My Zunivers

31 December 2006

Odd Shopping

So my wife sent me to the store for pregnancy tests and pads. That was the trip where I got the computer games and the fleece, and some groceries. So, of the two items she sent me to get, guess which one she opened and which one she will not need to open for quite a while? Yes, you guessed it. Ten years after Fischer 4 East held an informal discussion "What would Nate and Nancy-Elizabeth's children be like?" (a conversation held before we ever went out), those poor boys from my freshman dorm will likely have an answer.

My prayer for the upcoming months? Dear God, Given that I could say this over a year ago, please let there not be more about the subject for me to learn, otherwise people might start dying. Amen.

For those who are totally interested in blogs about pregnancy, childbirth, and mothering (and if you are, please don't tell me, becuase I will form opinions about you), this isn't the one. Go to my wife's blog (link on sidebar) and I'm sure she'll enthrall and delight.

(This is, by the way, my 600th post.)

29 December 2006

Cantate Hodie: A Review

I've spent the evening listening to this incredible short piece of music called "The Dream Isaiah Saw," music by Glenn L. Rudolph. The lyrics are the poem "Lions and Oxen Will Sleep In The Hay" by Thomas Troeger. You might recall that I accidently discovered this piece when the Lebanon Valley College choirs performed it for their Christmas in the Valley 2006 concerts, which I spontaneously attended.

The recording, found on the earlier mentioned album Cantate Hodie (subtitled, strangely enough, "Sing Forth This Day"; I wonder why...) from the Bach Choir of Pittsburgh, does not present the cleanest sound. The entire album was recorded in a large church in the Pittsburgh area, and it all sounds a bit hollow and muddy, although it's not intolerable. Also, the sound seems to be compressed a bit too quickly; the range of the dynamic sharply stops increasing above a certain threshold. For some reason-- recording, mixing, or the conductor-- the chorus does not stand out well during some of the songs with brass and percussion. This is unfortunate, because a song like "The Dream Isaiah Saw" begs for the chorus to sound absolutely huge, commanding rather than blending.

One interesting suite on this album is "A Musicological Journey Through the Twelve Days of Christmas." Each day of Christmas comes in a different style, starting with chant and renaissance and working up to the 19th century American (think Sousa). I particularly like the Wagenerian section (19th century Germany). This piece is set for chorus, organ, brass, and percussion; I can only imagine the fun one could have doing a full orchestration. Another bonus on this album is the Drake/Barnett "In The Bleak Midwinter," an arrangement I've heard before but not as frequently as the Holst version, which I think I prefer. This album also has a number of perviously unrecorded carols from the likes of Mark Wilberg, Stephen Paulus, Kieren MacMillan, and of course Glenn Rudolph.

Rudolph's "The Dream Isaiah Saw," the song that made me want this midly overpriced album, makes very good use of a device that I find wonderful in accompanied choral music. The refrain (with the final line changing each time) is sung four times, the first two accompanied with only the organ. As the hecticness of the music develops fully before and in the third verse with the brass and percussion come to a crashing crescendo over the chorus. As the chorus begins the refrain, the brass and percussion are gone as before but this time, after a few notes, the organ is gone as well. This is a sound I love! The song nearly made me cry the first time I heard it, not only because the voices replaced the entirety of this massive sound but becasue of what the voices are saying-- "Little child whose bed is straw, take new lodgings in my heart. Bring the dream Isaiah saw: knowledge, wisdom, worship, awe." I'm moved whenever I find a Christian willing to imply that knowledge and wisdom rank with worship and awe, praying for them all at once. Directly following is a repeat of this final refrain, with the return of the organ, percussion and the brass as well as a shift in the harmony, to satisfy a massive descant, for a final whirl. This whirl is quite a whirl, as the brass play and echo a countrapuntal melody that is a full development of little pieces hidden in the previous accompaniment and the descant. As Rudolph says in his program notes, "The war is won-- the dream, a reality."

Of course, most of you won't be moved like I am, but I recommend this album to anyone who likes obscure Christmas choral music, or, for that matter, wants to have something to listen to on rainy weekends.


28 December 2006

Christmas Future

I'm feeling a little better today. I sometimes have fits, you know?

Last night I spent the money my grandmother sent for Christmas. I bought a fleece and a computer game (actually a pair). The fleece is all fluffy and blaze orange, to make me feel better about hiking in game lands when various less colorful things are in season. I still should have a gun with me, though. The computer game is John Deere North American Farmer. It's really cool, sort of a combination between turn-based and real-time strategy. My first farm failed miserably. My second farm is doing better, although those danged chickens take so much work and the only tractors I can afford are way too slow.

