Leonard Bernstein

We've been watching some of Leonard Bernstein's "Young People's Concerts" over dinner--Sara found them on DVD at the library. His history on the "What is American Music?" episode that we saw tonight seems a little suspect--why does the "we" he keeps referring to as making up America always mean just white people, and how does jazz spring out of nowhere?--but other than that they're well done, and have lots of fun musical tidbits.

I'm mostly over my cold, but still sniffling.

depressing literature

My personal Most Depresssing Books List:

  1. "Survival in Auschwitz", Primo Levi
  2. "The Genocides", Thomas Disch
  3. "Never Let Me Go", Kazuo Ishiguro

The Ishiguro is this morning's addition; I stayed in bed another hour or two to finish it.

evolution, frustration

I finished Richard Dawkins' "The Ancestor's Tale" recently. Well worth the read. A few things that are confusing to someone with my background:

  1. Family trees are not trees, because everyone has two parents. (Duh!)
  2. "X and Y are members of the same species" is not a transitive relationship. There are examples of species X0, X1, ..., Xn such that Xi and Xi+1 interbreed for all 0 ≤ i < n, but X0 and Xn do not.

Actually, "species" turns out to be a much more fuzzily-defined term than you'd think. There are species that probably could interbreed, but are considered separate just because they never do. Biologists also insist on putting individuals together in groups even when they never interbreed (because they reproduce asexually). Etc., etc.

I spent entirely too much of the morning trying to tweak my apache2/mod_php configuration to get drupal running again. (I have no idea how it stopped in the first place.) I couldn't find anything wrong except that whenever I asked for fieldses.org/blog in firefox, it tried to give me the source of the php script.

Eventually I figured out what was happening: I'd fixed the problem long ago, and firefox was just caching the wrong result. I don't know how to force firefox to load the new thing in that case.

drupal, work, sillyness, frustration

We finished "Shaolin Soccer" over dinner last night. Highly recommended. If you watch it on DVD, I'd go for the "Original Chinese Version"--the U.S. version seemed to have some of the odder bits edited out. The Chinese version, for example, has a longer, and stranger and more fun, version of the musical scene in front of the bun shop.

I didn't get much done at work today. I'd like it chalk it up to the cold I'm not quite recovered from, but it's probably just me.

Then I tried to upgrade drupal at night. It was much more of a pain than it should have been, but I managed to get it up to something that supposedly has known security problems fixed. When it first failed I was saved by the last resort of restoring (with just cp -a) the contents of /var/lib/mysql from a backup. Hope that doesn't screw up anything too badly....

Back at work, creeping dread

I went back to work today, though really not for much more than half a day.

On the way in, I traded in for some new comic books at the media union.

I've also started Kazuo Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go". As usual the narrator is unreliable, and the important information never seems to be where they tell you it is. In this case the book seems to have some kind of dystopian science-fictional premise which is being revealed as slowly as possible. It's very creepy, and the idea of eventually discovering what's actually going on fills me with dread in the way that Lovecraft stories are supposed to but never manage to.

Epilepsy, Bollywood, Shaolin Soccer

Continuing through the Media Union's Comics collection, I read through the five volumes of David B.'s "L'ascension du Haut Mal". It tells the story of the author's childhood, and in particular his older brother's epilepsy.

The story is largely taken up by descriptions of the stuff that his parents go through in an attempt to find a cure for the brother: catholocism, macrobiotics, alchemy, voodoo.... They try prayer, exorcism, various diets, and of course doctor-proscribed drugs, but they all seem equally useless. By the end of it you're not sure whether they're really still focused on epilepsy--they have to have given up hope at some level--or whether exploring fringe philosophies has become some sort of family hobby, maybe one that takes their mind of their problems.

All this stuff gives lots of wonderful grist for the artist, of course. The intricate black-and-white panels are stuffed with fantastic creatures and symbols.

Sara and I saw the bollywood movie "Devdas" on a friend's recommendation. It's sappy and melodramatic, of course, but the songs and dances are great. The language is a bit poetic, and the subtitles not really well done, so it's hard to follow the dialog at times. The sets are sort of crazy--stained-glass windows, huge sweeping staircases, endless corridors for the heroine to streak down dramatically at the appropriate moment.

Tonight Sara and I started "Shaolin Soccer." It's fabulous.

I've been home from work with a cold the last couple days, sniffling and feeling a little thick-headed, but getting a little work done anyway. Tommorow I think I'll probably make it back to the office.

eating, talking, and reading

Saturday night there was a going-away party for one of Sara's lab mates, who has taken a job elsewhere (though she's still living in Ann Arbor).

