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September 02, 08

My Summer in 10 Words

A whole month has gone by with me being the absent blogger, and the cumulative burden to get around to putting something up has finally taken its toll. Rather than trying to tackle an essay of titanic proportions, I thought i'd wean myself back into the web fold with a little “less is more” gimmick. So, here goes my attempt to summarize a summer that's been like no other in so many respects:





  1. Packed





  2. Productive





  3. Infuriating





  4. Inspiring





  5. Exciting





  6. Exhausting





  7. Varied





  8. Video'd (um...my made up word to express that I have a TON of video footage to edit through and post up...)





  9. Tech'd





  10. Tapped (as in, um...tapped out! Hahaha)





As an old pastor friend of mine once put it, “let's unpack this”:



Packed



– Two weeks of teaching the inaugural year of Strings International Festival's Piano Studies program in Bryn Mawr, immediately followed by two weeks of teaching/performing/programming (in increasing order of busy-ness) at the Rocky Ridge Music Center Festival in Estes Park, Colorado, accompanied by my whole family;





  • Two recitals at the Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove, NJ – one with the inestimable Nitzan Haroz, principal trombonist of the Philadelphia Orchestra (and high contender for coolest guy in Philadelphia, perhaps the entire East Coast!); the other recital jointly with Gary Schocker, flutist/composer/pianist extraordinaire and soprano Jacquelyn Familant.





  • Two recitals with Gary at his own masterclass session in Poughskeepie, NY (YouTube videos to be posted very soon)





  • Visual Recital to celebrate the debut of the new 9 foot Cunningham Piano at the Woodmere Art Museum





  • Visual Recital/Music Technology lecture/performance at the Summit Music Festival





  • Recital with my dear old friend and master violinist Aaron Rosand. According to one cello professor in attendance, he thought it was one of the greatest recitals he had ever witnessed – wow!





Productive





  • Finally, after two years of beating around the bush, got down to learning Pure Data/GEM, the open source audio/visual programming language. Still a lot more to learn, but the basics are tremendously promising, and I hope to devote a good portion of the coming year to getting comfortable creating new Visual Recital programs with this amazing program.





  • Got my feet wet with Blender, the open source 3D modeling/animation program. Two excellent textbooks should help me get a better handle on this program. Oh, and check out these amazing videos created entirely with Blender and other open source programs!!





  • More toe-dipping with another realtime visualizing program called VVVV (how in the world does one pronounce that??) This program works natively with DirectX 9 in Windows, such that the performance and speed with massively complex visual algorithms is by far the most impressive i've seen with any program of its kind. Can an old brain learn two new programming languages simultaneously? This year we'll find out...





Infuriating





  • Pure Data doesn't come with a manual per se, but only with a series of example patches that range from incredibly helpful to infuriatingly obtuse. I think I lost the most hair this summer trying to figure out some of the most embarrassingly basic aspects of this program...





  • being told the night before a show after having spent nearly an entire sleepless week programming (and learning to program) that the visuals were too “over the top” for a particular piece. Well, why the dadgum blazes didn't anyone TELL me what they wanted from the beginning, instead of at the last minute?? I was ready to smash my computer, go home and forget about this whole crazy “visual recital” thing. Somehow I managed to neuter the “wild” visuals and create an entirely new set of visuals for another piece piece in under 10 hours, to rave reviews.





  • Discovering that high altitude causes my 5000 lumen projector to shut down after only 40 minutes or so, due to insufficient amounts of air to cool the lamps!





  • My faithful old Samsung i730 PDA phone was starting to kick the battery bucket, so I upgraded to the Samsung i760. Neat phone, except for some strangely sluggish performance – but then, the USB connection started to die out, even after hard reboots. Called Verizon tech support, and they sent out a replacement i760, but the LCD screen died shortly after arrival. Cool phones simply aren't cool when they're slower and more problem prone than older models...





