31 December 2010

Happy New Orbit!

Congratulations everyone!  You have survived another trip around the sun! 

Since January 1st, 2010, you have traveled just over 580 million miles, not counting any walking, driving, or any other form of movement you may have done.  "Traveled" may be a bit of a stretch, since really you have been falling constantly since last New Year's--held in check by gravity's pull--but "traveled" sounds much more accomplished.  Add to that the fact that you are continuously racing east at about 67,000 mph (thanks to Earth's rotation--add another 80 mph if you're driving home to Utah), and you've actually put a lot of miles on that body of yours over the past year.  Who can complain about a few new wrinkles, on the body or in the brain, with that much travel?  Especially considering that no one gets motion sickness despite hurtling thousands of miles through space every second of every day.

Here's hoping another splendid voyage to you and yours!

30 December 2010

My Websites of the Year

  • Sports- ESPN: #1 most visited site, other than email.
  • News- The Week: By far the best weekly news magazine, and the website stacks up fairly well.
  • Politics- RealClearPolitics: Daily compilation from the world of politics.
  • Religion- LDS.org: Still learning my way around the new site (and the scriptures, for that matter).
  • Literature- Goodreads: Keeping track of my reading since 2006.
  • Learning- TED Talks: Every time I'm on this site, it fills me with wonder- what people can do, how much more there still is to do.
  • Money- Mises.org: It was Mint, but then I stopped having an income.
  • Trivia (applying)- Sporcle: I really like trivia.  But some of these quizzes make me feel very ignorant. 
  • Trivia (acquiring)- MentalFloss: Another magazine-turned-website.
Your favorites?

    Endor's #1 Citizen

    Tonight playing CatchPhrase, my buddy Johnny was struggling to give clues for the idiom "Sticky Wicket".  After the buzzer sounded and he told us the word, Tommy yelled, "Why didn't you just say 'the best Ewok glued to you?!'" 

    Coincidentally, the phrase "sticky wicket" refers to a difficult problem-- like a sticky situation-- and is based on cricket terminology.  Which reminds me, I have to post about baseball slang.

    28 December 2010

    Another perfect fit...

    Yesterday I was reading a short introduction to Nassim Taleb's book The Bed of Procrustes, and was introduced to the title character, an innkeeper from Greek mythology who would fit all guests into the same iron bed-- either by chopping off tall people's legs or by stretching short people.  Think of Procrustes as Goldilocks meets Sweeney Todd.  Generalizing the story, Wikipedia notes:
    "In general, when something is Procrustean, different lengths or sizes or properties are fitted to an arbitrary standard."
    Taleb goes on to comment that a fitting example of a Procrustean bed in modern times is our tendency to medicate schoolchildren rather than change the curriculum.  As a former educator-- one who can attest that about one-third of high school students are on some sort of behavioral medication-- this point struck home.

    (The one-page resume, the five paragraph essay,  and many licensing programs are further examples.  I'm sure you can think of more.)

    Taleb, the author of "The Black Swan" (the economics book, not the Portman ballet film) has apparently filled his latest effort with aphorisms, like a 21st century Poor Richard's or Art of War.  Might be worth a read, but certainly worth some thought.


    I had been planning to write one of several VERY intelligent posts that have been brewing in my head all day, but started playing Smash Brothers about four hours ago and haven't stopped.  Story of my high school career, right there.  Back to it.

    26 December 2010

    A Recommendation

    Most of you who read my blog have probably already followed my friend Bryant's blog through it's many iterations.  For those of you who haven't, I highly recommend his recent string of posts on homelessness. I'm conflicted about the idea of "social justice",  but this is exactly what I would want to post if my thoughts and/or conscience were clear.  Here are the links:

    25 December 2010

    Jamais Vu

    "We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."  -T.S. Eliot
    Every once in a while I'll be looking at a familiar person or place-- someone or somewhere that I've known for time beyond memory-- and all of a sudden I see it as if I never have before.  Maybe what I am looking at has changed, or maybe I have, but for whatever reason, it seems entirely new to me.  These rare instances of "jamais vu" (the opposite of deja vu) are usually a little disconcerting but mostly enjoyable, like reliving a little bit of my life over again.

