Tuesday, December 28, 2004


After all this clear, sunny, un-wintery weather we've been having, the forecast now has solid rain through the next week, just in time for Camp Harmony. Oh well. I have a raincoat, an umbrella, and wellies, so I'm all set. In a couple hours I'll be surrounded by redwoods, music, and wonderful people. I will return on January 2nd. Happy New Year, everybody!

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Mexico City, 1968

Running I found a set of photographs from what Dad called a "pre-Olympic tour" in Mexico. He said his college team travelled around the country racing against a lot of the local and regional teams, and they also got to run the first official race on the real Olympic track. Very cool. Hopefully I'll get to hear more about it when I see Dad on Christmas. I'm not sure what event this was that he won.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Fortunately Unfortunate

I went to see A Series of Unfortunate Events today with Mom. I was a little bit worried about it since I couldn't tell if they had just condensed the whole series into one movie, even though the last book isn't out yet. So I thought that it would either be giving away the ending or else not bothering to follow the story line at all. It turned out that this movie just covered the first three books, which is good because that was a good amount of material and it gives them space to make three more movies from the rest of the series.

They managed to cover the main important points of those three books, though they moved the conclusion of book one to the end of the movie, and stuck in an extra bit about a train early on. Also, the whole deal with the spyglasses was out of the blue, and there were lots more hints about the secret organization than I remember from that early in the series. But I guess they couldn't leave that out of the first movie entirely.

Jim Carrey made a perfect Count Olaf. Emily Browning, who played Violet, was pretty neat, and Sunny stole the show in terms of cuteness, being the baby and all. I like the way they used subtitles with her -- I had been wondering how they would work that. Also, Jude Law as Lemony Snicket was kept suitably shadowy and mysterious.

What I liked most about the movie though was the overall visual effect. It was all appropriately dark and dreary, but in a very beautiful way. Some of the sets reminded me of watching the Harry Potter movies, in that I wanted to just stop everything and go there, to examine every little thing in detail. A lot of the time when I see movies of books, I don't like how the movie clashes with the images I have in my mind. But I loved this one, and it has already completely ousted anything else I had in my head in terms of pictures for these books. I also enjoyed the animation sequence during the end credits (not to mention the accordion version of Brahms' Hungarian Dance #5 -- awesome!).

I really want book 12 to come out now, and I'm also going to be looking forward to the next movie. (Further reading: my previous post about the books.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

More Stuff from the Boxes

Family Picture, 1954 I spent a little while this evening going through a bag full of old birthday cards and similar things from when Dad was age 0-5. Most weren't anything very interesting or worth keeping, but some I kind of liked. I'm particularly taken by how many little tiny cards there were. I like miniature things, and you don't see cards this size these days.

I haven't managed to work myself up to tackling all the various newspaper clippings yet, but a couple did catch my eye. One was the family photograph shown to the left. The other was a Sermon of the Week, which was "condensed from one written and delivered" by Dad, when he was 16. Neat.

Monday, December 13, 2004

(Re)Learning Tunes

I'm trying to get back into shape musically before Harmony starts in a couple weeks. I haven't been playing nearly as much as I'd like to recently. I think the worst of it though is not so much being out of practice playing various instruments (though that's pretty bad for some of them) but being out of practice learning and remembering tunes. The Irish session I go to every couple weeks is fun but has a fairly distinct set of tunes that get played, without a lot of surprises. When I play on my own at home, I have an even smaller set of typical tunes that I play, though they tend to be different ones -- more favorites that other people might not know. So there are hundreds of tunes out there that I know I've learned but can never think of to play or practice. Argh. I can only hope I'll recognize them all (or learn them really fast) when they come up in sessions.

The other day I was talking with Miriam about crooked tunes and songs, and we got to listening to a track from one of the Nightingale albums, with a bunch of crooked Breton tunes and one delightfully twisted one called The Alley II. I finally decided to just sit down and learn them all and it was really a lot of fun. It's been a long time since I put any effort into learning new tunes. These of course aren't anything that will be useful for actually playing with many people probably, but they're fun. The Alley II is just incredible, continually switching between rhythms in 3's and 2's. Really tricky, but worth it.

Anyway, I need to find a good pile of tunes somewhere that I can just tuck into and start learning. It would be fun to start building up more of a repertoire again.

Friday, December 10, 2004

TMBG Blog Mention

They Might Be Giants now have an album of Venue Songs available for download. On their last tour, they wrote a new song for every place they played. Great album. And I was tickled to find the following in the Towson, Maryland song:
As you navigate the rotary on the way to park your car by the theater,
I'll hold your sweater, my leg is in a bear trap, I'm unable to attend,
But I applaud you and I'll jealously read your blog after the show.
Cool :-) Blogs are good for that sort of thing. I wonder how many people at that show caught the reference and ran home to blog it afterwards.

Thursday, December 09, 2004


Running Pen Holder I went through the two boxes of Dad's old running trophies tonight. A lot of them were broken, and there was also a separate collection of broken people from the tops of various other trophies. Some still looked good, though. And there were a few amusing ones, like this one, which seems to be Richard Nixon jogging on a treadmill, scratching his armpit and making a face like a fish that wants to be fed. Then there's this one, which looks like a combination combination gramophone-compass-speedometer-pen holder of some sort. Interesting. I was disappointed that not many of them said what even he actually won (though a couple were marked "2 mile run"). Still, it was fun to see everything, 25 trophies or pieces in all.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Bill Bryson Is Awesome

I'm listening to my second book by Bill Bryson right now, In a Sunburned Country, which is about Australia. This guy does about the most entertaining non-fiction writing I've ever encountered. He can describe Canberra (the capital) as the most boring city on earth and still make you want to travel there. His description of cricket, and listenting to games on the radio, had me laughing so hard that I was nearly in tears by the time I got home tonight. He also has extensive and wonderful descriptions of all the things in Australia that can kill you. It's great.

The first book of his that I read was A Short History of Nearly Everything, which, as I've already noted, was also excellent. Next, I want to read A Walk in the Woods and The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way. I'm hoping they come out on Audible though, because his books are good for listening to.

The point of this post: Find a book by Bill Bryson and read it.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

A New Project

The pack-rat tendencies in my family are really far too extreme. A couple months ago, Uncle Jim delivered to me four boxes and one bag that had been in the care of my aunts. It seems that these contain nearly everything that ever happened to my dad during his high school and college years, at least in terms of athletics and academics. There are two boxes just of trophies and awards from his track and field competitions. There are also two more boxes of scrapbooks full of newspaper clippings, photos and report cards. The bag contains a few things from earlier years as well, like a stack of birthday cards (some from when he was two years old), a baby book, a bit of schoolwork, and more report cards. Scattered throughout are some more random things, like a paperback copy of Revolution at Berkeley, and an entire binder of Pan American World Airways Teacher magazines.

So anyway, this has all come to me, in a kind of implied apprenticeship to Uncle Jim, the family historian. I'm in the process now of simply figuring out what to do with it all. Tonight I opened everything for the first time, just to see what all is in there and get an idea of what I'll be facing. It looks like it will be interesting to go through piece by piece, but I'm also going to need to somehow archive it all so that it can be safely gotten rid of without upsetting Grandma Jackie (Dad doesn't care what happens to it, and I'm certainly not going to keep it all in my room forever). I'll probably just photograph all the trophies, which should be the easiest part. Scanning in all the photos will probably take a while. When it comes to the hundreds of newspaper articles, I think there's going to have to be some significant selecting and editing involved. I'm not sure what I'll do with the slides. But whatever I do, it'll be a bit of a project for a while.

On the other side of the family, I have a cassette tape from Monee that I want to transcribe, and maybe get into a digital format at some point. It's Uncle Paul talking with Great-Grandma Herdman about Monee's father's "courtship diary." Should be interesting. I'd also like to read some of Great-Grandma Herdman's diaries, if we can ever borrow them from the cousins currently in possession of them. But that's a project for another time.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Many Fun Things

It's been a good weekend. For starters, Jammix was on Friday night. I tuckered out a little while before the end, but I did have some very nice dances, including a couple of polkas with Eric and a particularly good swing with Annaka. Then Saturday night was Testimony's Christmas show. All the people who originally drew me to Testimony's shows are now with me in the audience (or running the lights, in Justin's case) rather than on stage, but I still love it. Chi-en called me the ultimate groupie. Then this afternoon I went to see The Incredibles, which I found quite delightful. So yeah, lots of fun stuff the last few days.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Voice & Speech Class Overview

Last Monday night was my last Voice & Speech class but now is when I have time to write about it. The class turned out to be slightly different than I had imagined, but I was very happy with it overall. Prof. Sussel (visiting from U.C. Berkeley) was a lot of fun. I think I have a somewhat better understanding of how the voice works now, and I listen to speech and song entirely differently, which is fun. I've also notice that I can speak or sing for a long time and have it be a lot easier on my throat than it used to be.

