My Zunivers

31 May 2006

Ra, Ra, Ra!

By popular demand, I've making this haven for sun worshippers and summer lovers to disgust me with their love of the weather. Heck, it's still fodder for me, since when winter comes around you'll have none of my love of the weather to rain on your complaining, showing that you all are, or have, inconsistent, self-serving weenies.

29 May 2006

Complain About The Weather Here

Okay, locals, you know what I think about weather. As for the current weather, most of you have been asking for it since January. Now you've got it. That could only mean one thing-- it's time for you to all start complaining about how bad it is--

"But I didn't want it this hot!"

"When will the weather get nice?"

"It's too humid!"

"This isn't nice weather, this is roast your a$$ weather!"

"Why can't we have nice weather around here?"

"I'm sweaty now and I can't deal with that because I'm too hygenic for my own secretions!"

"All I'm asking for is nice weather!"

"It's too hot!"

In case you have anything else to say about it, I'm opening up this forum for all of you. Share your thoughts here.

(If you didn't notice, this is really a thinly veiled trap. You see, I'm not complaining about the current weather. So if you are, I want something to show you when January comes around and you're complaining about that weather, hopefully something juicy about how right now it's too hot and too humid. Then when you complain in January about the opposite problem I can show you in writing that really you're all a bunch of whingers who want some particular combination of temperature, wind, humidity, and cloud cover but can't get the words out in any more imaginative way than under the guise of some other season being like that. I mean, if you people would just walk around saying "The only weather I like is sunny and 78 degrees with dry air and a slight breze, nothing else makes me happy" then I'd give you more credit for precision. You won't do that, though, because that makes you sound like a complainer to yourself rather than only to everyone else. The best you seem to be able to do is say the weather is nice about ten days a year and then gripe all the rest of the time. Sheesh! Get a life!)

(Of course, now that I explained, nobody will comment except Noble. Oh well.)

(And you know, you people could just move somewhere to your liking if you can't deal with what you have. I have a wide margin of what I like and deal with the rest of what I get. Trust me, moving or dealing would make you happier. And I wouldn't need to listen to you pining for summer and then wanting it gone as soon as it comes, only to complain about how much you want summer as soon as it leaves.)

PS-- There's a subtle message in the existence of the comment button. It might mean I'm fed up with you.

28 May 2006

Fun With The Police

I got to talk to the police tonight, because there was a DUI checkpoint set up along my joyride. They were quite friendly. We chatted only briefly, but long enough for me to find out a few things.

1) This is good weather for them, so they mostly enjoy being out, except for that whole people possibly having weapons or people wanting to run them over things.

2) The piece of paper that I gave them? That was the emissions report from last year, not the registration card. Oops. They were happy with the sticker on the plate. Honey, where's the registration card?

3) They were going through all kinds of trouble tonight, six or eight officers and tons of gas for generators for lights, and also set-up time, trying to find two cars that have been seen driving eratically multiple times on that road recently. (What I also know is that the state is paying the tab for it, not the locals.)

4) The speed limit on that streatch of road was 45. I asked just before I left (since I had been distracted by all the lights and such and didn't know if I had passed a sign marking a change).

In retrospect I should have asked them two questions I've recently had. Does the work zone headlights thing apply always or only to active work zones? Has that proposed law been passed where litterers can be fined based on reports by witnesses rather than only when an officer sees? They would have Known these things. But even though they had time to chat, they also might have wondered what non-alcoholic substance I might have been on.

Of course this was a nice cap to a day spent brooding about unwarranted seaches. This one was warranted under implied consent laws, and I hate drunk driving enough that I really don't mind. Of course I can still think of a dozen other situations where....

26 May 2006

A Hike Wtih Sam

Sam and I went for a hike today, appropriately at Hawk Mountain, a migration point for many raptors. I mean the bird kind, not the kind from Jurassic Park. Every year thousands of hawks, eagles and other birds of prey migrate through that area. I saw nothing but a red tailed hawk and a few buzzards, but I did hear an American Kestrel out there somewhere. Dispite the lack of wildlife, I had fun overall, although I was disappointed with the weather. The trails were nearly empty. I saw a few people on the Lookout Trails and nobody on the backcountry trails.

Being brave, I took the blue blazed trail that connects the sanctuary trails to the AT, mostly because the map said that it is suitable only for experienced hikers. And it was. I went under one mile per hour along that trail, part of the rocky spine of the Kittatinny Ridge that the AT follows (this is the ridgeline that you see when you're in the Lehigh Valley and look north and east). From the East Rocks there was a good view of both the Pinnacle to the southeast and the valley to the north. There was also some tricky footing with drop offs on both sides. The rumored ten foot vertical area that requires rock climbing skills, near the sanctuary's North Lookout, is really just a steeper than usual pile of boulders. Anyone with patient footing can climb down, and anyone with a fit upper body can probably climb up, no skills necessary. But as I said, the weather sucked. It was 80 degrees and humid, the sun was beating down on me (it was only sunny while I was up on the nearly exposed ridge), and I was 1400 to 1500 feet above sea level with not a wisp of wind to cool me off as I traversed a section of the infamous Pennsylvania Rocks. With a breeze and some shade I could have gone faster.

