Strumming in Rainy Arizona

After a long boring plane trip Monday afternoon, Sara's parents met us at the airport, fed us some snacks, then sent us off to sleep.

Wednesday and Thursday night we went with Sara's dad to a couple music events: the weekly Encanto Park meeting on Wednesday, and then an open mic at "Fiddler's Dream" on Thursday. As expected, performances were a little uneven, but some were very good, and most were fun regardless.

I have a so-so ear: I've practiced just enough to get myself to the point where I can understand a simple melody (where by "understand", I mean, not necessarily know what all the notes are--that would take perfect pitch--but at least know them all relative to each other). But anything more complicated is hit-or-miss, and I can rarely get chord progressions.

So part of the fun with performers doing simpler stuff is that if I'm lucky sometimes I can get to the point where I could pretty much transcribe the whole song--chords, melody, rhythm. There were a couple songs like that last night.

Also, I realize I must be slow, but I'd never really noticed before how this whole "strumming" thing works. Some of the guitarists at least had a very straightforward procedure: you move your arm up and down with an unchanging regular rhythm--with each up or down stroke corresponding to roughly to an eighth note in a 4/4 measure--and create different rhythms by your choice of what you do on each stroke. Assuming that's all you do (and for one or two people at the open mic it was), the only choices you have to make are the chord to fret with your left hand, and which strokes to strum on or not to emphasize.

The weather has been a little colder than I've gotten used to in previous years (highs in the low sixties), and today (Friday), to add insult to injury, it's been drizzling all afternoon. Oh well.

too many movies

I checked out "Tout Va B!en" from the library and watched it over a couple days, then watched the interviews that came with it, in hope of understanding what it was all about. Gorin (who directed it with Godard) said something about political films normally being designed to explain something that everyone already agrees with, or to dramatize the struggle they're already a part of, whereas they wanted to raise questions. I guess that makes some sense out of the confusion.

We also re-watched Delicatessen with Jeunet's commentary. I still like the movie, but I'm not sure I learned much.

And then last night was the annual Smithee Awards. Well, sort of--normally they're in the spring, but every five years they have a special best-of-the-last-five-years thing. So a lot of the clips were familiar.

If anybody ever suggests that you watch "Zombie Lake", run.

Tommorow we leave for Arizona. There's lots to do between now and then.

more sleep deprivation, clean teeth

Several friends of ours are leaving around the end of the semester, including Ben to California, and Noé to Hawaii. So there was a party at Ben's house. It was fun, so we stayed too long and I didn't get to sleep till almost 3am, I think. My schedule hasn't quite returned to normal since then.

I like staying up late. It's peaceful, and for some reason I feel like I can concentrate better at the end of the day. I've actually gotten a fair amount of work done after Sara's gone to bed over the last few days.

But this schedule is incompatible with daily fact of the arrival of sunlight. And with daily obligations such as my 9am dental appointment this morning. So I'll have to return to normalcy some day.

The university's dental school has some kind of partially student-staffed dental service that I've never used, but have heard is extremely time consuming (if cheap). But there's also a regular dental office in the back that's staffed by faculty. I like it a lot--as with most places these days the dentists are busy and only see you for a brief time, it's big and not beautiful, but they seem very good, and (as you might expect from teachers) they seem to really like explaining stuff to you.

So anyway my appointment went fine (no cavities or anything), and my teeth are squeaky clean.

people, games, museums, sleep deprivation

Saturday some family friends came over, including: a classmate of Helen's from her Japanese classes in Kumamoto, with her husband, child, and a couple portfolios of her excellent sketches and paintings: my cousin beth, with her husband and kids (who six-handedly raised the house noise level dramatically); and my parents' friends the Grays.

Sunday we went to the newly constructed national garden, had a tasty lunch at the NMAI cafeteria, and the saw the newly renovated American Art and Portrait Galleries--definitely worth a visit! I mostly spent my time in their special exhibition on Joseph Cornell.

