December 28, 2010

Passing Time

So, I know I haven't been posting consistently enough...especially considering I've been on an extended holiday break with ample time to fill even after the 4 hours of daily practice I put in. Even more condemning is the fact that here at Rob's (as opposed to my place in Evanston) I have access to the world wide web all the time...don't have to trek to school if I wanna check my email, watch some PBS...or write a blog. In this case it seems as though it's primarily when things get easy that I get lazy.

So here's my catch-up post.

Some things I've/we've been doing for the holiday break...

Finding practice rooms for me:

After the first few days I was here (during which I did my aforementioned daily 4 hours at Rob's apartment) I started to get the idea that the neighbors were sick and tired of hearing scales, arpeggios, and atonal solos. When I'd start playing for instance I thought I could hear their voices change from quiet muffles to annoyed yells. I HATE thinking that I'm bothering anyone with my playing and I can TOTALLY understand how one might tire of hearing all the crap I go through during my practice--especially the tedious but necessary stuff I tackle as part of my technical routine. I started to worry that they'd call the landlord and complain or send the cops over to shut me up. At that point I was unable to make myself put the horn to my lips and blow. My worry had completely shut me down.

Initially, I spent some time practicing in the Cornell music building. There are a few practice rooms there and though I was clearly breaking the rules by using them (not only are they for Cornell students only, but those students have to pay a sizable fee at the beginning of the year just to be granted access) but as it was finals week, few people were around and no one approached me about it. After finals week however, the music building was locked for holiday there goes that option.

Another member of Rob's relativity group is a drummer and lives in this apartment complex. One day while making a laundry run Rob noticed him practicing in the apartment's common room--a sitting-room-like area next to the work-out facility that is totally separate from anyone's living quarters. He came home all excited and suggested that I could try practicing in there as well. Just to make sure I wouldn't be breaking any rules, I asked Rob to email the guy and see if he had been given any guidelines to regulate his use of the room . Sure enough: he had an arrangement with the landlord (confirmed with a $250 deposit) that he could use the room for 2 hours every Saturday...dangit!

Sooo...I thought, "I'll call Hickey's and see if they have any studio space for rent." In fact, they do...but they wouldn't allow me to use it for private practice as it was designated for lessons only. ARGGGH!!! At the end of my rope, I told the guy at Hickey's about my predicament and if he had any suggestions. "Have you tried going to IC?" He asked. "You can sneak into those practice rooms any time and I know they're going to be open during the break."

There was my solution: Ithaca College. I had to drive all the way across town and up a formidable hill (pleeeease don't let it get icy!), but was rewarded by having access to a lovely new building loaded with empty practice rooms. What a lifesaver!!!

Unfortunately IC did finally lock up over the Christmas weekend, but at that point Rob figured no one would be around in the Cornell Space Sciences Building (Carl Sagan's old stomping ground). His office is there and he has a key to the whole place. For a couple days he let me in to the large conference room on the 6th floor where I was able to squawk to my hearts content.

As much as I'm sad to be leaving Rob again tomorrow, I have to admit I'm looking forward to having a consistent, non-disruptive...and LEGAL way to practice my horn every day.

We watched a pile o' movies (ok mom, don't freak out...I know the list is's just that I've been here a long time...I promise I haven't just been sitting on my butt for a whole month!).
Here's a list along with personal ratings (I should stress personal! I am decidedly NOT any sort of film critic) from 1 to 5 "stars."

Black Swan--****CREEPY!!! But disturbingly compelling and beautiful. Natalie Portman did a fantastic job as a paranoid and perfectionistic work horse...can I relate a little?...hmmm...hate to think so.

True Grit--*****A bit bloody, but only enough for PG-13. An excellent classic-style western with great characters, gripping story, and a ton of heart. See this one!!!

Tron--***An excellent ride! Loved the effects. Decent story (it helps if you read about or watch the first Tron before seeing this one) and (blush) I really liked the music. I think you even deserve to see this one in 3-D.

Fire in the Sky--*Um, it was an ok movie, but the acting was a little over the top and, most disappointingly, the scenes inside the alien ship are completely fabricated--they bear no resemblance to the "actual" abduction experiences described in the book. According to wikipedia, the movie makers all thought the book was too boring--so they hyped everything up into this overdone horror scene in order to be more dramatic. Lame! The truth is out there!

127 Hours--*****You already know I loved this one, but I'll continue by saying it's even better the second time.

Modern Times--****My first Chaplin film! Purely delightful entertaining, origin of the song "Smile," and the first time Chaplin's voice is heard on film.

Miracle on 34th Street--****Also a classic. This is a great flick to put you in the Christmas spirit. I hadn't seen it in years...brought me back to my childhood.

Elf--***Uproariously funny and surprisingly sweet (a little too much so in the spaghetti scene).

Scrooged--***Enjoyed it as always..."it's aaaa TOASTER!!!!"

Groundhog Day--***Another Fun Bill Murray selection with a good moral and heartwarming ending.

Time Bandits--****Very imaginative and wonderfully unpredictable.

The Fisher King--****Ditto...just turn away when Robin Williams is shaking his naked booty in Central Park. The characters in this movie are wonderful (Jeff Bridges' girlfriend is awesome) and even though it ends with a hollywoodish "happily ever after," it's so chock full of creativity you won't even notice the cliches.

