Monday, August 25, 2008

Gas Prices

I think this chap has a good point:

"I suspect that if I stood next to the yogurt case in the supermarket for five minutes every week with nothing to do but stare at the price, I would also know how much it has gone up — and I might become outraged when yogurt passed the $2 mark."

I, for one, am not too angry at the higher gas prices for a few reasons:
  1. I was prompted to finally sell my old, undesirable, and semi-gas guzzling truck for a much cooler, sportier, and gas efficient car. (And unlike the article, didn't lose money doing it!)
  2. I have been waiting for a long time for Americans to wake up and realize how easy we've had it for the past twenty years. Gas in Canada has been $4+ for years and I hear Europe has been even worse. But these people have gotten used to it, bought fuel efficient cars, used public transportation, and (gasp!) walked more. Meanwhile, our greed for cheap petroleum has drawn us into a series of frivolous Middle Eastern conflicts while simultaneously given ample reason to neglect developing quality domestic mass-transit systems.
I plan to write more about this subject because I think and read a good deal about it.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Oatmeal Creme Pies

I love oatmeal creme pies. I can eat an entire box in one sitting, and have found that they work equally well for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or anything in between. If I take my hourly wage, subtract tithing and taxes, divide by the cost of one box of Oatmeal Creme Pies, and multiply by the number of pies per box, then that means that I can eat 84 oatmeal creme pies per hour 8 hours a day. Since most human beings work 8 hours a day, sleep 8 hours a day, and dink around the other 8 hours, every 42.9 seconds during my dinking-off hours I can consume one pie. Setting a timer to go off every 42 seconds would make life simple while saving 10 pies per day from the extra 0.9 seconds every minute. These surplus pies I would save and in about two years time would have enough Oatmeal Creme Pies for a year's supply of food. Face it, would you rather eat wheat or Oatmeal Creme Pies when the world goes kaplooey? These things will last forever.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Beauty of Silence

People often ask, "What is your favorite type of music?" These people usually anticipate a conversation about Blues Traveler, Weezer, or the Barenaked Ladies (all of which I enjoy) but this question puts me in a tricky situation! Wanting to remain cool (of course), I am somewhat shy to reply that almost all of the music that I listen to is choral! Always a conversation killer, I’ve discovered that very few people my age enjoy choral music to the extent and near-exclusivity as I do.

To prove my point, I bought a new car a few weeks ago (not really new, but new to me) with a premium sound system. I believe that the most effective test of a speaker system is, in fact, fine choral music! When sung with dramatic dynamics and featuring exciting writing, choral music will test all of the important aspects of an audio system. I've often been disappointed with speakers that didn't quite carry the beauty of a high soprano or the rumble of a deep bass section. A good speaker system can handle this range of pitch as well as the extreme dynamics indicative of top-quality choral music.

Back to my original point - in my opinion, the best music in the world is first-class choral music. Why do I think this? Keep reading.

I began singing my freshman year of high school where I discovered my initial love for the art. I didn’t immediately find the joy of listening to choral music, only performing it. Chanticleer’s Sing We Now of Christmas was the first CD I ever owned. I listened to it year-round nearly nonstop; yet, this love for a particular CD didn’t evolve into a greater love of choral music until later.

In the summer of 2004 I "discovered" the Brigham Young University Singers. On a trip to upstate New York I purchased one of their CDs entitled “Songs of the Soul.” Later, at my home in Virginia, I played the CD on my living room stereo while I talked to my family. It wasn’t long until we stopped speaking entirely and sat transfixed at the beauty we were hearing. More specifically, for fourteen minutes and fifty-five seconds we were silenced by one particular track, When David Heard That Absalom Was Slain.

When David Heard is a four-part a cappella masterpiece composed by Eric Whitacre. It relates a single heartbreaking verse from the Old Testament of David’s terrible grief upon hearing that his son, Absalom, has been slain. Absalom had rebelled against his father, formed an army, and attempted to take the kingdom by force. Of necessity, David sent an army to stop him, but gave very clear instructions not to harm Absalom. The King’s army was victorious but, disobeying orders, killed Absalom. In his grief, David shuts himself in his chamber and cries,

My son, my son Absalom!
Would God I had died for thee!

From this breathtaking story Eric Whitacre created the most wrenching and beautiful piece of music I have ever heard. In my opinion, it is the best in the world.