We got back in time for dinner with the family that used to live across the street from us when I was about 10 to about 14. The son, Shawn, is my age, and except for one visit right before college, I think, I hadn't seen him in over 20 years. He and his father were still both instantly recognizeable. Shawn's mom, wife, and twin 6-month olds were also there. They're a great family, and I wish they could have visited for longer.

After they left, all of us but my Dad (the one non-game player of the family) played a game of Bohnanza. It was Aunt Helen's first game, but she picked it up OK as we went along.

Monday Sara and took the metro back to the newly renovated museums. Since our train was leaving from union station that afternoon, we had all our luggage with us. To the guards' disbelief, we managed to cram it all into their lockers, then spent a couple hours poking around the museum some more; I saw the rest of the Cornell exhibit, Sara looked at the collection of presidential portraits, and we both found some amusing surprises along the way.

After extracting our luggage and redepositing it at Union Station, we had a lunch of Indian fast food, and took a quick tour of the neighboring postal museum. The most interesting part for me was the reproduction train car with lots of mysterious mail-sorting equipment. (The most boring part is the stamps--so a certain stamp is rare because of some odd feature detectable only to an expert--why do I care?) Anyway, probably worth another visit when we have more time.

The train left on time and we had a pleasant evening watching the sun set, then snacking, reading, and watching the occasional christmas decorations go by.

When we went back to our seats to sleep we found there were a couple people in front of us who just wouldn't be quiet. I tried asking them to be quiet a couple times, and probably should have made more of a fuss, but I kept just hoping I'd fall asleep anyway.

So we arrived in Ann Arbor with very little sleep, had a solid breakfast together at Angelos, then went our separate ways to work. I wasn't able to get much done--I was just too tired to do much more than answer some email and fix an easy bug or two--though for some reason by the evening I was feeling revived.

thanksgiving, games, aunt Helen, and more

Wednesday night we played Carcassonne. The last time I'd played was at Maria's, in January, 2005, so I needed the rules explained to me from scratch.
I wasn't sure it was the sort of game the others would like, but we all had a good time in the end.

We had a full turkey feast Thursday, and later Laura, a friend of Helen's, later brought us pumpkin pie, and we played Bohnanza. Sara, mom, Helen and I had fun, but Laura seemed to be getting a little tired.

I'm leaving out the perquacky and scrabble. We enjoy our games!

We picked up Aunt Helen at National Airport this evening and had dinner at the Crystal City Jaleo afterwards.

In between everything else I've been hacking away at the git documentation. There's a lot of material there, but somebody needs to sit down and think how it should all fit together--it's pretty disorganized, and, as a result, very disorienting for new users.

Amtrak to DC

Last week was the book group discussion for "Never Let Me Go". People had a few interesting things to say, but I was mostly disappointed. The last time I had a discussion about an Ishiguro book ("Remains of the Day", with another book group), I feel like a similar thing happened--some people found the main character's failures too disappointing, or too unrealistic, to take the book seriously.

We also saw a couple movies last week--"The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" (great fun!) and "The Fifth Element" (which I've seen several times before). Saturday Fred and Deanna came to juggling with the new baby, then we got some pizza at NYPD afterwords.

Tuesday night we had dinner in Kerrytown and then walked to the train station for the bus that takes us to Toledo, where we catch the train to union station in D.C. The train was running late--unfortunately not rare for Amtrak--so we didn't get on the train (scheduled to leave Toledo at midnight) until about 1:30am. The rest of the trip went well, though. Amtrak has its problems, but there's nothing like sitting in their big roomy seats or in the observation car just watching the landscape go by.

Noé defends

Friday morning I went to see friend and juggler Noé defend his thesis on coronal mass ejections. He actually included lots of introductory stuff, so it was interesting even those of us in the back row just there to cheer Noé on.

That night we met at Grizzly Peak to celebrate. But it was too crowded, so we ended up at Conor O'Neils instead. They have a side room, new as of a year or two ago I think, that was reasonably quiet. By the end, we were the only people there and could run around firing finger flingers at each other without bothering any other patrons.

