s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: December 2005

Thursday, December 29, 2005

She should have died hereafter

So I have finally gotten around to watching Firefly (but not Serenity, yet, so no spoilers!) and I have to agree with so many of my friends that it is a wonderful show. And I’m also very sad that it had such a short life.

Which sort of got me to thinking about my feelings on TV shows vs. movies (or books) generally. TV shows have the advantage of letting you revisit favorite characters and places repeatedly; their episodic nature gives you a chance to form lasting "relationships" with them. Movies are more about a certain monumental event in the lives of the characters. TV shows are just about living from week to week.

I rarely watch TV anymore. I don’t own one, and I don’t bother to watch the public ones in my building. And I have to say that I don’t really miss it. I had been slowly weaning myself off it during my last few years of college, anyway. Oddly enough, my cutting back was more because I found myself too involved in the shows I watched rather than out of some anti-bourgeois entertainment sentiment. I would be heartbroken for days if a character got killed off, let alone if the entire show was cancelled. I had to be very careful about the shows I chose to watch, trying to find ones that would that would be robust enough to last a while.

This is one advantage to movies and books: they don’t get cut short. They don’t have characters replaced or change writers mid-storyline. When you pick one up, you can be pretty sure that it ends the way the author wanted it to, without outside pressures from directors, producers, networks or stars.

On the other hand, I think it’s almost worse to have a show drag on past its prime. A show that is prematurely cancelled is like the untimely death of a teenager. A show that goes downhill is like a good friend with dementia: their very familiarity of form makes it even more painful that they are now behaving in such odd and unpredictable ways.

So maybe it’s better that the show ended before I ever heard of it. Instead of lasting long enough to molder into a shadow of itself, we are left with fourteen perfect episodes, like pearls on a string.

Requiescat in pace, sweet Firefly.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Book review: What Should I do with my Life?

I liked this book well enough the first time I read it. Then I went to buy it from Amazon for Melyngoch’s graduation and discovered that all of the reviewers had hated it. So then I decided that I’d better re-read it to figure out what they hated about it.

The book is a collection of stories of people who are trying to find some sort of meaning in their lives – people who are trying to answer the question posed by the title of the book. There isn’t any other unifying theme, and there’s no preachiness or heavy-handed moralizing. It’s just one man writing about a couple dozen people he met whose stories seemed interesting.

The main complaint against the book was, I believe, that the book was full of rich, pretentious, spoiled people who were whiny and dissatisfied with their cushy lives. That’s a fair objection, I suppose. (And on re-reading it I think it’s better that I didn’t buy it for Melyngoch after all.) On the other hand, why shouldn’t people be allowed to try and find some sort of meaning in their lives? Maybe very poor people are too busy working to ponder much on the grander meaning of their lives, but if someone can be rich and successful and still not feel happy and fulfilled, I think that’s a significant commentary on the nature of human existence.

Anyway, this book is sort of a cross between a self-help book, a series of journalistic interviews, and a philosophical treatise. I’m not sure if it strikes a good balance or if it fails slightly at each of them. Po Bronson (the author) gets much more involved in the lives of these people than a good journalist should. On the other hand, he’s not really a journalist, so why shouldn’t he help out and offer advice where he can? But then what makes him qualified to offer advice in the first place? And he does, of course, put his "spin" on every story he encounters, so it’s hard to say that the telling is unbiased.

It’s interesting that so few of these people have had any kind of religious upbringing, or that it appears to offer so little help if they have. It’s not that I don’t know people raised religious that struggle with life’s meaning, but I think it’s a solid place to start, at least. And I’m amazed that the values systems against which so many of these people struggle. They have to live up to their families, communities, groups of friends and coworkers. My family is fairly laid-back, considering, and I don’t feel like I’m competing horribly with my friends or with others. (And maybe the fact that I’m in grad school and therefore appear to be "doing something" with my life is helping. Wait ’till I graduate and can’t find a job, people.)

At very least, I think that I’ll suggest this book when it’s my turn in the Blue Beta Book Club.

Monday, December 12, 2005

things I need

for my Mom to get out of the hospital
to have home teachers I could actually call if I had a problem
ditto for visiting teachers
for the guy that's harrassing me to stop harrassing me
for my brother not to be sad all the time
for my Dad to be able to earn enough to pay for my Mom's hospital stay
for my friends to actually be excited that I'm comimg home like I thought they would be
to be able to sleep more than four hours at a time
to be able to type without a shooting pain in my wrists
to get my final project done before I have to leave tomorrow
not to run into bad weather
to be able to stay awake while I drive

(not to seem whiny for posting this on my blog)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Lead Kindly Light

This is a pretty good hymn. It’s not as fun to sing as All Creatures of our God and King, but it’s fun to play. The unusual 3/2 time signature makes it more interesting than it might otherwise be, and the way that the parts move independently makes the piece “flow” better than a lot of hymns. It’s not one I’ve tried to play on the organ, yet. I think I could manage on the manuals OK if I cut out the tenor part (or maybe added it to the right hand). It doesn’t look like something that would be too easy on the pedals, as the base line moves around too much.