The only misadventure of the day was that, having traversed a section of ridge and dropped into the valley on the east side of the Golden Eagle Trail, I became lost at one of the jogs in the River of Rocks Trail. In fact, I got lost when the blazes switched from tree to rocks. By that I mean that I only saw two blazes after the last tree, both on rocks. I can't blame the blazes for being sparse. In many places in the sanctuary they are all over. I counted at least fifteen marks at one point. But the River of Rocks Trail is blazed red, many different shades of red depending on how new the mark is, so I just lost it when it went from the trees to the rocks.

Lucky for me I lost it within earshot of a chainsaw. I remembered seeing blueish smoke from near the road when when I was up at East Rocks, and I saw that smoke as I walked towards the chainsaw sound. Eventually I walked out of the forsest into some people's backyard, where they were clearing some brush and small trees. I waved at them and walked out their driveway to the road, which took me back to where the trail would have taken me. Think of the sight! Me, covered in sweat (I drank nearly a gallon of water and was very thirsty), shirt wet (I think the same shirt I wore on my last hike, when Peter and Dan were here and the weather was worse than today and I had less water), trotting across a backyard and down a driveway and then up the road.

I can't tell you the total distance traveled because the map I had didn't have marked distances. I did take four hours, the time listed for the big loop that I took. I also got some pictures of Sam, who was delighted to get to see such a haven for his feathered cousins.

Sam is, by the way, going to Houston next week. Before he goes I need to take him to the Pagoda in Reading, get the pictures developed, and post something with pictures in his journal. After a week or so in Houston he's going to Santa Fe. A number of people from the message boards (including, I think, the folks who originally purchased him) are converging on that area for a four day meetup and Sam will be headed there to meet everyone before heading off to places not yet determined. I'm actually going to miss having him around. He's been lots of places here, including my sister's graduation, our anniversary trip to New Hope, my school a number of times, the regular Pub of Cheap Food, and for today's hike. And he's been exceptionally well behaved. I'll miss carrying him around and getting strange looks, including people who just have to ask why I'm carrying a stuffed eagle, but hopefully we'll meet up again sometime in the next few years to catch up and share a few more adventures.

Yes, I'm talking about a stuffed bird like it's my friend. He is.

23 May 2006

New Schools

Ever wonder how a college gets started? I've heard some things in the past few years about upstart Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts. As I read today at CNN, the first class has finally graduated. That means that the college can apply for accreditation.

Personally, I'd love to have a job working in such a project. It's the kind of thing that I enjoy building (because it doesn't involve working with my hands, which I can't do).

22 May 2006

Bunnies and Other Problems

I'm sitting some bunnies this weekend, and they're kind of fun. Two parrots, too.

The parrots were a real handful tonight, probably because the lights that I left on this morning, knowing I wouldn't be back until after dark, were turned off by what was probably some random family member who had to stop by the house for something. So I got there and the birds were all like "Where's our food?" because they get fed in the morning, defined by birds as when the environment around them goes from dark to light, and then when I was trying to get them to bed they were like "Um, isn't it morning?" This also led to some not-too-usual behavior on the part of one parrot who almost killed himself twice in the course of five minutes, once knoking things over on himself (think baby gate) and once taunting capricious little bunnies. So that was a real pain. But overall the animals aren't too bad.

The only down part about sitting is that I need to spend some time at the house where the bunnies and parrots live, which means I'm spending time away from other things I'd rather be doing like solving my other problems.

In retrospect turning out a few lights would have given the birds a clue. And I should have unplugged the car thermostat as soon as I thought it was going funny, too. Live and learn.

In other problems, I finally got my programs set up for the beowulf cluster. I can't get them compiled for Condor, though, because the Condor compiler is giving me an error about how it can't find some something it needs. You can run Condor in the vanilla universe without condor_compile, so I tried that. Condor loaded it up, put my jobs in the queue, created the output files, sat the jobs idle for a few minutes, and then spit them out, saying in the log file that they completed normally after running for at time 0+00:00:00. This sounds good except that these programs need days to run, not milliseconds, and there was no output in the output files, they were size 0 bytes, which shouldn't happen because these exact programs compile and run just fine on the server using the same compiler. So I'm going to go play with it some more, but if my computer saavy friends have any contributions to make then feel free to find me tomorrow afternoon in my office and share them. Right now I'm just following the instructions on the university website and the Condor manual, and while the latter has been helpful the former sucks.

Besides that, the content-free paper being a real pain in my rear, uncooperative colleagues with whom I need to make travel arrangements, being depressed, not exercising, and eating too much, I'm in great shape.