Anja and Belen had made Noé an impressively silly hat. Apparently it's a German tradition.

Saturday I stopped by the farmer's market, did a little juggling, and ate a little at Saigon Garden afterwards.

Sunday I did a little work on Arbor Update and skimmed back through "Never Let Me Go", taking notes for my Tuesday book group meeting. It still impresses and depresses me simultaneously.

voting day

It was drizzling this morning, but my polling place is on the way to work, and the most convenient way to do everything was to bike. My rain gear is sub-par right now in a couple ways: the recent pannier incident broke off much of the rear fender, so I'm not sure it keeps the rain off my back so well; and my usual rainjackets are worn out (one isn't waterproof, one has developed a big rip in the right sleeve). All that to say, I got very wet.

On the other hand, it wasn't too cold out. And the voting experience was fast and routine.

Our county has a great clerk/register of deeds, who wrote an interesting article about the voting system we use in Michigan.

Work was kind of long and tedious today. Better luck tommorow....

farmer's market, juggling, birthday, moving house, chickens

Saturday morning I biked to my office by way of the farmer's market. This time I left the farmer's market with my dignity (and my produce) intact.

I tried to work for a while, without great success, then spent an hour or so at juggling, then returned home.

Today was my birthday, and also the day that the Polhemus house was finally moved. They had the house on 10 dollies, five to a side, each with two axles, and 4 wheels per axle--so 80 wheels altogether. Workers were walking alongside and periodically retightening cables that ran from one side to the other--presumably part of what kept the dollies attached to the rest. There were also a couple tractors following behind pulling on the thing with cables, presumably to provide extra braking.

There were also a bunch of cherry-pickers ahead and behind of the house working to cut down power lines and other obstructions, and then put them back up afterwards. Between them, the police cars, miscellaneous utility vans, etc., there was quite a collection of support vehicles. I noticed a few of the workers snapping pictures with their cellphones.

Sara and I joined the house as it was turning off fifth onto Beakes, followed it across the Broadway Bridges, then left it as it was turning onto Swift. It was going at an extremely slow walking pace even on the easy straight bits, so the whole move was an all-day job.

Probably about a hundred people, maybe a little less, followed along, taking pictures and hanging out. It was quite festive. I also ran into Sue, an old friend from graduate school who I'd heard had come back to Ann Arbor a couple years ago but hadn't run across till today.

A few days ago as I was waiting for the bus I saw a chicken poking around in some nearby bushes. I didn't get the chance to investigate, as the bus pulled up just then. I almost could have imagined it. But as we got back home today we saw another (or the same?) chicken in the parking lot next to our apartment complex. Where did it escape from? It's a mystery.

Sara made biscuits and scrambled eggs for breakfast, and cooked some pears and apples. Yum! And she made some soup and a cake for dinner.

Altogether, a highly satisfactory birthday.

By the way, my dad also had a birthday recently, and as of today our ages are related in the following way: there exists a choice of an and b such that my age is a^b, whereas his is b^a. Offhand I think there's only two choices of a and b for which that's possible. And the other one is pretty unlikely.

snow, stealth bike, ski jumping pairs

Winter has arrived in Michigan, with the first snow to actually stick to the ground. It isn't *that* cold yet, though; I can be comfortable (mostly) without a hat, for example. Or long underwear.

I dropped off my bike at the bike store yesterday morning, and got it back tonight. I'd neglected it for a long time--I hadn't even lubricated the chain recently--so now it's smooth and silent by comparison. I should take better care of it.

Our Friday night japanese movie was "ski jumping pairs: road to Torino 2006". It was extraordinarily silly. As if the olympics weren't silly enough already. In fact, I think the real-life moguls event is probably funnier-looking than the fictional two-people-on-a-pair-of-skis ski-jumping event.

Since I had my bike with me I rode home while Paul drove Sara home. They beat me there, darnit! For the glory of bicyclists everywhere, I will pedal harder next time.

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