Saturday, December 31, 2005


Lacey and I both got absolutely floored by the flu last night, as did a lot of the Camp Harmony crowd. So we actually just called Mom and had her come rescue us and bring us home today. It really sucks to leave camp right on New Year's Eve of all times, but if we're going to be completely incapacitated, I'd rather do it at home. Sigh. Back to resting for me, now.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


Lacey and I are about to take off for Camp Harmony, so we'll be gone through New Year's Day, singing and dancing and playing and being silly and things like that. Happy New Year, everyone!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Great Grandfather

Tom Walker Here's a better picture of great grandpa Walker, where you can actually see him. I got this one when I inherited his old banjo guitar nine years ago. Good picture. Let's not have any more "seed of Google" type posts about it this time, though. That was just weird.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Richer, Deeper, Lower, Higher

A couple weeks ago, Monee and I dug up some old records of a Russian singer named Ivan Rebroff. He sings some opera stuff and a lot of Russian (and other) folk songs, and he has the most fantastic voice. He's been called the "richest, deepest, lowest, highest bass in the world," and he really is incredible. The record jackets claim he can sing down to an A below the bass staff, but on one song he actually makes it all the way down to the F below that. (That's a full octave below the usual low F for a bass singer.) Plus, he even has a surprisingly good head voice, and can sing well all the way up into soprano range (or at least alto, I haven't really checked) when he wants to. The songs that contrast the extremes of his range are really fascinating. I also like his recordings of "If I Were a Rich Man," in both French and German. I haven't found an English version yet, but I really like the German one. And the balalaikas playing with him on a lot of the recordings of are pretty cool too.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Musical Signatures

So this is kind of cool. The iTunes Signature Maker will analyze your iTunes library and make a short sound file merging together parts of various representative songs, choosing a set number of them by play count, or rating, or other options. It actually comes out with some pretty interesting stuff. This is my favorite result from my iTunes library so far. For the options on this one, I used 40 songs, chosen by play count, five second clips, up to five overlapping at once. I thought the overlapping might be too much, but I actually kind of like the density of sound it creates. Another version has 30 songs, with four second clips, and no more than two overlapping at once. How many of the separate songs can you recognize? should totally integrate something like this with user profiles.

(Link via Lifehacker.)

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Great Grandparents

Mabel Reesey, 1921 Thomas Walker Mabel Reesey, 1921

I spent a lot of the day with Monee yesterday, and one of the things we did was to look through some of her old photos of her parents in the 1920s and '30s. I scanned a few of my favorites, which you can see on the Flickr photos above. The two of my great grandmother Mabel Reesey Walker Herdman in particular fascinate me. There's something a little mysterious and impish about her face that I love. You can tell that in spite off the old-fashioned formality of the pictures, she's still got some zing in her. I'm not sure why I like the picture of my great grandfather, Thomas Walker, so much, especially since you can't even see his face very well. But I like it nonetheless.

Mabel and Tom both kept diaries during the time of their (secret) courtship and subsequent elopement, and we've got transcripts of them both written out with each person's entry from each day side by side, along with Mabel's commentary on it from a taped interview with my uncle Paul years later. Fascinating stuff. It's really making me want to get more into the family history and dig up old stories and photos and things to share, like uncle Jim does on the Waldon side.

Friday, December 09, 2005 Getting Better?

I logged in to for the first time in a while last night, and they've changed up a bunch of stuff since I saw it last. I haven't done an exhaustive investigation yet, but I like what I've seen so far. In particular, several old pet peeves are now (finally) solved:
  • Links have been unjavascriptified, so you can do normal link things with them, like open them in new windows/tabs, etc.
  • It might be possible to link directly to particular books now (try it out on one of my favorites). I've been having mixed luck with it though, and I think my browser cookies are confusing the issue, so I'm not sure. Try it. It's kind of sad when something like that would be an improvement, rather than taken for granted, but oh well.
  • The ridiculous session timeout (which didn't even require you to sign in again, but just screwed up your navigation) doesn't seem to happen anymore.
  • Sound samples now open in a little flash player in a new window, rather than making me download a RealAudio file and play it in another app.
Unfortunately, downloading is still kind of messed up. They still don't give plain old links that I can right-click and save-as, which means Safari opens them in iTunes automatically, even if I just want to save them. I need to go through Firefox and get prompted for each one if I don't want my iTunes interrupted while I'm listening to something else.

Anyway, though, it looks like they're on the right path. Hopefully they'll keep going.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Steppin' Back Out

I made it back to Steppin' Out for Lindy Hop last night, after last month's hiatus. Fun to be back there again, though I'm bummed that with holiday schedules I'm only going to get two dances there this month. Oh well. I'm starting to seriously consider switching to do West Coast Swing on Monday nights, though. I've been lamenting my few and forgotten WCS skills recently, and I'd really like to get better at it, plus I know Richard Kear is teaching there now, so it should be good. The problem, though, is that I still really like the Lindy Hop and I'm learning a lot from Trevor and Megan. Of course, the problem also is that I'm reluctant to book up more than a certain percentage of my weeknights, since technically I could do stuff on both Monday and Wednesday nights. But I do need some downtime.

Oh, and speaking of learning dances, I really need to learn Balboa sometime. I suck at dancing fast swing and that would help. Plus, it just seems like a good thing to know.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Posting in Pieces

My writing energy has only been coming in small doses this week. So instead of a nice, coherent post on some subject or other, we have here a random grab bag of miscellaneous recent things. Your transitions are the blank spaces between paragraphs.

I bought an external hard drive this weekend to go along with Phileas Fogg, my laptop. So I named it Passepartout and felt extremely clever. (I know, it doesn't take much.)

Overheard in the plane to Portland:
(There's a kid in the seat ahead of me, studying a Star Wars catalog of some sort.)
Kid, very seriously: Mom, if I could just have Annakin Skywalker's lightsaber, I would really be very happy.
Mom: It's only a replica.

(Same kid, trying to tell his dad about Narnia.)
Kid: ...and Edmund has this bad... a bad... what's the word?
Dad: For what?
Kid: For like when I'm always picking my nose.
Dad: Gross?
Kid: No! A bad...
Dad: Habit?
Kid: Yes!

Lacey took me to a toy store in Portland called Big Finnegan's (Little Finnegan's is around the corner) where I got some fun stuff to pile around my cubicle at work, including Percy the Purple Dragon, and Olive, the Other Dragon. Another naming that amused me (though only one reader of this blog may actually get the full extent of the joke).

A coworker visiting from the Dublin office wanted to teach Irish dancing to some other folks here, so I went along after work last Thursday to play fiddle for them. It actually went surprisingly well, plus it was nice to play after a month without it.

James was kind enough to play Iris for me at the last FNW. So I got to dance the pivots that I finally figured out (and wrote about) last month. Yay! has some cool personalized radio things you can listen to and get good music recommendations from. I signed up a year and a half ago and then forgot about it, but in the meantime it's recorded 18,000 songs that I've listened to, so it's getting a pretty good idea of my preferences. So I've been having fun playing with it recently. I haven't tried yet, but that sounds neat, too. (Now, if they could just import my profile and then do Pandora stuff with it, that would be awesome.)

I've seen Harry Potter IV twice since it came out. It was fun, of course, but more heavily and obviously edited than any of the previous ones (understandably). Also, I was rather annoyed by both Dumbledore and the waltz choreography. Fred and George, though, just stole the show. They were great.

The End

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


50,160 words, that's what I ended up with for this year's November novel. You can read the whole giant mess of it here. Further comments on it all may come later, when I feel like typing more. In the meantime, I'm going to go do something other than write, and you may commence dispensing the praise, admiration and accolades.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Leaping Pumpkin Jumble Surprise

This was really just the best Thanksgiving dessert ever. Not only did I like it way better than regular pumpkin pie, but it jumped out of the refrigerator to attack Shaleece, and then it turned out to be even yummier when it was all messed up like a pudding or something. Sounds weird, but it was great. I guess you probably had to be there.

Also, Pa showed us a Gee Haw Whimmy Diddle, which I thought was wonderful. I even figured out the magic trick of getting it to spin both ways. (Kind of, I wasn't very good at it.) I need to make myself one of those.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Writing Time

One of the big things about NaNoWriMo is dealing with time. It seems as though evenings after work are both incredibly short and incredibly long when you know you have to write 1700+ words before you go to sleep. It's weird.

