Engineering and Mozart

September 15, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , ,

Is there a piece of music that immediately grabbed you the first time you heard it, that still takes you back every time you hear it, so much so that it feels like a significant part of your life? Right now I’m listening to Mozart’s Piano Sonata #5 in G, and I’ll never forget the first time I heard it performed. It was on the campus of New Jersey Institute of Technology, a university known more for its engineering than its music.

I was in the NJIT Honors Program in the late ’80s. We were required to attend a certain number of colloquia per semester. Before I got myself kicked out of the Honors Program, I was at one of these colloquia in the campus theater (where I later saw a fantastic performance of Godspell, the memory of which always gives me paws). The woman giving the colloquium spoke for some of it and played piano for some of it. I don’t remember anything she said. Not a word. She could have been talking about the technique of Mozart, or the history of the piano, or Fourier series, I have no idea. Apparently I was paying as much attention to her as I was in most of my freshman classes.

But when she played this piece, Mozart’s Piano Sonata #5 in G, I was entirely captivated. From the first few notes until the end, about 10 minutes later, time seemed to stop. Well, except that, if it did, I wouldn’t have be able to hear the music. No, it was like the rest of the world stopped. There was just her, the piano, and me. It was the first time a piece of classical music ever captured me that way. I had been similarly captivated by rock music before (Elton John’s “Ticking,” Nektar’s “King Of Twilight,” King Crimson’s “Starless,” etc.), but never by classical music. This was new and completely unexpected. I was in another headspace for the entire rest of the day.

Soon I was searching for Mozart Piano Sonatas at every record store I could find (this was the ’80s … remember record stores?) and with the help of my much more musically inclined friend, Edz, I found a CD in the CBS Masterworks series. Glenn Gould performed several of Mozart’s piano sonatas on this double CD set, including my new favorite, #5. It has been in my regular rotation ever since, now for over 20 years.

Dr. Richard Sher, you directed the Honors Program at the time, and you recruited me to it. If not for you, I would probably never have heard it. It is one of those pieces of music that has held my affection for years and years. It never gets old, and it always makes me happy. Thank you.

If you (anyone who’s reading this) were there and you remember this, or you remember who the colloquium speaker was, I’d love to hear it. It you have a piece of music (classical or not) that affects you similarly, I’d love to hear about that, too.


January 6, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment



More Craft Beer Reviews

October 30, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Maui Brewing Company, Mana Wheat (American wheat beer brewed with pineapple): 2.0
The only thing offensive about this beer is how forgettable it is in its mediocrity. The pineapple adds an unusual taste, but I would not have guessed that it was pineapple, it’s so faint. It was worth a try, I guess. Disappointed. If you like beer that goes down easy and doesn’t impress you or make you think about it, much less savor it, this is one way to go.

Rogue Ales, Chocolate Stout: 4.0
Very nicely balanced. Sweet, but not cloying, and a perfect amount of chocolate flavor. Very well done.

Red Seal: 3.5
A nicely balanced, slightly bitter red ale. The aroma is very nice. There’s something about the taste I don’t quite prefer, but J sure digs it. I certainly wouldn’t refuse it if it were offered.

For the scale, see previous post.

Orbitz Customer Care

October 18, 2011 at 7:36 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

And the winner for the worst hold music ever is, Orbitz! With their distorted and out of tune rendition of Ode To Joy From Hell, they have made the experience of waiting on hold more torturous than was previously thought possible. In a recent poll, even Ani DiFranco’s music was more preferable than the Orbitz hold music. Orbitz public relations insists that the sharp spike in the national homicide rate which coincided with their change in hold music is only a coincidence.

Being cultured

October 10, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
Tags: , , ,

Have you ever gotten a friendship bread starter? It’s a cup of smelly liquid often given in a ziplock bag with instructions that take about 10 days to follow; some days you just stir, some days you add sugar, flour, etc. At the end, you have a loaf of sweet bread with three cups of starter to give to your friends.

