Friday Random 5: recovery edition

A long, good week calls for a quick Random 5.

The Cure, In Between DaysThe Head on the Door: I’ve heard this song as a country-western cover and as a dance remix, and I’m enough of a child of the 80s that I still prefer the original. For everyone who’s ever got so old they felt like they would die.

Flunk, Blue MondayFor Sleepyheads Only: This was among the first modern downtempo covers of a New Order song I heard back in the day. I no longer need to hear any more, thanks.

Miles Davis, NefertitiNefertiti. The circularity of the main tune, the way the two horns drift in and out of time with each other, the way that the rhythm section led by Herbie Hancock continues to churn as the horns repeat the melody over and over. There’s so much about this tune I love, and it’s not even my favorite performance on this album.

My Morning Jacket, One Big HolidayIt Still Moves. This may be my favorite My Morning Jacket album. They had outgrown some of the rough edges of their journeyman albums—I love The Tennessee Fire and At Dawn, but they’re clearly products of a young band—and had just started to unironically embrace big southern rock sounds, no more so than on this track.

The Beach Boys, In the Parkin’ LotSurfer Girl/Shut Down, Vol. 2. You have to admire the early Beach Boys’ total dedication to their aesthetic. They produced a song about just about every aspect of high school and surfing life, including sitting in the car in the parking lot making out with your date, and brought the same tight stack of harmonies to it as they did to everything else. Not essential, but fun.

Back story: Paul Saunier and the integration of UVA

Following up on Don Loach’s comment on my post about Edwin S. Williams, the Virginia Glee Club‘s first black member, I dug into some of the back story. It turns out the Glee Club wasn’t the only organization helped through the pains of integration by UVA president Edgar F. Shannon’s assistant Paul Saunier.

An article in UVA Today about Saunier from 2014 gives the highlights of his career. Arriving at the University to advise Shannon about public relations, his first advice was that race was, in the early 1960s as the Civil Rights movement unfolded, the biggest single public relations issue that the University faced—and it couldn’t be fixed by PR alone.

One of the first targets was life on the Corner, almost entirely segregated in 1962—until Saunier visited merchants one by one and pointed out that, given the international enrollment at UVA, they might unwittingly be refusing service to a prince, resulting in a PR nightmare. The Corner, with the shameful exception of the White Spot, was duly integrated two years before required by the 1964 Civil Rights Act. One imagines that the conversation with the Route 29 truck stops went similarly, only backed up by the force of the newly passed act.

There’s plenty more in the article about the real, pragmatic work done by Saunier to ensure that black students not only matriculated but graduated. It’s well worth a read, and a realization that the transition from the UVA of minstrels and blackface didn’t become the diverse place it is today without considerable work. We owe a debt of thanks to Saunier for helping the University enter the modern era.

Integrating the Virginia Glee Club in 1961

1961-62 Glee Club in the 1962 Corks and Curls, page 159
1961-62 Glee Club in the 1962 Corks and Curls, page 159. Courtesy University of Virginia Library

On Saturday afternoon, we were wrapping up a tour of Virginia Glee Club archives in the Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia. I had just taken about 50 alums, friends, conductors and family through the items, which I knew quite well having reviewed all of them—and donated some of them myself. We had also just ceremonially donated former Glee Club director Donald Loach‘s collection of concert programs to the library, and I was feeling pretty good about myself as a historian.

Then an alum asked a question that stopped me in my tracks. “Do you know who the first African-American member of Club was?”

After a pause, I replied, “No, but we should.”

The Virginia Glee Club is part of the larger story of the University of Virginia, and that story includes discrimination against African-Americans. It wasn’t until 1950 that Gregory Swanson, a graduate of Howard Law School, applied to take graduate courses at the University of Virginia, was denied admission, sued and won, becoming the first black student at the University—only to drop out in the summer of 1951. The University’s president, Colgate Darden, said he “was not well prepared for the work.” In the early 1950s two other African Americans followed in Swanson’s footsteps, and Walter N. Ridley became the first black student not only to gain a degree at the University but also the first black student to receive a doctorate from any Southern university.