After discovering When David Heard, I fell in love with it. The painful harmonies and staggeringly beautiful melody stayed with me for many weeks. It was in my mind when I received my endowment at the Washington D.C. Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To this day I associate this song with that most influential moment of my life. It has become the only song that I avoid listening to for fear that it will become too commonplace to me – that it will lose its sacredness - and sadness.

It was a few years later that I learned the story behind When David Heard. BYU Singers, the performers on the CD, had not simply found the piece and recorded it. The composer, Eric Whitacre, had written the piece specifically for the Singers, and more specifically, for their director Ronald Staheli. Dr. Staheli’s breathtaking conduction of When David Heard arose from his grief at losing his son in a car accident at the prime of his life. For this, Mr. Whitacre “dedicated [it] with love and silence to Dr. Ronald Staheli.”

Following the summer of 2004, I served a two-year mission for the LDS Church. It was during this time that my love for choral music expanded from When David Heard to include other types of choral work. I exhaustedly listened to every recording I could get my hands on from the Singers, as well as other BYU Choirs and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It was in the reverent silence of a missionary’s life that I grew to depend on the beauty of choral music.

The collective music of the BYU Singers has lifted my heart to rejoice and enlightened my mind many times since then. I have since listened to every CD they have produced - some of them dozens, if not hundreds of times. I have been to their rehearsals and recording sessions. I’ve acquired and scoured their archival CDs, and befriended many members of the choir. I’ve listened to dozens of concerts both from the audience and from the stage. I have found a deep love for the BYU Singers, and easily consider them the most beautiful musical ensemble in the world.

Upon returning from my mission I auditioned for the BYU Men’s Chorus, which I had been a member of during my freshman year of college. To my surprise and exultant joy, I instead found a spot in the BYU Concert Choir. This exquisitely beautiful mixed choir, conducted by Rosalind Hall, has recorded wonderful CDs and holds a very special place in the BYU choral program. To many this choir is the training choir for BYU Singers.

So here I find myself in the summer of 2008 following a year and a half in the Concert Choir – agonizingly close to my dream. The most beautiful choir in the world is only a few tenors away. Last year I lacked the courage to audition, but in April I had a preliminary audition with Dr. Staheli. It went very well and I am now waiting to see if I have made the callback list. Callback auditions for Singers is a very intimidating proposition – last year a stack of challenging music was assigned and a few days later auditionees were required to be able to perform it! The final requirement for entrance into the choir, despite a candidate's long resume of choral experience and musical expertise, is whether or not his or her voice fits in with the BYU Singers sound. Vocal parts have only four to six singers making blend essential. Many fantastic singers have been rejected from the choir because the beautiful sound they have developed is not the exact sound required by the choir. It is this fear that keeps me up at night!

By now, you will have surmised that one of my life goals is to be a member of the BYU Singers. Is this an unreasonable goal? Probably! When I conceived it in the summer of 2004, it definitely was. But over the past four years, it has become increasingly more possible. I don’t fear rejection this fall, or next, as I am willing to audition many times if necessary to get in. My greatest fear is that if I do get in that following the experience I will lose my love of the BYU Singer sound. I have found that I become much more critical of a choir’s recordings once I’ve been in the choir and am familiar with all of their typical mistakes! Will membership in the choir be worth the potential loss of my love for their music?

Well, obviously the allure of performing with the choir trumps that fear, but it still remains in the back of my head – a risk I am willing to take. For now, I hope to make the callback auditions, do well, and become a member of the choir. It’s a long shot, but for the first time in my life, I feel that it’s not so long.

So why have I put all this into my blog? Well, what are blogs for, but to write stuff like this? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I also somewhat want to share the beauty I’ve found in choral music with others. A few weeks ago I added a fancy little application on the right side of this blog for visitors to listen to some of my favorite songs. When David Heard is there.

I won’t beg you or even ask you to listen to it, but it is there if you’re intrigued.* If you do listen to When David Heard, do it right - listen alone, in a quiet room. Give enough time for the entire song without interruptions and try to concentrate on nothing else. If you listen with your eyes closed and with an open heart perhaps it will bring tears to your eyes as it has to mine many times.

*I grew tired a long time ago attempting to persuade people to do things that are good for them: A natural result of a mission? Or just a natural result of lame friends who will never do anything fun?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Modern Mysteries

A Few of the Most Pressing Mysteries of
Modern Physics

....Our ancestors wondered why the planets move the way they do, or how magnets work, but we have a slew of mysteries ourselves! Sure, these mysteries aren't completely encroaching on our daily lives, but they're HUGE mysteries nonetheless. Take a look at some of the subjects your children will take for granted:

7. What is the shape of the universe?
By shape, astrophysicists mean what will eventually happen to the universe. Will it continue to expand forever until everything freezes over (including hell)? Or will the expansion slow, stop, and then reverse until the universe ends in a Big Crunch? Newer and better telescopes, both ground and space-based, will answer this question...