Another Christmas present arrived in the mail today, the CD Cantate Hodie from the Bach Choir of Pittsburgh. Lots of obscure modern choral Christmas music. Too much fun! My wifey is the best :)

Of course, these objects have little to do with my feeling better. I feel better because I got over it. I'm still, frankly, not to happy about the future. I have so much to do to finish where I am, and then I get to go off to doing what I still don't even know. I have two or three potential openings as a postdoc for the fall, but all of them depend on grants that have not yet been approved. I'm crossing my fingers hoping for Montreal, but the research at Virginia Tech is cool (even if the weather sucks). And there are a few more options. I put out one faculty application and I might put out a second, although the two postdoc positions I mentioned are actually more appealing in terms of career development.

I know that everything will work out in the end, but it's frustrating. I can't stand doing the same thing for more than a few years, so I'm not sure how much fun I'll have once I'm gone from here. Being a postdoc will be more of the same. Being a professor would be a change of pace, but it would then be the same thing for years. More money won't do much except pay for children. Moving means leaving good friends and having to make more, a complete drain.


If I were at home I'd go plant some soybeans.

27 December 2006


Life is a Venn diagram. Where am I? Well, I'm never quite where I want to be.

Usually we draw Venn diagrams with circles, but circles are not the only way to bound a set. We draw them on a plane, but sets can exist in higher dimensions. Following the usual, I measure off my distance from others, hoping that others use the same dimensions and that I'm close enough I'll be inside. Somehow, though, it works another way. I find myself bounding others, my circles reaching, but I seem to fall outside, desired but rejected, soft but hard. Stuck there in the branch cut, close and so nearly at the end, the circle around me, a purposeful bubble of hope that maybe I am bounded, shrinks, in the limit, and takes me away.

Did that require special effort, or am I just that bad at measuring distance?

Of course, what good is life if your only choices are either never to be bounded or be a mere residue on someone's conscience? Do I place myself or am I simply found, then accepted or avoided? And in the end, when I'm still and the contours fall into place, whose sets really matter? If I cover you but you don't cover me? When they answer, how can I tell?

Geesh. This blog would be much more useful if people I know didn't read it and I could just say what I want to say instead of crap like that.

26 December 2006

Christmas 2006

I was feeling kind of bah-humbug Saturday night, but I didn't post it. Sunday we had a bunch of people over for lunch, and my dad came up for lupper and the Christmas Eve play at our church. The play went well, by the way. I took the unenviable job of complaint guy, parking at the top of the stairs so that the others wouldn't get bothered by people wandering up to complain or for other random reasons, and took one or two complaints. I also got to play with a baby in the church nursery (she snagged me on a trip to relay a message about a microphone being switched off; I will go to my grave saying that microphones with switches are the toys of idiots), rant a little before returning, play with fire at the end, and nearly fall out the sound room window onto the pews below. A dangerous life I lead. After the service, and I still don't really know what the play was about, I came home and fell asleep early to start making up for all the sleep lost from being sick for four out of the past six weeks. And I'm really cranky that I haven't gotten enough done, but I need to rest now that I'm taking the antibiotic, otherwise I'll never get better.

The Christmas Take of 2006, also known as the Christmas Booty Call '06, has only begun, as I'll be going to the in-laws house sometime this weekend and I'll get stuff there, too. I shamelessly brag that I've got a bunch of money to spend on top of the cool presents. I got a 150 piece Magnetix set, an advanced coffee-table book on the history of music, a book surveying the history of farting, a framed picture of my sister from "Oh, teachers get their pictures taken too?" day, a small set of Legos, a pound of beef jerky, and a whole bunch of other cool stuff that's sitting around in bags behind me (hence my not saying who gave me what, for fear I left out everything from someone. Even I don't know the tally of my posessions until reviewing them once or twice. I leave omniscience to God). Another thank you to everyone who has given gifts so far. Christmas ends at Epiphany, so you people will have plenty of time to shower me with other worldly posessions, in the true spirit of Christmas of course.

The day started witha misunderstanding between my wife and I about exactly when to leave the house. Once we finally got out the door we went to mom's place, where my siblings started their day. We had lunch there, rice and beef and some sweet potatoes, and then we raced off to Reading. At Dad's place there were more gifts, and then we took a trip to my grandmother's aprartment downtown. She fed us tons of food, as always, and I was happy to see that even though her lungs are slowly degrading her mind and sense of humor certainly isn't! This was the first time I saw her for well over a year. After a few hours of fun there we went back to Dad's house for a few minutes.

Driving home on Antietam Road I thought to myself how many Christmases past I'd been on that same road to visit relatives and have a good time. Today was different from all those other years. I was driving away from the city at the end of the day, not back toward it. And there are many things that are different along the way. Looking to the future, I might not see that road again on Christmas for a very, very long time. It passes through the heart of the countryside where some of my ancestors settled 250 years ago, and it was the way we used to go to get to the towns where my parents grew up. Later on in the drive I took a one block detour to show my wife the house my dad's parents lived in when I was born, not because you can see anything through the hedge but because I was driving and I could.

