Merry Christmas

Hi All! I’ve noticed that it’s been yet another month without any update on the Gribblog. Something about a road and good intentions comes to mind, but as it’s Christmas, I thought I’d just add a quick post. We’re currently nearing the midpoint of our grand travels to all points (at least it seems like it) east of Colorado, and everyone is having a great time. To date, we’ve driven well over 1,400 miles (sorry Luna), and visited Phoebe’s great grandparents in Michigan and some of her granparents in Ohio. We’ve got a few more stops before the fun wagon returns westward, and we again embrace the mundane reality of work and parenthood in the coming new year. We’ll get some fun Christmas pictures and perhaps a video or two of Phoebe tearing open presents with American zeal onto the blog soon.

In the meantime, you may enjoy this video Jess shot of me playing the sax at the Mount Calvary Christmas concert in early December. Gladi Lefferdink is playing piano. The selections are “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain”. The arrangements were originally piano works by Chuck Marohnic and John Carter that we adapted for piano and sax. The video is a little out of focus (think Monet; unless you’re into hairdos) and Phoebe adds a bit of commentary to the audio track, but as it’s seasonally appropriate, I thought I’d add it anyway. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone!

More Hiking and Phoebe

It looks like daddy is ready to go, but Phoebe is completely zonked out!
It looks like daddy is ready to go, but Phoebe is completely zonked out!

Last weekend, I got out for a little hike with Phoebe around NCAR while Jess was still away at her business trip in Washington, D.C. It didn’t last long, because Phoebe zonked out pretty quickly. We had a few minutes to walk around inside the little museum, and then took a lap around the little trail just outside the Mesa Lab. I read all the interpretive sign to Phoebe, but she wasn’t too excited to learn about temperature inversions and the like. Later that night, Jess came home. We were super happy to have her back, and just in time too; Phoebe had finished up the last of the frozen breast milk earlier that afternoon.

The following day, we spent a little time relaxing with a breakfast burrito from Santiago’s II in Lafayette and a cup of coffee at Cannon Mine. As we were getting ready to go, someone noticed that there was an awful lot of smoke on the horizon. I popped outside and could easily see a large orange-brown haze hanging over the mountains. The wind was really blowing, and you could smell the smoke and see ash falling all the way out in Lafayette. This was the beginning of what is now being called the Fourmile fire because of its origin along Fourmile Canyon just outside Boulder. The fire is already the worst (with over 170 homes lost) in the history of Colorado and is still raging. Luckily no one has been killed or seriously injured, but the fire is only about 50% contained.

Now Phoebe is awake and happy.
Now Phoebe is awake and happy.

We were planning to go for a little hike that afternoon, but the fire pushed us a little further away than we’d planned. The smoke was quite heavy in Boulder, and most of the mountain roads heading out of town were closed. We ended up going all the way up to the national park in an effort to escape all of the smoke. It was a beautiful day in Estes Park, and we ended up riding the shuttle bus up to the Glacier Gorge trailhead. Though it may seem odd, we’d never hiked up to Mills Lake or any of the area beyond the split in the trail that leads to Loch Vale. So, we loaded up Phoebe and headed for some new sights. Over the years we’ve heard that Glacier Gorge is very pretty, but of course, that entire part of the park is spectacular. There really isn’t a bad choice amongst the trails available.

Here is another 7-image stitch. This one is of Mills Lake in Glacier Gorge at Rock Mountain national Park. The original is a whopping 121 MB TIFF.
Here is another 7-image stitch. This one is of Mills Lake in Glacier Gorge at Rock Mountain national Park. The original is a whopping 121 MB TIFF.

After about an hour and a half of hiking, we were finally standing along the shore of Mills Lake and Phoebe was finally awake from a little nap. Already it was getting late, so we didn’t hang out long. The wind was also blowing fiercely, so we put Phoebe into her little jacket for some added warmth. We switched the backpack to give Jess a try and I snapped a few pictures before turning around. We made great time back down the hill to the parking lot and only had to wait a few minutes for the first shuttle bus to arrive. We made it back to the parking lot and drove back to Estes Park. Phoebe was getting a little hungry, so we stopped in town to give her another snack. Afterward, we walked around town for a few minutes, and Jess tried on a unique jacket with a built-in mitten. I grabbed a cup of coffee—yeah I’m an addict—and we drove back to Lyons.

Phoebe is getting anxious to join in mom and dad's weekend ritual. Nevertheless, she seems a wee bit too young for a spicy chai. Maybe in a couple of weeks when she hits the big point 5 years.
Phoebe is getting anxious to join in mom and dad's weekend ritual. Nevertheless, she seems a wee bit too young for a spicy chai. Maybe in a couple of weeks when she hits the big point 5 years.