It took the undergraduate schools a few more years, but in September 1955, following on the heels of the 1954 Brown vs. Board decision, three black students matriculated in the engineering school. Theodore Thomas and George Harris dropped out by the following spring, but Robert Bland continued on and was the first African-American undergraduate to graduate from the University in 1959, nine full years after the struggle for integration started. Also at the end of the fifties, Edgar F. Shannon took over as University president, and that’s when things started to get rolling.

I knew that the first black Glee Club member had to have joined sometime after 1959. I knew the story of David L. Temple, Jr., class of 1969, who was a member of Club from 1967 to 1969 and desegregated the fraternity system at the University, but I believed the first African-American member of Glee Club came earlier.

My second thought was that he would have joined during Don Loach’s first season as conductor, 1964-65. There’s a story in our archives that the Glee Club went on tour that fall, only to have their bus refused service in a truck stop on Route 29. After the tour, Loach raised the issue with President Shannon, and subsequently the truck stops got integrated. It’s a great story, and I assumed that this young man (whose name I’m still working on identifying; I have a bunch more candidates to work through with yearbook pictures) was the first student. (Update: I was closer than I thought. See below.) But as I was flipping through the 1965 yearbook, I found a picture of one of the graduating students of the Class of 1965 and knew we had found our candidate.

In 1961-1962, the group picture of the Glee Club for the first time has a black face. (That’s the picture up above.) The young man standing on the second row to the left side of the stage of Old Cabell Hall is Edwin S. Williams, of Smithfield. He stayed in the Glee Club for two seasons—as did most members, since it could only be taken as a graded course for two years—and completed his BA in chemistry, graduating with the class of 1965. And I believe, based on the evidence I have so far, that he was the first African-American member of the Virginia Glee Club.

There’s certainly more of his story to be told, and I will continue to look for more information. But one of my first questions is: if the truck stops on Rt 29 were first integrated in 1964-65, what did Williams do when the Glee Club got on a bus in 1961-62? I think we have a lot more to learn, but I’m glad we’ve taken the first step.

Update April 28: Donald Loach filled in the missing pieces by confirming that Edwin S. Williams was still in Glee Club in 1964-1965—was the baritone section leader, in fact—and was the Club man not served at the truck stop. So the stories are connected! And we need to fix our roster information.

Barbecue field trip: 12 Bones, Asheville

Hogzilla sandwich, 12 Bones, Asheville

I couldn’t go through a week long visit to the South without checking into a few barbecue stops. Top of my list: 12 Bones in Asheville.

My cousin took me and Lisa here a while ago, after they first opened, and I’d made a few visits since. Even if they didn’t famously have a picture of President Obama on the wall from one of his several stops while campaigning, it still would have been on my short list because (a) they do pulled pork really well (b) likewise, sausages (c) they understand that side dishes are not an afterthought.

They also have a sense of humor, which is why Hogzilla is on the menu. This is a hoagie roll that barely holds a bratwurst sliced in half, topped with pulled pork, pepperjack cheese, and sugar-cured bacon. I had skipped it the first few times, but was ravenous this time (we got there after 1pm). So I figured “why not” and ordered it, with collard greens and jalapeño cheese grits on the side.

It arrived at the table (outside, in the cool breeze coming up from the French Broad—another reason to visit). It looked a lot bigger than I thought it would. I began to have second thoughts. Still, it smelled good, so I decided to start with the sides.

First bite: the cheese grits are the real thing, with just enough heat. I try the collards next, which are delicious but not quite as remarkable as the ones at the Admiral last night (though admittedly that’s a horse of a different feather altogether). I look at Hogzilla again out of the corner of my eye: still there. Still big.

I pick it up; it holds together really well. This is not to be taken for granted at a barbecue joint. Half the sandwiches I’ve had in our pretty-good Massachusetts BBQ places fall apart because whoever put the sides on the plate put too much juice on, soaking the bread. The motto here could be “12 Bones: We Know How to Use a Slotted Spoon.”

I take a bite. The first bite is spectacular, with the spice flavors from the bratwurst complemented by the smokiness of the pulled pork and the sweetness of the bacon. The pepper jack is invisible, though I suspect it contributes to the sandwich’s cohesion.

Before I realize it I’ve eaten two thirds of the sandwich. Then I have to slow down. I look over at my dad, who’s ordered the same thing. He’s eaten only a third of his. “That’s a lot of meat,” he says. “Yeah,” I say.