Also, I'm at around 35,000 words right now, and I still don't know if I'm going to run out of stuff early, or stall too long and have trouble wrapping it up in time. I'm not precisely sure how it's all going to work out, even now. (Think it's suspenseful for a reader? It's even worse from over here in the author's seat.)

Friday, November 18, 2005

Musical Interludes

Whenever I finish an audio book, I spend a few days listening to music on my commute instead. The various "favorites" playlists on my iPod are very heavily weighted towards things I like to sing along with, so it also tends to be a very singing sort of time as well.

I noticed this last time around that in addition to matching notes as I sing along (still not always a guarantee) it's also fun to try to match voices. I find myself changing timbre, enunciation, etc., depending on whether I'm singing along with John Linnell, or Andy M. Stewart, or Weird Al Yankovic, or Sebastian the Crab, or anyone else. And then there are songs that switch it all up in the middle, like Swingerhead's "Trying to Cut Back," which has about six or so distinct personalities singing the different verses, each with the singer doing a different voice. Or Robin Williams singing "Never Had a Friend Like Me," with all his silly genie voices. It's fun trying to keep up with it all.

Anyway, just thought I'd share that.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Serial Sleuthing

So, in the November spirit of serialized fiction, check out Stanford's Discovering Sherlock Holmes project:
In 2006, we will rerelease a collection of Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales of Sherlock Holmes, just as they were originally printed and illustrated in The Strand Magazine.
It's free, and you can get it sent to you in hard copy or electronically. Sounds like fun to me.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Notes from the Week

So yeah, I'm not blogging so much these days. Here's some stuff, though.

Dancing things are being inconvenient this month. There are new salsa classes and tango classes, both of which I would have considered taking if I weren't already skipping swing to write a novel. Ragtime Ball tickets sold out in the blink of an eye, which is kind of a mixed blessing -- again, more writing time, but no Ragtime for me.

I got kind of sick yesterday, which definitely impaired both productivity and enjoyment for the weekend. Blah. But I think I'm getting better, so I'll probably be okay tomorrow.

The novel (still untitled) is going decently well. It's been pretty fun so far, though the process is painfully slow at times. I barely kept up yesterday, but today was more prolific.

I finally got a chance to finish reading The Basic Eight. As I may have mentioned before, Daniel Handler is a fantastic writer. And when I reached the end of this book I realized that I now have to read the entire thing over again because it will all be different, knowing what I know now. Very cool, though a bit frustrating as well, since I don't really have the time to be reading books twice. Later, maybe.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Beginning

Here we are at Day One, and the new novel has begun. Read along if you like at NanoGraham (site feed).

Monday, October 31, 2005

All Novel's Eve

Here it is again, the night before November. I've managed to work up some various bits of ideas for the next novel, luckily. No title, but some character names, situations, and the beginnings of a plot. Not enough to keep me from being nervous, but it should do. I won't be able to start writing until at least 8 PM tomorrow night, I'm afraid, but the first installment should be posted towards the end of the evening.

As for Halloween, the scariest part of tonight involved hula dancing. Two itty bitty girls dressed as hula dancers came trick-or-treating, and we asked them (very nicely) if they wanted to dance for us. They seemed too shy, so a bunch of us (three or four grownups) started humming encouragingly and waving our arms and shaking our hips in typical pseudo-hula fashion. The girls actually hid behind their mom and wouldn't take candy from us. I had to go put candy in the bags for them while I apologized. I felt very bad about it, though it was hilarious as well.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Cross Step Left Turn Pivots

At Friday Night Waltz last night, I was doing some cross step waltz and started thinking about the left turn pivot move. Richard had some tango-y name for it, I think, which I can no longer remember. It's the one where you cross into the middle of the room, then do three left turn pivots, then start a follow-cross-behind grapevine on 5, finishing up with more grapevine steps and an underarm turn. Anyway, it's a fun one, especially once you get the hang of keeping the turns tight enough to actually be able to lead that first cross-behind step.

But what I was noticing last night was that this move starts with a fantastic flurry of energy, which can be great for matching something dramatic in the music. The reverse direction and the acceleration and the zippy little pivots are really fun for that. But after that the momentum kind of dies with the grapevine, because all of a sudden you're not turning anymore, and you've got several steps to kill before the underarm turn. So it's not necessarily the best followup if the music isn't also winding down there.

Eric was kind enough to help me experiment with this a bit during a break, and I found that one simple thing to do is to just add two more pivots after the first three. It keeps the spinning going longer and it isn't actually too hard to then open up and go back to the right turning basic step afterwards. So not fancy, but it works.

An idea that didn't work was to add the 5-6 right turn pivot move at the end (going into an underarm turn on 1). It seemed good in theory (and on my own in the hallway) since I liked the idea of the direction changing pivots. But with an actual partner it turns out that your feet are align entirely wrong. You've got left feet in the middle for the left pivots, and there's no way to get right feet in the middle in time for the right pivots. Bummer.

Eric also came up with the cool idea of going into the first two grapevine steps only, then the underarm turn on 1, snagging the extra hands on the way to get into matador position. That was really slick, and probably the best idea we ended up with. I need more practice doing things from matador position, though, so I could do that and still have a good followup.

Anyone else have any good ideas for what to do after left turn pivots?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

No Soy Salsero

There's a new series of dance classes on Tuesday nights in Palo Alto, run by the FNW folks (info on their website). I managed to get over there in time for the salsa class last night, after the library. (I've been really needing to learn salsa for a while, if you haven't heard me bemoan that recently. Hustle's on that list, too, and some other things.) I got roped in as a demo partner for the end of the Congress of Vienna lesson that was wrapping up, which was kind of fun. The salsa class itself was interesting, and Anne is a fantastic teacher, but it all just feels so foreign to me. It's like oil and water. And I think I'm just not used to both taking truly beginning level classes and having it be difficult. My brain just doesn't want to accept the fact that I'm not waltzing. Oh well. I want to go back and keep trying, but unfortunately, it's not a series class. Next week there will be cha-cha though, so I might go to that, and then some other latin dances, and probably more salsa again at some point, though I don't know if it will come around again soon enough for me to build on last night's class. We'll see.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Ideas! I Need Ideas!

I've got about two weeks now until November. Meaning I'm in the pre-writing worry stage of this year's NaNoWriMo novel. It would be really nice right now to start getting some plot ideas. Or at least some characters. Or really, at a bare minimum, some decent names for characters, just so I can at least have someone to write about once I jump blindly in. Unfortunately, I tend to balk at actually thinking about these sorts of things, and my brain shuts off. Though actually, I'm okay on coming up with little ideas, things like an interesting scene, or a magical object. But what I need is some sort of general framework that I'll be able to stick those sorts of things into. Right now the most I can say is that it will very probably be another magic-realism sort of thing (a la Charles de Lint, or Neil Gaiman) because that's the sort of thing I like and most want to write. Other than that, suggestions are extremely welcome. :-)

In other NaNoWriMo news, I've so far got three other people I know planning on tackling it. Any other takers? It'll be fun, really.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Google Reader

Google's new feed reader launched today. Go to and sign in with your Google account to check out the spiffiness. Those of you who are used to feed readers know what to do with it. For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, this is a fine opportunity to find out. You can use a feed reader to to subscribe to blogs (or similar sites) and get all the updates for all those sites in one place, cutting down on the amount of time you need to spend going around and checking all your friends' blogs just to see if they've updated or not. Very handy. If you want to subscribe to my blog, the address of my site feed is:

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


So it's getting to be that time of year again. National Novel Writing Month begins on November 1, and signups started a few days ago (minus some server downtime). I've been having very mixed feelings about it recently, to tell the truth. A great deal of me would both love to do it again and love not to.

I think that approaching it for the second time might actually be harder than the first. The first time around, you don't know if you can do it at all. And if it turns out you can't, well, an awful lot of people have never written a novel. You can just remain one of them. But now that I've actually done it once already, I'm in a bit of a pickle. If I don't make it through this time, then I'll learn that I can no longer do something I could do a year ago. And really, I have no clue if I'll be able to manage another book or not. So that's a bit scary, without even factoring in the time and effort involved (each considerable).

On the other hand, it was awesome to actually write an entire novel of my very own. I rarely get to do creative work of any kind on that scale, and it's an incredible feeling when you come out the other end of it and realize what you've accomplished. The insecure artist inside me really wants that boost.