Inspiring





  • Believe it or not, Verizon tech support! They were great about sending over the replacement right away. When the LCD on the second unit died, tech support asked if I wanted yet another i760 as a replacement, or if I was willing to try another unit. I had originally wanted the VX6800, but the store I was at didn't have it in stock, so I went with the i760. Fortunately, tech support had the VX6800 – not only that, but they were willing to FedEX it to me overnight for a Saturday delivery! As the agent started processing the order, I quickly scanned through some online reviews and found some complaints about the speakerphone sound quality and overall volume problems with the phone. I asked if it was possible to change my mind, but the order had already been placed – I was also starting to have reservations since I had invested in a dock, a belt clip, and a travel charger for the i760. The agent recommended that I try the VX6800, and if I didn't like it I could still return the phone for another exchange. If I decided to go with the VX6800, he offered to send me an extra battery, a leather case, AND another travel charger – all for free. I did a double-take on the phone – was I dreaming?? Since when did customer/tech support go above and beyond the call of duty like this?? Not to mention the fact that the VX6800 was at least $100 MORE expensive than my i760 – needless to say, I am in complete awe of Verizon from a customer support point of view!! Bravo, Verizon – you're setting an incredibly high bar that other companies should really pay attention to!! (kaff kaff – Apple 3G iphone? Kaff kaff...)





  • Performing with Aaron - it's been a long while, much too long, due to a series of health ailments for my dear friend, but what an incredible comeback!





  • went to my first-ever rock concert, seeing Coldplay at the Wachovia Center. The first two hours were pretty wretched, with two amateur opening acts that made Kyungmi and I wonder if this was all going to be a waste of time. But then, after a lengthy sound check, the lights dimmed, the opening riffs started, and 10,000 people leaped to their feet all at once, screaming and cheering and singing along with every single song! NO ONE sat down for the entire 2 hour show – one guy right in front of us was having a “religious” experience, waving his hands in the air, much to Kyungmi's and my own amusement. The lead singer even made a dash towards the end of the show off stage and ran up to the back of the stadium to sing a few more songs, just a few rows away from where we were sitting - er, standing! Now why can't classical music concerts be this much fun and inspire that kind of reaction from an audience?





Exciting





  • Watching Korea beat Japan in the semifinals of Olympic baseball. Baseball?? Who'd a thunk that Korea would excel in a sport like that!





  • Riding horseback in the Rocky Mountains with Eric and Timmy





  • Advancing to high orange belt, despite missing so many karate classes with my crazy schedule





  • COLDPLAY LIVE!!





Exhausting





  • Programming nonstop and trying to get computers to talk to each other through Pure Data net connections (one computer to process audio input, the other computer to receive audio data and incorporate into reactive visuals) – all at the last minute, naturally (WHEN am I going to learn?? sigh...)





  • Trying to adjust to 9000 feet altitude. My previous visit to Boulder hadn't been that bad, so I was unprepared for the effects of thin air. Being constantly winded with racking headaches is no fun when you're just walking from point A to point B! Everybody advised drinking lots of water and staying away from caffeine (hm...i guess caffeinated water wasn't such a good workaround...)





  • Wrestling with a nasty bronchial cough for almost 2 months, thanks to lack of sleep (at least nothing shows up on chest X-Rays – still pretty frustrating to deal with, especially with hack attacks in the middle of the night)





  • Back to back everything - this has been one nonstop summer, i'm ready to drop thank-you-very-much...oh, wait, Curtis just started its fall semester...sigh...





Varied





  • the Rocky Mountain YMCA in Estes Park – this must be the most amazing summer camp for kids! The campus is absolutely gorgeous, and the variety of activities is amazing! Kyungmi was able to enjoy a day hike to snow-capped mountains; the boys enjoyed activities ranging from archery, swimming, and hiking, to horseback riding, rock and rope climbing, and white river rafting.





  • splurging at Wegman's to prepare a terrific dinner for some good friends of ours, consisting of marinated lamb chops, strip steak, Alaskan snow crab legs, my own Lychee martini concoction, and discovering the Assouline Ting gourmet warehouse in Philadelphia, one of the only remaining places where I could find authentic foie gras.





  • Multiple trips to Kress Wine and discovering a new favorite red for Kyungmi and me, Red Zinfandel





  • Seeing Sheryl Crow live at the Mann Music Center (and being disappointed with the way her band kept drowning her out)





  • Discovering Sheryl Crow's opening act James Blunt (his live performance is terrific; CD leaves something to be desired, but still decent)





  • Labor Day with the family at Cape May, a nice departure from our previous trips to Ocean City and Wildwood. Much nicer atmosphere, not nearly as crowded or over-developed, terrific beach and perfect weather. Lovely way to end the summer!





Video'd





  • stay tuned, tons of concert footage (and other neat stuff) to be posted here very shortly! I still have last year's concert footage to put together...sigh...





