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This came up in a conversation with my advisor yesterday about potential REU candidates. If I say "RPG," are you more likely to think of rocket-propelled grenades or role-playing games?
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Tonight was the Easter Vigil, and the now traditional Fellows dinner beforehand in the Buttrick Room. Anna, James and I prepared dinner -- an enormous pot of vegan chili, vegan cornbread, and fresh guacamole. The cornbread, from this recipe, was surprisingly good and had I not known I would not have guessed it was vegan. This may have been one of the first explicitly vegan meals I've prepared, at least for a crowd.

The service was unforgettable, but not in a good way. MemChurch's Easter Vigil starts with a fire lit in a barbecue grill; this year, winds blew smoke from the fire, reeking of lighter fluid fumes, right into the church. And then -- the fire alarm went off. The decision was made to proceed with the service nonetheless. The feeling of processing slowly down the center aisle of the church with Ed chanting the Exsultet, while the strobe lights of the alarm flashed and firefighters in full turnout gear trooped across the front of the sanctuary with their portable radios chattering, was indescribably bizarre.
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I owe a real update; maybe I'll find some time for it this weekend.

The St. John Passion last Sunday was wonderful. Not a flawless performance -- but I think it was effective.

Maundy Thursday was tonight. On the music list: Gibbons' "Drop, Drop, Slow Tears," the Durufle "Ubi caritas," and the Byrd "Ave verum corpus." Tomorrow Ed has Jacob Handl's powerful "Ecce quomodo moritur justus" down for Prayers, and I look forward to that. I think I'll try to attend the Good Friday liturgy at Christ Church Cambridge, the Episcopal church housing the Harvard Episcopal Chaplaincy.
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It has been a pretty nutty week. I was pretty exhausted from March Meeting, and while it was great to see people in New York last weekend, that wasn't exactly restful either. Starting with APS, and continuing through this week, I've gotten onto a bad cycle where I have a hard time shutting my brain down when it comes time to sleep. I suspect excessive coffee consumption is at least partially to blame, especially when waking up tired makes one want coffee. Tomorrow morning we have the dress rehearsal for the St John Passion, so I get to sleep in a little bit, but not much. But hopefully that will help.

Last night I went to the final talk in MemChurch's Lenten speaker series, where Prof. Mark Jordan of the Divinity School spoke on Christian sexual ethics, particularly regarding same-sex marriage, and directly questioned whether and how churches should be blessing any type of union. The series was co-sponsored by MemChurch and the Harvard Episcopal Chaplaincy, and afterwards I took the opportunity to introduce myself to the Episcopal chaplain. I might try to go to Good Friday services at Christ Church Cambridge, at which that chaplaincy is based. The Choral Fellows are busy for Maundy Thursday, and the Easter Vigil, and are of course with the full choir on Easter Sunday, but don't have to sing (or sit through) three hours of Prof. Gomes's preaching on Christ's Seven Last Words on Friday afternoon.

Anybody planning on going to Pinewoods this summer? I'm not sure what I'd like to do. Scottish Pinewoods is always a blast, if intense -- I don't know how the people who do both the weekend and the week have anything left by the end of it, particularly those who tend to be up late for the post-dance jam sessions. I've heard the English-Scottish session is a bit more laid back, and what's more Liz Donaldson is music directing this year. So I'd think about either doing Scottish Week, Scottish Weekend, or if I were nuts English-Scottish Week plus the Scottish Weekend.

If I were to only go to Scottish Weekend, it might be feasible to do some kind of traveling this summer. I've never really traveled without my family, other than the UChoir tour to Mexico three years ago (which was wonderful, partly because I got to know [ profile] pastwatcher a lot better). So perhaps that would be something worth thinking about.
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Here is the talk I gave at Morning Prayers today. I spoke on the Annunciation story in Luke 1:26-38. I particularly thank [ profile] nightengalesknd, and also [ profile] areyououtthere for her feedback.
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One thing I need to get done this week is to write a talk for Morning Prayers on Thursday. Dr. Austin often turns to choristers to fill slots in the Morning Prayers speaker schedule, and in particular Choral Fellows since we're at Prayers anyway. This happens to be a particularly student-heavy week, with two other Fellows speaking.

Thursday happens to be the Feast of the Annunciation on both the Catholic and Episcopal liturgical calendars. Both the Lectionary and the Book of Common Prayer put down basically the same texts, including Luke's account of the Annunciation, and Psalm 40, "Expectans expectavi." Speakers are free to discourse on anything they feel like, but as an ex-Catholic/wannabe Episcopalian I don't think the liturgical calendar should be completely ignored. Somewhat unfortunately, the anthem that's been put down is some 20th century work (which is fine in and of itself -- I believe in supporting new music) taking its text from the Tao Te Ching. For the Annunciation, I do wish we were doing a Magnificat setting instead, although I can't think of any for TB or TTBB off the top of my head.

