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.