Tech'd





  • New toys galore! In addition to my new VX6800 PDA phone:





  • a new regular non-tablet pc laptop (HP Pavilion dv5-1002nr) – actually pretty disappointing, given that there's no firewire port and the graphics card actually leaves a LOT to be desired performance-wise – but the keyboard has a nice feel, and Vista actually looks nice (as long as I don't try to push it too hard...) Oh well – this is what happens when you buy a laptop in a rush from a retail store like Best Buy...




  • The HP laptop was supposed to power the visuals for my updated visual recital - given its lackluster performance, i discovered much to my chagrin that there simply aren't any laptop graphics cards that are comparable in performance to their desktop siblings.  To power my presentation at the Summit Music Festival, i invested in a Gateway GT5692 Desktop, fitted with an NVidia GeForce GTX 260 graphics card.  The desktop runs Vista 64, an ornery operating system that doesn't like most of my older programs (including the drivers for my page turning pedal...had to resort to an X-Keys workaround).  At least the graphics were decent, but with only a 2.1 GHz clock speed (AMD Phenom 8450 triple core processor) i'm sure there are much better solutions in the $1000 price range.  I was hoping to transport this desktop as carry-on luggage in airplanes, but to my dismay i've recently discovered that my next flight will not accept computers as checked baggage (coupled with the fact that any protective case would exceed the allowable travel dimensions - boo on the airline industry!  They should let Verizon take over!!)  Which leads me to my latest (yet unarrived) purchase:


  • My (soon to arrive) Sager 9262 laptop computer.  I'll do a full write up on this as soon as i receive it, but the basic idea is that this 12 pound portable monster actually uses DESKTOP graphic cards - two of 'em, in fact! - to mow down pretty pictures on the screen.  This franken-puppy has been called "the fastest laptop on the planet" - given that i was able to downgrade the OS to Windows XP (yay!), i'm eager to see if that nomenclature holds true!  Should be arriving at my doorstep tomorrow!



Tapped




  • All of the above was paid for in cash, believe it or not (the Sager was a bit over $3K...yikes...)  That said, there ain't no cash in my checking account anymore now...sigh...



 



Hm, now that was a fairly effective word exercise to jumpstart a stalled blogbrain!  Pictures, videos, reviews and lots more goodies coming (hopefully) very soon!  Nice to be back in action in the blogosphere!


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May 30, 08

Stronger feelings for a departed friend

Out with the old, in with the new...in my last post, i shared some of the unexpected feelings of nostalgia and loss with the trade-out of my old Steinway L. The new baby has arrived and settling in nicely (pictures will be posted soon), but in the interim, i was surprised to receive this passionate email from one of my readers - he makes it sound like i posted one of my children for sale onto eBay! (many thanks to Michael for his permission to publish his remarks):

Geeze, Hugh,

I enjoyed visiting your blog, tipped off by a Google news update on the keyword Steinway.

And so, I hope you'll take this in the right way: YIKES! How could you do that to a Steinway?

It was built, checking the SN with the Steinway age finder, between 1972 and 1973. A mere adolescent in piano years.

And to have afixed shipping labels, et al...

I can't stand to see pianos and dogs abused.

Now I'll have to wait to see what you traded it in on. It had better be a Fazioli because you just sent out a piano with wonderful potential. Your spit didn't cause the brass to flake off; brass doesn't flake. I can't account for the pedals - that's strange, but they can be relacquered and unless the strings have "popped" because of incredible pressure on them thus damaging the pin block (for shame) it looks so repairable.

Anyway, I don't expect a reply - I'm just heartsick.

- M


- to which, i sent the following response:

Thanks so much for visiting my blog! My goodness - what a passionate response! While i can certainly understand your feelings on hearing how a once-beautiful piano received so much abuse over the years, that's an unfortunate everyday fact when you have to pound out a lot of high-intensity repertoire. The concert D at Curtis gets pounded to a pulp every year. My two Steinway B's in my office are pretty badly thrashed now - fortunately, we have a terrific in-house technician at Curtis who's promising me a new set of hammers over the summer!

My home Steinway was a baby L - way too small to sound any good, in my opinion. There was always this bizarre inharmonicity in the scale that made it impossible to tune completely correctly, and i think the small size prevented it from being able to produce a good tone (difficult for any grand piano that size/shape, regardless of make). i guess i'm spoiled with B's and D's.