Several ideas had been rolling around in my head, but I hadn't checked the liturgical calendar before now. If people are interested I could post my talk when it's done.
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My advisor recently got promoted to associate professor. At Harvard, this is a necessary but not sufficient step towards tenure; one is promoted to full professor upon being tenured. To celebrate we made a cake for group meeting on Thursday, drawing on the Science paper on hard-sphere clusters we recently published -- someone hit on the idea of making clusters out of mochi ice cream balls, and placing them in a cake microwell.

So on Wednesday evening one of my labmates came over with another sheet cake pan. We mixed up a double batch of a yellow cake recipe and let that bake; we also prepared a large quantity of buttercream frosting. After the cakes had cooled, we stacked them. I prepared a template by cutting a 9" x 13" piece of parchment paper, drawing a circle in the center, and then cutting it out. Using this as a guide, I cut out part of the top layer of the cake to make the microwell. The following day Dave made the clusters out of mochi and toothpicks, and the first-years bought M&M's to represent the depletant particles causing a short-range attraction and a chocolate scale bar. The end result is shown below the cut:

The colloidal cluster cake... )
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Off to bed; this snowstorm hasn't really amounted to anything, and even if it did they would never cancel Morning Prayers.

This evening I completed the bicycle repair class I signed up for at the Broadway Bicycle School. The subject of tonight's class was rear derailleur adjustments. I'm slightly miffed that I ever found the derailleur intimidating -- it's really not a complicated mechanical device at all. Over the past few classes we've covered a bunch of stuff worth knowing, like chain replacement, brake adjustments, and bearing system adjustments. Before the bearing class I had never seen or used a cone wrench, and the brake class happened to come up in the nick of time as both sets of my brake pads were almost completely worn out. The first class was on tires and flat replacement, which I'd done on my own before; nonetheless, I picked up some useful tips. All in all, I think it's been a worthwhile investment and I can recommend the class with enthusiasm. Maybe down the line I'll sign up for the advanced class, covering wheel truing, cable replacement, front derailleurs, and hub and headset overhauls.
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If I ever marry a physicist, particularly if she works in high-energy, we have got to have this Standard Model wedding cake.

Another cake idea, something which would be funny for Scottish class but which I'll never implement because I'm awful at such things, would be a cake decorated with Pilling diagrams.
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My lab's first big paper just came out in Science. If I may say so, it's a pretty neat bit of physics -- there's a nice "Perspectives" summary of the paper by John Crocker in the same issue.
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Whee... it's been kind of an insanely couple of weeks.

UChoir had its first service of the semester last weekend. Morning Prayers have now started up again, and my body is still sort of reeling from the readjustment, particularly since I've been a night owl since college.

As I've mentioned before, UChoir's spring concert will be Bach's St John Passion. We'll be performing it on Passion Sunday, March 28 -- two months away. We had read through the first chorus ("Herr, unser Herrscher") and a couple of the chorales in the fall, but have only started to work on the piece in earnest in this week's rehearsals. This will be intense -- it took the Swarthmore College Chorus the entire semester to learn the St John, and that was with a few particularly difficult movements or sections of movements delegated to the Chamber Choir. And of course we still have to prepare music for Sunday services between now and March. But in two rehearsals we've gotten most of the notes in place for all the choral movements in Part I and made a solid start on the German, and we are having an extra rehearsal after this Sunday's service to read through the rest of the piece.

Bach apparently revised the St John Passion several times during his life. At Swarthmore we did the earliest version, from 1724. UChoir is doing the 1749 version, the last performed in Bach's lifetime. It is quite close to the 1724 version, but there are changes in harmony and orchestration. One of the first ones I noticed -- the first chorale ("O gro├če Lieb") ends on a Picardy third in the 1724 version, but not in the 1749. There will apparently be a pre-concert talk by Prof. Christoph Wolff -- apparently one of the world's best Bach scholars -- in which we'll sing through the different revisions of the first chorale, which will be pretty neat.

One interesting development -- I'll be taking a class this semester for once, although not on physics. Phillip Sadler, an education researcher at the Center for Astrophysicists, teaches from time to time a course called "Scientists Teaching Science." The focus is on cognitive and methodological research on science teaching; I think the material will be really interesting. While nowhere near as demanding as any typical Swarthmore social science class, it'll be a nontrivial amount of work, with reading and generally a short paper to write weekly. But I think I'll get a lot out of the class, and it looks like it'll have an interesting mixture of people from a variety of science disciplines -- physics, astronomy, chemistry, geology, and biology all being represented.
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If the reader comments to this morning's Boston Globe article about Coakley and Brown's final day of campaigning are at all representative of the mood of the electorate in Massachusetts, then we should be scared. Yes, there's selection bias and all that, but I'm still very worried.