I make myself finish it. I feel full. Hours later, I still feel full. I suspect I may never need to eat again.

I will return to 12 Bones. But next time I think I’ll just get the pulled pork.

The Glee Club Army at 145


I’m still coming down off the high of last weekend. What an amazing 145th anniversary celebration for the Virginia Glee Club. And yet it was comfortable and relaxed in a way that I didn’t think it could possibly have been. We had friends and family there, and alums from the early 1950s all the way up through last year in attendance.

Things that were surprisingly great: having older fossils (and Glee Club honorary grandmother Bonnie Ford!) in the Glee Club House on Friday night, and not having the house fall down under her; in fact, the house didn’t even smell bad. Showing up as alums for the party with a keg and a dozen College Inn pizzas. Watching the eyes of the older alums light up as they experienced the magic of “songs on the bar.”

Getting up early on Saturday morning and watching the Lawn wake up, then watching all the alums spontaneously appear. Don Loach showing real fire as he led us briskly through “Hark, all ye lovely saints” and two numbers from “Summer Songs.” Singing the first movement of Testament of Freedom with alums from seven decades. Watching John Liepold absorb what Club tradition had done to “Winter Song,” which he introduced into active repertoire almost 25 years ago, then conveying everything he wanted done with rubato and dynamic without saying a single word. Singing the James Erb “Shenandoah” facing the back of the hall and hearing John’s occasional finger snaps clarifying the beat as we listened closely to each other. Singing the Shaw/Parker “What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor” at maximum velocity and finding it lay ready for me, more than 20 years after we toured it. Hearing the conductors trade stories about having sung with Shaw. And doing the Biebl with over a hundred current Glee Club members and alums.

Marching a crowd of alums over to the Small Special Collections Library and watching them absorb a small portion of the treasures from the Glee Club’s archives there. Seeing Tyler along with a crowd of 1990s alums at the Biltmore. Choking up during Don Webb’s toast at the banquet. Watching the current Virginia Gentlemen sing “Perfidia” with three alums from the 1950s, including two of the original eight members. Jumping up with them and the current Club to perform “Shenandoah” as an entire Glee Club army.

I’ll post more but wanted to get a few thoughts out today. And the great thing is that we get to do it again in five years!

Friday random 10: Prince esta muerto

I break the normal rules of the Friday Random 5 once again, this time for the obvious reason. I wasn’t as completely shocked by Prince’s death as I was by Bowie’s, but that’s partly because Bowie had just dropped an incredibly compelling new album that in retrospect clearly laid out what was happening to him. With Prince’s death, I’m still a little numbed by the suddenness of it. So I turn to his music.

Mom warning ahead: Prince wrote about sex so I will too.

Just 4 the Tears in Your Eyes: I still can’t believe that this song was only a b-side. I heard it for the first time 22 years ago when I picked up his first, and best, career retrospective, the three-disc monster Hits/B-sides compilation. It’s an appropriately somber note on which to start this retrospective and a useful reminder that Prince had spirituality as well as sensuality working for him.

Shy: Depending on how I feel at the time, this is either a monstrously underrated track from the underrated The Gold Experience, or it’s an arch piece of songwriting. I figure, the way life is, it’s probably both. But I love the way he builds the track off the footsteps of the protagonist, adding just a lead guitar, then building the track out on top of the rhythm guitar pattern that falls in behind the verse.

Adore: The slow jam that closes out Sign o’ the Times, complete with horn section and falsetto for days. An endlessly fascinating love song. This is definitely the song that Beck was listening to when he wrote “Debra.”

One of Your Tears: From the in-retrospect seriously interesting Crystal Ball rarities collection. I understand why this track remained a rarity; when your song has the narrator’s estranged girlfriend sending him a used condom in the first verse, it’s kind of amazing that it can actually recover. But the stacked harmony that fills out the chorus has insinuated itself into my brain.

Come: Okay, now shuffle is just playing with me. The salacious horn-driven title track from another underrated Prince album from the early 1990s and probably the most explicit paean to cunnilingus ever written. It appears that this song was a last minute addition to Come (the album), but it doesn’t sound like it. I hope Heaven has a horn section this funky.

