Summertime rolls


It’s entering the busy season of my summer, though in reality the whole summer feels both jam-packed and oddly relaxed. Last week: mid-year team offsite. This week: mid-year sales training. Next week: hacker summer camp.

Then there are rehearsals. In late August there’s Rossini, and Aida, and a Prelude concert and Beethoven’s 9th. So of course we’re in high rehearsal mode. I think I’ll have had over 18 hours of rehearsal in the last couple weeks of July by the time all is done.

But right now all I can think about is how much fun it was taking my kids around the Museum of Science on Sunday and watching the Tesla coils make music with The Girl. Turns out that you can translate AC frequencies directly into musical tones.

NASA Langley Research Center at 50

I’m going to double up on posts today since I’ve missed a few this week. I want to start by sharing this cool artifact from NASA Langley Research Center in 1967, commemorating the center’s 50th anniversary.

This was released while my dad (happy birthday!) was working at the center; he went there straight out of his undergraduate degree at NC State. He doesn’t talk a lot about those days, but it’s fun to think he might have been in the background of some of those shots.

It’s also thought provoking to reflect on the vision of future aviation that is shared in the video. Supersonic and VTOL “flying cars” never really happened, victims of a collision with environmental concerns and the energy crisis.

A history of stolen time

Via Daring Fireball, behold (the Kickstarter for) The Secret History of Mac Gaming. There is so much of my late childhood and early adulthood here: Ambrosia, the Myst team, Freeverse, Escape Velocity, Bungie and more.

I can actually still play a handful of these games. Escape Velocity: Nova received a Mac OS X port (though I haven’t tried to play it in years), but there’s also SheepShaver, on which I’ve played Bungie’s Abuse and Ambrosia’s Harry the Handsome Executive.

Twenty years of Cheese Lords

Members of the Suspicious Cheese Lords, Washington National Cathedral, 1998
Members of the Suspicious Cheese Lords, Washington National Cathedral, 1998

Hard to imagine that my first rehearsals with the Suspicious Cheese Lords were twenty years ago this year. The group with the funny name is quite serious about Renaissance music, as my review of their first recording suggests. Some of my earliest posts on this blog were about a visit to the nerve center of the group, stately Cheese Lord Manor; over the years I have watched them develop as a group even as I’ve reminisced about my experiences with them.

I don’t know that I’ve ever properly acknowledged all the debts I owe to them.

First, vocally: I never sang seriously in a small group before the Cheese Lords. Though we were far from exemplary in the early years, I still learned important lessons about tuning, balance, pitch, and other vocal fundamentals that are critical when you’re one-tenth of a group instead of one-fortieth. I began a journey of exploration of my vocal instrument then that continues to this day.

Second, sociopolitically: I had never met anyone like the people I found in the Cheese Lords. Young, urban, gay (and straight), happily single or with long-term partners, they stretched my understanding of humanity–and thankfully were forgiving when I sometimes proved less cosmopolitan than I thought I was.

Third, the debt of friendship. The Cheese Lords sang at my wedding. I sang at some of theirs. Last summer, before this blog was resurrected from an almost certain grave, I sat in a sweltering Boston church to watch their Boston Early Music Fringe Festival debut, then hosted them for dinner. After dinner, we sat down with scores and sang through the Lamentations, puzzling my children and thrilling me.

I wish I could be at the Cheese Lords’ 20th reunion concert. (I’ll be singing Aïda that night.) But my heart will be with them.

Cocktail Friday: Tonic and Bitters

When I posted a note about today’s drink on a private cocktails discussion, the reaction was swift: “sounds delicious, but not as delicious as alcohol.”

Yes, this is a non-alcoholic drink. But we’re staring down the barrel of a week of 90+ degree days and having something cool but satisfyingly complex sounds pretty good to me right now. And the proportions for combining something as simple as tonic and bitters turned out to be surprisingly tricky to get right. (The addition of lime is a non-obvious, but delightful, balance. Also for this drink, if you think you’re putting too much bitters in, you probably haven’t added enough.)

As always, here’s the Highball recipe card, if you plan to try it out. Enjoy!


It’s a wonderful world

P.D. Gwaltney, Jr and the world's oldest ham
P.D. Gwaltney, Jr and the world’s oldest ham

Every time I think about how awful this world is, I stop and think, there must be something that’s wonderful out there for me to discover. Today, it’s the Isle of Wight County Museum, which features as its star exhibit the World’s Oldest Smithfield Ham. Cured in 1902 and forgotten, the ham was rediscovered in a packing house 20 years later by P.D. Gwaltney Jr.

Gwaltney fashioned a brass collar for the ham and took it to shows and expos to exhibit the preservative powers of his smoking method. The ham was featured in Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not” in 1929, 1932 and 2003.

The county museum web site, of course, features a Ham Cam. And there’s a contest to take the picture of Gwaltney and his ham to unusual places this summer: the Pan Ham.

Burroughs from beyond the grave

Dangerous Minds: ‘Let Me Hang You’: William S. Burroughs reads the dirtiest parts of ‘Naked Lunch.’  I was exposed at a formative age to the inimitable voice of Burroughs via Laurie Anderson’s Mister Heartbreak (“Paging Mr. Sharkey—white courtesy telephone, please!”). Then my good friend Catherine shared on a mix tape tracks from Material’s Seven Souls, including “Ineffect” and “The End of Words,” that also featured the voice and words of Burroughs. The common thread was producer Bill Laswell. Then I started hearing other recordings, including Dead City Radio and Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales, which were produced by Hal Willner, who apparently recorded the Burroughs tracks that are the basis for this new collection.

