Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Cool Change

The way this works is you put your iPod on shuffle and see what comes up. I did edit a bit because there were some that I thought, in the context, were somewhat inappropriate. The answers that came up are pretty funny if you don't take them too seriously!

Why Walk When You Can Fly -- Mary Chapin Carpenter
(Hee hee; never satisfied.)

Try to Make It True -- Quarterflash
(Honest! :) )

Introit for Sexagesima Sunday -- Choir of the Vienna Hofburgkapelle

The Mysterious "J" -- Laurie Anderson
(Ooo, mystery.)

Example #22 -- Laurie Anderson

Flashback -- Imagination
(Yeah, I am older than a lot of my friends.)

The Child Grew from Oratorio on the Life of Christ -- Brian Crosby

8.WHAT IS 2+2?
Kammersymphonie No. 1, Movt. 4 -- Schoenberg
(Movement 4, okay...)

Quia ergo femina mortem instruxit -- Hildegard von Bingen

Fall on Me -- R.E.M.
(Hee hee... that would be one way to get to know each other.)

The End of my Pirate Days -- Mary Chapin Carpenter
(Oh yeah, I used to be quite the pirate.)

Sechs Stuecke F. Orch. Op. 6 -- Anton Webern
(Six Pieces for Orchestra?)

Straight Lines -- Suzanne Vega

Lute Concerto in D. R. 93 Movt. 2: Largo -- Vivaldi
(Largo -- They think I'm slow?)

The Memory of Trees -- Enya
(I've always thought Enya songs made good soundtracks, but I don't know about my wedding.)

Season of Hollow Soul -- k.d. lang

Coming Up Close -- 'Til Tuesday

San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair) -- Scott McKenzie
(Yeah, I used to be a hippie as well as a pirate.)

Think of Laura -- Christopher Cross
(Funny, I don't really have a friend named Laura, but if I did this would be perfect!)

Glasspiece #2 (Facades) -- Philip Glass
(I hate facades, apparently.)

Die schoene Musi! from Der Rosenkavalier -- R. Strauss
(Does this mean the Muses are gonna get me?)

Not Sorry -- The Cranberries
(No regrets either, apparently.)

All I Can Do -- The Carpenters
(Oh yeah, I laugh at everything...)

Ill Ciel! mio padre! from Aida -- Verdi
(My father... ouch.)

She Loves Me -- Stephen Duffy
(Sounds like a yes!)

I Dreamed I Had to Take a Test... -- Laurie Anderson
(Ha ha! It's even funnier considering that the full line is "I dreamed I had to take a test in a Dairy Queen on another planet.")

The Pirate of Penance -- Joni Mitchell
(Whoever that is.)

Funny Way of Laughing -- Burl Ives
(Again, ouch.)

Piano Concerto #2 in F Minor Op. 21 - Maestoso -- Chopin
(Piano hurts? Well, practicing it is kind of tedious sometimes.)

Cool Change -- Little River Band

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas irony

I was asked to prepare some brief remarks for a church service in which members of my choir spoke and performed today. Hopefully it won't seem too self-indulgent if I post a somewhat expanded version of my talk here.

At this Christmas season, as I've reflected on the story of the birth of Jesus, I've noticed that there are many ironies in the story. For example, although Jesus is very important, He was born in Bethlehem, a relatively small, inconsequential town:
But thou, Beth-lehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel;... (Micah 5:2)

Another irony is that, apparently, this same prophecy of Christ's birth was used by Herod to discover the location of Jesus' birth. He subsequently issued an order for all children two years old and under to be killed in an attempt to eliminate the perceived threat to his power (Matthew 2:16). Apparently, the words of the prophet were good enough for Herod to use to get information, but Herod didn't have enough respect for the words of the prophet to welcome the Messiah of which Micah prophesied.

Another ironic thing surrounding the birth of Christ is that, while He is the most important King that has ever been born in the world, the first people to learn of his birth were humble shepherds (Luke 2:8-11). The great Jehovah condescended to be born in humble circumstances (1 Nephi 11:16).

Indeed, He came unto his own, and His own received Him not (3 Nephi 9:16).

The sense of irony that I feel when I reflect on things like these is, I guess, caused by an inconsistency with my sense of justice. The injustice is that there is a mismatch between what Jesus deserved and what He got.

It is perhaps the greatest irony or injustice that Jesus, One who truly did not deserve to suffer for sin, suffered to pay the price for all our sins and took upon Himself all our suffering:
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him: and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

But justice is done. While Jesus was mistreated, disrespected, and eventually crucified by many who did not see Him for the Messiah that He is, He now reigns in heaven, and will return again in His glory.

There is another application of justice, one that is more troubling to me. It is the reality that I have sinned, and that I deserve to suffer for my sins. It is not possible for us to be redeemed on our own merits:
And since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself; but the sufferings and death of Christ atone for their sins... (Alma 22:14)
Wherefore, all mankind were in a lost and in a fallen state, and ever would be save they should rely on this Redeemer. (1 Nephi 10:6)

Without the intercession of Christ, justice would mean condemnation for me and all sinners. So as much as my sense of justice is offended by ironies like the ones I've mentioned above, when pondering my own sins, I hope that there is some way that mercy can be done also.

And it is possible. Both justice and mercy are satisfied through the sacrifice of our Great Redeemer. He paid the price required by justice and extends to us His mercy.
...and mercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement; and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their words, according to the law and justice. For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own... (Alma 42:23-24)

Through the sacrifice of Jesus, justice is done, and mercy also. I know that Jesus is the Savior. I hope that you also find enjoyment in pondering the ironies of Christmas as I have at this time of year. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

And now...

...the blog post you've all been waiting for: pictures of the mantis!

If you happened to read this blog post of a couple of weeks ago, you learned that we currently have a pet praying mantis. My dad found her (more like she found him) while he was working and now she lives in a terrarium at our house. As far as mantises go, I think she's pretty good-looking. :) I got out the camera today and took a few photos so you can all see how cool she is.

Some things you might be wondering:
Q: What does she eat?
A: Things that move, usually house flies and crickets that we bought at the pet store. We just put the other insects in her cage along with her and she eats them at the appropriate time. It's a pretty good way to use those flies that buzz around the house sometimes, and she seems to like them.

Q: Why is the picture so bad?
A: This is actually the best photo of her that I got. The tank she is living in has a lot of water spots on it, and the macro setting on my camera leaves something to be desired. Please click on the picture to see it in a bigger format.

Q: Why is she brown?
A: Apparently some mantises just come that way. She changes between a creamy brown and a dark brown during the day.

Q: How does she eat flies?
A: First, she grabs them with her forelegs. Then she bites off the head and eats that first, while holding on to the rest of her body with her foreleg. Then she eats the rest.

Q: Does she always catch them on the first try?
A: No. It seems to maybe have something to do with how hungry she is. These days she's pretty well fed, so if something happens to walk by, she'll reach for it, but doesn't seem to be really into it.

Q: How do you know she's a female?
A: According to informational websites on mantises, males have eight abdominal segments and females have six. I did count six, but the dead giveaway was when she laid eggs one night at about 1:00 in the morning. My brother came and got me after I had just gotten into bed and said something like, "You might not be interested, depending on how asleep you are, but the mantis is laying eggs right now." I got out of bed and watched the process for the next hour or so. I was really tired the next day but it was worth it.

This is a photo of the first egg sac she made. It's about the size of a small walnut, and it's stuck to the wire mesh on the top of the screen over her house. She has laid two more smaller egg sacs since then.

Q: Are you gonna have baby mantises?
A: Unknown. It's possible that she may have mated before she came to us, but she also might have just expelled the eggs because it was time. At any rate, the baby mantises would be most beneficial out in our yard, where they could take care of insect pests, so we will probably put the egg sacs outside and let them hatch (if they will) in the springtime. Which means we may likely never know whether the eggs are viable or not.

Q: Is this the most spoiled praying mantis ever?
A: We are definitely not the first people to keep a mantis as a pet, but she does have a pretty sweet life. Check out this photo of her digs:
We had this tank as a home for previous pet lizards we had. You can see that she has rocks and branches to climb on, a light for light and heat, an electric hot rock, a little water dish and a blue netting thing that she likes to climb on and hide under. The other things you see in there are pieces of potato and banana that the crickets eat.