Christmas day has passed again. I've got to take a few days off, regroup, and get to work.

Oh, by the way, my sister has passed all her requirements to be initially certified as math teacher. We're all very proud of her. Our family history has had a number of teachers, and she has revived the profession for our generation. That and she's wicked cool and probably really good at it :)

23 December 2006

Ages Old Questions

Why is the sky blue?

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Is a 1982 Mitsubishi Colt better than a Bugatti Veyron?

22 December 2006

On Board

For those of you even remotely thinking of joining the message boards at Ship of Fools but want to wait until you can see what thigns are like there, you might want to wait until Tuesday. They've declared Hosts and Admins 'Day' which means all kinds of craziness is going on. Currently the word Christmas is being censored, the thread on evolution has been moved from Dead Horses to Hell, the H&A avitars are all fancified, and that's just the beginning of it. Serious fun for the regulars, but I don't recommend being a newbie this weekend.

Best Myers-Briggs Test Ever!

A few of you have asked me to find a good one, and I've found the best one I can find.

The Brutally Honest Personality Test

So go take it already, and get ready to be offended!

Oh, and speaking of being offensive, for all of you who think I'm an SJ because you know a heck of a lot less about this testing system than you think you do (or because you think I'm a cranky, tempermental, and arrogant SOB because you can't seem to interact with me on the 17,456,983,764 things in life that I don't care about and instead focus on the three and a quarter where I have an opinion and build form there like it's the sum total of my being which is complicated beyond your understanding), I am a still clocking in as a Loser INTP that doesn't need you anyway.

20 December 2006

Actually, It Is a Show

I'm not a huge fan of topics that exclude some or the other of my readers. You know all those times that I use what my wife calls "the big words about the physics"? I feel kind of bad. I wish I could shrink the words so that everyone could understand. I wish similarly that posts like this one about church life would be appealing to all of you heathens. But it won't be, so you heathens can all go read something else.

I've been on the tehnical end of church serivices and programs for thirteen years, and I have few complaints. Like I've said, it is a thankless job where the goal is to be invisible. If someone notices you then you likely made a mistake, and there are more than a few people out there who get great joy out of pointing out mistakes, in Christian love and for the sake of Jesus of course. There are two ideas, closely related, that seem universal behind the scenes of evangelical worship and that bother me greatly. Actually, I'm also bothered by music styles, but that's for another day. The first is the idea that what is happening in the services and programs is not a production but a ministry. The second is the careless redirection of praise, give it to God not to me.

On the surface these look harmless, but they aren't. Let's look at the first claim. The reason people say this is because they want to remind us that the end goal is to be a service to other people. The music they sing and hear, the prayers they give and hear, and so on are all encouraging, moving, meaningful, or whatever words you think I missed. Unfortunately, ministry does not occur in a vacuum. Ministry is not itself an activity. Rather, ministry is taking a particular activity and using it for the good purposes I mentioned.

So I've always felt insulted when I am told "This is not a produciton, it is a minitry." It clearly is a production. People have memorized and rehearsed songs and lines. People have expectations about lights and microphones and projectors. I and many others regularly put a great deal of energy not into ministry, not as an etherial concept but into the production. And we do this with good reason. It's not that this is not a production but a minitry. To the contrary, it is a production that is a ministry.

Of course, I've raised this issue and gotten in lots of trouble for it. I don't understand why. How often have you seen two people looking at a yellow umbrella arguing about whether it is yellow or an umbrella, as if it can't be both at the same time? How many times have you heard two church members in a soup kitchen arguing over whether feeding poor people is feeding poor people or doing a ministry, as if it can't be both at the same time? I haven't. But audiovisual productions just aren't allowed to be both production and ministry. For some reason, everywhere I've gone in churches, worship service and special program ministry gets a special status over the production, not matter how simple or complex, that underlies it.

Actually, it's not be that ministry gets a special status. Production just gets a bump. We have an arrogant Hollywood out there, not to mention fancypants televangelist money grabbers regularly being completele hypocrites. The way we separate ourselves from this seems to be the easy path of talking down audiovisual production rather than emphasizing the true focus that the production can have. Instead of saying "This isn't just a show" the desire to truly work for God seems to make people say, wrongly, "This is not a show."

The second, and related, thing I have issues with is when people involved in the production do get called on it and then don't want to admit that they were involved. I get frustrated when I thank a singer for singing and I am told "Oh, don't thank me. Thank God." You know what? I'll thank God instead of you for your singing when God comes down and sings in your place. You can do things for God, you know. It's called, catch this, doing ministry.

