the bananas sautéed in sugar. That's the second batch of bananas, of course, not the first, which somehow involved the fish sauce that was intended for another dish. Oops.

Anyway, it was a pretty cool class (I hadn't even realized they did things like that at Whole Foods). Almost inspires me to start cooking more. Almost. It's not like I have anything against cooking itself, of course, it's just that I don't know much about it and there are lots of other things I usually want to be spending more time on. Also, I'll probably be more inclined to experiment with it more someday when I'm not sharing a kitchen with five housemates. The combination of crowdedness and self-consciousness is what does it for me here.

Oh, and they gave us cheat sheets to take home, too. So if anything on that menu sounded good, just ask me for the recipe.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

The Arrival of Phileas Fogg

I have a new computer! A 12" 1GHz Powerbook. Very spiffy. Thanks go to Dom and Eric for helping me get a very good deal on it.

I'm naming it Phileas Fogg, after the protagonist of Around the World in 80 Days, since this is my first laptop, and thus the first of my computers to have the potential to travel (and I hope it will get the chance to do so). The name also follows my tradition of naming my computers after characters from books. My retiring computer's name is Florean Fortescue, after an obscure character selling ice cream on Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books. No real reason for that, other than the fact that I liked the name. I actually renamed him Florean Fortescue II, after installing OS X. Before Florean was Zaphod Beeblebrox, President of the Galaxy in Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker series. Zaphod was my first good, new computer and I named him for the idea of having a lot of power but not really knowing what to do with it. My very first computer was a hand-me-down called the Dread Pirate Wesley, from the line in The Princess Bride stating: "No one would surrender to the Dread Pirate Wesley."

Hmm. If I really want to take the current theme as far as possible, I could start naming my peripherals. To go along with Phileas Fogg, I could call the keyboard Passepartout, the mouse Detective Fix, and the monitor Aouda. But maybe that would be a bit much....

Friday, December 05, 2003

Experiences of the Quena Kind

Quena has a blog! Finally! I've been working on her to do that for ages. I'm looking forward to tales of Costa Rica appearing there in January, and of course just the general blogging of Quena happiness. Go read Experiences of the Quena Kind.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

The Memorial Nutcracker Polka

It's that time of year again, when every time I turn on the radio I hear excerpts from the Nutcracker (I listen to very little radio, and only the classical station). The piece I always enjoy hearing is The Russian Dance, which has a particularly amusing memory associated with it for me. So: storytime!

This was about four years ago now, and Miriam and I had just left Phil 80, the class of gouty toes, tadpole stick figures, and an Irish, tango-dancing TA (I remember nothing of the actual philosophy taught there). We were walking through the quad past MemChu, which for the non-Stanford members of my audience I will explain is Memorial Church. The Stanford population has an amusing speech impediment affecting the names of buildings.

So anyway, there we are, outside MemChu, and we hear organ music. The doors are locked and it's the middle of the afternoon, so it's probably just someone practicing. Not to be put off from the possibility of a free organ concert, we head around the building until we find a door left (unintentionally, it turned out) open. We happen to slip through the back office when no one was looking and make it into the church itself.

It's completely empty of people, but filled with music from the largest organ high up in a balcony. After a few moments of reverence, musical on the organist's part, thoughtful on ours, the mood changes abruptly. The music explodes with a burst of energy -- it's the Russian Dance! Miriam and I look at each other, our eyes light up, and those of you who know us well probably know our immediate reaction: Polka! The backpacks drop, and we start zipping up and down the aisle, filling the empty pews with polkas. We just fly along, carried by the exhilarating music and the absolute hilarity of doing a polka in a church.

That polka will always have a place of honor in my personal list of very awesome dances, but unfortunately, it's a short piece of music. The organist stopped, and so did we. Just in time for a lady to come in and ask us how we got there. She hadn't seen us dancing, but apparently we weren't supposed to have snuck in the back door, so we apologized and left politely, smiling to ourselves.

Hearing the Russian Dance now always makes me happy.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Piano Rags

Last week at the library I found a 4-CD set of the complete piano works of Scott Joplin, played by John Arpin. The liner notes call Arpin "the world's No. 1 ragtime pianist," though they don't say how they determine such a title. But I'm not inclined to quibble on this point, since I've been enjoying these recordings immensely. What I love most about the way he plays the rags is his variations. He doesn't play anything straight from "the dots," but adds modifications and embellishments, and once or twice even a short coda. Naturally, this is something my folky background really appreciates. My favorite thing about hearing a good musician (in any style) is finding out what a piece of music suggests to them that I might never have thought of.

This does bring up a little question of style, though. I don't really know much about authentic, un-written ragtime style, or how Joplin might have played rags himself. A lot of Arpin's variations strike me as fairly authentic, some because I recognize a figure or ornament that's written into another rag somewhere, and some just because they "seem okay" to me. Occasionally, something will strike me as rather classical sounding (sort of the way you can tell when a fiddle tune is being played by a violinist). Of course, Joplin himself had some classical training so maybe some of that crept in even when he played it, and thus it might be considered "authentic." Anyway, it's a subject I can't really speak on with any sort of authority, and I'd like to learn more about it. I also checked out the book of Scott Joplin's complete works, which includes a short "School of Ragtime" tutorial in the back, which got my hopes up briefly. But it turned out mostly to be an explanation of notation for the different sorts of syncopation, along with an admonition not to play too fast. Oh well.

Speaking of speed, though, I had one complaint out of all 52 tunes in this set of CDs. Unfortunately, it was on the performance of Bethena, a rag waltz that has always been a really special one for me, which makes it more disappointing to hear a suboptimal rendition of it. He just played it far too slow. Granted, Joplin does have that general statement about not playing ragtime fast, but still, this one just needs a little more lift to bring it to life. I felt like I wanted to just reach in and drag it along to a decent speed. The piece is marked "Valse tempo," which to me would imply a something a little closer to a Viennese waltz than to an American box step or something (though probably not all the way up to Strauss tempos in this particular case). Also, it's subtitled "a concert waltz," so it seems even less likely he would have had slow waltzers in mind. Apparently, Arpin disagrees, though. Too bad.

I'm starting to work on playing more rags myself, now, too. I learned Bethena about a year ago, though I'm still working on playing it decently. And I recently re-started Swipsey, which I tried once a long time ago, and which is going easier now that I've got Bethena under my belt. I've also been reading through Magnetic Rag a bit. I'm thinking I might try working for a short amount of time on lots of different rags in turn, rather than slogging away at one for ages. It would be good for my sight-reading and it would probably train my fingers better, since they'd be exposed to lots of different (but similar) things instead of drilling one piece and only learning that. We'll see how that goes.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Caution: Show Turkeys

That was an actual warning I saw on a truck today during my drive out to Rossmoor. It cracked me up. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Building 42: Life, the Universe, and Google

On Monday, a building full of Googlers moved down the road to our new home in the SGI complex. We're just in one building so far (#42 -- a very good number), and the others still have SGI-ers in them, so we're sharing the cafeteria and everything for a while. It's a pretty neat place. I had to move three times on the first day until we got ourselves organized, but it worked out alright in the end. I kind of miss our old office, with the large window, but the cubicle I'm sharing is a good size, so we each actually have a little more personal space than we did before. And I can see a window, if I turn around. The ceilings are interesting, though the exposure of air ducts and whatever makes for a considerable ambient hum that we're still working on tuning out. I'm on the third floor (fourth, if you come up from the underground parking lot) so I'm going to try to make a point of using the stairs instead of the elevator, whenever possible. I figure that as long as I'm all the way up here, I should at least get a bit of exercise out of it.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

New Dancers

The contradance last night was excellent. Moving Cloud is always a wonderful band to dance to and particular highlights of the evening included completely changing the character of Miss Monahan's reel by piling in all sorts of minor chords, and playing one of my very favorite waltzes at the end: Far Away, with its beautiful hemiola. Eric also called some fun new moves, like a grand right and left, doubled up with your partner (using stars instead of alemandes). But I was particularly happy last night to meet three new dancers, two of whom are Stanford grad students. They've all done contra before but are new to the area. I love seeing more people in my general age group show up at contras, and they're all really nice people. I'm going to try to get them sucked into various other dances, too.