Scarlet Pussy: Another early b-side, I think of this as the early flip side to “P. Control.” While it’s unusual in early Prince songs for having a female protagonist, the song doesn’t escape reducing her to her sexuality. But it’s got a George Clintonesque narrator, an electrofunk backbone, and an unforgettable chorus. So there’s that.

I Would Die 4 U: What does it say about this song that it’s probably the least memorable of the hit singles from Purple Rain? Only that Purple Rain is an album so full of win that it couldn’t have been written by anyone else. The beats and the one-note verse and the minimal arrangement (synths, handclaps, synth bass) all add up to something a lot more than the parts.

Interactive: Another Crystal Ball number, this is a rock number that featured in Prince’s Interactive video game CD. (Has a more early-90s sentence ever been written?) I don’t think the rock that Prince was writing in the early 90s was his best stuff, but this track is pretty good, particularly the guitar work.

P Control: The remix version of the lead-off track from The Gold Experience, this is another track on Crystal Ball. This version adds scratching and backing vocals and plays around with the instrumentation on the bass track, but it’s otherwise the same great song. I’ve always loved this song because it plays gleefully with the dirty words and paints a portrait of the most independent of his female musical protagonists, in which the only way the narrator wins a chance with her is by acknowledging and respecting her strength. That’s a long way from “Scarlet Pussy.”

Hide the Bone: Yeah, OK, shuffle, we get it. I should listen to Crystal Ball more often.

BonusCloreen Bacon Skin. After “Hide the Bone,” I listened to about another hour of miscellaneous Prince stuff before this track came on. Another treasure from Crystal Ball, a fifteen minute funk jam with just Prince on bass and Morris Day on drums, featuring Prince doing an impression of an elderly James Brown via George Clinton and … really, I don’t know what else to say because if you weren’t already looking up the song on Youtube by the end of that sentence, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.

Composition note: I dictated this via speech to text while driving to Charlottesville, only to lose it when the WordPress app hiccupped, so had to rewrite it from scratch.

Librarians of note

There have been two interesting appointments (or proposed appointments) in the world of librarians recently, one at the Library of Congress and one at the University of Virginia. Interestingly, both appointments revolve around the transformation of libraries from physical to digital.

First, UVA’s selection of John Unsworth as the next University Librarian and Dean of Libraries (UVA Today, Cavalier Daily). Unsworth’s selection makes sense on a number of levels. Back when I was an undergraduate, he was a founder of digital library sciences and the use of digital technologies in research at UVa with the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities. More recently, as the dean of libraries at Brandeis he oversaw a large library system. Interestingly, from the CD article, it seems he’s stepping into a student-led debate over the role of libraries and the transition from physical to digital, with students protesting the sending of books from the stacks to long-term storage. I can’t think of too many other people I’d like to have thinking through the considerations in that debate.

Second, President Obama’s nominee for Librarian of Congress, Carla D. Hayden, got her Senate hearing yesterday (New York Times, Washington Post). As expected, the nominee’s bona fides as both a librarian and her capabilities in extending libraries into the digital future went unchallenged by the committee, though the relationship of the Copyright Office to the LOC was raised as a possible issue. Her smooth hearing was a nice update to her previous history in 2004 with the federal government, when in her role as head of the ALA she went toe to toe with then-Attorney General John Ashcroft over the library records provision in Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. In fact, aside from the usual partisan carping in right wing blog circles, there seems to be remarkably little argument with the position that Dr. Hayden is precisely the right candidate for the job.

Why do issues of digital literacy and concerns about transitioning to digital humanities figure so largely in both these selections? I’d argue that they are the right questions for all libraries and other professions which rely on data, which these days includes just about … everyone.

Bathroom equality: Virginia and North Carolina

Associated Press: Court overturns Virginia school’s transgender bathroom rule. The rule, implemented by the Gloucester County School Board, prohibited a transgender teen from using the boy’s bathroom. The 4th Circuit of the US Court of Appeals ruled that the school board not only violated Title IX, the federal law prohibiting discrimination in schools, but also ignored a US Department of Education rule requiring that transgender students must be allowed to use the restroom corresponding to their gender identity.