I do have some evidence that this too is just productionphobia. I've heard some of these same people be perfectly happy being praised for things like helping clean the church, helping set up tents and tables, or teaching classes. They never respond "Don't thank me for working in the nursery, give God the glory." But as soon as they are involved in something related to production they want to shed their role and hand it to God.

As cute a it sounds, I'm not suggesting that they shed their role in all things. Rather, I am suggesting that when production time comes they keep hold of the reality that they can't be both passive and doers. They should learn to deal with the hard balance of admitting that they are involved in the show and keeping their pride in check. But that last bit, isn't that the hard part? I've noticed a strong (but not universal) correlation between pride, via stuckupishness and pickiness, and people who sing but say "Don't thank me, thank God" or point upwards when people applaud after a song or the like. It's as though they are giving a sign that says "You know, whenever I do this ministry I have trouble with pride."

Once again we come to Hollywood. The Second Best Boy (catering) isn't exactly the star. He didn't make or break the film. Many people could have bussed tables just as well. Likewise, the people who clean up after church dinners look expendable. But in church as in Hollywood, something about the busines end of the spotlight can stir up some arrogance. Why the spotlight rather than cleaning tables or counting money? I don't know, but, no matter what the reason, that stirring is why production gets degraded.

This is, of course, not very smart. We can be wrongly proud of anything we do, not just making productions. We can also properly serve through any means, including productions. The production setting should not get blamed for how people deal with being involved. What we who are involved in church produciton should do instead of making an air of anti-production is to encourage an air of production while teaching and encouraging each other about how to filter out the pride.

Encouraging production in a church? Yes, that's what I said! There is so much talent that goes unused. We could do so much more art if we were free to do it. Instead of being held back to prevent pride, something that doesn't help anyway, why can't we be set loose to do our art? Why can't we replace "This is not a production, it is a ministry" with "This is a production, and the better we do it the better it can be as a ministry"?

Blogger Bothers

Do any of you on Blogger who read this use a dial-up connection? Have you switched to the new version of Blogger? I ask because it's not going to be very long before the switch will be forced, but early on in the beta testing I tried loading the new Blogger interface on my dial-up connection and found that it was slower than my grandma running across an empty street.

19 December 2006

My Weekend

I survived the statistical mechanics conference at Rutgers. It was a lot of fun. I've gone to enough conferences that I actually know people when I get there. This time I was happy to find an acquantence from my previous graduate school. His English has improved dramatically and I had a good time talking to him. The food was also decent. I hadn't realized it, but there was this guy giving a talk there that my adviser and I totally want to rip a new one for this theoretical approach he published that was cute but unrelated to reality. He managed to disappear between his talk and dinner, however, so no ripping was done. Lucky him.

Despite having a good time, I'm still quite tired. I've been having a lot of trouble sleeping, mostly due to dry air swelliing my nasal passages and throat. This little cold of mine is hiding under the bushel of mucous instead of letting itself shine like a good cold should.

The shameless solicitation of myself as a postdoc began on Saturday with my resume sent out to 25 people. I've heard back from about ten of them. Most of them don't have a spot. One or two of those without a spot sent me a list of a few other names to look into. A couple of the others who did not have a spot said things along the lines of "If I had money I would consider you because our group could really use someone like you." Awww.... warm and fuzzies fill my heart. Two people have asked me to have letters sent to them. They've all been quite nice. Of course, when my adviser and I were making the list he would think of a name and then be like "No, you two would never get along," so they're probably all nice.

There is no simple way for me to say this, but I need to say it before I go so I guess I'll just give it to you straight. Spicy Guacamole Pringles are good.

17 December 2006

Discussing The New CD

she: "Charming as this is, I need to get back to studying."

me: "But wait, you'll like this song, too!"

[she stands and listens until the chorus]

she: "Um..."

me: "You know that I spent good money for this!" [big grin]

she: "Yes, yes you did. And hopefully, someday, our children will give it away as a white elephant gift."

me: "But why? This is good music. This is the Christmas music they don't play on the radio. Do you know why?"

she: "Yes, yes I do."

me: "I know, too. It's because this stuff is actually tasteful."

The album is titled "Santa's Got A Semi," and it features such holiday classics as "Old Hippie Christmas," "I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas," "Here's Your Sign, Christmas," "Happy Holidays Y'all," and "I Farted on Santa's Lap (Now Christmas Is Gonna Stink For Me)." It was that last one that got her to say "Um...."

16 December 2006

You Know It's Friday Night When

You drive all over the Lehigh Valley during rush hour because you were too stupid to pull files you needed from your home computer, the campus computers are too stupid to print them without some wrestling, you were too stupid to eat while you were at home getting the files so you needed to go buy food (Hard Wok takeout box... mmmmm...), because you're going to spend the evening at church with the youf.

The youf, by the way, are all fine.

You come home tired and you can't fall asleep. There isn't anything on TV because you get two channels that show nothing worthwhile on Friday nights, so you watch two hours of Lord of The Rings appendices.

