Sunday, January 27, 2008

Afternoon Excursion

For Christmas, my sisters gave Vinny a family membership to the Children's Museum of Oak Ridge. We went there for the first time this afternoon, and had a pretty good time.

They had a train room with lots of train toys (which he loved) and a lot of HO model train exhibits, which he also enjoyed looking at. There was a rainforest room, which was cute, and when he saw the monkeys in the trees he made his monkey sound. There was a kid-sized dollhouse, populated by screaming girls, which he did not go into because parents aren't allowed inside (except to retrieve their child) and he's not walking yet. But there was an interesting exhibit of old toys dating back to the turn of the previous century.

One thing we were looking for but did not find was a piano that my Ph.D. adviser and his wife (who lived in Oak Ridge for 15+ years) donated to the museum before they left town. We saw a piano but I don't think it was theirs. There was a music room in which they hold music classes, but we couldn't go into that room. Maybe that's where their piano is.

While we were there, we saw the next-door neighbor and her son-in-law and grandkids. She had bought a family membership for them, too, and apparently they go to the museum fairly often. It seems to be the happening hangout place for people with young kids.

The museum is housed in a former school building, and they've done a lot of interesting things to it. If Laura or Rachel come for a visit this year, they'll have to take him to the museum, to see what they paid for. :)

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Latest Black History Month Choir News

I know you are all wondering about what's going on with the Black History Month choir. Well, on Wednesday we had our first real rehearsal. We're doing a gospel song called "Blessed," for which there is no sheet music, so the choir is having to learn their parts by ear, and I am making up a part for myself. The guy who's playing the keyboard is teaching everybody their parts, based on how he hears the song, which has turned out to be pretty interesting, because I hear some things differently than he does. But I'm following his lead and doing it the way he's doing it.

There's another violinist, a young postdoc from South Korea, and she and I are playing two spirituals together as a duet as a featured part of the Black History Month celebration. We're playing "Motherless Child" and (my favorite spiritual) "Go Down, Moses." I transcribed the melodies and made up the harmonies for the second violin part myself. I chose to harmonize them in such a way that they sound really plaintive. I think they will be beautiful.

We're also playing for about 15 minutes as people come in and sit down before the program begins. One woman borrowed a hymnal from her African-American church, and picked out a dozen or so spirituals for us to play. We're just going to play the top two parts, which should sound good. The only problem is that since these are traditional African-American hymns, I'm not familiar with them and therefore I'm not sure (in some cases) what the tempo is supposed to be. But I will ask her the next time we rehearse, which will be on Monday.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Secret Message to Al Gore

Dear Al,

I once again want to kiss the top of your head, this time because of what you have to say about marriage equality. Would you mind coming for another tour of my workplace, so that I can at least bask in your glorious presence? Your last visit was before my time.

Maternal love forever,

Sunday, January 20, 2008

More on Cars

I am extremely obsessed with figuring out how to get the best gas mileage out of the car I drive, for a variety of reasons.

First, I think about my contributions to global warming every single day as I make my trip to work. (If only they would make a solar-powered car capable of driving at least 15 miles on a trip, I would be all set.) Second, I am an amateur physicist and I want to understand the workings of the vehicle in which I spend more than five hours a week.

But most relevantly, I am a mathematician, and the idea of optimizing gas mileage as opposed to other possible variables in the equation of driving (such as time or number of miles traveled) sounds really fun and challenging to me, because in the car I drive, I can only ascertain this indirectly.

The car has a manual transmission, so I can control which gear it is in. It also has a crude tachometer, which I can read only to the nearest 125 RPM, a speedometer which I can read to the nearest half-mile per hour, and an odometer which measures distance traveled to the nearest tenth of a mile. Can I use only these tools to optimize my gas mileage on my daily commute?

This is what I've been trying to figure out, actually. I wish I had a good answer. The problem is that I am currently lacking a good intuitive understanding of the way the car works. I've been reading up on torque, horsepower, and RPM, and trying to put it all together. I'll let you know when I finally get there.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Black History Month Choir Update

Yesterday, Violinny and I went to our second Black History Month choir practice. This time, my department secretary went with me, because she had decided to join the choir.

Unfortunately, lots of other people had backed out, and so the organizer of the choir was pretty discouraged. There were six people who showed up yesterday, and the pianist who she was planning on never showed up. So we had a discussion instead of a rehearsal, working out what we could do.

