Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Pittsburgh Dangdut Concert Videos

A little searching around on Youtube reveals that videos from our gamelan/dangdut concert have hit the Web. Thus, you too can experience the Dangdut Cowboys almost as if in Bellefield Hall.

This first video emphasizes the dance group in front of the stage (sorry, the videographer was stage left and I was stage right). It doesn't get the entire song, but some of the saxophone does get highlighted. For the rest of the song (sung by our fearless leader), proceed to the second video:

The third video is from further back and center, and is more memorable for the music (guest artists Ening Rumbini and Rita Tila on vocals) than the visuals unless you really want to watch carefully for occasional glimpses of me dancing off to the left. And I really mean only occasional and identifiable to the initiated, because everyone is very small in this video.

But... it turns out there's a higher quality version of Video #3 for true fans or those absolutely determined to see me dancing off to the left. I think you have to go to Youtube itself to watch that, but underneath the video window you can click on "watch in high quality." The visuals were significantly sharper and if you have good speakers I suppose the sound is as well. On the other hand, the high-quality version was a little too much for my high-speed bandwidth and kept stopping and starting. I'm not sure how high a speed is required to watch it uninterrupted.
There do exist a couple of full-length videos of the concerts, but I don't think they'll be showing up on YouTube.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

First Republic Women

I've now returned from the weekend's jaunt to Northwestern (just outside Chicago) for the annual Czech Workshop. There were two full days' worth of interesting papers on all things Czech, ranging chronologically from (if memory serves me) the 19th century to the present. Mine was on First Republic visual imagery of women in periodicals and fine art, and without further ado I give you a few of the pictures I showed:

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pennsylvania Primary...

My neighborhood has been eagerly awaiting the Pennsylvania primary. Highland Park is full of signs for both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, although the latter was gaining. East Liberty seems to be more solidly Obama territory. The parts of Oakland I spend time in have fewer printed signs, but a certain amount of sidewalk chalking for Obama and a hand-lettered sign or two for Clinton.
I don't really have a preference for one or the other. Each has merits. I'll vote for whichever one runs in November.
Ms. Spots and Orion voted in favor of the cardboard tunnel I won as a door prize at the Animal Rescue League on Sunday. The scent of all those other rabbits on it was so fascinating they didn't stop to wonder why my clothes smelled heavily of rabbits named Charlie and Bingo. I had intended to buy one of these tunnels at Home Depot on the way home, so the door prize was particularly welcome.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

"Sunday is Bun Day"

The Animal Rescue League here in Pittsburgh, the shelter closest to me, is holding Sunday rabbit socialization events called "Hug-a-Bun Sundays." Volunteers go and spend time with the shelter rabbits, which will help make these rabbits more friendly and confident around humans and thus more adoptable (and generally happier). There's one today from 3-5:00 and I plan to be there! If you live in Pittsburgh, come on over and join us. (Ms. Spots and Orion will have to stay at home, but their scent on my clothes tends to make other rabbits interested in me.)

Sunday, April 20 & Sunday, April 27 -- 3 to 5 p.m.
Animal Rescue League, 6620 Hamilton Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15206

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Mysteries of the Animal Kingdom

The rabbits can always come up with something to entertain, charm, or frustrate me. Or just baffle me. Why, for instance, did they avoid jumping on the couch for quite some time after I put the cover on it (the busy pattern, perhaps?) but have now decided the couch is just as fun as ever to sit on? Ms. Spots, who was not greatly interested in the couch before, has recently decided that the cover needs digging and pulling on. I had begun to think she was limiting that kind of play to the two old rugs in the kitchen.
Orion prefers bedding, and evidently the stronger the scent of his human, the better (this seems to put him into a state of strange ecstasy). I would not really care about his interest in bedding if he didn't chew on it, but as he likes it even fresh from the laundry, there is not much to be done to keep him away.
Then there is the lapine passion for nuts. Nuts are not a normal part of the lapine diet; rabbits are not squirrels, after all. But perhaps wild rabbits eat more nuts than we realize. Someone ought to research this, assuming it has not already been done. Something has to prompt rabbits to go gaga over nuts. If Ms. Spots were the only one who craved nuts, I would put this down to her adventurous palate, but Orion, who is a picky eater, will wrestle with her for a nut. It is true that only Ms. Spots goes into a wild frenzy of dancing and begging and pleading when she perceives that nuts have come onto the scene (do not try to eat peanuts, walnuts, or mixed nuts around her), but she is a more extroverted character who acts everything out just in case some lamebrained human didn't get the idea.
On a less entertaining note, this evening I discovered the first carpet beetle larva of the season. It was in my bed, apparently having been feasting on my wool blanket. I was disgusted and hope that it is some sort of late-hatching survivor of the 2005 infestation rather than the product of a new cache of eggs. None of the anti-carpet-beetle information I've seen reveals what the eggs look like, only the larvae and adults. The little abominations had better not be in any of my winter clothes that I've been so diligently trying to clean and protect. Let me say it to the carpet beetles of the world, yet again: carpet beetles belong outdoors helping rid the world of excess old fur and feathers. There is no need to come inside and eat my sweaters and blankets and paintbrush bristles and silk scarves.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Return of the Hippies?