You send an e-mail to a professor asking for an emergency letter of recommendation for a job whose deadline you let slip past. Luckily he has just returned from halfway around the world and doesn't mind you sending him an e-mail at midnight, since he's just finishing lunch and happy to help.

Bored of Lord of the Rings appendices you get high on some Poulenc. Seigneur, je vous en prie, sung by the glee club at vespers, captivates you and so you listen to it over and over and over. It's a 90 second song.

You want to listen to something else, but even the Gloria from Beethoven's Misssa Solemnis can't pull you away from the haunting harmonies of Poulenc. Biebl's Ave Maria would do, but you don't have a recording of that, so you're trapped in a Dollis Hill like loop.

You get depressed because you'll be missing the department Christmas party, the event of the year, to go to Rutgers for a day or two of nerd things. But before then you need to do some things you told your adviser you would do before you left for Rutgers. He'll be back from California about when you return from Rutgers, so it has to get done tomorrow.

You're sitting at home by yourself and there is nobody to talk to except your brother in law on AIM, and you don't want to do that, so you sit, alone, thinking. Always a bad idea. And worse, if you hadn't gone to take that dump you could have answered the phone when peter called to annouce his purchase and consumption of likker.

You contemplate such things as whether your officemate might like a copy of Twsited Sister's Twisted Christmas. Back to music again, you see. Poulenc has just been replaced by Roch Voisine.

A sad night indeed.


Wheaton makes the news. The town, not the college.

So, what's this stuff in my ranch dressing?

15 December 2006

I'm Sick

I've been sick and busy.

I think I finally have a working teaching statement. I need to write research statement. Tomorrow I need to solicit letters from some faculty members. I also need to figure out WTF is wrong with that danged computer program I wrote, besides the errors that one of the professors on my dissertation committe found in the paper I was using as a guide (he and my adviser are usign the method for some otehr project as well). And I need to do some curve fits, because I finally figured out how to get Origin to fit coexistence curve data to a critical formula with an Ising exponent. And I need to start writing up the paper on all that, so that I can have a finished draft submitted for when I send off my applications.

And did I mention I'm sick?

12 December 2006

Vote For Phil

Okay, people. There is (rather humorous) blog-war going on right now between Bad Astronomy and Pharyngula for the spot as Best Science Blog 2006. Bad Astronomer Phil Plait has been short on shots fired but he has posted the most convincing reason so far to vote for Bad Astronomy.

Phil and I don't agree about most of life, but he leaves religion pretty much alone except to pound on YEC and ID people like I do. He provides me with a daily dose of entertainment, whether it's space news or what he thinks is wrong with society or what he did at the sci-fi convention. And Phil is a physical scientist, not some weenie biologist like PZ.

I shamelessly ask you to do what I do and vote for Bad Astronomy. Vote early, vote often.

11 December 2006

I Don't Get It

I mean this.


A holiday whiteout for stores

Retailers choose to deck the halls with white and silver, in a back-to-basics approach that can appeal to shoppers of all religious faiths

Body of text:

Not a single bit of information about why white and silver are so inclusive or red and green so exclusive, not even an interview with the only offended person in America, just an unfounded claim from some marketer who thinks businesses might choose white and silver in part not to offend anyone for whom these colors could be offensive-- enough weaslers to clean out a chicken farm. There is also nothing on how white has been a Christmas color of choice for some people, including fundamentalist nutjobs, for a very long time. And, even more, there is a statement about how white is just appearing everywhere in our culture for reasons that have nothing to do with religion or Christmas, something that shoots the sub-headline in the foot, don't you think?

After reading this article I'd like all of you who have been making fun of Christians for inventing the "war on Christmas" to consider something I say often-- it's not Christians that are stupid, it's almost everyone.

10 December 2006

The Other Concert

I've been so focused on my own singing that I nearly forgot this evening's concert by the school orchestra. It rocked. I was wearing my grungies but I decided to go anyway, and I got to sit in the front row of the balcony between a dirty old man and a young lass (like 7 or 8, or maybe younger) who was on her first trip to see the symphony. She (and her father) are going to be at the Vespers concert, too. Although she fell asleep and snored through the last two movements of the symphony on the program, she seemed to have a very good time. So did the dirty old man, as he was busy flirting with his girl-toy date who was earlier in life (I gathered from overhearing) a minor rate professional soprano. Sucks to be him.

Anyway, the program consisted of three works, Brahms' Tragic Overture, a Bach concerto for two violins, and Beethoven's 4th symphony.

The Brahms was, well, Brahms.

