December 31, 2009

A Brief Pause in the Snowing

It's been quite wintery here in Buffalo recently, with lots of snow and lots of wind to rearrange said snow. Today was the first somewhat nice day in quite a while; it got all the way up to 25°F or so, with bright sunshine.

While I was eating lunch, my flatmate called me over to the window with great excitement, as he had seen two deer in our backyard. Now, he gets excited every time he sees a deer, as he grew up in a rather urban environment, plus he is normally kind of oblivious. For once I was actually interested, as deer sightings at high noon have been rare in my experience too. They were taking advantage of the break in the weather to get some fresh greens themselves, I'm sure.

In less cheerful news, I must report a death in the family. Amy has passed away. Amy was a faithful friend, received as a Christmas gift ten or twelve years ago. Amy always claimed to be an Amaryllis, but I knew better: she was a Hippeastrum. Still, friends don't stay friends by getting into arguments about stupid things like that.

Over the summer, Amy got a serious fungal infection, that spread to her bulb. Time of death could not be established. Amy's corporal remains were commended to the wilderness early this afternoon. I'll miss her. I'll also reuse her pot. No sense in being wasteful.

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December 23, 2009

Ain't No Party Like a Solstice Party

One of my new friends here in Buffalo, a fellow non-traditional student, invited me to a Winter Solstice party. It seemed like an excellent time to have a gathering; it served as a holiday celebration, the solstice fell on a weekend this year, and it was just enough before Christmas that many people were still in town.

I brought lots of food, as I like the excuse. The angel-food cake and blueberry whipped cream was the most popular, as usual. I made ice cream on their front porch, which was not all that successful. Over Thanksgiving, I made a quart of mix which didn't even fill the ice cream maker's cannister to half-way. This time I made three pints of the same recipe. Upon freezing, the machine overfilled dramatically, and the ice cream didn't set right. I guess the different temperatures involved caused more air to whip in, expanding the volume. Ah well. I took it home, let it melt in my fridge, and it's delicious in smaller batches.

The party was at my friend's house downtown. Very downtown. They are in walking distance of the Buffalo City Hall, which is beautifully lit up this time of year, and visible from their front porch. The neighborhood was condemned by HUD in the early 1980s, all the old buildings torn down, and new housing (including theirs) built. They have empty lots to either side, though, as much of the cleared land didn't sell. They say it's a nice place though, with friendly neighbors.

The guests were a mix of fellow university students, the hosts' relatives, their coworkers and ex-coworkers. I had a good chat with a guy that's got seven months left before he gets out of the Navy. He's an nuke ET1, that is, an electronics technician first class, who works on nuclear submarines. He's getting out mainly because he's got a 2½-year-old, who was also in attendance (until bedtime, at least.) We swapped stories about foreign ports etc. Being a submariner, he didn't have any good stories about joint operations with foreign troops, though.

There was gaming, of course. We had a bunch of rounds of Werewolves vs. Villagers, which is an excellent party game. There was also Spades, Settlers of Catan, all the usual suspects.

The plan was for the party to go all night, and toasts to be drunk at the dawning sun. I had driven my old friend Mary to the party, so she could drink. She had a final exam Monday at noon, so I took her home at about 2 AM to get some rest. After dropping her off at her apartment, I went to mine intending upon a nap. I set an alarm for 6 AM, to get up and get back to the party in time for dawn (at 7:41 AM). I'm not as young as I used to be: I hit the snooze bar and went back to sleep, missing the end of the party. Ah well, it was a good time anyway.

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December 15, 2009

Applicability May Very

I've often been told that I should apply myself.

Yesterday I submitted three applications to graduate programs in history. We shall see if I get admitted anywhere. I'm not an ideal candidate, and competition is very strong this year. The bad economy makes it harder to get into grad school for two reasons: people getting their bachelor's degrees have limited job prospects, and universities are suffering cuts in government funding, endowment earning, and alumni contributions.

But nothing ventured, nothing gained. It'll be several months until the admissions committees let me know. I can hardly wait!

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December 14, 2009

Chiron Beta Prime

Let's get into the holiday spirit, with a little help from Jonathan Coulton!

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December 11, 2009

Sing Sang Sung

The concert went quite well, even with a rather small crowd. I'm in the non-audition choir, and we started the concert by sitting in the front couple of rows while the auditioned group sang. They did four very long pieces, singing quite well. They finished and left the stage, which was when the house manager got confused. My chorus was mounting the risers and ready to go, but the manager thought there was going to be an intermission, so he killed the stage lights and brought up the house lights. This caused some confusion in the audience.

After an ackward pause, the lights went back to performance level, and we did our thing. Four songs, much shorter ones than the first choir's selections. But we did ours from memory, while they had the music. Also, two of our four were a capella, while they were accompanied throughout. Being a select group, they were of course better, but I think we at least gave a good showing. Especially our third song, "Set Me as a Seal" which was so perfect I got chills.

Having finished the concert, I bundled back up and suffered on the walk back to my car. My black leather shoes looked snappy with my suit, but they are not good footwear to wear in ankle-deep snow. The windchill was sub-zero, too. The drive from campus to home is short enough that the car's heater doesn't kick in until I am pulling into my apartment's parking lot. That's Murphy's Law in action.

