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* Back in 1993 or 94, when I was a freshman in college, I started writing a setting of Edgar Allen Poe's The Bells for six-part choir. I wrote two or three of the four sections, but I began to fret that the piece didn't have thematic unity, that I was writing it in too serial a fashion, one line at a time. This opinion was probably due to the influence of the music department, because as time went on I decided that worrying about thematic unity was bogus, so long as it sounded good. So I pecked at it over the years, until finally, Friday morning, I had a completed draft, 15 years in the making. :) I won't say it's complete: I've put no dynamics and few accents in (I always left those for last, in my composition classes, even though I wasn't supposed to) and it might need tweaking. Still, having something complete which I can show around is awesome. I've set up a website with a PDF file of the score and an MP3 of Finale playing the music. I would love it if the musically-inclined folks here (i.e. almost all of you) would give it a listen. I would be ecstatic if anyone knew of a choir which might be willing to sing it. As is the case with most of my pieces, it's not simple: the third section "Hear the loud alarum bells" is fast and frantic, and I have the unfortunate habit of thinking that a low E is a perfectly reasonable note for basses.

I'm going to put more of my (older) music up on that website as I clean up the scores etc. I'm releasing it under a Creative Commons noncommercial share-alike license, which I think gives me all the protection I need: I don't care about making money off of small groups, but if for some reason one of my pieces makes it "big" I can get a piece of the action. (I'm not holding my breath, of course.) I'm also asking people to send recordings if they perform the piece, because I've never heard most of my work performed before, outside of Finale (which does not do it justice, to put it mildly).

*Car: The incredible battery saga )
We are going to get a new car ANY DAY NOW, preferably before the end of the year so we can take advantage of a Texas environmentally friendly deal where they give us $3000 for our car if we swap it for a newer model. Our car isn't worth $3000; it's a 1994 Ford Taurus and we got it for $1500 or so. So...ANY DAY NOW. :)

* Two weeks ago (or so), Miriam started taking a couple steps before falling down. NOW, Miriam can go all the way across the room while walking, even turn around, and she seems to prefer it to crawling (even though crawling is faster). Yay Miriam! She still walks as if she's on a tightrope; every once in a while she'll attempt a little "fast walk", which inevitably ends in her falling on her butt. (We were at the playground the other day and she decided that she could step down one of the steps without holding on...BANG! went her head. She's getting cocky. :) Fortunately she didn't actually fall so much as fall over, if you get my meaning: just banged her head.
Anyway, I'm very proud of my little yearling.

She had her 1-year doctor's appointment yesterday and passed with flying colors. She's actually 25% for height, a first for her to be below 50%: she apparently shot up and then has now tapered off a bit. Her weight is just fine so no problems. She had lots of shots and tests and stuff which made her very unhappy (it wasn't the poking so much as the being made to lie down bit, I think) but she's recovered. At her doctor's advice, Jen has been trying NOT to nurse her at night when she wakes up, and she says that it really does work: Miriam does stop crying after only a few minutes. Could this be the beginning of all-night sleeping for the women of the house? (It hasn't affected me: I sleep through anything. :)
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* I have now successfully changed a car battery. Yay for me! Our car's battery died Sunday morning; we got a jump from the neighbor and it seemed fine. Well, yesterday evening we were headed out and...again, no start. No lights were left on or anything. This was 7:30 and I had a homework session to run at 8, so I ended up walking to campus (2 miles)-- I tried catching a bus, but because of a local construction project the bus routes are all messed up and seem to change based on the whim of the driver, so I ended up standing on the wrong corner. Oops. I ended up doing the 2 miles in 30 minutes, a pretty good walking speed, but the fronts of my ankles are still sore. Jen called AAA for a jump (our neighbor's car couldn't do it, not strong enough) but the AAA guy took one look and said we needed a new battery because of a battery acid leak. AAA was going to have a truck come by with a new battery which we could buy from them, but first the truck didn't come last night because of a snafu, then the truck couldn't come this morning because they didn't have the right battery. They wanted to come tomorrow morning, but I thought we might try to do it ourselves. So before class this morning, I figured out how to take the battery out of the car, then while I was at class Jen and Miriam walked 2 miles to Autozone to buy the new battery (she pushed it back in Miriam's stroller while carrying Miriam), and then I put the battery in when I got home.

I don't think of myself as being particularly handy, and Jen and I don't normally follow stereotypical gender roles, but I do seem to find myself doing these sorts of things. It's certainly very satisfying.

* Speaking of gender stereotypes, it's my goal to raise Miriam (and any other children we may have) with a minimum of emphasis on gender, for as long as possible. I know that eventually she'll have her own opinions and may disagree with this plan, but meanwhile we try to keep pink to a minimum, I tend to shy away from dresses and "dainty clothing" for her, going with more rugged clothing instead. She only has two toys which might be classified as dolls. I wonder sometimes, though, if my idea of "gender-neutral" is actually "like a boy". Maybe so. Maybe it's even good to err on the side of the opposite gender, to counterbalance the inevitable cues she'll get when she's older.
But this is all relatively easy for a girl. Thanks to feminism, there's nothing a girl can do or wear which is so masculine that it triggers a feeling of "wrong" in most people. The lack of pink throws people a little bit, but that's it. It seems to me, though, that raising a boy in a gender-neutral way would be much tougher. Would we go so far as to dress our infant son in frilly pink? In a dress? I'm not sure I'd be brave enough; it would not be met well by other people. If Miriam dresses up as Superman one day, it would be cute; if our putative son dressed up as Wonder Woman, people would worry. This does stem from a leftover feeling that the feminine role is inferior to the masculine, so that pink on a boy is emasculating while a girl with construction toys is empowered. I know that's true. And yet, it seems like the boy is the one who is at a disadvantage due to this prejudice, not free to do whatever he wants to do or be whatever he wants to be, lest it be seen as demeaning.

* I promised myself that I would only spend 5 days on Optics this semester, because my colleague suggested that, if I moved Optics to the beginning of the course (instead of the traditional end position), I would spend half the semester on the subject (because I move slowly) and not have time to cover the more complicated electricity and magnetism material. Well, I did in fact spend too much time on interference and diffraction (partly because I had never taught it before seriously, so I was learning as I went), and so I have one class left to teach images and lenses. It seems much too short a time, and I may have to be ruthless about what I cut in order to make it fit. Don't know if I'll make it, but I'm reluctant to give in on my pledge. Things will hopefully go more smoothly once I get to electricity; I've taught that more often and so am more comfortable with it. I do need to be a little more ruthless there too, though: do I really need to belabor Gauss' Law? Finding the electric field by integration? I don't know. One might try to ask "What is really important for the students to know?" but the problem is that these aren't physics majors for the most part, so that question is rather deep. What physics topics are most important for an economics major to learn? Does it matter, so long as they are exposed to the scientific method? Unfortunately, the feeling I get from the department is that I should just teach faster, and I don't feel comfortable talking about these things. Hopefully I will find a department which is comfortable with a slower, more in-depth approach, and these discussions can be had.

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October 2010

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