Q: Is having a mantis as a pet really as cool as you say?
A: I am not normally a person who has feelings of affection for animals that are not soft and furry. Even things like hamsters and gerbils don't appeal to me that much; I prefer more intelligent animals. But as invertebrates go, this mantis is pretty awesome. She is fun to watch as she climbs around the cage and looks around at what is going on. By observation and by research I have also learned quite a bit about insect anatomy and behavior.

Q: What's her name?
A: My dad never officially named her because we don't expect her to live that long (in the wild she would likely have already frozen by now). But my mom suggested the name "Millie".

Have any more questions about the mantis? Feel free to leave a comment!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

So I'm a copycat...

But this looked like so much fun.

What were you doing 20 years ago?

Wow... November of 1988. Let's see... I was 11 years old, and I would have been in the *gasp* fifth grade, I guess. My teacher was Mr. P. One thing I remember about Mr. P is that he taught us a recipe for chocolate peanut-butter squares that I still use successfully today. It's easy to remember because it's one of everything:

1 package graham crackers (not the box, the plastic-wrapped thing in the box)
1 stick butter
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup chocolate chips

Crush graham crackers. Melt butter and peanut butter and mix together with sugar and graham crackers. Press into 8X8 pan. Melt chocolate chips and spread on the top.

The texture of the bars depends on how finely you crush the graham crackers. These have never failed me. Give it a try.

What were you doing 10 years ago?

Ok... 1998... well I was 21, so that was just before I went on the mish. November of 1998... wow, now that I think about it that was a pretty interesting time for me. I had just received my patriarchal blessing some months before, and I was in the middle of making a lot of life changes. For the better. I was also finishing up my last year of my undergraduate. That summer it was off to the MTC and Canada for one of the biggest, scariest, hardest, funnest adventures of my life. I can say that was the period of my life where I learned the power of fasting. It enabled me to have strength I wouldn't have otherwise had on my own.

What were you doing on 9/11/2001?

I was in school again. I was enrolled in a technical writing class, and we were scheduled to have class that day. I didn't even hear about the attacks until I was on the way to school in the car and heard about it on the radio. When I got to class, the instructor came, but he then said that he didn't think it was right for us to have class on a day like this. So I went home and watched some of the coverage on TV. Crazy day.

What were you doing 5 years ago?

2003. In the final year of my master's degree (wow, this series of questions coincides with some important points in my academic career!). I would have just taken the comprehensive exam for the M.A. program and happy I was done with that. Let's see now... that might have been the semester that we had the girl in my class who was REALLY pregnant and she actually thought she was going into labor during class. It turned out she wasn't. But it was a class of all girls and the professor was so nice. The professor gave her her phone so she could call her husband and everything.

What were you doing 1 year ago?

November 2007. Hm... nothing in particular comes to mind. I suppose it was getting close to the end of the semester. I was in Bro. D's choir, so we were getting ready for the big Christmas program at Kingsbury Hall. I remember one of our friends was really, really sick that day and he came to the rehearsal all wrapped up in his blanket, which to me looked like one of the paper collages made by Matisse. I like Matisse, especially during his paper period.

What did you do yesterday?

Yesterday I went to a sacrament meeting at the branch where my parents serve to hear a friend sing a beautiful musical number, "I Know That My Redeemer Lives". I don't usually like people who have a pop style of singing so much but there is something about her when she sings; during the last verse I found myself anticipating every line, wanting to join in myself. It was inexplicably thrilling. After that I went to ward choir practice and then we had our regular church meetings. After church I was invited to go to a scone party at the house of some people in the ward. It was fun to visit and get to know people better. By the time it was over it was dark outside and I didn't have a jacket because I had walked to church when the sun was out and it was warmer. The host kindly offered to drive me home and I wanted to take his offer but I was too proud so I pretended like it wasn't a big deal and said I would be fine. And you know what? As soon as I stepped outside, I realized it wasn't as cold as I thought it was. I had a few goosebumps when I got home, but it was really ok, not to mention that I only had to walk like two blocks. And on the way home I called the girl that I visit teach and ended up going to her house and having a visit with her.

What am I doing today?

Well I'm writing this at almost 1:30 in the morning so today is pretty much over. Last night I realized I was getting a cold so I tried to go to bed somewhat early and today I got up at about 9:00. I ate some granola and decided that I felt like working on schoolwork so I did that for a couple of hours. I wrote an e-mail to my professor that basically said, "I know we have an appointment to talk about my work but I'm not sure if you want me to come to your office coughing today." She wrote back that I could e-mail what I was working on and she would give me some feedback. After that I took a long, long nap in the afternoon and had some bad dreams, although I can't remember them now. Then I watched TV programs for a while and did a little more schoolwork, then watched more TV programs while trying to download a couple of mp3s from Napster. Things really weren't working well on their end and it was taking forever for stuff to load. They almost lost my business today... except they have the biggest availability of Aaliyah mp3s on the web and I am really into Aaliyah right now.

(I hope I'm not the only person who thinks of days as sleep to sleep rather than stopping and starting at midnight. I mean, it's 1:30, but it's still today because I haven't been to sleep yet. And in a few hours, it'll be the same day on the calendar, but it'll be tomorrow. Know what I mean?)

What will I do tomorrow?

Assuming that I will be feeling somewhat better (which I think is true) I will get up in the morning and have some breakfast and hopefully get some more work done for school. I am really getting close to being ready with this big project, and the closer I get the sooner I want to get it done, so I work on it a lot lately. Also I should practice the piano but we'll see if I talk myself out of it. In the evening one of my friends is playing a piano recital (yay! that is so awesome!) and after that there is a get-together at a restaurant to celebrate the birthday of one of our choir friends. Oh, and at some point I want to swing by and pick up a birthday gift; I'm thinking a couple of gourmet chocolate bars.

So that's what's up in my life. The more things change, the more they stay the same... kind of. I think that a few years from now my answers will be very different.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Telephone interpreting
This is an NPR item I just heard on the radio.  I thought it captured some of the difficulties when languages and cultures come in contact in a very sensitive way.  I hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Chain blog...

Got this in an e-mail and I thought I'd do it on my blog instead of by e-mail. Anybody who wants to, feel fre to do it, and please leave me a comment so I will know that you did it and go to your blog to see.

If you opened it, you have to do it (it only takes a couple minutes I promise!)

Two names you go by:
2. (no comment, don't want to reveal my identity on my blog)

Two things you are wearing right now:
1. shiny Christmas socks

2. knit workout pants

Two things you want very badly at the moment:
1. to master a section of about four measures or so in the piano piece I'm working on
2. to be finished with a certain large academic project I'm working on

Two people who will most likely send this back (i.e. post it on their blogs):

Two things you did last night:
1. Went to choir practice
2. Parking-lot-danced for a really long time! It was awesome!

Two things you ate yesterday:
1. Granola
2. PB&J

Two people you last spoke to:
1. My dad
2. The lady who is in charge of musical numbers in my parents' branch

Two things you're doing tomorrow:
1. Having a piano lesson
2.Working on my large academic project (hopefully)

Two states you'd like to visit:
1. Arizona

2. Texas

Two favorite beverages:
1 Water
2. Juice

Saturday, November 15, 2008


The following are some thoughts that I've been having in association with the talk that I was asked to give in church tomorrow. I was asked to discuss one of the talks from the recent General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I felt drawn to study and talk about "The Infinite Power of Hope" by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf.

While studying about hope, I have sort of organized my thoughts in answer to a set of questions. I give each question, with a brief response.

1. What is hope?
As taught by President Uchtdorf, hope is a powerful force. For example, he told the story about when he and his mother and siblings were fleeing from Czechoslovakia to Germany during World War II. At a certain train station, his mother left the train to get food for them, and when she returned the train was gone. With the possibility that she might never see her children again, his mother searched through the train station, "hoping against hope", and finally found the train after it had been moved.

Hope is a part of the great triad of faith, hope, and charity. Faith leads to hope, and hope leads to faith.

Hope in particular drives us to salvation. Our great hope is in Jesus Christ, that through his death and resurrection, we can be saved and enjoy eternal life. This hope can keep us going through difficult times and sad circumstances of life.