Anyway, what it works out to is that I did go ahead and sign up. And over the next month I will hope and pray that I'll come up with something resembling a character or even (gasp!) a plot. And then we'll see what happens in November.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Watch His Writing

Since I mentioned the other day a category of "books that make me want to write," I'll go ahead and give Watch Your Mouth, by Daniel Handler, as an example. I've read certain other books written by this author under a certain other pseudonym, and I was very curious to see what sort of stuff his alter ego came up with. I chose this book only because it was what the library happened to have in stock the day I was there. It turned out to be excellent. I have to admit I was a bit skeptical at first, given the somewhat excessive horny-college-kids and incestuous-family themes. But it worked out to be a kind of fascinating web of complex crazy people, with a monster story mixed in for good measure. So it really stayed intensely interesting all the way through.

The structure of the whole book was extremely unique, which I liked. (There's nothing wrong with a nice, standard, straight-through story, but I'm always intrigued by new ways of putting things together.) A little over half of it is written like an opera written like a novel, and the rest of it is like a 12 step recovery program. Sounds bizarre (especially since I didn't realize that the opera was going to end midway through the book) but somehow it really works. The opera section in particular had some really brilliant moments. The story-telling version and the opera version blend in interesting ways, and some of the descriptions really tickle me. Such as at one particular (ahem) climax of a scene, where he says "seizuring so hard that the orchestra has to extend its budget and hire some additional percussionists just for these ten measures or so."

Another smaller scale thing that I liked was a twisting of perspective within sentences. As an example, the narrator was in a diner when he found out that he needed to go somewhere a couple exits farther up the freeway. He says "I signalled for the check and then for the left-hand turn at the end of the ramp." The driving doesn't need to be mentioned, but he makes the ignoring of it interesting, by slipping it in there and sharing the signalling between the check and the turn signal. When he gets there, he says "I parked in a lot crammed with mid-life crisis cars, red and shiny and probably divorced," describing the drivers by describing the cars. The book throughout is filled with clever little bits like that.

So anyway, great book all around, and a good example of some of the things that make me want to have the kind of creativity that produces novels. In unrelated news, Book 12 of A Series of Unfortunate Events is coming out on October 18th. I will be looking forward to that.

Saturday, October 01, 2005


The movie was fantastic. Every bit as fascinating as the book, plus you get to watch everything actually moving around and coming alive. In the way that certain really good books make me want to write, this movie made me want to draw. I felt like I didn't have enough eyes to catch everything I wanted to. And the music was excellent, as well. I actually went out to Borders afterwards and bought the soundtrack (by Iain Bellamy) which I very rarely do. Anyway, really good stuff all around. Go see it. (It's at the Aquarius, for those of you near Palo Alto.)

Friday, September 30, 2005

Close Encounters of the Authorial Kind

Neil Gaiman Neil Gaiman came to Google today to give a short talk and read a bit from his new book Anansi Boys. He actually spoke a lot about blogging, and how he credits his blog with helping him get to the top of the NYT bestseller list. Some of us on the Blogger team got to have lunch with him and talk a bit, which was fun, though he didn't have much time to stay. Heck, we would have kept him there all afternoon if we could have. But anyway, it was neat to get to meet him. And I definitely feel like (re)reading some more of his books now, too.

To tell the truth, I hadn't been that keen on reading Anansi Boys at first, since it sounded a lot like American Gods (the covers even look the same, which I think was a poor design decision on somebody's part). But he described it as being more humorous than American Gods and I very much enjoyed the part that he read. So I went ahead and got it from as my next audio book. I'm kind of bummed it's not Neil Gaiman himself reading it, since he was doing a great job on the few pages he read us, but we'll see what this Lenny Henry guy sounds like.

Coraline In other Neil Gaiman news, the movie of MirrorMask comes out tonight; I'm going to see it tomorrow. And something that amused me: He signed my copy of Coraline with a drawing of a mouse. (Or is it a rat? I don't know. Whatever. I like it.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Like Dreaming, Without the Sleep

It turns out that MirrorMask is probably about the best book to read in the middle of the night when you can't sleep. Neil Gaiman manages to capture the feel of dreamland incredibly well. The matter-of-fact mix of the creepy, bizarre and hilarious, along with just enough narrative cohesion to make it an actual story, seems to hit the nail right on the head. It makes for a fascinating hour or so of reading. I could probably describe it more eloquently, but it's late and I think I'm actually about ready to go back to sleep now. I wonder what my dreams will be like?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

I'm Not Really Sure Camels Walk That Way

In swing class last night we learned something called the Camel Walk. For those of you who want to follow along at home, give it a try:
  1. Step forward and a bit to the right (with your right foot, of course). Now hook your left foot behind the right ankle. Now another forward right step.
  2. Repeat to the left.
  3. Now, keep going, but whichever foot has the weight on it for any given step, keep that leg straight. Bend the other one at the knee so that only the toe is on the ground. So alternate knees are popping out as you go.
  4. Now get the shoulders going. Whichever shoulder is on the side of the bent knee goes up and the other goes down.
  5. If you're trying to lead this with another person (in side-by-side position) then you've also got to lean your bodies forward on the long steps, and back on the hook steps (pushing the hips forward).
  6. If that isn't enough things for your brain to keep track of, remember that you can do this in either quick-quick-slow tempo, or just a bunch of quicks. If you do Q-Q-S, then the steps go hook-step-step, with a direction change in the middle (harder than step-hook-step).
Next time I go to the zoo, I'm going to take a closer look at the camels, 'cause this is some wacky stuff.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Winnie ille Pu

Mom and I spent a couple of hours at the Menlo Park Library book sale this morning. I came home with 15 books, at an average price of 80¢ per book. Not bad (aside from the perennial questions of where I will put them and when I will read them). Undoubtedly the most amusing find was a copy of Winnie the Pooh translated into Latin. I don't read Latin, and I don't plan on learning to, but the fact that this even exists tickled me enough that I had to get it. I especially like some of the translated names, like "Ior" and "Porcellus."

Thursday, September 15, 2005

One Ring Zero

One Ring Zero is the latest band in the Interesting New Music Department for me, thanks to Miriam this time. One description of them refers to "the sort of 19th-century, gypsy-klezmer, circus-flea-cartoon music you mainly hear in your dreams." I don't know if that's precisely how I would have put it, but I suppose it's as good as anything. These guys collect weird instruments and mix accordions with claviolas with theremins, with random toys or pieces of machinery that just happen to make interesting sounds. Neat. On their latest album, As Smart As We Are, they asked various authors to write lyrics for them, which ORZ then set to music. Interesting concept. I especially liked "Radio," the Lemony Snicket one. There were also songs from Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, Dave Eggers, and a bunch of authors I didn't recognize.

Anyway, this is another in a series of inspirations I've been getting recently in terms of wanting to write more music. I should do something about that.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

A Richardson Rhumba

Congratulations to the newly-weds Kimmy and Bertrand! The wedding yesterday was lovely, and I was especially happy about their first dance. They haven't been dancing for very long but they did a great job with their rhumba, complete with turns and dips and everything. And the best part was that they were just smiling so happily at each other the entire time, no looking nervous or checking their feet or anything. That's really about the best thing you could do to make a good dance, not to mention good wedding pictures. I was quite proud of them.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Tunes I Want to Write

I got to hear Nightingale play at a house concert tonight. I always love hearing them. This concert was pretty heavily weighted towards their third CD, which was good since I don't know that CD as well, though I missed a lot of my favorites from the earlier CDs. Mostly, though, I came away wanting to write tunes again. Keith and Jeremiah both come up with some really nice ones. Unique and interesting enough to be worth writing, but still fun and fiddle-y enough to blend nicely with the traditional tunes and songs they do. That's about what I want to aim for.