For some reason, I've noticed recently that I really enjoy meeting new dancers. I like telling them about all the dance options around here, dancing with them, introducing them to people, and just generally making sure they get at least one friendly welcome to the community. I was wondering last night, though, about how I come across to people who meet me that way. I think I probably seem to be a lot more extroverted, out-going and talkative than I actually am. It's not like I'm normally anti-social, but "taking care" of newbies just motivates me to put out more of an effort. It's also an easier sort of interaction for me because I know I have a lot to offer, telling them about various dances or classes or whatever. So I'm okay with it, even with people I haven't met before.

Anyway, if you run into anyone else who wants to get into dancing, send them my way.

Saturday, November 22, 2003


Ragtime Ball last night was fun. I think I ended up watching more performances and contests than actually dancing myself, but that's okay. I particularly enjoyed watching the Cardinal Whirlwinds. They did one square dance and then another group of them came out and did some clogging, with Caitlin fiddling for them. I had known Caitlin was a fiddler, but I hadn't realized that she was one of those fiddling-clogging wonders who do both at the same time. Very cool.

One thing I was really happy about last night was the dancers' appreciation of the band (The Back Swing Orchestra). At a lot of Stanford dances, you can really tell that people are used to canned music, and when they finally get a live band the applause can be sort of half-hearted, which makes me feel really bad for the musicians. But last night was a lot better. The band ended up playing for an extra 20 minutes after their last song just because everyone was so enthusiastic about it. So that made me glad.

It was also nice just to be back at a Stanford dance again. It felt like it had been a while, since I hadn't been dancing quite as much recently, and I had been doing more contra than anything else. I guess it was probably only a month, though, since the last Jammix. I didn't get to dance with quite everybody I would have liked to, but I did get to see a number of people I hadn't seen for a bit. I hope there's another Jammix before Winter Break, too.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Blogging in Motion

I spent the end of the day at work today packing up. (This is where you start wondering if I got fired... and this is where I let you stew for a little bit... and... okay, on with the story.) The people in our building are the first to be moving to our new location, just down the street. It'll be a little sad to be separated from everybody else (especially our chef) until the move is complete (I don't know how long that will take). But it's sort of fun to get to move to a new place and imagine what it will be like, and they assure us we'll still get decent food. And some people are getting pretty excited about the fancy toilets we're going to have there. Probably not the first thing I would have thought of when looking for perks in an office building, but whatever. We'll be there on Monday, so we'll see what the place is like. (I will probably spare you a detailed review of the toilets, though.)
Happy Birthday, Grant!

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Throat Singing Tape

A little while ago I ordered a throat singing instruction tape from a guy I found online, called Arjuna. It arrived over the weekend, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that he not only sent me the tape, but also a copy of his CD, Spirit of the Bear. He uses various kinds of throat singing on the CD, but not in a Tuvan sort of way. It's very New-Agey, with gongs and synthesizers and digeridoos and whatnot, so not really the sort of thing I'll be inclined to listen to much. I appreciated the gift, though, especially since the tape turned out to be a bit on the short side. But it's still helpful. Most of what he taught for overtone singing I had already figured out, though it made me realize that it actually works a bit better with a higher fundamental than I had been using. That hadn't occured to me, since I figured that a lower fundamental would leave more "room" for overtones above it in a comfortable range. I was much more interested though in the part on subharmonics, which I haven't experimented with much yet. In this case, the short section of the tape devoted to it wasn't really enough. I kind of understand the concept, but it still feels like there's something he's not telling me about how to make it work. I suppose I'll just have to plug away at it for a bit until it "clicks." It probably will at some point. Lots of things are like that.

Speaking of the random things I spend my time learning, I'm still working on this Rubik's cube. I can solve two whole layers on my own fairly easily now, and I can do the whole thing pretty reliably if I use the instructions for the complicated last steps. So now I want to figure out how those steps actually work so I can understand them. Understanding is fun.

Sunday, November 16, 2003


So I got this Rubik's cube last week from my Google buddy. Ordinarily, that's the sort of thing that frustrates me too much to spend a whole lot of time on. I twisted it up a bit, and then left it alone. But then the next day, Misha came by our office, picked up Kimmy's cube, and started twisting it around until he had two layers solved. That impressed me, so I got him to show me how to solve one layer. It actually wasn't that bad, once I got the concept for it in my head. But after a couple days, I started wanting more. Google turned up lots of sites with solutions, but I chose Lars Petrus' page since it has nice, animated diagrams of all the steps. It was still really confusing, but the thought of having a solution all laid out and within reach kept me going for a while yesterday afternoon and this morning. I liked the steps that were limited to twisting only two or three sides, since that way even if I was flailing a bit, I couldn't mess up the parts I had already gotten right. I also had an easier time grasping what exactly was going on. The steps that effectively said "here is a long sequence that will magically work" were a lot trickier. I still don't get exactly how they all work, and if I messed up somewhere in the middle then I'd just be completely lost. Twice I got all the way to the last step (two layers, and the face of the last layer solved) and totally screwed it up and had to start all over. But in the end, I actually managed to get it solved, so I am rather proud of myself now, even if I did have to follow instructions all the way. Now I'm just debating whether to leave my cube all solved and beautiful, or to mess it up again, so I can have another go at it. Hmmmm.

Friday, November 14, 2003

It is, it is a glorious thing to see a Pirate King

I just got back from the Stanford Savoyards' production of Pirates of Penzance, which was thoroughly wonderful. These shows always leave me beaming, but seeing Eric as the Pirate King just absolutely made my day. I knew he was going to be perfect for the part when I heard he got it, and it was a real treat to get to see him up there. You're awesome, Eric! I thought the girl playing Mabel was also particularly good, and the policemen were suitably silly, and the songs and rhymes amused me as they always do in Gilbert & Sullivan shows. I love coming back from something like this and just not being able to stop smiling, even once I'm back home alone in my room. There are only two performances left, and I highly recommend that everyone go see it, either tomorrow night at 8, or Sunday afternoon at 2:30. See the Savoyards' website for more information. Meanwhile, I'm going to be sitting here with Pirate Kings and Major Generals bouncing happily around in my head.

Thursday, November 13, 2003


I went over to visit Mom for a bit tonight and we sat down for a while to go through the mighty stack of papers Google gave me on Monday. It's wonderful to finally be working somewhere that gives me actual benefits but there was an intimidating amount of paperwork to sort through and fill out for it all. Luckily, Mom is a good person to make it all intelligible to someone like me, who's not used to dealing with medical insurance, 401k's and whatnot. Thanks, Mom!

