Monday, October 29, 2007

Conference: How to Make the World a Better Place


Last Saturday, I went to the How to Make the World a Better Place conference for people (beginners or experienced) who want to work towards positive social/environmental change. I was floored by how awesome and chock-full of goodness this event was. Can you believe, a completely volunteer-run all-day conference with more than 30 sessions to choose from, a bound notebook of all the session handouts, and it took place like two blocks down the street from where I live, and cost all of $20 and included lunch and a snack? Also, most of the presenters and conference-goers were local, so it was inspiring to see how much social change expertise is in my neighborhood, and also the large number of local people interested in social change, even if they are new to it.

The documentary film they screened was awesome; it highlighted several successful grassroots social change projects done by people in Palo Alto and Sunnyvale.

I attended the sessions on successful local community changemakers and fundraising. Met some interesting possible contacts and had good conversations.

Volunteer website development tasks for New Dream; learning PHP/MySQL skills

I've started a small volunteer web development project for the Center for a New American Dream. I came up with the idea for it myself, and while it's not particularly glamorous, it's small, manageable for a newbie, and will provide them with value. Lest I get overly fixated on the non-glamorousness of it, I will catalog the skills I've learned so far, for my own benefit and encouragement:
  • What is XAMPP, why it is useful, and how to set it up
  • Basics of Subversion source control system; how to set up a repository
  • A little bit of the SQL flavor specific to MySQL
  • Basics of phpMyAdmin
  • Some tools to use for debugging PHP, and how to set them up (Eclipse PDT, Zend debugger)
  • All the little idiosyncracies and wonky stuff related to the above tools that they never mention in the documentation, so you have to troubleshoot it yourself or figure it out or ask someone who knows. That is such a huge part of the software engineering profession :)

Recent listening: opera, opera, and more opera

Tosca (Giacomo Puccini) - Callas/Di Stefano/Gobbi/De Sabata

Turandot (Giacomo Puccini) - Nilsson/Tebaldi/Bjoerling/Tozzi/Leinsdorf

Cosi Fan Tutte (Mozart) - Te Kanawa/Murray/Hampson/Blochwitz/McLaughlin/Furlanetto/Levine

Rinaldo (Handel) - Bartoli/Daniels/Hogwood

Little Women (Mark Adamo)

Divas, Volume 2: 1909-1940 (Nimbus Records)

The Art of Arleen Auger (Koch International Classics)

Il tenero momento: Mozart & Gluck Arias - Susan Graham

David Daniels: Handel Opera Arias (Virgin Veritas/EMI)

Wagner: Operatic Scenes and Lieder - Kirsten Flagstad

Wolf Lieder - Bostridge/Pappano (EMI Classics)

One goal of my listening lately is to learn what the spectrum of soprano voices sound like, how they fit into fachs (voice/role categories), and figure out where my voice fits in the spectrum.

Another goal is to get familiar with a few works in the standard operatic literature, so that when someone on the New Classical Singer Forum mentions an aria, I can recognize what opera it's from, who wrote it, and what kind of voice sings it. This also comes in handy for researching and choosing new repertoire for myself.

I am fast losing my prejudice against opera. It's not all viking horns, bombastic voices, and tenors who sound like all the veins in their neck are standing out. There's a lot more diversity of sound and style within the opera genre than I realized. I can find operas that I enjoy listening to and singing parts of.

I think I'm also beginning to see why solo professional classical singers emphasize opera, as opposed to other forms of vocal music. Since it takes weeks to months to mount an opera production, which may then run for several weeks, and since singers get paid by the performance(? and per rehearsal?), it is the professional classical singer's bread-and-butter. And it is arguably the most demanding form of vocal music, in terms of technique, interpretive/acting ability, and definitely stamina--so if you can manage to do opera well, you can certainly handle concert/oratorio/song recitals. (Although art song has its own subtle nuances that challenge the singer and require mastery.) Also, once you learn a role for one production, you can audition it around and hopefully perform it at several other opera houses--a decent return on the time and effort invested.

The opera Little Women was pretty amazing. It is a modern opera, in English and written by an American in 1998. The musical idiom is a contemporary one, but not jarring or painful (at least to my ears :) - just some spicy dissonances and harmonic structures :) It's based on the book, but unlike the book, the focus is on the conflict between Jo and the passage of time/growing up. A heartrending portrayal; I could really relate.

What's new; to-do list updates

I've updated some items on the to-do list at right.

I'm marking the PHP basics as done for now, obviously that will be an ongoing learning process. Recently, I bought books on Drupal as well as PHP and MySQL. I downloaded Drupal and CiviCRM and started playing around with Drupal (a popular website system for nonprofits).

Bumped up the Coastside Alternative Gift Fair on the to-do list. I got in touch with Hands On Bay Area and tried to contact the Coastside Alternative Gift Fair people, with the intent of organizing a Hands On volunteer team to help out at the gift fair. Not much is happening in that quarter so far; the gift fair people have been difficult to get hold of. I'm going to try to reach them a couple more times. I hope it works out, but I won't be heartbroken if it doesn't pan out this year. I can still attend as an individual volunteer, and there's always next year.

Also bumped up the "grand decluttering" list item. In reality, I notice that I've really been doing this a little at a time--going through a closet one day, dropping clothes off at Salvation Army, freecycling stuff.

Some other recent exploits:

Playing phone tag with S. Allen Gunn from Aspiration put me in touch with him regarding a possible nonprofit web gig. Hope I can get hold of S.; he did say he's been hosed.

Went on an edible plant hike led by a Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District docent. Realized that I probably have enough expertise now to lead an edible plant hike. Some things I ate from our hike: manzanita berries, yerba santa (chewed on it), bay fruits, bay nuts (the seed inside the bay fruit), and naturalized grapes (cultivated grapes that escaped from an old settlement in the mountains and are now growing wild--very tasty). No ill effects :-)

Had breakfast/lunch with different friends every Friday for the past three weeks.

In a whirlwind fit of inspiration, wrote a personal finance article about discretionary spending and how to choose the purchases that are most likely to give you true fulfillment. The article will appear in the January/February issue of the Simple Living Network newsletter.

Sang two concerts this past weekend.

Preparing to audition some Bach solos for the winter concert.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Inspiration from Van Jones podcast

Recently, I've listened to almost all of the podcasts from the 2006 Nonprofit Boot Camp. The latest one I played was the keynote address by Van Jones, the founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. I generally don't care much for motivational speeches (like keynotes often are, at this type of event). But this one was an exception. My favorite quote from the podcast:
You have a dream inside yourself, and it's an impossible dream. That's why the Creator gave it to your crazy ass. If it was easy, she would have given it to someone else!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Halfway through the Schaum Orange Book

I am now halfway through the Schaum Orange Piano Book. Hooray!

When I finish this book and graduate to the next book, I swear I’m going to have a little graduation party with champagne and cake!