Since it was still technically our anniversary weekend, we stopped at Oscar Blues for a nice dinner. Phoebe was awesome and let her mommy and daddy enjoy a nice dinner without any drama, and she even flirted with all of the waitresses—one enough so as to earn a helium balloon. By the time we were leaving, it was dark outside, so it was hard to see the smoke. As we were approaching Lafayette, you could see the red-orange glow from the fire lighting up the smoke.

Fast-forward to this weekend, and we’re back at the coffee shop having a burrito. We were planning to go camping; however, Jess is a bit too busy with teaching at the University of Phoenix, and she has a little copy editing project as well. She’d have ended up working the entire time, so it didn’t really make any sense. Hopefully we’ll be able to reschedule for a couple of weeks from now and get decent weather as well. Phoebe has been having a fun weekend. She’s becoming a really expert sitter and has even learned a few new tricks. In the video below she uses one rattle to fetch another rattle. Wow, using tools already. She’s also discovered that instead of crawling towards her toys, she can just pull them to her along with her blanket. Pretty cool.

Since Jess had so much work to do, Phoebe and I went for an urban hike with the stroller around Boulder. We had a good time when she wasn’t pointed directly into the sun. I’ve been looking at replacing my old iPod and thought the new iPod touch looked like a pretty cool tool, but they were out at the Apple store at 29th Street. So I guess I’ll have to order one online if I want one. It looks like it can do some fun stuff like play on-line chess. Maybe I’ll be able to give Grandpa Gribble a MacArthur Park smackdown Internet style. It also has a cool video Skype-like app, but it requires talking to others with an iPod or iPhone, and few of my friends have either.

Later in the evening, we went for another walk around Lafayette. We stopped back into the mine and spent a few minutes listening to a guy sing and play original tunes on his guitar. The crowd was pretty small, but he was pretty good. Don’t ask Phoebe about the music; she slept through everything. Well, it’s time for the kiddo to hit the hay, and I’m needed for a little bed-time reading. Au revoir!

Music Composition

I thought I’d do something a little different this time, and post a bit of music I’ve been working on. It’s still pretty rough around the edges and only about half done, but you can get an idea of what it currently sounds like from this mp3 file. The working title is Beowulf and Grendel, and it’s intended to be a programmatic piece for a typical symphonic band based on the Anglo-Saxon tale of Beowulf. The recording is from an exported wave file directly from the 2009 version of Finale. It makes use of the included Garritan sound files as a sort of ROMpler and some “human” playing tendencies in the classical style to eliminate most of the synthetic sound you typically get from a computerized performance. Unfortunately, there are a few digital artifacts that seem to have materialized during the mp3 down-conversion. The end effect is something like a snare drum vibrating passively in response to the symphonic band. See if you can hear it!

Example of a "Z-cell" as identified in Béla Bartók's music by Leo Treitler in 'Harmonic Procedure in the Fourth Quartet of Béla Bartók'
Example of a "Z-cell" as identified in Bartok's music by Leo Treitler who expanded on the X-cell and Y-cell identified by George Perle

The beginning section makes heavy use of a Bartókian Z-cell. This musical fragment is essentially double tritones separated by a minor second, or alternatively, you can think of it as two semi-tones separated by a perfect fourth. Either way, it results in a somewhat unusual sound that captures the feeling of a sinister character like Grendel.

After the opening statement and some brief expansion of the Grendel motif, the piece moves into a short lament played by the oboe. The lament modulates from the minor mode to major in anticipation of the arrival of Beowulf. A short fugue section marks Beowulf’s arrival and preparation for battle with the monstrous Grendel.

Stay tuned for the clash of these two iconic figures and the thrilling conclusion of their battle. While we haven’t heard the last of the Grendel theme, I hope I’m not giving anything away by foreshadowing that the ultimate winner will be Beowulf. Since the music is loosely based on the oldest extant piece of Anglo-Saxon writing, you’ve really no excuse if you haven’t read it yet!

Let me know what you think!

Snow Day! (plus catch-up)

So Dave tells me that you guys don’t want to read long messages about much of anything, especially Twilight. (Except Emily. Thanks, Emily! I know you’re asking yourself why I’m blogging and not finishing Breaking Dawn. Never fear—I’ll get there.) Anyway, let me catch you up on our lives, in reverse chronological order. With as few comments as possible.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The city of Boulder is closed. Roads are closed. It took Dave and me an hour and a half to get home from work at 1:00 p.m. this afternoon. Blizzard!

