Sunday, December 23, 2007

2007 Top Ten Photos

Ten is an arbitrary number of course, but it seems like a nice way to look back over the year without flooding the blog. (I started by picking "favorites" and had over 40!) There were no particular criteria -- some landscape, some personal and some just those lucky captured moments. They are in chronological order.

This is Ellie's first Valentine's Day card:

The Chain Bridge and Hapsburg Castle in Budapest, in May. My first trip. (This was actually shot with one of those point and shoot cameras that fit into a pocket.)

Independence Square in Kiev, just about ten days after Budapest. Funny how the crappiness of jetlag is canceled out by just being somewhere new -- the photos from the first few days turned out well despite how I remember feeling.
Procession at the Kiev Caves Monastery:

Anton, at the local swimming hole. What a wonderful Norman Rockwell like picnic we had that day in a village with a public well and the cows were walked home in the evening. The whole town was out swimming.

At my mother-in-law's first college. We stumbled upon an end-of-the year concert. This was the Ukrainian music group.

At Sofia's old school in Odessa. This girl was enjoying a moment on the last day of classes.

There were a ton of characters at the Privoz Market in Odessa. I like how the cake lady looks like her work.

Downtown Manhattan, after a walk on the Brooklyn Bridge:

Hungarian Science Academy, October:

Friday, December 21, 2007

Old First Impressions

I had the camera at work today for the Holiday Party and took a shot of our trading floor. My seat is way off in the background behind the pillar near the top center; this is one of the trading rows on a tranquil day (other than hundreds of kids fueled up on cotton candy).

I wish I'd gotten a good photo back before we had flat screens. The best first impression of the floor I ever heard (second hand) was that of a colleague's mother over a decade ago: "My God. It's a digital sweatshop!".

Sunday, December 2, 2007

`Tis the Season

Nice snowy day here in the city, and we trimmed the tree.

Ellie seems to be getting more involved in Christmas this year:

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Radioactive Ironies

This weekend Ellie has been off to her Baba's in Brighton Beach, leaving us the chance to wake from from a nap at 7:10pm and catch our friends' new play Atomic Farmgirl just down on 78th St and Broadway at 7:30. (You might think that living in NYC we do this sort of thing all the time, but life doesn't quite work out that way.)

The play is adapted from the book by Teri Hein. From the play I learned that the majority of the weapons-grade plutonium for the US arsenal was processed in Hanford, Washington. The site was operational from 1943-1987.

It was and is a disaster. It wasn't until the Freedom of Information Act of 1986 (the year of the Chernobyl Meltdown) that area residents learned that over 600,000 curies of radiation had been leaked during the site's lifetime. Sometimes deliberately -- get this -- to study how radioactive clouds and particles would propagate, "in the real world".

By contrast, Three Mile Island leaked between 15 and 24 curies and hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated. (By contrast further, Chernobyl leaked 18 million curies.)

Quite obviously the play had a lot of cancer victims. The WWII vet who had been stationed outside Hiroshima was not one of them.

Like all well-told stories, there was more than one. The local history was put into context: in the 1940s it had been less than 100 years since the "treaties" (slaughter) of the local indigenous tribes, making the meta-theme "don't be in denial when you're in a war for your survival".

Oh, and you can't trust the government. (Note however, the Freedom of Information Act was passed during the Reagan administration, probably about when the Iran-Contra deals were going on.)

In a lighter moment of the evening, the characters were reminiscing about their "Emergency Preparedness" float at the 196x Flag Day parade. The supply list ran saltines...check, board games...check, ..., bible.... Sofia laughed: the Soviet bomb shelters were the same, except for the Bible.

Godless commies. Good thing we won, eh?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Hope her D students don't read the paper

As you might imagine, articles on the local public schools are starting to grab my attention.

I couldn't get more than a couple paragraphs into this one before breaking into a fit of "did she really just say that?" laughter.

So when Ellen Foote, the school’s veteran principal, received a copy of the school’s new report card from the city’s Education Department, she was taken aback at the letter grade: D.

“It is just so demoralizing to have a number or grade assigned that is just sort of trivializing things,” Ms. Foote said. “It doesn’t reflect, I think, the valuable work and the very complicated work that we do here.”

I can't even enumerate the lines of questioning one could take from here....

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Monday, October 22, 2007

Native New Yorker

Buying flowers and a card for her Baba's birthday last week.