I need to work tomorrow -- I am being trained on the scanning electron microscope in the afternoon, and I look forward to meeting with my advisor who returns from a weeklong trip tomorrow. But the campaign is asking for volunteers to hold signs and greet commuters at T stations from 6:30-9:30 am tomorrow morning, and I may be able to help with that.
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The latest poll results in the MA Senate special election are truly frightening, showing Brown with a slight lead (within uncertainty) over Coakley:

Time was when I considered myself a Republican, and while there are plenty of typical Democratic positions on economic issues with which I disagree, I do not want to send a supporter of the use of torture to the Senate. More importantly, in the current political climate, one fears for the ability of Congress to pass any legislation without a supermajority. And while there is much that is problematic in the current health care reform proposals, it would be a disaster to see that fail.

I was originally planning to spend part of the weekend at Arisia, and also need to spend a bunch of time practicing. I just made a donation to the Coakley campaign, and now I wonder if the weekend would not be better spent volunteering for her campaign.
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This evening Catherine Miller and I played downstairs for Basic, which went decently, although in hindsight the name tune for "Birks of Invermay", while pretty, is not a good one for beginners to dance to. John Chambers led the band upstairs for the social hour, for which Catherine and I also played. I was pretty happy with how that went, for the most part. Our second strathspey set had Alasdair Fraser's lovely "Pamela Rose Grant," as well as one of my favorite strathspeys, Nathaniel Gow's "Sir George Clerk of Pennycuik," which I fell in love with from one of Muriel Johnstone's recordings. We followed that with De'il Amang the Tailors, which is fun to play as well as dance, and closed with Jay Ungar's "Ashokan Farewell." The Ungar by itself would have made my evening, but because of the rest of it I'm still on a musical high...

I recently made a few purchases of a musical nature. [ profile] qianian kindly gave me his copy of the Portland Collection, Vol. 1 a few months ago; I just bought the second volume. Now I've got the standard tunebooks (or at least what is standard up here in Boston) for contra as well as Scottish and English. I also got the first 2 volumes of "The Waltz Book," which I've also been asked to play from before. A personal pet peeve: Volume 1 of that work contains "Neil Gow's Lament on the Death of His Second Wife." While it may indeed be in waltz time, playing it at the tempo and with the lilt necessary for waltzing would utterly destroy the feeling of arguably the most pathetic Scottish slow air ever written.

I also bought an inexpensive Hohner melodica. No one around here plays Scottish melodica, but I have heard it used in English dance music. I figured it'd be a cheap, extremely portable instrument, capable of playing chords as well as melody, that wouldn't be too hard to pick up as a pianist. Hopefully by the time NEFFA or Pinewoods rolls around I'll be sufficiently proficient to be able to play it in jam sessions.

Catherine and I are going to apply to play a 20 minute recital slot at the Harvard Arts First festival on May 1st. We've started to toss around some ideas for sets. Assuming it works out it'll be the first time I'll have performed in a formal recital as a pianist in years. But it'll be a good incentive to get some more solo tunes under my belt in the next few months. Moreover, as an RSCDS musician you so often have to abuse the music to suit the dancing -- pipe marches get sped up to jig tempo, and slow airs played as strathspeys usually have to go considerably quicker than one would want to. Nor does one generally get the opportunity to play strathspey/reel medleys. So it'll be nice to not have to stay within the constraints of RSCDS style.
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In keeping with the decision I arrived at last night, I attended the 11:15 service at Trinity Episcopal in Copley Square this morning. I'd been in front of the church plenty of times, when [ profile] gallian had talked me into going to outdoor international dancing a few summers back, but had never gone in. It was a mostly pleasant 5 mile bike ride downtown from my apartment, save for one maniac of a driver speeding and swerving on the Harvard Bridge. And I hadn't realized before how pretty the stretch of Comm Ave that runs through the Back Bay is with snow on the ground.

As for the service -- a lot of Episcopal churches do Communion every Sunday. Trinity has a weekly communion at 9:00, but their principal 11:15 service is Morning Prayer on all but the 1st Sunday of the month. One of the things I'd like to find out is the rationale for doing Morning Prayer vs. Holy Eucharist as a Sunday service.