I would have liked to learn more about the International Phonetic Alphabet and how to use it for things like learning different dialects, since that seemed really interesting. Our professor does a lot of that kind of work with actors, but this class was more oriented towards "speaking as yourself" the best you can. We also didn't specifically address singing at all, so I didn't get any clever tips on how to be more of a bass. (And there certainly wasn't any throat-singing, but I didn't expect that. :-) Still, everything we did was really good and useful, though I wish I hadn't been so busy the last month so I could have practiced my presentations more.

Anyway, I was quite pleased with the class, so I'm glad I put myself on the wait list back in September and lucked into it. The Continuing Studies Catalog for next quarter just arrived the other day, so I get to look through it sometime soon to pick what I want to take next.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Eddie From Ohio

Somebody at work today told me about a band called Eddie From Ohio. So I listened to one of their albums (yay for iTunes music sharing!) and I'm completely hooked now. It was one of those times when I just had a reaction like "Why have I never heard of these people before? They're awesome!" There have been three or four songs already that literally made me laugh out loud. They've got a great sound with lots of energy and some nice arrangements. I think they're sort of in a "folk rock" kind of category. I'm seriously going to go out and buy a stack of their albums this weekend. They're just too much fun.

Link: Eddie From Ohio. (All flash-based and with background music. Sorry.)

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Old Favorites

What with all the writing of the last month, I didn't actually get to read a whole lot. But I did manage to get sucked into a few favorite books that I haven't read for a very long time. It started off innocently enough, just wanting to check up on some details (since these books all figured in the story I was writing) but then they were just too hard to put down.

The first one was The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster. I think I read that about 14 times in a row when I was in third grade. Reading it again I was continually struck by how incredible it is. It teaches a lot of good lessons, and it's even extremely obvious about doing so, but somehow it's still a completely delightful book. I think that just hitting that balance is a minor miracle. Also, I think it was probably a big influence on my thinking, not to mention my sense of humor, just judging by the way things resonate with me 15 years later. It's the sort of book that makes me wish I had kids so I could read it to them (and saying I wish I had kids is not something I do very often). I did, however, get to read a great deal of it out loud to Miriam, Rebecca, Emily and Jen last weekend, while they were all in the middle of dress-making and origami-folding. That was quite fun.

The book I just finished today was Redwall, by Brian Jacques. I think I started that series when it first came out, and probably kept going for a good 10 years or so. After a bit, there wasn't enough point to getting the new ones, but the early ones were excellent. The variety of characters and the way all the different species of animals are characterized are just wonderful. All the way through the book I was stopping to laugh and say things like "Oh! I remember the shrews! They were great!" These books would be fun for read-alouds, too, especially if you like doing lots of difference voices.

In the midst of my novel I also reread some sections of The Princess Bride, and that's another that I'd like to go back and read in full again. All the fun of the movie, plus tons of extra details and back-stories and whatnot. I remember I used to periodically go back and reread just the chapter about Inigo, because I liked it so much. There aren't many chapters in any book that I do that with.

So there's still lots of rereading that I'd like to do right now, but it will probably get put on hold for a bit. There are just way too many new books on my list that I've been itching to get at for a while. And some of them are really long. (I'm still trying to figure out when would be the best time to tackle Atlas Shrugged, or Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.) So many books, so little time!

Tuesday, November 30, 2004


November is over, and I have a new novel. Wow. Anyone who's interested can download the entire thing here: Bibliomorph.pdf (348kb). Final word count: 50,895. Right now, my main reaction to it all is that I'm glad I'm done. It's been a lot of writing and I was really ready to be finished with it. But unlike banging one's head against a wall, I'm also glad to have done it for reasons besides the fact that I got to stop.

It's pretty darn incredible to stop and think that I have actually written an entire novel. After the first chapter or two I had probably already surpassed the entire fiction output of my life up until that point, but I ended up getting it to 170+ pages. It's not going to be winning any awards or anything, but it's one long coherent story and it still completely boggles my mind that I was able to do that at all.

I'm also going to be reading novels entirely differently now that I have some first-hand experience of what goes into actually writing one. Already I find myself noticing and paying attention to more and different things because of the way I can imagine myself in the author's place. And I like that.

Thanks to everyone who read along and/or encouraged me as I went. It was a little nerve wracking at times to think that people would actually read the stuff I was spewing out, but it also helped me get things done, knowing that someone was waiting for the next installment. And I really appreciated the support and occasional brainstorming assistance. Congratulations also to Andrea, who finished a few days ago, and to Chris, who should finish tonight after he writes the last 7,500 (!) words.

We will now return to our regularly scheduled blogging.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Thankful List

So before Thanksgiving weekend is entirely over, I wanted to put up a brief list of things I'm thankful for. Here are some of the top things in my mind as of 4:23 on a Sunday afternoon in November.
  • Family, both given and chosen, those that could get together for Thanksgiving and those that couldn't.
  • My seven-year-old cousin informing me that I can be a kid for as long as I want.
  • Finally getting to play a little bit of music this weekend, which I haven't done for a long time.
  • Reading most of The Phantom Tollbooth out loud to Miriam, Rebecca, Emily and Jen.
  • Revisiting other fun books that I haven't read in a long time (probably another post on this later).
  • Cartas de una querida amiga en Costa Rica.
  • Continuing Studies classes, so I never have to stop feeling like a student.
  • Completing an entire year as a permanent employee, and still enjoying my job.
  • One way or another, my novel will be done in two days. (Done! Yay!)
  • Having many wonderful things in my life to be thankful for.

Monday, November 22, 2004


Just for fun, I started putting together a NaNoWriMo-themed playlist. These aren't things I listen to while I'm writing -- I've actually been finding silence better for that. But just songs that seem amusingly related somehow. The Mark Graham songs are the ones that got me started on this. So here's my list. Any other suggestions?

  • Mark Graham: Monkey with a Typewriter, Life is Hard When You're Dumb
  • The Beatles: Paperback Writer
  • Elvis Costello: Every Day I Write the Book
  • Sheryl Crow: The Book
  • Moxy Früvous: My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors
  • Prokofiev: Suggestion Diabolique (whose idea was all this, anyway?)
  • Tom Waits: November, Looks Like I'm Up Shit Creek Again
  • They Might Be Giants: Impossible, No One Knows My Plan, I'm All You Think About (to be sung by the novel), Memo to Human Resources (for the line "I'm busy taking stock of all the things that I've forgot / And making mental notes of just exactly where I lost the plot")

Sunday, November 21, 2004

37,320 / 50,000

One of these days I'll get back to posting something other than NaNoWriMo updates. But "one of these days" will probably be December. I periodically have other things I want to post about, but no extra writing energy to actually do it. In the meantime, yeah, the story's still going on. It seems to be going pretty well sometimes (and less well at other times) and it's pretty cool even to have gotten this far. I just have to keep myself going until the end, and resist the temptation to summarize the rest of the novel in a few paragraphs.

Sunday, November 14, 2004


Writing was a bit of a slog today, but I managed to clear the 25,000 word mark in my novel a full day early. Very cool. Too tired right now to write any more than that.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Ragtime Ball

The thing that struck me most about the Ball last night was how few people I knew there. I mean, I know I graduated two and a half years ago and new students are showing up every year, but still, it was really sinking last night. And it was crowded enough to make it difficult to find the people I did know to dance with them. It was kind of sad.

But there were lots of good things about the dance, too. I did have some nice dances throughout the evening, and I enjoyed the performances. I never quite got used to Tina in a pink dress for Danse Libre, but she did an excellent job nonetheless. I thought Decadance and Swingtime were a lot of fun, too. And Jessica showed up from San Diego, which completely surprised me and almost capsized the dance I was in when I noticed her arriving. It was wonderful to get a few dances with her again.

The set up was a little odd this year. They only had the one room this time, but they put down marley in the outside corridor between the locker rooms and had extra dancing space there. That was really weird. At first I thought they weren't going to have music out there, since the band inside seemed like it would be loud enough to reach, but then they put on recorded music. To me, that was just a horrible mistake. It was far too close to the main room to have separate music going. When I take a break to get some fresh air or a drink or something, I like to keep listening to the band, and not have something else forced on me when I step outside. Of course, I have an extreme pet peeve about overlapping music, so that didn't help. But I guess it helped with the crowding a little bit, to have the extra space.