Monday, November 10, 2003


Today was my first day as an official, permanent employee. Ever, actually. Anywhere. This is the first job I've ever had that was really "for keeps," and not a summer internship or a temp job. Well, I suppose "permanent" means something rather different now than it did fifty years ago but still, it's pretty cool. The foreseeable future is looking good, at least, and I'm really happy to be working at such a great place, with great people. Congratulations also to fellow newbies Kimmy and Biz. Yay us!

This might be an interesting time to share a dream I had a while back, seeing as how dream interpretation can be rather easier in retrospect. This was about a year and a half ago, when I was applying for a different job at Google. I dreamt that I was sitting at the entrance to a building selling tickets to a line of people, when a man came up to me and asked if he could get $100 cash advance on his credit card. Somehow I must have been able to do that, because I said "Sure," and gave it to him. He handed it right back to me, along with the credit card, which was marked with the Google logo, saying "It's a gift — compliments of Google recruiting."

Of course, this got my hopes up quite a bit, so I was rather disappointed when I didn't get the job. But it gets more interesting when you look at what's happened over the last year and a half. First, notice the contrast of the two main symbols in this dream: cash and a credit card. Both represent the same sort of thing (being able to buy stuff) but in different ways. The cash is finite and ready for immediate, one time use. The credit card represents much greater purchasing power that is also more sustainable, since you can use it over and over. But it also has the connotation of delay, since you don't actually shell out the money for a purchase untill a few weeks later when you get the bill.

So then it turned out that I got a temp job at Google for a couple months early this year. I was making some money, though not a whole lot, and only for a short amount of time. I got to work at Google, though, which is cool in and of itself. But now, after several more months, I'm back, and I'm permanent this time. The temp job was cash; this is the credit card. Delayed gratification. Pretty cool.

So anyway, was that a prophetic dream? Well, back in May of 2002 I certainly couldn't have predicted how things would work out. It does seem like a nice symbolic foreshadowing, though, once you go back and stick an explanation on it. So you can just believe whatever you want about it.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

The Da Vinci Code

I just finished reading The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown tonight. It was absolutely incredible. I literally had to stop and catch my breath between some of the chapters, and all the mysteries and codes and puzzles fit together beautifully. I'm not going to go into too much detail on it, though, since some of you probably haven't read it yet (a situation which should be rectified at the earliest possible opportunity). I will say, though, that in one fell swoop it practically doubled my reading list, at least on the non-fiction side. I particularly want to find some good books on the history of Christianity. And I also want to look through the two-volume set of Da Vinci's notebooks, that I've had for several years now but hardly opened. So much to read. So much cool stuff to learn. That's what keeps a Graham happy.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

They Might Be Whistling a Tuvan Polka

So I've been listening to a lot of They Might Be Giants recently, mostly thanks to Miriam, who has supplied me with just piles of the stuff. They've got a lot of interesting songs, but I find them highly variable. The ones I like, I've been listening to repeatedly for the last week or so, but I don't really give a second thought to the others. Oh well. That's the beauty of making mp3 playlists out of them.

At Friday Night Waltz last night, Joan played "Lucky Ball & Chain," which is a great polka (though I think it's a bit slow for its energy). I've danced to it before, but not for a little while, and I felt like I knew it better than I used to, for all the TMBG that's been going through my head, and that made it even more fun to dance to. I found myself matching parts of the music that I didn't even consciously know were coming up (like the extra measure that's tucked away in the middle somewhere). That was cool.

"Whistling in the Dark" is another one that been a real earworm for me lately. I haven't even figured out why exactly I like it so much, but something about it makes it really addictive. Then last night I was driving home and for some reason started making a Tuvan throat singing arrangement of it in my head. I've still been listening to what Tuvan stuff I can find, and trying to do it myself, and this seemed like an interesting place for it to collide with TMBG. John Linnell in the studio version of "Whistling in the Dark" sings the verses very low, so I started imagining that in kargyraa, which is the really low, growling sort of Tuvan throat singing, that I can't do yet. And then the instrumental breaks (or the simpler parts at least) could be done in sygyt, which is the drone-with-whistling-overtone that I've been working on. Anyway, overall it would probably come out pretty weird, but I was amusing myself.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Well color me black and call me a Sharpie™...

... cause I'm going to be permanent! I got the verbal offer just now, the letter will be later today, and I'll be official on Monday. It took almost 3 and a half months, but it worked out. Yay!

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Barbara Bush

Barbara Bush came to Kepler's in Menlo Park this evening to talk about her recent book, Reflections, with part of the proceeds from the evening going to Project Read. So Georgina, Yenda and I walked over from the library to thank her, and hear her speak.

We got to go "backstage" (to the children's book section) before the talk to meet Mrs. Bush and get our picture taken with her. People always have trouble taking pictures with my camera. The first two ladies who tried ended up taking three odd little video clips of us standing there, waiting to be photographed. I finally figured out why it wasn't working, though, so we at least got one good picture.

The talk itself was short and moderately interesting. There were protestors outside, but there wasn't really much to protest inside. She mostly just shared humorous anecdotes from her book and exclaimed about how much she loves her husband and her children (which, I'd say, is a non-protestable sentiment, regardless of what you think of her husband or son). The Q&A session that followed included such fascinating topics as how many grandchildren she has, and who her favorite author is. The latter led to her comment that she reads "to relax -- to escape from the problems of the world that lay so heavily on my men's shoulders." This escape from problems was evident in a later question, when a woman was cut off in mid-sentence as soon as the phrase "opinion on a woman's right to choose" came up. Mrs. Bush wasn't going to be answering questions like that.

Actually, there were a few other, slightly weird comments (not to mention some weird audience members), but I won't go into them all now. It was definitely a good thing that she was doing for Project Read, so we all appreciate that.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003


I had actually never eaten sushi before tonight, but that's what Eric chose for his birthday dinner. The idea of eating raw fish makes me a bit squeamish, but I figured I ought to at least give it a shot. So I did, and it was alright, though it helped if I didn't think about it too much. I ordered something with a fair amount of non-raw-fish substances in it as well though, so I was okay overall. :-)

Monday, November 03, 2003


Finding old family treasures is always fun, and I got a few on Saturday. The first was Great Grandpa Boone's shape note book, that Monee and Pa found and gave to me. It was published in 1899, and has inscriptions in it from the original owner and also from Grandpa Boone when he got it. This isn't the actual copy that he used, but a similar one sent to him by McPherson College in 1991. (He had attended McPherson and donated a lot of money over the years, and my grandparents, I think, asked the college if they could find a copy and send it to him.) It has several of his favorite songs marked in it, though, and one that was a favorite of his father's. Glancing through it so far, I haven't found any songs that I recognize from the Sacred Harp, which is what most shape note people today sing from. But I did find one song that's on Testimony's CD, Echoes. That was kind of neat.

Another neat thing was a newspaper article Monee and Pa dug up somewhere and put in one of the photo albums. It was from 1961 or so, and had a picture of them having just won a "Best Dancers" award in their dance class. Very cool. (By the way — thanks for the dancing genes!)

The last treasure was a video of Grandpa Boone at age 100, reciting the "Vacation Time" poem which was apparently a bit of a signature piece for him, though I don't think I had ever heard it from him myself. It was a somewhat amusing poem, but the best part was to see him recite it. It really felt like he was telling a story, and it just happened to be rhyming as it went along. He stalled somewhere in the middle, not remembering if there were more verses or not, but once he got going again, he was really into it. He put about as much energy into it as you could imagine a 100-year-old man doing, and it was really neat. It was also nice just to see him again, even just in a video. He died when I was in high school, and I had only seen photos of him since then. It brought back lots of memories to see him and hear his voice again.
Happy birthday, Eric S.!