Life of Brian--****It's Monty Python...need I say more?

Exit Through the Gift Shop--*****!!MUST SEE!! A very interesting documentary (or is the film itself a set up?) about street art and the characters behind it. Loved it!

Barton Fink--****This film was part of the Coen Brothers education Rob has been providing to me. It was a strange film--intense--beautifully shot--full of scenes and references begging for further interpretation yet always seeming to elude being figured out for sure.

Roger and Me--***Michael Moore's first documentary. It's about his persistent quest to get an interview with GM Chairman Roger Smith and have him answer for his decision to close the GM plants in Flint Michigan. Tragic. Depressing. Funny and shocking in spots.

We went to see another frozen waterfall...

Here's the sign that greeted us when we crossed the stream and headed over to this closest observation point...

No arguments here!

Just as with Ithaca Falls a few days previous, the air in this gorge was filled with a fine spray of freezing water particles that coated everything within 50 feet of the falls with a thick layer of ice. Interestingly, we noticed that the ice built up on the rocks, trees, and blades of grass existed almost exclusively on the side facing the falls...

And here it is...Taughannock Falls...215 feet of spectacular!

And here's what it looked like in May of 2008--the first time Rob and I visited the it's a bit easier to understand the need for a sign prohibiting swimming.


And it's a good thing we didn't get pummeled by a falling geometric boulder on the way out. The walls of the gorge were so high they seemed to curve in towards us at the top. I was reminded of something I read in Aron Ralston's book..."Geologic time is now."

After this freezing trip we went home and made crepes...Mmmmmmm! already know about the scrabble and crosswords (Thanks Mal and Ry for the great Xword dictionaries!), and as you may have noticed in my post from 2 days ago, I made a fair number of paper snowflakes (the CORRECT 6 sided ones...not the RIDICULOUS 4 sided ones)...
by the way, if you want to check out an AWESOME website with everything you ever wanted to know about snowflakes and ice formations check out this Caltech site. The images are phenomenal!

Oh! We celebrated Rob's excellent teaching reviews. Here's what a few students anonymously commented about his class...

"ROB OWEN IS THE BEST TA I'VE EVER HAD (SO FAR). He knows his subject really well, he is able to capture our attention and make physics understandable. If I could I would take every class that Rob Owen teaches/co-teaches regardless of the subject, because I know that even if the subject is hard he'll find a way to make it easy to understand!"

"My TA was very good, he made me even more interested in physics than I already was. For a couple of days after he gave a mini-lecture on magnetism's relation to special relativity I was seriously considering switching my major to physics."

"Rob is the man"

"I would nominate Rob Owen for whatever teaching award the physics dept. or Cornell has to offer. He's a wonderful person and displays incredible mastery of our course material."

I agree completely. Though I've never taken a formal course offered by Dr. Owen, I frequently badger him with crazy physics or math questions that force him to make something really complex accessible to a simple mind such as mine. He's a great teacher:) And now that the class is over he's also thrilled to have more time to get back to his research.

I went shopping and bought myself some new (and badly needed) winter clothing.

I played around with a new section of the Zooniverse website called The Milky Way Project. If any of you ever had an interest in doing something fun that actually contributes to significant scientific research here's your chance. The whole thing started out with Galaxy Zoo--a site where hundreds of thousands of people helped classify the millions of galaxy images sent back by the Sloan Digital Sky survey (a couple of my favorites are pictured here). I guess humans do a much better job than a computer does when it comes to picking out an object's subtle details and when you have feedback on the same object from several different volunteers, the data turns out to be quite accurate. Now that the Sloan's images have been completed, we're picking through Hubble's shots of the most distant galaxies ever imaged. It's quite exciting!

In the Milky Way Project my "job" is to map "bubbles" and other interesting features I find in infrared images taken of our own home galaxy. The data collected is supposed to help astronomers better understand how stars form. The images are especially gorgeous (see below), and even though this particular activity is a bit more time consuming and complex than the original Galaxy Zoo (which was easy-peasy) it's quite satisfying to finish each frame and send it off. It also makes up a bit for my current inability to take part in the astronomy club activities of which I grew so fond. Sigh...I'll be back to it someday soon I'm sure.

Ok, let's see, is that everything? Pretty much. I guess we also listened to some music and had tickle wars. I worked out here and there. There were a couple days I found myself feeling bleak and hopeless. I was hating myself, was reduced to tears and full-body tremors, and became for a little while utterly unable to function normally. Rob quietly held me close and stroked my hair during all of it. I seriously don't deserve this guy!

Bumps and all it was a good holiday. As I said before I'm sad to leave my man, but am also looking forward to the excitement and (hopefully rewarding) challenges that await in the coming quarter.'s almost 2011. Wow! Time sure flies when you're having fun:)


  1. Thank you for that amazing and complete post. I read it with great love!!!

  2. wow. uber-post! I'm glad to hear Rob is such a great guy (we all suspected as much, but it's good to have examples ;). Thanks for the movie reviews. That was a great list!! I'm totally going to check out "Modern Times" and others. And your pics are beautiful (as usual)! I like how you take us through the evolution of your own experiences. It's a great perspective.