    This happened to me the other day in church, while we were singing "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear".  I can't count how many times I've sung that Christmas carol, but for whatever reason the second verse struck me as if I'd never heard it before.

    Still through the cloven skies they come
    With peaceful wings unfurled,
    And still their heavenly music floats
    O’er all the weary world;
    Above its sad and lowly plains,
    They bend on hovering wing,
    And ever over its Babel sounds
    The blessed angels sing.

    Maybe it's for these type of experiences that we have holiday traditions in the first place (or was is the second place?).

    24 December 2010

    Merry Christmas!

    From Jesus the Christ by James Talmage:

    To the student of history this Man among men stands first, foremost, and alone, as a directing personality in the world's progression. Mankind has never produced a leader to rank with Him. Regarded solely as a historic personage He is unique. Judged by the standard of human estimation, Jesus of Nazareth is supreme among men by reason of the excellence of His personal character, the simplicity, beauty, and genuine worth of His precepts, and the influence of His example and doctrines in the advancement of the race. To these distinguishing characteristics of surpassing greatness the devout Christian soul adds an attribute that far exceeds the sum of all the others—the divinity of Christ's origin and the eternal reality of His status as Lord and God.

    His life on earth marked at once the culmination of the past and the inauguration of an era distinctive in human hope, endeavor, and achievement.  His advent determined a new order in the reckoning of the years; and by common consent the centuries antedating His birth have been counted backward from the pivotal event and are designated accordingly.  —"The rise and fall of dynasties, the birth and dissolution of nations, all the cycles of history as to war and peace, as to prosperity and adversity, as to health and pestilence, seasons of plenty and of famine, the awful happenings of earthquake and storm, the triumphs of invention and discovery, the epochs of man's development in godliness and the long periods of his dwindling in unbelief—all the occurrences that make history—are chronicled throughout Christendom by reference to the year before or after the birth of Jesus Christ.

    His earthly life covered a period of thirty-three years; and of these but three were spent by Him as an acknowledged Teacher openly engaged in the activities of public ministry. He was brought to a violent death before He had attained what we now regard as the age of manhood's prime. As an individual He was personally known to but few; and His fame as a world character became general only after His death.

    Brief account of some of His words and works has been preserved to us; and this record, fragmentary and incomplete though it be, is rightly esteemed as the world's greatest treasure.

    No adequate biography of Jesus as Boy and Man has been or can be written, for the sufficing reason that a fullness of data is lacking. Nevertheless, man never lived of whom more has been said and sung, none to whom is devoted a greater proportion of the world's literature. He is extolled by Christian, Mohammedan and Jew, by skeptic and infidel, by the world's greatest poets, philosophers, statesmen, scientists, and historians. Even the profane sinner in the foul sacrilege of his oath acclaims the divine supremacy of Him whose name he desecrates.

    23 December 2010

    Pirates Love Christmas

    I think I might have to pick this one up tomorrow... 
     A Pirate's Night Before Christmas (excerpt)
    By Philip Yates 

    "Twas the night before Christmas aboard the Black Sark.
    Not a creature was stirrin', not even a shark!
    The stockin's were stuck to the bowsprit with tar,
    In hopes that Sir Peggedy soon would be thar.

    The pirates were snorin' like pigs in thar beds,
    While visions of treasure chests danced in thar heads.
    An' I with me spyglass and scruffy old dog,
    Stood watch in the crow's nest for ships in the fog.

    When out in the mist thar arose such a racket,
    I slid down the mast with me sword to attack it.
    Away to the poop deck I ran very fast,
    I threw off the anchor and shouted, "AVAST!"

    Straight up from the sea in the foamy white spray,
    Flew eight giant sea horses pullin' a sleigh."

    Or check out "The Night Before the Morning After" by Dave Berry.  Bowlful of jelly is right.