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Family Fun

Yesterday we had a family congregation up at Rossmoor for Monee's 75th birthday party. We actually had all the cousins together for the first time in ages, so that was definitely fun. There was also a great deal of hilarity, dressing up, looking at cool old photos, and eating (my goodness, there was a lot of food). Photos are here.

Friday, October 31, 2003

Happy birthday Monee! And happy Hallowe'en, everyone!

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Organic Structures

Writing Creative Nonfiction has actually been a very interesting book. Again, it's the sort of thing I wish I had found more interesting freshman year in college. Along with other recent books I've read, it's making me think more about the writing I'm reading, and appreciate better what's going on in it.

Probably the most interesting chapter for me was the chapter on Structure. That's always something I'm curious about in a work of art: how it's put together. It also tends to be the aspect that's most mysterious to me, and the one I wish I knew more about. I particularly apply this to music. From all my music classes, I've managed to get Sonata Allegro form down pretty well, but I'm still pretty vague about anything else. (Whether this is my fault or that of the classes, I'm not sure. If I could, I'd take the classes again to find out.) Whenever I'm in a compositional mood, what I most want to find is an interesting structure, but I don't know how to go about creating one.

Part of the Structure chapter in this book was on "Organic Structure." Based on the name, this is the sort of structure I tend to be looking for. I've had those keywords knocking around in my head for a long time. I like the idea of a piece that seems to have evolved naturally somehow, with the interconnectedness of a living organism, and without blatant marks of human creativity upon it. I've even drawn some things that somewhat approach what I'm thinking of, but I don't know how to translate that sort of idea into music. The mention of Organic Structure in this book got me excited, since it seems that getting this sort of structure in writing would relate to music in it's linearity, which to me is the trickiest thing about it. Unfortunately, this section of the chapter was the least understandable to me. After a few readings, I think I'm starting to understand how it works in his specific example (somebody writing about glacier formation) but it's still hard to make it into a more general idea. But it'll give me some stuff to think about at least.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Happy birthday, Tracy!


Just to try it out, I went and set myself up a photoblog at Buzznet. Not that I've been taking lots of pictures recently, of course, but maybe this will remind me to carry my camera around and use it more often. A camera phone would help, but that's still pretty low on the priority list of things to get. So anyway, check it out, maybe it'll get updated once in awhile. If it does, I'll put the little latest-picture sort of thing up on here somewhere to tie it in better.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Harmonic Anticipation

I filled out my registration for Camp Harmony today. However, the usual joy this brings is rather marred by the knowledge that Lacey will not be attending this year. It's going to be positively disorienting not to have her there. The traditional formation (Me, Quena, Lacey, Jac) will be completely disrupted. But I suppose we'll muddle Laceylessly along somehow. I'm thinking I'll teach my music theory series again, though I should start thinking about that a little bit ahead of time, since I haven't done any lessons recently. And cross-step waltz has been a pretty big hit the last couple years, so I'll probably do that again, too. And then of course there are all the tunes to play and songs to sing and dances to dance. Ooh, and I wonder if I can find anyone there who can do Tuvan throat singing. I'm still working on that (and getting it a little bit) and it would be fun to find someone who can help me out. So much stuff to look forward to.
Happy Birthday, Pa!

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Hallowe'en Contra

My plan with the candy corn costume was to not tell anybody what it was, as an experiment in seeing how many people think like I do. Only one person guessed it right away, a few got it pretty quickly, and some never figured it out (though I told them at the end of the dance). The erroneous guesses were headed collectively by pumpkins and several varieties of squash, with an escaped convict as a close second, and construction workers and garbage men bringing up the rear. Oh well.

This being my first time at the Hallowe'en contra, I was introduced to the traditional Ron Award for best costume. I had heard of this award but I never knew the reason for its name, which is that Ron wins it hands down every year. This year his costume was a skeleton that was about 10 or 11 feet tall. Ron wore a large frame strapped to his back that supported the rib cage of the skeleton, and attached the oversized hands to his own to control them. The bones were foam, I think, to make it lighter and more dance-friendly, but he hung wood chimes inside the rib cage to make it rattle. The head tilted down a little bit and rotated around as he moved, which during the dances gave it the look of a somewhat bemused giant among midgets. It was wonderful.

The Hillbillies from Mars played a bunch of great music, as usual. The unquestionable highlight, though, was the polka they played right before the last waltz: the theme from Indiana Jones. It made an amazing polka, but the hemiolas in the A part confused the heck out of me until I realized we could do a fast zweifacher to it. It was waltz-waltz-pivot all through the A part and then all polkas for the B part. Wow. I have got to dance to that again sometime.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

Candy Corn

I'm not big on costumes. I enjoy seeing them on other people, but I don't care for putting in the effort to get them together and actually wear them myself. For some reason, it's a form of creativity that has never quite appealed to me very much. This tends to be a problem around Hallowe'en, when it results in me feeling abnormally unfestive. It's more of a problem when I want to go to a costume ball, like the Hallowe'en Contradance tonight. (This will be my first time going to this dance -- in the past I've generally gone to the Hallowe'en Gaskells, which is always the same night.) I could probably just go without a costume, if I wanted, but that seems rather unsporting of me. So I was wandering around a couple stores this morning, trying to have an inspired idea for a clever costume that I could also dance in (this includes being able to wear my glasses with it, so no masks).

I was inspired by, of all things, candy corn. I was near a WalMart at the time, so I headed in there. The orange shirt was the first thing I found. It even had the added benefit of saying "This is my costume" across the front of it, which I figured would come in handy if I couldn't find the rest of the stuff I needed. The hat that I found next was perfect in that it's white and pulls down snugly over my head. It's less than perfect in that it's a warm, woolen hat, which will be less than fun for dancing in. Oh well. The yellow pants were the hard part. Just as I was about to despair of my plan, I found them. The boys section had a couple pairs of very yellow athletic pants, and the largest size (for ages 12-14) turned out to fit me perfectly. There are advantages to being small sometimes. Everything turned out to be on sale, too, which was pretty cool.

So now I have an outfit that looks pretty much exactly like something I would never wear in real life, and it should even work fine for dancing (I'll take off the hat if I start to get heatstroke). It even looks remotely like candy corn. It'll be interesting to see how many people get it. It should be fun.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

It's fun having a piano

I've managed to play some piano every day now since I got it. I know that's not very many days, but this is still an increase of about infinity percent over most days recently. This is good. So far I've mostly been resurrecting the pieces I used to play. I'm used to being out of practice, but it was a little scary to not even remember parts of things I used to know really well. (Perhaps this is a result of letting muscle memory take over too much in the memorization process?) It's nice to see them coming back a bit now. I'm going to start working on sight-reading again, and it'll be fun to look for something new to learn, too. Any suggestions?

The digital-ness of this piano is taking a little bit of getting used to. I found out how to change the resonance of the damper pedal though, and that helped the sound a bit. The "key touch" setting is also variable, but doesn't seem to make a huge difference. Regardless of the setting, it's a lot more sensitive than I'm used to. For instance, the notes that my thumbs play stick out a lot more than they used to. I'm hoping this will train me to have better control over the consistency of my touch, but I'm also hoping it won't mess me up too much when I play real pianos, since the overall resistance is so much less on the digital one. But if I keep in practice on this, I'll probably seek out real pianos more often as well, and that should help the balance.