The Bach was very Bach, played by a small bunch of chamber strings from the orchestra and two soloists (the one who did the piece before we sang Carmina Burana and one professor of music). You don't realize just how great an advance the pianoforte was until you try to listen to a harpsichord from the balcony. Gadzooks, it was drowned out by a dozen violin-family cousins. The piece centered around one of those themes that Bach used over and over, especially when stuck in Cothen without an organ. I heard some things in there that I'm pretty sure are in Art of Fugue, and the way he reworked things I can't be wrong.

The Beethoven symphony was delightful. It's an overlooked piece, and it's not exactly my favorite, but it was well played and shows Beethoven's "Who gives a rat's behind about resolution the way it's been done for a hundred years" spirit coming into full force. One thing I like about Beethoven are the many "Gotcha!" moments when things swirl up and just die right before they get where you'd like them go. And swirl they do. Beethoven loves the offbeat.

After a day in my grungies I can't be sure that my tuxedo smells nice enough, but after a three hour rehearsal in my grungies I also know that those around me can tolerate any smells my tuxedo might have. So that's been Febrezed and is ready to go, although I still need a new shirt.

Speaking of rehearsal, I had a lot of fun today. I'm positioned in the back corner above most of the other guys singing. All of our good baritones somehow ended up in the front, leaving the choir mice in the back. Anyway, I realized that with all the more timid voices together I have a great deal of power because I can use my volume to control the volume level of a nice chunk of people. Playing with that all afternoon was way too much fun, especially because it's all subconscious for them. I know, I'm evil. It's not a predictable as, say, monitor balance used to make the church choir sing louder, but there is some time autocorrelation.

I also realized today that my only problems singing with little help nearby are pitch, duration, dynamic, timbre, enunciation, pronunciation, and doing anything right. So dispite my power I think we're all skrewt. As the guy next to me at rehersal said on his moving to be next to me "I switched places because when I get lost you sometimes give me the right pitch." "Even though it's always the wrong vowel at the wrong time?" I asked. With a twinkle in his eye he replied, "Well, I've heard you put every vowel on the right pitch. But you're the one that brought up the timing." Good guy.

09 December 2006

Hearing Problems and Sound Barriers

Misunderstanding of the younger seems to be a major infection in churches, at least those that I've attended. I've been thinking about this because this fall we (the techies) trained up one our church's youf in running the church's audio systems. Sadly, it's not working out, and I put all the blame on the grown-up end, only because they are improperly putting the blame on the nearly grown up end.

Let me tell you about this lad. He's a really neat kid, fifteen or so, longish hair, slender build and low-moderate height. He's a bit distant, and like everyone I know his age he's not a rapid-fire conversationalit, but he's quite intelligent, has a loopy sense of humor, and has a quickly developing ear. When I teach him he learns what he needs to know quickly. Although he's a bit shy about using it, he'll come around with practice. The sad thing is that he has trouble being taken seriously by the grown ups. Stiff and rigid they are, tight-fisted hands at the grindstone. If a young man doesn't stand at attention, think quicker than everyone else, speak only when spoken to, and do everything perfectly, then he has no place helping out.

News flash, everyone. Since the first time as a teenager that I was left out for being a teenager, I have one thing on my mind whenever I find a teenager being pushed away by grown ups-- adolesence is a time for learning, one can't learn without practicing, and how dare you forget your own past.

Actually, we can move that up a few decades. How dare you forget now? This particular 26 year old slouches, works slowly at times, talks back, and makes mistakes. And yet you beg for my help over the youf? How am I any different from the lad? I ask because the only difference I see is experience. Eleven years ago when I was dealing with audiovisual produciton in my church I was much like this kid is today. You can't look him in the eye and know what's going on in his head. I don't want to hear things like "He's not taking it seriously" because you won't know how seriously he's taking things until you get off his case, and you tend to confuse seriousness with confidence and skill anyway. I don't want to hear about how he comes across as irresponsible if the only responsibilities you give him are unrelated to his chosen vocation. And these conjectures about intentionally enhanced apathy because his dad is making him do it? Rubbish, even if it was true when he started, because I know that now the kid likes doing it.

Do the little things before the big things. I've been sitting behind the dials and knobs at churches for half my life and I'll tell you something-- with the demands people make of you when you're in that seat there isn't anywhere littler you can go. It is a totally thankless job that you've only done right when nobody notices you did it. The only thing people can notice is mistakes. Note I said can notice because that's exactly what I mean. One little slip of something and people are all over you for two weeks. No slip ups and you disappear into the crowd like you did nothing. If somebody actually wants to lend a hand, take the hand! Don't push it out the door because it's arm is too young, it's mind is too inexperienced, or it's heart isn't batting its eyebrows at the cross and bleeding "I love doing ministry to serve my church" all over the pews.