20 May 2006

Last Week

I forgot to mention that last week we went to my sister's graduation. She occasionally posts comments here as "Sister." Next fall she needs to do student teaching, and then she's all done with college, something that has been a very frustrating road for her due to financial issues beyond her control.

Once upon a time some group of dolts at [censored] College, not the one she graduated from, forgot to process all (I really do mean that the actually forgot all) of her federal financial aid paperwork and then refused to admit that she had turned it in on time (I was in the office when it happened), apologize more than a non-apology when cornered, or help solve the problem they made other than providing loans to replace thousands of dollars in lost grants. I'll spare you the details about why there was never any kind of lawsuit over it, mostly because I don't know them. And no comments here, since I don't want anyone asking or sharing. It's not the point, it's just something that makes the victory that much more sweet for everyone who knows her.

Anyway, it's nice that after having to work her buttski off to pay for someone else's mistake she has fianlly been able to do the whole graduation thing, even if it's two years late. They even got to wear hoods! Top notch stuff. So I salute her, and I hope that she can continue on with the education she needs to be a teacher or whatever else strikes her fancy :)

19 May 2006

Happy Anniversary

Today was our fifth wedding aneversary. I shamelessly solicit gifts from everyone who hasn't sent them.

We went to New Hope, PA, and Lambertville, NJ yesterday. We stayed overnight in Stockton, NJ, and played in the towns today. We had planned to play yesterday too but the car, whose thermostat had been slightly screwy this past week, overheated enough to crack open the radiator. Oops. We'll see if she holds together now. Getting her fixed took our afternoon time.

We did make it down there in time to go to a rather wacky restaurant called Marsha Brown (the personal restaurant of the woman by that name who has run some famous restaurant chains). The Woolverton Inn was nice and had some sheep grazing outside. Today we took pictures of some of the eclectic shops in the towns (there's a wonderful place in New Hope called Topeo that sells lots of domestic handmade glass, my favorite) and the associated colorful flower pots. There was a hot sauce store in New Hope and tasty ice cream in Lambertville.

I won't say much else about it except that I expect my wife to write post more soon.

I have to admit, though, that my faliure to get my research running on the clusters before leaving was rather disheartening and did distract me from what could have been a nicer time.

Realtime Satellite Tracking

Click here to track satellites in real time. The software uses Google Maps and displays the satellite's current position on the map. Not every satellite is there, but you can check for your favorite.

17 May 2006

Concerts, Long Overdue

I realized just now that I never really wrote about the Missa Solemnis concerts, so I decided that those would be tonight's subject.

I had a lot of fun at the Friday concert. I had less fun at the Saturday concert. I can't tell you which was better because that Saturday was a mind-numbing day. I already wrote about the wedding I went to that day, and that was part of it. I hadn't had enough sleep. Then, on top of that, the sum total of the food that I had before the concert was one bowl of cereal, one piece of wedding cake, one glass of punch, one handful of pretzels, and maybe one package of Pop-Tarts™, but I honestly don't remember. That was the total of my food from Saturday at 10:00 until after the concert, say 11:00 when we got our food. A few people I've talked to said "I see what's wrong. You didn't have any protein." While true, that wasn't the problem. I didn't have enough calories.

Sometime during the Egmont Overture I thought "Gee, I'm feeling like my blood sugar is low." I faintly remember during the intermission asking my neighbor if I was singing, and he looked at me funny and told me I was doing okay. I also noticed that my water bottle was empty. The next thing I remember is after the concert-- some clapping, getting off the stage, talking to the only guy who got off after I did, looking for the Denny's party, talking to my sister in her vehicle as we drove to Denny's, and then taking way too long to get a seat at Denny's. I also remember my officemate seeing my tux and pointing out that how I "clean up nicely." Things start to come back in force at Denny's.

I sort of need to write some parting thoughts about the Missa Solemnis, to get it out of my system. The first night before the concert our director said that he had listened to the practice tapes and that he thought we were ready. He was actually uncharacteristically calm all of the production week. Anyway, he also said some things about the greatness of the piece, and how in being part of it you get to walk away with a little piece of that greatness, something that nobody else will quite be able to understand. It sounds like phooey but it's at least true that what you feel is something that you can't communicate and that nobody who has never done it can understand. I know this because it's something that has always happened to me after doing some big production well, on either end of the lights and microphones. This time it hit me really hard, though. It was a few days before I could take myself back and listen to parts of the piece. I've only listened to the whole thing once since, on the way to my sister's graduation, stifling my singing to a hum so that I could drive. And right now is the first time I've had the score open.

I want to add, though, that I don't think the greatness is this mass is in singing it. I think it is in the textual subject itself. Nothing I've sung at my church on a Sunday has ever been to me as musically worshipful as the Missa Solemnis. Though hardly the praise and worship music of Beethoven's time, I think that a Christian can be doubly touched by the whole package of the music itself and what the music means. It's not about singing "Lord have mercy" or "You alone are most high" or "give us peace" to show Beethoven's musical interpretations of the text. It's also about singing the words themselves.

