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I wrote a new rag, as a birthday present for my father, and got to play it on a real Bosendorfer (belonging to my parents' friends). Gorgeous instrument. Here's the video evidence:


In looking through my Youtube videos, I saw that something like 1759 people have already heard my Gitche Gumee Rag. As a child, fantasizing about becoming a composer, I never even dreamed of having that many people hear my work. My dreams were along the lines of "If even one other person not related to me can hear my music, I'll be so happy!" Sometimes childhood dreams do come true. In spades.

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As I mentioned earlier, a bit more than a month ago I embarked on a fairly ambitious workout regimen. I'd had a very sedentary and well-fed summer, and was starting to require new clothing. I decided to get a gym membership instead.

Now, I have never, even at my fittest, been able to run. Any kind of intense cardiovascular activity is hard for me. So I started weight training instead, following the weights workout with a 15-minute walk - or 15 minutes on the elliptical machine, at a reasonably slow speed (4mph).

Today, after the regular weights workout, I went to the elliptical, and found, to my surprise, that the number on the screen was 5.5mph, and that I was feeling just fine at that speed. I even thought there was something wrong with the machine. There wasn't.

Maybe I'll try running next time and see what happens.

One thing that I've been thinking about in the gym (1 hour a day is plenty of time to think) is the way that women are misinformed about losing weight, and how much suffering it causes. The weights room at the gym I go to is mostly populated by men, who typically look very fit and muscular. The cardio room is mostly populated by women, who typically look like they are carrying a few extra pounds - or more than a few - and who are going at a sub-maximal speed on the cardio machines.

Now, the research I've read indicates that both for men and women, the best way to lose body fat is to exercise in short, intense bursts - either by lifting heavy weights (for a personal definition of "heavy"), or by intervals of sprinting, followed by intervals of rest. Men appear to be aware of this; for a man, going to the gym involves lifting large heavy objects. Women typically aren't; and in fact, women typically tend to avoid lifting large heavy objects because they think it'll make them "bulky". For a woman, going to the gym involves sub-maximal-intensity cardiovascular exercise, or lifting very light weights. The exercise that women's magazines recommend tends to involve lifting tiny little weights that a 5-year-old wouldn't have trouble with. It's better than doing nothing, sure, but it's not enough to reshape one's body.

After a month of lifting large, heavy objects, I lost the weight I needed to lose. I didn't diet, I didn't "bulk up" - I just lost the extra flab, and there is muscle where the flab used to be. And I'm not spending that much time at the gym, either.
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Well, I finished the edits for the CD (yay!) and now it's in the capable hands of the recording engineer. Meanwhile, I also came up with a cover design, wrote up the program notes for all the rags and a bio, and basically got everything more or less ready. It's really almost done. I can't believe it.

As I was writing the program notes, I had a realization - all of the rags on this CD are ones I composed while attending law school. The first 4 were done before law school, but they're on the other CD. The first one on this disc was composed in late 2006 - first semester of law school, the scariest and most intense part. I still got good grades. Two of the rags were composed while I was doing my 2L summer internship and working 12-hour days. I still got an offer.

I think too many people think (and say) that one cannot have a regular "day job" and be a musician (or artist, or whatever). I intend to spend the next several years of my life proving them wrong.
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Today I had the third recording session for that #)($*#&$*)(#$ CD I'm trying to record. The problem is that I am practicing on a digital piano, which has a much lighter touch than the instrument I'm recording on. The other problem, to be honest, is that I'm not practicing enough. In any case, this disc is driving me nuts and I hope to God that I'll be done with it soon.

It is rather exciting to be recording a real, honest-to-goodness CD at a real, honest-to-goodness recording studio. I just hope the result sounds decent.

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And flabbergasted. Apparently, I am living in a democracy. Who knew?
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I went and did my civic duty today; woke up at an ungodly hour and was at the polling place by 7am. I live in a battleground state, so predictably, two out of the three voting machines in our district broke down; the lines were something like 2 hours long; the poll workers misstated the law in telling us about "emergency" paper ballots (they told us that those might not be counted, whereas by law, they have to be), and when I finally did get to vote, it was on a touchscreen machine with no permanent verifiable record whatsoever.

While in line, I was chatting to some of the undergrads ahead of me, and it was touching to see their faith in Diebold. It was clearly a terribly outlandish idea to them to think that the button that says "Obama" might actually add 1 to the McCain count instead. The reaction was "No, they wouldn't do that!" Shocking.

And now, there is the wait. I'm trying to distract myself in any way I can, and Professional Responsibility is not working too well as a distraction; hence this posting. I also went to the bookstore to distract myself today, and picked up a curious volume by Michael Pollan entitled "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto". It presented the none-too-surprising idea that commercially manufactured food is bad for you, but also presented the slightly disquieting idea that any traditional cuisine, taken as a whole, is good for you (even the really weird ones involving cow blood), but we don't exactly know why. On one hand, it's simple evolutionary common sense; if people have been eating whatever-it-is for generations, it must be conducive to good health. (I do note that despite the emphasis on sour cream and meat in Russian cooking, my parents and I had very low cholesterol when we first immigrated; when we switched to a more standard American diet - and really, we didn't switch all the way - the cholesterol numbers went up) But he also notes that when a new food is introduced to a culture, people get sick - there are subtle interactions between all the fiddly little micronutrients that people instinctively know about the foods they normally eat, but don't know about the food they're introducing.