The process, of course, is culturing bread yeast. After giving the yeast food and oxygen for days at a nice temperature, the yeast multiplies and voila, you have enough for several batches.

I don’t bake bread often, but I do brew beer, which also requires yeast, beer yeast. A different organism. I can get dry yeast from my supplier, or I can get liquid yeast. I generally get the liquid kind which come in lots more varieties. But they cost $6.50 a pop just for the yeast. So, I decided to get some culture.

Following the directions in Charlie Papazian’s great book The Complete Joy of Homebrewing I took a batch of a yeast I use often and am multiplying it times three. More details and pictures to come.

I’m calling my next batch of beer made with this yeast “Friendship Beer.” And if I give you a bottle, you won’t have to wait 10 days to drink it.

EDIT: Apparently beer yeast and bread yeast are different strains of the same organism, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, not different organisms. See the Wikipedia entry. Thanks for the correction, Virgil!

Paper paper, and First-World Problems

August 22, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , ,

So I’m on my way to Tucson doing something I haven’t done in years, reading the physical front page of the New York Times. This is thanks to Jane, the dietician/professor/entrepenuer that I’m sitting next to on the plane. We had been discussing reading physical newspapers versus reading similar content on the web. She stated that when reading the news in a physical paper, you are exposed to more (and more varied) information because there are 3-6 more articles on various topics on the same page that you can read easily.

I countered with the example of the NYT website that has links to articles of similar and different styles and subject matter next to and just underneath the article. They also have a link to another article that pops out from the side automatically when you get to the bottom of the current article. So I believe there are different ways whereby one can have similar unexpected experiences reading on the web.

I didn’t even go into websites such as stumpleupon, redditt, boingboing, etc. I think there’s something in human nature that takes joy in accidental discovery, and people who design these websites know that.

Anyway, back to my first-world problems reference. After we talked, I was happy to read a bit of the paper she handed me. How quaint, I thought. Almost nostalgic. Then I read an article titled, “To Reach Simple Life of Summer Camp, Lining Up for Private Jets.” An excerpt:

“For decades, parents in the Northeast who sent their children to summer camp faced the same arduous logistics of traveling long distances to remote towns in Maine, New Hampshire and upstate New york to pick up their children or to attend parents’ visiting day. Now, even as the economy limps along, more of the nation’s wealthier families are cutting out the car ride and chartering planes to fly to summer camps. One private jet broker, Todd Rome of Blue Star Jets, said his summer-camp business had jumped 30 percent over the last year.”

The article is reporting on an interesting change in the economy — interesting especially to small aircraft operators — and that’s fine. It’s about rich people, and that’s fine. The word that jumps out at me like Bugs Bunny out of Elmer Fudd’s soup pot is “arduous.” I’ve been reading and listening to stories about gang violence and victims of war, some of my best students can’t find jobs after graduating with a masters degree, and this author, Christine Haughney, without a hint of irony, describes the task of rich people driving their kids to elite summer camps as arduous. This really made me rethink what the demographics of this paper’s audience is.

And I would never have done that if I were not reading the paper version of the New York Times, because I would not have clicked on the link for this article after seeing the headline.

Well played, Jane, well played.

I’m Being Marketed To

August 7, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , ,

Ok, I’ve gotten accustomed to hearing music I like over the loudspeakers in the mall and the supermarket. (Roll your eyes, teenagers! Hah!) I just wish they played it louder and with more bass.

But today I’m talking about internet marketing. Within an hour of posting my last blog post on craft beer (which was automatically posted to my twitter and FB), I got a new follower on Twitter, Taphunter. They’re a San Diego based company that follows bars serving craft beer in several cities in North America. They get craft beer enthusiasts to log in to their site and update their information as to who has what available on tap. So if you’re in, say, Austin, and you really want Widmer Brothers Hefeweizen on tap, you can log in and it’ll tell you where to go.