So, concert complete. That counts as a final exam in my book! I just finished writing some German translations. For tomorrow, I need to write a short essay on Korean history: compare and contrast ROK and DPRK from 1948-1979. That'll be easy. For Monday, I must write two short essays for the take-home final for Victorian history. Tuesday, grad school applications are due. Thursday, Korean history final exam. Friday: German final. Then I'm free. I've still not bought tickets to anywhere, and I suspect they are getting expensive. We shall see if I manage to travel anywhere interesting.

PS I need to go Christmas shopping. I don't have time. Expect a lot of Amazon boxes, people. If January 6th was good enough for the Magi, it's surely good enough for you and me.

PPS I also have not written my holiday letter. I even bought some fancy paper on clearance last January. Same deal with the Magi delivery schedule.

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December 10, 2009

I Predict a Small Crowd

I've got a choral concert tonight. Yesterday I called my parents, not to remind them of the show, but to suggest that they skip it. The weather here in Buffalo is terrible, with high winds and lots of snow. I would rather have my parents come visit sometime when the roads are safe for travel.

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December 09, 2009

Not Looking Forward To This

As I type, it is pouring rain and hailing. In five hours, a High Wind Warning kicks in, along with a Winter Storm Watch. I.e. all the rain pouring down is going to freeze in place. Then, overnight, we'll get up to a foot of snow.

And it's the last week of classes, so I am buried in tests and papers. Whee! What fun!

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December 07, 2009

The Postman Doesn't Even Ring Anymore

My life is filled with excitement. Today I got my first Christmas letters of the year, and a present. I've not yet begun writing my own letter. I might not get started until after finals, so I hope everyone can contain their excitement.

The present, which was nicely wrapped in red paper, I opened without delay.

Wait, don't look at me like that! I'm not a dirty cheater! It was from my twin and her family, and I received it with instructions to open immediately. It contained an papercraft "Christmas Tree-In-a-Box", and I intend to set it up when I get a chance.

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December 06, 2009

Get Some Culture

One of my German classmates is a retired high school teacher, auditing the class. He has season tickets to the Buffalo Philharmonic, but he's out of town this weekend. Thus I got a free trip to get some culture, taking along a friend whom I knew appreciated music.

The Philharmonic plays in Kleinhans Music Hall, which seems like it should be "Kleinhan's" or "Kleinhans'", but it's not. The acoustics were excellent, noticeably better than the Clemens Center. The program was Trittico Botticelliano by Ottorino Respighi, Concerto #2 for Cello and Orchestra by Victor Herbert, and the Symphony #2 by Jean Sibelius.

Despite planning some spare time to arrive on time, we were almost late, as Kleinhans was not as easy to find as I expected. Its address is "Number 3 Symphony Circle", with said circle being a roundabout downtown. I figured drive to the roundabout and it'd be the obvious concert hall with a distinctive facade. Well, that facade faces away from the circle, and there were two other monumental buildings facing said circle. And to get into the Kleinhans I had to guess which of the roads leaving the circle actually led to it. There were several false starts, I must confess, and the parking lot was full by the time we identified the proper building. On-street parking is free in Buffalo, and being young and healthy we just resolved to walk two blocks or so.

The seats were up in the nosebleed section, just one row ahead of the back wall. We could have moved forward into any of hundreds of empty seats, but my companion was happy being "behind all the coughing people" which seemed like a reasonable decision. And as I mentioned, the acoustics were excellent even up where we were.

The performers were quite good, with a nice cello soloist. There was one trombonist who appeared to be seeing the music for the first time that evening. During intermission, there were a couple of violins onstage keeping warmed up, and that trombonist, who was flipping his music and trying out difficult sections. I didn't hear him screw up during the symphony, so I guess he got it together in time.

As a final amusement, the building did not have anything so gauche as a bathroom. It had a "Powder Room" for the ladies, and a "Gentlemens' Lounge" for the men. I must confess that the Lounge seemed like a rather unpleasant place to lounge around, what with the lack of comfortable seating and the rather ceramic decor. That is the kind of odd track that my brain's humor center follows.

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December 02, 2009

Read Read Read

This is a sign I'm internalizing the norms of historical study: for a 1000 word paper, a mere bagatelle, I checked out eleven books from the library. I'm probably going to quote at least six of them.

I don't even like the subject that much. I'm discussing how the movie The Governess reflects on the modern cultural interpretation of the Victorian period. And the movie didn't turn out to be that good. The director seems to have been overawed by the cinematographer, in that it is full of beautiful perfectly posed scenes in which nothing happens. And the ending… well, it doesn't really have an ending. It just sort of peters out.

As a side note, I didn't have to write about The Governess, as there was a list of films to pick from. Perhaps I should have gone with Tom Brown's Schooldays. I was a bit nervous about that one because it is about my professor's specialty, so he'd be more apt to notice any infelicities in my paper. It looks like a more interesting movie, however. Ah well, I'm not going to start over now.

UPDATE: I used seven of the books. A thousand words is really quite limiting. I had to cut out all my discourse on Victorian ideals of childhood, focusing solely on Jewish acceptance and assimilation into British society. I hope I don't get called on the fact that the movie's events mostly happen in the Isle of Skye, which is Scottish rather than British. The family that hires the governess seem like Brits that purchased a northern estate, rather than actual native Scots. Their coachman wears a kilt, but no one else does. And the family scion attends Oxford. That's British enough for my purposes!

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