The case as decided by the appeals court seems cut and dried. The case argued by the school board, and behind North Carolina’s hysterical anti-LGBT law last month, seems more rooted in fear and bigotry than in the law. The concept that transgender students are more likely to commit sex crimes in public restrooms than GOP lawmakers is a fallacy, and in trying to protect against this strawman case, the rights of transgender people are being sacrificed.

Put more simply: you’re a transgender boy, born female. Under North Carolina law you are told you must use the women’s room. How long until there is a massive outcry from women afraid that you are there to cause them harm? The net effect is to deny you the use of any public facilities at all, which is clearly discriminatory.

It would have been cheaper, and more intellectually honest, for the North Carolina GOP (and the Gloucester County School Board) to simply erect signs in hospitals, public schools, and airports that state “No transgender people.” Or, given the way the rhetoric is coming from GOP presidential candidates these days, “No transgender or Mexicans.”

In the words of I.F. Stone, “is it necessary to repeat after 2,000 years all the things you people learned in Sunday school?! How — how absent-minded — how forgetful!”

The Glee Club on Founders Day, 1943-1993

The Virginia Glee Club meeting Bill and Hillary Clinton at the Jefferson Memorial, Founders Day, 1993 (Thomas Jefferson’s 250th birthday)

The Virginia Glee Club has a long history with the celebration of Founder’s Day, the anniversary of the birth of Thomas Jefferson, founder of the University of Virginia. While the Glee Club does not dress up in purple robes for dawn rituals (at least, not that we’re aware of), the group has been associated with the holiday for decades, and some of the Club’s most significant moments date to Founder’s Day celebrations. A few examples are below.

1943: The Testament of Freedom

Concert program from the 1943 premiere of Randall Thompson's Testament of Freedom
Concert program from the 1943 premiere of Randall Thompson’s Testament of Freedom

The 1943 Founder’s Day concert was one of the Glee Club’s earliest Founder’s Day triumphs. The Club’s 1930s impresario, Harry Rogers Pratt, had resigned as director in 1942 to contribute to the war effort, and Randall Thompson, the head of the music department, had stepped in. He also brought along one of his young professors, Stephen Tuttle, who would become the permanent director of the Glee Club in 1943. Thompson was approached by the president of the University, John Lloyd Newcomb, to write a work for the celebration of Jefferson’s birthday. He responded with The Testament of Freedom, which set passages of Jefferson’s writing to music for men’s chorus and orchestra, and dedicated it to the Virginia Glee Club.

The first performance was recorded by CBS for nationwide broadcast, since the work’s text provided an uplifting message of patriotism and resolve, and it was subsequently transmitted over shortwave to Allied servicemen stationed in Europe.

1976: Founder’s Day Bicentennial

Bicentennial Founder's Day concert program
Bicentennial Founder’s Day concert program

The Testament continued to be an important part of the Glee Club’s repertoire—it appears on 1972’s A Shadow’s on the Sundial—and reappeared with some frequency at Founder’s Day concerts. One such occurrence was in 1976, when Club performed the work at the University on the Bicentennial Founder’s Day alongside Elliott Carter’s “Emblems.” This wasn’t the first time the group performed the work; they had previously sung it with the Norfolk Symphony and at the Kennedy Center.

1981: Seven Society award and donation

Letter from the Seven Society announcing a donation to the Glee Club tour fund
Letter from the Seven Society announcing a donation to the Glee Club tour fund

By 1981, the Glee Club had undertaken three international tours in less than a decade and was starting to see the necessity of establishing a fund to support members who could not afford to pay their own way. In the late 1970s the Glee Club endowment had been established to support touring activities, and it received a boost in 1981 when the Seven Society, following their award of the James E. Sargeant Award to the Glee Club (given for organizations who made outstanding contributions to the University), made a donation to the fund of $777.77.

1993: Thomas Jefferson’s 250th Birthday

Probably the most spectacular Founder’s Day (other than 1943) was the 1993 celebration of Thomas Jefferson’s 250th Birthday. On that day the Glee Club rolled out of bed early, put on our orange and blue ties, khakis and blue blazers, and took a bus up the mountain to Monticello to join a live broadcast of the Today Show. There we stood on risers in the pre-dawn moonlight with Jefferson’s home in the background and sang several numbers from Neely Bruce’s “Young T.J.,” commissioned for the day.

