Auld Lang Syne Redux

As much as 2014 was an annus horribilis, 2015 was its counter. My appointment at the Office of Research & Economic Development has been a great opportunity for me.  The team here is solid, professional and dedicated to the mission of our group. I find that my experiences as a creative artist, computer researcher, teacher and administrator all come to play in addressing our day-to-day challenges as well as our long term strategic needs.  I’m able to continue composing, and my graduate students continue to make good progress on their degrees. And my life with Kathy remains solid and filled with love.

I have been blessed to see my children grow and mature, recognizing their passions and seeing them reach towards their goals. A summer road trip brought much of this into careful focus. While their roads are markedly different than the ones I chose, I am grateful that they have been able to see their future-selves at an earlier point in life. That doesn’t mean the roads are smoother or safer, nor will I be surprised if their routes change along the way. But I see true joy in my children’s faces (and in our faces), and pray that they will be as fortunate as I in finding a life in the arts.

Lifelong stresses remain: my mother living through Alzheimers, my father her caretaker, the joys and pains of home ownership, the joys and pains of parenthood. My siblings and I grow older and our bodies grow older too. These will not be easy years to come. But for the first time in several years, I sense a personal happiness in everyone and in myself. I have found nachas and solace, comfort when things go wrong, joy when things go right.

Indeed, 2015 was a much better year.


Auld Lang Syne

John Masey Wright - John Rogers - Robert Burns - Auld Lang Syne.jpg

As we come to the end of 2014, I am between extremes of emotion. On one hand, it has been an annus horribilis. Health issues have been a major concern for my parents. There are times when I wish I could just pop over and lend a hand. But living halfway across the country leaves me unable to help in any immediate way. This year also was a time of transition for many of us in our work and careers, which whether planned or unplanned raises anxieties about what the future will hold. And my aunt’s losing battle with leukemia this summer was a devastating shock to us all. It put particular stress on my sister and cousins who were with her through her entire struggle.

And yet, with so much tsouris, I have found great solace in the strength, love and compassion of my family, friends and colleagues. My wife and children, parents, brother and sister, aunts and uncles, cousins, and friends old and new showed great personal resolve through it all, for which I am humbled and grateful. From all of this has come a renewed optimism for the year ahead. That despite the inevitable struggles we will face in 2015, there will be strength and support from family and friends no matter the circumstances or distance.

Although my instinct is to say “goodbye and good riddance” to 2014, I prefer the words of Robert Burns. We should not forget our past. We should remember and cherish our family and friends. We will be there in their time of need, just as they will be there for us, for auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak’ a right gude-willie waught,
for auld lang syne.

— Robert Burns

Is Algebra Necessary? –

I certainly sympathize with the author’s concerns. I have often found myself teaching algebra and calculus concepts when I’ve needed my students to understand concepts in music, and especially in the physics of sound. But the idea that students should not have to take algebra if it impedes their educational process is fundamentally flawed.

This only perpetuates what I call the C. P. Snow myth, that the arts/humanities and the sciences are so separate and distinct that they have no connection or correlation to one another, that they can and should be studied separately, and that we shouldn’t expect people to be able to understand both. The myth is just that, a myth.

The challenge we have is in the way we teach Algebra in high school, and math in general. New technologies can help make math more visual and relevant. We must approach its teaching from our 21st century perspective, with real world problems and their computational implications. If we really want to solve the problem of math illiteracy, we need to address its teaching, and not vilify the subject.

To paraphrase JFK, we study math not because it is easy, but because it is hard.

Is Algebra Necessary? –

Inspiration from Steve Jobs

In light of Steve Jobs‘ announcement that he is stepping down as CEO of Apple, the Wall Street Journal put together some of his best quotes. There are two that really resonate with me.

On creativity and design:

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”

[Wired, February 1996]

On life and achievement:

“I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.” [NBC Nightly News, May 2006]

You can find the complete list here: