s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: February 2009

Friday, February 27, 2009

Christmas carols: Remember, O Thou man

There are at least two version of this song, but I could only find recordings of the one attributed to Thomas Ravenscroft, who may himself have based the tune on an older melody. (The other, earlier version, appears as an appendix of a sermon written by Arthur Bedford.) The text is in the form of a solemn reminder (almost a sermon, itself) about how mankind was condemned after Adam's fall, until Christ was born to redeem us.

Coro de la Catedral de San Isidro, 1997:

Unfortunately the very beginning of this song is cut off, but it's the best "vanilla" version of the song I could find.

Lori Sealy, 2008(?):

A version for voice and guitar.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Star Trek: The Red Shirt

The writers of Star Trek were faced with a problem. They wanted to add drama and pathos to their show by having the crew visit dangerous planets with hostile aliens, but they couldn't exactly kill off a member of their main cast every week. The solution? Include some nameless extra who beams down to a planet's surface along with the regular crew, then gets killed off before the next commercial break.

Thus was born the curse of the Red Shirt.

As a command officer, Kirk wears a gold uniform. Science and medical officers (such as Spock and Bones, respectively) wear blue. These three are the most common main characters to beam down to the surface of a planet. All that's left are engineering and security personnel, who wear red. I guess it makes sense to have a security officer beam down to the surface with you, but they do seem to have an awfully high mortality rate. (As the chief engineer, Scotty also wears red, but manages to dodge the curse by being back on the ship and by being a main character.)

This is, I think, all the background you need to enjoy this very funny video:

Friday, February 20, 2009

Christmas carols: The holly and the ivy

The earliest known version of this carol dates from a broadside printed in 1710. It was probably copied from an earlier manuscript, but that manuscript has since been lost.

Like many Christmas carols, this one is rich in metaphor. Holly and ivy were symbolic of male and female in the Middle Ages, as well as representing good and evil. (As usual, female = evil.) However, this song breaks from the traditional male / female dichotomy because holly also represents the Virgin Mary. (You can add that to your list of unusual Virgin Mary metaphors.)

The editors of The New Oxford Book of Carols also pointed out something unusual about the refrain that I'd never noticed before. Here, for purposes of illustration, are the first two verses with the refrain:

The holly and the ivy, When they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood, The holly bears the crown.
The rising of the sun And the running of the deer,
The playing of the merry organ, Sweet singing in the choir.

The holly bears a blossom As white as the lily flower,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ To be our sweet Saviour.
The rising of the sun And the running of the deer,
The playing of the merry organ, Sweet singing in the choir.

So, what did the venerable editors at Oxford point out about the refrain? Basically that it makes no flippin' sense. The verses are all holly and ivy and Mary and Jesus and holly and ivy and Mary and Jesus and then along comes the chorus with . . . deer? and sunrise?

It is theorized (by those same editors) that the first verse is actually supposed to be the refrain (especially since it serves as both the first and last verse) and that the canny 18th century broadside publisher may have randomly added the refrain to fill out the number of verses. (Those crazy broadside publishers and their habit of messing with Christmas carols!)

So, the real first two verses should read thusly:

The holly bears a blossom As white as the lily flower,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ To be our sweet Saviour.
The holly and the ivy, When they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood, The holly bears the crown.

The holly bears a berry As red as any blood,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ To do poor sinners good.
The holly and the ivy, When they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood, The holly bears the crown.

Unfortunately, you, I and the editors of the OUP appear to be the only ones in on the secret, since every version I found has the first version of the carol. It's a lovely song, either way, but performing the real version would be a good way to exponentially increase your music snob factor. (That and singing "Guide Us, O Thou Great Jehovah" in the original Welsh.)


Renee Fleming, 2005:

Rich and Sara, 2008:

Instrumental arrangement for guitar and flute.

AcaBella, 2006:

A female a capella version.

Bonus: Varsity Boomwhacker Choir, Germantown Academy, 2006:

Generally, my standard selections are chosen for quality, while the bonus selection is a bit more quirky. This selection is both weird and fabulous.