Furthermore, you can get their mobile app and update their info on the bar where you are, and you’ll get points. And wouldn’t everyone just love some more points? I’d do just about anything for points. Yay points! Oh, and they have occasional giveaways and discounts and stuff.

Anyway, I was curious how, and impressed that, they found me so quickly. By my blog stats, that blog entry only was viewed once, and that viewer was referred by I assume this is due to the efforts of the Chief Beer Strategist (also CEO and Co-founder) at Taphunter, Mel Gordon. What I wonder is this: was it a person (herself or perhaps a lackey), or was it automated? Does she have software that scours the blogosphere for beer enthusiasts, then automatically starts following them on Twitter or otherwise? If so, what kind of software is it? Is it expensive? Free? Highly specific, or versatile? Is this cutting edge, or has it been around for years?

*digs a bit deeper*

Ok, I’d bet she’s got the software. She’s also president and founder of gWave Consulting, complete with programmers! Also, she’s “Widely considered as an Internet marketing expert …” It’s true, just read her description on the gWave website, which she probably wrote herself. After all, she’d know, right? Really, I’m just poking fun. I have no reason to believe she isn’t what she claims to be. Besides, she backs up her claims by citing publications, and I looooove it when people cite sources. Also, she obviously likes good beer, so I’ll gladly give her the benefit of the doubt.

So, all in all, I say nice job marketing to me, Mel Gordon. Maybe someday we’ll talk about adding the North Country (or at least Burlington, VT) to Taphunter’s markets. Preferably over a craft beer or, even better, a homebrew. After all, we’ve got Lake Placid Brewery, Saranac, and Magic Hat just to name a few, not to mention the possibility of a brewpub opening in Potsdam within the next year or two. I’d gladly regularly enter all data on my local, Maxfields. Besides, it’ll get me points, right?

Commercial Craft Beer

August 6, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , , ,

I’ve been trying a lot of different craft beers lately, and I’d like to remember what I thought of them, as the flavors are already starting to blur in my mind.

Who am I that feel qualified to rate beer? I’m just someone who enjoys drinking good beer. I also brew my own. I was delightfully surprised to find that homebrew can often be better than good commercial craft beers. I am not a professional brewer, nor a master brewer, nor am I qualified by the BJCP to be a judge in beer competitions. I just know what I like, and I want to remember. Because life is too short to drink bad beer.

Here’s my rating system. It is entirely subjective. My ratings may differ wildly from yours.
5 = Truly excellent. I must drink this again before I die. Nirvana.
4 = Great. I’d gladly pay good money for this beer. I’d give this to people I like.
3 = Good. Not my top choice, but enjoyable in a pinch. I’d stock it in my house if I were short on cash or if what I really wanted wasn’t available.
2 = Eh. If I bought it, I’d finish drinking it, but I’d never buy another.
1 = Bad. If I were a guest in someone’s house, and this is the only beer they had, I’d choke the first one down with a smile and drink water henceforth.
0 = Truly terrible. The drain is the only place for this. I question the sanity of anyone who drinks this on purpose.

Here they are, in no particular order.

Wasatch Beers, White Label (Belgian Style White Ale): 4.5
Very, very good. Everything I want from a Witbier. Somewhat fruity, light, flavorful, smooth, distinctive … a joy to drink.

Boulder Beer Company, Kinda Blue (Blueberry Wheat Beer): 2.5
The beer itself is so-so, and the blueberry flavor is mild. It would be a 2.0 if not for the novelty.

Bear Republic, Red Rocket Ale: 3.5
A nice balanced flavorful beer. I prefer Retro Red (New Belgium Brewery) to this, but Red Rocket is a decent red/amber ale. I probably wouldn’t regularly stock it, but I’d pick it up occasionally.

Left Hand Brewing Company, Milk Stout: 4.0
Wonderfully smooth, slightly sweet stout. Just enough bitterness to make it not too sweet. Creamy. Want more.