The Missa Solemnis is monolithic in choral literature. Nothing else is quite like it. It's brutal on the voice, both for an unending high tessatura in all parts, intervals between notes (the bass notes cover two full octaves and all other parts cover about one and a half; the largest interval is an octave and a fifth in the bass, which royally sucks to sing), and consistent requests for vocal sforzando. As Robert Shaw notes in his extremely long notes on conducting this piece, a massive thing I only touched after the concert, the human voice does not sforzando easily. The mood also constantly changes, which for me were the highlight of the piece when it wasn't the sopranos being told again that they really can sing a B-flat piano if three quarters of them hum. At the same time, these changes are often not intuitive. Beethoven likes to move things off the beat, something I learned when I listened intently to the Ninth Symphony when I was younger. But beautiful as it is, the Missa Solemnis is ranked as a difficult or worse piece by everyone who has sung it. Being a newbie to singing big works I can say from my naive position that it really wasn't terrible to do, at least not fully hydrated and standing up (and well fed).

The rest of this post is my boorish and unrefined take on the music. Feel free to skip it all. If you never even heard the piece then it will mean nothing to you. The last few paragraphs might be worth your time, but otherwise you can skip and feel no loss. I warn you now, though, that if you do read it it's your choice, so don't complain to me about how long and boring it is....

Setting out into learning the piece, the Credo was my favorite movement. I think in some ways it still is, since it has some of the most glorious moments in the whole piece. The word Credo is a theme in the piece, Beethoven having inserted in the melody in pairs and always with the same melodic sound. There's a sudden switch in dynamics from the bold et ex patre natum to the quiet ante omnia saecula and then, after just enough time for a huge breath for the basses to begin the shouts (almost literally) of Deo de Deum, Lumen de Lumine that move from part to part. The tenors get their share of this fun when the long, low, and grave (ha-ha) et sepultus est gives way into trumpeting et ressurexit and everyone else joins to finish the line tertia die secundum scripturas. Then as the final note is dying the basses set off nearly three octaves of notes ascending through the chorus, singing, of course, et ascendit in coelum and topped off by one more run up by the basses, but this time to the F.

Finished with Jesus, Beethoven has little need for a few of the specifics of the creed, so they just get sung quickly and chantlike by various parts over top of one another, the theme of credo running beneath. This is capped not only by the words et vitam venturi saeculi, amen but also a demonstration that the life in the world to come is eternal, given in the form of those words repeated in two fugues, a slow one and a fast one, and then a long quiet set of amens. The fugues are beautiful masterworks of patience, and the fast runs in the second fugue are to die for if you can practice them enough to actually sing them.

Of course, the Credo is the middle part of the mass, and I have to say that when the smoke cleared, sometime around the first practice session with the orchestra, I realized that the Credo is not my favorite movement. I'd heard them all before on a few recordings, but not so closely and personally as to notice no new things once I was on the stage.

The Sanctus is really beautiful, especially the soloists opening. The chorus never sings the words Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus, Domine Deus sabbaoth, and withthe orchestra they sound haunting. The Benedictus section is written on top of a solo violin from the consecration of the host (which we skipped physically doing since this was a conert to show the music, not a church service) to the end. Early on this solo violin, which sounds like a spirit coming down from heaven, is accompanied by a chantlike bass pass through the whole of the words-- Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domine. Afte ra long tiem with the violin the soloists come back to sing those words again. The soloists sing a lot in this section, actually, sometimes with the chorus, until the chorus breaks in with an equally peaceful but dynamically louder Osanna in excelsis that winds down to end the movement.

The Agnus Dei doesn't really strike me much, but Beethoven does put in some fun musical devices. There's quite a bit of warlike trumpeting and drumming going on that get broken up by lines of dona nobis pacem. Beethoven uses a melody from Handel's Hallelujah Chorus as one obvious setting fo those words. The peak is a massive presto run by the orchestra that gets cut off, offbeat of course, by the chorus crying out Agnus, Agnus Dei! and then turning into a marching advance of orchestral soldiers that are finally halted by the chorus crying dona nobis pacem. The drums of war sound only faintly after that point.

The Kyrie is, well, a Kyrie. I've never heard someone be really impressed by a Kyrie, although the one in Mozart's Requiem has its adherents. But even they usually love the Dies Irae more. The words of this movement of the mass are Greek, not Latin, making it an oddball of the liturgy. The thing that Beethoven has going for him is twofold. First, the phrases of the Kyrie have the right pitches to be shaped nicely. It's natural to get a bit louder and softer going higher and lower in pitch, and I think Beethoven might have been trying to use that. Even if he wasn't, it sounds pretty when it's done. Second, Bethoven has managed not to overshadow the rest of the mass with a stunning opening. Of course, given the Kyries that I'm familiar with this seems to be a common theme.