    22 December 2010

    Check Your Local Listings

    As I've noted before, I really like lists.  This time of year is primo for lists, especially since this is the end of a decade- (or is it the start? My graduating class-- Class of 2000 woot! woot!-- had a major debate debate about that a decade ago).  The best websites of 2010, the biggest news stories of the decade, the greatest video games of all-time... these are the sort of things that I like to spend my time looking up.  In fact, I just stopped writing this post for the last half hour in order to read Top 10 lists for "Biblical Facts Everyone Gets Wrong" and "Great Alternative Christmas Songs", among others.

    I'm not sure why I'm programmed this way, but it's one of my very favorite things about the week between Christmas and New Year's.  So every time you're flipping through the channels and come across "The Best 100 Songs/Plays/Celebrity Faux Pas" of the past year, just think of me.

    21 December 2010

    Mental Vacation

    Whenever I'm facing the drive home (or any drive longer than 2 hours), I fantasize about teleportation.  Wouldn't it be awesome to just apparate and skip the whole day of travel? 

    And then, as I finally pulled into my parents' driveway this evening, it dawned on me: physical teleportation may not be possible, but mental teleportation certainly is.  I had climbed into Petey the Protege nine hours earlier, and when I oozed out a full day later, it was almost like no time had passed-- at least according to my brain.  Sure, I had listened to sports talk for several hours and an entire book on CD, but the drive was mindless enough that it was almost as if I had "slept" through the whole thing- like a car-seat snoozing toddler waking up to find that someone had carried them home and tucked them in.  Three sodas, a bag of sunflower seeds later (yes, my mouth is salt-raw), and zero mental energy later, I was home.

    I suppose that in order for time to be reckoned, someone has to reckon it.  Apparently sleep and long drives are two ways to press fast-forward- TiVo for your life. 

    20 December 2010

    600 Miles of This

    Not too much of a post tonight, because I'm getting up early tomorrow to start the westward trek home and I still have to finish packing.  Gotta say, not really looking forward to scenic Nevada.

    19 December 2010

    Just One Week Left!

    Just to help make sure you get all your holiday movie watching in...

    18 December 2010

    My Vacation Reading List

    • At Home- Bill Bryson
    • Beatrice and Virgil- Yann Martel
    • Let the Great World Spin- Colum McCann
    • Take Joy- Jane Yolen
    • Pride and Prejudice- Jane Austen
    • As many of the remaining 24 Newbery Award winners as I can get to.  (Update: I've read 65 over the past 5 years.  This definitely deserves its own post.)
    Now I just have to find an audio book to get me across Nevada twice.  Any recommendations?

    17 December 2010

    Tabernacles of Clay

    My favorite building in Provo burned down early this morning.  Is it weird to have a favorite building?  Is it weird to feel sad, almost mournful, about a building fire?  Because that's kind of how I feel right now.

    I attended services at the Provo Tabernacle maybe a half dozen times--that's all--but I still have a sense of loss.  One Easter morning I went to an early morning concert there.  As usual I sat in the balcony, climbing the spiraling stairs to the narrow wooden pews.  As the choir belted out "Come Thou Fount" the sun crested the mountains and streamed through the stained glass windows; it was truly triumphant.  That moment taught me something about God, and I think that's the Tabernacle's legacy- it was a place to experience the Divine.  I'll miss it.

    16 December 2010

    The one that got away

    Question #2 of my Leadership final read:

    Label the five levels of teams (10 points).  How does a team move from one level to the next? (5 points)

    My answer read:
    In my defense, we hadn't covered this topic since orientation.  Another student labeled it as the food pyramid.  A third drew a group of stick figures climbing the mountain.  I don't think that I'll get full credit on this one.

    15 December 2010

    The Human Element

    Two finals tomorrow: Leadership and Human Capital Management.  Since my Leadership class was the inspiration for my renewed enthusiasm for blogging, I think I'll take on the HR class tonight.