Since members of the gamelan got rather into the question of whether certain people would term themselves hippies, I think it is time for this quiz:

I am 37% Hippie.
Wanna Be Hippie!
I need to step away from the tie-dye. I smell too good to be a hippie and my dad is probably a cop. Being a hippie is not a fashion craze, man. It was a way of life, in the 60’s, man.

Nobody asked me if I was a hippie. OK, I confess, I was born too late to be a 60s hippie, but...


Sunday, April 13, 2008

More Gamelan, More Rabbits

For those who just can't get enough Pittsburgh gamelan photos, Ben Pachter has posted three good sets. First, the rehearsal photos; second, the concert preparations (some pictures are similar to mine but not all); and actual concert photos taken by one of Ben's friends. Alert viewers will be able to find me in a fair number of these. Well--viewers who already know what I look like.
This morning most of us got together to devour Indonesian food and watch the video of Friday night's concert. It was pretty good as such videos go, considering that it was a one-camera video and the operator wasn't there the whole time checking to see whether to zoom in. After helping Jesse document various Moravian cimbalom bands, I appreciate the care that goes into setting up a concert video shoot.
My other weekend entertainment involved going over to the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, where I adopted Ms. Spots back in 2002 and where the Pittsburgh House Rabbit Club held an education session and a bunny romp. It was the first Pittsburgh House Rabbit Club meeting I had gone to, and I got some useful tips on how to entertain Orion so that he doesn't chew everything he meets. The speaker emphasized that as rabbits quickly get used to specific toys, it's usually best to rotate them to keep the toys new and interesting. I also hadn't really thought in terms of playing with the toys myself, but this is a good idea if the toy is something like a Slinky, or if there's a wicker ball that you can roll to the rabbit. I especially liked the idea of anchoring strips of cardboard under chair legs because that does give resistance when the rabbit pulls on the strip, and rabbits like toys that resist (Ms. Spots always likes to stand on whatever she's shredding).
Much to my delight, the shelter rabbit who starred in the demonstrations proved to be Bingo, the young male I met a few weeks ago when I dropped in at the shelter near home to pet some lonely rabbits. Bingo was chosen for this special role because on the one hand he's very friendly and loves to be petted, but he gets bored easily and needs a lot of stimulation when not being petted. Bingo thought it was just great being up there on the table having toy after toy presented to him. Wicker toys, shredded paper, sticks, pieces of flannel, cardboard tubes, he thought this was a splendid way to spend an afternoon.
If I hadn't already had two rabbits at home, I would probably have adopted Bingo when we first met, but Pittsburgh shelters do have a wide assortment of other charming characters available. Back when I got Ms. Spots, the Humane Society had only four rabbits, but I'd guess it now has about 15 on-site. A white lop named Oscar was adopted during the meeting, so we all cheered, but there are many other gorgeous and interesting rabbits looking for good homes. Pittsburgh has three shelters, all with too many rabbits, so I hate to think what will happen when people really begin to tire of thoughtlessly acquired Easter bunnies who want lots of attention and haven't been spayed or neutered.
I guess now it's time to return to my taxes...