There was a certain amount of standing around and waiting, and at one point several of us had to make a trip to the restroom, where we found ourselves standing next to Willard Scott making awkward small talk. A few guys had an encounter with another Today Show personality when they met UVA alumna Katie Couric after the taping and gave her a VMHLB hat.



After Monticello, everyone piled into the bus (and an overflow car) and drove like crazy. We only had two hours to get to DC and the Jefferson Memorial, where we were to sing for the President. Traffic mostly cooperated and we arrived later than planned but in time to sing in the ceremony. I’ve written about that part of the day before.

We closed the day with a bus ride to Richmond, where we sang for a group of UVA donors at the Jefferson Hotel, somehow changing into our tuxedoes somewhere along the way.

Patriot’s Day 2016

Captain Parker on the Lexington Green, Patriot's Day 2016
Captain Parker on the Lexington Green, Patriot’s Day 2016

I rolled out of bed early this morning and had the dogs walking down Massachusetts Avenue by 5:30. A jogger ran past and I said good morning.

“Seen any Redcoats?” she asked.

“Not yet,” I replied.

She went on her way and I stopped to think about it. It’s a little odd living along the route of Paul Revere’s ride, and even odder when the town stops completely so that grown men, dressed in Revolutionary costumes, can point cap guns at each other and play dead.

But, I realized today for the first time, the reenactments are an amazing gift. The thought of British soldiers marching along in front of my house made me feel irrationally anxious, as though it were my family really in danger. That feeling of invasion, of disruption—I’m pretty sure that Captain Jonathan Parker felt some of that as he prepared to face the Redcoats.

And the feeling as the Redcoats turned and marched away when our family finally got within sight of the Green, the Minutemen already playing dead, slumped on the wet grass…

It’s one thing to read about and even be able to explain the events and causes of revolution. It’s another to experience them at an emotional level, affecting your neighborhood.

Last note: as we walked up Mass Ave toward the Green, hearing the drums of the British, the crack of muskets, it was as though we were just feet away from history. And then there was a giant boom: cannon. It was indeed the shot heard ’round the world. And next year we know that we have to wake up even earlier to go and see it.

At least the pancakes were good.

Friday Random 5: Spring es gesprungen edition

The daffodils survived being covered with six inches of snow, the rabbits and peepers are out, and I hear the owl at night: spring is definitely here.

  1. TemptationElvis Costello (Costello and Nieve: Live at the Troubador: Los Angeles)
  2. Typical Situation – Dave Matthews Band (Under the Table and Dreaming)
  3. Stone Cold Bush – Red Hot Chili Peppers (Mother’s Milk)
  4. The Candy Man – Cibo Matto (Viva! La Woman)
  5. Night Flight – Jeff Buckley (Night Flight single)

Temptation: Not the New Order song. I’ve loved this song, in this arrangement, for a long time, really ever since I had Tower Records order the Costello and Nieve set for me back in the 90s. It’s literate without being arch, musically witty without being precious, and it’s got the right amount of irony and true emotion. And one of Elvis’s finest lines: “I wrote this song in Nashville, 1978. I was watching a very famous singer on stage, and I said, ‘That’ll never be me. I’ll never be trapped by fame…’ Well, that part was true.”

Typical Situation: I don’t listen to Dave Matthews much any more (and was never part of the crowd that saw him live). And this song isn’t the one that comes to mind when I think of him—the lyrics are a little overstated and pompous without actually meaning anything. But the arrangement is great and it’s really well engineered; unlike some later DMB tracks it’s actually a pleasure to listen to. And fantastic flute work from the late LeRoi Moore.

Stone Cold Bush: Never one of my favorite tracks from RHCP lyrically, the combination of John Frusciante, Flea and Chad Smith is nevertheless fantastic here.

The Candy Man: If you’re looking for proof that music in the 1990s was a different time, look no further than this album. Two women, Japanese expats in New York, make a trip-hop album about food. Tchad Blake’s contribution as producer and engineer is evident, but the supreme weirdness of the lyrics make it unforgettable.

Night Flight: I’ve written about this, a single released in advance of the issue of the complete Live at Sin-é, before—almost 13 years ago! I was overly harsh on his melismas then, though I do think he spent too much time in the upper tessitura. And the guitar work is pretty solid on this rendition too.