Anyway, I'm trying for another writing-full weekend here. If I can get another few thousand words in today and tomorrow, I'll hit the halfway point of my novel a day early, which would be really cool. I did a big chunk already this morning, so I just have to keep the ideas flowing.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Inflection and Enunciation

We started working on new monologues in my voice and speech class tonight. Again, we've got about 2-2.5 minutes each, but it's more of a scripted sort of thing this time than the more free-form demos we did before. So people are doing monologues from plays, or reading poems or speeches, etc. I wanted to do something from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, just because I love reading that book out loud. It was tricky finding a good, self-contained portion to do in such a short time frame, though. I was changing my mind up until the last minute and took two choices to show the professor. I did the first choice in class tonight, but then after talking it over, decided to switch to the second one for next time. One of the things she was commenting on for me tonight was variety of inflection, so if I do the scene that has dialogue in it, that will give me more opportunities to play with that. (It's part of the argument between Arthur Dent and Mr. Prosser about knocking his house down to build the bypass.) Another thing to work on for me was enunciation. She had told me to work on enunciating more last week, but now there are also things that I'm over-enunciating. Argh. Mostly things like aspirating the t's in words like "kettle" or "water." So anyway, those are my next challenges.

I'm debating whether or not to take a break from NaNoWriMo tonight. I'm kind of tired out from the last week of noveling, and I don't have a lot of ideas right now. But I'm also kind of nervous about dipping myself 1600 words in the hole. (Well okay, 1300, because I got a small buffer built up this weekend, but still.) I don't have to go anywhere tomorrow night, so maybe I'll just start typing then and get on a roll to catch up. We'll see.

Friday, November 05, 2004

6,956 / 50,000

That's the word count on my novel so far. A little behind schedule, but I've decided I'm mostly going to focus on word count milestones at the end of each weekend. That way I can use the extra weekend time to make up whatever writing I didn't manage during the week. So I've got about 5,000 words planned for the next couple of days.

So far, all this writing has been surprisingly fun. It's a little worrisome during the day when I'm not actually writing, because I don't really know what I'm going to do next. But once I get home and start typing, things start happening. Pretty neat. I just hope it keeps up, though. 'Cause I'm gonna need it.

The thing I find myself wondering about the most right now is pacing. I've never written anything remotely this big, so it's hard to tell whether I'm dragging stuff out too much or whether I'm going to run out of material before I get something that's actually novel-length. I know I started out kind of slower than I meant to -- I wasn't feeling very dramatic on November 1st, so I mostly just did a lot of background info. I think it's been picking up since then. I'll probably have to just reread the whole thing in December though. I'm too much in the middle of it right now to tell.

As for the physical act of writing itself, I've found an interesting way to get myself to be more productive. Sitting at a desk to type something like this just doesn't work for me at all. It's too easy to stand up and pace the room, which makes it hard to type and leads to distractions. Plus, my desk here at home isn't terribly ergonomic. But I've got a laptop! This is wonderful. I can just unplug it from anything and make myself cozy on the futon, sitting up with pillows and blankets and a cup of tea, and then type right on my lap. It's more comfortable for my body and it puts my hands in a better position. Being underneath my computer makes me less inclined to get up without a pressing reason. And only having a trackpad mouse (which I don't care for much) means I'm less likely to waste time checking email or surfing the web. It's easier to just type. So that's all pretty good.

Anyway, I'm heading off to Friday Night Waltz pretty soon, having managed to squeeze out another thousand words since I got home from work. Then it will be a weekend of typing.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004


Everybody go vote today!

Find your polling place (from Google).

Blog the Vote (from Blogger).

U.S. Inspires World With Attempt At Democratic Election (from The Onion)

Sunday, October 31, 2004

The Scariest Thing About Halloween

Is that it's right before November. NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow and this is the point at which I really start wondering what I'm getting myself into. I have no concept of what it's like trying to write 50,000 words at all, much less all in one month. But I guess I'll be finding out soon enough. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? Right. I'll just keep telling myself that.

Anyway, for those of you with a morbid curiosity in bad writing, you can follow along as I blog the whole thing over at NanoGraham. Note that I will be posting pure, unedited trash, so brace yourselves accordingly. Posting over here on the regular blog may be rather sparse for a while.

I'm opting for a good night's sleep tonight, rather than starting right at midnight. Unfortunately though, I may get a bit of a slow start tomorrow. I've got to go to work of course, and then I've got my class afterwards, so I probably won't get a chance to write anything until at least 9:30 p.m. But we'll see how it goes.

Wish me luck!

Friday, October 29, 2004


Kimmy was the mastermind behind our costumes for the Halloween party today. That means she got to be the goatherd and Goldman and I got to be the goats. Fun. Check out some of the other pictures from today, too. And Happy Blog-o-ween!

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Blogging Your Novel

My new Blogger Knowledge article is out: Blogging Your Novel Part Two. (Biz did Part One last week.) It's got a bunch of tips for people doing NaNoWriMo on their blogs as well as for people who already have entire books that they want to publish. Check it out if you're at all interested in that kind of thing.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

The Two Magna Cartas of Novel Writing

I was rereading some of No Plot? No Problem! this weekend, in preparation for November starting in just a few more days. One interesting exercise in it involves making two lists, which Baty refers to as the "Magna Cartas" of novel writing. In the first list, you write down what makes a good novel, in your mind. Items can be as vague or specific as you want. The second list is the opposite -- everything that bores you or that you dislike in novels. These lists are very handy to have when working on your own fiction. Chances are, the things you like and admire most about other people's books will be the things you'll have the best chance of doing well in your own book. And the list of negatives reminds you to keep an eye out for things which could kill your writing momentum if they start sneaking in.

Here's the initial version (probably subject to additions) of my "Magna Carta I," the good list:
  • Journal / notebook style (e.g. Any Human Heart, The Tattooed Map)
  • Supplementary drawings, documents, footnotes etc. (e.g. The Tattooed Map again, Off the Road, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time)
  • Humor
  • Unusual, unexpected, but perfect descriptions (e.g. Douglas Adams)
  • Characters I can relate to, that exemplify or acquire traits or attributes I want for myself
  • Background stories / information (e.g. The Princess Bride)
  • Good first lines that hook you in
  • Magic interacting with everyday life (e.g. Charles de Lint)
  • Magical artifacts (e.g. the pensieve and Tom Riddle's diary from the Harry Potter books)
  • Self-aware main characters

It's evil twin "Magna Carta II," is a bit shorter so far. I think this is probably because I don't spend much time these days reading books I don't like. But here it is:

  • Dull or boring writing (I'd like to think of a way to define this better)
  • Obscure point (yes, this is relative to my analytic skills)
  • Inaccurate technical references (e.g. to music)
  • Characters who make things overly difficult for themselves (i.e. in ways that I think are too obvious)
  • Protagonists that die
  • Self-referential writing (possibly excepting fiction posing as non-fiction, as in A Series of Unfortunate Events)

Thursday, October 21, 2004


This is just wonderful: The Omnificent English Dictionary in Limerick Form. The only disappointment was to find that they are only working on a limited set of words at a time -- Aa to Ar right now. So I can't submit the entry I already had for "waltz" (and it'll probably be a very long time before I can). Still, I can see myself spending an inordinate amount of time writing limericks for this thing.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004


Biz came out with a new Blogger Knowledge article today, in preparation for National Novel Writing Month: Blogging Your Novel (Part One). I'm working on Part Two, which will appear next week. I've also created NaNoBlogMo, a new blog to gather together participants who want to blog their novels. It'll be a place to browse through and see what everybody is writing about. And if you're going to be blogging your own progress through November or posting a completed novel, you can fill out a form there and I'll add you to the listings. (Assuming I don't get entirely swamped -- we've already had a lot of submissions just since this afternoon.)

Monday, October 18, 2004

Resonance, Take 2

Tonight in voice class we all ran through abbreviated, one-minute versions of our presentations and it was really interesting to see how much everyone improved. It's fun to see what a difference a week or two can make, and it's also fun just to be paying attention to the subtleties of speech that we're not usually aware of. I think I did rather better myself, and I certainly got some good feedback, though it's hard for me to really tell how I sound when I'm also concentrating on the actual content of what I'm saying. But I've been practicing a bit and I guess it shows. The way I practiced was to start with just singing in my car, with the sing-along playlist on my iPod. It's a lot easier to notice resonance and vibration when singing because the sounds are more sustained, and it's easier for me to relax and make a bigger sound when I'm in my car and singing along with something. So I did that for a while and just started paying attention to any vibrations I could feel in my chest and head. And then when I went back to practicing what I was going to say, it was easier to get that feeling in my speech as well. So that was good.