Sadly, I think that the push out the door has already happened. I sat with this kid for about twleve weeks, and some other people sat with him other weeks. He's ready, not to work as a well oiled machine and never make mistakes but to leave the nest. I know it. He knows it. I told everyone that he's ready. Nobody besides me is willing to take a risk on him. And so he's discouraged. He hasn't been given a spot. The only reasons I've heard are the junk I mentioned above. I can understand things like having someone more expeirenced the lead role in tehcnical direction for the Christmas program, when we'll have visitors and the prodction will be more intense than usual. I can't understand why from Sunday to Sunday the kid can't be let loose to live and learn. Are we really that out of touch with youf that we can't deal with them? Do we push them in a corner just because they aren't like us-- already grown up?

One of these weeks when it's my turn to run the sound you can bet that if the people in charge aren't giving the lad a shot by then then I'm going to do it on my own, letting him take my spot. It's a gamble on my part, I know, but teachers need to let go of their pupils and hope for the best instead of holding them back forever because they have learned but not practiced. And I can imagine a lot worse things that can happen in a church than a young guy making three audio mistakes when I would have made two.

07 December 2006

A Catechism

A Catechism of Good King Wenceslas:

Q: When did Good King Wenceslas look out?
A: He looked out on the Feast of Stephen.

Q: When was the feast of Stephen?
A: The feast of Stephen was when the snow lay round about.

Q: How did the snow lay?
A: The snow lay round about, deep, crisp and even.

Q: Did the moon shine that night?
A: Yes, brightly shone the moon that night.

Q: Did the moon shine in spite of anything?
A: Yes, it shone though the frost was cruel.

Q: What came in sight?
A: A poor man came in sight.

Q: What was the poor man’s purpose?
A: The poor man’s purpose was to gather winter fuel.

Q: Who did King Wenceslas bid come?
A: He bid his page to come.

Q: Where did he bid his page stand?
A: He bid his page to stand by him.

Q: What did he ask his page?
A: He asked his page who the yonder man was, where he lived, and what kind of place he lived in.

Q: Did the page know where yonder man lived?
A: Yes, the page knew that yonder man lived a good league hence.

Q: Did the page know what yonder man’s dwelling?
A: Yes, he knew that yonder man lived underneath the mountain, next to a fence by Saint Agnes’ fountain.

Q: Did the page know who yonder man was?
A: Apparently yes, but he did not bother saying.

Q: What did the king tell the page to do?
A: The page was told to bring food and wood to the king and pine logs to hither.

Q: Why did the king ask for these things?
A: To see yonder man dine.

Q: Who else would see him dine?
A: The page would see him dine.

Q: When would they see him dine?
A: They would see him dine when they bore the food and wine tither.

Q: Which one would bear the wood?
A: Neither would bear the wood. The wood was taken to hither.

Q: Who went forth?
A: Page and monarch went forth.

Q: How did they go forth?
A: They went forth together.

Q: Where were they going?
A: They were going tither.

Q: Did they go in spite of anything?
A: Yes, they went forth in spite of cold winds’ lament and the bitter weather.

Q: Did the page have anything good to say to the king?
A: No, the page complained to the king.

Q: What was the page’s complaint?
A: The page complained that the night was darker, the wind blew colder, and his heart was failing.

Q: Did the page no how his heart was failing?
A: No, he did not know how.

Q: Did the page need to stop?
A: Yes, the page could go no longer.

Q: What did the king tell the page to do instead of walking to yonder man?
A: The king said to mark his footsteps, my good page.

Q: How did the king say to mark his footsteps?
A: By immediately following him and treading in them boldly.

Q: Does that make any sense?
A: No.

Q: What did the king promise the page would find?
A: The king promised that the page would find the winter’s rage freeze his blood less coldly.

Q: Did the page need to stop?
A: Yes, his blood would freeze less coldly but still freeze.

Q: Would the page know why his heart was stopping?
A: No, he still would not know not why his heart was stopping.

Q: Did the page stop?
A: Apparently no.

Q: What did he trod in?
A: In his master’s steps.

Q: What was in his master’s steps?
A: Snow that had been dinted.

Q: Where was the heat?
A: It was in the very sod.

Q: Which sod was heated?
A: The sod was heated where the king had printed.

Q: Who is to be sure from this?
A: Christian men are to be sure from this.

Q: Are all Christian men to be sure from this?
A: No, only those with wealth or rank possessing who will bless the poor.

Q: What are they to learn from this?
A: They will learn that if they bless the poor they will find blessing.

Q: Why are they to learn this?
A: They are to learn this because they will not make the mistake of leaving the wood with hither and freezing to death along with yonder man.

Clearly some of us have too much time on our hands....

04 December 2006

Happy Weekend

It's time for me to just throw up a few random "what's been going on" things for you.

I called my sister yesterday and discovered that she was going to her college's Christmas concert and that I had enough time to get there too. Road trip! I got there in time and we got to sit in the balcony by the organ pipes. Cool. They did some great music, including a stirring piece called "The Dream Isaiah Saw" by Pennsylvania composer Glenn L. Rudolph. Go buy yourself a recording, if there is one, and listen to it really loudly.