2. How can we have greater hope?
I studied a number of references that talked about how to feed our hope, but one idea that I noticed in particular is that we can gain hope by study of the scriptures. (I encourage you to read the references included with President Uchtdorf's talk to see this idea come up repeatedly in the scriptures themselves, as well as some other ways to increase hope.) How can the scriptures give us hope? Scripture is the word of God, and in the scriptures it's taught that Jesus Christ is the Savior, and that through His great Atonement we can resurrected and receive eternal life. As we read the holy word of God, the Holy Ghost confirms that these ideas are true. So reading the scriptures increases our knowledge of the great plan of our Father in Heaven, and also invites the Holy Ghost to be a bolstering force in our lives.

3. How can we help others to have hope?
I have spent a lot of time thinking about the topic of hope lately, and analyzing events around me in light of the topic. I have recently learned that a friend of mine, a smart, good person, and someone I like very much, has decided to pursue a gay lifestyle. While I never claim to say what causes some people to be attracted to those of the same sex, I believe that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God, and that it is not appropriate to engage in sexual relations under any other circumstances but between a husband and wife. For those who cannot envision themselves becoming involved in a serious relationship with someone of the opposite sex, like my friend, the future can seem long and lonely in light of that truth. It is easy to see how some people like my friend can be tempted to give up their principles in the face of that kind of loneliness.

It's not as if those who are attracted to people of the same sex are the only ones who struggle. There are people everywhere who deal with loneliness, despair, unemployment, divorce, frustration, abuse, poverty, and all of life's other negative feelings and situations. But unfortunately sometimes we add to others' problems by judging them, not understanding them, and treating them like they are bad people. This is not the Christian thing to do; it is well-known that our Savior spent time during His mortal ministry with "publicans and sinners" and that He continually ministers to people who are shunned by society. We should follow His example. People would never consider criticizing someone who had cancer or diabetes, for example. But what about people who struggle with less-fashionable circumstances, such as same-sex attraction, addiction, divorce, or a host of other things that people look down on? It seems to me that it certainly doesn't help people who are struggling for others to judge them and run away from them. Therefore, I urge us all (myself included) to encourage hope in others by treating them in more Christlike ways, by overlooking their circumstances and loving them.

I believe that the love of others helps us to have hope and security in a world that is otherwise often depressing and insecure. I can attest to the palpable feeling of security and confidence that I have in the love of my good friends. And the love of good people hopefully serves as a guide to the love and salvation that we can find in Christ. Our capacities for loving are inadequate in comparison to His, to be sure, but maybe we will learn to be more like Him as we continue to practice this love. Our hope in Christ will encourage others to hope in Him as well. And He is able and mighty to save and be the Fulfillment of our hope.

And so the message I would like to send is two-fold: (1) to those who struggle, there is hope in Christ, the powerful Redeemer of the world, and (2) to those who know them, we should love people and treat them well regardless of their circumstances. And it seems to me that basically everyone in the congregation is part of both groups.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

If you have any comments on these thoughts, or even stories that I could incorporate into this talk, I would be happy to learn them.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Thoughts on Perry Mason

Raymond Burr is quite heavyset in some episodes, but he is still cast as the heroic leading man. It just goes to show how different standards about body image were back in the days that Perry Mason was made.

It seems that nobody on the show remembers their fifth-amendment rights. The murder almost always confesses on the stand, except when they confess when they're not on the stand. (Actually, while I was writing this, an episode showed where the accomplice ratted out the murderer... but this is the exception to the rule.)

Berger is like the worst district attorney ever -- he never wins a case, and never accuses the right person. Not to mention the detective, Lieutenant Tragg; his theories of the case are always wrong too.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Umbrellas in Japan

I enjoyed reading this essay:

Today for the first time I used the umbrella/parasol that was sent to me by my sister-in-law's grandmother in Japan.  It is very compact and worked great!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

"No abrir el puerta. Tienes una alarme gracias."*

Just got a link to this article about a bad translation on a road sign:

This story is entertaining and I can totally see how that happened, although honestly they should have checked on things when the e-mail came back all in Welsh. But it reminds me of something I see around where I live all the time: bad translations into Spanish.

Now, I'm not a native speaker of Spanish, but honestly it seems to me that when you are going to translate something into Spanish you should at least put enough effort into it to, let's say, check it out with a native speaker of Spanish. I mean, it's not like there aren't any native Spanish speakers around. For example, the title of this post is a paraphrase of a sign that hangs on one of the doors in the building where I work, easily visible from the main second-floor hallway. I happen to personally know at least three native speakers of Spanish who actually work in the building who could have easily said, "Um, nope, this is what you want to say." Not to mention that there are plenty of proficient non-native speakers around who wouldn't make such obvious errors in gender and subject-verb agreement, not to mention using the word "alarme", which doesn't even exist. (They should have gone with alarma.) In my more socially activated moments, I find it a little disrespectful to the Spanish-speaking community in the area that people won't even bother to do a good job with their Spanish translations of signs around in the area. It's kind of like saying, "We recognize that we should provide something in Spanish for you because there are enough Spanish speakers around, but we don't respect you or your language enough to actually do a half-decent job."

English speakers find it comical when obvious mistranslations have been done by non-native speakers who obviously don't know English well enough to know how badly they are doing. Two websites that are dedicated to the phenomenon are and But you will also often hear people complaining about incomprehensible owner's manuals which came with foreign products they have purchased and beefing about, "Why can't you just learn to speak English?" To people with this attitude I say, people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

Seriously though, through my study of sociolinguistics I have learned that people often use linguistic discrimination as a way to cover up honest-to-goodness prejudice against another group of people. It might not be acceptable to make fun of a group of people, but people will often find it acceptable if you make fun of the way they talk. That's why one linguist has called linguistic discrimination the last acceptable form of discrimination. (*shudder*)

Note to people who are posting signs in Spanish in my building: I am not a native speaker, but I could certainly do a better job than whoever is doing your translation now. And I work cheap.

*"Don't open the door. You have an alarm thank you."

Monday, October 27, 2008

The saga of the sink, continued...

Remember my bathroom sink?  The one that leaked when it wasn't clogged and stopped leaking when it clogged up a little?  So a couple of weeks ago when it started getting slow again, I was reluctant to do anything to it right away, because I knew that if I put some drain opener down it it would unclog the sink, but following the pattern, it would start leaking again.  So I just continued to use it and let it drain slowly as long as I could stand it.  But when it became clogged completely, I knew I had to do something about it.  (Otherwise I'm brushing my teeth in the tub every night!)  So I went down to the Lowe's by the freeway and bought a new P-trap and another couple of parts and at a moment when I was really bored with what was on TV I decided to attack the sink.

First, I had to clean out the area under the sink, which was kind of involved but I won't go there on my blog.  After that I had to find a container to put underneath it.  I borrowed a plastic pan that my mom brought home from the hospital and started taking off the old P-trap.  What clogged up the sink can only be described as black sludge (I'm guessing a mixture of mildew and soap scum?).  There was a surprising lack of hair clogs or anything like that, just a few stray hairs in there.

Anyway, since the new P-trap is on, the sink drains a lot better, mainly because the new pipes that I put on don't have a coating of black goo in them yet.  Unfortunately, I can't reach all the stuff that's blocking up the piping all the way from my sink to the sewer so I will still have to put some drain opener down to get it running well.  But -- here's the best part -- it doesn't leak!  My brother actually went to the garage and found a roll of plumber's tape for me.  A little bit of that on the threads and the pipes keep all the water in like a champ.

So I am no longer afraid of unclogging my sink for fear that it will start leaking again.  And I satisfied myself that I do have enough plumbing skills to do some simple home repairs.

If anyone needs a P-trap installed, I will work for chocolate cake...

Saturday, October 25, 2008


If only...

Have you ever had the experience where you were calling someone and hoping that you wouldn't actually talk to them but just get the voice mail?  I definitely feel this way sometimes... maybe it's because you have a little bit of bad news, you are turning down an invitation to do something and you don't want to get talked out of it, or you don't have a lot of time to talk and just want to deliver the message without a full conversation.  I think it would be so great if somehow you could call someone but then press a button that allowed you to go straight to voice mail instead of actually ringing their phone.

So why do we make calls when we don't actually want to talk to someone?  I guess it's sort of a tug-of-war between our desire to deliver some message (out of a sense of duty?  something we need to get done even though we don't want to?) and our desire to not talk to someone (because we want more freedom with our time?  because we want to save face while delivering bad news?).

Now, it is true that through my voice mail system I can send voice messages to others... but it only works if that person happens to be on the same voice mail system as me, meaning we have the same phone company.  Otherwise I get a message that the voice mail could not be delivered.