One thing I was a bit disappointed with tonight though, was when I asked the professor about pitch production. I'm really curious about the actual mechanism that changes pitch, and I was expecting to learn about it in the class, just like learning about diaphragms and resonating areas and all that, but unfortunately she doesn't really know the details of how it works. One of the medical people in the class explained a bit about the vocal cord setup, which was good, but one big thing I want to know about is what affects vocal range, and she couldn't tell me that. I understand some stuff about vocal chords -- like changing the tension to change the pitch -- because it's just like musical instruments. But I don't understand how something like testosterone would make men's voices lower (I've never put testosterone on my fiddle to play lower notes). And there must be something else that affects vocal ranges across different people, since I assume most people's vocal chords are approximately the same size and tension. I guess I'm going to have to go get a book on this or something.

Knowing more about the vocal chords would probably help with figuring out more about Tuvan throat singing, too. Especially with the subharmonics, which I don't know how to do at all (I can kind of do the overtones a bit, but that's an entirely different technique).

Saturday, October 16, 2004

First Jammix of the Year

Jammix was fun last night, crowded floor and all. It was good dancing with some friends I hadn't seen in a while, though of course there was also a whole new batch of freshmen to make me feel old. Richard didn't play as much new music as he did at the last FNW, but he did do the Harry Potter waltz (pieced together from 30-second fragments throughout the soundtrack) which I just love. There were a ton of WCS tunes, too, which was really amazing. I haven't gone to the Dance Spectrum for a couple months now, but after last night I really want to get back into that again. It's fun seeing a bunch of friends who are starting to learn it, too.

And one other thing: Roble Studio now has a brand new set of purple curtains, which I expect is very confusing for the dance classes. ("Everybody face the orange curtains... ummm... no.") I was doing slight double-takes throughout the night.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Unfortunate Events

About a year ago I started reading Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events. These are a bunch of books about three orphans who are continually pursued by the evil Count Olaf and are having pretty generally miserable lives as a result. The author himself constantly warns you that they are horribly depressing books and advises leaving them alone entirely, but that really just sort of adds to their charm.

After I read the first three books, I figured they were enjoyable, but seemed similar enough that I didn't care to read all 10 (actually, I think there's an 11th out now). But a little while ago I found out that there would be a movie about them coming out in December, so I went back to read a couple more. And that's when I started realizing that these books are more interesting than I first thought.

The author has a very definite presence in the book -- that much was clear from the beginning. Around book 4 or 5 though, I realized that he's not just part of the book, he's also part of the story. But he won't tell us exactly how; he just keeps dropping hints, and it's got me totally hooked. I finished book 8 today and I'm to the point where I'm actually taking notes on all the clues that are appearing, trying to piece together how Lemony Snicket fits in with Beatrice and Esmé and Olaf and Jacques and the Baudelaire parents and the fire and everything. It's fascinating.

I also got a copy of Lemony Snicket's Unauthorized Autobiography, which I'd say is worth getting just for the title. It looked like it was going to give a lot away though, so I set it aside after a couple pages. I'll save it for when I finish the series. The detective work is too much fun.

By the way, Count Olaf has a blog. It's done by Paramount rather than Lemony Snicket but still, it's kind of amusing.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Not Just Words

Last weekend I read The Tattooed Map by Barbara Hodgson. It has an interesting premise, but what really made me take it home from the bookstore was the format. It's written as a travel diary, but it's not just written. It also has numerous photos, maps, handwritten notes, torn-out pages from other books, and more on every page, all of which just make it a visual delight. There are a few pages up on Amazon -- take a look. All the extra material just beautifully enriches the text.

Not only does it make for an enjoyable book, though, it's also something that I'd like to incorporate into my own journals. It's similar to what I wrote back when I read Off the Road by Elisha Cooper. And I did do a bit of that kind of thing in Costa Rica. My journal from those 10 days has a number of tickets and stamps and whatnot, and even a few drawings. It's fun to look back and see actual things from the trip, in addition to what I wrote. To me, little journal extras like this are more interesting as a souvenirs than buying random tourist knickknacks.

As long as I'm here, I might as well say something about The Tattooed Map's story, too. It involves travelers in North Africa, and a map that appears mysteriously as a tattoo on a woman's arm. I thought it was an excellent mix of realism and magic, just the way I like it. The ending was also not what I expected. I feel kind of like it left me hanging a bit -- there were too many questions left unanswered -- but I enjoyed it enough that I can forgive that.

Monday, October 04, 2004


I just got back from my second voice class. Our first assignment was to prepare a two-minute demo or lesson of some sort to present to the class. It could be on any subject -- the point was just to give us something we were comfortable speaking to people about. Listening to people today, I learned how to dice an onion, draw in perspective, and administer medicine to a cat, among many other things. I just did a quick little bit about the circle of fifths. After each person spoke, the instructor would give her comments and critiques so we'd have something to work on (we'll be repeating the presentations for a few weeks). Not too surprisingly, one of her main comments for me was about resonance. Too much of my sound is coming from my throat, whereas I need to concentrate on it resonating in my chest and face. It's tricky, though. I can get a sense of what she means when we're just doing vocal warmups or humming or something, but I have trouble even thinking about it, much less doing it, when I'm actually trying to speak coherently in front of a group of people. So it'll take some practice.

Friday, October 01, 2004

NaNoWriMo and the Magic of Deadlines

Signups for National Novel Writing Month opened today. If you haven't heard of this before, idea behind it is for participants to write 50,000+ words of fiction each during the month of November. This works out to something like 6 or 7 pages a day, so it's not a small job. You don't get any prize for passing the word count except a PDF certificate to print out and, of course, your very own novel. But I'd say that's enough. Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo, has a new book out: No Plot? No Problem! It's all about writing a novel in 30 days, and it's excellent. Amusing, inspiring and encouraging all at the same time, so definitely recommended for anyone interested in trying this.

The genius of it all is in the deadline. A great many people daydream or talk about writing a novel "some day," but very few actually do. Being given a mere month to write an entire novel basically gives people permission to write complete crap if they need to, as long as they write enough. And that gets them through the hardest part of novel writing -- getting started and getting the bulk of the text written. Plus, if lots of other people are doing the same thing during the same month, you can get people together for writing parties and support groups and whatnot, which helps, too. When it's all over, you can decide to go on to edit and revise your novel, and try to make it something worth actually reading. Or you can just let it all go as having been a fun exercise in creativity. Whatever.

I'm signed up for it, so I'm going to give it a shot. I haven't a clue whether or not I can actually do it, and it's moderately terrifying to think about. But on the other hand, it could be extremely cool. What have I got to lose, anyway? Andrea, one of my cube-mates, is going to do it too, so we can encourage each other through it.

The rules are that you can think up characters and plot outlines and such ahead of time, but you can't write any prose until 12:00:01 am November 1st. So I will happily accept any ideas people might want to throw my way. What should I write a novel about?

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Voiced & Spoke

The first class last night went really well, so I'm quite glad I get to take it. The instructor is fun and likeable, and seems very student-focused in terms of paying attention to what we all want to get out of the class. So I think it will all be good. Last night was mostly introductions, overviews, and some basic vocal relaxation and warmup stuff (including a quick lesson on the proper way to clear one's throat). Tonight I went back to campus to pick up the course reader and read the first part that we were assigned. (It's a small reader, so there's not going to be a lot of reading.) It had an introduction to the International Phonetic Alphabet, and it was pretty interesting to see all the sounds in English classified based on how the sound is produced, and each given their own symbol. And some of it surprised me. It would never have occurred to me, for instance, that we pronounce the th's differently in thigh and thine, but I can hear it once I pay attention. I'm still trying to figure out the difference between the a's in pat and pass, though.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Voice & Speech

After considering my class choices for this quarter, I had pretty much sold myself on Drama 35: Voice & Speech. Unfortunately, when I went to register a few weeks ago, it was already full, so I had to go on the waiting list. I had pretty much given up on it when I got a call today saying that a spot had opened up and I could have it. Yay! The first class is tonight, 7-9.

Friday, September 24, 2004


I had a dentist appointment yesterday. In the parking lot.

Onsite Dental is a dental service that goes around to various companies on different days providing dental services for employees. They've got a big trailer completely set up to do all sorts of dental work. It's amazing. I hadn't been to the dentist for a while, so they gave me X-rays first, then a cleaning. One of my old sealants had come out a while ago too, so they even filled that in for me. I think this is immensely cool. I'm really bad about going to the dentist, but when it's just down the stairs and out the door, it's easy to go get a check-up once in a while.