I've heard wonderful things about the Fazioli, but i actually haven't had an opportunity to try one out yet. For now, the piano i've just traded my Steinway for seems to have a lot of wonderful potential...


...and subsequently, received this follow-up:

But of course you can post my chastisement on your blog. But you need to tell people I'm not necessarily an old (which I am) whiny (which I sometimes sound like, even to myself) b****y idiot who has nothing better to do than gripe at the perceived follies of other folk.

Instead, cast me in the light of someone so in love with pianos that he'd rather watch back-to-back "Reservoir Dogs," "Pulp Fiction," and an endless series of Bush Speeches and Cheney leers than the one scene in the old Laurel and Hardy masterpiece: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Music_Box_(1932_film)

I couldn't stand to see the movie The Piano again; find Shine to be as rusty nails on a chalkboard; and Lang Lang's gyrations akin to ... well, it's akin to nothing but it sure is distracting.

Anyway, I can see, now that I know it's an "L" that you might not want to keep it up, but let's hope it's not being used for kindling.

I've screamed at good friends who dared to put a drink, sans coaster, on my polyurethane'd Kawai and came close to firing a cleaning lady for putting Pledge on my B. And God forbid someone attempt to dust the top of the black monster with circular motions and anything but an imported Chamois skin and water...

I've got a friend in Chicago who sells Faziolis and they are fine, fine pianos. Should you move that direction sometime, please let me know so I can let him know.

And now that I have granted Piano Dispensation, I'll be reading your blog to see what you replaced the Steinway with.

Mike


Of course, i couldn't resist looking up the movie clip from "The Music Box" on YouTube to see what Mike was talking about!



My goodness, all this drama over a piano!


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October 12, 07

The Debt Snowball Avalancheth

Kyungmi picked up an amazing bonus from work today. Six months ago, i would've bolted for the nearest music store or eBay listing for Tablet PC's and snagged a few expensive toys - but now, after five months of working our Debt Snowball patiently, diligently, and intensely, my first thought was actually to use the windfall to knock out the second-to-last debt and take a huge bite out of the last remaining one, the home equity loan that threatened to become a new member of the family with its own bedroom! Now how's that for a change of heart?

i'm re-reading the first article i wrote at the start of this financial fight for freedom, and i'm almost chuckling at the memory of the fear that swept over me when i realized just how big the financial hole was at the time:

I just finished the very first step of Dave's plan: writing out my first monthly budget. Even though all my finances are recorded in Quicken, this was still a very painful, brain-numbing exercise. Bad news is that the debt i tried so hard to ignore actually is turning out to be a much bigger troll under the bridge than i had realized...


...and now, fast forward to today, when i called the loan officer to pay off the balance early on our back windows' installation (real physical windows, not the blue-screen-of-death kind - last time we will EVER finance home improvements, btw!!) - what a pleasant surprise to learn that instead of the stated remaining balance of $5,805.85, the early payoff amount was actually only $3,274.27! i guess the larger amount was the balance if i kept paying minimum amounts for the remainder of the loan's life for the next 5 years or so, with the smaller amount reflecting the immediate savings sans accrued interest. Once i heard that, i fired up my Nuvi GPS and drove straight to their office to hand them a check and be done with this once and for all. The lady at the desk smiled as she printed out the payoff receipt and said, "If there's anything that we can do to help you finance something in the future - "

"NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!!!" i laughed, shaking my head and throwing up my hands in defense. "We're just about to start attacking our last big debt and plan to be completely debt free!! NO MORE DEBTS FOR US!!"

The lady did a double-take. i must've sounded like a cult zealot!

"Gee...that sounds like a good idea...", she said wistfully.

By the time this month is up, i hope to have put a mighty blow to the troll under our fiscal bridge - close to half of that monster will be hacked away right off the bat! With no other little debts diluting our financial muscle, we'll be able to throw everything we have to whittle that beast down fairly quickly. Incidentally, one of the most amazing things about this debt snowball has been seeing how money that once was so scarce is now virtually pouring in from all directions! Learning to set up a monthly budget has helped us put a tight reign on every single dollar that comes in, instead of having money flow through our fingers like loose sand. i might be overly optimistic, but perhaps in another 5 or 6 months (?) we might actually be done with ALL of our debts (except the house)...wow, i can almost smell that day coming!