6. Magnetic monopoles
Maxwellian electromagnetic principles state that magnets will never have monopoles, meaning that there will always be a north and a south pole. No matter how small you cut a magnet, it will always have a north pole and a south pole. Well, solar physicists observe magnetic monopoles as the source of coronal mass ejections! How does this fit into modern physics? It doesn't!

5. Where did all the anti-matter go?
Cosmologists (astrophysicists on drugs who specialize in Big Bang Theory) say that matter and anti-matter should exist in equal quantities. If so, where did all the anti-matter go?

4. Grand unification theory
Einstein died trying to solve this holy grail of theoretical physics. What's the problem? Try sometime to use quantum mechanics and general relativity at the same time. It doesn't work! These two methods work fantastically well for the very small (quantum mechanics) and the very large and massive (general relativity), but what about the very small and massive (like black holes)? The answer may lie in the 11 dimensions of string theory, but folks have been working on that for decades... gravity sure is a pesky little thing.

3. Source of extragalactic gamma ray bursts
Gamma ray bursts are the brightest events in the universe (so far), yet we still have no idea what produces them! Anti-matter reaction? Two neutron stars colliding?
2. Coronal heating - 1 million degrees, what the heck!?
The "surface" of the sun, called the photosphere, is a cool 4500°K. Yet over the next 2000 km in altitude the temperature rises to an astounding 1 million degrees! Why? Nobody knows! Perhaps the answer to this question will finally open the way to profitable fusion reactors here on earth...

What is dark matter and dark energy?
We know it's there. It makes up 95% of the mass of the universe. Right now, we have no clue what it is. Just that it is. Now, if that's not a mystery...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Evil 101

B.A. in Evil Mastermind

Department of Dictatorial Sciences
College of Tyrannical Studies

Brigham Young University

For students entering the degree program during the 2008–2009 curricular year.

Program Requirements: 55.0 – 60.0 total hours.

Complete the Following:
101. Megalomania and You (1:1:0)
An introduction to careers in evil.
105. History of Tyranny (4:4:0)
Survey of world tyrannical empires.
106. Historical Tyrants (4:4:0)
In-depth historical analysis of their motivations, methods, and management styles.
180. Introduction to Torture (2:2:1)
Its history and theory.

205. Classic Historical Blunders (3:3:0)
Asian land wars, hot lava, and democracy.
206. Never Invade Russia in the Winter (3:3:0) (part 1 of 2)
210. Laughing (1:1:1)
Methods of diaphragm, pitch, and tone control.
220. Intermediate Torture (2:2:2)
Hot, cold, and sharp things.
224. Secret Agents (1:1:0)
How to kill first, laugh later.
225. Personal Persona (2:2:0)
Your uniform, facial hair, and office space.

301. Public Relations (3:3:0)
How to make good people think you’re good too.
302R. Advanced Public Relations (2-4:4:2-4)
Practicum in propaganda.
307. Never Invade Russia in the Winter (3:3:0) (part 2 of 2)
350. Natural Resources (2:2:1)
Effective use of sharks, oil, and plutonium.
360. Oppression (2:2:1)
Effective use of basic human needs.
371. Blitzkrieg (3:3:0)
Its history and modern potential.

410. Effective Exploitation of Interpersonal Relationships (3:3:1)
Basic manipulative principles including ransom, hostages, and threats. Lab included.
416. Advanced Torture (2:2:2)
Annoyance, audacity, and fallacious statements.
425. Personnel Management (3:3:0)
Intimidation in the workplace.
426. Advanced Personnel Management (3:3:0)
How to not kill all your useful staff.
480. Superweapons (3:3:0)
Lasers, missiles, and space.

498. Senior Thesis (3.0-6.0)
Small scale ascent to power demonstrating methods learned. Examples include, but are not limited to: student government, workplace cout de ta, school board, small country, etc.

Recommend courses
Geog 120 (3:3:0) Geography and World Affairs
ArtHC 111 (3:3:1) Introduction to Art History
Hum 250 (3:3:0) Introduction to Interdisciplinary Humanities

Physics = Awesome ≁ Practical

A few things everyone should own:

Saturday, August 2, 2008


I am happy.

It has been awhile.

.......... I've missed it...........

I am genuinely happy.