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Pre-Concert Life

For obvious reasons, I have no concert photos, but several of us got good documentation of the backstage life of the Pittsburgh gamelan, which ranged from the studious to the exuberant. Yuko, our TA, was on the more studious end of the scale.

Ben, another musicology grad student, believes firmly in photographic documentation. I believe that at this moment he was documenting Rob.

Rob was so impressed by our guest artists' makeup skills that he got himself done in David Bowie style.

Lydia was not so pleased with Rob's new look.

Jordan, however, thought the new Rob was an improvement.

Our guest artists soon went back to their own preparations.

Margot doesn't usually wear makeup, but as a featured vocalist she agreed to deck herself out.

Of course, many of the performers take a calm and low-key approach to the whole thing, as does Ben from CMU and also Sachem and Margarita.

Kim has done gamelan for years, so he had no fears of forgetting his part.

The performance itself was a wild success and we persuaded many audience members to join us in dancing in front of the stage toward the end of the show.
Don't forget, we perform again tonight!

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Gamelan Concert Tonight

We're onstage at Bellefield Hall in Pittsburgh (across from the Cathedral of Learning and Heinz Chapel) at 8:00 tonight and tomorrow. These are the university gamelan's major performances, which normally include Indonesian guest artists. Tickets are $10 general admission, $5 students/seniors, free with Pitt student ID, and you can read all the official details on the Music Dept's blog.
Our dress rehearsal went until about 1:00am last night but despite its length it was pretty good as such things go. Most of the students only perform in the first half of the program, so it was our first chance to hear what the guest artists were planning without us. The first half focuses on traditional Sundanese gamelan while the second half is more of an introduction to different kinds of recent Sundanese popular music. By the end of the dress rehearsal, those of us not onstage were having a wild dangdut dance party, so I feel confident that the audience will have a fine time too.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Global Candlelight Vigil for the Iraq Museum

In commemoration of the fifth anniversary of the looting of the Iraq Museum, our department joined people all over the world in holding a candlelight vigil. Since our vigil was at noon and indoors, we had one (artificial) candle but featured three speakers who discussed the issue of worldwide looting and sale of antiquities.
The Iraq looting took place April 10-12, 2003, when more than 15,000 artifacts at the Iraq Museum were stolen or destroyed. Archaeological sites there continue to be looted, as do sites in countries worldwide.
For more information on the Global Candlelight Vigil and on preservation of world cultural heritage, see the website for SAFE (Saving Antiquities for Everyone).

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Past and Future Luck

Interesting possibilities lie ahead. Some of them are pretty much there for me to take; others remain uncertain, dependent on factors somewhat or even largely outside my control.
To be sure, this is always the case, but it seems particularly true of late. Will the journal article I just revised be accepted? ...depends on whether the editors and anonymous reviewers think the changes were sufficient. Will I come up with a truly scintillating topic for the intriguing call-for-papers that arrived in today's email? ...we can only hope so since my research gives me several possible angles. Projects for next year? ...this area remains in the planning stages.
There was a time when I wanted particular things intensely. Now, we often hear that in order to get what you want, you have to really want it, and to some extent this is true. Many things in life require wanting something enough to put in the effort to get it.
But when I think of the things I've wanted the most desperately, and put a lot of effort into getting, on the whole these are not things I ever got. (Or at least not yet. I suppose some of them could still surprise me, and I hope one or two of them will.) I'm much better at getting things I want less intensely and that require either little effort or only reasonable diligence.
And at some point I found that I had moved away from wanting specific things intensely and on to wanting whatever would be the best outcome. This is especially true of situations involving other people, because what I want most might not be best for everyone involved, but it's an approach that also feels well suited to waiting for results of applications and such. Applying for funding, I might think I preferred a particular fellowship, but I'd figure that what I wanted most was whatever would really be best, and that the best outcome might not be obvious to me.
In general, I'd say my life has been full of very good luck, but it has felt particularly lucky since I took to hoping for whatever was truly best. There are things I once wanted and didn't get, and that I subsequently realized wouldn't have been all that great. One of those failures to get what I wanted brought me something much better.
It feels a little vague just to hope for whatever will truly be best in a given situation, but I've learned that it works pretty well for me. And so, looking into an only partly defined future, I feel confident that, with the right attitude and an openness to the possibilities, my luck will be pretty good.