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September 03, 07

Dandelion Wine - the Last Drops of Summer

As the final hours of Labor Day draw to a close, i'm borrowing a title from an old Ray Bradbury book celebrating the memories of childhood summers to reflect on all the various ways we tried to mitigate that perennial summertime lamentation, "I'm boooored...what can we do today?"

Here is our top ten list in hindsight of great activities to placate summertime doldrums:

10. Save Money

Well, that was the intent - to be honest, our summertime budget was blown way out of the water due to having lots of cousins visiting for extended periods of time, but we came up with some pretty creative ways to pare down our monthly expenses, such as:

  • learning to cut hair - i invested a month's worth of haircuts in a nice clipper and scissors set. Good thing my boys are so good-natured to put up with some of my frankenstein cuts (bald spots, anyone?) Ah well, there isn't a bad enough haircut that 2 weeks of growth can't cover up...


  • changing life insurance policies - this is a tip from Dave Ramsey: opting out of our whole life plan and moving to 20 year term insurance is setting us up to save about $100 per month, in addition to getting a $7,000 kickback from our accrued life insurance "savings" to help pay down our debt snowball. The folks at Zander insurance have been very helpful so far, so you might want to check them out .


  • changing car insurance - at the risk of sounding like a TV commercial, we saved hundreds by switching to GEICO...and personally, i think a poor starving pianist would make for a much funnier commercial than a silly caveman in therapy...


  • trimming digital fat - this one is really painful: i just canceled the unlimited data plan from Verizon for my Samsung i730 Pocket PC phone. That means no more web browsing at the supermarket checkout line, but i am saving $40 per month...


  • turning off stuff - our electric bill last month was terrifying, thanks in part to having an extra family's kids holed up in the basement playing DVD's and video games constantly. Having all my computers and amplifiers left on 24/7 certainly doesn't help with containing power costs, so the new rule for me is turning off all computers, electronics, and lights that are not in use. Besides, having the hassle of waiting for bootups keeps me from wasting too much time in Facebook...



  • 9. Drink Wine

    Kyungmi and i had a wonderful time in the New York Finger Lakes region, staying at The Fox and The Grapes Bed and Breakfast and visiting wineries along the eastern shores of Seneca Lake.

    The Fox and the Grapes Bed and Breakfast - Five Stars from Kyungmi and me!

    The white wines are really outstanding, particularly the Rieslings, but we managed to find some terrific reds as well. Hands down the best reds we found were at Damiani Wine Cellars - their various Cabs and Meritage were some of the finest we've ever tasted!

    Kyungmi tasting wine with winemaker Lou Damiani

    We also enjoyed some yummy reds at Chateau LaFayette Reneau, and were particularly impressed with the Chardonnays and Rieslings at the elegant Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars.

    Kyungmi outside the Lamoreaux Wine Cellars

    Getting ready to taste some amazing white wines at Lamoreaux Landing


    8. Read Great Books

    Who would've guessed that standing in line for 3 hours in the middle of the night for a book would be so much fun? Yes, i was part of the Harry Potter mayhem (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)), dragging along Paul and his cousin Ho-Won:





    A wonderful lady at Borders bookstore has been incredibly helpful at pointing Paul and me to some other great young adult reads, such as:



    The Maximum Ride trilogy by James Patterson, starting with The Angel Experiment (Maximum Ride the Angel Experiment). Think teenage X-men with super short attention spans (each chapter is no more than 3 or 4 pages long - makes for quick reading and fast-paced action)


    The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1) by Rick Riordan, first of the "Percy Jackson & The Olympians" triology - great for kids who want to see Greek mythology hipped up in modern settings with a wacky sense of humor:



    A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, that fantasy/sci-fi classic from my own middle school years:

    The above books had my teenage son falling back in love with reading and both of us scouring the Borders racks for more.

    On my own end, i was completely swept away with that international best-seller, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini -



    i was actually in tears as i listened to the audiobook ending driving through the Finger Lakes region.



    The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials, Book 1) by Philip Pullman gets high marks for exquisite craftsmanship, but failing ones for abysmal theology. I started reading this to see if my kids would enjoy this, but found that i have to steer them away for the time being. Even though the protagonists are children, the themes are quite dark and graphic - better suited for mature audiences in my opinion. First in a trilogy.