Honorable mention: Another instrumental version, performed by the Rainbow City Band in 2007. Also, a jazzier a capella version, performed by AWKapella in 2008.

Monday, February 16, 2009


Buying qat* qua† tobacco in the suq‡ is bad qi**.

*qat - A type of plant which behaves as a stimulant when chewed or brewed. Also spelled "khat," "kat," etc.

†qua - Latin for "in the capacity of"

‡suq - A bazaar or commercial district in the Arabic world. Also spelled "souq," "souk," etc.

**qi - In Chinese philosophy, the underlying life force in all things, believed to cause bad health if not properly balanced. Apparently the plural is "qis," although I don't see how a non-count noun can have a plural. Also spelled "chi," "ch'i," etc.

(This entry was brought to you by the letter Q, which is worth 10 points in Scrabble.)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

B is for Sweet Babboo

In the Peanuts comic strip, Sally uses the phrase "Sweet Babboo" as a term of (somewhat terrifying) endearment for Linus.

My mom used to jokingly refer to my dad as her "Sweet Babboo." (I like to think he's somewhat less terrified of her than Linus is of Sally.) My brother misheard it as "Sweet Babboon" (what's a "babboo," anyway?) and thus a new term of endearment was born.

Happy [belated] Ides of February to everyone. You're all my Sweet Babboons.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Christmas carols: Joseph lieber, Joseph mein

This is a very sweet Christmas carol that focuses, unusually, on the family life of the Holy Family. The first verse is Mary asking Joseph if he'll help rock the cradle of the Christ child. (The title means "Joseph dear, Joseph mine.") Joseph responds affirmatively in the second verse . . . and then a bunch of other people show up and sing about how happy they are for five more verses.

In the Middle Ages, it was actually traditional for a cradle to be rocked by the priest during the service, as this and other cradle songs were sung. (Sometimes the children in the congregation got to rock their own little cradle, hung with bells. It's one way to keep the kids occupied.) The song was also sung at weddings, as a symbol of a happy family life.

There's also another set of lyrics — "Resonet in Laudibus" ("Let the voice of praise resound") — which is traditionally sung with this music, but I like the domestic themes of the German lyrics better. (To make matters even more confusing, the "Resonet in Laudibus" lyrics are also sung to a completely different tune, which made it difficult to find the version I wanted from the YouTube search results.)

Thomanerchor Leipzig:

This choir was founded in 1212, so they're almost 800 years old!

Choral arrangement, 2008:

Unknown arrangement for choir, organ, and horn:

(Also, I think something funky happened with my posts in feed readers last week, so scroll down and read last week's Christmas carol post, if you missed it.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Loner Mormons

So, I had an epiphany the other day, which was this: Some Mormons just don't like living around a bunch of other Mormons.

Now, I've heard enough whining from non-Utahns "forced" to come to BYU that this shouldn't have been a huge realization. And actually, the fact of it wasn't, it was more the reasons behind it that finally clicked into place.

The interesting thing about "Loner Mormons" (as they shall henceforth be known) is that they seem to come from all over the Mormon spectrum.

There are conservative Loner Mormons who like being able to share the gospel with a lot of people and there are liberal Loner Mormons who like living pluralistic communities or in blue states. (Of course, this poses the question of whether such Mormons would be happy living around a bunch of democratic Mormons.)

There are shallow Loner Mormons who like feeling superior to their neighbors and to all of those spoiled Utah Mormons and there are Christlike Loner Mormons who like being a representative of Christ and of the Church, even in very hostile circumstances.

There are Loner Mormons who like the tightknit Church community that springs up in areas where Mormons are in the minority and there are Loner Mormons who really can't stand all of the extra cultural frippery and are happy to avoid it as much as possible.

There are Loner Mormons who like being "the light of the world" and talking about the Church as much as possible and there are Loner Mormons who are very private about their faith and like the freedom to chose to worship as they see fit, without feeling judged by the general community.

Having realized that I am a Loner Mormon of several of the above varieties, I'm left to wonder why anyone isn't one. (Granted, there are also reasons that I'd like to live in Utah, but that's mostly having to do with proximity to family and jobs, and not anything directly correlating to the overabundance of Latter-day Saints.)

