Friday, March 31, 2006

Getting into Pandora's Box (of Music)

You might have a wide variety of music on your computer or in the sleeves of your CD holder, but imagine having someone play online DJ for you, knowing just what kind of music you like. Providing that service is the idea of Pandora, a free online service that plays songs on a “station” that you create by simply indicating a song or artist that you like. You hear musicians you knew about already, but they mingle with artists and songs new to you. A recent experience: I created a station (you can have many) based on the music of The Ditty Bops (in the photo), and here are the artists who followed: The Ditty Bops, Tiffany Anders*, Erin McKoewn*, AMFM*, The Beautiful South*, Maplewood*, New Grass Revival, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Adrienne Young*, and Greencard*. All the ones marked (*) were new to me, but all were in keeping with the musical style of The Ditty Bops. It’s something you can get into, but be careful; you know what happened when the other Pandora's box was opened.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Satisfactory Condon

Today was officially assessment day, when students take exams to give us an idea of how they are progressing at the university, and usually professors have a day to catch up, take a few deep breaths, and prepare themselves to push through to the end of the semester.

But today about 2o of us spent our day in workshops, including one by Bill Condon, the director of writing programs at Washington State U. We got new ideas about teaching critical thinking and creating assignments that "blow the walls out" of the classroom by using technology. Most importantly, we got some very good guidance on what dimensions critical thinking might take. Sounds good. We'll see how it pans out here.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

De echte Smaak van Chocolade

The taste of Holland has just about left my taste buds completely, now that the last of the rich and decadent Droste chocolates is gone. The remnants of that treat will stay on my middle for a while, though, among my souvenirs.
In the meantime, Brach's Easter eggs will have to do, though it's a sad and inglorious state of affairs.
Look at the two websites listed above, however, and you will see how much more seriously one company takes its chocolate than the other. Posted by Picasa

Monday, March 27, 2006

Lost in the Fog Again

The fog came in on Madison this evening, and after singing there was a little driving through it, moisture on the windshield and on the hood, everything wet and dark. This afternoon reminded me, with the moisture, the low clouds and quiet, of my two years in Germany, except that there in Friedburg we always had the twin smells of diesel fumes and beet processing. Neither of these is much of a problem here.

And now, tonight, a PBS special on Eugene O'Neill, and a reading of part of Long Days Journey Into Night, in which a character describes his sense of being "lost in the fog again." It's been a long time since I taught an O'Niell play, too long.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Hidden Where I Can See

Sunday afternoon, grading papers, hoping for the wind to go down, listening to Bruce Springsteen, Devils and Dust, thinking about acts of hatred, countered with acts of kindness, counting up and keeping a tally--against my better sensibilities. Behind my computer monitor where only I see them are copies of two poems, "Ask Me," by William Stafford, and "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," by W. B. Yeats, dreams of peace and no way to say it out loud. There too is a copy of a morning resolution by Jissen Rinri Kesikai:
For today, this very day
I will work happily and willingly with gratitude towards society, teachers, and parents.
For today, this very day
I will not speak ill of others nor glory in myself.
For today, this very day
I will not become angry nor dissatisfied.
For today, this very day
I will not be wasteful whether it is of a material thing, or my mind. Today will be a new day.

This piece is from my host during short stay in Yokohama, Japan--Seiji Ikeda. Just a reminder, for you and me, the weight in the acts of love, generosity, and kindness, the only way to counter hatred.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Louvre's Ingres, Lush Skin and Fabric

When we were in Paris (I just love saying that), our ticket to the Louvre included the special collection of paintings by someone unfamiliar to me, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Everywhere we went, images of a nude woman, looking back over her shoulder, had advertised the show. When we finally stumbled into the lower level of the Louvre, after nearly seven hours of viewing the arts, to see what the fuss was about, we were stunned at both the quality and the quantity of these paintings. Now an article and a slide show by The New York Times offer a glimpse into the man and his work. Those who had come to see that show in the Louvre, primarily a French audience, apparently knew what they were coming for. I was bowled over by the dramatic quality of the work and by the sheer number of them, including several portraits of Napoleon.
Here are two of my favorites. If you want to check it out, read the article and view the slide show: Ingres at the Louvre: His Pursuit of a Higher Reality, an art review by Michael Kimmelman.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Elmo, Barn Burning, and a Bright Light