I think it's going to be a cool performance, even if it's not exactly what she had originally envisioned. I'm going to play a set of spirituals at the very beginning of the program. One of the women in the choir is going to provide me with copies of the sheet music from a hymnal. There's also another woman who plays the violin (but hadn't come to any of the rehearsals) who contacted me yesterday afternoon, so I think we're going to play at least some of these songs together as duets.

The chorus is going to sing one relatively simple song, and I'm going to play with them. And at the end, we're all going to do Lift Every Voice and Sing. I think it will be a lovely performance.

After we got back to our building, we recruited another colleague to join the choir too. And the secretary was talking about putting an announcement out to the whole department, in case somebody else wanted to join. In my plans for world domination, dominating the Black History Month choir is but the first step. ;)

In searching for some additional music to perform, I found a fascinating repository of Historic American Sheet Music. It is really interesting. I searched for "spiritual" and found about two dozen songs, including one of my favorite spirituals, Go Down, Moses, in just the right key to play it on the violin. I am definitely going to add it to my list.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

With Apologies to Woody Guthrie

This pain is my pain,
It's called a migraine,
It hurts from the surface,
Clear down to my brain,
From the nape of my neck,
To behind my eyeballs:
This pain is known as a migraine.

As I was walking
To the cafeteria,
I saw around me,
a familiar sparkle;
I saw that my eyes
would soon be blinded:
This pain is known as a migraine.


And so I sat at
My colleagues' table,
Just as quickly
As I was able,
Because I knew that
I'd never find them,
With pain that's known as a migraine.


I felt like puking,
I felt like barfing,
Instead of talking
or even arguing!*
Instead I sat there
In all the loudness,
with pain that's known as a migraine.


After half an hour,
My vision cleared,
Things weren't as bad
As I had feared,
But then the pain arrived,
And my mood nose-dived:
This pain is known as a migraine.


I spent the time
After lunch working
On a program
With a problem lurking,
But I soon discovered
The real cause of trouble:
The pain that's known as a migraine.


I had some meds once,
but they expired
(It's been a while
since they were required!),
But it doesn't matter,
Because they don't work
On the pain that's known as a migraine!


* There was a good political discussion about one of my hot-button topics, health insurance, and I could hardly participate!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Fame and Feminism

I'm famous! My post, "What's in a Name?" has been included in the 51st Carnival of the Feminists at Philobiblon. It is a very interesting carnival, with articles on a variety of topics, and with a diversity of authors worldwide. I really enjoyed reading all the articles, and I encourage you to head on over there and check it out!

Friday, January 11, 2008

In Which I Request Fashion Advice from My Vast Readership

I am a regular offender in the eyes of the fashion police. I did not grow up in a family where personal appearance was highly valued. Intelligence and good behavior were paramount; personal appearance was insignificant. Consequently, I did not consider matching my socks with my outfit until I was well into high school, and did not learn how to apply makeup until the ripe old age of 27.

While I still think that my actions are more important than my appearance, I see that a nice appearance has its uses. It makes it easier for people to look at you long enough to consider your actions, for one. Secondly, it can help people to take you more seriously. This is why I tend to dress a little bit nicer than most of my (male) colleagues. I've noticed that the men I work with tend to wear jeans and t-shirts, while the women tend to dress in more business casual attire.

I got some money from Dad and Marvis for Christmas, to be spent on clothing. My question for you, my vast audience, is what to do with this money. I plan to buy some nice clothes for work, and I'd like to know what you all would recommend.

Let me tell you about my shape and my tastes. First, I am very tall, particularly from the waist up. So I think I will need to buy tall sizes in tops, but I can probably get away with normal sized pants. A colleague of mine, who has the opposite problem, told me that Eddie Bauer and The Gap carry tall sizes. Are there any other places I might try?

Second, I have only twenty more pounds to lose before I reach my pre-pregnancy weight. That weight is mostly lingering around my waistline. Do you have any suggestions for cuts or styles that might camouflage that bulge, or at least not draw attention to it?

Finally, I would prefer to invest in clothes that I will be able to wear for several years. I'd rather not buy the kinds of things where you look back at pictures of yourself from that era and think, "What was I thinking?" Also, I am supremely lazy, so anything involving dry cleaning or hand washing is right out. I don't mind hanging things to dry, and in fact I do that with most of the clothes I currently have. Mostly I wear solid colors: black pants, with tops in red, periwinkle, blue, green, yellow, etc. Does anyone have any ideas of things I should look for?