My favorite movement in the end is the Gloria. The Kyrie ends graceully and then, after a pause to get the music rearranged, the Gloria literally takes off. The vocal parts come out of nowhere singing Gloria in excelsis Deo, whch continues in states ranging from complete order to near chaos over the next couple of dozen bars. Suddenly there's peace and the basses begin the low, soft words et in terra pax adn, on top of the final vowel, the rest of the chorus picks up pax hominibus, bonae voluntatis. The sopranos and altos get to do soem of what the basses just did and the words are repeated. Suddenly, though, there's an outburst from teh orchestra, an upward moving crescendo that leads to Laudamus te, Benedicimus te. It quiets down for adoramus te and then is right back to loud for Glorificamus te. The words then get repeated in various ways by the various parts. The cahos in the notes through the section after the second quiet Adoramus te makes it all quite attractive. Of course I mean chaos in the sense of singing things that don't seem right, not in singing things that don't sound right when put together. Anyone trying to follow the words is still in trouble, though, unless they realize it's a whole bunch of Glorificamus te.

The Gratias agimus tibi is introduced by the soloists. It's a little madrigal, said our director, and I remember swaying gently from side to side when singing it during some rehearsals. This grows to a crecendo, though, and the orchestra does that rising "somethign's gogin to happen thing" once again. Before you realize it, though, there's some Domine Deus, Rex coelestis, Deus, and Pater omnipotens flying at you so hard you're stunned silly. It calms down but get hot again for the the Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Filium Patris. Then all gets queit and peaceful for a while.

The Quoniam tu solus ends that peace. Not long after the words In gloria Dei patris, amen are sung by all. The basse mysteryously drop out, byut the mystery is solved when they begin the fugue. I won't try to describe the fugue except to say that it goes away and comes back twice. The initial oscillating runs of in gloria Dei patris introduce it each time, as well as being repeated with the amens. The first run through the fugue by the chorus is the longest of the three, and at the end the soloists take over. The basses and tenors sing queitly underneath it, repeating cum sancto spiritu. The fugue's initial motif comes back in the chorus but this time the start is offset between the parts by half as much as originally and the basses sing a little melody before it resolves. The soloists take over, but the real action here lies in the subtle work of the chorus who repeat the Quoniam softly and slowly at first but then more fervently and, at the end a crecendo into the intial fugue motif sung in unison. Then there's some amens all around.

You'd think it would be done, but it isn't. Rahter than doing the standard Austrian mass thing, Beethoven launches things double-time into the original Gloria in excelsis. When the Gloria finishes off it ends not in the word amen but with the word gloria. The orchestra is gone after the first quick syllable, and the words are left echoing around in the room. The impact of this is something I only realized when seeing the look on the audience members faces. They split into two groups for us, the clap immidiately because of excitement group and the so stunned that the clapping gets them back to reality group. Of course, if the piece were performed without an intermission then they probably wouldn't clap, but sometime before the Credo was over the stunned ones would come back, I'm sure.

You can start reading again here and you probably won't be bored.

So that's my synopsis. All that said I think I can finally start putting this piece to rest. It's not something to forget, but at the same time it's not the most useful addition to the repertoire. I do need to put it off somewhat, mostly because although I now finally have the mass text memorized I've memorized it in Germanic Latin, not the normal Italian form, so my vowels and consonants are all screwed up compared to how most masses would be sung. At the same time, it's not a piece to forget. It's too musically powerful for that.

Speaking of its power, I wonder if that has something to do with this piece being so unpopular. Is the great power too subtle, something that you only notice after carefully studying the piece? Or is it just too much for people to handle? I can understand why it was not popular before recordings, as it's a work few amatuer choirs and even many professional choirs will not touch due to its vocal demands. But now with the available recordings, especially the good ones (I know a few "good" ones that I find to be pretty bad, like way to fast tempo or Italian pronunciation of the Latin, so if you want to get a copy ask me and I'll steer you away from the lesser), I wonder why more people do not take in this piece. Jan Swafford recently said that Beethoven's Missa Solemnis "may be the greatest piece never heard." Knowing it well, I'm still baffled as to why it's not heard. Why? Something I can understand, though, even if I can't explain it, is why I'll never forget it.

16 May 2006

Effing Computers

Following Federico's advice I started doing my programming using g++ through Cygwin. Cygwin made me happy when I used it to run g95, a Fortran compiler, so I figured "Hey, what are the worries?" The answer was none. I managed to get my program edited and then compiled and running nicely.

The problem that I was having next, though, was that I'm runing different g++ compilers at home and at school. Home has version 3.3.3, school has version 4.0.2. When I tried ot compile on the school server, the 4.0.2 compiler wouldn't recognize several functions that do useful things (cin, cout, exp, pow, and so on). The 3.3.3 compiler had the same problem if I didn't specify the correct namespace. Even specifying the namespace the way I do for the 3.3.3 compiler I got nothing from the 4.0.2.