    7. Make Yummy Stuff

    I used to bake bread from scratch by hand every week. Unfortunately, my current schedule has pretty much ruled that out, given that the whole process requires at least 3-4 hours to accommodate all the yeast risings and final baking time. i suppose it was a very good summer indeed given the fact that i was able to get back to making a loaf of sandwich white after so many years' hiatus!

    Getting the kids involved with cooking projects is always lots of fun. Paul had a hand in cooking steaks for dinner one evening, using my oyster sauce marinade:

    Score both sides of steak with sharp knife
    Combine enough oyster sauce and minced/crushed garlic with a bit of water to make a marinade that can be brushed onto both sides of steaks
    Pan sear in hot oil to desired doneness


    Eric and Timmy loved making lemon/lime-ades with my old glass hand juicer:

    Squeeze juice from 4 lemons and 2 limes (or just 6 lemons for plain lemonade)
    Fill remainder of pitcher with cold water
    Add sugar to taste (we use about 1.5 cups of sugar)


    Other cool summertime treats included making homemade orange ice cream and replacing store-bought popsicles with Snowcones made with my old Rival ice shaver and a variety of flavored syrups (another money saving idea, by the way)

    My kids' new best friend, the Rival ice shaver!

    6. Play Games

    Believe it or not, kids can actually get sick and tired of video games. Yes, really! A few remedies were found in some old-fashioned board games - i never really played many of them as a kid, so the novelty was just as new for me as it was for my boys. What a great way to spend time bonding together! We particularly enjoyed Risk and have just started getting into Clue. We plan to get started with Pictionary - 20th Anniversary Edition soon as part of our "new" family activities night.

    One day, Paul discovered my old role playing books and was reading through the rules for Tunnels and Trolls. My personal game of choice as a teenager was The Fantasy Trip by Steve Jackson Games (TFT has been out of print for years and years, 'replaced' by the GURPS game system). I tried running through the basic rules for TFT with Paul, but he never really warmed to the system. Instead, he caught on with a fascinating fantasy card battle game called Magic: The Gathering.



    i never realized how complex, rich, and incredibly strategic these card games could be! Relatively easy to learn with a few basic rules, yet amazingly varied in action - lots and lots of fun getting into this granddaddy of collectible card combat systems!

    Eric did some snooping of his own into my teenage library of old strategic board/book games and dug up Starfire! by an old company called Task Force Games:

    Eric having way too much fun with my old copy of Starfire!

    He's been poring incessantly over the rules and descriptions of modular weapons systems, bombarding me with questions about Shearing Planes, Overload Dampeners, Multiplex Missile systems and the like...i was afraid the actual gameplay would be over his head, but once we got started it was actually a breeze and a lot more fun than any of us anticipated! Ahhh, the good old days of pre-silicon gaming when the powers of a pencil and a pair of 6-sided dice ruled the universe!

    5. Ride Bikes

    Here's a great site for biking trails in New Jersey:

    http://www.state.nj.us/transportation/commuter/bike/tours.shtm

    You can either have trail maps sent to you by snailmail or downloaded as PDF's. We visited the trail in the Pine Barrens around the Batsto Historical Village. Nice smooth roads that stretch on for miles, and some great woodland hiking for those who aren't so cycle-inclined.

    For some reason i couldn't find my old rear-window hanging bike rack, so i had to get a hitch installed to my minivan for a new carrier:

    My new hitch and bike carrier

    Pricey, yes - i can feel Dave Ramsey wagging his finger at me - but well worth the investment in family fun!

    Gearing up in the Batsto Village parking lot

    4. Get Pets

    Paul initially wanted a snake - Kyungmi adamantly put her foot down in opposition. We settled for a Great Horned Mountain Lizard instead, but the poor thing died after only about 3 weeks or so, due to ingesting a piece of bark bedding ("impaction" i believe was the term). The second Horned Mountain Lizard didn't fare much better and had a nasty attitude to boot - we returned that in time for a store credit and replaced it with a much more docile Chinese Water Lizard. Looks just like the gecko in the Geico commercials. I'll try to post some pictures of "Liz" as soon as i can. We replaced the bedding with moss to prevent any more impaction possibilities. i never realized watching lizards gulp down crickets in the morning could be so entertaining!

    In familial fairness, i let Eric and Timmy pick up a pair of dwarf hamsters. Cute little buggers!