Was a welcome sight for the on-the-road Papa. It was basically at this point that I started to 'get' the point of cell phone cameras.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Better than a Birth Announcement

Ellie's sense of humor has made the NY Times. (OK, maybe she was being perfectly serious....)

We are, of course, fantastically proud.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Last Lectures

I've seen a couple of blog posts about the Last Lecture of Dr. Randy Pausch at Carnegie Mellon.

For me, at least, it was more notable for what wasn't said. In the video, Dr. Pausch seems to be upbeat and even chipper. Even on my best days, I'm not nearly as confident or positive.

Maybe one's perspective changes when confronted with a terminal illness, or maybe he was feeding off the energy of the audience (one of the things I enjoy about teaching), but I think it's too much of a longshot to count on a personality change when confronted with such a challenge. Indeed, if I recall correctly from Tuesdays with Morrie, even Morrie Schwarz allowed himself a few minutes of sadness and self-pity every day.

Which reminded me that while we can all admire and be inspired from people like Dr. Pausch and Morrie, in the end, particularly in our most vulnerable moments, we have to live and deal with who we are. And our choices should probably realistically reflect our tendencies and limitations.

Which, as you might expect, got me thinking....

Which.....eventually....reminded me that I've been to a Last Lecture, although we didn't know it till after the fact.

In the fall of 1989 as a college junior, I took Analytical Mechanics from Dr. Lewis Salter. Dr. Salter, of course, was a man of a different generation, born in 1926 and spent most of his life in liberal arts colleges in the Midwest. He was President of Wabash College from 1978-1989, but if he was famous it was certainly in a pre-internet and more centralized media environment. (There seems to have been no New York Times obituary -- the only search result is in -- what else -- an article about Wabash remaining all male.)

Some time in 1988 or early 1989 he too was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and must've thought about his Last Lecture. His decision was to resign the Presidency and return to teaching. We were a class of 8 physics majors, and if I recall correctly, his only teaching course. It was a bit of a thrill to have a college president calibre person as an instructor. After all, two years before he had "rang in" our freshman class with the 1830's Caleb Mills bell.

Dr. Salter was, as you might expect, "old school": chalk and blackboard for him, paper and pencil for students, and 'thinking' for us all. If he lectured from notes, they were minimal -- his was the 19th and early 20th century style of lecturing. But it's the style I admire the most when done right. Like Tibetan Mandalas, physical truths were shared only to be erased from the blackboard to be carried forth by the students.

Sometime in October of that year, Dr. Salter became too ill to teach and died within a week of missing his first class. Our replacement instructor was a retired professor of the same vintage. We had a moment of silence, then on with the lecture.

I had heard that we was still working on research problems "to the end", and only now (yes, thanks to the internet) learned that he published a paper posthumously on solutions to Schrödinger's equation. This equation, incidentally, was proposed by Erwin Schrödinger in 1926, the year Dr. Salter was born. It mentions right in the abstract that "The approach is aimed at student exploration...."

Dr. Salter was only 63 when he died (he seems much older in my memory), and he did not have any young children at that point in his life. So I imagine that to some extent he had greater choice in how his last year would be spent. And even though he chose to return to an ordinary classroom of Waugh Hall overlooking the autumn tinged Wabash mall, his Last Lecture deserves mention on the 'blogosphere' as much as anyone's.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Co-op Blog

Decided to try a joint blog for the co-op. Updates on herding and taming just four of NYC's three year-olds will be posted here.

Managment Material?

OK, so tomorrow is Day 1 of a three-part management skills workshop at work. Today I took an online "test" to figure out what type of person I am.

Turns out it's Creative. Great!

When it comes to my "i dimension" (i=influence) the report says that the words that best describe me are
  • pessimistic
  • aloof
  • withdrawn
  • self-conscious
  • reticent
Geez. Does it count if I'm able to laugh at this?

Seen on city streets...

Looks like Ellie's future license plate is already taken:

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Welcome To School

Well, after seven months of planning over Sunday brunches, we'll be starting our pre-school co-op tomorrow, with three other families in the (greater) neighborhood.

It will probably be ad-lib for several weeks, as getting four three-year-olds to more-or-less do something (desirable) together at the same time is probably a bit ambitious for now.

