Sunday, January 30, 2005

Happy Dance Things

Last night at the contra dance there was a girl named Helen, who's probably about 8 or so. Apparently she remembered dancing with me months ago and had enjoyed it so much that as soon as she arrived she ran up to me to ask me for the first dance. I was tickled by that, and I'm a total sucker for kids, so of course I obliged. And she's actually quite fun to dance with.

Another thing that makes me happy is new dancers who fall instantly in love with it. Antonia's quote from last night: "It can't be healthy to have this much fun." We'll work on building up her immune system, though, through prolonged exposure. It'll be good for her. :-)

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


I took a look at my NaNoWriMo novel tonight for the first time since November. I want to get it printed up at Cafe Press so it can be like a real book, rather than just a Pinocchio blog-book. I've been thinking about doing a major editing process on it, but I just can't quite work up that much motivation or time. I'm thinking it's interesting enough as it is, as an artefact of my first novelling attempt, and I don't have any particular hopes for it beyond that. So what I'm doing for now is just rereading the whole thing, and giving myself permission to make slight alterations as I deem necessary, without feeling pressured to do major revisions. Then I'll get it formatted up all book-like and anybody who wants one can get a copy. Haven't decided on a cover yet (any suggestions?).

I'm not very far into the rereading yet, but it's comforting that so far it hasn't made me cringe (at least not too severely). It's neat to be reading it as an actual, complete story, flaws and all.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Escher Legos

I recently discovered Andrew Lipson's Lego Page, which has some absolutely incredible stuff. Scroll down the page to the Escher section to see Lego versions of some of Escher's famous paintings, like Relativity. Wow.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Use It or Lose It

Last week on a radio show called The Next Big Thing Erin McKean, "activist lexicographer," presented John Linnell (of TMBG) with an assignment. She gave him three words that she thought were in danger of dying out and being removed from the dictionary, and requested that he write a song using them. The words were contrecoup, craniosophic and limerent. On the latest show, Linnell came back with the song. I think it's just incredibly cool that he does things like that, and I even enjoyed the song.
you know what's wrong with me
you know phrenology
you saw my injury
you can tell just by looking at my skull

contrecoup on the rebound
contrecoup hurt me again
and the second was worse by far than the first
'cause it made me limerent

when my head was hit
I bounced away from it
or as someone who is craniosophic would say
the brain went the opposite way

contrecoup on the rebound
contrecoup hurt me again
and the second was worse by far than the first
cause the first just left me feeling inert
but the contrecoup woke my feelings for you
and it left me limerent
You probably have to hear it, though. Listen to the segment of the show where he sings it here. The original assignment of the task is here. (RealAudio links, about 6 minutes long.)

Update: Thanks to Aliste, you can now get this as an mp3 (2.2 MB). I also corrected "unnerved" to "inert."

Friday, January 14, 2005

What's in a Key?

At the Irish session last night, Ernest made a comment about how he doesn't really think that Irish tunes have keys. That made no sense at all to me, so of course I asked him to explain. He pointed out that a lot of this music developed as pure melody, without a harmonic context, which may be true, but I don't think that prevents it from being in a key. Plenty of tunes are full of arpeggios, so there is some harmonic context, even if the chord progressions don't always match up with classical music theory. Most importantly to me though is the tonality. There are some weird tunes out there, sure, but with most of them, it's easy to tell which note everything wants to resolve to. Ernest also cited examples of old recordings that have chordal accompaniment, but that use unusual chords that wouldn't seem natural in the context of a particular key. I'd have to hear an example of that though, and figure out precisely what chords were being played, in order to decide if I think that affects it. But my guess would be no. You're allowed to do unusual stuff with chords without forfeiting your key. But it made me wonder about what the most minimal, precise definition of "key" would be. For myself, I think I'd say forget about chords -- there just has to be one definite note where the melody feels resolved. The other notes can vary. I'd count "D modal" as a key, for instance, without needing to choose between D major and D minor. The point is that it all revolves around the D (or whatever note). Anybody else have any thoughts on this?

Monday, January 10, 2005

Descriptions of Magic

I finished reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell last night (300 of the 780 pages yesterday, with almost the last 200 in one sitting). I loved it. It makes me want to be a magician. Well, even more than I wanted to before.

Here's what gets to me with books about magic, though: they never seem to explain satisfactorily how the magic actually works. I have some ideas about it, and I believe (with Mom) that there are ways in which magic is still possible, even today, though we think about it so differently in the modern world. So I'm very interested in ideas on how it all might work. J.S. & Mr. N., while excellent in many other respects, was extremely hand-wavy about the actual process of doing magic. Sometimes even the results of the magic were left pretty vague. And really, it was surprising to me how much I liked it, in spite of this frustration. I wanted to know what Strange and Norrell learned from their books, how they performed their spells, how they created new ones. But no luck.