Sunday, October 19, 2003


Carnes Piano Co. was having a sale this weekend so I stopped by yesterday just for fun, to look around. I was rather impressed with how small some of the digital pianos were while still having a full-size keyboard. So much so, in fact, that I came home and started measuring space in my room and shifting furniture. It turned out that I didn't have to move things too much to make it fit. So after debating a bit about money (and deciding I could just delay the new laptop I've been thinking about getting) I went back today and got a piano. It's a Roland HP-1 and it fits snugly into the corner of my room between the dresser and the TV. It was a bit of a job getting it home and assembled, so I haven't even really played it much yet, but it's got 65 demo songs on it to entertain me while I rest for a bit and blog about it. It'll be really nice to start playing again. I haven't really done anything since June, and I just can't get myself over to the rooms at Stanford after work regularly anymore. This way I can practice as much or as little as I like, without the overhead of bike rides back and forth to campus. The headphones are a huge plus, too. So I'm really hoping to get into practice again and start learning some new pieces. It's exciting.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Masochism A Cappella

There was another a cappella concert at Stanford tonight, this time for Alumni Weekend. There were lots of great songs, as usual, but I have to say that Fleet Street really stole the show this time around. First off, they sang Everybody Pees in the Shower, which was just plain silly, and more so since it was new to me. But the real kicker was when they sang Tom Lehrer's Masochism Tango. The soloist did a very convincing job of being completely and utterly mad, slinking and crawling around the stage, shrieking and shouting at the audience, and just generally being an insane masochist. The people in the front row were probably freaking out being right next to him like that. I would have been. It was really cool, though. I think it's wonderful that there's a group like Fleet Street around that can get away with songs like these.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

And now, we wait....

I had my second round of interviews today. Now there will be evaluations, a hiring meeting, and who knows what else. Eventually, a decision. Afterwards, much rejoicing.

In other exciting news, Apple released iTunes for Windows today. Very cool. No more of this Windows Media Player nonsense for me. There was a bit of cognitive dissonance seeing a favorite Mac program on my PC, but I'm glad enough to have it that I got over that pretty quickly.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Tuva or Bust!

I found a new commute project — learning Tuvan Throat Singing. I actually got started on that by listening to the Baby Gramps CD last night. He actually does some Tuvanesque stuff along with all his other "vocalisthenics." (Incidentally, Baby Gramps actually stayed over in our guest room last night — Daniel was thrilled. He was in too late and I was out too early, though, for me to meet him.)

I found out last night that it's not actually too hard to whistle and hum at the same time. I can't vary the notes independantly or do anything very complex with them, but it's still kind of cool. I also found some articles to read about singing in harmonics. Then in the car today, I was experimenting with droning on a low note and changing the shape of my mouth and the position of my tongue to try and bring out higher harmonics. I thought I could hear something working once or twice, but it wasn't very strong. I should try taping myself to see how much it's audible outside of my own head. But I at least felt like I was getting an idea of how it might work once I get better at it. It's pretty neat.

For the reader who wants to follow along at home, try this: Sing as low a note as is reasonably comfortable. While singing, and without changing the note you're generating in your throat, put the tip of your tongue against the backs of your upper teeth. Now press the sides of your tongue against your molars. Experiment with slight adjustments of your mouth, lips and tongue to see if you can get high, whistling harmonics to come out above the drone. It's hard. I think there are lots of other ways to do it, too, so if anyone figures out anything else, let me know.

I think there's also a throat singing technique that helps you sing notes lower than your normal range, sort of like subharmonics on a violin. That would be really neat, too, though I don't know how much it would help in making me a bass for shape note singing. Now that I think about it, it would be cool to try learning to play subharmonics, too. I never got very far when I tried it a couple years ago.

Anyway, the throat singing stuff make a good car project. Almost makes me wish I had a longer commute. (Well, not really.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Interviews, again

I got my second round of interviews scheduled for Thursday afternoon, 3-4:30. I think this will be the last specific thing they'll have to evaluate me on before making a decision. Exciting. I'm glad it's all moving along fairly quickly.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Sugar-coated Butterlumps — with Egg!

I had another visit with Miriam yesterday before she takes off for New York again tomorrow. Among other amusing things, we made cookies. They weren't quite the way I usually make them, and they had us moderately alarmed for a little bit, but they actually turned out okay. So I'm glad for that, even though we didn't get to use the new name we were preparing for them.

We also played a bit of piano, which was fun, though I am woefully out of practice, not having played since early summer. It's pitiful. Still, I managed to play some accompaniment to go with a story Miriam was telling me, and that turned out to be rather more entertaining than I would have expected. We managed to make a tale of buying pencils into a very dramatic adventure. Music is great.

Mom is coming to visit for lunch at Google today. Yay! We will probably get something much better than sugar-coated butterlumps.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

All Danced Out

Jammix last night was a lot of fun, especially with Miriam making a surprise appearance from New York. There were two excellent performances: Swing Time (yay Kari!) and a three person version of the hustle performance I saw at Waltz Week (wow). I also realized that I have to get used to steering through Jammix-style crowds again. It seemed overly difficult last night, perhaps because I hadn't done anything that challenging over the summer.

This morning was the second Opening Committee audition, and then a meeting afterwards to help discuss the auditionees. I enjoyed helping, though it was a long morning and I was pretty tired and hungry by the end. When I finally got home around 2, it was a close race between lunch and a nap, but I managed both.

I had been planning on going to the contra dance tonight, and I suppose that technically I still could, but I don't think it's going to happen at this point. It would be fun, but I'm still tired, and there are still other things I want to do with my weekend.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Reading About Writing, and Vice Versa

Recently I've found myself starting to read more about writing, and also being more aware of writing in general as writing, rather than as pure story or information. The most recent book on this subject for me is Style: Toward Clarity and Grace, which at first glance seems rather textbookish. And I suppose it is, though I think it could actually be quite interesting. It seems to be aimed not so much at teaching arbitrary grammar rules as at really getting to the concepts behind what makes writing good or bad, clear or unclear, and how to switch from one to the other. To me, that sounds rather intriguing. I'd really like to understand language better, and feel like I have better control over it. I think most of my writing ability now comes from what I've absorbed from so much reading over the years, but that's all subconscious and undependable. I'd like to feel like I've deliberately learned something about it as well. It's a pity I wasn't interested in all this when I was still taking English classes. I probably could have gotten a lot more out of freshman WCT if I had been.

This current interest probably just stems from the fact that writing is feeling like a fairly large part of my life right now. A ton of what I do at work is just writing. Granted, that's mostly just bite-sized bits rather than large tracts of prose, but it's challenging sometimes to find the clearest way to convey information. I'm also a lot more conscious of my blogging these days, and probably writing more here than I used to. So writing in general has just been a prominent subject in my awareness recently.

So far in this book, I've only read the introduction and a "Short History of Bad Writing," so I haven't really gotten into the meat of it yet. I liked the description of influences on English from other languages, though. The author took one of his own paragraphs from that chapter and rewrote it as it might have been, had the Normans not won the Battle of Hastings. Very interesting.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003


Today's interviews went pretty well. The next round will probably be in a week or two. Further updates as events warrant.