Dave shoveling.
Dave shoveling.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Dave and I went rock climbing in the Flatirons. Almost everyone we know headed to the Flatirons that day—something about a beautiful Saturday at the beginning of spring in Boulder that draws you up there. We climbed part of the first flatiron. One pitch was enough for me, for starters. Dave led wonderfully and it was lovely to be outside and healthy again!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I got sick on Tuesday, March 10, and finally stayed home from work to go to the doctor on March 16. She prescribed two inhalers and a Z pack of antibiotics. My voice went wacky and I could sing a whole octave lower than usual. (Cool!) Although I wasn’t healed on my birthday, I was well enough to really enjoy opening presents (thanks, family!) and eating dinner. Dave sweetly agreed to help cook homemade noodles, homemade spaghetti sauce, and homemade chocolate cake with chocolate butter cream icing. Yum!

Dave cuts noodles.
Dave cuts noodles.
Sauce atop noodles.
Sauce atop noodles.
Is that spaghetti sauce in the corners of my mouth?
Is that spaghetti sauce in the corners of my mouth?

Friday, March 13, 2009

We’re playing music from the Leonard Bernstein opera Candide in band, so I went with my friend Jehanne to see the CU Opera performance. It was terrific! What talented people. The orchestra was wonderful and the set was both creative and very functional. The singing was amazing. I had always wanted to eat at Khow Thai, on the hill, which we did beforehand. Yum! I had green curry with tofu.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Dave went to Fault Cave with a few other people from our grotto. I stayed home to work on the Parish Visitor.

Graffiti in Fault Cave.
Graffiti in Fault Cave.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Church, followed by a baby shower for our friends Erica and Adam, followed by a book group that Dave and I have both joined with several other couples from church. Our first book was Reluctant Saint: The Life of Francis of Assisi, by Donald Spoto. It was terrific and we had a great discussion, so we’re reading another Spoto book for April: The Hidden Jesus: A New Life.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

We went caving down near Colorado Springs, to a cave called Huccacove. Dave and I had been there before—in fact, we attended a cave rescue seminar there. It’s a fun, kind of sporting cave without a lot of decorations. It was a beautiful day outside, although it did snow a bit while we were driving from Cave of the Winds to Huccy’s and then again a little bit when we got out of the cave.

Dave in the cave.
Dave in the cave.
Pretty formations.
Pretty formations.
Cave bacon!
Cave bacon!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

We headed to Ouray again with Gretchen and Andy for our last ice climbing trip of the season. I always miss it when it turns into spring, even though I’m always looking forward to mountain biking. We were afraid it was going to be too warm to climb! It was warm, but the ice was still solid. That made for a wonderful trip!

Dave climbing a hard, thin, mixed route.
Dave climbing a hard, thin, mixed route.
Jess belaying with the river raging (okay, flowing) behind her.
Jess belaying with the river raging (okay, flowing) behind her.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Mid-February, but warm enough to go mountain biking! We headed up to Heil Ranch. It was so fun to be back out on the trails, although it didn’t take too long for me to poop out. It was a lovely day in Lyons, but kind of overcast with a chilly breeze on our side of the mountain. Still, the first mountain bike ride of the season puts a grin on my face.

DIY Sax Repair and High-Energy Particle Physics?

Vandoren Al3 Alto Sax Mouthpiece
Vandoren Al3 Alto Sax Mouthpiece

Growing up I wasn’t a really handy guy. Of course, if you ask my mom, she’ll tell you how good I was as a small child at taking things apart. For whatever reason, I just wasn’t that excited about putting them back together. There are a number of stories here, but not this one!

That changed sometime when I was in college. Adam Rothschild and I built a very cool solar filter for Wittenberg’s 10.75″ refracting telescope, which  I was using regularly, and I learned a fair bit about machining. One long-lasting lesson was just how hard it is to operate a mill that hasn’t had the ways cleaned in a while. I’m reminded of this frequently while struggling to use the little mill-drill at Eltron.

The latest data from the silicon vertex tracker at Fermilabs CDF collaboration.
The latest data from the silicon vertex tracker at Fermilab's CDF collaboration.

After graduating from Wittenberg with a double major in physics and music (almost), I went off to graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh determined to get my Ph.D. in physics. Of course, I took the new car I’d just purchased with me along with my stereo, computer, and bicycle. The first summer of grad school was amazing and intimidating since I was at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, working on one of the coolest high-energy particle physics experiments on the planet—the CDF collaboration. To this day, Fermilab remains one of the coolest places I’ve ever been. They have dozens of interconnected lakes that are constantly monitored and utilized as a cooling system for the Tevatron, and they have buffalo! I’d never seen buffalo before in person, and I’m still amazed at how huge and fast they are. Years later, Jess and I would see a great big buffalo at Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota stand up on his hind legs and high-jump a roadside barrier. That, not surprisingly, is my coolest buffalo moment to date.

