Thursday, February 28, 2008

New Game - Crash! Boom!

Sam has a new game.

First he lines up his bottles.

Then he flings himself head-first and full body into the bottles.

Afterwards, he roll on the floor and laughs and laughs. It's human bowling and for Sam, nothing could be better. And as you can see, he's pretty pleased with this new game.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Twister: An MPAA Guide

Disaster movies fascinate me, especially weather-related ones. Perhaps that fascination comes from growing up in Arkansas and being glued to the weather broadcasts out of Little Rock, watching that little green or red (and never blue) band creep slowly toward my hometown wondering what the sky would dump on us that night. Whatever the cause, watching the world ice over in The Day After Tomorrow is great fun, even if the movie itself is a little plodding and forgettable. I've even gone so far as to prominently include discussion of one of the grandfathers of disaster movies, When Worlds Collide, in an article I wrote because Harry Partch was approached to work on it.

In any case, the movie Twister held a particular fascination for me when it came out because it featured a weather disaster that I had experienced first hand (and would again the following year in even greater detail). I knew that tornadoes were deadly, which made the thrill a little bit deeper. Still, I never realized how scary those images were until I discovered why the MPAA had given it the rating of PG-13:

Rated PG-13 for intense depiction of very bad weather

That's right, not only did it depict weather, but very bad weather. That little qualifier put it over the edge. A movie called "Thunderstorm" would probably only rate a PG.

Monday, February 25, 2008

I'm Reading the Same Thing as Sting

It's true. Now I feel hip. Or at least as hip as a musicologist specializing in 20th century music can ever feel.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Harry Partch Came to Supper Last Night

Sam is certainly on the mend from his recent bout of all-encompassing-kid-sickness. His fever has been down for two days, his spirits have been up for one, and we're back to chasing him around, trying to figure out what to do with this kid.

The fever seems to have knocked something loose in his head or jump started a new developmental leap because since he recovered, he's been obsessed with stories. He's always loved for us to read to him, but now he sits and reads the books to himself, making up stories as he goes along. And last night, the stories spilled over to dinner.

I was telling Joy about my most recent work at school, which invariably involves Harry Partch, when we noticed that Sam was carrying on with an outlandish story even though we were paying him no mind. While I was heating up supper, he had played happily on the kitchen floor with a measuring cup, a spoon, an old spice jar, and a bowl of pita chips. He transfered the chips to the measuring cup, then crushed a few with his spoon, which he then used to transfer said crushed chips into the jar, which he then shook out into the bowl.

You know, he was cooking.

Later, while eating, he was still fascinated by the process of chip movement and so, picking up on my conversation about Harry Partch, began relating how Harry Partch had come over and needed to get some chips but they were broken....

When he realized we were suddenly silent and listening he slyly raised his eyes, grinned, and stopped telling the story. Taking our cue, we continued talking, but were really listening. The story continued with a bird that flew into the kitchen and crunched up the pita chips and then began spilling the chips, but Sam told the bird that, no, he shouldn't spill the chips, but then the bird said he wanted to come and eat with Sam and...

Then the story stopped and Sam went back to stuffing his face. He obviously knows how to start a story, but hasn't fully learned how to stop a story. Or how not to leave plot threads hanging. I mean, what ever happened to Harry Partch?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Big Boy Room - Making Bookshelves to Fit

We're nearing the end of the great transformation of Sam's room as one of the last parts has finally gone into place - the new bookshelves. Joy and I decided that we wanted to put bookshelves on either side of Sam's bed to give him a place to store all his toys besides the floor of our house. We've been working on clean-up time and this seemed a next logical step - not only do we clean up, but everything has a certain place where it needs to go. The only problem with this idea? The space left to us is only about 2 feet wide and we wanted bookshelves that fit exactly.

Enter the need to create new bookshelves.

I decided to make a simple box shelf out of pine since the load the shelves would carry would not be the several feet of hardback books of last fall's built-in bookshelves. Over two feet, pine won't warp and since it is so soft, it is fairly easy to work with.

The wood decided, I measured out plans. 2 feet wide and 6 feet tall fit the wall nicely. I went and bought pre-cut lumber that was a foot wide (which actually meant about 11 1/2 inches actually) and 8 feet tall as well as two sheets of plywood. I bought the 8 foot lumber because when I cut it down to six feet, I ended up with a shelf pre-cut each time.