Another neat thing that recently came up: on-site oil changes. I'm definitely taking fRed there once his next 3,000 miles roll around.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004


Dani was at the library again tonight, so I was helping her with her (first grade) homework, as I often do, to keep her out of her mother's hair. It was mostly reading and spelling, but I thought some of the assignments were rather odd.

First was reading. Dani had a short story that she was using for "fluency practice." The way this works is, I time her for one minute while she reads as much of the story as she can. Then she counts the words and writes it down on a form that I sign to prove that she actually did it. Then she does it again, three times a day. The form had three days worth of this already on it, all with the same story. How useful is this, really? Granted, her word count per minute doubled over those practice sessions, but I think mostly because she was practicing being fast, not fluent. She knew the story well enough by this point that she could just slur everything together in one minute-long mush of mispronunciations and flat intonation. A very strange sort of exercise, I thought.

The spelling part of the homework involved "spelling triangles." Each of the vocabulary words had to be spelled out in a triangle, with the first letter on one line, the first two letters on the line below it, then the first three, etc., forming a triangle. This sort of practice kind of makes sense to me, but I don't really like it. I guess it can help with going through the words piece by piece, and figuring out the phonics of each letter, but my brain really wants to divide the words up by syllables first, or even into letter combinations, like "ch" or whatever. The letter by letter string just seems so fragmented. Maybe this is because of my speed-reading mentality of absorbing things in units rather than sequentially.

I wish I could remember how I learned to read and spell (though I think I got the latter mostly from the former). It seems like it's the sort of thing that would be really interesting to study. Not only how we learn it, but how it's been taught in different ways over the years.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Why I'm Not Doing WCS Tonight

This was a rather busy weekend I just had. On Friday night, I was DJing with Maya at FNW, and that really went pretty well. We had a good selection of music, with lots of favorites, plus some new stuff that hasn't been played before. In addition to Museum of Idiots, we played Tiger Rag as a one step, People Change (Rockapella) as a two step, and Brave Combo's Chopin waltz in C minor. Quite fun. I danced rather less than usual, but it wasn't too bad, since I was splitting the DJing with Maya.

On Saturday, Miriam and I went to Sacramento for Neal and Michelle's wedding, which also included us setting up and taking down their chuppah as well as doing a reading from The Song of Songs as part of the ceremony. In the evening there was a dance (mostly swing) and some performances (mostly dance, some music). It was fun and I got some good swing practice, but staying out late and then driving back from Sacramento made for a long day.

Yesterday we heard Klez-X at an afternoon house concert. Then there was Arsenic and Old Lace at the Stanford Theater. Both were quite enjoyable, but at the end of a sleep deprived weekend, sitting for two hours in a dark theater pretty much zonked me out.

Today I am very sleepy, so I'm staying home.

Friday, September 17, 2004

A Short History of Nearly Everything

After finishing A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, I feel like "nearly everything" is much closer to "practically nothing" than I ever expected. Don't get me wrong -- this is a fantastic book. But more than anything else it rubbed in the fact that our vast collection of knowledge is really just a tiny tiny part of everything there is to know. That's very humbling, though it's also exciting to know that there's so much left to discover out there.

Another thing that was struck me a lot was the extreme tenuousness of human existence, and how much we are at the mercy of the Earth and the Universe. For instance, a meteor several miles wide could be hurtling through space towards us and we would have no clue about it until at most a few months ahead of time, and then only if someone was lucky enough to be looking exactly in the right spot at the right time. More likely, we'd notice it when it entered our atmosphere, about one second before it crashed into the Earth with devastating effects.

Then there's Yellowstone, which is considered an active supervolcano. One of its eruptions a couple million years ago was large enough to bury the country in about 20-60 feet of ash. Its major eruptions average about one every 600,000 years. The last one was 630,000 years ago. Not the sort of thing one really wants to dwell on, in either sense of the word.

Of course, not everything in this book was quite so scary. Some of it was simply fascinating. I am, of course, referring to slime molds. These things are amazing. Check it out:
When times are good, [slime molds] exist as one-celled individuals, much like amoebas. But when conditions grow tough, they crawl to a central gathering place and become, almost miraculously, a slug. The slug is not a thing of beauty and it doesn't go terribly far—usually just from the bottom of a pile of leaf litter to the top, where it is in a slightly more exposed position—but for millions of years this may well have been the niftiest trick in the universe.

And it doesn't stop there. Having hauled itself up to a more favorable locale, the slime mold transforms itself yet again, taking on the form of a plant. By some curious orderly process the cells reconfigure, like the members of a tiny marching band, to make a stalk atop of which forms a bulb known as a fruiting body. Inside the fruiting body are millions of spores that, at the appropriate moment, are released to the wind to blow away and become single-celled organisms that can start the process again.
So it's as if these things are going around transforming from single cells to animals to plants. How cool is that?

Overall, the book was an absolute delight, and I'm especially glad I got it as an audio book. Bill Bryson has a very enjoyable writing style that has very distinct similarities to Douglas Adams (an effect heightened by the narrator's British accent). I literally laughed out loud at numerous points throughout the book. The narrator is Richard Matthews, who is undoubtedly my favorite narrator yet encountered. (See my earlier comments on The Piano Tuner.) So anyway, read it or listen to it. It's awesome.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

An Optional Appellation

The East Bay Friday Night Waltz is coming up in a few days, and it turns out that I am co-DJing this time around. It's really Maya's gig, but I volunteered to help pick out and arrange the tunes. This gives me a chance to try and squeeze in a lot of music I've been wanting to dance to for a while. (It's not all making it into the final revisions of the set list, but really, if I just get to waltz to Museum of Idiots, I'll be happy.)

What amuses me most so far about DJing is the notice on the website, and in the reminder emails for the dance. Maya's full name is listed normally, but I'm just "Graham." It's like I'm famous enough not to need a last name or something. Goodness. Or else whoever wrote it up just doesn't know my last name. But I don't think any other Graham's are going to be jumping in to take my place, so it's all okay.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Michael Crichton's Travels

Travels is a book that has been recommended to me for a while (thanks Case!) and I finally got around to reading it before and during my Costa Rica trip. This is by the same Michael Crichton that wrote Jurassic Park, Andromeda Strain, etc. but this book is more autobiographical than fictional. It was extremely different from what I expected, but I think I ended up loving it even more because of that. Which is, of course, why I should remember not to put too much weight on expectations.

The book doesn't even begin with much traveling. The first 80 pages or so are all about going through med school. (Did you even know he was a doctor? I sure didn't.) I figured I was going to get bored and just slog through that part, but it turned out to be fascinating. The chapter called "A Day at the BLI" was about different women's experiences in the delivery room, and packed more punch per page than anything I had read in a while. It was also interesting to read about how he views our responsibility towards our own health, and how we affect it by our mental and emotional states, as well as our physical states.

After med school, he gets to the actual traveling part of the book, which tends to be pretty adventure-oriented travel: climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, scuba diving with sharks, crossing a landslide in Pakistan, etc. But after a bit, you realize that there's more going on than just scooting around the world. There's a lot of self-observation happening, too, particularly regarding relationships with the various women going through his life at these times.

Also as the book progresses, he starts exploring different types of experiences as well. When staying in London, he visits the Spiritualist Association of Great Britain nearly every day, evaluating the different psychics there and trying to determine the validity of the phenomena he observes. Later, he goes to meditation conferences, and energy work sessions, and learns to see auras. Some of this material is more fascinating to me than the stuff that I expected the book to be about. I particularly recommend the chapter on "Cactus Teachings." The postscript to the book is the text of a talk (never delivered) to the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, about why he believes there is some validity to certain psychic phenomena.

I've already got Mom and Lacey lined up for borrowing my copy of the book. It's definitely going on the "highly-recommended" list.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Arenal and La Fortuna

For our last excursion, we all went on an overnight trip to La Fortuna, to see Volcán Arenal. The top is often covered with clouds, but we could actually see a lot of it when we got there. And the next morning it was perfectly clear, which is pretty unusual, I think. It's still an active volcano. You can't see the lava during the day time, because of the sunlight, but at night you can see flashes or streams of bright red heading down the mountain in the distance, or bouncing sparks as boulders tumble and collide.

The volcano itself is off limits of course, but the park surrounding it has some great hiking trails. The variety of terrain there is really interesting. We started off in an open, brushy sort of area, with sandy soil, and then it switched to forest. After that were the lava fields with lots of great rocks to clamber over, and then more forest. And that was just in about an hour of hiking. I would have liked to come back for a full day there to explore it more thoroughly. On the way back, we were caught in the rain and got rather soaked before we made it back to shelter. But that was about the only time on the whole trip that happened. For the most part, the raining happened when we were on buses, or inside, or only had to go a short way with our umbrellas. Pretty lucky for the rainy season of a tropical country, I'd say.