What would be some messages that we would rather deliver by voice mail only?  Here are some possibilities:
"After putting some thought into it, I've decided not to accept your proposal of marriage."
"Remember the car?  I mean, the car we used to have?"
"Just to let you know, the cops are on the way to your house..." 

Sunday, October 19, 2008

People You May Know

All you Facebook users out there are probably familiar with a new feature that Facebook introduced this fall or so called "People You May Know".  Based on your characteristics (and probably mutual friends and stuff) it presents you with the names and pictures of other Facebook users that you might know, in case you want to become friends with them.

I have to say that I actually have found some Facebook friends through People You May Know.  Often people I actually do know will show up in my People You May Know just after they join Facebook.  But, I have a true confession: there are some people on my People You May Know who I "know", but am not friends with.

I think just about everybody has slightly different criteria for how they choose to "make friends" on Facebook with someone.  Just about all of my Facebook friends are people I have some honest-to-goodness real-life connection to, and I have met all but maybe two in person.  And I'm pretty good at finding friends for myself.  Which means that the people who come up for me in People You May Know generally fall into one of three categories:
1. Friends of my friends that I don't know
2. People that went to the same school as I did
3. Brothers and sisters of my friends

So for me, People You May Know is often more like "People You May Know Of".  I might have seen the guy at church, but never talked to him.  Or I might have waved at my friend's little sister one time as I visited their house back in high school.  For me, these aren't quite enough reason to make Facebook friends with someone.

So no offense, but if I haven't actually talked to you before and stuff, and you come up in People You May Know, I'm probably not going to add you, even if I know who you are.  But feel free to add me if you know who I am... mutual recognition is a good enough reason to add. :)

Why does Facebook have People You May Know?  My theory is that Facebook wants people to have more friends, because that will make them more interested in the site, which will make them want to spend more time on the site, which will make them ultimately view more advertising.  So, in an indirect way, People You May Know is good for Facebook's pocketbook.  You can't begrudge them that.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

How to rip DVDs and play them on your Palm Tungsten E2

I've had the E2 for a few years now but I've never tried to play video on it until today.

After reading the information on the support forums on the Palm website and unsuccessfully trying to follow their instructions to get the video to play on the built-in player, here is my advice about what to do to rip a DVD and play it on your Tungsten E2.

1. Rip the DVD using whatever software you happen to have, or Free DVD Ripper. I ripped files into avi format.
2. Convert the file to the right size and resolution using Windows Movie Maker.
3. Copy the result to your SD card using your SD card reader.
4. Install TCPMP on your Palm.
5. Use TCPMP to play the video file.

It might be possible to convert the file directly to the right size and resolution using the DVD ripping program, which would allow you to skip step 2 as long as you put the file into a format that TCPMP will play (which shouldn't be too hard). I'm looking forward to bringing my own handheld video to watch on my next airplane flight or something like that. Please do not violate copyright laws.

I also found this article very informative:

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


I just found out about this place called The Organ Loft, soon to be called Edison Street. It's a club that sometimes hosts dinner and dances, and sometimes hosts silent movies with accompaniment on their own organ! I can't believe I never heard of this before today! Who wants to come?

An interesting article my coworker passed on about language learning

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Window shopping.

I don't know if it's the time of year, or some internal clock that tells me it's time to buy some new technology, but I've developed a hankering to increase my computing/online power lately. The old Inspiron laptop is about 4 years old now, and still running quite well, but not perfect, and I know that it won't last forever. At the pretty cheap prices of some things I have been considering lately, I could easily see myself buying something new before the end of the school year.

Here are the options I'm considering:
Option 1: A sublaptop computer
Mini laptops like the Acer Aspire One and Dell Inspiron Mini are all the rage right now. I first saw one in the hand of one of my former students a few months ago, and instantly fell in love with the idea of having an actual laptop computer in a size that would allow me to carry it anywhere. These mini machines also have flash memory instead of a hard drive, meaning that there are less mechanical parts to worry about and they boot faster than a larger computer. Also, they are super affordable right now, starting at prices around $350.

I think if I went with this option, I would want to get a machine that could basically replace my current laptop and be a step up in computing power, meaning that I would most likely want to upgrade RAM upon purchase to at least 1 GB and buy an external DVD-ROM drive.

Pros: Lots of power packed into a small size.
Cons: A significant chunk of change.

Option 2: A Wi-Fi card for my PDA
I already have a Palm Tungsten E2, so why not upgrade it with a Wi-Fi card to make it possible for me to surf the net with a device I already carry around?

Pros: Increased functionality in a device I already carry around. Not as much need to bring a computer with me. Not very expensive. (I think a card would be something like $75.)
Cons: I've had the Tungsten for a couple of years now. It could do some basic browsing and document editing, but I'd still have to use my semi-aging laptop for more serious computing tasks.

Option 3: A Blackberry-type phone
What about upgrading my cell phone to a model that includes browsing capability? Today's smart phones could replace a lot of functions of my computer and PDA in one shot.

Pros: Again, portability. Being able to access the Internet just about anywhere. Coolness factor.
Cons: Pricey! And I'm not sure if I love the idea of surfing the web on THAT tiny of a screen.

So I haven't yet decided what to do, nor have I allocated money for whatever the purchase turns out to be. But it occurs to me that I might want to take advantage of educational pricing while it is available, however that turns out. Any ideas?

Friday, October 10, 2008

You know you're a linguist when...

Tonight on my drive home I saw a cat in my neighborhood.
That got me thinking about the cat we used to have.
We called her "Kitty" (original name, I know, but there's a story behind it), and she also had a variety of nicknames, one of which was "Kissy". Although it is obviously related to the generic nickname "kitty", I have noticed that it doesn't feel right to use "Kissy" with other cats; that name belongs more to her.
Then I started thinking about the phonological derivation of "Kissy" from "Kitty".
By the time I got home, I had realized that it was a simple change of manner of articulation, changing the alveolar flap in "Kitty" to an alveolar fricative.
You know you're a linguist when you discover the phonological rule by which you made your cat's nickname.
By the way, we also used to call the cat "Kiss", which is obviously just a deleted version of "Kissy"...

Thursday, October 2, 2008

What not to say when your friend tells you they're in a relationship

There are polite phrases for many situations in life. For example, if someone gives you a cookie, the appropriate thing to do is say, "Thank you." If someone is having a new baby, the appropriate thing is to congratulate them.

But what about when your friend announces that he/she has just started a relationship with someone special? Society and etiquette books don't seem to have an approved, polite phrase to say in that situation, so you're on your own.

Just to help you out, here are some phrases that are completely appropriate in some situations, but NOT when your friend tells you they're seeing someone...
"Knock yourself out!"
"Thank you."
"I love you, too."
"I'm sorry for your loss."

Just a word to the wise.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I just don't get it

How does Dolly Parton play the guitar with those super-long fingernails? If you watch her, you can see that she's really playing, not just moving her hands around like they do sometimes on TV. But if I had fingernails like that and I tried to play, I wouldn't be able to get the fingers in the right position to make the notes sound right. Maybe her playing-with-long-fingernail talent is one explanation for why she has been so popular for so long.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

A little investigation

I had the idea to do this a little while ago so I decided to do it this morning. Basically what I have done is, in graphical form, figure out the amount of pages spent on certain amounts of time in the Book of Mormon. It is my suspicion that the time periods on which the Book of Mormon spends more writing are important time periods to study.

Here's how I did it: I made a spreadsheet that contained one data point for each page in the Book of Mormon. I went through the book and typed in the year at the bottom of each page. When more than one year was featured on a page, I always used the latest year available on that page. Then I graphed the results. The following graph, therefore, shows the amount of pages spent on each time period in the Book of Mormon.

It should be noted that some of the years in the Book of Mormon are estimated, while some are exact calculations. Also, Ether does not have any years listed at the bottom of the page; basically all of the events in the Book of Ether happened before the rest of the Book of Mormon did.  This is the reason for the blank area in the graph between pages 487 and 517.  Years B.C. were plotted as negative numbers and years A.D. were plotted as positive numbers.

Click on the image below to see the graph in larger form.

The graph slopes upward, which means that the general organization of accounts in the Book of Mormon is from earlier to later, with a few exceptions.  I also notice that the graph is made of a number of relatively flat areas, meaning that the book focuses on one time period for some pages, then quickly moves to focusing on another time period.

