If You Were To Give Me A Penny

I really want to write a blog post today, but I have very few whole thoughts.  Instead, I will attempt to tell you what is on my mind, no matter how fragmented.

Harry Potter


For years, my friends have told me that I needed to listen to the audio rendition of the Harry Potter series as narrated by Jim Dale.  I have read the first four books twice, and the rest once, but I’ve never read all seven back-to-back.  I listen to a lot of audio books using Audible during my one hour commute, which means I can listen to a book every two weeks.

Harry Potter wasn’t released until last November 2015.  So from November to January, I listened to the entire series without interruption.  Jim Dale does an excellent job.  I don’t like all of his voice characterizations, but his Dumbledore is stupendous.

Listening to the books, I was able to break away from the movie actors a little bit and get closer to what JK Rowling was trying to convey.  It really gave me a fresh perspective.  Also, having listened to it all in such a short time span, I was able to appreciate her world-building and story arcs.  There were very few holes, unlike the movies, and the tone was a lot more consistent than in the movies.  I will likely read or listen to the series again and again, but now I’m moving on to something else.

War and Peace

2769211423_33999bc152_bThe epic novel “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy has been on my bucket list for years.  It is hailed by some as the greatest novel in human history.  However, I confess, I’ve been dreading reading it.  Greatness does not always mean enjoyability.  But I’ve been very pleasantly surprised to find that this book is, in fact, delightful.

Tolstoy’s writing is even humorous at times.  He strikes a tone similar to Dickens.  The biggest complaint I’ve heard of the book is that there are too many characters to keep up with, but having read The Song of Ice and Fire books (Game of Thrones to you non-readers), which also have a crazy number of characters, I feel enough at ease with it.  Besides, the book really only centers around a handful of characters.  I am listening, reading, and studying this work because there are many layers and many foreign elements including period style, French language, and historical events.  I’m using the classic Cliff’s Notes to help me stay on track with the story and characters, and Google searches for the rest.  I’m dedicated to reading this, but I’m also enjoying it immensely.

My Thing With Books

booksOk, I have this thing with reading books.  I feel a sense of misplaced pride when I finish a book, as if this is some great accomplishment that someone would want to hear about.  As if I, in fact, wrote the book myself.  I realize that this is absurd.   Now, some people do enjoy discussing books with people who have read them or people who might read them, but this is different.  It’s like I want some sort of congratulations for reading a damn book.  I don’t really do this with any other form of entertainment, not movies, tv shows, or concerts.  I think it’s that people who read books tend to be very intelligent people, and being intelligent has always kind of been my thing. So it’s really the thing with intelligence.

Intelligence is like money.  We all want more of it. But most of us will not get it.  Which makes it a tricky subject to talk about.  Saying that you have money or intelligence is a big no no.  I feel terribly uncomfortable even writing about it.  It feels immodest.  We can’t help how intelligent we are, and it feels terrible to think that we are not as smart as the people around us.  I know what it’s like to be the dumbest person in the room given my career choice as a software engineer.   And when I started treatment for bipolar disorder, I noticed that the medicine dulled my brain.  I felt like I lost 15 or so IQ points.  A test confirmed that I actually had.  It was miserable.  It was an identity crisis. I felt very defeated by my work.  But with some nutritional tweaking, I’m back to normal…whatever that is.

I come from smart parents (a teacher and a physicist turned preacher) and I’m not even the smartest child of the three Burns boys.  We are the product of smart genes.  And genes really aren’t something a person can be proud of.   A problem with intelligence is that when it is shown off, it is very obnoxious and sometimes hurtful, so I’m working on it in the sense that I don’t want to make intelligence such an issue that it is a central part of my identity.  I do not want to continue being an insufferable know-it-all (as Professor Snape says to Hermione). I’d like to think I have much better traits than that. For instance, I’d much prefer to be thought of as a kind person.  One of the things that helps me gain a perspective on human intelligence is Howard Gardener’s theory of multiple intelligences which identifies seven different kinds of ways of being smart.  If you study it, you’ll see that each person you meet is highly intelligent in one way or another.  So why should anyone be even a little prideful of it?  It makes about as much sense as being prideful about reading a book.  And yet I have struggled.  I blame my mother’s constant praise.  Thanks, Mom!

This picture expands on Gardner’s theory, breaking intelligence down even further into nine.


Talent Show

antelephant300This Sunday is my church’s annual Chili Cookoff and Talent Show.  My choir is responsible for organizing the event.  I confess that I’m not the best at organizing events, but I’ve learned to delegate.  I participated in the talent show last year.  I played a difficult and awesome tuba etude.  I had only played solo tuba in front of an audience one other time.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, so I did not hesitate to accept an offer to play a duet with a young flutist this year.  We will play The Ant and the Elephant.  It is a very idiosyncratic work that I think people will enjoy for it’s unique instrumental pairing, and it’s fun to imagine a relationship between an ant and an elephant!

barry-manilow-manilow-magic-t-348632-290x300But what has occupied my brain is the song I will sing.  Barry Manilow is one of my very favorite artists.  He sings so effortlessly that it’s easy to underestimate his songs.  The tessitura (median range of a song) is high for me and the phrasing requires some mastery of breath support, head voice, and evenness of tone.  There are only a few of his songs that I can actually sing.  I will be singing Weekend in New England, which is a personal favorite.  With a few modifications, I can sing it, but it will take the best of what I can do to really pull it off.  So I practice every day at the piano, in the shower, in the choir.

I don’t sing very often these days, and if I do, it is sacred music.  My church has never heard me sing a love song before.  I wonder how they will respond to watching their music minister sing the words “When will our eyes meet? When can I touch you?  When will this strong yearning end?  And when will I hold you again?”


logo2I started a new job recently, using a technology that I’ve never used before.  It’s a technology I’ve sneered at over the ages:  Microsoft Access.  For fourteen years, I’ve programmed for the enterprise with Oracle, Java, Web, etc.  Access is really a personal database (to be used by a handful of people), as opposed to an enterprise database (to be used by many people).

When I interviewed for the job, I proposed that they move to Oracle and the web.  They indulged my ideas for the interview, but when it came down to actually maintaining the system, I learned that it actually is an appropriate technology for what they are doing.  First off, it does a lot more than I thought it did. Second off, there are fewer than twenty users, and only two or three signed on at any given moment.  Finally, if I made it an enterprise app, the Information Systems Group would want to take it over and I’d be out of a job.

I enjoy working with this technology, but I’m embarrassed when other programmers ask me what I’m working on.  I’m also concerned that having it at the top of my resume timeline could hurt my chances of getting a job in the future.  It’s an inner struggle.  I would not have even taken the job a year ago, but I’m learning to let things go and keep an open mind.  This is a good job.  It pays well.  I’m good at it.  And it is a low stress environment.  Isn’t that all that really matters?

Of course, there are a million other things on my mind most of which are either too personal or too uninteresting to mention.  So I’ll leave you here.



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