The next morning we wanted to go see a butterfly garden. Our guidebooks only listed some that were too far away, considering we had a bus to catch that afternoon, but we had seen signs for something that might be closer. Asking around town, we were pointed in the opposite direction of the signs (maybe they were decoys), where we found Eco Centro Danaus a few km down the road. Danaus is the Latin name for monarch butterflies, and they do raise butterflies there, but the whole thing is a beautiful little ecological preserve with lots of other animals and plants. When we got there, a batch of people were just leaving, and we were given a private tour for just the three of us.

The caterpillars of some of the butterflies there were amazing, being three or four inches long and looking like little dinosaurs. Some of the cocoons were interesting too, like the ones that seemed to be made out of gold. And the butterflies were beautiful. Some were large enough that you could hear their wings flapping as they went by, like birds. Among the non-butterfly critters we saw were sloths and poison dart frogs (both of which we'd seen before), a bat sleeping under a leaf, a boa constrictor, and some poisonous snakes (including a fer-de-lance). The dangerous ones were in enclosures, of course. There were some great plants there, too. Our guide pulled a few leaves off a tree and had us smell them. We couldn't quite place the smell, but as soon as we chewed a bit of the stem we recognized cinnamon. I could have munched that all day. Luckily we had it before the píper leaf, which is an anesthetic and turned our tongues numb with just a little taste. All in all, it was a very cool little tour.

After that, we headed back to San Pedro so I could get packed up and ready to leave the next day. Lacey's still down there, though, and presumably still having fun.


Quena has all her classes on Mondays through Wednesdays, so Lacey and I decided to use that time to take a short trip on our own and we headed to Montezuma. As far as the actual traveling involved, this was by far the most excruciating destination, with a route that went taxi - bus - taxi - ferry - bus. The first bus was 2.5 hours. The second taxi was unexpected, since the guidebooks had implied that the ferry was right by the bus station, which is wasn't. The last bus was an hour and a half over bumpy, twisty, hilly jungle roads, in small seats with piles of people crammed in the aisle. But we made it in the end.

We stayed at the Hotel Lucy, which was almost shut down a few years ago for being built too close to the beach. The water is literally just a few yards from the back porch. We were also a short walk away from the main intersection of town, where all the tourist shops and restaurants and other hotels are, so that was nice.

Just down the street from us was the first of a set of three waterfalls. (A bunch more were farther off in the other direction, and usually reached by horseback tours.) We only got pictures of the first one, since after that we went back for bathing suits and left the cameras behind, since we couldn't tell how wet we were going to get on the way to the others. The second and third waterfalls were the more vertical, picturesque kind, and took about half an hour of hiking and wading to get to. It was fun to swim in the pool below the falls and reach the point where I was swimming as hard as I could but being kept perfectly in place by the current.

For the one full day that we were there, we went on a day trip to Isla Tortuga, named for its turtle-like shape. Unfortunately, I never could find a decent map of it to see exactly how turtle like it really is. We started out by snorkeling around some rocks off the coast of the island. The visibility was really bad -- on the surface you could pretty much only see murky greenness. But as soon as you dive down a little bit, there are tons of fish all over the place. We saw angelfish, and damselfish, and colorful wrasses, and trigger fish (reminding me of the humuhumus in Hawaii), and we could swim right in the middle of a whole school of short-tailed grunts (great name, huh?). I even found a pufferfish, but didn't get him to puff.

After the snorkeling, we had a seafood barbecue lunch on the beach and time to explore the island, or just hang out on the beach. Lacey and I headed for a trail that lead up a forested hill to the top of the island. It was a great hike -- steep enough to feel energetic, but not so difficult that we couldn't do it in sandals and bathing suits. And there were some beautiful views of the island and the ocean along the way. Midway up, we saw what looked like the main trail heading back down, but also a smaller one heading farther up. So we continued on up, of course. The trail got steeper and a bit less well defined in some places, but it took us all the way to the very top. We actually did the whole climb twice: once before and once after lunch. I much prefer that kind of thing to just lounging around on the beach (though taking another snorkeling dive might have been fun, too).

On the way back from Isla Tortuga in the motorboat, we saw a couple of whales, humpbacks I think. It looked like a mother and calf but we weren't able to get very close to them. Then the dolphins showed up, though, and that was great. They were perfectly happy to just bounce along in the wake of the boat so we got some fun views of them, though it was hard to take good pictures.

Leaving Montezuma was as big an ordeal as getting there, and took a bit longer. But we had a day afterwards to rest up at Quena's place before we all went to Arenal.


The first weekend we were in Costa Rica, Quena's exchange student program was doing a group trip to Tortuguero, and Lacey and I got to go along. Tortuguero is on the northern Caribbean coast, where sea turtles go to lay their eggs every year. The tiny, one-street village of Tortuguero itself is completely supported by tourism, which is good because that keeps them from killing endangered animals for a living. The only way to get there is by boat along the Pacuare River, or by plane. We went by boat and stayed at the Mawamba Lodge.

This was the part of Costa Rica that reminded me most of Peru. There was a lot of rain-forest around, and we went on several boat rides and hikes to see all sorts of animals. Lacey got this great shot of a monkey by aiming her camera through her binoculars. Pretty impressive. We also saw a bunch of birds, some basilisks and iguanas, and we even got a caiman within a few feet of our boat.

Photos of the sea turtles aren't allowed, so Idin kindly posed for us with an egg, attempting to shuffle sand over it with his feet. The actual tours to see the turtles were at night, which is when they come out of the sea to lay their eggs. You're only supposed to go see a turtle when it is actually in the process of laying the eggs, since if you disturb them when they're just coming out, or at some other stage, they'll take off again. So you have to sit in small groups with your guide, while other guides carefully check out the beach to see where the nesting turtles are. Then they radio back and tell the groups where to go.

Our group waited about 45 minutes before we got a call. The turtle was a fair bit down the beach and already laying her eggs. So we took off on a 20-minute power walk along a trail that paralleled the beach, and got there just in time to miss the eggs and see the turtle laboriously piling sand over them with her flippers. She was about three or four feet across, and there was clearly immense strength in her flippers, slow though they were out of water. We started walking back along the beach then, and saw ahead of us another turtle hauling itself up the beach to find a nesting spot. We waited a few minutes and then walked very carefully around it, giving it as much space as we could. Still farther on, a guide that we passed found us another turtle. This one was still laying her eggs, so we could go right up to her, since they don't seem to notice anything at that stage. Our guide actually pulled back one of her back flippers and shone a flashlight down so we could see the eggs popping out, looking like ping pong balls. Once she started covering them with sand, we left her alone and headed back to the lodge. It was a remarkably successful turtle-outing, especially considering that some of the other groups didn't get to see any.

There were some tree frogs that lived near the pool at the lodge, and a guy there would would find them and let people hold them. The frog we found was asleep, and looked like a solid green pod stuck to a leaf. Then its eyes opened and bulged out, surprisingly huge and red. As it unfolded its legs, it revealed the blue and orange on its sides and legs, and stalked all over our hands and shoulders. When Lacey was holding it, it looked over at me, then suddenly took a flying leap of three feet or so, directly at me, landing squarely on my chest and sticking to my shirt. Surprised the heck out of me, especially since I couldn't tell where it was aiming for when it was flying at me. Very amusing.

One evening, there was a band playing at the lodge, and I was very surprised to see the lead singer playing a banjo. Especially since it looked like a five-string banjo with one string removed. I went up and talked to him later (in clumsy Spanish) and that's indeed what it was. He also pointed out that the Caribbean coast has a mix of different musical influences, including African, so I guess it makes sense that a banjo would show up. It's just not the context I'm used to seeing it in at all.

Also, on the evening after the turtle watching, some of the EAP kids taught us some basic cumbia dance steps. It's like Latin swing, and surprisingly bouncy. I may need to write a separate post about it, though unfortunately I didn't learn as much of it as I would have liked.

Quena's House, San Pedro, and San Jose

The way I'm going to be writing up the Costa Rica trip is organized by the different places we went. So most of it will be chronological, except this part, since we stayed with Quena and her extended host family in San Pedro (near San Jose, the capital) in between all our other excursions. Between family, exchange students, and visitors, there were 11 people staying there, including Lacey and me. It was practically like a dorm or something. Most people were going in and out at different times, though, and everyone was really nice, so it never got too overwhelming.