One of the choices we had to make was whether or not to use movable shelves. Joy wanted to make them adjustable so they would fit Sam as he grew, which I thought was logical, so I also bought metal track like you see to the left along with brackets to hold up the shelves. This meant an extra cut when I was preparing the shelves - I had to make two dado cuts in each side of the casing. I decided to put them relatively close to the edge, as you can see, so they are disguised a bit when you look at the finished piece.

With that choice made, I also had to decide whether or not I wanted these shelves to sit directly on the floor, so the lowest shelf was basically even with the floor, or if I wanted the bottom to be a bit off the floor. While I liked the idea of a flush bottom, just to help Sam get his toys on and off, I liked the look of the raised bottom better and so decided to raise the bottom shelf off the floor by an inch and a half and then make that bottom shelf a fixed one to provide support and stability to the entire cabinet.

That really left only one more decision (I love these types of shelves because they are fairly easy to put together) - the top. I knew that Joy wanted to have display area on the top of the shelf, so I needed to make it a bit decorative. Wanting both to use the same lumber I had bought originally and not make too many extra cuts, I decided to make the top extend out from the sides of the shelves by an inch on each side but be flush at the front and back. To give it a bit of a decorative edge, I used a friend's router table and ran a simple curve around the sides and the front, as you can see to the right. I then attached the tops by countersinking them and filling the holes in with wood filler so you cannot tell where those screws went into the wood, giving Joy the nice, smooth display space she wanted (not that Sam or anyone else my height or shorter will ever see up there.

To give a last bit of stability to the bookshelf casing, I cut the plywood 1/4 inch less than the width and height of the cabinet and attached it to the back using nails about every 3-4 inches, making sure to square the cabinet before nailing. This action really made the piece sturdy.

Then, over the course of two weekends, I conditioned the wood (since pine is so soft and I wanted an even finish), stained it to roughly match the bed that was already in the room, gave it two coats of semi-gloss polyurethane, and took it up to Sam's room:
So far Sam loves being able to access his toys and books that cover the shelves already and we like having said toys and books out from under our feet all over the house. We'll see how long the clean-up lasts once TK arrives, but so far so good.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Sickness Rules Our House

Saturday night we put Sam down and we noticed something strange. Usually as I bathe him and then as we read stories, Sam likes to roll around on the bed and perhaps recite part of the story along with us (for instance, last week when we were reading Sam Loves Kisses, he had to roll over and kiss me for every type of kiss mentioned in the book). But Saturday night he was strangely sedate. When he started waking up every 30 minutes screaming, we knew something was wrong. When we woke up in the middle of the night burning hot, we started pumping the drugs into him.

Turns out that Sam has the flu. Monday I postponed my morning class and stayed home with him. He sat on my lap, reading books or watching TV until he couldn't hold his eyes open anymore and fell asleep on the couch. He did the same thing for Joy yesterday. Joy and I so far have not succumbed to Sam's sickness, but we are washing our hands raw and disinfecting everything Sam touches. As you can imagine, it's been an intense few days at our house.

I could tell things were getting better, though, when he cried out about 4:00 in the morning, "Dada! It's time to get up!" He has missed too much playtime with this sickness and as he comes out of this sickness, I can tell we're going to have to make up for lost time.

Friday, February 15, 2008

China, Can You Hear Me Now?

This morning I discovered something disturbing. People in China cannot read this blog! There is a wonderful website that tests to see if your blog can be accessed in China. As of this afternoon, people in Shanghai could not read my ramblings about Sam, music, comics, and more. I haven't tested Beijing, but I suppose the result would be similar. This means that when you go for the Olympics this summer, you will have to do without my observations for the duration of your visit.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's from S-A-M

I'm not sure how you do it in your house, but in mine, we usually exchange our Valentine's Day cards in the morning. This morning, Joy and I took the Cars cards we had gotten Sam, divided them up, and hid them around the house in a Valentine's Egg kind of way for Sam to find today, and then sat down for breakfast.

