You may have noticed that this blog (and the rest of my site) has moved to a commercial web hosting provider. After nine years and three months, I’m leaving my job at IARC for a new position at ABR, Inc. ABR is an environmental consulting firm that has been in business in Fairbanks for more than 30 years. They’ve got an excellent reputation in Fairbanks for being a great place to work, and they take their responsibilities toward their employees and the environment very seriously. The new job is much the same as my job at IARC: supporting scientists in their work, and trying to find ways to use technology to help them do their jobs more effectively.
It’s very exciting for me, but at the same time, leaving my office and my co-workers at IARC has been very difficult. After nine years of working with the same group of people, I’ve come to consider many of them my good friends and it is going to be a real struggle to walk out on April 1st. Add to that, this is the first professional job I’ve ever had. I’ve had a lot of jobs (graduate student, teaching assistant, warehouse worker, office director, short-order cook, etc.), but IARC is the place where I learned to be an IT professional, and it’s because of IARC that I was able to get the job at ABR.
Changes: Hard + Good.
Another fantastic book from Michael Pollan. This one is a very quick consideration of what food has become in our society, how it has affected our health, and how we can escape the obvious perils that this diet has caused. The first section considers the rise of “nutritionism,” and if you read his article on the subject from The New York Times Magazine, much of this material will be familiar. The argument is that the discovery of macro- and micro-nutrients has allowed scientists, journalists, and industrial food producers to keep consumers focused on the nutrients in food rather than the food itself. This is important because as food producers began modifying food into food-like substances, they could use the science of nutrition to enrich their food-like substances with what scientists were telling the public they needed. So when you refine whole wheat grains into white flour, you eliminate most of the nutrients from the grains. No problem: just add those nutrients back in. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that this doesn’t work. Food isn’t just a collection of nutrients, and a loaf of nutrition-enriched bread-like substance made from refined grains, chemical additives and preservatives won’t give you the same benefits of a real loaf of bread made from whole grains, yeast, salt and water.
The second section discusses the “Western Diet,” and how unhealthy it is. He defines the Western Diet as a diet with “lots of processed foods and meat, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of everything except fruits, vegetables, and whole grains” (page 89). As a result of this diet, fortified with all the nutrients and vitamins science tells us we need, two-thirds of Americans are overweight, one-quarter have metabolic syndrome, and the incidence of type 2 diabetes has been going up by 5 percent every year since 1990. The United States is now 45th in the world for life expectancy at birth. The interesting (and hopeful) thing is that the health consequences of this diet can be rapidly reversed by eating differently.
The last section of the book offers some advice on how to modify your own diet in the form of a series of rules. For example, one of the best rules is this one:
Avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable, c) more than five in number, or that include d) high-fructose corn syrup.
This is a tough one to follow. Earlier in the week I went to the supermarket to get hamburger buns, and there were none on the shelf that would be allowed under this rule. All of them had high-fructose corn syrup in them. Short of making my own (which I may try tomorrow), I have no valid choices at the supermarket. All the hamburger buns available don’t really qualify as food.
All the rules are condensed down to one short statement that appears on the cover: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” But despite the simplicity of that prescription, reading the book is well worth it. It’s a very quick read, and really brings the point home that we need to think more critically about what we’re eating in this country.
I took Nika out skijoring both days this weekend. She’s still doing really well, although she wasn’t pulling as hard on the way back as she did last weekend. We had a lot of wind on Friday and it blew debris all over the trail, so not only did that slow us down, but there’s a lot more distractions for Nika. Andrea took a few photos as we came back to the house. If you click on the images you can see larger versions. There’s a sled dog team behind me in the first photo.
Andrea is out racing in North Pole and had plenty of handlers, so I decided to stay home. Instead of taking Nika for a regular walk, I waxed my skis and tried skijoring. Andrea taught her to do it almost ten years ago, but Nika hasn’t done it since, and she wasn’t very good at it back then anyway. Today I took her down to the Creek, put on my skis and hooked her up. She knew right away what was going on and she ran straight ahead and pulled like a champion dog. I have a two mile trail that starts on the Creek and then crosses up to the mushing trail in the forest for the return trip home, and Nika was hooked up for about two-thirds of it. On the mushing trail, she was pulling me fast enough that the wind was whistling in my hair and I was worried about what would happen if I fell down (I haven’t been skiing in ten years either…). Luckily, I managed to keep my balance, and except for dipping for poops, she kept up the pace the whole way.