Your Luck Quotient: 75%

You have a high luck quotient.
More often than not, you've felt very lucky in your life.
You may be randomly lucky, but it's probably more than that.
Optimistic and open minded, you take advantage of all the luck that comes your way.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Tax Time and How We Distract Ourselves

I did, actually, pretty much do my federal taxes today, and they would be done if I didn't have to check a couple of things before I send them off. As in, it would be nice to know whether I should have a W2 form (my pay information stated that I would get one).
But it was a pretty nice spring day, so the apartment was filled with light, so I also busied myself with various spring tasks such as packing winter sweaters into ziplock bags in the hope of foiling any carpet beetles that might be looking for a meal. I didn't think to try this before putting them in storage when I went to Prague (I simply soaked them in very soapy water to drown any of the beasts), but it is surprising how much sweater will fit into a 1-gallon plastic bag. It's not hard: fold the sweater around some sort of rectangular object, such as a piece of cardboard, shove the result into the bag, withdraw the rectangular object, and repeat multiple times. Well, and seal each bag.
I also assembled a second metal shelving unit for the basement storage. Apparently these are only sold at specific times of year, as I couldn't find any during the winter and now Target has lots, or it did a few weeks ago when I bought the thing.
In a less springlike fashion, I tried to catch up on some OCR projects (it is one thing to scan a document, quite another to check the character recognition). While I am glad that ABBYY can handle multiple languages in the same document, I am always stunned to find how many more languages I should have specified. A book one expects to be all in French proves to have huge chunks of Greek (not that I expect to search on anything in Greek, but still). Almost anything on surrealism proves to have words in every imaginable Indo-European language, so that if recognition is set to French, Czech, and English, the German and Spanish characters cause problems. It's a big pain constantly correcting umlauts and Spanish characters as all this requires switching the Windows keyboard. We were in French? No use, there's a umlaut. Can't keep it in German, though; there's a Czech name. Ugh, there goes Miró again (although he can be done with the Czech keyboard if one recalls just how to get that ó; it's Bun~uel I don't know how to type). And I have a Kupka text in French that has endless French names for Greek, Mesopotamian, and Egyptian deities. I knew that Kupka was a medium, but not that he was obsessed with ancient gods. Oh well.
In the meantime, I am intrigued that various friends who seldom write to me have chosen this weekend to email. They all claim to have writing deadlines, so I daresay this explains their interest in finding out what I'm up to. After all, my forthcoming gamelan concerts must be far more interesting than whatever copy they are expected to turn in to their editors. No matter, I'm always pleased to hear from them...
... Just as Ms. Spots is always excited to smell enticing foods like walnuts on my hands. I think my responses to the emails were somewhat more restrained than were her ecstatic reactions to my hand during the dinner hour (walnuts had been added to my supper). But I suppose I could always inquire whether my correspondants are hoping to get me to rub my face passionately all over their hands. (Then again, that might not be a good plan. They might not write back for another year or few.)