To show how much the Book of Mormon focuses on one time period and then jumps to another period of focus, look at the following graph.  In this graph, I plotted the difference in amount of years between the previous page and the current page.  Therefore, pages that cover a large amount of time have points on the graph that are far from 0 and pages that cover a short amount of time have points closer to 0.  Again, please click on the image below to see the graph in more detail.

In this graph we can see that the line sticks mostly close to the 0 point, meaning that the Book of Mormon, page-by-page, has the trend of covering with more depth certain periods of time, and then quickly moving to cover another period of time in focus.

To me this shows just how carefully the prophets Mormon and Moroni selected the material they were going to put into the Book of Mormon.  They focused mostly on the events that they thought were most important, not giving much attention to the information in between.  I actually didn't expect this graph to be as flat as it is, so this shows me that it is important to focus on the teachings of the entire book.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Google Chrome: my two cents

Thanks to Linden's heads-up, I learned about Google Chrome and downloaded it pretty soon after it became available.

If you don't want to read the rest of my review, here's the short version: Chrome is great, but I'm not quite ready to give up Firefox completely just yet.

The pros of Google Chrome:
The promises are true. I tried it out on a couple of pages that usually take a long time to load and they loaded SIGNIFICANTLY faster.
Also, when one tab crashes, it doesn't take the whole computer down with it. Just close the tab and pretty soon the memory will catch up and everything will be fine. Pretty sweet.
I am relieved to see that it loads the website that I work for as designed. So I don't have to do any redesigning for now. Phew!
The developers of Google Chrome rightly realized that tabs belong at the top of the window and the overall look is well-designed, if spartan.

The cons of Google Chrome:
It's the little things. For one thing, I miss the "Undo Close Tab" choice that comes up when you right-click on the tabs in Firefox. I use that all the time.
Also (and this might be a remnant of my days of being a Windows 3.11 user) I often close windows by double-clicking on the icon in the upper left corner. Since Chrome hides this icon you can't close the window that way. I find myself doing a little "oh yeah" and moving the mouse over to the right side of the window to click on the X.
I have actually seen it load one page wrong, but that's not actually a big deal, since this page doesn't work all that well in Firefox either. (I know a lot of people use Internet Exploder, but tsk tsk.)
Unfortunately, the memory savings aren't enough to allow me to load ALL the tabs I want at the same time. But this has a lot to do with the fact that the old Inspiron laptop isn't as young as it used to be.
Shockwave player doesn't seem to work perfectly in Chrome. Not sure if this is a Chrome problem or a Shockwave problem.

So, in summary, I like Chrome, and it's already got a place in my Quick Launch. But I haven't found that I could switch over to Chrome exclusively yet. I still have to use Firefox and *gulp* even IE for some tasks.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

For perhaps the first time ever...

... I find myself with basically nothing to say. I keep thinking about what I am going to write next on this blog and I don't really have much to contribute at this time. The past few days I've been fighting loneliness. I have rediscovered just how long the hours can be when you are lonely. At this point in my life I feel like the people I need, want and miss are basically inaccessible, because of either geography or timing. But I've also found myself clinging to beautiful promises, finding perspective and getting a bit of hope. These are cycles that repeat, sometimes in a matter of minutes. But honestly, all's well. It's kind of telling that I have so much freedom and so many resources that I have time to sit around and worry about the future. Many people on this earth don't have that luxury.

So keep those prayers going on my behalf and keep the e-mails and text messages coming my way. And, most of all, your presence, if possible.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


The following is a message from the ww opinion system.
*stepping onto soapbox*

It seems to me that most covers are pointless. The kind of cover I'm talking about is when someone re-records their version of a song. For example, the Carpenters did a cover of the Beatles' "Please Mr. Postman". The practice of covering is certainly not new, but it seems like these days there are more covers than ever.

Why do I think they are pointless? Because, in many cases, the cover doesn't add anything new to the artistic expression in the song. It seems like it's just an excuse to make money off a song that they didn't have to write themselves. For example, No Doubt's version of Talk Talk's "It's My Life" is basically the exact same as the original arrangement, except for a girl is singing instead of a guy. Likewise, Smashing Pumpkins' version of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" is, as far as I can tell, exactly like the original, except a guy is singing instead of a girl.

I remember asking my friends on Facebook what they thought of covers, and one of the responses that I got was like this: "I don't mind covers, as long as they stay true to the original vision of the artist and pay appropriate homage to them." I really couldn't disagree more. If you respect the original musician that much, why not let that person's version stand as the definitive version of the song? I have no doubt that it was her admiration for the excellent songwriting skills of Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot that caused Sarah McLachlan to cover "Blue" and "Song for a Winter's Night", but her arrangements, while layered with ephemeral voices, don't really add anything new to the song. The only relative consolation I feel about these kind of covers is that at least the original author of the song is hopefully getting some additional royalties to reward them for their excellent songwriting in the first place.

There is an occasional cover that is a completely different artistic interpretation of the song in question. I have no problem with these reinterpretations. For example, "Mad World", as performed by Michael Andrews, gives a completely different feel than the original Tears for Fears version. And there are certain good songwriters who are such bad singers that they beg to be covered: Bob Dylan and Tom Waits, to name a couple. There are great songwriters like Burt Bacharach who rarely perform their own songs but purposely write them to be performed by someone else. But Counting Crows and Amy Grant seemed to leave something out when they covered Joni Mitchell's playfully sarcastically serious version of her "Big Yellow Taxi".

This is my general message to those musicians who want to make a quick buck by covering a good song that was written and performed by someone else: it would be much better if you made your money off of your own creativity instead of someone else's.

And don't even get me started on remakes of movies.

*stepping off of soapbox*
You may now return to your regularly scheduled program.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I am SO entertained by this

I just used the site to create some pictures of what I might look like in yearbook photos from different years. Here are some of the best ones:


(I think I look a lot like my grandma in this one.)


(As I recall, my actual hairstyle in that era wasn't all that different.)

I just have one thing to say about this: BWAHAHAHAHA!!!


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Road trip update.

I accomplished my goal of going to the following places this weekend:
Logan, UT
Idaho Falls, ID
Jackson, WY

The following places were added to the list for future visits:
Logan, UT
Alpine, WY

Here are some examples of the amazing views I had the past couple of days.

Next direction: South, I think. :)

Friday, August 15, 2008

I've got the fever and I don't want a cure

Travel fever. I have it. Bad. Every time I learn that I know someone in a place that I haven't been before (or lately) I want to visit them. The more friends I make, the more traveling I want to do. Here are some places on my list, ranked in order of how soon I want to go there...

Logan, UT
Idaho Falls, ID
Jackson, WY
Ivins, UT
Tempe, AZ
Houston, TX
Eagle, ID

and some destinations that are a little more removed...

Czech Republic
Winnipeg, Manitoba
Fort Frances, Ontario
Laie, HI
Mexico City, Mexico

I guess that's good for starters... :)

Monday, August 11, 2008

"The grass is always greener..."

Is that true?  Because the grass on the other side of the fence looks pretty good right now... *sigh*.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Today I sang a solo in church and I tried to use the principles that I learned in Vocal Beauty Boot Camp.  Lots of people came up to me after the meeting and told me that they had enjoyed the musical number and that it was beautiful.  I sang "Guide Me to Thee", which I knew very well after having sung it all week at the camp.  My father had attended the meeting just to hear me sing and said that some of the notes that I sang were just "transporting".  That's a high compliment coming from him.  Thanks, Vocal Beauty Boot Camp, for helping me to bring beautiful music into the church setting.  While my performance was inconsistent in applying the new principles I have learned, I did a better job than I would have done, and apparently people enjoyed the performance.  I certainly hope that the performance helped to invite the presence of the Holy Ghost into the meeting.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Vocal Beauty Boot Camp: Day Four

Today in Vocal Beauty Boot Camp I finally learned how to get a legato line with my breath support.  Unfortunately my abdominal muscles were so tired that they didn't really hold out through the afternoon as much as I would have liked.  But I feel happy with the improvements I was able to make in the quality of my squillo.  Overall I am happy with what I have learned about breath support, legato line, vibrato, and squillo.  It remains for me to make my placements very consistent so I can have good intonation all the time and for me to find the absolute best ways to pronounce vowels.  I think I am going to give my abs a break tomorrow so I will hopefully be able to sing well when I sing a solo in sacrament meeting on Sunday.  Fortunately, I'm singing one of the pieces that we practiced in Boot Camp so I know it VERY well.  People were very tired today after having the intensive boot camp classes plus not getting much sleep in the dorms so today was a more laid-back day, but we also heard some of the best singing of the entire camp from just about everyone.  We also discussed how we can share what we have learned about beautiful singing with others, such as ward choirs.