But we do have a School Song, Welcome to School, written by Karen and arranged by me. We're going to work out the bridge a bit more (this came to me as a voicemail from Sofia's cell phone). But here was the premiere just this morning:

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Guitar Man 2004

I actually found the video capture file on our hard drive from the time we took Ellie there when she was four days old. Somehow I managed to turn on the camera for this song -- some sort of divine luck, because I certainly didn't record everything and cherry pick this:

Though I started going in the summer of 2001 -- my personal annus horribilis -- this may be why such days in the park are hormonally imprinted into all of us...

The song is I Can't Wait and is one of David's originals.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Art Scene

Awhile ago I was flipping through an art book at home, and quite accidently stumbled upon this:

I about jumped out of my chair. You see, that was painted in 1974, and today, the scene looks like this:
I walk by here every day that I leave our apartment as this is 79th Street and Broadway; when I come home from work, I exit the subway right there.

It's not that different, of course. But I never expected to see part of my day-to-day life in art books.

The former is a painting by Richard Estes, who apparently lives somewhere in the neighborhood, because there are nearly a dozen such paintings, based on photos that he took up and down Broadway for the past 35 years.

Here is one looking uptown at 79th and Broadway: and here it is today (from not quite the same angle):

When I've seen these 20th century photo-quality paintings in museums, I've always sort-of wondered "What's the point?".

But at least today, I smiled a bit more than usual walking up and down Broadway, thinking that it's both changed and not changed over my lifetime.

And I wonder, if people like this had stumbled across themselves in a museum in the 1560s, would they think there's a point?

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Saturday In the Park

We've had a beautiful Labor Day Weekend here in the City. We spent all of Saturday afternoon on "the hill" overlooking Central Park Lake listening to That Guitar Man, otherwise known as David Ippolito.

It's hard to know what part was best:
  • The music
  • The mixture of tourists and locals, saris and jeans
  • The guy who looked like Rupert Murdoch, telling strangers he used to work on Wall Street, but was there alone and fell asleep curled up like a baby
  • The fact that he emptied his guitar case of donations and bought everyone hot dogs
  • You never know who's in the audience, like Sid Bernstein
  • Or who might sing, like Christine Lavin
  • Or singing along to someone's wedding dance -- this couple was from Bristol, England

  • Or just watching your child, who you first brought here at age four days, dance in the sun-dappled shade to Jack and Diane, seeing that even growing up in the Big Apple she'll know something sweet about the Heartland [at 2:30].

    I took some video on our little Canon point & shoot. The quality isn't so good, partly from the technology of converting it to mpeg, and partly because it's always better to just be there.

    Nonetheless, I hope some of the magic makes it through:

  • Saturday, August 25, 2007

    They're Gr-r-reat!

    I was watching the Little League World Series today while eating lunch with Ellie, and saw this during the commercials:

    Now I don't know about you, but the first thought to my mind was, "Man, even Tony's been popping the 'roids?!".

    You decide. Here's a box of Tony's from 1987:

    And they say "there's no cereal box immortality" for Mr. Bonds.

    Sunday, July 8, 2007

    Once a band geek...

    By the end of high school, I'd had enough of the whole marching band scene. But at one point I was interested enough to follow the Drum and Bugle Corps -- these are near-professional über-bands that do nothing but practice a 15 minute show 15 hours a day for 2-3 months every summer. Besides, at the time Bloomington had its own new ("corporate-sponsored") corps, Star of Indiana, and hosted a summer competition. Drum corps tapes were passed from walkman to walkman (remember those? -- they were new then) on band trips.

    At some point, it all seemed a bit cult-ish. Or maybe it was just part of going off to college (one that didn't have a marching band, I might add). So, for twenty years I really hadn't thought much about drum lines, 8-to-5 steps, or how polyester is not breezy in August, but porous in November.

    But now it's high school reunion time, which means you get some sort of Biological Condition that makes you remember these things. Problem now is that we have Google and You Tube, so in a matter of minutes I was watching old shows from the 80's and forwarding links to friends. Shortly after that, I was searching for the nearest show to NYC.

    And so, last night we ended up in Allentown, Penn. at the DCI Eastern Classic, watching and listening to people who weren't even born the last time I'd seen a show. For those of you who haven't experienced 100+ drummers and buglers blasting away into your face, here's an excerpt of the Phantom Regiment's show:

    After twenty years of abstinence, it was intoxicating. Even if we were sitting on the minus-ten yard line. That's right, we had a dead-on view of the goalposts; every high-school band student from 200 miles around must've bought tickets early.