Left Hand Brewing Company, Good Juju (Beer Brewed With Ginger): 2.0
The beer is forgettable, and the ginger is barely noticeable. I’m trying to not let this put me off other beers accented with ginger.

Widmer Brothers Brewing, Hefeweizen: 4.0
Very good hefeweizen. Possibly the best I’ve had in a bottle that wasn’t a homebrew. I’d have to do a taste test to compare it with Lake Placid Brewing Company’s Hefeweizen.

Lake Placid Brewing Company, Hefeweizen: 4.0
Very good hefeweizen. Possibly the best I’ve had in a bottle that wasn’t a homebrew. I’d have to do a taste test to compare it with Widmer Brothers Brewing’s Hefeweizen.

New Belgium Brewing, Mothership Wit (Organic what beer brewed with spices): 3.5
Good, but disappointing compared to Wasatch. If it were the only wit around, I’d drink it and enjoy it.

Shock Top, Raspberry Wheat: 3.0
Very fruity! I can barely taste the beer. If you don’t like beer very much and want something cold and fruity on a hot day, this is for you. Not my preference, but I’m giving it a 3 since it’s very good for its style (very fruity, light and refreshing).

Nimbus Brewing Company, Pale Ale: 3.0
A good, balanced pale ale, but I prefer Sierra Nevada a bit more.

Bell’s Brewery, Oberon Ale (American wheat): 2.0
The taste is more like an Eastern European lager, not an American summer wheat beer. If I wanted that flavor, I’d get a Pilsner Urquell. Not to my taste.

New Belgium Brewing, Sunshine (Wheat beer brewed with spices): 3.5
A nice American wheat beer. J would give this a 4.0, and I might, too, if she left any around long enough for me to taste. 😉

Firestone Walker Brewing Company, Firestone DBA (Double Barrel Ale): 4.0
Very nice! It’s a very flavorful pale ale that pushes the boundary of enjoyable bitterness, but doesn’t cross it. A very interesting American pale ale. It beats out Sierra Nevada for my money. (BTW, Sierra Nevada is about a 3.5 on my scale, possibly 4 if it’s very fresh and cold.)

The Math Academic Job Search

July 24, 2011 at 10:01 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In my last semester at the University of Arizona in the Math PhD program, I gave a talk in the Math Grad Colloquium about searching for an academic job in math. Having just recently (successfully) completed such a search, I felt compelled to share my wisdom (mistakes) with others about to do the same. At the request of Suz Tolwinski, a current grad student in the applied math program at the U of A, I dug up the slides from that talk. I then decided to post the slides on the web at my Slideshare for the whole world wide web to ignore.

Most likely, some information is out of date. You have been warned.

Cold Brew, Take Two

July 11, 2011 at 10:17 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
Tags: , ,

It’s been a few weeks since I first tried cold-brewed coffee, and I just finished drinking my third batch. (Melanie Brault from Trung Nguyen Coffee wrote a nice short piece on the process here at

After the concentrate is made, the procedure is to fill my coffee cup 1/4 or 1/5 of the way with the concentrate, and fill it with boiling water to make a full cup of normal strength really good coffee. However, since I store the concentrate in the fridge, my cup of coffee was delicious at first, but it became colder than I enjoy within 5 minutes of pouring. To fix this problem, I’d just microwave the cup (1/4 full of concentrate) for 22 seconds before adding boiling water. That seems to work fine.

For my second batch, I used a modified version of the recipe in my previous post: only one cup of coffee beans instead of two, and I’m brewed for 24 hours instead of 12. Everything else is the same — I’m brewed in my large French press at room temperature. Note that the measurement is done *before* grinding. You’ll have to experiment yourself if you’re using ground coffee. I’m used Sumatra beans from Wild Rose Coffee Co. in Tucson, Arizona.

So, how does it compare? The finished product is comparable, but I have to use twice as much concentrate as before. So I’m going back to my original recipe.

Next Page »

Blog at
Entries and comments feeds.