Evidently, Joy and Sam were busy yesterday, because when I sat down at my place I found a card Sam had made for me today:The best part about it? Sam signed his name. In the middle of the circle, he took his crayon and intoned S-A-M as he drew those lines. You can even tell what they are if you turn your head sideways. I thought it was too much fun not to share. So here's hoping this little note from S-A-M makes you smile this Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

More on the Harry Potter/Partch Mashup

You may recall that last fall I posted on the glories of the uncyclopedia and specifically their entry on Harry Partch. I still haven't added that last book in the series yet, but it turns out that I might not need to. Around the same time I was sharing with you the joys of mistaking Harrys Partch and Potter, it turns out that someone else was taking the joke to the nth degree. That's right, another blogger created his own series of Harry Partch books with different titles than those found in the uncyclopedia:

Harry Partch and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice (in the EU it is known as "Harry Partch and the Philosopher Symphony")
Harry Partch and the Torture Chamber Music
Harry Partch and the Prisoner of Ausdrucksvoll
Harry Partch and the Guitar of Feuermann
Harry Partch and the Order of Sharps and Flats
Harry Partch and the Half Note Prince
Harry Partch and the Deathly Hockets

If the titles alone don't make you want to go read his treatment of the books, I don't know what will.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


My brother has a small obsession with Lolcats. It started innocently enough, just perusing through icanhascheezburger and finding funny examples and sharing them with friends. Then, he decided to create his own Lolcats, and not just any Lolcats, but an entire transcript of the Star Trek episode "The Trouble with Tribbles." The result was an explosion of popularity so great, that he's even been invited to Harvard for the ROFLcon.

The end result of all this? Today Stephen unveiled LolCards, Valentine-Day themed cards based on Lolcats you can send to your friends. In doing so, he urged us to spread the meme. How can I resist? Go, laugh, send a card. Spread my brother's internet fame as far as you can.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Braveheart: An MPAA Guide

Last week, we watched Mel Gibson's latest movie, Apocalypto (and for some reason, my hands keep wanting to type Apocalypso...that would be a very different movie). We knew going in that it was brutally violent and, yes indeed, it has a scene that makes the infamous heart scene from Indiana Jones of the Temple of doom look tame in comparison. I eagerly watched to see what the MPAA rating would say about this movie. Surely something along the lines of "Rated R for scenes of human sacrifice and hearts being cut out of people." Surely something equally icky. But no, they merely told us it was "Rated R for sequences of graphic violence and disturbing images." We all knew that from the reviews. Where's the creativity, I ask?

Turns out the creativity was with an older Mel Gibson movie that also has sequences of graphic violence and disturbing images, but received this warning instead:

Rated R for brutal medieval warfare

That's right, forget the scenes of torture and disembowelment at the end, it's all about the brutal medieval warfare.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Big Boy Room - Staying in Bed

You may remember that over the past two months we slowly been transforming our guest room into Sam's Big Boy Room in preparation for TK to arrive and move into the nursery in June. When we first moved Sam into the room and onto the Big Boy Bed, he enjoyed his freedom - a bit much you might say. (In fact, the comic Stone Soup had an entire run of comics devoted to the toddler in that strip moving into his Big Boy Bed at the same time we were moving Sam. The best comics that speak so directly to our situation it isn't funny are these two.) Every night he would get off the bed, grab some toys, and have a good time in the dark.

We began to help Sam stay in bed first with the Big Boy Tent. The method that we used with the tent was working wonderfully, but was taking at least 30 minutes between all our staged appearances and snuggling. We had talked abstractly about what to do next, but hadn't made a firm decision.

Last night forced that decision. For my birthday last year, Joy gave me tickets to the local Repertory Theatre. Last night we were scheduled to go see To Kill a Mockingbird, one of our favorite stories. (the play itself was wonderful and the acting convincing but for those pesky accents. Most around us didn't notice, but we know the sound of South Alabama too well to be taken in by faux hick) That meant that we had to have a babysitter put Sam to bed. Jennifer does a wonderful job with Sam and followed our instructions perfectly except that she left the books they read in bed with Sam. She heard him over the monitor talking about what he was reading and she went in, told him a short story, covered him back up, and came back downstairs.

That's right, she left the books in the bed.

But even with the temptation of the books and Jennifer only coming in once and not snuggling, Sam was completely asleep when we got home. We'll probably still want to snuggle (and no telling if he'll do the same for us tonight), but progress is progress.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Music History Listening Journals: The Online Edition

As you may remember, this year I'm participating in a diversity infusion institute in an attempt to be more thoughtful about what I teach and why. Although the process and the meetings have been hard (looking your own prejudices in the face usually is), I've learned a great deal about the way I teach. As part of the course redesign I'm attempting through the institute, I've asked my students to listen to music outside the traditional Western Canon. I provided them a list of recordings from each of the four periods we study (Classical, Romantic, 1900-1945, and Post-1945) and they pick two, listen without expectation (hopefully), write up a response, and then post it on their blog.