As a different sort of example of what I'm not looking for, there are descriptions of magic such as you can find in the Harry Potter books: words to spells, ingredients to potions, etc. That's getting closer, but a big problem with the HP books in particular is that everything is predicated on the wizard or witch having both an inherent magical ability and a magic wand. I think that sort of a skew is probably incorrect. To my mind, magic would be something anyone could do with proper training and practice, and it would be much more mental, less reliant on props, or even spells.

Here's another kind of magical idea. Several years ago I read Little Big, by John Crowley. I remember more or less nothing of it (so I should probably read it again), except for one quote which I copied into my journal at the time. It described a system of "memory houses," in which you remember things by creating buildings and architecture in your head and filling it with symbols. The interesting part, though is that
it can happen -- if you practice this art -- that the symbols you put next to one another will modify themselves without your choosing it and that when next you call them forth, they may say something new and revelatory to you, something you didn't know you knew. Out of the proper arrangement of what you do know, what you don't know may arise spontaneously.
That sounds less explicitly magic than does most fiction about magicians, but it seems to me like it could open the door to all sorts of things. More importantly, it seems to me like the right kind of foundation for magic. That's where I would start if I were going to try to really figure out how magic works.

Speaking of which, I think there's going to have to be another post on this subject. I've got a lot more to say about what I think magic is and isn't, so I'd like to try to work it out and organize it a bit more.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Free Running

I just learned about a sport that I never knew existed: an "urban sport" called Parkour, or Free Running. Wikipedia describes it as "an activity in which participants... attempt to clear all obstacles in their path in the most fluent manner possible. The ultimate goal in parkour is to ‘flow’ along one’s path, for the entire journey to be as one fluent movement with no pauses or breaks.... Free runners believe that there is path to every obstacle which is achieved through forward movement." Some video clips can be found at

I caught the end of Jump London on the Learning Channel just now and it was fascinating. Three guys spent a day practically flying all over London, climbing up and leaping between buildings, and scaling various landmarks like the Globe Theater and the HMS Belfast. They were like ninjas. The strength, agility and endurance it takes are incredible. And I definitely like the fact that there is a lot of focus on the flow of what they're doing -- they aren't just trying to get over a lot of buildings, but to do with with style. It's beautiful.

I feel like I should really go work out now or something.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005


Reading all the discussion about Six Apart acquiring LiveJournal made me think of going back and finally figuring out how to get my blog syndicated on LJ, which I did. So all you LJ-types out there can go to this page, add it as your friend, and then get my updates that way.

For anyone interested in how I did it, you need an LJ account first. Then go to this page and enter the site feed of your blog in the form at the very bottom. Unfortunately though, you don't get any control of the LJ version of your feed once you do that. So you can't format it nicely, disable comments, or anything. But I guess that makes sense in a way, since you could be adding anybody's site feed in there, not just your own. And I'm glad to see that there's a way to do this, i.e. make LJ a general feed reader. I had always assumed it must be possible somehow, but I didn't know how.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Camp Harmony

I got back from Camp Harmony yesterday. I got a bit sick towards the end (it was the lack of sleep on new year's that did me in) but I'm resting up today and taking it easy. Camp was rather soggy, but fun. It was good to have Lacey back, along with Hugo and the kids.

I didn't teach anything this year. I didn't feel like doing the exact same music theory class I had been doing the last couple years, and I didn't have any extra inspiration for something new. Plus it was just nice to not have that responsibility this year. I'll try to think up something interesting for next year. We did do our usual Stupid Human Tricks workshop though, which was fun and always has some new ideas from different people.

Most of the music I did ended up being for contra dances and waltzes, and a little bit of the French dance. There were a couple nights when they just needed more musicians, so I did that instead of dancing. I didn't do much in the way of sessions. Jim taught me my first Balkan tune, though, which was kind of fun. It's called Neda Voda Nalivala (I don't know what that means) and it's in 11/4 time and in a mode called Hijaz, which has a flat 2 and a sharp 3 (compared to Aeolian).

Of the various dances, I think my favorite was the swing night. As usual, it was good practice for me to find ways to dance interestingly and musically even when my partners (aside from Lacey and Quena) don't have much swing experience. Most people there just do very basic six-count stuff, whereas I'm better at lindy hop. So I did a lot of adjusting, but it worked out pretty well. It's weird though, to normally be an okay swing dancer and then to go somewhere where people think I'm so good that I must be a professional dancer or something (someone actually did ask me that). I'm not entirely comfortable with that kind of attention. But I had a lot of good dances.

Origami-wise (I always end up doing origami at camp at some point) I got a nice dragon design from somebody's book. I folded it once and then found that I could do most of it from memory the next day. That was pretty cool. I must be getting better at origami if I can learn patterns that fast. (It wasn't super complicated, but still....)

In other news, Quena and I are not engaged though we did get lots of amusement from the camp rumor that said we were. In other other news, my angel card for the year is Enthusiasm. Hopefully I'll find lots of things to be enthusiastic about this year.