Update: I just went and looked at Nightingale's website (it was down last night when I posted the link above, so I couldn't check it). And on the front page it says "Nightingale -- at the elusive balancing point between tradition and innovation." Which is precisely what I like about their tunes and what I was trying to get at when I titled this post. So I guess they're doing a good job of finding that balancing point.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Spiced Peach Jam and SandWallaWallaWiches

Jam! Lacey's running around California for a couple weeks, getting in visiting time with everyone, and she spent the Labor Day weekend with me and Mom in Palo Alto. She is strewing homemade jam about as she goes, as well, and I must say the spiced peach is incredible (especially since you almost have to slice it as much as spread it). Strawberry-rhubarb was a very close second, though. Also, we got a big yummy Walla Walla onion at the farmers market and made toasted cheese, onion and tomato sandwiches. Wonderful stuff. Anyway, Lacey's blogging up a storm about her trip, and my writing is not feeling particularly voluminous today, so I'll leave the rest of the stories to her.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Running in Waltz Time

Like Lacey, I've recently started running again. It started a few weeks ago, after some particularly fast waltzes and polkas at a Friday Night Waltz. I felt more winded then I thought I should, and I realized that I am probably just not in the same cardiovascular shape that I was back when I was running a couple miles every day. So, fueled by a healthy fear of aging and flabbiness, I went for a jog that weekend. It was thoroughly depressing how out-of-shape I was. I had to stop and walk every few minutes to catch my breath, and I was sore for two days afterwards. But after running a couple times a week for just a few weeks, I'm already much better. The last couple of times I've gone 15-20 minutes solid running without stopping, no problem. (This is maybe 1.5-2 miles, I'm not sure.) That's a very comfortable amount, so I can probably start stretching it a bit.

One of the trickiest things for me tonight, now that I can actually keep going for a decent amount of time, was reining myself in and not outpacing myself. There's this mode that I remember deliberately shifting into, at the end of one-mile runs back in high school, where I sort of just add a few extra inches to my legs and turn them loose to start to fly. It's a super fun way to end a race (though I only ever raced against myself, of course). But it's trickier when I accidentally just start doing it early on and then can't keep up my pace as well.

I also find that at my most maintainable pace, I'm running at three breaths per inhale or exhale. Left foot first for inhale, right foot for exhale. Probably about a slow rotary waltz tempo. I think the reason I like waltzing so much is that there's just something about it that's on the same wavelength as me.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Stuff Shifting

Helping someone else move inspires me to get rid of a whole lot of my own junk. I very much want a room with a bare minimum of possessions right now. It's been gradually getting more full and disorganized here for a long time, and I've kind of been in denial about how much it bugs me. Time to do something about that.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Missing Magic

So having finished Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince for the third time, I feel inclined to write a bit more about what I think magic is and isn't (see also my previous post on the subject for more). One of these days I'm still going to write a big, all-encompassing theory of magic, but for now it's just coming out in bits and pieces. [Spoiler warning here, but you've all had a month to read the book, so no complaining if you haven't yet.]

I feel very much as though there is something J. K. Rowling isn't telling us about magic, even within the context of her books. This usually bugs me when reading about the classes the kids take, but in HP6 one particular thing struck me regarding the Prince's Potions book.

There are spells written in the margins that the Prince apparently composed himself, as evidenced by the crossings-out and rewritings. That, of course, raises the question of how one actually goes about creating a new spell. Given that (almost?) all the spells in these books are only one or two words long, it seems unlikely that simply arranging the correct sequence of letters is all there is to it. If that were the case, it would be more like discovering new spells than creating them, which doesn't seem right. Are there a finite number of spells in the world? How did they originally get associated with their particular words? It just doesn't work.

Occasionally in Charms class, we hear of a particular wand movement that accompanies a given spell, which adds a bit more dimension to it, but the movement does not seem to be very important for spells in general, beyond simply aiming them. Wands are tools for focusing the will/concentration/etc. to create the magic, and I would be inclined to see words as the same way, especially considering all the talk of nonverbal spells in this latest book. Advanced wizards with sufficient concentration power don't need to actually speak their spells. So I'm a bit disappointed that even Dumbledore is rendered helpless when he loses his wand. I think he has more power in him than that.

Now something I did like from HP6 was the scene in the cave leading to the Horcrux. For example:
"Yes, this is the place," said Dumbledore.

"How can you tell?" Harry spoke in a whisper.

"It has known magic," said Dumbledore simply.


Twice Dumbledore walked right around the cave, touching as much of the rough rock as he could, occasionally pausing, running his fingers backward and forward over a particular spot, until finally he stopped, his hand pressed flat against the wall.

"Here," he said. "We go on through here. The entrance is concealed."

Harry did not ask how Dumbledore knew. He had never seen a wizard work things out like this, simply by looking and touching; but Harry had long since learned that bangs and smoke were more often the marks of ineptitude than expertise.

[pg. 557-558]
I think there's something really important being hinted at here. Dumbledore's magic is qualitatively different from Harry's, and from most of the magic we get to see in these books. Magic is something he is, not just something he does. He feels it and senses it and interacts with it directly.

And so I'm kind of worried about Harry. Most of what he's getting in school are magic words, and potion ingredients, and instructions to focus on the three D's while spinning in place. There's no discussion of what the magic actually is, or how one internalizes it in the same way (even if not to the same degree) as Dumbledore or, presumably, other accomplished wizards. I would think that after six years of school they would have gotten more advanced than they have. Harry's got to face Voldemort next year, and Chosen One or not, I'm not sure he's been given the magical skills to do it.

And, of course, aside from being concerned for Harry, I just want to know all this for myself.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

GrooveLily and MP3tunes

Thanks to Adam, I've been listening a lot to a band called GrooveLily recently. They've got a bunch of free mp3s on their website, and then this week I finally went and got some of the complete albums. Lots of fun music, but it's the electric violin that I'm really loving. Take a look at this thing. From what I can tell, it's got six courses (sounds like a couple extra fifths below the usual range) and frets (!?). Look at what she has to do with her bow arm to get those low strings. I really want to try playing that. She can do some pretty incredible stuff with it, too.

If you want to hear some of their songs, go to their site, click on "Music" and then look for the "mp3" icons next to the songs. (I'd link directly to the page, but framed sites are sucky that way and I can't.) Some of my favorites available there are Live Through This, Phantom Lover, Apocalyptic Love Song, and Can't Go Home, so start with those.

While I'm here, I'll mention that the albums I bought I got from I've been wanting to try that site, and finally found that they had something I was looking for (though not the most recent album, unfortunately). I like the DRM-free downloads, and the 88¢/track ($8.88/album) price, so I'd recommend it for that. The shopping system could use a bit of work, though. There's no shopping cart to put stuff in, tally it up, and buy all at once, so it's difficult at first to figure out how much you're spending, or to change your mind about things. (I found out later that they send an email receipt with the day's purchases at midnight, though, which is a little bit helpful at least.) Still, overall it was a good way to get (legal) instant download gratification.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Third Time's the Charm

So, yeah. I started Harry Potter 6 again. Eric C. loaned me the audio book version, though, so I get to "read" it that way now. There's still an important clue that I vaguely remembered and wanted to verify, though somehow I missed it entirely on my second (admittedly fast) reading. It's neat to hear Jim Dale reading it, too. He won an award of some sort for his reading of book 5, with something like 134 separate character voices in it. Neat. He does do a good job at that, though I'd say he could use a bit more pitch variation when it comes to the female characters and the kids. Ginny in particular seems to have a surprisingly deep voice for a 15 year old girl. Oh well. It's fun.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Salsa vs. Lindy

Well, my plan for Steppin' Out was to start the beginning salsa series next Wednesday. Unfortunately, when I checked on it last night, I found that the schedule changed from what's on the website, and the beginning class is now at 6:00. Ugh. I could make it there if I wanted to (since I've been working on a slightly earlier schedule recently anyway) but there's no way I'd want to wait around for two hours afterwards for the 9:00 swing dance. And I do want to be able to do both a class and a dance, especially as long as it's the same price either way. So now I'm thinking I'll take the intermediate lindy hop class at 7:00 instead. That will be fun, too, though probably less "good for me" than a beginning salsa class. But it's just 4 weeks, so I can see how I like it and then decide what to do after that.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Steppin' Out

I'd been hearing about Steppin' Out, a relatively new dance venue in Sunnyvale, for a while, and I finally got around to checking it out last night. Wednesday nights are Lindy Hop nights, though they've got lots of other dances all through the week. I might consider doing West Coast Swing on Mondays, especially since it's Richard Kear who's teaching. There's also Hustle on Tuesdays and Salsa some other time, both of which I should take some actual lessons in eventually. Lindy Hop is what I've most had a hankering for recently, though. Too bad it's on Wednesdays, since that makes for a very long day after work and library. Still, I liked it a lot there, in spite of a somewhat small crowd. I might make that my swing outlet for a while, instead of Swing Central, though I'd have to reschedule my library nights if I wanted to take lessons. There's just too much for me to balance with dance these days. I haven't been feeling like devoting more than one or two evenings a week to dancing, and in that time I'm torn between doing things I'm comfortable with and just having fun, or taking lessons in things I don't know so much (like Hustle or Salsa, which wouldn't be as fun, at least not for a while). Plus, with whatever I choose, I have to consider conflicts with things like library volunteer nights and Irish sessions nights. Argh. But, as always, better too many choices than too few.