    I have a love/hate relationship with Human Resources.  On the one hand, I truly feel like people are the most valuable asset any organization has--that a company can have great products or super-advanced technology or a dynamic business model, but it is the people who make all those things possible.  I believe that a strong focus on and strategy for identifying, attracting, retaining, and motivating top talent is the lifeblood of a quality organization.  I stand beside the idea that culture is crucial, and that people will work harder for a cause than for a buck.  And last but not least, I personally derive both energy and satisfaction from working with people.

    These advantages, however, come in sharp contrast with the disappointing reality of what it means to be an HR professional in many companies.  Rather than being a primary influence in organizational strategy, HR is forced to constantly defend its "place at the table"-- which results in a certain defensiveness that HR "adds value to the company".  (If you have to bring it up, then there are definitively people who don't believe it.)  Instead of having valuable interactions with organizational movers and shakers, HR is far too often relegated to transactional work-- a necessary evil, but enervating and potentially demoralizing.  Finally, (and this probably says more about me personally than about HR in general), it rubs me the wrong way that HR recruiters usually frame their highest aspiration as being an assistant to increasingly senior-level Business Partners.

    The dual nature of my feelings for HR are mirrored in my thoughts about the class (and not surprisingly, in my internship search)-- sort of a Jekyll and Hyde reaction depending on my perception of the day's topic.  Org. behavior and design? Excellent.  Strategy?  Love it.  Union avoidance? Ugh.

    And with that, stay tuned for the next episode of "Confessions of a Hesitant HR Major".  Sorry for the drama.
    P.S. The term "human capital" is awesome.

    14 December 2010

    Don't Sell Sizzle or the Steak; Sell Satisfaction

    Marketing final tomorrow. One of the things from this class that has really stuck with me is the importance of knowing what your customers value about your product (that was the purpose behind all that Quill and Sword stuff a week or two ago). Studies show that all of the products or services we seek out can be attributed to our trying to satisfy at least one of 19 personal values:

    • Accomplishment • Active Life • Belonging • Beautiful World • Comfortable Life • Efficiency • Equality • Family Love • Family Security • Financial Security • Freedom • Future Generations • Good Mom/Dad • Happiness/Joy/Pleasure • Individualism • Inner Harmony • Healthy/Long Life • Mature Love • Patriotism • Personal Responsibility • Personal Security • Progress • Salvation • Self-Respect • Self-Satisfaction • Social Recognition • True Friendship • Wisdom • World Peace • Youthfulness

    A second takeaway: good advertising is really refreshing. There's just something about seeing an ad and being delighted by it. I remember years ago witnessing my mom and sister both sob through an AT&T commercial about a runaway phoning home on Christmas. Here are three four recent faves:

    13 December 2010

    Feeling Finance

    Struggling to keep eyelids up, but committed to blogging... Business Finance tonight.

    This is a class that should be mandated for passage into adulthood-- we certainly wouldn't have many of the financial problems we have today.

    We spent the first week or two talking about the time value of money-- the principle that a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow.  I became somewhat of an Excel wizard crunching numbers for retirement savings, college savings, personal savings-- it was all very depressing.  (The hardest part about this class is learning all these fantastic principles while having zero income.  Can't wait to start making some money again so I can put them into practice.)

    From there, the course covered how to value paper assets (stocks and bonds) and capital assets (things and stuff), as well as the best way to pay for them.  Best of all, at long last I can read the Wall Street Journal without a translator.

    (I realize this is a terribly boring post, and I haven't done the subject justice, but I'm afraid that I'm too tired to fix it.  Please don't give up on me- it's finals week.)

    12 December 2010

    What's Ops, Doc?

    This week is finals week, but I’d much rather blog than study, so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone by posting summaries for each of my classes in preparation for the final the next day.  First up: Operations Management.

    Operations Management is a study of the systems whereby value is created.  My professor describes this as “taking inputs—labor, capital, equipment, and materials—and transforming them into outputs of greater value to the organization’s customers.”  