There was one evening where we managed to collect nearly everybody in the house for dinner and could barely squeeze in around the table. Then afterwards, someone put on some music and we all started dancing in the living room. Lots of salsa and merengue -- I really wish I knew Latin dances better. But I faked a lot of stuff and had fun (I also managed to squeeze in a few Lindy Hops and West Coasts with Lacey and Quena). I like being a dancer. It's a good way to relate to new people, even if you're totally winging it. We never made it out to an actual dance somewhere, unfortunately, but that evening with everybody at home was really nice.

We tried to go to the Children's Museum in San Jose one afternoon, but found that we had arrived just in time for it to close. It's in a building that used to be a prison, and is now done up to look kind of like a castle. The Galeria Nacional is also there, so we went and looked through that. I really hope that wasn't the main repository of art for all of Costa Rica, because there wasn't a whole lot to it. There were some paintings I liked, though, and it was interesting walking through old prison cells to look at them.

We got to visit the Universidad, where Quena is taking classes. The mascot there is the Girasol -- a sunflower -- which I think is just a great mascot. (This coming from someone whose college mascot was a tree, of course.) We found a free show that the theater group there was doing that afternoon, so we went and watched it. A couple of the acts, though, were made up of nonsensical text that the students had to interpret dramatically somehow, so that was really strange to deal with in Spanish, at least for me.

Speaking of Spanish, it's been way too long since I took any classes in it. I was generally okay on the amount of stuff I could understand, as long as people were speaking clearly and not too fast. (Though the bus driver yelling at me for standing in the wrong place was completely incomprehensible.) But speaking was really difficult for me. It doesn't help that I don't talk a whole lot normally. Adding in the fact that I had to translate everything before I said it pretty much ground me to a halt a lot of the time. I think I was getting a tad better by the end, but I could really have used a lot more practice. Still, I got by. Mostly with the help of Lacey and Quena, of course.

Here's a picture of Julie, the silly little dog. The first evening I was there, I picked her up. She immediately put her hind legs in my hand, stood up as tall as she could, wedged her head under my jaw, and just stayed there. Very odd. She would also bark like crazy whenever anyone came up to the door. She was fun to play with, though.

Coming up: Tortuguero, Montezuma, and Volcán Arenal. All photos are here.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

I'm Back

All safe and sound. By a happy coincidence, I ran into Eric S. coming back from Connecticut, on my flight from Dallas to San Jose. We found his roommate, coming back from New York, once we arrived in SJC, and we all took a cab back home, since Caltrain was done for the night and since they live a block and a half from me. Very convenient. That taxi driver seemed positively sedated compared to some of the Tico drivers we rode with (and dodged) over the last 10 days. I had a fun time in Costa Rica, but it's definitely good to be back home again. I'm going to bed now, and pictures and stuff will happen tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Still Here

We didn't actually go dancing the evening after the last entry, since we had to get up very early the next morning to go to Tortuguero. That was a fun trip, with lots of rainforests and rivers and sea turtles. Plus, some people taught us basic cumbia steps, so if we do eventually go dancing, I'll at least recognize it. We got back from that on Sunday. Quena has classes on Mondays through Wednesdays, so Lacey and I went to Montezuma on our own for the last few days, for things like snorkeling and seeing waterfalls. We just got back from that this evening. Next will probably be a trip to Volcán Arenal.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

We Made It

Our flights yesterday were uneventful and we got here safely. The taxis and buses still weren't running, but at least they were no longer barricading the roads, so we managed to get back to Quena's house with the help of her tía who gave us all a ride. The house has a family of four, plus three students and a guest, and then us, so it's all very communal and friendly. There is also a very silly little dog. Today we're going to see Quena's school and some of San José, and then go bailando tonight. This weekend we'll probably take a trip out to Tortuguero to see the sea turtle nesting grounds. So anyway, not much to tell about yet, but we had to make a stop by an Internet Cafe this morning anyway, so I figured I'd put in a note. I will say, though, that I am uncommonly amused to see things like stop signs that say "Alto" and web browsers with buttons like "Atrás" and "Búsqueda." It's also interesting getting used to a slightly different keyboard. It even has a "ñ" key. Fun. Plus, of course, it's just exciting to be in a new country. But more stories about everything later.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

I Know Where My Towel Is

I'm off for Costa Rica! I'll be back late in the evening on September 5th. I may possibly post some updates or photos during the trip, but if nothing else, look for some stories here on the 6th.

Quena actually called last night to inform us that there is currently a bus and taxi strike down there. She has still promised to meet us at the airport, but we may just get to have our first adventure in the process of getting back to her house. But I'm sure it will all work out somehow. I've packed my towel.*

Sunday, August 22, 2004

We're Taking American Airlines This Time

Less than three days now until I leave for Costa Rica. This is exciting. I've only ever been out of the country once before, and that was 11 years ago, when Lacey and I went on the K.A.R.E. trip to Peru. (A bunch of middle-school students spent the year raising money so we could go study rain-forests for a week.) I pulled out an old journal of mine the other day and read through everything I had written about that trip, and the Amazon and the rain-forests. One of the most dramatic parts, though, was simply getting there:
6/26/93 - 8:05 pm
Today we had to get up at 3:30 am in order to get to San Francisco for our first plane. We took Delta to Dallas, TX then to Miami, FL. Right now we’re on a Faucett plane to Iquitos, Peru. We’ll probably get there at 11:30 tonight. When we got on, there was some confusion about the teachers’ tickets. N. (sitting next to me) was sure the plane would take off without them and we’d all die in Peru, but they got on.
6/27/93 - 1:44 am
Tonight we’re staying in El Hotel Riande Continental in Panama! All but one of the engines on our plane stopped and one wing was on fire for a little while. We’re going on to Iquitos tomorrow. Everyone was getting freaked out, N. kept saying “we’re gonna die” and everyone was reading the saftey manuals and getting really nervous. Everyone cheered when we landed here.
Reading this now, I'm sort of surprised that I wrote that little about it, given how exciting (read "scary") it was. I didn't mention the thunderstorm in the Gulf of Mexico that we were flying over at the time, or the fact that I couldn't find my inflatable life vest. Then, of course, we eventually had to head home from Peru, at which time we found ourselves on the exact same plane (#290) that had broken down on the first trip. But apart from scaring the willies out of us, it didn't have any more problems. I have never encountered Faucett airlines since then, which has been fine with me. We're taking American this time around.

Friday, August 20, 2004

The Google Picnic

Google had its annual company picnic today in Charleston Park, and it was exceedingly fun. "Picnic" is actually a bit of a misnomer, since I pretty much just gobbled a hamburger right away so I could forget about food and just run around doing the fun stuff. And boy, was there a lot to choose from.

I played a game of Human Foosball with some of the Blogger team, and that was awesome. Everybody gets strapped to a rope crossing the court and then you play a crazy, two-ball game of soccer like that. I'd never encountered that before, but I loved it. I went on a large, bouncy slide, too, but I didn't have the patience to stand in line for the rock climbing or the water balloon slingshot.

A number of the dancing folks coalesced near the triple-accordion rock band, and Tracy and I actually had a fairly successful polka on the grass. We moved to the fountain, though, which was excellent for not only wading, but dancing as well (the salsa band was the one we could hear from there).

Over near the juggling corner, we had some exciting wrestling matches with an inflatable T-Rex, and then came up with a great juggling-ball game. With about 8 of us in a circle, one person tossed a ball to another, then on to another and so on until everybody had gotten it once and it came back to the first person. Then, keeping that pattern, it started again, and a new ball got added each round until we had as many going as we could find. (I could never actually tell how many, but it got going pretty fast.) Just to spice it up a bit, we picked a few balls of a different color and turned them into "salmon balls," swimming upstream, in the reverse pattern of all the others. This was incredibly entertaining for a long time.

I'm a tad sore right now (not to mention sun burned) from traipsing around the park all afternoon, so dancing might be short for me tonight. Fun day, though.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Use This in a Sentence

I got to see Dani at the library tonight, for the first time in a very long while. Unsurprisingly, I also got to help her with her homework. For a fairly bright little girl, she goes to great lengths sometimes in order to have trouble on her homework. One thing she was working on tonight was using vocabulary words in sentences. One of her sentences was: "I really really really don't know what shot means." While this managed to exceed the minimum length, it happened to be false, and I suggested that she change it. Once we got that worked out, we went on to the next one, where she had written "I have no idea what crop means." This was at least true, but we still managed to fix it up a bit. Things went uphill from there, thankfully.

It reminds me, though, of one of my favorite Rhymes With Orange cartoons. A student is taking a similar test, and hits the word iconoclast. "'Hello,' said I. 'Hello,' replied the iconoclast."