This last part is the most radical and potentially most illuminating. I'm forcing them to be accountable for their thoughts and share them with their classmates, who have to comment on at least two other blogs as part of the assignment, as well as, potentially, the entire world.

That's where you come in. They've just completed the first round of listening journals and are busy reading each other's blogs this week. I've set up a portal blog where you can go, see what they have listened to, and read their reactions. Feel free to share the links with friends and comment on any blog posts you find interesting. I think it's going to be an interesting semester.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Harry Partch - The Kithara

As you might have noticed by now, many of Partch's instruments went through several versions, creating a bit of confusion regarding their numbering. We've seen the different Adapted Guitars and Chromelodeons; today's instrument has a less twisted history, but still comes in many flavors.

The Kithara is, along with the Chromelodeon, one of Partch’s oldest instrumental conceptions. In 1934, he traveled to England under the Carnegie Corporation in order to study tuning at the British Library and attempt to develop a justly-tuned instrument. That fall he met Kathleen Schlesinger, a musicologist and ancient Greek scholar who had built several replicas of Greek instruments and written about her findings in the Encyclopedia Britannica. Partch was ecstatic to make her acquaintance and eager to see the Kithara she had constructed out of wood from an orange box using the pictures on Greek vases as her guide. They met for tea, shared sketches of instruments, and Partch left wanting to construct his own Kithara.

He was attracted to the instrument because of its Greek origins and the knowledge of Greek tuning he gained that fall in the British Library. In 1938, he built his first Kithara, an alto version of the instrument, and began using it in his Americana compositions almost immediately. It was a large instrument, almost six feet tall, and served him well until 1952, when he restrung and retuned it. In the process of adapting the Kithara I, he realized he wanted more bass resonance, and so, in 1954 in Sausalito, California, he built the seven-foot tall Kithara II as a bass instrument.

Both Kithara I and Kithara II use seventy-two guitar strings arranged vertically in twelve groups of six strings each. Eight of these hexads are tuned to fixed pitches, while the remaining four use moveable pyrex rods to change the pitches during performance, resulting in a sound similar to that of a slide guitar.

By 1972, he decided to replicate the Kithara I in order to make a stronger, more playable instrument that had increased resonance. As he often remarked, he didn't have 200 years of manufacturing know-how behind him as piano makers do, so he needed a little trial and error to sort things out.

This excerpt is from Partch's And on the Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma and features the Kithara II accompanied by the Marimba Eroica. You'll notice the Kithara II because of the alternation of delicate plucked strings that swoop and swerve thanks to the pyrex rods along with sweeping chords along the hexads:

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Simpsons Movie: An MPAA Guide

Last night, after Sam was in bed, Joy and I sat down to watch The Simpsons Movie. Joy was bustling about, so I watched the previews and got the movie cued to the opening. As I was wading through all the material, I noticed the MPAA warning for the movie:

Rated PG-13 for irreverent humor throughout

I've always enjoyed the MPAA ratings for their reasons. For instance, never mind that there is a bit of cussing and and violence and (cartoon) nudity in The Simpsons Movie. No, the MPAA is worried that young children and their parents need to know that the movie makes fun of everything from McDonald's type restaurants to the EPA (and the DVD gets its dig in at the EPA from the very beginning). Isn't that kinda what The Simpsons are known for and haven't they been around for 20 years?

I love the unintentional humor of the MPAA so much, that when I come across a particularly wonderful warning, I'll post it here for your enjoyment. Any suggestions for future posts are welcome as well through the comments.

Friday, February 1, 2008

At least it wasn't Yellow

This morning, I took Sam to Kindermusik and then we ran by my office to pick up a few papers I needed to grade an a new DVD of Schoenberg's Moses und Aron that I'm watching this afternoon in preparation for a review (that's right, I spend my Friday afternoon watching obscure 20th century opera - what do you do, watch Maury?)

As we were coming out of my building, we encountered a snowbank, so Sam did what he always does - he made a withdrawal. By the time we got to the car, his feet and legs were covered in snow. As I was unlocking the door, I looked over and noticed that he was scraping the snow off his legs and eating it. "Yucky!" I proclaimed. "We don't eat snow off the parking lot!" I scooped him up, brushed him off as best I could, and started strapping him into his car seat.

At that moment, Sam reached down, scraped the bits of snow clinging to the bottom of his shoe, and shoved them in his mouth, looking at me expectantly all the while. I guess a little snow/gravel/insect parts mixture never hurt anyone too much.