Sunday, July 17, 2005


I'm in a bit of a daze now. Time to figure out what to do with my life for the next couple years before book 7 comes out. Wow, though. That was a doozy.

Saturday, July 16, 2005


HPATHBP Antonia and I just reached the halfway point in the new Harry Potter book. (We're reading it out loud to each other, otherwise it would probably be finished by now.) We managed to get our copy not too long after midnight last night, then stayed up until nearly 4 AM reading it. Then about 3.5 hours of sleep and starting again. Now a few hours of napping and then back to the book. (Well, a few hours of napping for me, but a short nap and some running for Antonia, so she doesn't go entirely without training this weekend.)

So as not to be too spoiler-y, I will restrict my comments to the following: (1) I'm liking Harry a lot more than I did in the last book, (2) chapter 14 was awesome, (3) Justin will be glad that more of the kids are getting clues finally, and (4) I never knew how much the phrase "gum disease" could make me laugh.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Accio Book 6!

I've got a reserved copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince waiting for me at Borders, to be picked up at midnight tonight. So after a bit of Friday Night Waltzing, Antonia and I are going to go get it and then read it (aloud) straight through the rest of the weekend. Or at least as much as we can, minus time for some minimal sleeping and eating. I am quite excited.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Google Picnic

Evil Death Ferris Wheel Well, I thought last year's picnic was big, but this event just keeps getting more like a carnival every year. Heck, there was even a ferris wheel, not to mention a crazy scary evil death ferris wheel ride (remind me not to let Kimmy talk me into any more roller coasters in the future). Something I liked more than getting flung around upside down was the spin art booth. Spin Art You would put a piece of paper in a holder that spun it around really fast as you dripped paint on it. There were lots of neat designs from that. Other fun things were a kite performance, twister, contortionists, and a swing band (though I only got to dance a couple of songs). It was a good afternoon. Plus, I remembered sun screen this time, so I didn't toast myself. Yay!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

UK Trip 2005

Alright, I think my blogging marathon is about over (two weeks' worth in under two days -- not bad). Now I can go back to working on things like sleeping at the correct times and looking left before I cross streets. Not to mention catching up with all the blogs/email/snail-mail/etc.

Anyway, if you want to make sure you didn't miss anything going by, here's the whole trip:

Britain, in Limericks

So, Miriam being Miriam and me being me, and long train and subway rides being occasionally boring, we came out of the trip with a small collection of limericks, commemorating various places and events. Here they are, in chronological order by subject (not by creation). Enjoy.

The Circle line runs all around
And Picadilly cuts across town
We got on the District
But found we had tricked it
It took us not uptown but down.

After waiting outside for an age
I stood down at the base of the stage
The actors did pace
Right in front of my face
Like fearsome wild beasts in a cage

Just after the play's final scene
We were yearning for Indian cuisine
But nowhere on Drury
Could we find Tandoori
At 11 PM -- that's obscene!

In the beautiful city of Bath
We walked up and down every path
We had to exclaim
Over everything's name:
"Of Bath" and "of Bath" and "of Bath!"

If Bath Spa is your destination
Then throughout your whole visitation
The end of the line
Of each bloody sign
Will remind you about your location

Is Glastonbury Tor worth the fuss?
It was well worth the hiking for us
In the blustery blast
We gazed out 'till half-past
Then we dashed back downhill to the bus

Out at Stonehenge we saw the big rocks
And one of them there even talks
If you ask him politely
He'll tell you that nightly
The Druids dance 'round in their socks.

Sweeping, majestic and regal
Is Salisbury's famous cathedral
But we showed up so late
They were closing the gate
So we sighed and admired the steeple

While training from Salisbury to Bath
Engineering work lay in our path
So onto a bus
They deposited us
While the workers all had a good laugh.

In Yorkshire confusion's complete
Where the terms "bar" and "gate" have me beat
By the river called Ouse
A bar won't serve booze--
It's a gate! And "gate" means a street.

In Scotland's fair capital, people
Can stare, stupefied, at a steeple
Or tarry a while
Upon Royal Mile
And dine upon something uneatable

"Make Poverty History now!"
Cried the Edinburgh protesting crowd
And they marched 'round the street
'Till they fell off their feet
(Or whatever it was they'd avowed).

[for Borden]
Your friends from the U.S. of Am.
Have brought you some shortbread and jam
With thanks for your kindness
They hope you will find this
With love, from Miriam and Graham

There once was a fellow named Gideon
Who lived on the Greenwich Meridian
Inter-hemisphere travel
Makes others unravel
But for him it was strictly quotidian

At Oxford a student named Howard
Had an outlook too ivory-towered
So he switched to All Soul's
And restructured his goals
Now he's hunting the mythical mallard


Me on a Bridge I spent a couple days at Miriam's place in Philadelphia after we got back from England. There was a bit too much groggy recovery time in those two days to actually see much of the city, but we did spend a lot of time in Fairmount Park, which, I think, was exactly what I needed. It's a beautiful park, and just walking through the woods there relaxed and rejuvenated me more than anything else had in a long while. A very good place.

On Thursday, inspired by Scotland, we took a shot at making shortbread from a recipe online. Brown sugar shortbread, no less, which I had once years ago and loved. It ended up within shouting distance of actual shortbread, at least, though not necessarily recognizable as such if you didn't know ahead of time what it was supposed to be. Still good though. That night we ate crêpes at Le Beau Monde (where the job description for the waitresses must have prominently featured the term "quirky") and then went swing dancing at the Tokio Ballroom. That was fun but jet lag had me zonked out pretty early.

Notes of interest only to Liz Carroll fans:
  • I found Wissahickon Avenue and Wissahickon Creek but not Wissahickon Drive. So close.
  • We also passed a Wingohocking Street. I should write a tune for that to go with Wissahickon Drive.

London Again, and Oxford

Appropriately enough, July 4th was the day we came back down to London and met up with various fellow Americans. Borden was kind enough to let us stay at his place in Greenwich for a couple nights, and we also saw Miriam's parents and sister, who were in London for a few days at the end of a trip to France.

Profiles Having enjoyed our previous time at the Globe so much, we convinced Miriam's family to go see Pericles with us that night. Her parents got actual seats, but Maya came down to stand by the stage with us. This play was done as a "modern practices production," so it was a good complement to the original-style one we had seen before. It also featured some exciting acrobatics on ropes suspended above the stage. I think they had to scour the world to find people who could do that kind of thing and act. Great show, and very much worth going to the Globe again. If I lived in London, I would probably go see every play that goes on there.

Flowers and the Radcliffe Camera The next day, Miriam and I made a short trip out to Oxford. I think that if I had Stanford to do over again, I would probably consider a quarter or two in Oxford much more seriously. I liked it there. Seems like it might be weird though, to be a student at a place where tourists pay admission to come poke their noses in. Oh well.

Christ Church Cathedral was lovely, but had a very mysterious sound. It was a low, rumbling hum, just barely a note rather than a noise, that seemed to come from somewhere off in the distance but surrounded us nevertheless. I imagine there are shifting staircases, Hogwarts-style, somewhere, or other parts of the building are humming to themselves.

In the afternoon at Magdalen College we were starved, having skipped lunch, so we went for a quick bite at the little cafe in the college, fearing a dull, expensive little tourist trap. To our delight, it wasn't like that at all. The only people there were two friendly waitresses and a man who travels around the country taking photographs of cathedrals, and who spent our lunch time telling us all about it and showing us pictures. He was a very nice guy, retired I think, and just doing this as a hobby, though he said he might put together a book some day. So that was a fun little interlude in an afternoon of sight-seeing.

I liked All Soul's College because they have a gorgeous courtyard, but it's hidden. You see a small, simple green square when you first go in, but that's just the decoy courtyard. If you head to the back right corner, you find a short hall leading out into a much larger, more ornate courtyard, with some beautiful views. Plus, they have a song about a giant duck. Must be a cool place.

Blackwell's bookshop was also fantastic. I wish I could swap that in for my local Borders. There are several floors above ground, with new, used and antique books, but the basement is the really fascinating bit. It's set up on three concentric split levels, so that when you're on the top level or the stairs, you can see not only the large horizontal expanse of books, but also three levels of depth. I wonder if that's the largest number of books I've actually been physically able to see at once? Felt like it, at least. It's like a bibliophile's heaven.