The people at Vocal Beauty Boot Camp really jelled over the course of the short period of the boot camp.  Today a group of us all had lunch together at the Museum Cafe and we talked about our favorite hymns and really had a good time.  Apparently the instant friendship between me and  Shelley was noticeable enough that someone else at boot camp asked her how we know each other; we only met on Tuesday just like everyone else.  At the end of the day we took pictures with our "cocktail" faces and some of the people had the brilliant idea to get some cards for our teachers and accompanist, along with a beautiful bouquet for the accompanist.  There were hugs and I received a couple of invitations to stay with people when I visit their hometowns.  Afterwards I went back with Shelley as she got her stuff together and she drove me to my car, where we said goodbye with hugs and ideas about when we can see each other again.

Vocal Beauty Boot Camp is a really intense experience and I'm not sure that I could realistically do it for a longer time; a lot of stuff in my life has been put on the back burner while I was doing it.  But at the same time I wish it lasted a little longer.  It is nice to have an excuse to lay many of my responsibilities aside for a while.  I would love to have a longer time to work on my vocal technique and improve my singing, and also I would love a little longer time to spend with the wonderful people who attended the boot camp.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Vocal Beauty Boot Camp: Day Three

I was a little frustrated through much of day two until the little glimmer of hope I got near the end, but day three was great. In the morning I tried holding my tongue down while making the "fruit cocktail" face and it was pretty successful. I was able to get some "ring" into my sound by really stretching the cheeks up to lift the velum. In the afternoon we just stood around and mostly listened to each other sing and it was so great to hear such beautiful and pleasant sounds that were coming out of people. Everyone -- everyone -- has made progress. Not only are all the individuals in the group making progress, but we are also happy for each other's progress. On many occasions during the class today we broke out in applause and cheers for our classmates when they got something that they had been trying to do. I'm really excited for day four, but I also wish that the boot camp weren't quite over. I'd like to continue the opportunities to make progress! I finally feel that I'm starting to figure out the basic interactions between breath and the openness of the vocal tract -- I need more time to refine my vowel pronunciation and confirm what I have been practicing.

Tonight the boot camp participants along with participants in some other music conferences at BYU went to Temple Square in Salt Lake City. We attended a rehearsal of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and we got to sit in the choir seats with the choir and sing along with them a bit. They didn't anticipate as many of us as there were so some of us sat in extra chairs that they put out around the conductor, which actually gave us a pretty good view of things.

While I was waiting for my friends to show up at Temple Square on the bus, I took a few pictures of myself. This is a portrait of me making the "fruit cocktail" face that I make now when I am singing.

I'm going to be sad when boot camp is over.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Vocal Beauty Boot Camp: Day Two

Today in vocal beauty boot camp was intense. The trust among the participants is growing, as is the vocal beauty of the group. Spirits were high this morning as we heard some increasingly beautiful sounds coming from some of our classmates during the morning video-recording session. (I was going to be up next, but then we sort of ran out of time.) Apparently the room we were in needed to be worked on in the afternoon so we transferred to another room, which I actually liked a little better; it was a little bit of a better size for our group. During the breakout sessions in the afternoon at one point three different people were shedding tears at the same time. I had some hope when Dr. Robison promised me that my voice would blossom like others when I got the pharyngeal openness right. He had me speaking the words to the song in a dramatic, spooky voice to teach me what to do. In fact, he wouldn't allow me to sing at that point because every time I tried to sing it I was closing up, but I would stay open when I was speaking dramatically. Anyone who was observing from outside wouldn't know what was going on. By the end of the day, Dr. Robison asked if we could offer a closing prayer to give thanks for the things that had happened. There truly were some great changes today. In fact, at one point a woman started singing behind me, and I had to turn around to find out who it was because her voice was so different (and gorgeous!).

I didn't stay for the hymn sing they had tonight; I just went home. I expected the Utah County rush-hour traffic to be pretty crowded but it wasn't very bad. I felt pretty good when I got home, but also a little tired. I came home and started reading the scriptures, then fell asleep for quite a while. I think I'm going to need a good night's sleep to be ready for boot camp tomorrow.

A few more gems that I learned today:
Being like a little child. Little babies, when they are learning to walk, don't just get frustrated and give up if they can't do it the first time, nor do they give up if they fall down after they walk a little bit. They just keep going forward. We adults can be the same way. In boot camp, for example, people get it sometimes and lose it other times. Instead of being frustrated about the loss, we should look at the potential we have and keep moving forward. Likewise, when we sin, our attitude should be one of moving forward and trying for better, instead of repeatedly wallowing in past sins.
Worshiping through hymns. Since hymns are a form of prayer, it is "vain repetition" if we sing hymns without bringing out the sacred meaning of the words. Adding the meaning makes the hymn much more beautiful, exciting, touching, and musical, for both the performer and the audience.
Why am I doing this? As I look inside myself and look at my motivations for attending Vocal Beauty Boot Camp, I have to admit that my motives may not be entirely unselfish. I am well-known in my ward as the person that everyone can hear in sacrament meeting, because my voice carries over the singing of the congregation. But at vocal beauty boot camp I have discovered that I have a lot of work to do to reach my full potential. I'm afraid that if my goal is to get more acclaim and attention by improving my singing, the improvements probably won't come in the way I want. If my motives are more pure and I desire to sing beautifully because I want to worship and help others worship, I think I will be more blessed with the improvement I want. So I must make sure that my intentions are appropriate if I want to sing very beautifully.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Vocal Beauty Boot Camp: Day One

When the alarm went off at 6:30, I wasn't particularly excited about getting right up, especially since I hadn't really gotten to sleep until around 12:30 or 1:00 the night before.  (Serves me right for not memorizing my pieces earlier!)  But anyway I did get up after pressing the snooze a few times and got ready pretty quickly, telling myself that, as long as I got there during the registration period from 8:00-9:00 I would be fine.  I parked in Lot 49 of the BYU campus as instructed, which is kind of way over on the side by the stadium and the Marriott Center, and walked to the Harris Fine Arts building, near the north side of campus.

The building had quite a few people and a lot of energy going on because there is an organ workshop going on at the same time as Vocal Beauty Boot Camp.  I checked in, where I got my official BYU water bottle (it's green, by the way) and my folder of information about the camp.

The name boot camp is an okay description of the intensity of the experience, but not necessarily the overall tone.  Dr. Robison warned us that he can be exacting at times, but he actually makes corrections in such a sincere way that they never seemed to me to be over the top or offensive.  The morning session consisted of some warm-up and then each of us took turns singing in front of the class with Dr. Robison.  There was a video camera to the side of us and a TV in front of us, so that during each of our turns, we could see ourselves on the video screen.  Watching ourselves while singing is an important part of the learning process.  Also they recorded each of the sessions on our personal videotape so we can watch ourselves later and learn from that.  As others are singing, we are supposed to pay attention to what is happening with them and learn from it as well.  During each person's turn, Dr. Robison stands near and makes comments or corrections if he thinks it will help.  After lunch in the afternoon we had a breakout session with our TA, Jason.  During this session, we did a lot of singing as a group and also worked again with the video camera.  The closing session of the afternoon was all of us working together again with Dr. Robison singing together as a group.  Sometimes he would indicate that one person was to sing alone and we would all listen, then usually on the next verse we would all join in again.

Today I learned some things that have already made some major improvements in my singing.  The first one is the proper position of my chest.  I learned to lift my chest but later on today I learned to lift it even more.  Then I learned about the breath energy that is coming from the lower abdomen.  Finally today, I learned the importance of relaxing my jaw instead of closing it in the upper range so that I can use my breath equally through the head voice as well as the chest voice.  When I got home tonight I watched my video and learned even more about just what a difference those adjustments made.  I'm excited to retain those as habits and build on it from there.  This was just day one; I am looking forward to what will be happening on day four!

Tonight we had an optional conducting class where we learned some principles behind getting a choir or congregation to add expression and musicality to music.  This was done through a number of unconventional activities, such as mirroring the movements of a partner and also singing while we were performing a number of unconventional body movements.  It seems fruity, but it got the point across.  Dr. Robison's teaching methods remind me of the teaching methods of a professor in my department who is often criticized for being unconventional: it seems that students either love him or hate him.  Dr. Robison allows the students to teach themselves through experiencing and observing, only "getting in the way" when necessary.

