Saturday, May 31, 2008

Academic and artistic achievement in America

What do you notice about this list of 8 of the nation's top 12 finalists in the annual National Scripps Spelling Bee?

Sameer Mishr, 1st place
Sidharth Chand, 2nd place
Samia Nawaz
Kavya Shivashanar
Jahnavi Iyer
Kyle Mou
Justin Song
Austin Pineda

8 of 12 are foreign born or have parents that are, many are Indian, Pakistani, or of Asian descent. Almost all of them are bilingual and most of them play a musical instrument. What is it about other cultures, particularly Asian and Indian ethnicities that tend to excel disproportionately and out perform Caucasian Americans academically in so many areas ... from engineering to medicine to music? From personal experience, I can tell you that the major college music conservatories like Julliard, and San Francisco Conservatory are dominated by Asian students. I wonder if this is a commentary more on the education in America or the level of discipline in other cultures?

Speaking of music, check this out. How old do you think she is?

Friday, May 30, 2008

New isolated tribe discovered in the Amazon

This story was a hoax!
Judging by the warriors taking aim at the aircraft that photographed them, they wish to remain 'uncontacted.'

It amazes me that in this day, there are tribes of indigenous people living in the jungles of Brazil that have not been contacted or touched by modern civilization. Since this tribe has not been contacted, we have no idea of their background or what language they speak. It does appear that after first seeing the plane, they donned red war paint and brandished weapons for the plane's repeated passes. Fascinating.
Every effort needs to be made to protect the environment in which these people live, which remains threatened by logging and cattle farming.

BBC Story

More Photos and Interpretation

Monday, May 26, 2008

Yet another awesome paella party

Paella, wine, music, and everyone in the pool. It was great.

This paella was awesome, 3 lbs shrimp, 2 lbs scallops, 2 lbs mahi-mahi. Trim with mussels, lemons and roasted peppers... all in buttery Valencian saffron rice, wow. So good.

After a while, Silviu, BJ and Taylor gave an impromptu farewell performance of Tequila flamenco.

It was great to welcome Julie, Michelle, Mandy, Andrea, Javier... all who just finished their first year as MTSU staff. Tana came in Renaissance garb, directly from the Ren Faire. Don Rung came from Sewanee.

Soon after, most everyone was in the warm pool and hot tub.

What a great night. Party hardy.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

First day of class

I love teaching Music Appreciation in summer session. On the first day of class, I come in early and sit in the class, posing as a student. I chat with the members of the class, ask them why they're taking it, what their major is, and, what they've heard about the professor... heh. Then I start to bitch loudly about the professor being late... after a while, then, I get up and start handing out the syllabus... surprise!! I can only do this on the first day of the class. What fun! (I'm in the center of the photo, staring at the camera).

This is my only opportunity to interact with a class of students that are not music majors. I love the curriculum. We cover music elements and basic music theory, and then so many styles... folk, religious, jazz, pop, blues, Native American, Latino, Klezmer, Cajun, Indian, Japanese, to name a few... and then after all that, we tackle European Art Music from the Middle Ages and Renaissance to the present. A lot of stuff. With the help of youtube, the Naxos Listening Library, and various videos, the class really is fun. (and ... it's quite good extra $$$$ too ! )

I've noticed some interesting phenomena about the students in general and myself as an instructor over the years of teaching this class. First, the students in general seem to lack a broad vocabulary. (Almost no one knew what the words 'prolific', 'vernacular', or 'virtuosic' meant). Second, international students writing in their second language often write better than many American students! And... I always seem to learn the names of the female students much more quickly than the male students. Hmmm....

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Third generation track athlete graduates

My brother's son Kris, third generation track athlete, graduates from college.

My brother (on the right) polevaulted 16'1" in highschool, a New York State record that stood for around 25 years. My dad (on the left) set a college polevault record of 14'4" just after the fiberglass pole was invented. The world record during that time was only 15'8".

Is that a good lookin' family or what?

I'm trying to get my brother into running 5k races. We'll see.

A local (Binghamton, NY) newspaper did an article on the Yelverton family of legacy of track athletes. The thing is, we had such good genes, we never really trained hard in high school. I didn't know what painful training was until I started seriously training for 5Ks.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

200 mpg Volkswagon by 2010

The next generation of fuel efficient cars is coming

As reported in an earlier post, these new ultra efficient cars seem to be coming from Germany.

Volkswagon's VW1L is said to be going into production in 2010. This car is designed to get 285 miles per gallon but in actual driving conditions, will likely average at only 200 mpg.

It holds two plus cargo in a front and back seating arrangement and is powered by a fuel injected 299 cc single cylinder diesel. With the primary goal here being economy, the car is ultra light at 640 lbs. - made of magnesium and carbon fiber. It has just 8.5 horse power and is said to be quite peppy but will do just 74 mph top speed... but what do you expect, it gets nearly triple the mileage of most motorcycles.