Actually, I did get something. I got funk about how all of the functions were "not declared in this scope."

It turns out that the 4.0.2 compiler wanted more headers. So I included the cmath header and things started working wonderfully.

What I'm confused about, though, is how far down on what level of what obscure announcement page on what website do I need to go to find out that g++ version 4 needs to have the cmath header included but the version 3 does not? It worked just fine to compile without that header back when the school was using 3.x.x, and I have compiled programs to prove it, so it's a compiler change, not just something funny with my computer. Lucky for me that version 3 accepts the code either way.

Bother all.

12 May 2006

Grocery Store Content Only!

Rain could not keep me indoors. I went to the grocery store. The car acted up as usual in damp weather (squeaky belt, squeaky brakes, rougher idle) and the roads were quite slick from not being washed off recently.

I was appaled when I got to the back of the store. Chicken salad was ten cents more expensive than last time I was there. I bought canned chicken, mayonaise, and celery instead. And we have apples on the table, so my wife can put those in and not complain about how "The people in this state don't know how to make chicken salad. There's no apples or walnuts or grapes." That's simply because we want it to be edible, but Southerners don't understand.

Tomorrow night is the Bible study, assuming I don't get pulled to church instead. I'm in full charge of the audio system this weekend and the setup right now is blank-slate nothing except a few condenser mics that I hope nobody plays with. Sunday will be a youth service, so I can only hope that they don't decide to, oh, plan to plug in more guitars than we have direct boxes, or any of the other disasters that could happen if they don't bother consulting someone. Nothing will get broken, but I'm a rather hard-nosed control freak about "my" equipment. (Rant: I don't know what posessed those In Charge to buy microphones with switches! WTF? Console control only, I say! Yeee-haaaaaw! Mix-'em!) (Yeah, I'm weird. For me living on the edge is more than 12 channels needing a live mix. These days that's probably past the edge because I'm so out of practice it's not funny. I used to do 20 at once like it was nothing.) And Sunday mornings are not the time for me to have to tell someone they can't do something they planned. I'm grumpy then. More so this week because I need to be there an hour and a half earlier than usual, and on top of that I need to get up at 7:00 Saturday to go to my sister's graduation. I've been falling asleep around 5:00, so that's Not Going To Be Good For Anything,. Only if you have a little sister will you understand why it's All Worthwhile.

Actually, I'll e-mail the pastor tonight and stop worrying about it.

Where was I? Oh, yes. I bought Bible Study Food, which this week consists of a bag of rolls (called buns down south) and a hunk of pork. I'll get that in the slow cooker before bed, minus the rolls, of course. Damp bread is evil. This ain't no chips 'n' dip night with ol' Saint ?. (More properly ?, since the authorship of Hebrews is not known and so the sainthood of the author isnot known). Lest what may sound like a fancy snack make you think we're a bunch of Food-Centric Protestants (and therefore either Brethren or Lutheren; Baptists may brag but they don't know jack squat about gluttony) this is supposed to be dinner for everyone. And now that I'm thinking about it, I guess I should read some of the Bible passage under discussion, just in case I feel compelled to lead. We've adopted a democratic form of the Old Brethren model of preaching, with allowance for discussion, involvement of women, and napping. Yes, last time someone was napping. So really the only similarity is that the leader is the one who talks rather than the one who talks being the leader. And we'll get done talking fast because there's an apple pie, too.

I keep talking about things other than the grocery store...

I bought milk, bagels, cream cheese, and I didn't need to get cereal because I have gobs of it. Those who missed out on the 28.5 ounce bags of Malt-O-Meal Frosted Mini Spooners priced 3 for $5.00 over the past few weeks really missed out. Missed. Out. You don't know living until your grocery store's generic bite-sized frosted mini wheats are cheaper than Aldi and Sam's.

I also bought tortillas and onions and... I think that might be everything.

Wait, I'm wrong. I also picked up two bottles of Kutztown soda, one cream and one root beer. No high fructose corn syrup is invovled in the making of this soda. No caffeine either.

And I got rained on anyway.

11 May 2006

Different Values

Some talking with faculty members has recently gotten me thinking. Actually it was well over a month ago, but back then what I heard struck me as odd. When something rings oddly after passing into my ears it sometimes takes years for me to sort it out. When my intuitive side gets tickled my mind does not give up on figuring out why, so I live half my life chasing mysteries around in my head.

What struck me as off the other week was that a fomer graduate student at my school was referred to as "lazy." Knowing this former student, I probed for reasons why this label had been attached. This student, I was told, was too smart for the school and should have gone somewhere better. I was told that the consensus among the faculty was that this person chose our school to get by easy. That, my friends, is what was called "lazy." And that, to me, was odd.