Monday, October 06, 2003


Today I got scheduled for the first of two more rounds of interviews on the way to becoming an actual, honest-to-goodness, permanent employee. This first batch will be on Wednesday, 10-11:30 am, and it will be with people I actually work with here on the Blogger team. After that is the round with the more managerial types, time TBD. Wish me luck!

Sunday, October 05, 2003

Blog Design Part III

Okay, I'm taking the easy way on this right now. I definitely wanted to switch to this layout, but I'm still going to sit down and think about colors again sometime. This is good for now, though.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

One Dance, Two Dance, Borrowed Dance, Blue Dance

Friday Night Waltz was last night. Unfortunately, the Swing Kids dance decided to be at the same time, which was a bit annoying (since it took people away from waltzing, and since I couldn't go to both), but FNW was still fun. One interesting moment of the evening was doing the Metamora waltz with Tina. Apparently no one remembers how it goes, and everyone decided they should try to follow us, which was moderately disconcerting. I sure showed them, though -- I made mistakes. Ha! That'll teach everyone to follow me. Of course, Tina mostly managed to prevent or fix my mistakes, so we actually did pretty well.

This morning I helped out at Opening auditions, along with a number of other people, dancing with the auditionees so we can help TKJ choose people later. It was interesting to be on that side of auditions for a change. I had a little notebook in my pocket so I could jot down notes on who was who, and anything in particular I noticed about their dancing. Hopefully I didn't make people too nervous by scribbling mysteriously after I danced with them. We're fairly short on guys so far, unfortunately, though not surprisingly. Strange how there are so often extra guys at the social dance events, but far more women at auditions. I wonder if other dance groups find that at their auditions?

This evening was Jim and Laura's wedding, complete with bagpipes, alpenhorn, contra dancing, couple dancing and chicken dancing. Moving Cloud played for the contras, and Joan DJ'd the other stuff. It was really quite a lot of fun. I like it when dancing friends have weddings. Even a fair number of their non-dancing (or less-dancing) friends and relatives joined in the dancing, including the kids, one or two of whom just took to it like ducks to water. That's always wonderful to see. (Dodging the non-dancing kids made for an amusing challenge all evening, as well.) I had a lovely waltz and swing with the lovely bride, an interesting partner-switching tango, and a surprise-polka-swing and a really beautiful cross-step waltz, both with Tina. Overall, it was exactly the way I like weddings to be. A short-n-sweet ceremony followed by good music and fun and happy dancing. Best wishes to Jim and Laura as they start their new life together!

So yes, it's been a very dancy weekend so far. Fun, but I think I will maybe not dance tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

A boy...

One of our computer programs at Project Read is called Rosetta Stone, and one of the activities on it lets students hear and read words or phrases, then match them from a selection of pictures. We've used it on the Macs for a while, but it's supposed to work on PCs, too. So tonight we were trying it out on our new PC ("new" according to the amount it's been used, not the amount of time we've had it). The first round on level one had four pictures: a boy, a girl, a dog, and a cat.

Computer types: a boy. Computer says: a boy. I click: a boy. Ding! Life is good and I move on.

Computer types: a dog. Computer says: a boy. Uh oh! Panic situation! I click the boy. Nope. The dog. Yep.

Computer types: a girl. Computer says: a boy. The girl wins.

And so on. At this point, were I trying to learn English, this would seem to me like a very cruel joke. Luckily, this was just a test drive, so I just found it funny. It was even worse when I set it to the mode that only spoke the words, and didn't display them. Spot checking the rest of the CD showed a red car, a horse jumping over a fence, and the number six, a man brushing a woman's hair, and two different kinds of fish. All were referred to as "a boy."

I think I'll just stick with the Macs, thank-you-very-much.

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Swing Peripheral

I finally made it to Swing Central again tonight, but wasn't feeling too centralized. There were way too many extra guys, fewer people I knew, and my swing was just feeling a bit on the inadequate side. Oh well. Swing Central so far doesn't seem to inspire me to greater feats of swingingness in quite the same way the Doghouse does, but it still seems like a nice dance. I probably just need to get my swing in somewhat better shape.

Friday Night Waltz is coming up this week, though! Sure can't beat a night of waltzing.

Monday, September 29, 2003

More Design Stuff

I do agree with everybody that the two columns were a bit much. However, Hugo commented that " 'blogging' should not become 'webbing' as it surely will if double side-bar content also requires regular updates." That sort of indicates why I was considering making the side blogs more noticeable -- they've actually been there and been regularly updated since January. But that doesn't matter too much. I'll stick with the single sidebar.

For the people so far (Mom and Lacey) who like the original: I do think it's been a nice enough design for a little while, but it's just been feeling a bit too flat and dimensionless to me. I like the new designs because they have a bit more of a presence, and are less like a flat sheet of paper.

As for color: The addition of another background color goes along with the whole adding-dimension thing. The original color scheme was really sort of random when I chose it a year or so ago, though it seems to have worked out pretty well. So I kept some of the yellow and tried to work off of that. I would have thought making it more colorful would have increased the "friendliness," but maybe apparently some people see the blue differently. Here are a couple more modifications to the color, as suggested by Tina. I like them, but I think I'd be less inclined to actually use them.
Choice 5Choice 6[Back to original]
I'd be curious to know what colors people would actually associate with me, leaving aside the current state of the webpage. Tina and I were talking about this a bit tonight. We would both pick darker colors for me, but that makes web designing tricky because I prefer mostly light colors for webpages. Hmm.

Okay, I promise I'll just shut up and pick one soon enough. It's just fun to play designer a bit for a while, even if it's nothing really very fancy.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Blog Designs

I've been playing a bit with the design of my blog this weekend, and just to be interactive about the whole process (user-centered design and all that), I thought I'd put a few examples up here and ask for input. I'll leave the original page as it is here for comparison. There are two types of changes here. One thing I did was to put a side bar on each side. I liked that because it got more content up towards the top, but I think it might also make it look too crowded. The other thing I did was to change the color scheme a bit. Here are the pages, according to changes:

OriginalSame ColorsDifferent Colors
Two Side BarsChoice 1Choice 2
One Side BarChoice 3Choice 4

So anyway, there they are. Leave me a comment or send me an e'mail and let me know what you think. You can vote for one of those choices (or even for the original, I guess) or suggest other modifications to make to them. I'll also mention that I've tested these on three browsers so far, but only on Mac OS X. If something looks screwy on your computer/browser, let me know that, too.

Friday, September 26, 2003


The other day I had someone at Google come by my desk and set everything up so that it's all nicely ergonomic. We got the relative heights of everything adjusted nicely, and he even got me a Goldtouch keyboard and a vertical mouse. This is very cool. The only complaint I have about the vertical mouse is that there's no way to make it left-handed. I've gotten to rather like left-handed mousing recently. But it turns out I can leave my old mouse connected, too, and just keep one on each side and switch back and forth. It works pretty well for the most part, except for the times I get confused and reach for both at once. (Now it would be really cool if I got two pointers and could actually use them both at once. Though I'm not really sure what I would do with that.)
Happy Birthday, Jim!

Thursday, September 25, 2003


The Blogger team went on a field trip this afternoon to San Francisco. We started off by going bowling at Presidio Bowl. I was very inconsistent for a while -- spares alternating with absolute nothings. But by the end of the second game I felt noticeably better. I actually kind of wanted to keep going. It was really pretty fun. I don't think I had been bowling for at least 4 or 5 years.