My wife and I got to see lots of friends this weekend, having lunch with a number of them on both days. Good times all. At and after the concert I also got to say hi to one of my friends from church and the parents of some other friends. I also made friends with Daisy, a bichon frise of unusually hearty tongue.

The journal is going to take the Content Free Paper. ("Significant contribution" says the reviewer. Don't be too excited. There is no middle ground between that and "unpublishable crap." Welcome to jargonland. My inner cycnic makes no exceptions for science.) They asked for one or two minor revisions before publication. So I guess I'll be a published chemist early next year. Bugger all.

I have two or three jobs to apply for, and working on applying has given me a great diversion from necessary work to finish school to get the jobs. Oh, the quandries and paradoxes of the examined life!

Tonight is combined stage rehearsal for the Christmas concerts here. Fun times that, too. On Sunday we'll wander around in the dark (at least at the 8:00 service) with candles, singing and making merriment in the depths of an old church building. Very fun. All of you in the area are invited to come, contact me for information if you don't already have it.

02 December 2006

I Expect More From These People

Who is it that can't tell the difference between a microwave and an x-ray-- the AP, the TSA, George Bush, or all of the above?

High school level science must suck these days, especially if someone is saying "Well, we have to call it an x-ray scan, because dispite that cover yourself with lead and everyone else leaves the room thing when we do x-rays, people think 'microwaves' are dangerous." I've been gently microwaved (~5cm) for extended periods of time and I assure you I'm no worse off for it. Sure, a few megawatts from the emitter would have made me sick. Visible light that's too bright will kill you too. But your cell phone gently microwaves you every time you use it. So really I think I'm just sick and sad that people think x-rays are so safe and microwaves aren't.

The widgets mentioned in the article are, by the way, one of the cooler things I've seen in my life.

Happy In My Geekiness, Anyway....

I managed to get some food earlier, a wingaritto from Tulum. Upon coming home I had three quarters of a frozen pizza. I then went to bed for three hours, got up, and went to the grocery store. Apparently I do have social obligations for tomorrow, and those obligations include a few pounds of barbeque in the crock pot. So that's cooking now, I ate a snack, and now I'm waiting to get tired again so I can go to bed. The weather is cooler so I can actually sleep, too.

My research program is totally broken. Totally. The liquid free energy never develops a van der Waals loop as the temperature decreases. Sorry, I know that means nothing to most of you (many physics students don't ever even see this thing, and those who do see it often don't hear it called by this name, but I don't remember what it's called outside statistical physics jargon), but it needed to be said. I need to field strip the program of all things solidus and give it a whirl. I might have crossed up some variables in there somewhere. If that's not it, I need to proofread carefully, something at which I have no talent. If that's not it, I'm simply skrewt, considering that The Russian did get a van der Waals loop from his program, which my adviser and I can't seem to wrestle form him so that I can compare what I did and find the problem.

The rest of this post will bore many of you more thant hte last paragraph did. I apologize in advance. You don't have to read it.

I was thinking a lot about Hopf bifurcations today and how neat they are. This is a bifurcation where a single fixed point loses stability. For a negative Lyapunov coefficient you get a nifty stable limit cycle around the now unstable fixed point. I leanred about these gizmos during my calcium signaling modeling days my first summer of real grad school. The models often contained Brusselator-type equations.

Hopf bifurcations have been on my mind because I was thinking about how I would go about teaching a class on non-linear dynamics, and I noticed that my favorite textbook on the subject (Kaplan and Glass) doesn't cover Hopf bifurcation. Not every book can cover everything, and I'd probably drop a chapter of that book and insert more things on continuous models, but that's just my preference. It's a great book, by the way, even if the math is a little bit basic.

This book has been on my mind because it explained to me a lot of things I wish I had known when I did my summer research as an undergraduate. The system I worked with then (details confidential, as this system has never been published) got one of my professors, the one who introduced me to the Kaplan and Glass book, very excited when he saw I had gotten a period three solution out of the equations. Sure enough, there were regions with period-doubling bifurcations and lots of other neat stuff going on that we didn't know how to analyze (hence it's never been published).

Ah, the good old days when research always worked becuase it didn't really have a specified goal! My adviser back then reminded me not to make those equations my life, but I think about them from time to time and someday I'll pull them out and do better work on them.

01 December 2006


UnNews gives us this important news about playing with our wiis.

(I was going to post this yesterday, but it had been marked for deletion; it's safe now).

In other news, I have no idea what is going on around me right now. My research is broken and I can't fix it. I have no idea what my social obligations are in the coming days, except that I have church to go to on Sunday. I also haven't had anything to eat but some candy since I woke up, so I'm starving.