Monday, August 16, 2004

TMBG at the Catalyst

I got to see They Might Be Giants at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz last night. It was actually the first live show of theirs I've been to. Generally, that's not my sort of scene, getting packed like sardines into a nightclub and having to wear ear plugs (yes, I brought ear plugs, and I'm very glad I did). But it was definitely fun to get to see TMBG perform, so it was all worth it.

A guy called Corn Mo did the opening act, and he was pretty amusing. For one guy with one accordion (and one stick strapped to his foot for whacking a cymbal) he really had a heck of a sound. He came out again later in the show to do an accordion duet with Linnell on Particle Man (here's a video of it from another show).

I managed to have a really good spot, about 10 feet from the stage, Linnell-side. That's a good side to be, I think, given the difference between Linnell and Flansburgh. Flans is the showman, he sings to the crowd. You can watch him from anywhere. Linnell sings to you. Plus, I'm just more of a Linnell fan anyway. Oh, and it was a decent vantage point for some (kinda blurry) pictures.

One of my favorite songs from the evening was Doctor Worm. I really liked the arrangement they did for it, with the shifted voice/rhythm offset thing near the end. Plus, they let off the confetti cannons at the end of the "Rabbi Vole" solo, which was a perfect place for them, especially since most people probably expected them to be saved for James K. Polk.

A fairly new, unreleased (and unrehearsed) song they did was called Fake Believe. They said it's one they're working on for their next children's project. It was kind of a fun song, though like most of their stuff, I'd need to hear it a couple more times to get a better sense of it. They weren't sure if they were going to be including it on the live shows download page or not, but I hope they do. (By the way, they're making recordings of every show on this tour available for mp3 download, $10/show. I think that's very cool.) And speaking of new songs, they also sang one they wrote especially for the Catalyst show. That's just another reason I think these guys are awesome -- they're writing a song for every single venue they play at on this tour. They're not all going to be great songs, of course, but I think it's wonderful that they're doing it.

A funny comment that I liked: For Stalk of Wheat, Dan Miller got out the Flexitone, which has a small, red ball or circle or something on it. One of the Johns said something about it adding some red into the scene, to go with Flans' maracas, I think. Flans pointed out, though, that it was only a very small amount, sort of a "homeopathic dose of red," at which there was a fair amount of laughter from the crowd. Then Linnell pointed out that they "really couldn't make that kind of a joke in New York -- no one would get it." Yay for us hippie Californians.

So anyway, it was a good show. Lots of fun all around.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Harry and the Potters

I suppose it was bound to happen eventually. Harry and the Potters is a group formed by two brothers who dress up as Harry Potter and sing bad rock songs recounting the events of the various books. It's the sort of thing that's bad enough to be funny, though, so go to their website and check out some of their sample mp3s. (Warning: there will be spoilers here if you haven't read all the books. Yes, there are still some silly people out there who haven't read them all.)

You really do have to listen to them to get the full effect, but here are some of the lyrics that particularly made me laugh. First of all, for sheer simplicity, we have the chorus to "Stick it to Dolores":
Oh my god, you look like a frog [4x]
Umbridge, you're going down [4x]

Then the awkwardly-unmusical-lyrics award goes to "Wizard Chess", which is about Christmas activities and presents:
I got a mysterious gift from my dead dad
It was an invisibility cloak -- how rad
Oh, oh, oh-oh-oh
We'll spend our Christmas being invisible
Oh, oh, oh-oh-oh
We'll be invisible this Christmas

"The Human Hosepipe" was probably the one that made me laugh the most, though. Selected excerpts:
So we sat there with all the couples kissing
and soon things began deteriorating
and you began turning into the human hosepipe
Cho Chang, what have I done?
I don't care where you and Cedric were snogging
Cho Chang, what have I done?
I just want to replay this Valentine's day.
Well, maybe I shouldn't have mentioned Hermione
And maybe you shouldn't have brought up Cedric Diggory
Because I'd rather not talk about your dead ex-boyfriends over coffee

My goodness, that was hilarious. Musical quality regardless, props to these guys for starting the band and making me laugh.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Practicando Español

In preparation for going to Costa Rica in less than three weeks, I've been trying to start practicing my Spanish more. Yes, I should have started a while ago, but I'll take what I can get at this point. I finished the fifth Harry Potter book in Spanish but reading is really about the easiest thing to do, so it's not the best way to practice. Looking for something more challenging, I got Cielos de la Tierra for my next audio book, and found myself way out of my depth. I'm catching a fair number of words and phrases, but I really have no clue about the overall story line. That's a pity, since it's kind of a waste of what looks like a very interesting book. But hopefully my Spanish will continue to improve and I'll be able to come back to it again some day and understand more of it.

At Project Read last week, Alice recommended the Destinos video series for learning Spanish, so I checked out some of those. They seem really well done, but the ones I got were far too basic to be useful to me. I'll try some later ones next week, to see how those are, though that would mean jumping into the middle of the detective story that spans all 30-something episodes. In the meantime, I think I'm probably better off just watching the Spanish channel on TV. This weekend I've watched some news programs and soap operas, from which I learned, respectively, such useful phrases as "George W. Bush" and "I'm pregnant with your brother's child." I'm sure that will come in handy sometime.

Of course, what I really need to work on most is speaking. I'm really slow when it comes to actually generating any Spanish, as opposed to just understanding it. It's harder to practice that, though.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Contra Polka

We had a very successful Gorilla [sic] contra during one of the polkas at Friday Night Waltz last night. Bob walked us through it earlier in the evening and then we agreed to meet in the middle of the floor at the next polka. Later on, I had finished a waltz and Rebecca had asked me for the next dance. I said yes and started to take her hand when the music started. Suddenly, in an apparent panic, I dashed off going "Ack! It's the polka!" leaving Rebecca behind, bewildered yet amused. She figured it out, though, and was kind enough to give me a different dance later.

I got in place in time to start the contra and it was quite successful. We had four couples and it went a lot smoother than our previous attempts at this kind of thing. I had two people afterwards tell me they wanted to come to the next contra dance, and one of them even specifically said how much fun it looked when we were dancing in the middle of the polka.

Overall, it was a very good evening. I had a good West Coast with Susanna, a fun Chim Chim Cheree waltz with Maya, and the triple-exclamation-point waltz with Annaka. The Hamster Dance polka at the end with Saryn almost killed me, but only because it was so enegetic and exciting (the really good ones always leave me completely wiped out for a few minutes). I also got several dances with Tina, which was fun since I hadn't gotten to dance with her for a long time. And I found out that Mike and Lily are engaged! (It would have been considerably more surprising to find out that they weren't engaged, but still -- yay!)

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Continuing Choices

The Stanford Continuing Studies catalog arrived in the mail the other day. Always a sucker for course catalogs, I've been browsing happily through it, trying to decide what to take next quarter. Here are some of the ones that look fun so far:
Right now the Bach class is looking like the most likely one, though Travel Narratives is close, as is Voice and Speech. I wish I could take them all, but I can think about it for a few weeks before registration at least.

Unfortunately, scheduling enters into the equation, too. If I get a class on Monday nights, then I'll have to miss West Coast Swing for a quarter. Thursday nights are tricky because of Irish sessions and because I don't know if Richard's going to teach an evening dance class I'll want to take. Wednesdays and Tuesdays are better, because I can put my Project Read nights on either one, but that would mean that I couldn't go to other things like Irish dances or Swing Central on Tuesdays, or (more likely) take an evening off. So I'll have to think about how I want it to all work out.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

A Blogful Googly Year

One year ago today, Kimmy and I showed up at Google for our first day of working for Blogger. Hard to believe it's been that long already. I think I need to start changing my conception of time. This is the first job that I've had for more than a summer or a few months of temping, and even in school classes would change every quarter, so it's very different to think that I've been doing the same thing for an entire year. It's been a good year for me, though, so I'm happy.

Saturday, July 31, 2004

Rare Books and Egyptian Relics

Top of the FountainMom and Pa came down for a visit today and we all went on a field trip to the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, where they currently have a rare books exhibit. We showed up right at 11:00 when the doors opened, to "beat the crowds," but luckily not everyone gets as excited about old books as we do, so we actually had the exhibit to ourselves. Lots of neat things there, like a first edition (1721) of Leonardo da Vinci's Treatise on Painting. I wish we could have actually flipped through the books and read them. We wandered around the rest of the museum too, of course, through an Egyptian tomb replica, past actual mummies and a rare original statue of Cleopatra VII, and eventually outside to a nice fountain where we had our picnic. A fun tri-generational outing all around.