Tonight I was coming home from my walk and thinking about something my adviser recently told me. I told him that I wanted to teach at a four-year school. He told me, I paraphrase, that those schools tend to be service oriented and boring. I thought that it was an odd thing to say. What in Sam Hill is wrong with wanting a job that is service oriented? How the heck can meeting new people and molding little minds be boring?

You see, I like helping people. I don't much care for whiney people or ungrateful people, but as I've mentioned before my dislike of people is rather hyperbolic. When push comes to shove there are few people I don't like. And I help anyone I like, which turns out to be almost anyone. One thing that I've said for years is that I'd be immensely happier having a student win a Nobel prize than winning myself. I've always prefered to lurk around behind the scenes. I like changing the world around me and having nobody know it. Subtle people manipulation is one of my hobbies. I want to be a sidekick. I prefer the mixing console to the business end of the microphone. My favorite thing in life is when I tell someone something and it sparks a conversation that ends with them walking away a little different than when we started. I love teaching people.

It struck me, though, on my walk tonight, that the reason why a life of service to teaching young minds could come across to a scientist as dull is because scientists are, in my best judgment, flag-waving, spotlight-hogging, horn-tooting hedonists. In brief, scientists come across to me as though they desire to publish as much as they can and be as sucessful as possible in the world, which isn't the real world at all but rather some narrow band of either fame or foturne or, for the most driven, both. I don't know if they realize that even when they are famous there are a few hundred people who have heard of them, all scientists, and that when they are rich compared to their peers they still usually aren't. But that seems to be the lot of it. "Be sucessful no matter what" is the unspoken cry, where success is defined in a little tunnel of academic science's culture and everything else is irrelevant.

The news flash that should go out to every scientist, and indeed every academic, and every buiness executive, is that we people have different values. For example, there may be many people at company X who want to get to the top of the heap at Company X, but I may have reasosn to work for Company X besides a desire to play King of the Mountain. That's easy to understand, but we need to take it to the level of application. There is no reason why we should ever evaluate others actions based only on our own values, reasoning, or feelings. If I'm not trying to get to the top, nobody who is trying to get to the top should waste any time thinking about me in some framework where I'm trying to get to the top.

Note that I'm not going for some kind of wholesale relativism here. I'm not saying that everyone is right in their values or reasoning. I think it's fine for people with different values and reason to look at each others values and reasoning to consider them and to critique them. That's a great way of finding what is wrong with your own rvalues or reasons. It's great way to help someone else with their values or reasons. What I am saying is that if a person has certain values or reasons that produce a decision or action then the decision or action should never be evaluated only in light of a different set of values and reasons.

This probably isn't a universal philosophy, so don't take it too seriously. I'm sure you can come up with lots of nice examples to punch lots of holes in it. Moral absolutes and such will screw it up big time, but in the two cases that got me thinking I don't see any such absolutes either way. So I think that I'm onto something. I want to help others more than people who don't want to help others (Calvin Coolidge moment, yes, but an honest one). The former student from my school is called lazy when in fact he isn't. The desires and aspirations of myself and the guy I know are simply being evaluated in the light of values and reasons that are different form our own.

I've sounded a bit negative about those values here; to be fair they do have some good points. I and the person I know simply do not share them with the people who run the world I'm in. It's unfortunate, really, because we both have been labelled for it. If life made sense then we would avoid the brand by being easily persuaded of the values we don't have. If life would be fair then we wouldn't even waste time branding and being branded. Life is neither, so I guess we just need to deal with it.

For now, though, I'm finished thinking about it.

09 May 2006

Sam the Eagle

I'm pleased to announce that Sam the Eagle and his travel jounal arrived today in one piece. Sam is a stuffed bald eagle about 7 inches tall and weighing in at about a quarter pound.

We've got some adventures planned for the next few weeks, including the pagoda in Reading, a hike (possibly at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary), a trip to Palmerton (and maybe also Centralia) to examine local environmental disasters, and possibly a few other places. Heck, we might do the AT from Lehigh Gap to Wind Gap if the weather is nice on the right day... and if I feel like climbing the rocks out of Lehigh Gap. And I'm sure we'll keep ourselves busy with regular work. Sam's been quite the bird around the office, sitting quietly and behaving better than most birds I've met.

For those of you who don't know, Sam is being sent around by a few of us who hang out on the message boards at Ship of Fools.

08 May 2006

When things happen

I'm always the last to know. You know, these things. I guess it comes form being a passive watcher of haute-academiques. (You see, I didn't find this by actively looking. I just found it by noting elsewhere that his endowed chair was vacant for next year).

UPDATE-- The Detholz opened for Wilco.

(I'm hedging a nagging feeling that I've talked about Noll in the past few months and just completely forgot about it. And I figured you folks deserve some real news.)

07 May 2006

Pop-ups and Spyware

Story from the Chicago Tribune on one man's fight against e-trash.