After bowling we went to the Exploratorium. I had never actually been there before and it was awesome. We only had about 2 hours there, so we couldn't see everything but I just had a great time playing with the stuff we did get to. The sound section was pretty cool. They had a keyboard that you could switch to different types of scales and tuning systems. And there was a computer with headphones and a microphone that would play a tone for you to sing and provide a very precise chart of exactly how off and wavery you were (that was not an ego-booster for me). I was expecting to see some sort of Shepard tone illusion there, but couldn't find one. The animal section was neat, too. They had living chicken embryos that you could see, cow's eye dissections (we missed that, unfortunately) and a decomposition exhibit. (This was a little terrarium where they'd periodically toss in a dead animal, mark a date on the outside, and leave it there so we could watch bugs eat it up. Weird, but strangely interesting.) One of my favorite things overall, though, was probably the momentum machine, which basically just involved spinning around and getting really dizzy. I've been waltzing so much for the last five years that I don't get properly dizzy very often. This thing sure did the trick, though. It was great.

All that, and then a few hours of Irish tunes tonight. Long day, but fun.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

The Celestine Prophecy

A little while ago Eric C. mentioned to me that I ought to read The Celestine Prophecy, a book I had known vaguely about for a long time and had always figured I should eventually get around to reading. Apropos the subject of the book, it was a Wednesday (Project Read night) and that evening I happened to find three copies of it for sale in the library’s little bookstore. So I got one the and I just finished it tonight.

This was a good book, though I’d have to say that the story-telling of it felt a tad awkward at times. It seemed mostly that there was a lot of message to be conveyed and the story was sort of squeezed in around the corners and suffered a bit as a result. I couldn't help but wonder what someone like Richard Bach would have done with it. (I find it much easier with Illusions, for instance, to experience it as something that is actually happening, or has happened. Perhaps, though, that has to do with the fact that I know it so well that I hardly even have to read it anymore. I can just glance a few pages and have entire scenes in my head at once.)

But still, that being said, I really liked a lot of the concepts. The whole discussion of “energy” seemed sort of uncomfortably New-Agey sometimes (this is just a self-conscious hang-up of mine), but I do feel like I understand and can relate to the idea he’s referring to. I know that the more I focus and try to really be present with the people I interact with, the better the interaction goes, and the more I get distracted or otherwise distance myself, the more the interaction is weakened on both sides. The style of ideal conversation described in chapter 8 particularly resonated well for me. I also like how the whole book is a good exercise in looking at everything in your life as meaningful. That alone is a good thing to keep in mind.

One of my reactions to this book struck mnoticeablycably different than I think it would have been had I read it a few years ago. The talk of “energy” and “spiritual evolution” is all very good, but it’s lacking something. I think I feel more of a need now to see a specific God figure in the picture, something more coherent than the general concept of energy in the universe. Something to provide a frame of reference for the spiritual evolution. All my C.S. Lewis readings were probably a big influence on me in this respect, but also lots of other readings and thought-processes over the last year or so.

Whenever I read books like this I try to take important key points and just file them away in my consciousness somewhere. The idea is to have selections from a large portion of the world’s wisdom in there, from which I can guide and shape my life and personality to whatever extent I can manage it. It's a fairly cluttered place up there in my head, I think, but I hope that at some point it will achieve a good balance and sort itself out nicely.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003


I went to O-Show tonight (a capella and dance groups performing for the incoming freshmen). I've been there more as a non-student now than I ever did when I was actually officially allowed to be there (not that anyone checks, of course). It was fun to hear Testimony sing again, though a bit sad to think that a lot of them are leaving the group this year and this was the last time I'd hear them performing together. It seems like it just won't be the same without Kari and Justin and Eric and the other people I've grown attached to. But I'm sure Tina will find a way to build up a strong, new group. Yay Testimony!

Someone decided to put Fleet Street first in the program this year, which I thought was a bit strange. Pray to the God of Partial Credit just seems like the best traditional ending song for this show, so it was weird to hear it first. Oh well.

I considered going to most of Swing Central after the show tonight, but gave up on that idea pretty quickly. I keep meaning to go back there. Next week, I guess. Hmm... this means that by the time Saturday's contradance rolls around, I'll have gone two weeks without dancing. That's a lot for me these days. But I'll be alright. :-)

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Bookaholics Anonymous

Mom and I had an excellent time at the library book sale this morning. We got there right when it started and spent about 2 1/2 hours there. Library sales are great because they're so much cheaper even than used book stores. I got 13 books for $8, including Letters of C.S. Lewis, Way of the Peaceful Warrior (which I used to have, and shouldn't have gotten rid of), a couple of the Provence books by Peter Mayle, an Edward Gorey book, and more. I wish they sold bookcases at these things, too. I'm definitely starting to need another one, even a small one. Mom got a pretty decent stack of books as well.

So after walking home, cooling down and having lunch, what did we decide to do? Go to Borders! Yes we're silly, but experienced bibliophiles can always cram more books into a day. The first book I picked up there cost three times as much as all 13 I had gotten this morning, but we had a nice time just browsing around for a bit without needing to buy any more.

I suppose I could squeeze in another bookstore or two today still, but for now I think I will content myself with looking at my new stack and feeling rich in books.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Shiny New Coldness

We have a new refrigerator now. Thanks go to Sarah, Cheryl and especially Arthur for making it happen. That makes two real ones, instead of one real one and two small, engery-guzzling frost machines. This is a good thing. Cheryl has been lobbying for this for years. She wanted to bring a good one with her when she moved in, but apparently it didn't "work" for Daniel "aesthetically." Those of you who have seen the common areas of our house will realize how funny that statement really is. Anyway, it's all set to go now except for the fact that the dinky little electrical cord won't reach the outlet. And you're not supposed to use an extension cord for it. Oh well. What's the worst that can happen?


Well, I take it back. That only took one day to get it working again. Yay!


Our DSL modem decided to completely stop working yesterday. Daniel was going to be spending some more time on tech support today to try to get it fixed, but given all the hoo-hah we had to go through with Earthlink just to get it working when we first got it, I'm not going to hold my breath. So anyway, if anybody sends me emails that I don't reply to, that's probably why.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Library Life

Coming into the library tonight I saw stacks upon stacks of boxes outside the main entrance -- all full of books, ready for the annual book sale this weekend. I find this very exciting. I love library book sales and I remember that Menlo Park's last year was a good one. Mom and I are going to be out here first thing Saturday morning. Bookwormness is definitely an inherited trait.

The computer lab here was absolutely packed for a while. We only have nine computers, but we don't usually have to use them all. Unfortunately, we're reminded on nights like tonight why we really need to replace a couple of the ones we don't generally use. The Power Mac 5200 is so old and slow that it's literally useless for a lot of our programs. So I spent a little while tonight just figuring out how best to arrange people between the slow Macs, the PC (which we don't have as many programs for) and the iMacs (which do pretty much what we want them to). By now a couple people have left and the rest are working happily so there's not much to do.