Our host made Dosas, Idlis, Sambar, and lots of other great stuff. People brought some good appetizers and desserts, too. I left full.

Then Sunday Sara happened to get a dinner invitation from a neighbor while doing her laundry. Score! Even more good food.

When I was a kid a party would mean food, games, and toys. These days it means food and talking. I'm not sure if I'm quite up for it. Maybe I should start bringing lego with me to parties. ("Oh don't mind Bruce", Sara would say. "Let him go play while us grown-ups talk....")

I've got lots of good reading these days. I picked up Richard Dawkins "The Ancestor's Tale" recently; I've had this copy lying around for a while--Sara's parents gave it to me last christmas--but just haven't really sat down with it till now. The book is a huge reversed-time human-centric survey of evolutionary history; it first covers early humans, then chimapanzees, then the next group of primates to join (gorillas), etc., all the way back to bacteria, with a chapter for each point where a group of still-living ancestors broke off from human ancestors. The various organisms mainly serve as examples for more general discussions of evolution. It's very interesting.

I also discovered recently that the media union's collection includes some french-language comic books. Probably not too exciting to anyone else, but to me it's like turning a corner and suddenly finding that your home town of decades has some marvellous thing that you'd never till now been aware of. So I brought home a few last week.

The one I've completed so far is volume 3 of Fabrice Neaud's journal. It was hard going: the vocabulary and grammar are difficult for me, and it's also angry, depressing, and times a little tedious. But interesting; maybe I should give it another try. I skimmed large parts rather than trying to look up lots of unknown words or puzzle out difficult sentences.

monarchs, musicians

Weekend before last Paul and Sara and I went to point Pelée to see the monarch migration. It turns out we'd missed the peak by a week. But there was still no shortage of butterflies.

It's very odd thinking that they could travel so far with such a seemingly haphazard flying technique--they flutter and zigzag like any other butterfly.

Tuesday I saw a "masterclass" at the music school given by the Indian guitarist Pandit Debashish Bhattacharya. I expected it to be something like what Wikipedia describes as a masterclass, but it ended up just being a long lecture demonstration. It was great fun in any case.

So I dragged Sara along for the "real" concert Wednesday night, which we both enjoyed immensely.

alice coltrane & co

Saturday night I saw Alice Coltrane play Hill, with son Ravi on saxaphones, Roy Haynes on drums, and Charlie Haden on bass. The latter three were amazing, and worth the price of admission on their own. I'm still not much of an Alice Coltrane fan, though. Every solo sounded a bit the same to me. I think the one piece I sort of liked was the second they played, some Indian song I didn't know, where I could at least hear her treating the melody a little.

Roy Haynes is 81, and extremely energetic, tasteful, musical, precise.... Maybe playing the drums every day is the secret to eternal youth. Charlie Haden also sounded wonderful when I could hear him; Mrs. Coltrane's habit of leaning on bass pedal points tended to drown him out a bit. And Ravi sounded great too. It's obvious that he grew up listening to a lot of Cotrane records....

testing, eating, drinking, listening

Last week was the CITI-hosted NFSv4 "bakeathon", so was hectic for me. In particular, I'd promised a brief presentation on Wednesday, and had very little time to prepare; so I gathered my small amount of data for the presentation last Sunday, then put together the presentation Tuesday and Wednesday--I was still writing slides as Andy was driving me to the meeting.

Monday and Wednesday night both I went to the Arbor Brewing Company with bakeathon people. Thursday I went to the Corner Brewery to see Dave's brother Robin play with Jenna Mammina. The music was fun. I think Robin is an amazing accompanist. It was also good to see Jenna's brother Nino there singing--last time we saw him he was in a wheelchair and not talking.

People from work showed up a little later. Between Dave's family, and Jenna's family, and work people, and Murph, who was chatting with people at a nearby table, it was sort of fun to be surrounded by people I knew for different reasons.

The Corner Brewery has beer but only allows ordering out for food, so after a beer I left with Trond and company for the Sidetrack. Dave and Robin joined us a little later. It was all very pleasant. But Friday I was too tired to do much.

I stopped by juggling Saturday but wasn't too motivated, so went back to work for a while, then went to a birthday party. I still was feeling a little low on energy, though, and didn't talk to people much.

Sunday I worked some more at the Media Union.

I've been listening to Miles Davis's version of "Someday My Prince Will Come". My favorite moment is the start of the first trumpet solo, where he plays three eighth notes that kick off the chorus and temporarily give it a really distinct rhythm.

I also hadn't noticed before how they add an extra 8 bar pedal point before and after Coltrane's solo--it's as if they're saying "watch out! Here he comes!"

I have too many CD's; any one of them could last me a year if I listened hard enough.


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