So, are you a Loner Mormon or not? And why?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Christmas carols: Coventry carol

By Giovanni's request, this week's selection is the Coventry Carol.

The Coventry Carol was part of a mystery play called "The Pageant of the Shearman and Tailors." The play was performed in Coventry every year around Easter, hence, the "Coventry" Carol.

This play was first mentioned in 1392 and it was trendy enough to attract royal visitors in the 15th century, but the earliest manuscript that includes text and music for the play dates to the end of the 16th century. We're very lucky to have this song, because that manuscript was actually destroyed in a library fire in 1879, and the music had to be reconstructed from what The New Oxford Book of Carols calls a "horrendously inaccurate piece of engraving" of the play which was published in 1825, as well as a previous edition published in 1879.

Unlike many Christmas carols, this is not at all a happy piece. It's in a minor key and rightly so, because the text of the piece is about mothers / women trying to keep their children quiet so that Herod's soldiers won't find them and kill them.

One interesting this about this song is that I didn't really like any of the versions I heard with male singers. Part of that may be the lyrics (the line "O sisters," implies that it's being sung by all women), or maybe it's just that the song works better with female voices, regardless. Anyway, here's a female a capella version to start you out:

AcaBella, 2006:

Salvation Army, Ontario Central Divisional Brass Ensemble, 2006:

I always like to include an instrumental version of whatever carol I'm featuring, and I thought this one was nice, despite the sound quality.

Unknown performers, lute and voice, 2008?:

A very traditional rendition with lute and female voice.

Honorable Mention: D. Holeton on Mountain Dulcimer, complete with tabs! (This is to answer all of the critics who complain that I don't post nearly enough mountain dulcimer tabs.)

Also, this Saxophone Quartet. (I could take or leave the actual quartet sections, but I found the beginning and ending solos unexpectedly haunting. Who knew that the Coventry Carol + saxophone would work?)

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Star Trek: Five people you should know

If you only learn about five people from the original Star Trek series (an arbitrary number, I know), here are my picks:

1. Kirk

James T. Kirk is the charismatic captain of the USS Enterprise. He's always first to go down and explore a new planet (and the first to fall in love with any beautiful alien women on its surface). Kirk is impulsive, romantic, hot-headed and resolutely human.

2. Spock

Mr. Spcok is the half-human, half-Vulcan chief science officer of the Enterprise. Vulcans are an alien race whose culture is based on valuing logic above all else. As such, Mr. Spock provides a cool-headed, rational foil to Captain Kirk's impulsiveness.

3. Bones

Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy is the ship's doctor. He, Kirk, and Spock form the core group that usually goes down to explore the surface of a new planet and deal with any inhabitants. If Kirk is an idealist, Bones is gruff and more grounded in matter-of-fact reality.

4. Scotty

Montgomery "Scotty" Scot is the ship's chief engineer. He also runs the transporters and has a reputation as a "miracle worker" who can fix the unfixable and generally use technology to save the day.

5. Uhura

I wouldn't say that Uhura's job as communications officer is particularly more important than Sulu or Chekhov, but her role as a black woman who was a respected professional was a Big Deal in the 1960s.

One anecdote which illustrates her impact is the story of Caryn Johnson, who first saw Star Trek when she was nine years old and ran through the house calling "Momma! There's a black lady on TV and she ain't no maid!" (Young Caryn Johnson later grew up to become an award-winning actress who frequently guest starred on Star Trek: The Next Generation. She is better known by her stage name: Whoopi Goldberg.)

Bonus: Nurse Chapel

The role of Nurse Christine Chapel on Star Trek isn't particularly notable, but the actress who played her, Majel Barrett, was one of only two actors to appear in both the failed first pilot and in the successful second pilot. (In fact, she was originally cast as the first officer of the Enterprise. The other actor to appear in both pilots was Leonard Nimoy.) She later married Gene Roddenberry and had guest roles or did voiceover work in every television series in the franchise, so I figured I'd introduce her here.