    Eric, Timmy and Chi-Ho enjoying the new Dwarf Hamsters

    One of the hamsters is quite the speed monkey, running around at full tilt and climbing the walls and ceilings like a primate. A few days after buying them, she somehow squeezed through the wire walls and escaped in the basement. She kept darting out from under the piles of junk in my office, only to scurry away each time we tried to catch her. The solution was to get one of those mouse traps from Home Depot, the kind that features a one-way door into an empty plastic box. Sure enough, within 10 minutes of setting that trap, i heard her munching away happily on the apple and peanut butter bait within. She hasn't tried to escape since.


    3. Learn to Program

    The folks at MIT have put together an amazing open source program for kids called Scratch that teaches the basics of programming within a graphic environment akin to playing with Legos:



    The interface is well designed for kids - Paul and Eric were programming their first games within minutes. Even Timmy joined in the action and designed a "Spider-man" game with the built-in drawing tools. In addition to the excellent program, there is a seamless interface with the Scratch community, where participants are encouraged to both share and download projects from other users, making for one of the best interactive learning environments i've ever come across.

    Here's an image link to Paul's "Bleach Battle" game - the speed of this thing is quite impressive!



    Eric's and Timmy's games to be posted up as soon as they finish refining them!

    2. Play with Glass

    After enjoying the Finger Lakes region, we enjoyed some family time at the Corning Museum of Glass.

    Kyungmi at CMOG

    More Bundt Bowls than i ever care to see in one place...

    The artwork was stunning and the live glasswork demonstrations were very impressive. The big hit of the museum for my family was the hands on studio crafts:

    Making a glass flower

    Kyungmi makes an ornament

    Eric works on glass wind chimes and Paul makes a glass bead

    Timmy works on a sand blasting cup project

    Keep in mind that glass needs about 8 hours to cool safely - fortunately, the museum offers a shipping option for completed projects. Great fun!

    1. Visit Family

    This was voted #1 by all the boys - what better way to spend the summer than by being with cousins and visiting Grandma and Grandpa at the farm?

    Wonderful memories, great souvenirs, and even some new skills and activities to boot - definitely a summer to remember!

    www.hughsung.com www.hughsung.com/blog Hugh Sung http://hughsung.com http://hughsung.com/blog

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    November 25, 06

    Crashing a 20-year High School Reunion

    Upon finishing middle school at the tender age of 13, i was accepted for studies at the Curtis Institute of Music. It was a difficult transition - all my friends from "BC" (short for Bala Cynwyd Middle School) went on to "real" high school at "LM" (short for Lower Merion High School), while i was a midget running amidst college students who were at least 4 or 5+ years older than me. Fortunately, i had a core group of close friends that still managed to get together through those high school years - Dan Steinberg, Alan Wiener, Jeff Shaman, Paul Young, and Michael Bloom - mainly thanks to a fantasy role-playing game called "ITL" (short for "In The Labyrinth", a Dungeons and Dragons-type game made by Steve Jackson Games - i think the company still exists quite vibrantly!) that we played every week at each others' houses.

    Enter the college years, and while my friends started to disperse to higher learning institutions around the country, i was still stuck at Curtis (festering a serious Anne-of-Green-Gables yearning to get out and explore the world at large - but that's another future blog post!). I suppose it was inevitable that we all started losing touch with each other, but one friend - Dan - managed to maintain lines of communication year after year, and even occasional visits whenever he came back to the east coast to spend the holidays with his family. Because i never attended LM, i had no high school alumni infrastructure to keep in touch with the news from my old middle school classmates. Dan became the pipeline to tidbits of news from this friend or that, but even that began to become more and more sporatic for the both of us.

    Hats off to Dan who got word of a 20-year reunion for the class of 1986! Keep in mind, though, that since i didn't attend the same high school, for me this was going to be a 24 year reunion! Never having attended any reunions before, i wasn't sure that i would remember many - if any - of my old 12 and 13 year old friends.