    For any fellow band geek out there, here's a brief review:

    • The Madison Scouts still seem to be all-male. And they were the only corps to take advantage of their chorale warm-up by warming up the crowd. Tricky, but good.
    • Santa Clara Vanguard, for me, remains high-performance but somehow not completely satisfying.
    • Carolina Crown (which I don't think existed "back then") was sweet and wonderful musically. They were the only ones that had the crowd leaping to their feet on the last note -- no cerebral delay due to high-brow music.
    • Phantom Regiment still rocks. Wow.
    • The Cadets (aka "Garfield"). Hmm. Being twenty years older, I now recognize the genotype: they are the FIJIs or Goldman Sachs of drum corps. Arrogant, but undeniably a fine machine. But this year it's their show that's annoying -- they've got some narration being amplified all throughout their show. It's full of clichés, self-satisfaction ("Excellent!" it shouts at one point) and has way too many over-aspirated Ps that Pop and Pound till all you want to say is "Puck off!". The anti-Cadets faction (which is probably most other corps) is putting out "Shut up and Play" tee shirts. That's pretty succinct and right on.

    Sadly, the Cadets appear to have won, with Phantom Regiment finishing second. Just as well that we didn't stay for the scores, but then that was never the point for me anyway.

    Thursday, July 5, 2007


    Somewhere in the last couple of weeks I passed my fourth anniversary of re-starting piano lessons. It's been fantastic (well, maybe not for the neighbors), and I now approach the piano in a way I couldn't have imagined even existing. (That's not to say I play better than I can imagine.)

    By now I've heard the same aphorisms many times. (My teacher is very patient.) And they're not only worth hearing again from time to time, but worth writing down lest I forget. If they seem like Zen Koans to you, then you've got a good idea of what this trip has been like.

    Thou shalt Not Reach.

    I don't go the notes. The notes come to me.

    The faster I play, the slower I move.

    Speed is only a state of mind.

    The preparation is in the opposite direction of the intent: to go right, first go left.

    The shortest distance between two points is a curve.

    Any muscle that's not helping is hurting.

    If you spend 15 minutes in the gym, you've spent 15 minutes practicing the piano.

    One doesn't play the piano with the fingers. They may touch the keys, but the playing comes from all of you.

    People confuse mechanics and technique. Mechanics is how to play the written notes; technique is the ability to achieve your intent.

    Music is comprised of Breath, Tone and Pulse. If any of those are missing, it's dead.

    There is Structural Analysis, Harmonic Analysis and then there is Emotional Analysis.

    The great pianists aren't making it look easy; it IS easy. (For them, of course.)

    "Genius" is mostly wrongly applied to music. Playing the piano is learning a craft, and that can be taught.

    It's as if our bodies are built perfectly for playing: every joint, muscle and tendon is used in beautiful playing.

    Understanding is not the same thing as accomplishing.

    OK, so the last one is mine. At best, I think I now have an understanding. The accomplishing may take the better part of a decade, but I'm looking forward to it.

    Friday, June 29, 2007

    Kiev Photo Highlights

    I've made a photo show of the Kiev portion of our trip. It can be downloaded from here for the next 7 days. Be sure to save it with a .exe extension. (And, sorry, this is a Windows executable.)
    There's music, so have the speakers on.

    Tuesday, June 26, 2007

    God Save What, Exactly? And How?

    This photo was a keeper. Apparently the UK is launching some new "hunter/killer" submarine. All fine and good, as far as defense spending goes.

    But check out the goofy smile on the clergyman, happily shepherding the nuclear reactor and tomahawk missiles to sea. He's either so giddy from being next to Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, or from being in the papers that he somehow missed the fact that the tenets of Christianity have nothing to do with anything "hunter/killer".

    Pure irony, isn't it? Another fine example of what institutionalized religion can achieve.

    I started keeping an eye out for these situations a few years ago after reading an introduction to post-modernism. While I think I learned that there must be dozens of vague and not-necessarily-compatible meanings, one thing that stuck is that in a "post-modern" world, "traditional" symbols show up in all kinds of nonsensical -- that is, to say "ironic" -- places.

    One of the authors collected clippings and photos of this sort of irony. My favorite example was from a trip to Japan: in Tokyo he found a pendant with Santa Claus nailed to the cross.