While at Fermilab, I learned another valuable lesson: grad students are poor. I had a great deal with the university covering the cost of my apartment and paying me a reasonable stipend, but it still seemed like things were tight at the end of every month. I think this is the real reason I decided to fix my mountain bike myself when it stopped shifting on command and started shifting autonomously. So, I went to the local Borders and bought a mountain bike repair manual (Gribble projects typically start this way). I also bought a couple of general purpose tools. All told, the cost outlay was still cheaper (parts included) than a general tune-up.

At this point, I need to stress that despite having some tools and a nice book, I was completely clueless. The bike performed quite poorly that whole summer. Thank God I was mostly just riding to work and back. I can’t imagine how rough actual mountain biking would have been. I’m also really glad I went out on a limb and tried to fix my bike myself. Now I’m a pretty competent bike mechanic with a much better spread of tools. There are still a few jobs I turn to the pros for, but they are typically only called on for tasks requiring an exotic or expensive tool that I can’t justify purchasing (yet).

So, now I can fix bikes. Well, I’ve actually built a few from the ground up, but that’s not the point of this story either. For those of you that know me, I’m a pretty capable saxophonist. That’s why I was trying to finish a double major back at Wittenberg. It was mostly about not allowing my music to go silent, but it was also nice to get a small music scholarship. Honestly, despite being a physics major, some of the music classes I took in college were amongst the most challenging academically.

I didn’t have a lot of private lessons when I was learning to play the sax, and I’m sure that’s to blame for my current shortcoming. One of the things I really missed out on was learning about mouthpieces and reeds. There’s quite an art to reed adjustment and mouthpiece selection, but until I accidentally broke the plastic mouthpiece that came with my first rented Yamaha YAS-23, I’d never given these things a moment of attention. I just took a reed out of the package and slapped it onto the mouthpiece.

Finding a new mouthpiece wasn’t easy. First, I was afraid to tell my parents about the broken mouthpiece. Then I had to call several music stores looking for one that actually sold sax mouthpieces. At this point, it never occurred to me that I might play-test a new mouthpiece. I simply went to the store with my dad and selected one of the two models in stock. I played with that new mouthpiece for the next 5 or 6 years! That’s the mouthpiece, a hard rubber Woodwind B5 made in France, that I was using when I really learned to play the saxophone.

Years later, I switched to a hard rubber Otto Link 6 for jazz and a Selmer C* S80 for classical music, but I never got rid of the Woodwind B5. I’d play it every once in a while, along with a metal Otto Link 8 that I’d purchased sometime in high school because I thought it was what cool jazz saxophonists played. I still have the metal Link too, but I’ve learned a lot from that moment of youthful indiscretion.

Saxophonists have a bit of a history regarding mouthpieces and experimentation. It probably stems from the relatively young age of the instrument. Since I’ve been trying to play more, I’ve found myself increasingly unhappy with the tone and intonation of my playing. I keep going back and forth between the Woodwind and the Selmer. I still prefer the timber of the Woodwind, but it doesn’t blow as easily as the Selmer, and it seems like the reed doesn’t fit as well against the flat part of the mouthpiece (called the table) as it used to. Upon close inspection using a flat glass gauge, I could see that the table was slightly convex with a little bump on one side near where a small chip had been dislodged. This resulted in a spitty, gargling sound. After much debate, I decided to try to reface the mouthpiece myself because, like mountain bike tune-ups, the pros charge upwards of $75.00.

It’s hard to find any information about mouthpiece refacing on the Internet, and as you might suspect, there aren’t any books at Borders. Nevertheless, there are dozens of people offering mouthpiece refacing services to the saxophone community. Evidence, no doubt, that I am not alone in blaming the equipment for my own shortcomings. From what little I could gleam from the Internet, I decided to try using 600 grit silicon carbide paper on a granite tool-makers slab in order to get the table perfectly flat. I thoroughly soaked the silicone carbide paper with DI water and pressed it flat to the slab. Then, using figure-8 motions, I lightly sanded the table. It was amazing how rapidly the fine-grit paper ground down the mouthpiece. After about 10 passes, the water was murky with bits of brown rubber dust. I made a couple of gentle passes across the facing from table to tip in order to smooth out the transition from the refaced table to the facing, and called it good. I could hardly wait to get home and try out the “new” mouthpiece.

So, the moment of truth: does it even play anymore? Well, the answer is yes. The table is definitely flatter and the reed is clearly sealing better than it was. The spitty sound is pretty much gone, and I can’t really tell any difference between the “new” mouthpiece and the old, so I guess I did a good job. Now I need to play it a bunch more and decided if I should open up the facing some, which seems way more likely to end in disaster. Check back soon for an update.