    Right before heading off to the reunion at the Manayunk Brewing Company, we had a lovely dinner with Dan's parents at their lovely new home:

    Dan, his girlfriend Julie, Kyungmi and me
    L to R: Dan, his girlfriend Julie, Kyungmi, and me

    Mrs. Steinberg, Kyungmi and Julie
    L to R: Mrs. Steinberg, Kyungmi, and Julie

    Boy, it really did feel like we were getting ready to go out for prom night! (i have to imagine this theoretically, since i never actually attended my own prom...yes, yes, another blog story for a future post! LOL)

    Just driving through the old neighborhoods to get to the Manayunk Brewing Company brought back waves of memories - the bike paths i rode, the route i walked to school - and - oops, Dan suddenly seemed to make a wrong turn. It would've been so much faster to turn left there - hey! did he forget the old neighborhood? Ah, silly me - turns out he was driving out of the way on purpose to give us an excuse to swing by our old middle school - BC - which i hadn't seen since moving off to Curtis! Amazing to see how much smaller the school looked (even though i think i was virtually the same exact height back then...sigh) How thoughtful of Dan! We even backtracked our walking route (Kyungmi exclaimed, "Did you really walk this far to school?" Hahahaha - yes indeed!) and drove in front of my old house.

    Amazingly, we were able to find street parking (in Manayunk, that crowded hip one-road hotspot, of all places!) relatively easily. Upon approaching the restaurant, i immediately recognized a woman standing in front - Eden Pontz! I kid you not, she looked exactly the same as her middle school years! What was even more amazing was the fact that her name immediately came to mind, given how bad i tend to be with memory recall these days!

    We all entered and found our way to the second floor area, which was reserved for the reunion. Not having attended LM, there was no picture name tag for me (featuring the senior portraits - great idea!), so i had to fill out my name in marker as a bona fide party crasher! Almost immediately, i found one of my best friends - Alan Wiener - whom i had lost touch with (totally my own fault)! Check out his website at alanwiener.org!

    Kyungmi with Alan Wiener, one of my best friends from BC

    Alan is currently an artist in NYC, now married with a beautiful 5 month old daughter, Sylvia. We spent our childhood playing ITL, reading the Dragonriders of Pern, making games, creating artwork (he made the neatest things, from laminated bookmarks to bound blank books), even collaborating on a little animation project involving magazine cutouts (wish i could find that super-8 milimeter film!)

    Alan Wiener and me

    More from the artsy crowd: E.J.!

    Kyungmi and EJ

    E.J. is part of a wildly popular Folk/Rock trio - Maggi, Pierce and E.J., currently with 7 CD's to their discography and a heavy touring schedule here in the U.S. and Europe. Check them out at the Tin Angel on Friday, December 15th at 10 pm!!

    It was nice to find other folks who are still living in the area - old friends like Doron Philips, whose parents still live in the same house i used to pass every day on the way to school, and Maria Wolf, who is working at U. Penn and used to play a mean trumpet! (she told me that she recently spent 3 hours digging her old trumpet out of the closet!)

    Doron Philips, Maria Wolf, and me

    One of my all-time favorite people growing up was Jenny Goldsborough (that's my roundabout way of saying, i had a major crush on her!) Her parents were the most wonderful folks - i had the privilege of being in her father's English class for 8th grade! I had lost touch with Jenny after leaving BC, but managed to meet her parents once after a performance at a retirement community. Jenny, it turns out, married a Japanese teacher and lived in Japan for several years, recently moving back to settle in the States. What a thrill to see her again after all these years!!

    Finding Jenny Goldsborough!

    We must've been happy kids growing up, judging from the huge smile on Rachel Weiss' face when we saw each other - amazing how some people never seem to age a single day!

    Doron Philips, Rachel Weiss and Me

    Speaking of ageless: Reed Slogoff definitely wins the award in my book for ageless male alumni! He's now a successful retail real estate agent in the Philadelphia area, happily fulfilling his childhood prospects of being one of the most brilliant people i've ever known!

    Reed Slogoff, the Dick Clark of LMHS and BC!

    I wish my memory was perfect - Amy Brill came up to me with a huge smile of recognition, and i had to drop my eyes to read her nametag - shame on me! Nice to see that Amy has better cognitive faculties than i do!

    Amy Brill and me

    My voice is completely hoarse this morning from shouting all night over the crowd and the din of the DJ - but having a froggy voice has never felt better! What an amazing time, finding friends from a quarter century ago, seeing how powerfully the bonds of childhood memories tie us all together! And hey - we look pretty darn good after all these years, don't you think? LOL

    May the next 24 years find us all aging just as gracefully!




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    Welcome!

    Thank you for visiting this site! I hope you'll find this to be a friendly place to learn about and discuss the fascinating technologies available for the Classical Musician. A great place to get started is with the ongoing "Getting Started" series. Remember, the worst questions are the ones you never ask, so feel free to email me!

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