That evening we went back to London and had dinner with Borden. Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to see much in Greenwich, though we did get to walk under the prime meridian, which is marked by a green laser beam arching across the nighttime sky. It's amusing to think that Borden lives in the Eastern hemisphere but works in the Western hemisphere. What a commute!

Other notes:
  • Goddard's Pie House has some delicious and cheap meals. We didn't go back for the jellied eels, though, I'm afraid.
  • Magdalen Chapel had monochrome stained glass windows, which seemed odd at first but which was fascinating in its own way.
  • We at dinner at a restaurant with goldfish bowls suspended from the chandeliers.
  • Innocent Drinks juice bottles have stories about monkeys on them.
  • On our flight home the next day, the pilot announced that London had won its bid to host the 2012 Olympics. People applauded, and it was a nice resolution to two weeks of seeing "back the bid" and "make Britain proud" posters.

Saturday, July 09, 2005


Make Poverty History March What we didn't know when we scheduled ourselves to be in Edinburgh for the first weekend in July was that it would put us smack in the middle of the Make Poverty History march and G8 Alternatives protests. 225,000 people marched through Edinburgh that Saturday, so we hardly got the typical tourist experience. But it was really neat to be there for that, and fun to follow the march around town. It feels very different though, to see anti-Bush slogans and posters abroad than at home. (There were a lot of those, mixed in with all the other issues.)

Whale Bones The National Art Gallery was closed since it was on the protest route, but we did get to go to the Museum of Scotland (connected to, but not to be confused with, the Royal Museum of Scotland). This was an excellent museum, covering the entire history of Scotland from prehistory to the present. They even had a couple of Andy Goldsworthy pieces there, which made me happy.

Edinburgh Castle Edinburgh Castle has some great views of the city from up on "The Mound" of volcanic rock it's built on. Among many other things, we got to see the crown jewels of Scotland, which have a rather silly story attached to them. As I understand it, once Scotland became part of the UK they no longer needed their own crown jewels (sceptre, crown, etc.) so they locked them in a box and locked that in a room. Then they promptly got themselves all confused and started wondering if the crown jewels were really in there, and where they might be if they weren't. It was all very mysterious for about 100 years until Sir Walter Scott came along and had the brilliant idea of actually checking. Lo and behold, the crown jewels were right were they had been left, and Sir Walter got a plaque in Edinburgh Castle for it, probably along with some other recognitions. Yay for him.

The Firth of Forth On the edge of the city is Holyrood Park, which has even farther ranging views than the castle does. We went hiking out there for a few hours on Sunday morning, and went to the top of Salisbury Crags, though not Arthur's Seat. (Darn. I guess we'll just have to go back some day for that one.) Walking along sheer cliffs with the wind trying to buffet you off is an exciting sensation. On a smaller hill were the ruins of St. Andrew's Church, overlooking a small lake with swans and ducks. Very picturesque. It was nice to get out of the city for a while and into something more approaching nature, even if it was still crisscrossed with footpaths, tourists and joggers.

The short bits:
  • The Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh are lovely, though why they close at 6:45 pm when there is still a good 3 or 4 hours of daylight left is beyond me.
  • An alternative park for our dinnertime picnic (Inverleith) had a cricket game we could watch. Still no idea how cricket works, but entertaining none the less.
  • Sir Walter Scott's memorial is one of the more evil-looking constructions I've seen, though it's got some competition from a creepy black tower on the Royal Mile. Both would look at home in Mordor.
  • We saw War of the Worlds at the cinema, where I ate Revels (chocolate candies with varying centers).
  • I love shortbread.


View from the Art Gallery Steps One of the things about visiting England is that it can be hard to tell sometimes whether that castle across the street is actually a tourist attraction or just a boarding school founded 1400 years ago. The one by our hotel in York was a school. Crazy.

Miriam falling off a wall York is surrounded by about 2 miles of old castle walls, which are great for strolling, viewing the city from above, falling off of, and finding little nooks in. The giant gates in the walls are called bars, not gates, and gates are streets (though streets can also be just streets). Also, the river Ouse is pronounced "ooze." It's prettier than it sounds, though.

York Minster Before the trip, I had reread (and shared with Miriam) chapter 3 of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. So when we went to York Minster we were on the lookout for speaking stones. And in a way, we found them. There was a service going on in the chapel at the time, and it was being piped out through various speakers tucked all around the Minster. So it really was like walking by a pillar and hearing it speak. Wonderful. We also got to go into the chapel for the last part of the service. I loved the organ music and the choir singing. At the end of the service, the choir filed out past us, still singing, and we could hear each part individually as they walked by, until they gathered together again in the next room and the harmonies recombined.

York is a pretty haunted place, but at this point it may have more ghost walk tours than actual ghosts. We went on the original one though, which was probably the only case (for the entire trip) of us allowing ourselves to be herded along with a gaggle of tourists like that. But it was worth it to listen to a great storyteller. The stories weren't even all about ghosts per se, but also about other unexplained and mysterious phenomena, like the walls of Clifford Castle running red with blood every hundred years, or a past life hypnosis session that described the crypt of St. Mary's church 15 years before it was actually unearthed and discovered.

Other highlights:
  • Used book stores. Unlimited time and money -- that's all I need. But I managed to restrain myself for the most part.
  • Turkish delight. Yum.
  • Eating Indian takeaway by (and on) the ruins of St. Mary's Abbey.
  • Dancing on cobblestones to Strauss waltzes being played on a harmonica.
  • Emperor Constantine distributing largesse in the form of oranges.

Bath and the Southwest

The River Avon After London we went to Bath for a couple of days. We only really spent the first day in Bath though, and the second was more of a run-around-to-lots-of-places sort of day. But of that, more anon.

One of the first things we did was to see the Assembly Rooms of Bath, which are ballrooms and such that the Jane Austen types would go to to be seen in high society. By sheer luck, we found ourselves on the largest of the dance floors with no one else around, so we had a quick waltz twice around the room to hummed strains of the Blue Danube. That was fun. Underneath the Assembly Rooms is the Museum of Costume, which was actually tolerably interesting, though I think Miriam got rather more out of that than I did.

Bath Abbey Bath Abbey was beautiful, full of stained glass and dead people. Right next to it were the Roman Baths had lots of interesting Roman artifacts and green water. The wishing pool also now has 25¢ and 10p more than it had before we got there. The reflections were nice, too.

Botanic Gardens The Botanic Gardens were gorgeous, though their closing time of 9 pm was silly (it's still light for another hour at least after that). However, there was a playground nearby that emptied itself of kids at about the same time. This playground was great; I wish I had one like it when I was younger (heck, I'd take it now, too). In addition to the usual swings, slides, etc. it had a zip line, a climbing wall, a great climbing web of ropes (like monkey bars, but way better) and something called (I think) The Hags. This latter was sort of an ultra super seesaw. Each person sits at the end of a long rigid arm and the joint in the middle lets the arm rotate around the center pole and also angle up and down. So once you start pushing yourself off the ground and get going fast enough, you can fly around the pole in a sine wave kind of motion. It's fantastic.

Glastonbury Tor Anyway, the next day was our crazy day. We started off with a 1.5 hour bus trip out to Glastonbury. We saw the Abbey ruins and climbed the Tor, where the wind attempted to blow us back off the entire time. I could hardly blame it, of course, with all the tourists it has to endure up there. We had to skip Chalice Wells on the way back into town, unfortunately, since we needed to catch another bus.

How Stonehenge was really made There weren't any convenient bus routes out to Stonehenge from Glastonbury, so we actually went all the way back home to Bath and got on the train to Salisbury. From there we managed to get on the last bus to Stonehenge, where it was raining lightly and treating us to a bit of thunder and lightning as well. Very cool. After we got back to Salisbury, we went to the cathedral but only had a few minutes outside before they closed it. We admired it from outside a bit, but it was getting rather darker and wetter by this time, so we didn't spend long there. That's a place that would deserve going back for more time in better weather, though.

On the way back to Bath we took the last train of the night, which was running a bit late. About half way back the train stopped at Westbury station, having been informed that Network Rail was doing some nighttime engineering work on the track ahead of us. They negotiated for a while, but they didn't let us through. So we all got shuffled off into various buses bound for Bath, Bristol and Cardiff, and we ended up getting home that way. So all in all, the day probably had about as much transportation nonsense as anything else, but we still managed to do and see a lot of fun stuff, so it was good.