    To be sure, at the start Ops looked like a whole lot of flowcharts and assembly lines, but what I loved about it was that at its core, Ops is all about continuous improvement—of taking something and tweaking it and making it just a little bit better.   We talked in terms of efficiency and optimization, bottlenecks and bullwhips, lags and leads, cells and batch sizes; but at the heart of it all was the idea that incremental progress eventually results in perfection, that failures are necessary for improvement and should be identified rather than punished, and that small, seemingly insignificant processes can have huge ramifications for an entire system.  (Toyota, who does operations better than anyone, has built an entire philosophy around these ideas: Kaizen.)

    The other thing that I loved about Ops is that it has been one of those rare classes (Econ 110 being another standout) that has provided me with an entirely new framework by which to see the world.  I’m not sure I can adequately describe what I mean, but it has a lot to do with viewing change as a sum of its collective parts, and with seeing means and ends as inherently inseparable.

    As a side note, Operations Management was my first entirely case-based course, meaning that every class session revolved around a real organization.  We learned Ops by reading about and discussing chocolatiers and cranberry co-ops, Threadless t-shirts and Benihana sushi.  All in all, I really liked this method; it’s a solid mix of practical and theoretical learning.

    White Elephants on Parade

    I have participated in a white elephant gift exchange thrice in the last 48 hours.  Which begs the questions, why do we call it that?

    Apparently, the night before the Buddha was born, his mother dreamed that a white elephant presented her with a lotus flower.  Consequently, albino elephants became symbolic of power and good fortune, and were kept by royalty across southeast Asia (which required a good fortune itself- providing room and board for a religious icon comes at no small expense).

    Now the tricky part of the story came later, when the royals became displeased with some underling and "gifted" them the white elephant.  The sheer expense of such an "honor" would inevitably ruin the recipient, and has left us with a holiday tradition where friends exchange junk while hoping for treasure. 

    11 December 2010

    "Reading" Days

    Today I honored my long-time tradition for the first reading day (the day after classes end but before finals begin):
    • Slept in.
    • Ate treats (Sammy's pie milkshakes deserve their own post).
    • Played Nintendo (Smash Brothers also deserves it own post).
    • Didn't study.
    Great day.  And I'm not about to spoil my 24 hours of indolence with a long, intelligent blog post.  Check back tomorrow.

    09 December 2010

    On Taxes

    Like most people, I don't like taxes.  I pay my taxes because I acknowledge that the government provides certain necessary services, and that as a recipient, it's my responsibility to pay for them.  Sure, I don't collect welfare or medicaid or unemployment, and I'm not really expecting to receive Social Security when it comes time for that, but I can't really complain.  I understand that as a citizen, I should pay taxes.
    But do you realize that the lower 50% of income earners cumulatively pay less than 3% of the country's total income tax? Less than 3%!  One-third of  tax filers pay zero taxes, and that doesn't even count the number of people don't file at all, either through evasion or because they earning no taxable income.

    This is only moderately acceptable, but the recent claims that everyone should get a continued tax break except for the top 5% of income earners-- people already paying 35% of their income, and 60% of the country's total tax yield-- are just plain ridiculous.  Everyone else gets a pass except for those already shouldering way more than their fair share?!

    I used to buy the argument that a progressive tax might be considered equitable because people with more have more to lose if the rule of law is not provided by a steady government.  But I was thinking about that more this week, and have concluded that the exact opposite is true: government provides protection for the poor of the earth- the wealthy usually manage just fine on their own.  So there goes that point-- and most other arguments devolve into class warfare or "legal plunder."

    In Utah, we have a beautiful flat tax.  Everyone pays the same percentage of their income, so there's no disincentive to produce more.  A dollar earned is a nickel paid in taxes, no matter whom or what or how many.  And it takes literally five minutes to file my state taxes, as compared to the drudgery of the federal tax labyrinth.

    Even better would be a tax on consumption (like a sales tax) rather than on production (income tax), because if we really want to punish someone, then why not those who consume more than their share, rather than those who produce extra.  Don't we like it when people contribute more than they are expected to?