Before I made the postural adjustments that I made today, I would normally have a very tired voice after the amount and strength of singing I did today.  But lifting my chest into the right position helped me to feel so much freer and makes my breathing easier and my singing more comfortable.  At the end of the day I felt like I could sing a lot more.

The day was made that much more special by the lunch that I shared with my good friend R.  Believe it or not, although we have exchanged e-mail and even talked on the phone we haven't actually seen each other in about two years.  Unfortunately my lunch time was restricted to an hour but it was really great to see her.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Vocal Beauty Boot Camp: The Night Before

A few people have expressed interest in finding out about my experiences about Vocal Beauty Boot Camp. For those who don't know, VBBC is a four-day program where a group of people learns to sing beautifully. It's basically like a four-day group voice lesson, held at Brigham Young University. It is administered out of the division of continuing education, which means that anyone can register.

I first heard about VBBC when I saw the program called "Beautiful Singing: Not Just for the Chosen" on BYU-TV. It's a short program that is designed to demonstrate the principles of beautiful singing, as shown in the improvement of the students at the camp. I really enjoyed the program and wished I could go to the camp. However, shortly after I found out about it, I learned that the main professor, Clayne Robison, would be going on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with his wife, and therefore would not be holding the camp that year. I was sad to think that I had missed my chance. Therefore, when I found out that Prof. Robison is offering the camp again this year, I signed up.

There were a number of assignments that I had to prepare in order to attend the Vocal Beauty Boot Camp this year. Here they are:
1. Watch the program "Beautiful Singing: Not Just for the Chosen".
Well, I'd seen this program at least three or four times already on BYU-TV, but I decided to watch it again with the perspective of preparing to go to the camp. It was pretty fun to look at what they were doing on the video and say to myself, "That's gonna be me!" By the way, the DVD is available at the Salt Lake City Library.
2. Read the book Beautiful Singing: "Mind Warp Moments".
This was an interesting book. It is actually a collection of pretty disjointed chapters. If I had to summarize the book, I would say it's basically everything that Clayne Robison has to say on just about any subject. It includes autobiography, scientific studies of vocal acoustics, voice pedagogy, spirituality and even a discussion of the relationships among the voice faculty at Brigham Young University.
3. Memorize and prepare to sing the following songs from the collection Sabbath Song II: "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty", "Guide Me to Thee", and "Weepin' Mary".
This is an assignment that I unfortunately put off until tonight. It's a good thing that I have at least heard all of these pieces before. In fact, I'm pretty sure that the only arrangement of "Weepin' Mary" that I've heard before is the one that I will be singing. I started with "Guide Me to Thee" because I thought it would be relatively easier than "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty" but actually it took me much longer to work on that one. I think it's because the words of the latter are more familiar, I guess. Both are in the hymnbook that we use at church but I suppose I hear/sing "Praise to the Lord" more often. All of the arrangements are relatively simple, but all also have quirks like different rhythm or key changes that you have to be careful about. The book is supplemented with a CD of the accompaniments to all songs in the book so you can practice singing along with the CD. This is helpful. Perhaps needless to say, my memorization of the words of the pieces is still pretty shaky. "Weepin' Mary"'s words are the easiest because there is only one line that is different in each of the verses. I ripped the three tracks from the CD and put them on the memory card on my phone so I can practice them on the drive down to BYU tomorrow. So if you hear about a Corolla that caused a wreck on southbound I-15 tomorrow because the driver was distracted, that would be me. :S

Here are some questions you might be asking about my boot camp experience:
Are you going to stay in Provo the whole time?
No, I am going to drive back and forth. I know that with today's gas prices, a 45-minute to one-hour commute to and again from BYU every day isn't going to be light on the wallet, but I'd much rather sleep in my own bed than in some BYU dorm or on one of my friends' floors for three nights.
How long does the boot camp last?
Four days, Tuesday through Friday, August 5-8. The boot camp is 9:00-5:00 on all these days, but tomorrow there is registration/breakfast at 8:00 that I will have to show up to. We get a lunch break from 12:00 to 12:55. Also I am allowed to go to a conducting workshop on Tuesday night, a hymn-sing on Wednesday night, and a field trip to a Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearsal on Thursday night. So far the conducting workshop is the only one that I think I will attend.
Where can I see videos of what happens at Vocal Beauty Boot Camp?
As already mentioned, you can see the program "Beautiful Singing: Not Just for the Chosen", which is available on DVD. Also, on Prof. Robison's website,, you can see a few interesting videos that appeal to both the musician and the phonetician in me.
How much did you pay to attend Vocal Beauty Boot Camp?
Tuition was $325, plus I bought copies of the two books mentioned above. I kind of doubt that I'll get my act together to pack a lunch or dinner tomorrow either, so I guess I'll be buying some kind of fast food at the BYU campus.
How much money to you have in your checking account now?
Let's just say I'm gonna have to be careful when I put gas in my car to make sure I have enough for lunch tomorrow too. But it's gonna be worth it. And I think I'm getting paid tomorrow, or if not then then hopefully in a couple of days.

I plan to post about my activities at Vocal Beauty Boot Camp every night after the day's learning. If I understand correctly, each student will get a video copy of his/her progress in the boot camp. Awesome.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Small world.

When I was a kid I used to be kind of irritated with people who would ask if I knew someone. Like if they found out where I lived, "Oh, you're from Holladay? Do you know Dick Dickson, my cousin in Holladay?" I thought like it was annoying to ask those questions because of course I wouldn't know them. But now I realize sometimes I do.

I guess Stanley Milgram was the first to try to document the smallness of the world with his experiment that I first heard about in my intro to sociology class. In Milgram's experiment, it was found that, on average, for the people who he was able to track, there was an average of six people between the original person involved and the target person.

Now there is a new way to quantify the "small world" phenomenon: Mutual Friends.

Those who are already on Facebook are likely aware that there is a feature on Facebook called Mutual Friends. When you look at someone's Facebook profile, if you have Facebook friends in common with that person, those people will be displayed in Mutual Friends. Sometimes I am quite surprised by the number of Mutual Friends I have with someone on Facebook. It sometimes leads to those moments where you say something like, "*gasp* HE knows HER?"

For example:
  • My friend's mission companion is friends with my other friend's former visiting teaching companion.
  • A girl that served in the same mission with me is friends with the cousin of a girl who grew up in my neighborhood (who also happens to have worked at the English school where one of my fellow students used to work). Oh and by the way this same cousin knows my piano teacher and a professor on my Ph.D. committee.
  • A girl from my German class knows a whole bunch of people from my former singles' ward.
  • The guy my friend used to date is friends with my former stake president's daughter.
  • My mom's secretary is friends with a girl that used to sing in the same choir with me.
  • A guy I kind-of-sort-of went out with one time is friends with a guy I knew in high school.

It truly is a small world after all.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Extreme makeover

I have to admit that I am not immune to the guilty pleasure of watching reality shows.  In fact, there are some reality shows that I find educational, such as nanny shows where nannies teach parenting skills.  But there is one problem with the basic premise behind many reality shows, and that is the concept of the "extreme makeover".

On many reality shows, the basic premise is that, if something is wrong in your life, your life will be instantly better if you just get a makeover, new house, and/or plastic surgery.  That is, if things look better, they must be better.

I recently saw a reality show called "Clean House" where the people featured won a contest for the messiest house in America.  The people from the show came in to help them clean up their house, hosted a yard sale, and remodeled the house for them, leaving them with a lot less clutter, a new paint job and nice furnishings.  But I couldn't help but wonder if it was really going to work for the people.  As the show's hosts maneuvered through the incredibly cluttered and dirty house, they revealed that the cause for this couple's incredible amount of clutter was that they were both depressed: he was depressed because he had been injured and was not able to work as a firefighter, and she was depressed because she was not able to have children.  The irony, of course, is that in its condition, their house wouldn't have been healthy for children anyway.  The "Clean House" team did a great job remodeling and redesigning their living space, but I couldn't help but wonder if the extra assistance they got was enough to help them get over the hump.  If their psychological situation was the cause for them to collect so much clutter and dirt, getting a new paint job and living room chairs might not cut it in the long term.