I’m very proud of her. She did a very good job, and both of us had a good time.
On Tuesday I got a 1939 edition of Aaron Copland’s wonderful book, What to Listen for in Music. I recently came across Alex Ross’s manifesto from The New Yorker, and while looking up the Bernstein books he recommended, amazon “suggested” I look at Copland’s book. I’m glad I did. Several quotes from the book make me think Ross would recommend it too:
I have often observed that the mark of a real music lover was an imperious desire to become familiar with every manifestation of the art, ancient and modern.
– Aaron Copland. 1939. What to Listen for in Music. p. vii.
This is one of the things I like about reading Ross’s columns; he’s interested in all types of music, even if he typically writes about “modern” classical music (a phrase he certainly wouldn’t like anyone using to describe his columns, but sometimes you’re stuck describing something the way everyone else does). Copland mentions jazz quite a few times, and while rock and roll doesn’t appear in the book, I’ll bet he listened to and appreciated that musical form too.
If all new music sounds continually and unrelievedly dissonant to you, then it is a safe guess that your listening experience is insufficient as regards music of your own time—which is not so strange in the majority of cases, when we realize the small proportion of new music heard by the average listener compared with what he hears of the music of former times.
– Ibid. p. 75.
Something I’ll have to keep in mind in listening to Stockhausen…
The book also features listening suggestions. In the section on musical texture and polyphony, Copland suggests listening to Bach’s Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (BWV 639 and part of the “Little Organ Book”, Orgelbüchlein). I pulled out and ripped the Complete Bach Edition CD VI-6, which contains this piece. As an example of polyphony, it’s actually the simplest work in the Orgelbüchlein, having only three voices instead of the usual four (or five in the case of BWV 599, Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland). Copland suggests listening four times; first listening for the main soprano melody, then isolating the bass line, then the alto melody, and finally trying to hear all the melodies at the same time. Here’s what the first few measures look like:
This will take some more practice. I can get the soprano and the bass melodies pretty easily, but I have a hard time pulling out the alto melody, and hearing them all at the same time.
The second movement of Bach’s Italian Concerto (BWV 971) also comes up in the rhythm section, and in the initial discussion of melody. It’s on the Complete Bach Edition CD II-10. There’s no score for it at the MutopiaProject, but it is easy enough to hear what Copland is talking about. Bach simulates the contrasting instruments that are normally part of a concerto by playing the two different manuals (forte and piano) of a harpsichord against each other.
In the section on musical forms, Copland cites the classic passacaglia variation form, Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor (BWV 582). CD VI-10 in my box set, so I ripped it and listened to that one too. A passacaglia has a repeated bass melody, but each time it repeats, it’s a bit different. Bach takes this to extremes by the end of this version, but because it starts slowly and the variations change incrementally, it is really easy to pick up the melody as it repeats, even when it moves completely off the bass line. If you’ve got a copy of it, listen carefully, following along with the music below (don’t worry, I can’t read music either…).
Bach comes up again in the chapter on free forms since Bach wrote so many preludes (the free form) and fugues. The example cited is the B flat major Prelude from Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I (BWV 866). It’s on CD II-2. Listening to the prelude part, and then the fugue part of the same work is instructive. The prelude moves forward, the long line meandering around, but there’s nothing obvious (melody, rhythm, etc.) tying it together. When the fugue comes around, you can hear the contrapuntal melodies traveling around each other in a way you don’t hear in the prelude.
There’s a lot to listen to, and a lot of listening to do, but I’m beginning to feel like I have a few more of the tools needed to really understand what’s going on in the music.
The last paragraph in the book reads,
Music can only be really alive when there are listeners who are really alive. To listen intently, to listen consciously, to listen with one’s whole intelligence is the least we can do in the furtherance of an art that is one of the glories of mankind.
– Aaron Copland. 1939. What to Listen for in Music. p. 253.