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Friday, April 04, 2008

The Lenovo

Now that I've begun to work with the X61, I can make a few comments about it, in the hopes that these will be useful to others considering a new tablet pc.
First, keep in mind that my previous tablet was a Toshiba Tecra M4, a very different animal. Both of these are machines that garnered enthusiastic reviews and that are generally much liked by their users, but some of what a person will like about one will be unavailable on the other.
The M4 is more of a desktop-replacement model: it's big and relatively heavy. The advantage of this is that there's a good-sized screen and that it has a bay where you can swap among CD/DVD drive, second hard drive, and a second battery.
I really loved having a second hard drive right there with me all the time. What I'm realizing with the X61 is that although I bought a primary hard drive that is larger than the two others combined, I tend to feel as though the programs and user files are all mixed together. In other words, ideally the user installs all the programs before introducing any user files, and this keeps things somewhat separate on the disk. But of course in real life it never works that way. You install a few programs, you copy over your documents and work on them, you install another program or two or an update, etc. Let's just say that when I tried running the defragger a day or two into the process of setting up the X61, the hard drive was already astonishingly fragmented. On the M4, with the two hard drives, most of the user files were on the second hard drive, and there was rarely much fragmentation there. Now, it's true I could partition the X61's hard drive, but past experience in partitioning drives suggests that I never allot enough space to something. It is hard to judge expansion needs for either programs or user files. Still, maybe partioning half-and-half would be OK.
The X61, being a super-light model, doesn't come with a CD/DVD drive, and the screen is small. One either hooks up an external CD/DVD drive or buys the Unibase (dock) AND a CD/DVD drive. I opted, perhaps foolishly, for the dock on the theory that it should give me more options. You can travel with the dock, in which case the whole thing weighs somewhere around the same amount as the M4. For instance, just as with the M4, you can swap out the CD/DVD for a second hard drive or battery. I thought that seemed more appealing than plugging in a second hard drive to a USB port and trying to travel. Actually, what I think I will do is put my archival TIF files onto a second hard drive. I don't need to use them very often as the JPG versions are what I use for presentations and reference.
So... on the CD/DVD and second hard drive/battery issue, neither machine is better than the other, just different. It is nice to be able to leave the weight behind.
On the screen issue, however, I find that I really miss the larger viewing area. OK, it was the screen that was failing on the M4, but that's beside the point. I don't think I would really recommend such a small screen to another art historian, but then again it depends on how a person works. I like to have a whole page of a document nicely visible in portrait mode. For instance, someone's dissertation in PDF. Large type is always nice. And when working in Photoshop, I like to have the image nice and large. One thing I do in Photoshop is add IPTC data about the images--everything I can find about about the medium, dimensions, owner, source of scan, etc. Often I've been in a hurry making the initial TIF files and am doing the IPTC data later, working from the caption that was scanned along with the work of art. There is not enough screen real estate on the Lenovo to see both the IPTC data entry screen and the scanned info, so I constantly have to move the IPTC window around to see one or another bit of the scan. I also notice that in OneNote, which I've begun to try using for lecture notes and such, I find the writing area small. Others may not find this as important, obviously. Still, I think my vote for future lightweight development would be for a bigger screen on a fairly thin laptop.
This is also significant for the keyboard. I had never understood what people were complaining about when they said laptop keyboards were too small; I assumed this was because I have small hands that find laptop keyboards comfortable. This is the first keyboard that has struck me as cramped. It's not the keys themselves, which look normally sized. I assume they are closer together. This, however, is something I expect I will get used to. For that matter, on a tablet, many users primarily use pen input, so this would be insignificant. I mainly use the keyboard, although I love having the tablet feature.
Another keyboard matter is the placement of keys. Every manufacturer, for reasons unknown to me, likes to move certain keys into its own favorite locations. On the M4, for example, I had to get used to having the Windows key up at the top of the keyboard rather than near the Shift key. Initially I hated that, but now I'm used to it and have to get used to having it in the more usual location.
I don't recall where other keyboards I've used put the Fn key (which I almost never use), but on the X61 it's right where I expect the Ctrl to be. I'm constantly hitting Fn instead of Ctrl and am learning not to touch-type Ctrl but to raise my hand and look for it.
Another thing I'm disliking on the X61 keyboard is that the Delete, End, Home, PageUp and PageDown keys are way at the top. I'm glad Lenovo stuck Insert there, since on the M4 I often accidentally hit it (another key I don't normally use) instead of Alt, but on the M4 I was accustomed to being able to touch-type Delete, End, Home, PageUp, and PageDown, and on the X61 they are really out of reach. Does Lenovo really think a person doesn't want easy access to Delete? I think all of us surely use Delete quite a bit, and I myself use the others a lot. Escape, too, is way up there, but that's a little less problematic. I use the Escape key, but apparently I always hunted for it rather than touch-typing.
A very odd thing about the keyboard is that the F keys and number keys seem to be farther to the left than on other keyboards. I use these keys a certain amount and this means I am often typing the wrong one. I use F5 and F6 a lot in Nota Bene, and when typing in Czech I need to use the number keys for the Czech characters (or, indeed, when using the French keyboard I also need to use those keys, although I try to avoid using the French keyboard since it has some weird key placements for A, Q, and M).
The X61 uses a pointer rather than a touch-pad. In theory I have no real preference; both do the job, and are vast improvements on the mouse, which is an anti-ergonomic abomination. I do find, however, that the pointer is slower to operate than the touch-pad, and requires much more finger effort. This bugs me much more than I would have expected.
Lenovo computers evidently come with a lot of security features, which I can imagine many users find a wonderful enhancement. Initially, I thought these might be a plus. I don't, however, store a whole lot of things that I would be worried about thieves accessing. No doubt there are a few things, but the average thief is looking for a laptop, not the data. I quickly found that I really, really hate having to log on to my own computer. I do not want my entire life password-protected. I have not figured out how to disable some of these protections, so even though I got rid of passwords, the computer still asks for them. I'm reminded of all those incidents at conferences where we're using someone's password-protected laptop and after a break it goes to sleep, wants the user's password, and no one even knows whose laptop it is so the session goes on hold while someone tries to find out whose laptop we're using. Other users will have a very different reaction to the security features, of course.
I've been using the X61 for nearly three weeks now, so I may be as accustomed to it as I'll get. We'll see.
On the whole, I think the design of the M4 was better suited to my personal needs, but the X61 is nonetheless an impressive machine and for the most part merely different.