The ultimate bad example of this phenomenon is the show "Extreme Makeover".  In this show, they take people who have poor body image and give them plastic surgery, personal training, a new hairstyle, new clothing, and new makeup.  Of course they are thrilled, but does this really solve their problems?  It seems to me that it actually just reinforces their belief that they aren't worthwhile because of their appearance.   So over the long term, it can actually make the problem worse, can't it?  We have all heard of people who are "addicted" to plastic surgery; no matter how "beautiful" they look, they can't shake their poor self-worth and poor body image.  So they pursue it by getting more plastic surgery, and so forth, never satisfied because they are trying to address their need in the wrong way.

Personally I understand the power of using confidence in your looks to help you out when you're not feeling too great about things.  Sometimes a new hairstyle or some makeup can really give you the extra umph you need to fake it until you make it in a difficult situation.  But overall quick fixes are not the ultimate solution to a lack of self-worth.

I don't agree with the message that such television shows are sending that making your house, wardrobe, makeup or skin beautiful in appearance is going to make you happy.  It seems to me that it's almost the other way around: if you feel a sense of self-worth, you'll improve your appearance and environment.

Here's an article on a related topic that I found through a Google search.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

It's nice to know that Dear Abby is on our side.

Today's Dear Abby column features a situation where Abby doesn't fall for the argument of a would-be linguistic prescriptivist.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Army worms

When I was living in Fort Frances, Ontario, several years ago I was introduced to the species of caterpillar known as "army worms". Actually, the true name is tent caterpillar. It's my understanding that they have this name because when they make a cocoon, they do it by folding a leaf over and sealing the edge with silk, so they are inside a little "tent". I'm guessing people call them army worms because they were EVERYWHERE, and because they are often seen "marching" in the same direction.

Apparently the population of this particular insect has a cycle that waxes and wanes about every seven years. It just so happened that the spring I was living in Fort Frances was the year that these guys had their big boom. They were on the sidewalks. They were on the trees. They were on the sides of the houses. If you walked under a tree they would often drop onto you. You could see them on the road, all walking in the same direction. In a nearby town cars were sliding because there were so many of them on the road. There were a couple of days in the spring when the leaves just started to come out on the poplar trees. Two or three days later the leaves were gone because they had all been eaten. It looked like winter again.

I was pretty grossed out by the ubiquitous caterpillars and resented the fact that they were everywhere. I got pretty good at flicking them off of me when they would fall on me as we were walking down the street. Sometimes they would even manage to climb under the door frame and into our apartment.

I'm not sure how we got the idea, but we caught an army worm and kept it in a jar in our apartment for a while. We named it Walter, after my companion's boyfriend. We would look at what the other worms were eating outside and bring it leaves to eat. Over time my attitude changed toward the army worms. I came to appreciate their funky beauty. They are black with orange, blue, and yellow "footprint" marks on their backs. Pretty soon I kind of felt attached to them, especially to Walter.

Walter made a tent one day and turned into an small, ugly light-brown moth. I didn't find out his metamorphosis had completed until he had already tried to fly around the jar so much that he had beat his wings apart against the jar and died. I would have let him go outside if I had known. After seeing the pedestrian brown moth that Walter had turned into, I sort of wished that he were back to being a black colorful caterpillar again.

Here is a Wikipedia article, including a picture of what these guys look like:
There are a few different species mentioned on Wikipedia, but this one looks the most like the way I remember them.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Claims to fame.

I have sort of a mental list of all my claims to fame. Here are some examples:

My grandfather's cousin is a well-known local composer and music educator. He wrote a couple of hymns in the hymnal we use at church.

My high-school counselor's son used to be the boyfriend/drummer of Natalie Merchant.

My mother once sat next to Maurice Abravanel at a party.

I've shaken Thurl Bailey's hand.

I used to go to school with an Osmond nephew.

I knew the guy who plays the snotty blond guy in "Napoleon Dynamite" before he played the snotty blond guy. I went to high school with the girl in the glamor shot in that movie.

I also went to high school with the winner of the reality TV show "The Rebel Billionaire".

My classmate/colleague/friend will be running in the Olympics in Beijing this year.

As you can see, I'm somewhat indirectly connected to fame, but don't have any real claims on it myself. That's probably a good thing.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

One thing I love about my friends

They laugh at my jokes. At least the funny ones.

Seriously, though, it's nice to find someone with whom you connect on a humor level.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Things I didn't know about teachers until I became one

1. Teachers are not always as confident or prepared as they may look.

2. Even when my students don't necessarily tell me what's wrong, I can tell if they are having a problem in their lives because it affects their performance in the class. A lot of times people's performance will be affected by outside circumstances that have little to do with their motivation, study habits, or intelligence.

3. I am surprised how sometimes students will share very personal details of their lives with me, things that, if it were me, I wouldn't tell someone that I didn't know that well. I appreciate their trust.

4. It's not that you are being sneaky and getting away with passing notes or sending text messages in class without us knowing about it. We know about it. We just decided not to do anything about it at the time.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

It's not that I'm not patriotic...

Around this time of year I sometimes get a little uncomfortable about the way some people talk about our country. Don't get me wrong: I am happy that I was born in and am a citizen of the United States. I would like to express my feelings about America and the countries of the world. I think I'll do it as a list.

1. America is a wonderful country, but it's not perfect.
I know that the United States is a unique place. Its government setup allowed for religious freedom at a crucial time in the world's history and paved the way for the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is a very important thing. But, like all countries, we have social problems. Although our Constitution is established by God (D&C 101:80) it is not the perfect form of government, as I understand it. According to my reading of the Book of Mormon, the best form of government is to have a righteous king (cf. Mosiah 29:13), but since it cannot always be guaranteed that kings are righteous, a republic such as the one we have is a relatively good alternate. It bothers me when people say such things as, "If you don't like America move somewhere else," or something like that. It seems to me that the very freedom of speech that is established in our Constitution allows people the right to speak up about things they don't like and make changes in our system for the better.

2. Other countries are good too.
The United States of America is not the only country in the world where people enjoy religious freedom, freedom of speech, and other important protections. These are available in many places in the world. I have spent some serious time in Canada, the Czech Republic, and Mexico, as well as traveling in other countries, and I have never found impediments to my chosen lifestyle. While governmental policies vary from country to country, there are many places in the world where people enjoy freedom.

3. The United States of America does not exclusively contain Zion or the promised land.
The Book of Mormon also teaches that the American continent is a special place. It was a promised land for the Nephite people who left Jerusalem 600 years before Christ and crossed the sea, led by God. It is also the future location of Zion, the New Jerusalem. But the United States of America is not the only nation that participates in these important blessings. After all, the USA was not to be established for hundreds of years after the Book of Mormon took place. It seems to me that the promises extend to all the people and land of the Americas, not just U.S. territory. While the center place of Zion will be located in the area currently known as the United States, Zion is located anywhere her stakes are established. At this time there are stakes of Zion all over the world.

4. Borders are a fluid concept.
When I lived in Canada, I spent several months in Fort Frances, Ontario. Fort Frances is on one side of the border and International Falls, Minnesota, is on the other side. The border between the two countries follows the Rainy River which flows through that area. People from both sides of the border cross freely. For example, people on the Canadian side of the border would often drive over to the American side to get better gas prices. Many Americans would be found living on the Canadian side as well. If I looked out the back window of my apartment, I could see the other side of the river, but if I called the missionaries in that town, it would be an international telephone call. Living in a border town helped me to see how fluid and, in a way, unreal borders between countries are. I once saw a television show about a woman who lives in Mexico. In order to support her children, she crosses the border illegally into the United States every night to sell cigarettes she brings with her. Then she crosses back to Mexico to help her children get off to school in the morning. Obviously, for this woman, the border is not a big obstacle to her way of life. While I don't support illegal actions, I don't see borders as that important either.

It seems to me that the United States is built on a heritage of immigration and accepting people of many different origins, beliefs, and backgrounds. I wonder sometimes as we sing patriotic hymns in church, for example, whether there are people in the congregation who feel unwelcome because they are not from the United States of America. Perhaps such people feel the way I do when I sing "O Canada": I sincerely love and respect the country, and enjoyed living there. I guess I don't feel that you have to feel that your place is better than other places to be patriotic. It should be okay to like more than one country, right?

Addendum: The Wikipedia article on "O Canada" is awesome! I highly recommend that you listen to the recordings at the bottom.