Random tidbits:
  • After a while, it seems that everything in Bath is named Blah Blah Blah of Bath. This becomes more amusing the more things you apply it to.
  • Yak Yeti Yak is really just the best name for a Nepalese restaurant.
  • There was an antique maps shop in Bath that offered free international shipping. Thankfully it was closed, or I would have blown a horrid amount of money there.
  • A fine Indian restaurant in Salisbury received my umbrella as a tip. Luckily, it wasn't raining anymore when we left (though actually, I guess that's why I left it in the first place).


Blogger Goes to London We spent the first four days of our trip in London. Recovering from two overnight flights in a row plus jet lag was a bit of a pain, but it was exciting enough to finally be in England that it didn't matter much. We stayed in room 404 of the Leisure Inn, but we managed to find it every time.

We did get tube passes but ended up walking places the vast majority of the time (as we did for most of the rest of the trip as well). It's more fun to be out and actually moving yourself around the city than to be tunneling around underground everywhere. We did a rough approximation of the Jubilee walk on one of the days, to see a lot of the famous sights, and similar amounts of walking the rest of the time. I am glad beyond words that I decided to get new shoes and insoles before I left.

On Saturday night, we took a mess of public transportation out to Hackney for the Cotton Clubbers' Honey Pot Dance Battle. This was a swing dance competition (followed by social dancing, of course) but in a different form than I had seen before. It was a competition between teams of 4 or 5 couples and two teams at a time would line up on either side of the dance floor and be given two swing tunes in a row. They'd use the intervening floor space to dance at each other in couples or groups, with constant trading off of musical phrases and dancing space. There was a lot of good dancing, along with a lot of general silliness, so it was highly entertaining.

Outside the Globe One of my favorite things we did in London though, was seeing a play at the Globe. For £5 you can get a standing spot in the yard, which, if you're early enough, means that you can stand literally right up against the stage. It is more than worth 2-3 hours of standing and a crick in the neck to do this. We saw A Winter's Tale, which was an "original practices production," meaning they approximate as closely as possible the way in which it might have been performed in Shakespeare's time. It was absolutely fantastic. If you're ever in London and want to see a play there, don't spend more money for a seat, just get right down there in front. There's nothing like it. Also, the music was excellent. I need to get myself some renaissance music some time.

We passed enough amusing street performers along the banks of the Thames that I think they deserve a mention here as well. Perhaps the most gimmicky was a tightrope-walking saxophone player. We also got a neat magic show from a young man named Charlie Caper (great name!) and talked to another guy named Storm who's playing guitar on the streets as he hitchhikes around Europe. I was particularly fascinated by an old man with wild white hair and beard, dressed in a t-shirt, sweat pants and ribbons, and playing violin. He was playing classical music (I don't know what, specifically), and playing it quite well too, but with an incredible energy and excitement that made me think more of fiddling than anything else. I loved it.

Other random tidbits:

Thursday, July 07, 2005

We're Okay

For those of you who didn't know, Miriam and I flew back from London to Philadelphia yesterday, so we were gone by the time the bombings happened and we're okay. I'll be getting home tomorrow night and blogging about the trip (which was great) this weekend.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


I'm off to England, Scotland and Philadelphia. (Cue Sesame Street song: "One of these things is not like the others....") I'll be back home on July 8th. I'm excited!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

I Have Too Many Books

But boy do I love it. The total count of my library is currently 326 books, not counting a box of music books from Mom that I still haven't sorted through (and not to mention unknown quantities back in the garage in Santa Cruz). That may not sound like a huge number, but it's a lot to cram into my little room where I only have one and a half bookcases. My window nook (about 5' x 3') is starting to fill up and there are generally stacks of books on the floor and dresser, depending on what I have out from the library at any given time. Plus, I've started taking books to work, so I've got a good shelf's worth of computer-related books at my desk there. I need to think about moving to an actual apartment some day, even if only because of all my books.

To make matters worse, I spent last Saturday with Mom in Berkeley and the used book stores up there are just like magnets for the two of us. She sold a bunch of books at Moe's for $178 in trade, so we splurged and I came out of there with 9 more books. Then tonight I was over at Antonia's, and she's trying to get rid of everything she owns before moving. I came away from that with 22 books (including a 6-volume set of the complete works of Shakespeare -- never know when it might come in handy!) and she still has even more to sort through for giving away.

I feel at the same time immensely rich and completely overwhelmed with reading material.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

I Just Gave Someone 2/5 of a Cow

Mom recently told me about Heifer International, which I chose for my current monthly donation. It's a charity with a good, teach-a-man-to-fish sort of approach. Rather than just giving people temporary help and food, you can contribute to a more long-term solution where people are given livestock, taught to take care of it, and then agree to pass on some of the animals' offspring to other needy families. For different prices, you can choose to donate a variety of different animals, including cows, goats, pigs, ducks, bees, and even water buffalo or llamas. There are also trees or seedlings for any of you vegan-types who might be against exploiting animals. You can buy "shares" of some of the larger, costlier animals, which is how I got the fractional cow donated. Hopefully someone else will come up with the other 3/5 of it, or else there's going to be a disappointed recipient somewhere. Anyway, I just thought that was a good thing to share. Feel free to chip in with me on this cow.

Monday, June 13, 2005


Ten days from now I'll be in England!

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Seeing and Dreaming

I recently finished The Onion Girl, by Charles de Lint. I think high school was the last time I had read any of his stuff, and I'd almost forgotten how much I like his books. My favorite thing about them is how beautifully he integrates the world of magic with the "World As It Is," the real world. He shows you how magic, fairies and the like are not just fantasy but are actually all around us. Jilly Coppercorn is an artist in the Newford books (and the central character of The Onion Girl) who draws and paints the things that she sees and other people miss:
"Do you have to be magic yourself to see them?"
Jilly shook her head. "You just have to pay attention. If you don't, you'll miss them, or see something else—something you expected to see rather than what was really there. Faerie voices become just the wind, a bodach, like this little man here"—she flipped to another page and pointed out a small gnomish figure the size of a cat, darting off a sidewalk—"scurrying across the street becomes just a piece of litter caught in the backwash of a bus."
(page 141)
It reminds me of learning about "top-down processing" in a cognitive psych class somewhere back in college. Perceiving what you expect and what makes sense in the context can be very efficient at times, since you don't have to take in every single detail. But what do we miss by doing that?

A lot of this book also takes place in manidò-akì, the Dreamlands. This is a place inhabited by various spirits since before the world began, but it is also continuously being created by human imaginations. I love this because imagination and creativity are huge in my conception of magic. One of the characters, Sophie, created an entire city called Mabon, beginning with her daydreams as a child and continuing through her life in what she called "serial dreams" before she realized that it all went beyond simple dreams.
It began with Mr. Truepenny and his curious shop in which you could find all the books that authors hadn't gotten around to writing, with a gallery in the back that held the same never-to-be-seen treasures of the great artists....
She daydreamed the shop and its contents with such clarity that her time spent imagining them was as real to her as the world around her when she was awake. And slowly a city built up around that shop. First it was only the street outside as seen from inside, then the buildings on either side of Mr. Truepenny's establishment and across the street, finally the city blocks that started up on either end of the street. The city grew and spread out, no longer under her control, its existence fueled now by other dreamers who came and stayed and added their own ideas and considerations.
(page 316)
So in addition to making me want to pay more attention to the world around me, this book also makes me want to start paying attention to my dreams more, and start working on lucid dreaming again. There are so many worlds to explore....