He's been using a computer for only a year, but 48-year-old Shawn Collins wants to accomplish what the software industry has failed to do: stop annoying pop-up ads and spyware from intruding into personal computers.

The Naperville attorney considers spyware to be akin to cyberwaste.

"The Internet is being polluted," he said. "I look at spyware companies as industrial polluters."

So with his background in environmental issues, Collins is applying to the Internet the same kinds of laws he used against groundwater polluters. In a case settled in February, he successfully argued that spyware companies were trespassing on personal property, a tactic lifted from environmental law.

A New Name

Anyone have objections to calling me Elf? I decided today that it really fits me.

06 May 2006

Mental Projections

I'm working on all three of my projects now.

The content-free paper is in review by my adviser, a review which it will not pass but that I decided to have done anyway. Writing science papers feels fundamentally different from writing other kids of reserch papers and essays, so I want to nip any problems before I pour hours into them rather than after. The content-free poster, which has similar but less material, will be arriving in my office sometime next Monday or Tuesday so that you all can enjoy the yellow to pink fade and brown title lettering with black shadows, all to compliment the blue figures with yellow contour lines and a grey gridding. An unhappy Nate leads to an unhappy poster design, and presenting posters as free advertising at internal conferences with slogans from the overpaid and nearly worthless marketing department like "Defining The Future-- Now" make for an unhappy Nate, even if he does get a free pen out of it.

The other project is having issues. I finally got the guts to do the 1-billion step simulation, and it's taking 50% longer than I calculated. That's probably due to overuse of the comptuer for other things, robbing my simulation of CPU cycles. It's now day 4 and still going. I found some nice round-off error, too. I need to check on this, but I think the original programmer had a number flip back and forth between itself and its cube root. Every time this flip happens the number can get truncated, so my simulation box is slowly getting smaller. It's not enough to screw things up, maybe 1% loss by the end of a billion steps, but it's happening and it's annoying me. The other problem is that I think I'm getting a solid-like thing rather then a gel-like thing, but I'm basing that on density alone and I won't really know until the run is done.

The third project is in the critical review of the concept phase. It's a simple concept. It gives results that don't correspond well with the results of experiments, though. But the eperimental results are interpreted by pushing the data through a different and not necessarily incompatable theory. It's not that one is right and the other wrong. It's really a matter of both being wrong. There are antiquated concepts that need to be dealt with, along with chicken-and-egg games with definitions and assumptions, otherwise all is thrashing in the dark.

Let me explain it this way. Assume pizza dough. When pressed flat and baked it rises. When you put toppings on it you leave a crust on the edges. Now, to remove the human element that doesn't exist in my systems, assume that the pizza puts itself together that way in the conditions in an average kitchen. The ultimate goal is to explain how the pizza puts itself together, and we only do that by using the difference between the crust and the part with the toppings. If the conditions change a certain way the pizza gets bigger and if they go the other way the pizza gets smaller. Once it gets to a certain point in smallness, less than the size of a piece of pepperoni, the crust isn't there on the edges anymore. Is what just assembled as my snack still a pizza or is it something different? If it's still a pizza, how can we explain pizza without distinguishing the crust from the rest? If it's not a pizza, what genreal class of things do this and pizza fit into? And what about the fact that as it rises the pizza crust might appear from under the pepperoni after the cheese melts instead of before? As you can see this is not normal science, and there's some semantics involved, so it can easily become both confusing and contentious.

All said, as much as I like project 3, I think it'll be biting the dust before it launches. And maybe having some pizza.

05 May 2006


Things I do that make my wife laugh:

Confuse John Rockefeller and Norman Rockwell.

Ask her questions like "Name some counties in Pennsylvania?" or "What will we be voting for in November?" and take her answers seriously for the first few minutes.

I have one foot who is shy and another who is more shy... most of the time. Sometimes that really shy foot gets frisky.

And that was just today....

04 May 2006

A Day of C++

I'm convinced that this language is evil. Totally evil. Why? The freaking compilers are worse than poodles.

My programming day:

Part I--
Using model in C++ textbook, wrote small program on Heidi to read numbers from a file and print to screen. Compile using g++. Program works just fine. Extend in various ways, always with success.

Part II--
SSH original program from Heidi to Chelsea. Make changes so that I can use Visual C++ (such as adding ".h" to header names). Compile using Visual C++. Program reads garbage from the memory and prints that garbage to the screen. Rewrite program from scratch; problem continues.

It's really no use saving the results of my simulations if I can't open them to restart from where it left off. I'm wondering, though, why the person who originally wrote this code wrote the program to output data in a completely different format than what is read by the function included to initialize with a file, and I hope that said person, now getting paid to program comnputers, has ironed out such wonderful fun.

02 May 2006

This Is Dumb

Educational stupidity discussed here. I can't really say more about it, except that board games must be an important genre of literature. Either that or some professional "educators" need to get their heads examined.