Doing it wrong

Sacramento Bee: UC Davis spent thousands to scrub pepper-spray references from Internet. You’d think it would go without saying in this, the age of the Streisand Effect, that the best way to eradicate mention of a horrible mistake online is not to try, but rather to own up to it and address it head-on. The absolute worst way is to try to whitewash it via dubious SEO tricks. 

Guess which path UC Davis chancellor Linda Katehi chose?

The weight of history


You don’t realize how long ago your childhood was until you confront the obsolescence of some of its key artifacts head-on.

The Girl asked me about looking a word up in the dictionary. I looked at Lisa and she said, “Oh, daddy has a dictionary you can use.” So I took her down to the basement library, opened the door to the bookcase, and brought out My Dictionary: a 10 pound Webster’s Unabridged from the 1980s. The Girl’s eyes went wide.

“Is that the one you won?”

We’ve been talking about standardized tests in the house. Last week was The Girl’s first bout with MCAS, and so I talked to her about some of the “bubble tests” I remember taking as an elementary school student—apparently Virginia did some sort of standard testing, but whether for calibration purposes or what it was never quite clear; I certainly never remember receiving a grade.

And then Lisa put in, “And your daddy was the best, and they gave him a prize.”

Oh yes. The Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. I took the PSAT as a seventh grader and had the second highest score in the mid-Atlantic. And they gave me a dictionary. This dictionary.

Honestly, I didn’t use it that much when I was a kid. I had already gotten to the point where my spelling skills were pretty good, and if I wanted more information about a word I usually went to an encyclopedia. But I brought it with me to college after my first year, and then to Northern Virginia, Cambridge, Boston, Kirkland, and back to Arlington.

Now The Girl is simultaneously thrilled that it’s available and awed at how heavy it is. And she doesn’t know that she has a dictionary on her iPad that’s more comprehensive and up to date. I don’t have the nerve to tell her yet.

Singing with a new voice

As busy as the past few days have been with the Veracode Hackathon, it hasn’t been the only thing happening. Our town of Lexington puts on a choral festival every year, in which choirs from all the local churches get up and sing a few songs, finishing with a mass sing. This year there were over two hundred singers, making me wish we had some Beethoven instead of Rutter to finish with.

But it was interesting for another reason. Our church choir director has been slowly introducing other musical traditions to the fairly staid United Church of Christ (aka Congregational) choir in which I’ve sung for the last few years. The year before I joined they performed a bluegrass mass. He’s made a specialty of shape-note music with us—only appropriate since New England is the home of a lot of the early shape-note hymns.

And he’s introduced us to the gospel tradition. Not just “classic” gospel but full-on modern gospel, with rhythm section, riffing, repeating as long as the spirit moves you, and everything else. We sang a set at our church’s contemplative evening worship that brought the house down, and we brought one of those songs to the choral festival this past Sunday. I never thought I’d be doing gospel riffs in church, but it’s fun.

Then of course, on Monday during lunch at the office, the Appsec Mountain Ramblers, Veracode’s own bluegrass band, played. Fronted by our CFO on banjo, we had a talented line-up of instrumentalists, so I just had to bring harmony vocals. It’s harder than I thought to sing high harmony, but so rewarding when you get it right.

Never too late to have a happy childhood

Live action Pac-Man
Photo courtesy Chris Eng

It seems I’m falling into a pattern where at least one day a week, I will end up posting for two days worth of material. This is one of those days. At least I have a good excuse for not posting. It was Veracode’s Hackathon IX this week, and that means craziness.

Monday’s activity? Live-action Pac-Man. What you can’t see from the photos is that there is actually a player. Pac-Man was wearing an iPhone on his chest, connected to Webex, with the camera turned on and headphones in his ears. Someone connected to a WebEx gave instructions to Pac-Man on how to move through the maze.

The ghosts all had simple rules of how to move just like in a real video game. So the whole effect was very much like feeding quarters to Pac-Man machines as a 12-year-old. But it gave me a new appreciation for the life of the ghost—all left turns and no free will. It got, frankly, boring after a while… until random turns brought me in contact with Pac-Man.

It all reminded me of this:

naw…it's not that