“I do not ask to see the distant scene – one step enough for me.”

This line has been particularly resonant lately. I do feel as though I’ve only been seeing “one step ahead” for a several years, now. When I was graduating, I had no idea what career to pursue, only I had one small lead concerning a possible interim job. When I took the job, I knew I couldn’t stay there long-term, but I had no idea what direction to take, whether I should go back to school or what kind of employment to look for. By the time I’d been working there for six months, I had a vaguely formed idea of going to grad school in library science, but I’d just missed the applications date for the program I was interested in. So I waited another year to apply, which turned out to be lucky (or a blessing) because most of the jobs I’m now looking at want at least two years of experience as well as the management experience I gained in my last year.

So, I have to admit that God appears to have planned this out pretty well, thus far. Which doesn’t mean that I’m not still worrying. Far from it. I wouldn’t say that “pride ruled my will,” but I’m definitely someone who “loved to choose and see my path.” I’m an inveterate planner and worrier. (It’s the green in me.) So it’s been very hard for me to have to plan my life out in smaller chunks, without being sure where I’m going to find myself in six months or a year. I don’t know if I’ll find a second assistantship next year. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to find the kind of job I want upon graduation. I don’t know how much more I’ll have to borrow, or how long it will take to pay back my loans. I don’t know how long I’ll even be in the workforce, as I’d be happy to drop out and be a Mom (once I finish the degree).

But I’m not supposed to be worrying about those things, apparently. I’ve got my classes for next semester picked out, I’ve lined up a job I’m really excited about, and I’ll keep plugging along – one step at a time.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Pipe dreams

Things that I would like to have, in increasing order of impossibility:

1. a book press
2. a pool table*
3. a board shear
4. a Dance Dance Revolution arcade game
5. a Steinway grand piano*
6. an electric organ (with an AGO-standard pedalboard – a Hammond’s not gonna cut it)
7. a helicopter(*)
8. a pipe organ*
9. a 6-color offset printing press

*Things that are actually owned by someone I know.

(*) I don’t actually know anyone who owns a helicopter, but my old bishop had part ownership of a Cessna.

The lady with the pipe organ lives in my parents’ ward. Her husband built her the pipe organ, then built her a house to go around it. It’s a lopsided A-frame, built to accommodate the largest rank. You can see the biggest pipes near the ceiling, through their front window.

Unfortunately, the lady with the pipe organ is also sort of insane. She doesn’t believe in doing scales or other technique drills, and she thinks that Bach is evil. So I stick to practicing on the electric organ in the chapel, where at least no one will yell at me for playing “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme.”

Friday, December 02, 2005

The letter between M and O

Several weeks ago Master Fob wrote a blog entry about how the letter between M and O on his keyboard was stuck. He then proceeded to write an entire blog entry sans N. Which confused me to no end, because the letter between M and O on a QWERTY keyboard is K. (Take a second and look.) And then I realized that he meant “the letter between M and O [in the alphabet] was stuck on his keyboard.”

I point this out not to criticize Master Fob’s writing style (far be it from me), nor to share an amusing piece of syntactic (or semantic) ambiguity, but as a cognitive illustration. While some may think that I spend my free time thinking of clever double meanings and secondary interpretations for things, you would be quite mistaken. This is just how my brain normally works.

It is not uncommon for someone to make a statement, and have my mind go wandering off in what I think is the logical direction, only to discover that everyone else has quietly made a different interpretation, without perceiving any ambiguity at all.

This makes it very hard to follow directions. Someone will say “turn left” and I think “that could mean anything!” so I try to narrow it down to the most likely possibilities or ask for clarification. (To illustrate: “turn left” could mean “at the next light,” “at the next intersection,” or “at the next house.”)

However, this also means that I give very clear directions, because I give directions that even I could follow.

I’m not sure if this is a blessing or a curse. My close friends and family don’t mind, at least, when I ask for clarification about something they’ve said, or give them more precise options, or maybe just take a few extra seconds to decide which interpretation of what they’ve said is more plausible. And I did think that “the letter between M and O” was a rather awkward way of describing “K,” but my life is full of such confusion, so I have learned not to question it.