Sunday, December 28, 2003

Hamonic Progressions

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

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

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

Friday, December 26, 2003

Merry Christmas!

Happy yesterday to everyone!

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Mordor Gingerbread

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Happy birthday, Maya!

Saturday, December 20, 2003

An Achy Breaky Week

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

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

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

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

Happy birthday, Carol!

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The Return of the King

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

The Templar Revelation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 15, 2003


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

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

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


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

Sunday, December 14, 2003

A New Home for the Contra Dance

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

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

Saturday, December 13, 2003


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

Friday, December 12, 2003

Musical Surprises

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

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

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

I Feel All Important Now

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

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

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Journal Drawing

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2003


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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 06, 2003

The Arrival of Phileas Fogg

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

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

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

Friday, December 05, 2003

Experiences of the Quena Kind

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

Thursday, December 04, 2003

The Memorial Nutcracker Polka

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

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

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

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

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

Hearing the Russian Dance now always makes me happy.