Our new local celebrity here is Georgina, who got interviewed for an article about East Palo Alto in the Palo Alto Weekly (she's in the last six or so paragraphs). There was even a picture of her, Dani, and her two other daughters, but that's not in the online version. The funniest part of the article was the last line. They spent an hour interviewing her and that was what they decided to use. That cracked us up. No, I'm not going to tell you what it was. You have to read the article.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Canon Inversus

This is so cool: one page of music by Mozart, written on one staff. You put it on a table between two violinists and they each play from the top of the page down. And it works. Wow. Thanks to Jim for giving me this, and to Tina for playing it with me.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Socio-musicology... or something

I went singing this morning and then to an Irish session this evening. In Los Gatos and San Jose, respectively, which made the driving a bit annoying. But other than that, it was a lot of fun. I was also thinking about how nice it is to be doing music socially again. Working on classical piano was great -- I love it and I do want to get back to it. But slogging away in a practice room for a couple hours is a far cry from going to a friendly group singing or session. So I'm glad I'm getting more of this sort of music back in my life again.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

Bombarded by Guppies

The Guppies played for the contradance tonight. Fantastic, as usual. The high point for me was hearing Jim blast into that awesome Breton tune he plays on the Bombard. Wow. I also loved the occasional bits of Klezmer clarinet, and the triple-accordion hambo and all the other great stuff the Guppies do. Good stuff. Dancing was great, too, though I think every single dance had at least one or two allemands in it. But I still managed to take good care of my hands and wrists. Bob and I are getting better at the Bronco schottische step, so that was fun. I even managed to get two newbies to come, and that always makes me happy.

Hmm. I bet "Bombarded by Guppies" would be another good tune title.

Friday, September 12, 2003

What was the name of that tune?

Tonight at the Irish session, Ernest decided to make a list of all the titles that tunes ought to have. At times he amused himself so much that half of the session would collapse, and the rest of us would just barely finish the tune before demanding to know what was so funny. So now any of us who feel like composing have plenty of material to work from, including the following titles:

Why Do You Want to Know?
Does It Really Matter?
You Asked Me That Last Week
I Forget
It's in O'Neill's
They All Sound the Same to Me
If I Told You, You'd Just Forget It Again
Polkas Have Names?

Okay, so maybe that's mostly just funny to us, but we were all highly amused. Everything's funnier in the general silliness that periodically creeps over Patrick's sessions. I love it. Come to think of it, it's just been a good day today. Between the session, Stealth Disco, and Tina introducing me to, there has certainly been more than a usual portion of laughs. (That's another funny site, check it out.) Very good day indeed.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Stealth Disco

People dancing behind other people's backs. This is hilarious. Watch the "Best of" video. Thanks to Eric C. for the link.


For some reason recently I've been paying more attention to the subject of daydreams. By far the biggest imagination-topics for me are music and dance, though I suppose that's maybe no huge surprise. In my head I can evoke the entire range of human emotion on a huge selection of instruments. It reminds me a little of the pianist character in An American in Paris, and the daydream sequence to Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F. But it rarely involves pieces of music that I actually play, or even recognize. It's more frequently improvised magic that I would never be able to replicate in real life, which is probably why I have such a hard time composing. I can have a gorgeous feeling and concept in my head and yet have no clue how to translate it into actual notes. I suppose I need to get better at improvising in order to get better at composing. But that's a tangent.

And then there's dancing, which again involves music, of course. What makes my inner dancing so fascinating is not so much any particular moves so much as a complete and total integration with the music. It's as if the music and the dance are created in unison, from a single thought. Tango is excellent for this, though swing and waltz are right up there as well. Having a partner that I feel close to and connected with is also essential, and everything ultimately just ties into one beautiful, inextricable synthesis of people, music and motion. That's the ideal that I keep in my mind, and all the best dances of my life are ones that inch me a little bit closer to it.

If I extend the general theme of my daydreams, I see that really they are almost all about creativity. I've had far more ideas for drawings, paintings and craft projects than I will ever actually create, but it's fun sometimes just to be an artist in your mind, even if your creations are never brought to life. I also imagine myself writing long, thought-provoking, witty blog entries (I'll try to let you know if I come up with one), or even fiction, which is a much farther leap from reality for me. But music and dance are the big ones, the ones that can literally make my heart beat faster just from the magic I create in my head. It's the creative force behind it all that makes it magic.

In short -- concepts are good, but I'm still working on implementation. Probably always will be. :-)

Tuesday, September 09, 2003


Feeling rich from my new job a little while ago, I made my first ever donation to TSF. Not much, and apparently not enough to warrant a thank you letter from an actual student, but enough for them to send me a small TSF magnetic poetry kit. Interesting. I like the fact that three of the words on it are Viennese, Ball and Waltz.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Gender Balance

Welcome to our new housemate, Rebecca, self-described Japlady ( = Jewish American Princess & Japan-ophile). I have not yet discovered what that means in practical terms, but she seems nice enough so far. So we now have gender balance in this house for the first time since I threw it out of whack a year and a half ago. Good thing I know how to follow... not that that's really relevant, of course, since I'm the only dancer here anyway. Oh well. It's still somewhat comforting, after years of taking dance classes and signing people up for dance classes, to know that things are evened out at least in this little corner of the world.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

More Tunes

I visited another new (to me) Irish session today. I feel like I'm sort of doing research in the process of getting back into Irish again. I definitely want to keep going to Patrick's sessions, but I'm also just investigating other options that I haven't tried before. This session was in Cupertino, and it was a better size than the last one, but not necessarily the sort of thing that's going to draw me back too much, especially on Sunday evenings. But I was pleasantly surprised to see a couple familiar Santa Cruz faces (Galt and Mike) that I hadn't seen in a while. I didn't stay a super long time, though, because I'm sort of tired and I'm still trying to go easy on my hands.

Saturday, September 06, 2003

In Which I Make Valiant Progress in the Face of an Insurmountable Reading List

With a slight reading frenzy today I actually managed to finish two books that I've been working on. It feels like I've been too busy to do that very often these days. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was another exciting adventure, though Jules Verne left me frustrated about a few things. Obviously some of that was intentional, since Captain Nemo is supposed to be a very mysterious character, but one or two bits I thought really deserved some more follow-up. And the ending was a bit too quick and easy. But overall, it was fun. He didn't use the elaborate chapter titles like he did in Around the World, but his writing still makes me think of them (and they amuse me), so I used one here.

Messengers of God was excellent, though at times I had trouble deciding how to think about it. It's a book of Midrash, which is commentary on the Hebrew Scriptures using elaborations on and additions to the Biblical stories. (Somebody Jewish can feel free to correct me here -- I'm still a bit fuzzy on the exact use of this term.) It was really interesting to see some of this sort of thinking, but I get a bit confused about where certain concepts come from versus the stories that were created to explain them. Reading the Old Testament (at least most of what I've gotten through so far) is fairly straight-forward in that sense. People go about their lives, some of them interact with God in fairly direct ways, they pass information on to others, and it continues. The flow of information is easy to follow. But when Rabbis some centuries later start adding in more stories about other events, friends and relatives, angels and devils, it's harder to know what to make of that. Perhaps a story is a good explanation of an interpretation, but then where did that interpretation come from? It can't have come from the story if you admit to making it up. (Bear in mind, though, that I'm still unclear on how much of this is "made up" versus passed down orally through the generations along with the written scriptures.) Of course, this question doesn't only arise with Midrash. I tripped pretty heavily over it recently when I read Job, too. I guess, though, that whether or not we have explanatory stories made up for us, we inevitably develop stories of our own, simply because we need to interpret it all somehow. It's just easier to question explanations when they come from someone else.

So anyway, that all opens up the reading list a bit for something else. I'm not sure what's next, but at least I've always got lots of possibilities floating around.