    Ugh...  I really don't like taxes.

    08 December 2010

    Strange sights from around the world... erm...neighborhood

    A few days ago I came across a pair of excellently bizarre sight-seeing websites that I thought I'd pass along-- the Atlas Obscura, which modestly claims to be "a compendium of this age's wonders, curiosities, and esoterica; and Roadside America, "Your online guide to offbeat tourist attractions."

    A few local tidbits:

    The Summum Pyramid, SLC, UT 
    "Pyramid home to obscure religious group which practices modern mummification"


    From the Atlas Obscura:  "In 1975, Claude Corky Nowell said he had an encounter with highly intelligent beings he called "Summa individuals" who revealed to him the true nature of the universe. Corky promptly changed his name to Summum Bonum Amon Ra -- though he goes by the more casual Corky Ra -- and founded the "Summum" religion.

    Based out of Salt Lake City, the Summum (Summus is Latin "highest," and Summum is a play on that) religion has its own principles of creation and laws of learning. To an outside observer, Summum resembles a blend of science fiction (encounters with aliens and cloning), new age mysticism and a blend of ancient religions.

    A particular peculiarity of the church is that it practices modern mummification. They hold that mummification allows for a soul to smoothly depart from our world to the next. Additionally, they claim the modern mummification process they use preserves the cells and enables them to be cloned in the future."

    Metaphor, the Tree of Utah, Wendover, UT 

    From Roadside America: "Metaphor is an 87-foot tall sculpture poking up out of the white plains of the Bonneville Salt Flats. The Tree was created in the early 1980s by European artist Karl Momen. It is also known as "Metaphor: The Tree of Life." It was dedicated in 1986 as 'A hymn to our universe whose glory and dimension is beyond all myth and imagination.' Artist Momen doesn't have to look at it; he bought patch of land, built the thing, and went back to Sweden."

    07 December 2010

    The Quill and the Sword, continued.

    This following is an excerpt from our final paper on everyone's favorite medieval reenactment club.

    The Quill and the Sword Medieval Reenactment Club is one of the longest continuously-operating student organizations at BYU.  It was originally founded in 1997 by two coeds, both of whom still remain in contact with the club and were recently “sainted”—the highest honor awarded by the Quill and the Sword.  The club was founded as an unofficial offshoot of the Society for Creative Anachronism, an international organization “dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe.”  As such, The Quill and the Sword lies within the Kingdom of Artemisia (Utah, Idaho, Colorado, and parts of Wyoming and Montana), in the province on Arrow’s Flight (Utah County).

    At its peak, The Quill and the Sword numbered approximately sixty active members, but have currently dwindled to fifteen. Our value analysis project and subsequent recommendations are aimed toward reversing this attrition.

    Currently, The Quill and the Sword recruits new members almost exclusively through word-of-mouth, with the notable exception of placing a pavilion in BYU’s central quad at the start of each school year.  Under this strategy (or lack thereof), club membership has been gradually dwindling from year to year—and will likely continue to do so unless replaced by more active recruiting efforts.  Our strategic recommendations are built upon this need to more effectively solicit new members.

    Due to the relatively insular (i.e. safe) nature of the club, we recommend that the bulk of new recruiting be done by leveraging groups with adjacent interests.  Through our research, we identified three primary pools from which to draw new membership: other BYU clubs, potential “feeder” classes, and local conferences.