Today I had to reach back into my old bag of tricks for my technological wizardry. Juice wasn't going to help me here. I wanted to show Faulkner's "Barn Burning" in my American Literature class, a good film version of the classic story, one made as part of PBS's American Short Story series back 30 years ago, almost. But lo, it wasn't on VHS. It was on 16mm in our library! Gadzooks! So I checked the video stores in town to no avail, then humped my hinder over to the library and dragged the film, a takeup reel, and the two-ton Elmo projector across campus to the classroom. I tried it out. Fine. But Mr. R. came by and asked, "You had any trouble yet?" "No," I said, "things are working fine!" Smile! Then the bulb burned out. A phone call, a trip back to the library. A hunt through dusty boxes. A trip in the elevator, more boxes. But then, there it was!
So, back to the classroom, a few moments putting the light in, a trial run, and students filtering in, some of them about to watch their first ever 16mm film. It all went without a hitch, and many of them, watching a very young Tommy Lee Jones, forgot about the clatter and rattle of the old projector. And, even though I didn't run it backward to give them what the wife says is the best part of watching old films, I think it was good.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Juiced and Loaded for Podcasts

My friend and colleague Dan gave a presentation yesterday on podcasting (which you can see outlined on his blog) which inspired me to download Juice and try out subscribing to some podcasts. So far I've checked out the stories at WGBH and downloaded some of their morning stories to my computer and transferred them to my iRiver so I can listen to them at my leisure. I'm feeling very tech-savvy, thank you. If you check out DanToday, you too can follow his advice.
Download Juice, the cross-platform podcast receiver

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Five Dollar Motorcycle

When my old 1958 Jayhawk speedboat gave out, I took it to the community auction and, like so often happens, I spotted just the thing I needed, three old Hondas. One was this beauty, a 1970 SL 350, which I got for five bucks since it didn't apparently, um, run. The other two were similar 350's one a CB (road bike) and one a CL (scrambler). Funny how things quit running and people don't want them any more. But lo and behold I got this one to go, so it had a new life for a while, buzzing up and down the hills on the farm. The other two weren't so lucky, kind of like the guy who bought the speedboat. I felt guilty as his kids were begging to take it to the lake that afternoon. That story wasn't going to have a happy ending. Then again, the guy who sold the bikes probably thought the same thing. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A Woman to Chew Your Boots

While in the dentist’s chair again today (the last time for a while, I hope), I watched a bit of a 1933 movie, Eskimo, directed by W.S. Van Dyke. It looked like a good, straightforward bit of storytelling that sought to depict the Eskimos as a people whose culture suffered once it came into contact with white administrators. A line that stuck out, though, was this: “A man needs a good woman up here to sew, chew his boots, and cook.”

Monday, March 20, 2006

Spring Motorvation

Spring comes around and it's time to think about the wind in your hair, so three of my six brothers just got motorcycles. One got a Ducati screamer, another got a BMW, and the third got a Honda Goldwing. Two of these are in California, where they can actually ride most of the year, and the other is in southwest South Dakota, where it's balmy a lot more often than here. But still, I've got a bit of an itch, thinking about having a motorcycle again, despite my dismal record as a bike owner.

My first was a BSA, which I traded for a clunker Honda 305. I had a Honda Trail 90 for a while, and a Honda 100 that I owned for years after rebuilding it. None was much of a bike.

But my summer ride is, for now, still a 1959 VW dune buggy, purple metal flake, a little jolt of adrenaline every time you hit the gas or whip around a corner. Sure, it's still in the barn, waiting for spring, but it's ready to go. So am I.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Paris Protests

The night before we left Paris, we kept seeing police cars and hearing sirens, and it turns out it was the first of the protests over the proposed law concerning young people and employment. One of us wanted to check out the action, but the other thought that we should keep our heads down, have a little something to eat, and prepare for our return trip. That someone prevailed.

It appears we were in the heart of the action, right near the Sorbonne. The protestors apparently destroyed a McDonald's, perhaps the one near the internet place we used. Check out these images from the BBC on the latest protests.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Brother, Can You Spare 2:37?

In Paris, we enjoyed the street and metro musicians and managed to record a few on the street, in metro stations, and in the trains. Many were very good. Here is a mix of those musicians, created with Audacity. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Way the World Looks from Here

General Beadle, at left, serves as an emblem for today's lesson on perspective. This morning, in Beadle Hall, Dr. J. was addressing his students in a nearby classroom about the importance of understanding different perspectives. Who is pretty? Who is handsome? What is a lot of money? How tall is a tall woman? They talked about their answers (including how men either say that they are handsome or don't say anyone). But the message came across--everyone has their own perspective. Again, at a meeting this afternoon, some noted how many people chose not to come, and what they said to excuse their choice. They saw things differently than we did. L. told a story about how women were manhandled on a trip to Mexico and how customs officers gave them a talking-to on their return. Finally, an art display by students gave a final illustration. One class painted versions of a statue of Gen. B., left. Each showed a distinct style and color--from a Stalin-era pro-Soviet propaganda poster style to an Easter Island looking figure. And then, when our group was looking them over, we all chose different ones as the best.

We all get to say our say. Who speaks for us all?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Moonrise on a Long Day

Sometimes the day just isn't long enough. Sometimes it's too long. Sometimes it's just right. Today was a little long, and after meetings, class, more meetings, I headed home late and came around the final stretch to home and the rising moon came into view as you see here, a scene that always quiets me down, eases me back, reminds me that the world is just turning, and I'm nothing much on it. The streetlights can't do it, but the moon, coming big and bright like a gentle cow heading in from the pasture, never fails to put a good end to the day.
Having a few friends over for a great supper, having other friends pop in unexpectedly, and having good news in the mail all helps too. Amen. Posted by Picasa

The Good Thing about Root Canals

Mostly root canals pose an ugly business; in addition to the pain that comes before, you have shots in the gums, drilling, nasty smells, your mouth hanging open for the world to see. Your shirt might get wrecked from a chemical spill. You miss work, have a mouth that's numb for a day, aching for a day or two, and a tooth that now will probably begin to turn brittle. At least it stops hurting.

On the other hand, you may have a spouse that sees your situation as a good reason to make homemade tomato soup so you don't have to chew! Posted by Picasa

Monday, March 13, 2006

Sights and Sounds of Paris

Here's the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. I took my iRiver player with me, and I recorded some of the mass that we went to on Sunday night last week. It came out pretty well, so here's a little sample.

Played by Olivier Latry, the organ sounds great, does it not? The first minute is a little tentative, and I cut what I think is the Lord's Prayer out of the middle (no organ), and the rest is the real deal. Here it is.  Posted by Picasa

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Flying in the Same Direction

Paris was a lot on my mind over the weekend, thoughts of the ease at which the big city seems to work, millions of people coming and going in the metro, the streets, the museums, the monuments, the roundabouts, all of it dependent on people generally following the rules. People didn't make trouble. They might honk at each other on the streets or shove a little in the metro stations, but they didn't threaten one another, and the night streets didn't seem dangerous--no rowdy gangs staggering along drunk. The only loud drunks I saw was a group of American girls in prom dresses, their arms bare on the cold night, staggering arm in arm through the night. They looked like trouble, but they were an anomaly.

It was that way on the plane ride home, too, pretty much everyone staying in line getting on and off, keeping quiet when most were sleeping on the long flight, waiting patiently at the toilets, and speaking in low tones. One Romanian woman, during the final taxi before we arrived at the gate, quickly unbuckled her seat belt and rose to get her bags ready, but she was the only one, and when she looked around and saw she was alone, she followed the directions of the flight attendant and sat back down.