The thing is, I never cook very traditional food, and I love to experiment with new foods and new food combinations. I'm not sure that what I cook belongs to any particular culture at all - it's just random stuff thrown together. Maybe it's not a good idea? Hmm. Gotta find some traditional Russian recipes to make.

And now I have to physically restrain myself from checking the electoral map again. Hmm. Need more distraction.
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I just got back from the gym. Every so often, I go on an exercise kick and work out regularly, which I really enjoy until something happens and I have to stop. The first time I did this, I worked out happily for several months, until my mother got sick and I had to move to Texas on a moment's notice. I re-started working out when I started law school, but then stopped again when my summer internship started and I had no time to sleep and eat, let alone wiggle (since I don't actually know what I'm doing in the gym, and since I am terribly uncoordinated, I can't call what I'm doing "working out" - "wiggling" or "flailing around randomly" is a much more accurate description). The reason I stop is never a loss of motivation or a lack of willpower; I really enjoy the gym. But something always happens.

So, last week I returned to my wiggling regimen. We'll see what happens to stop me this time. Today, I had a nice long swim. Tomorrow, I will go and lift heavy objects.

One of the things that has always mystified me, and made me feel vaguely inadequate, is hearing others (especially women) say that they feel unwelcome in the gym, or that they feel people are staring at them, or that they are too fat or too out of shape to be there. I blush to admit that the thought of being too out of shape to be at the gym, or being stared at, has never even crossed my mind. Even as I lift my puny little 7.5 lb. dumbbells in a room full of men lifting 75 lb. dumbbells, I never feel like I don't belong there, or like I am unwelcome there. Maybe I lack the requisite receptors.
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I rather liked today's XKCD:


There is definitely a tendency for the "ownership" of copyrighted media to move from the "property" model to the "contract" model. If I buy a pair of shoes, it is mine and I can do whatever I want with it - re-sell it, alter it, wear it anywhere I like, etc. The original owner has no more rights with regards to the shoes. If I download music from iTunes, the original owner can do a lot to control my behavior - they can prevent me from converting it to a more up-to-date format, copying it to a different computer, and a whole bunch of similar things.

One of the reasons I am staying away from electronic books, after an initial burst of enthusiasm, is that the e-books I now have are only readable on a PalmPilot. I cannot convert them into a format that would be readable on, say, one of the new e-book gadgets. I cannot print them out so I could read them off the printed page. Not only is it a "contract" model of ownership, it is a very restrictive contract - and the restrictions are not reflected in the price of the e-book, which is usually higher than the price of a used paperback which is sold according to the "property" model (it is mine forever and I can do whatever I want with it).

All the more reasons to create one's own music, art, and literature.
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One of the books I found, purely randomly, at Bouchercon was a collection of short aphorisms ("grooks") by Piet Hein. This one is my favorite:

The road to wisdom? Well, it's plain
And simple to express:
And err
And err again,
But less
And less
And less.

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I have been a member of a Usenet newsgroup called rec.arts.mystery since 1995. Yes, 1995 (I'm old). This is an online forum devoted to mystery novels, with a few resident writers, and a lot of resident readers (including me). While I do like mysteries, and read quite a lot of them, what attracts me to RAM is as much the book discussions and recommendations as the community of "regulars" that frequent the group. They are a welcoming and friendly bunch of people. The community has existed for long enough that it has its own in-jokes and bits of fun; they send each other books and exotic chocolates; and though for most of those 13 years, I only knew those people as words on a computer screen, I felt like I knew them - and they knew me - better than most of the people with whom I associated in real life.

Yesterday, I met a few of RAM regulars for the first time, after 13 years of "knowing" them. They, and I, were attending a mystery convention called Bouchercon. The convention was a lot of fun - basically just like a ragtime festival, only with books instead of music as the focal point. Lots of interesting panel discussions where authors talked about their writing; lots of book dealers plying their trade in one giant book room (I must have bought at least 50 lbs. worth of books...); lots of readers chatting and having fun. And I finally got to meet the people I knew only as words on a computer screen. It was - as it should have been - like being around good friends I've known forever and ever. I felt instantly at ease.

Lots of pundits like to fulminate about the disconnectedness of modern life, about the computer replacing personal interaction, and about the loss of community that results. It's true that they have quieted down somewhat in the advent of Facebook and other social networking sites. But still, I think it is important to note that even purely-online communities like RAM increase, rather than decrease, connectedness.

I first came to RAM in 1995, when I was an undergraduate student. When I moved halfway across the country to go to graduate school, I lost all my favorite hangouts - except for the online ones. When I was lonely and isolated in graduate school, my online friends helped me get through it. When I found a job after graduation, they rejoiced with me; when I got laid off, they commiserated. I, too, shared their triumphs and their sorrows over the years. And despite all my numerous interstate moves (MN -> CA -> TX -> PA -> TX -> PA -> CA -> PA ... and it's not over), I could always come to RAM and hang out with my friends. It has been the only constant in a very inconstant and unpredictable life, and I am grateful to the regulars for being there, and for being my friends.
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