    One source for new membership is by cross-pollinating with BYU clubs who share similar interests.  By identifying these points of intersection, the Quill and the Sword can reach out to like-minded (and potentially interested) students.  This could be accomplished through holding joint meetings or hosting combined events.  Some potential clubs to focus on include:
    • Heroes of History
    • Anthropology Club
    • Rebel Swords Fencing Club
    • Quark (BYU's Science Fiction & Fantasy Club)
    • Video Games Are My Entertainment
    A second method by which the Quill and the Sword might recruit new members is by targeting certain feeder courses offered at BYU, based once again on intersecting interests.  From our interviews, we were able to identify several possible hotbed classes, including (but certainly not limited to):
    • English 356: Myth, Legends, and Folktales
    • History 301: The Late Middle Ages
    • Honors 201: The Pen and the Sword
    • Honors 303R: J.R.R. Tolkien
    • Humanities 490R: High Middle Ages 
    In a similar vein, the Quill and the Sword could also recruit at local conferences focusing on similar themes, such as:
    • Life, the Universe, and Everything (BYU’s annual Sci-Fi & Fantasy Symposium) 
    • Timpanogos Storytelling Festival
    • Utah Renaissance Festival and Fantasy Faire

    06 December 2010


    Today my MBA group presented a project we did on The Quill & The Sword, a medieval reenactment club on campus.  We caught the intro on film:


    So that was my teammate Tigg, equally inspired by Chaucer from A Knight's Tale and Chip from The Cable Guy.

    I came away from the project with a healthy respect for the club and what they are trying to accomplish (as well as the knowledge that I currently reside in the kingdom of Artemisia and the providence of Arrow's Flight).  

    The best quote: “We have a divine purpose at BYU to be a social support and family away from family for people who might not find it elsewhere.”  Admirable.

    05 December 2010


    Our chapel is one of those 1970s affairs, solidly built from yellow brick and dark stained oak and what can only be described as speckled pink carpeting.  It is perfectly positioned smack dab between being old enough to be charming and new enough to be nice; that is to say, it is neither.  Don’t get me wrong, it is perfectly functional, and I’m grateful for it—but it won’t be winning any beauty pageants for religious architecture.

    What the chapel does have, however, is a gigantic pipe organ.  It is more edifice than instrument.  Stainless steel pipes, capped in gold, stretch twenty-five feet from floor to ceiling, gradually decreasing in size to no more than six inches.  A dozen damper flaps can be opened or closed depending on whether the hymn is to be played “triumphantly” or “with contemplation”, “humbly” or “energetically”, “calmly” or “with motion”, or my personal favorite: “exultantly”.  Now that is some organ-izing. 

    The organ itself is one thing, but our organist is somewhat of a virtuoso.  He plays the organ like Bo knows football (and everything else, apparently).  When he is at the keys, the sound reverberates through the chapel until you can feel it bounce around inside your chest.  Singing the hymns becomes like singing in the shower; the organ’s music evens out all the missed notes and nasally voices and general reluctance in the congregation so that even the most mediocre musical talent (which is still about three levels above me) sounds brilliant.  

    And so, the very first thing I noticed about my current ward was not the yellow bricks or pink carpet, but the organ and the music.

    Two quick asides:
    • When I visited my grandparents as a kid, my very favorite place to go eat was a restaurant called Pizza & Pipes, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a pizza parlor with a big ol’ pipe organ in the back.  So maybe my appreciation for the organ started early.
    • My first companion on my mission was organ-playing Brit, whose admiration for the Tabernacle organ was second only to that for his awaiting sweetheart, Emma.  I actually wrote “An Ode to the Organ” for him at one point, which I would include here now if it weren’t hidden beneath a mound of boxes.  Check back the next time I’m moving.

    04 December 2010

    Disney on the Warpath

    About a week ago, I received the following message from Bryant:  "Hey, have you seen Tangled? We saw it and it was great. It made me think of when we were talking about Disney stepping up their game."

    Well, this afternoon Star and I went to see it and boy was he right.  Disney's got its groove back.

    Now, the argument could be made that Disney never really left, because Pixar has been pumping out quality films since 1995, and Disney has been able to ride that wave (Toy Story, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Wall-E, Up, etc.)  But really, for the entire past decade the Disney Animation Studio has been all but dead.  Since Tarzan's moderate success in 1999, here is the complete list of underwhelming movies:
    • Fantasia 2000
    • Dinosaur
    • The Emperor's New Groove
    • Atlantis: The Lost Empire
    • Lilo & Stitch
    • Treasure Planet
    • Brother Bear
    • Home on the Range
    • Chicken Little
    • Meet the Robinsons
    • Bolt
    Not too much to really admire in there, with the notable exceptions of The Emperor's New Groove and Stitch's evil-meter.  Completely, totally blah.