Today I thought of all this again while in church, all of us in our pews trying to keep on the same path, point ourselves in the same direction. I thought of it too driving along a slippery road in the snow, with other drivers taking caution for themselves and others. It takes someone to lead us in these endeavors, but it also takes a commitment to the societies that we live in, a belief that having our own way about things has to take a back seat to making things work for everyone. It might be eleven million people making the metro work, or it might be a few cars creeping along a snowy road, but we follow the rules set down because the rules make things work.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Two Kids of Luck

We got home last night after a long haul, grateful to Tom and Karen who came down to SF to get us, droopy and sleepy, two kids of luck who made it home safely from Paris, ready to take on Madison once again. These are just a few photos, with more to come, of our stay. Here you see us near the Eiffel Tower on our first day in town, some boys charging down the straightaway on some pedal cars near the tower, me looking over some produce at a vendor, and the wonderful breakfast as it was brought to our room every morning by the great staff at the Agora St. Germain Hotel, not four blocks from Notre Dame and the Pantheon. How about some fresh coffee and croissants every morning, brought to your room? Sound like a vacation?

Enjoy! I'll have more to say later. Now there's the matter of unpacking.

 Posted by Picasa

Thursday, March 09, 2006

A Last Word from Paris (for now)

Here we sit in the little internet cafe, with 99 other computer users around us while Paris waits for our last onslaught. Tomorrow we head for home. We've worn our feet and legs nearly to the bone, but our heads are full of the sights and sounds and tastes of the city. More will come. We should have pictures and sound to tickle your senses. Sorry, no tasty treats for you readers. Friends at home, however, may get a treat if they greet us with "bon jour!" when we return. We, on the other hand, have some apple pastries from the best patisserie in Paris, the one in Montparnasse.

If you're a Paris reader, you can use the last of my minutes by using my username of wcneub and my password of htkgtx. I should have about 25 minutes left! It's at the XS Arena at St. Michel. If you look around right now, I'm the guy with the beautiful woman at my side. Later!

Monday, March 06, 2006

A Word From Paris

They finished to Eiffel Tower in time for the wife and I to get to the top and look over the city. It's a great place to travel, see the sites, and eat good food. So far we have been busy. Today we went up to the Sacre Coeur up in Montmartre, climbed around the city, ate at the Deux Moulins, where they filmed part of Amelie, went over to the flea market at St. Ouen, walked around St. Germaine to Montparnasse to Hemingway's haunts, saw the St. Surplice, walked some more, took a break at our great hotel, the Agora St. Germaine, and then walked over at dark back to the river, stopped at the Shakespeare and Co. bookstore, walked across the island to the rive droit, then back across the Pont Nuef bridge (just refurbished), and then back as far as this internet spot where I thought it was time to check in here. No chance for pictures, sound, or video yet, but they're coming.

We're good here. The legs are holding out.

Note--this was just today! Yesterday was just as busy. Whew!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Finished in 1889, 2.5 Million Rivets Later

Almost as old as our university, the Eiffel Tower was a marvel of engineering, standing tall with its 2.5 million rivets.

You can find pictures of it anywhere, but I thought these photos depicting its being built were fun, one man's vision taking shape to become the first thing we envision if we've never visited Paris.

I'll comment here a week from now on what the new vision is. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

In Without Knocking

Me and the little woman moseyed over to J and C's place for a fine evening meal with TQ, good conversation and laughter. Telling stories and eating spaghetti, playing with the weiner doggie and topping things off with some dandy Eli's cheesecake. Oh, my. With blueberries.

The conversation turned somehow, from computers and teaching, to the wild west, Charlie Russell and roping grizzly bears. Now how did that happen? Badger led us there, and o-possum, who seems to have come to South Dakota from out of the south. J got out his picture book, Before Barbed Wire, and we mused over some old western photos and Russell's In Without Knocking, which I was thinking appeared on a Pure Prairie League album cover, but it was on a Mission Mountain Wood Band album, which you can see here. A big saaaa-lute to the internet.