    Now I wonder if the Japanese pendant-maker wasn't so far off-base.

    Sunday, June 24, 2007


    Although two-thirds of my household speaks Russian, I haven't picked up much. What I do know tends to be things you say to young children ("Careful!", "That's garbage, come over here!"). And then there are the odds and ends that are usually not very useful in adult conversation.

    One such word is tarakan, meaning "cockroach". I learned this from a cartoon version of one of Chukovsky's tales. The gist of the story is that all the animals in the forest -- lions, bears, elephants, etc., are running away from the all-feared Tarakan. At some point a kangaroo comes into the picture and asks what the big deal is, and is told "Shhh! He'll EAT you!" It eventually comes to an end when a sparrow flys down and makes about three chews and a gulp out of the cockroach.

    I'm told it's an allegory of Stalin. While I'm not so sure (he really did "eat" people, and I can't think of who could've been the sparrow), it does seem to be a good moral tale for more ordinary politicians, or just plain bullies. Ellie knows this story well, which I find all well and good.

    On our recent trip to Ukraine, we visted Crimea. One of the side trips was to the cave city of Chufut Kale. Various peoples (early Christians, Goths, Monglos, Karaite Jews) have lived there over the last 1,500-plus years. Today it's at the end of a short hike and you can wander around looking at ruins and admiring the view.

    When we approach the gates are closed. A bit of dispair sets in, and then we hear the chains and padlock rattle. Some guy is standing there with a money belt, and otherwise nothing official-looking. He asks us for 12 Hryvnia (about $2.40) each for admission. While this is not much, the guidebook warned us of imposters, and we decided to stick to our principles.

    Sofia, being the only one speaking any Useful Russian between us, quizzes him a bit, pointing out there are no signs, and no ticket office. I tell her to ask for an ID. He has none. They spar a bit more, all the while my patience are thinning. Finally I roll my eyes saying, "This is bulls**t" and walk in. (It feels good to be the grunting, inarticulate Bad Cop.) Sofia follows and we're yelled at some more, with threats of being locked in for the night. As we go around the bend, he loudly makes some cell phone call and Sofia hears a "[Blah Blah] -- Go after them."

    OK, so the hearts were pounding a bit (I really didn't want to visit a Ukrainian police station), but we eventually saw other people walking around. We stopped one (a foreigner like us) -- he had paid the guy. We were both proud and nervous. Eventually we settled down and took in the late afternoon cliff-views, sounds of the swallows, some tomb of some Khan's descendant, and peered into the Karaite synagogue. It is well worth it if you find yourself in Crimea.

    And so it was time to go back. We get back to the gate, and of course He Is Still There, letting in a large group this time. They say "Of course we bought tickets!" and shoot us dirty looks. (We then realized they were on a guided trip, which doesn't prove anything.) So with the chance of making a scene off the menu of tactics, we walk up to the gate, which he is busily locking. There are teenagers outside, and it turns out that they want in, and weren't expecting to pay either. Sofia tells him that if he's going to lie for money, he at least shouldn't be so lazy and make a sign. It escalates a bit, and certainly the group outside hears it. Eventually, as we expected, he decided to cut his losses and opened the gate. The teenage girls are crying. We tell them that he's got no radio or ID, and should pay him no attention and walk in. When we left them it was a standoff -- don't know what they ended up doing. We walked back down to the car (which we had unnecessarily paid somebody for a parking spot -- hence our determination not to be fooled twice), telling everyone going the other way to give the guy a hard time. Much too late, I remembered the story of the Tarakan. Would've been nice to use it as an epithet.

    When we get back to Yalta to Sofia's mom and Ellie, we recount the tale. I try to boil it down for Ellie. Showing her the picture of the gate I say "We saw a tarakan behind this gate." Big Eyes. "He tried to take our money." Bigger Eyes. "We said No!" (Not mentioning the parking guys.) While walking to dinner Ellie is repeating "No, No, Tarakan You Can't Take My Money! No, no!"

    When we sit down to order, thinking the day of cockroaches is over, Ellie turns to the waitress, narrows her eyes and says slowly "Do not bring us any tarakans." The waitress didn't flinch and said "No, no, don't worry. We don't serve any cockroaches."

    Well, maybe the moral of the tale needs some focusing -- but lessons and laughs all the way 'round.