    In the last two years, however, that's all changed.  Disney Animation studio has had two blockbusters with The Princess and the Frog and Tangled (gotta respect anything that can go toe-to-toe with Harry Potter 7 box office-wise), with a new Winnie the Pooh movie on its way.  Let's hope they can keep the magic going.

    In addition to the movies, Disney just released a new video game that gets my gamer heart all a-flutter: Epic Mickey.  Word is that they are trying to resurrect Mickey's personality by allowing a certain element of mischievousness and guile that has hitherto been sucked out or white-washed over.  The trailers look...well, epic.

    Throw into the mix the fact that Disney owns ESPN and ABC Family (with their 25 Nights of Christmas) and I can pretty much thank them for my entire weekend's entertainment.

    03 December 2010

    Worth a Thousand Words

    Babysitting my niece and nephew tonight was an exercise in mass picture book reading.  In the time it took my brother and sister-in-law to watch Harry Potter 6.5, we read:
    • Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
    • The Poky Little Puppy
    • What Do You Do with a Kangaroo?
    • Baby Mine
    • The Color Kittens
    • Five Little Monkeys
    Up next would have been Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, and then maybe the first Harry Potter (despite being only half a story, the new movie is really long).

    I was perfectly happy with this arrangement, because I love picture books.  As an undergrad, I studied in the children's lit section of the BYU library, so I could break up major cram sessions with an occasional Caldecott.  There was also a great mural there, which provided plenty of opportunity for avoidance behavior (and can provide some for you right now, if so desired).

    As far as children's books go, I'm quite partial to Where the Wild Things Are and Frog and Toad.  Anyone else have a favorite? 

    21st Century Weaponry: You're Using It Right Now

    Today I read a news story about a computer virus that was used to effectively shut down Iran's ability to enrich uranium and thereby create nuclear weapons.  The worm, known as Stuxnet, infiltrated thousands of computers, but only became active when it reached its end goal of finding the Iranian nuclear centrifuge program.  Once there, it slightly altered the rate at which the material was spun, an imperceptible change that rendered the uranium supply useless for the last year or so.  Crazy super-spy espionage type of stuff that may well have staved off an actual Israeli airstrike on Iran.  The article referred to the process as one of the first examples of a "weaponized" computer virus.

    At the same time this is going on, the world is in an uproar over the latest WikiLeaks releases and what to do  when the phrase "state secrets" becomes an oxymoron.  How do you stop crime as instantaneous and anonymous as Web-crime?  And what happens if or when nations or terrorists decide to use technology to disrupt their enemies' computerized defense or information systems? Pretty scary stuff.    

    It makes me wonder if our next major war will not be fought with guns and missiles, but with keyboards and lines of code.

    01 December 2010

    Tinsel Town

    Tonight we put up the Christmas tree.  It is a beautifully patchy wind-blown evergreen from some Idaho hillside, hand-hewn, trimmed, and now decorated with multi-colored lights, white garland, strings of beads, glass ball ornaments, and most importantly (other than the wooden star on top, of course) tinsel.

    Tinsel is my maybe favorite decoration on a Christmas tree, or at very least the most underrated.  It is the underdog of the Christmas decoration world (not counting my parents' continuation of the Norwegian tradition of spreading pine boughs on the front step-- every visitor must decide: do we step on them or not?)  I love the way tinsel looks like silver rain as it flickers in the Christmas lights.  Tinsel's name, in fact, is derived from Old French's estincele, meaning "to sparkle".

    Tinsel used to be made from strands of real silver, but with the financial meltdown and all, we had to settle for the plastic variety this year.  I follow my mom's method of placing it carefully, one strand at a time, dripping it from the end of each branch.  It's a kind of final step in decorating the tree each year

    Now if i can just find some of those old-timey bubble lights...