To achieve an amazingly low drag coefficient, cameras replaced side view mirrors and the ride is very close to the ground.

If gas gets in the $7-8 dollar a gallon range, cars like this could get established in the US and hopefully, American car makers will respond similarly with more fuel efficient cars or they'll become extinct.

What I don't understand is why my 19 yr old Honda Civic hatchback gets the same or better mileage than the new Civics? It doesn't make any sense!! The new Civics have 1.8 L engines and average about 35 mpg. My 1989 Civic has a 1.5 liter engine and gets 38-40 mpg. Why aren't the new Honda's more efficient?
At 45 mpg, even the hybrids are only slightly more efficient than my old beater. I don't understand why a great car company like Honda isn't doing significantly better than they were 20 yrs ago in fuel economy?

10 years ago, the most fuel efficient car in America was the Chevrolet/GEO Metro that got 47 mpg. Why doesn't Chevy make a car like this now? Dumb! Seems like we'll be seeing a huge jump in fuel economy in the next decade and hopefully, car companies will follow the lead of those crafty Germans.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Sat May 10, 08 - risk of severe storms tonight in Mid-TN

The Storm Prediction Center has designated Mid-TN as 'moderate' for severe weather on Sat, May 10, 08. Probably tonight.

From the SPC:


The severe threat is moreso for AR, and northern MS & AL.
Sounds like fun.
UPDATE: 5:49 pm CDT, Sat May 10
Here's a GRLevel2 Radar shot of a tornadic thunderstorm approaching Jonesboro, AR
Will update through the night

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Return to the pavement

After watching my training shoes sit idly by the door for 3 weeks, I returned to running this week ... in small measure.

Been doing leg raise exercises - 3 sets of 20-25 in between lap swimming in my pool and abs on the deck. The knee feels good afterward. After the pool workout, I run a short distance to complete a light workout. I started with a 7:12 mile on Tues, did a 6:22 mile tonight. At 148 lbs tonight, just 6-8 lbs heavier than race weight, combined with not running for 3 weeks, whoa... Holy cow, do I feel fat and sluggish.

I'm pretty sure my knee issue was the result of a ligament strain, not directly related to running or repetitive use, but to the power exercises I did when trying to change my training regime to sprint training this winter. I have a natural weakness in my ligaments as I have had shoulder surgery in high school (football, wrestling) and 17 yrs ago, an acl replacement (on my good knee) after a skiing accident. I think I've found a good regime to get my knee back and into shape to do some running this summer, but I doubt I'll race again til the fall. If, after a month or so, my knee is not 100%, maybe I'll pay a visit to my knee man Burton Elrod. He did a great job on my left knee back in '91, it's been perfect ever since.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Cruzin' through the gorge

Monday cruzin'

Through the Tennessee River Gorge from Chattanooga back to Haletown.

Cinco de Mayo 2008, gorgeous day!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Cat plant

My cat Emma recently celebrated her 10th birthday.

Here she is lounging on a spider plant.


Happy birthday, Emma.

A friend said to me once, "why can't we age like cats? They always look the same when they get older."

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Wolf spiders - they definitely bite

The wolf spider is very common spider around TN. Bill learned first hand today that they give a painful bite.

I reached into the strainer basket of my pool today to clear out the debris - mostly seeds dropped from the trees. On my left thumb, I felt a sudden wicked sting, I was certain that I'd been stung by a red wasp. But no, I looked into the basket and there he was, the little bastard - a wolf spider, just a bit bigger than a silver dollar (leg span). He paid the ultimate sacrifice for his misgiving. The bite was no big deal. It stopped hurting after a few minutes, but the thumb swelled and now after an hour, the swelling isn't so bad. It's almost back to normal.

Wolf spiders don't spin webs like other spiders. They are carnivores and hunt for their prey using speed and venom. I've observed a few times in the spring, females carrying what seems like dozens of tiny spiders on their bodies. These spiders can be controlled effectively with chemical sprays.

This spider bite was was nothing compared to a yellow jacket attack I had a few years ago. I was mowing my lawn and several bees came out of the ground and attacked. I was bitten several times in rapid succession as I fled the area. It happened so fast, I never saw them. I actually felt a slight fever and a slight tightness in my chest an hour after that attack. That was amazing. I didn't want to suffer another attack so I later I returned to kill the nest.

After maintaining this blog for 7+ years, among the thousands of posts, THIS post on the wolf spider is the single most visited blog post in the history of this blog.   It has been accessed 10s of thousands of times.  Why is it people are so interested and fascinated with this creature?