Thursday, June 02, 2005

And Hello Gloria

I took Gloria in to the DMV today to get her all properly registered (it took that long because I only just got her smogged this last weekend). So now everything's all taken care of. The only thing is, I liked her old Oregon license number a lot better than her new one. Oh well. I just need to find something cool about her new number. The first digit is the sum of the last three, which is mildly interesting. But the letters in between are uninspiring.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Goodbye Fred

Fred has been sold. I ended up getting rather less than I had (optimistically) hoped for, but it's all worked out now at least. It's kind of sad to have him gone, since he was a good car for me for the last 5 and a half years, and I was very attached to him, in spite of occasional break downs and repairs and everything. But I suppose there are times to anthropomophize one's cars and times to just let them go. And I have lovely little Gloria to drive now, so that's good. Most importantly, after my DMV appointment on Thursday, I will have no further pressing car issues on my mind for the first time in a while. I'm definitely ready for that.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Eddie in Berkeley

I got to see Eddie From Ohio perform live for the first time last night, at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley. They are a ton of fun, and I was very pleased that they did almost all of my favorite songs (though I would have been happy if they had also managed to squeeze in 5th of July, or Candido & America). One slightly weird bit was that I had somehow misread the pictures on their CD liner notes and had Robbie and Eddie switched in my mind. So for the whole first half of the show I was trying to get used to seeing them on guitar and drums, respsectively. But I managed. :-)

Oh, and they had these great shirts for sale there. ("This is Me" is the title of their latest album, and I think it makes a wonderful shirt slogan.) Unfortunately, the size I got looked okay but fits oddly. They must have strangely shaped medium people where they come from.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Weekend in San Francisco

Sunset in San Francisco Antonia and I took this weekend to go on a mini-vacation in San Francisco. We took the train up and stayed at the Adelaide Hostel, where we periodically got to explain to people from the other side of the world that really, we actually only came from about 30 miles away. From there, we spent the rest of the weekend just exploring the city on foot. My feet are complaining a bit, but it was quite fun. Some of the highlights:

Grace Cathedral. We walked the labyrinths and were even lucky enough to have an organist playing when we went inside.

Chinatown. We walked past an open door to a little gym, where west coast swing was playing. Inside were a half dozen little old Chinese couples doing WCS. It was very cute. We danced outside, briefly. Dinner at the Lucky Creation vegetarian asian restaurant, which included a "mixed vegetable" place with a lot of really wacky mushrooms.

The Musee Mecanique which had tons of old carnival games, of the insert-quarter-and-watch-something-happen type. A lot were bizarrely morbid, like the Opium Den one. I liked the player pianos they had, though.

Fort Mason park was a nice little place, and included such interesting things as an unclimbable statue, a wonderfully twisty tree, and a segway parade.

We found a great picnic spot at the Exploratorium.

Swing dancing at The Doghouse. It was kind of a small night there, and I didn't last very long because of all the day's walking, but it was fun anyway.

Sunday morning we went to the early service at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church and got to listen to their awesome gospel choir. We had heard that Rev. Cecil Williams had retired, which was too bad, but luck was on our side: the new pastor was away this week and Cecil Williams was back giving the sermon today. He was great.

More parks. I loved climbing up and up through Buena Vista park. We just stuck our noses in Golden Gate park, to listen to some of the drumming and go on the carousel (I got to ride the ostrich).

Haight Street. Lots of amusing stuff along there, including a shop that almost made me wish I smoked pot just so I could have an excuse to collect all their beautiful pipes.

And for now, a little vegging out time before going to bed early. (I was going to wait and write about everything later when I was more coherent, but I figured I may not get to it if I do that.)

Monday, May 16, 2005

Fred for Sale

Fred, Front Fred, Front Seats Fred, Side

The time has come. I have a new car and dear old Fred needs a new home. Click the pictures for full-size versions. Read on for details. Email me if you're interested.

Basics: 1989 Honda Accord LX 4-door sedan, red. About 205,000 miles. 5-speed manual transmission.

Pluses: A/C, cassette/radio, power steering/locks/windows. Recently replaced battery and alternator, various other repairs (full list available). Runs great.

Minuses: Dent on left back door. Front passenger door handle coming loose. Cruise control doesn't work. Needs some repairs to pass smog check (this can be subsidized by the state, since they required a test-only smog check).

Price: $1,500.

[Cross-posted to Craigslist.]

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Big Danceyland

Lacey drove down from Portland yesterday and picked up Quena on the way so they could come to Big Dance, and we all fortified ourselves beforehand with many fine yummies, courtesy of Antonia's culinary wonderfulness. We ended up being somewhat late to the dance, but given that it was an all-night affair, that's not so bad as it could be.

I arrived just in time to see the performance of Kari's new choreography, which was fantastic. It was a 3 girls & 1 guy swing dance to Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, and I think I actually like that song a lot more than I used to after having seen that dance. Well done, Kari!

Lacey and I entered the helium balloon cross-step waltz race, which involved holding a balloon between the partners' bodies without popping it or letting it go, while trying to cross-step faster than the other couples. We took third place (again, this seems to be my usual designated place in dance competitions) and won Big Dance T-Shirts, which was a good prize since we probably would have been buying them anyway. My favorite competition of the night though, was the swing dance. It started out looking normal, with couples just swing dancing and getting eliminated down to five finalists. But then for the finals, each couple had to draw a card out of a hat, which assigned them a prop they had to incorporate in their dance. That was brilliant. The couple with the pool noodle won, followed by the couple with the umbrella. Lacey and I thought it would have been hilarious if Neal had been listed as one of the props, but he wasn't.

Around midnight in the dance studio there was as special guest performance by Vienna Teng, which was neat because she's a Stanford alum and has a pretty good fan base there. She's not really used to playing for dances, I think, but she got enough danceable songs together and it was fun to have here there. There ought to be a tradition of getting her back for Big Dance every year.

At the top of the list of memorable dances, I'd have to single out the polka I did with Eric, to Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy. That's a fun polka any time, but dancing it with Eric and and getting to sing along with him completely unleashing that awesome voice of his was just incredible. That was around 4 AM or so and I probably lasted the last two hours of the dance with a lot more energy because of it. Heck, I'm still a little buzzed, just thinking about it.

On a slight tangent: I've noticed something recently about my dance preferences. I would still say that waltz (particularly cross-step) is my favorite dance, with swing rising rapidly these days as I get better at it. But it seems that a lot of the most memorable dances these days, the ones that really make me go "wow!" are polkas. Maybe that's just because so much energy can be packed into them. To really do it properly can take a lot out of me sometimes, so even if they were played more frequently, I wouldn't dance them all. But that does mean you can get a lot of bang for your buck on the good ones.

But there were a lot of good, non-polka dances last night as well. It was fun to dance with Quena and Lacey, which I don't get to do very often. I had a lot of fun swing dancing, and there were also a few excellent waltzes. I also got several compliments on the musicality of my leading, which was very nice. I don't think I've been doing anything different than usual, but people seem to be noticing more recently for some reason. Regardless, it's gratifying.

I got to sleep a little after 7 this morning, but only managed about four and a half hours before I woke up, though I napped for an hour later on. And now it's bedtime.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Swingout Variations Your Mama Never Taught You

I started a new series of swing lessons last night, taught by some folks named Todd and Dorota, who are apparently American Lindy Hop Champions. I'm taking both the class with the above title and the one on "Wraps, Twists, Turns, & Traps." Both are pretty fun so far, and I like the pace. We got two really good moves in each of the classes, which was a bit challenging (I didn't entirely get the last one) but gave me a lot to work with. So it should be a fun few weeks. My brain might get full and start leaking, but I'd rather be taught more than I can absorb than not get enough to fill me up.

And speaking of dancing, Big Dance is coming up this Friday/Saturday. Nine solid hours of dancing fun. Yay! If I make it all night, this will be my sixth year in a row.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Glad I Don't Live There

I've been insurance shopping recently, in preparation for getting Gloria this Friday. I was very perplexed at the quote from AAA, though, since it was so much higher than all the others. After going through my settings an extra three times, I finally caught a single mistyped digit in my zip code. It turns out that living in Oakland would more than double my car insurance. Wow. Anyway, that's all sorted out now.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Red Hot Skillet Licking

Last night was Kevin & Carla's two-year anniversary at Swing Central, and they had Lavay Smith and Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers playing for the celebration (my photos are here). They were a lot of fun, though I have to say that one of my favorite moments was when the trombonist got up and sang a number. He was great, with just the right sort of a growly voice for the blues song he was singing.

There were a lot of people out for this dance, and the Lindy Hop competition was fantastic to watch. (For the record, I had pegged the winning couple before the competition even started. He was the guy I most wanted to dance like.) A couple groups did performances, too. I stayed until after midnight, which was good because it was a fun dance, but bad for waking up this morning.

The swing lesson series I was in also finished up last night, and Kevin & Carla are going to Europe for a bit, so there's a mini series of lessons being taught by some other people for the next few weeks. I ended up signing up for two of those classes. When K&C come back, I'll probably take the same series I just did again. The next level up (which I was thinking about trying) looks like it's going to be very performance-oriented, which isn't really what I want.