As we come up next year on the 20th anniversary of Uncle Bill’s death, it’s delightful to come across new recordings of the master, even if the material is, as Dangerous Minds warns, very unsafe for work.

New engineering degree requirements

Boing Boing (Cory Doctorow): For the first time, a federal judge has thrown out police surveillance evidence from a ‘Stingray’ device.

In the future, perhaps we should add a course in constitutional law to the requirements for an engineering degree. Or, better, a business degree. Or even better, as a requirement for employment in law enforcement.

Thirteen years ago: Pernice Brothers

I forgot a show in my “live shows list“, and a look back through the archives reminded me. Thirteen years ago today I wrote about going to see the Pernice Brothers at the Tractor Tavern in Ballard, Washington. It was a great show, and I had forgotten that Warren Zanes was on the bill too.

I did not note, but will note now, that it was also the kind of show and the kind of night that a very drunk 20something girl in a silver Mylar dress could fall on the floor when trying to dance and flirt, bounce right back up, and disappear into the night. Which is honestly the thing I most remember about the evening. Rock on, silver girl.

Low: “In Metal”

I don’t think there’s been a finer, more poignant song about being the parent of a small child.

Filling holes with tiny sounds
Shining from the inside out
Picture of you where it began
In metal
In metal

Partly hate to see you grow
And just like your baby shoes
Wish I could keep your little body
In metal
In metal
In metal
In metal
In metal
In metal

(Click here to hear the original album version of this song, from Low’s 2001 album Things We Lost in the Fire. So good.)

Cocktail Friday: Wallis Blue

This Friday’s cocktail is another one from the Esquire Drink Book. This one, the Wallis Blue, was supposedly fashioned by the Duke of Windsor himself in honor of his bride-to-be, the American socialite Wallis Simpson, by mixing a version of a sidecar and adding blue vegetable dye to match the color of her eyes.

As a Facebook friend of mine would say, #ewgrossbarf.

But the cocktail is delicious. The Duke (if it was he) was astute in swapping out brandy for gin. I skipped the sugared rim of the original (see link above) but you can absolutely do it if desired. I also substituted creme de violette, which you should have for Aviations anyway, for the blue food coloring.

Here’s the Highball recipe card, if you plan to try it out. Enjoy!

wallis blue



House dressing, please

For people who eat sandwiches and who’ve spent time in Williamsburg or Charlottesville, two words are apt to cause rhapsodies of gastric nostalgia: “house dressing.” The Cheese Shop in Williamsburg and Take It Away in Charlottesville, both started by Tom and Mary Ellen Power (who were also responsible for the Cheese Shop in Hidenwood that I remember growing up), both feature deceptively simple sandwiches (home baked bread, meat, cheese, limited vegetables including sprouts, cucumbers, and recently, sundried tomatoes), and both feature the also-deceptively-named house dressing.

I’ve tried to create a version of this over the years (as have others), and came up with something I liked rather a lot based on a recipe posted on (which itself credits Epicurious, so who knows?):

  • 1 cup mayonnaise (use the good stuff)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon turbinado sugar (2 packets of Sugar-in-the-Raw)
  • fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds

Place mayonnaise, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, sugar and pepper in a blender or food processor. Start at a low speed and graduate up to a higher speed. You may need to turn off the blender once or twice and press out air the bubbles with a spatula to get it all blended well. Transfer the mix to a bowl. Stir in the 1 teaspoon of mustard seed. Put in a covered container and store in refrigerator overnight, to let flavors marry. After 24 hours, the spread is ready to use. Use as spread or dip for sandwiches. Enjoy!

The taste is quite good, especially on turkey sandwiches at Thanksgiving, but it’s not quite right.  I didn’t realize the disconnect until  I was able to visit Take It Away again a few times for reunions and grab another taste.

Fortunately, the point is rendered moot by the new availability of House Dressing in the jar, over the Internet. I’ll wait until cooler weather to order it and check it out, but maybe our long nightmare is over!

Where no minifig has gone before

Juno's flight grade aluminum minifigs, courtesy NASA via CNET.
Juno’s flight grade aluminum minifigs, courtesy NASA via CNET.

Just a note for those who missed it in the excitement of a high precision orbital insertion around Jupiter by NASA’s exploratory spacecraft Juno: it’s got passengers. Namely, custom Lego-style minifigs of Galileo, Juno and Jupiter made of space-grade aluminum.

It’s not really news—NASA publicized the existence of the minifigs back in 2011— but it’s still fun to think about minifigs going where no minifig has gone before.

The greatest nation on earth?

I’ve been reading a little more conservative thought recently, to try to understand the mindset of those who would support Donald Trump. One of the things that seems to put the noses out of joint of those I’m reading is any admission that America is less than perfect.

An example of this thinking is this post on the Old Virginia Blog, whose author, Richard Williams, seems generally more balanced than other conservative I’ve read. Beginning with a quotation from Gordon S. Wood, he reads the focus of some modern historians on the dispossessed (women, Native Americans, African slaves) as the “incessant denouncing of America,” which he reads as leading people to thoughts like the Twitter hashtag #AmericaWasNeverGreat. (The Newsroom episode from which the hashtag derives must raise his blood pressure through the roof.)

I think, to realistically assess where we are with America in our 240th year, you need to look at history with clear eyes, which has to mean acknowledging the histories of those we’ve dispossessed, no matter how uncomfortable that makes us. This is after all the “Great American Experiment,” as De Tocqueville famously observed, and that means a willingness to observe undesirable outcomes and learn from them, not simply ignore them.

But I also think it’s a mistake to not acknowledge the great things the experiment has produced. I can be proud of my country while still acknowledging the many, many people for whom it hasn’t worked—because I think we can work to make it better.