Oh, also: shoes. I am tall so I really don't need heels. (They're uncomfortable anyhow.) Does anyone have any suggestions for shoes with low heels and where I might buy them? I'm willing to pay for something nice, especially if they're both cute and comfortable.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Forgotten Women in Computer Science

I read this really interesting post over at Women in Science about World War II-era women whose contributions to computing were forgotten. It was particularly telling that historians, upon finding pictures of women with these large machines, interpreted the women's presence as decorative. I am not surprised that these women's contributions would have been forgotten. Anyhow, it's really interesting to read about this piece of forgotten computing history, and I would encourage you to read what Peggy has to say about it!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Mrs. Doubtfire

Last night I watched the movie Mrs. Doubtfire on TV. I had never seen it before, but it turned out to be a really good movie.

The premise of the film is that Robin Williams plays a man who, during a bitter custody dispute with his wife, impersonates a sixty-year-old (female) nanny in order to spend more time with his three children. It has the obligatory manic comedic moments in the Robin Williams style, but there is a serious message underneath.

I enjoyed the movie, but I did feel some pain while watching it. I could see how much Robin Williams' character loved his kids, and how much it hurt for him to be forced apart from them. I think I would do just about anything to avoid being separated from Vinny like that. Also, the divorce drama reminded me of my own parents' divorce not six years ago. The root cause of breakdown of their relationship was very similar to what happened in my parents' case, I think. One spouse failed to communicate their feelings to the other, until the resentment had piled so high that it was too late.

That's why communication is key in a relationship. If you can't communicate with your partner in life, then you'd better figure out how to do so if you expect to stay together. Counseling can help, as long as you haven't yet reached that point of no return, where you're so hurt and angry that you no longer want to even try.

I thought the movie ended on a positive note for kids watching whose parents might have divorced. Although Mrs. Doubtfire does try to sabotage his ex-wife's new relationship, in the end they don't get back together, and the movie ends with Mrs. Doubtfire on her new show explaining that there are many different types of family arrangements, they're all okay, and that just because your parents may not get along anymore, it is not your fault. I liked the fact that it ended that way. As Jeff said, if they'd gotten back together at the end, the movie would have been a fantasy, not a comedy!

Friday, January 04, 2008

In which My Trusty Violin and I Join the Black History Month Choir

A couple of months ago, I saw an announcement in our lab's online newsletter, that they were seeking singers and musicians for the Black History Month celebration. My new and improved elbow is hurting less and less, so I decided to volunteer to play the violin. It sounded like it could be a really fun way to get back into playing a little bit.

Yesterday was the first rehearsal. I took Violinny to work with me, so that I could take her with me to the rehearsal. The turnout for the first rehearsal was rather low, because a lot of people are not back from vacation yet. But there were four other volunteers there, all of whom were singers, and pasty white just like me.

We are performing two gospel songs and two secular jazz songs. We worked on the gospel songs at this rehearsal. The singers were surprised and apprehensive to learn that there was no sheet music to these songs and that they'd have to pick it up by ear. I was surprised, too, but unlike them, I have extensive experience learning music by ear.

The choir director was surprised by their surprise and apprehension about the lack of sheet music, and, observing their unfamiliarity with this type of music, tried to gauge their feelings and make sure everybody was okay with it. "Well," lamented one man. "It's not like singing Palestrina." But I think it will be good for them to think outside the box.

The challenge for me will be the fact that -- believe it or not -- there's no violin part in gospel songs, so I'm going to have to create one for myself! The choir director gave me a CD of the two gospel songs, and I've been listening to it in the car when I'm driving to and from work. I have a few preliminary ideas of what I can do. I need to try them out before the next rehearsal.

Also, I guess I'll know better at the next rehearsal, but I think that the "orchestra" is going to consist of me, a pianist, and a percussionist. That's kind of an interesting combination, especially for gospel music. All we need is a ukelele and a harmonica, and we should be all set.

Winter Weather

After going from Illinois winters to Tennessee winters, I now understand how my Wisconsin-native parents felt about Kentucky winters. They're wimpy! It just doesn't get cold. The first two winters here, I kept wondering when winter would actually come. It felt more like a prolonged autumn.

I would laugh at my Tennessee-native friends and colleagues, who would bundle up at the first sign of the temperature dipping below 50. Those first two years, I would occasionally don thermal underwear, but I never got out my super heavy Illinois coat.

The past two days, however, have been remarkably cold for Tennessee. The temperature did not make it above freezing at all, and in the morning on my way to work, the temperature was in the teens. So I pulled out the Illinois coat and gloves, and felt pleasantly nostalgic. Okay, so the low temperature (14 degrees yesterday) was a temperature that would pass for a high in Illinois, but it felt good to don the accoutrements of cold weather, zip up that coat, and fumble with my keys through the thick gloves.