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Milt Wolff Memorial

As promised, some photos from Milt's memorial. Actually, most of them are from the graveside from Saturday morning rather than from the public memorial that afternoon. The Berkeley Hills seemed more conducive to photography, although I will say the ILWU hall looked handsome and there were several hundred people in attendance.
Above, Milt's daughter Susan and VALB historian Peter Carroll watch as Susan's husband Guy lays a spadeful over the ashes.

Richard Bermack and David Laub.

David Laub and Sylvia Drake. Below, more of us and a view of the Bay from where we were gathered.

And a photo from the shindig at the ILWU. Conrad Montell, who was a member of the Thursday's Child writing group with Milt and me back in the 1980s, gave my favorite recollection of Milt. After all, everyone in the room knew that Milt had fought in Spain, that the Abraham Lincoln Brigade was originally the Lincoln Battalion and the Washington Battalion, and that Milt and the VALB went to lots of peace rallies and raised impressive amounts of money for humanitarian causes. Not everyone knew that Milt loved Dostoevesky and Thomas Mann, was a painter, and liked to ponder the nature of the universe. Conrad knew that side of Milt intimately. (I'm afraid that while I've read a lot of Mann, The Magic Mountain always stopped me dead after a few chapters, so I could never really discuss it with Milt.)
I was delighted to see our old friend Lili Artel, who assures me that she is still writing and making art and getting ready to celebrate her 90th birthday.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Moving Right Along, or So We Pretend

I've safely, if wearily, returned to Pittsburgh. Ms. Spots and Orion were well rabbit-sat and looked very sleek, although Ms. Spots was miffed about my absence and had to be placated with extra-solicitous petting and rubbing of the ears. Orion merely indicated he was glad to see me, and showed me how gigantic he can look in the right poses. (Rabbit who ought to weigh about 6 pounds wishes to emulate those giant rabbits the Germans are sending to Korea...)
In the wake of last week's intriguing horoscope, I feel I should be paying close attention to this one's, which is:
LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): The feats you're pulling off may not appear spectacular to a casual observer. But in my view, they are some of the most interesting accomplishments you've enjoyed in a while. Here's a brief description of some of your subtly glorious breakthroughs: 1. You've made yourself less susceptible to being manipulated by guilt or pushed around by bullies or fooled by phonies. 2. You're getting smarter about how you treat the people and things you love. 3. You're at the peak of your ability to discern the difference between rash risks motivated by fear and smart gambles driven by authentic intuition.

I don't know yet whether I've truly accomplished any of these things, but they sound awfully good.
Now all I need to do is learn to play kecapi, which judging by today's lesson (the first) will be considerably harder than learning to play the average gamelan instrument. It is a plucked instrument, so I thought I might already have some usable skills, but no. Our visitors from Indonesia wanted to know whether I preferred to learn something in slendro or pelog, but it is really immaterial which scale we tune to until I start getting a sense of which string is which and get that multi-finger, two-handed coordination going. I suppose I must have gone through something similar at my first piano lesson, except that I had at least touched a few pianos by then whereas I've only admired the kecapi from a distance. It's somewhat unsettling to feel like I'm five years old again as regards motor coordination.

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