The full Episcopalian Morning Prayer is considerably more involved, and richer, than the brief service customary at Harvard. (I would not be surprised if Harvard's Morning Prayers were much more extensive than the current 15 minutes in days of yore when attendance was compulsory.) Early in the service I was surprised that the entire congregation was asked to sing the plainchant canticle with the choir -- it's so easy to trip over the words or move incorrectly when not on the reciting tone. The canticle was followed by a spoken psalm and two Scripture lessons, with an anthem after each lesson. These were the Magnificat and Nunc Dimmitis in Bb of Stanford (pretty -- in UChoir we almost never get to sing Magnificats). During the Nunc I was surprised to see a woman in the front of the sanctuary waving a kite mounted to a pole; this was apparently the signal for the children in the congregation to assemble downstairs for the childrens' sermon.

The preacher's text this morning was the baptism of Christ, according to Luke. The preacher spoke about the imago Dei, our recognition of that through Baptism, and of the need to be listening to God's call in our lives -- a focused and relatively concise sermon. Following the sermon there was another anthem during the offertory, the "Three Kings" of Cornelius, the one with the bass solo over a serene "Wie schon leuchtet der Morgenstern." The service concluded with the usual blessing and hymn, and a choral benediction.

I stopped by the Welcome Table in the church foyer after the postlude (Buxtehude, Praludium in F). The lady there happened to be a convert from Catholicism, as well. She invited me downstairs for the coffee hour, where I chatted with a couple of people. It seemed relatively friendly for a large church, and certainly way more so than most Catholic churches. I could definitely see myself coming back.
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During this January Term, Sunday services continue at Memorial Church, but the choir is off and there are no Morning Prayers -- I would venture to guess that only UChoir's grad students and maybe a handful of the undergrads are in town. So tomorrow and next Sunday are rare opportunities to check out other churches in the area. Given how many churches there are in Boston, choosing one or two is no easy task.

I'm pretty sure I'm going to limit myself to Episcopalian, for now. There are some other traditions I would be very interested in checking out at some point, in particular the Society of Friends -- I was playing the piano for Mass nearly every Sunday at Swarthmore, and never went to Quaker meeting. I find much to respect in the Quakers, but I could never be a pacifist.

It's enough of a hike that I don't think I'd be going there regularly, but I'd like to check out Trinity Episcopal down in Copley Square tomorrow morning for their 11:15 service with choir. Liturgy looks like it'll be sufficiently high church for my taste, they've got one of the best organs in Boston, and it is encouraging that their website mentions an LGBT fellowship.
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So I decided to bite the bullet and register for the basic repair class at the Broadway Bicycle School. The cost seems pretty reasonable for a 10-hour course, and I look forward to being able to extend my bike repair abilities beyond replacing punctured inner tubes.

My brother and I were talking yesterday about various people we had known from high school, and somehow the subject of a local New Year's tradition that I participated in for a few years came up. This was a 5 mile road race known as the Hamilton Hangover. I'd generally go run it with some teammates from cross country/track; if nothing else we'd get some fast mileage for the day and a T-shirt out of it.

It then occurred to me that due to the race's late start, around noon, it would be possible if insane to have an unforgettable New Year's by dancing DelVal Hogmanay, stretching legs and icing feet, getting a few hours of sleep, and then running the Hamilton Hangover. One would probably even have time to make it to the DelVal recovery party after the race, assuming one had any energy left and one's legs were not turned into mush.

Frankly, two or three miles of very gentle running to warm up the legs, followed by extensive stretching, might actually be quite helpful in recovering from Hogmanay.
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I was more than a little shocked this morning to notice the amount of corrosion that had built up on my chain and rear cassette. I hadn't noticed it Saturday when I was wrestling on my winter tires; I'm sure the exposure to snow and road salt over the last few days has not helped. I do know I'm well overdue for a chain cleaning and lubrication and evidently need to attend to that once as soon as possible after I get back from NJ; obviously I need to greatly improve my (heretofore minimal) bike maintenance routine.

I hope the corrosion on my cassette is just rust from the chain accumulating, rather than any serious damage to the cassette itself. I should hate to have to replace that component in under a year's worth of riding. According to the interwebs, removal of the rear cassette is a nontrivial task requiring some specialized tools, which I do not own. I guess I'll have to see what I can do about cleaning it while mounted.

Now, more than ever, I really feel like I should take a bicycle mechanics' course, such as that offered by the Broadway Bicycle School. A good experimental physicist ought to be ashamed of having as little mechanical knowledge, practical skill, and courage to work on his own bike as I do.
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Peter Barnes's band "Bare Necessities" is probably the best known English country dance band in the area, and as far as I can tell they are very highly regarded in general. I sort of had a mental note in my head to try to listen to them live (maybe out in Arlington some Wednesday night) or to get some CD's -- I am the listed pianist (with a fiddler and a woodwind player) on May 26 for the Harvard Square English dance, and while I've played for ECD before there's a lot more I should learn before then.

Anyway -- if you Google "Bare Necessities", an underwear vendor and a naturist travel agency come up before the band.
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