December 7, 2012

The Weekly Blab

Volume 7, Issue 15—December 7, 2012


December Is Here…

…And we’re in the headlong rush to the end of the term.  There’s still a lot to do, but it’s leavened with a large number of parties. My musical tastes change this time of year too, with classical music rising in popularity, as well as holiday music of course.  My two favorite Christmas albums are Ella Fitzgerald’s “Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas” and a guilty pleasure that my wife introduced me to a long time ago: the Carpenters’ “Christmas Portrait”.  Yep, it’s yin and yang.  Tell you what:  post the name of your favorite Christmas Album and why you like it, and I’ll award a prize to the most interesting response.  In classical music, I’ve been going through the really early stuff (1920’s and 1930’s) in that big Artur Rubenstein box set (old, so the recording quality is only so-so, but the playing is magnificent), as well as listening to a bit of Schubert.

The composer Schubert is known for a number of things (probably the most famous is his eighth symphony, the “Unfinished Symphony”), but he devoted his greatest efforts to a huge number of songs for voice and piano, known in German as lieder.  The British record label Hyperion recorded all of Schubert’s lieder on a series of 37 CD’s.  I have seven of the series, and they’re uniformly great.  Some of the volumes are hard to find, and since they’re all available as a big box set at less than the individual volumes would cost, who cares?

It turns out I do, for a very odd reason—for most CD’s, I only give a casual glance at the liner notes, but for this series, they’re unimaginably good.  The notes are so extensive, the company had to change the way the discs were packaged for the later volumes into a plastic hinged box instead of the usual CD “jewel case” so that they could physically fit.  The liner notes contain a running biography of Schubert during the period covered by the CD, as well as the lyrics to each of the songs (in German and in English), an extensive analysis of why they were written, where the inspiration came from, information about the poet who wrote the lyrics, historical information about the period, pictures of those involved, and so on.  I just got the last disc in the series, Volume 37, and the liner note booklet is 112 pages long!  The notes are written by Graham Johnson, the pianist who accompanies all the singers in the series, and they’re informative, extensive, and most unbelievably: written for the layman.  The box set doesn’t have the liner notes, just a big index, so I’m not interested.  I have to have the individual CD’s, so the hunt is on to find them at a low enough price to buy the next volume.

Since it was the last volume, it obviously covers the period just before Schubert’s death.  Schubert died on November 19, 1828, one month short of his 32nd birthday.  It’s a tragedy that so many of the great composers died very young.

Schubert’s last song was to a poem by Johann Gabriel Seidl, called “Die Taubenpost” (Pigeon Post).  Seidl also wrote the words to the Austrian Imperial Anthem, by the way.  The words to “Die Taubenpost” are very pretty but also a little sad, and I’ll leave it to you to decide if Schubert had any sense of his own soon-to-come passing.

I have a carrier pigeon in my pay, Devoted and true;

She never stops short of her goal, And never flies too far.

Each day I send her out, A thousand times on reconnaissance,

Past many a beloved spot, To my sweetheart’s house.

There she peeps furtively in at the window, Observing her every look and step.

Conveys my greeting breezily, And brings hers back to me.

I no longer need to write a note, I can give her my very tears;

She will certainly not deliver them wrongly, So eagerly does she serve me.

Day or night, awake or dreaming, It is all the same to her;

As long as she can roam, She is richly contented.

She never grows tired or faint, The route is always fresh to her;

She needs no enticement or reward, So true is this pigeon to me.

I cherish her as truly in my heart, Certain of the fairest prize.

Her name is – Longing!  Do you know her?  The message of constancy.



There several people in Academic Affairs retiring (or about to retire) this semester.

In Construction Management, senior lecturer John Mench is retiring at the end of the term.  John teaches in the facilities management area, and came to SPSU with a huge amount of industrial experience—he was the manager of Facility Engineering at Kroger, and the VP of Facility Engineering at Safeway, among many other things.  You couldn’t be with John for even five minutes without seeing that here was someone who knew his field inside out and could accomplish literally anything.  John has won many awards, including Georgia Engineer of the Year in 2007.  His students love him.

In Social and International Studies, Richard Bennett is retiring at the end of the term.  Rich teaches courses in religion, ethnic studies, and related areas, but is perhaps best known in his role as Director of International Programs.  Among his many accomplishments are setting up SPSU’s exchange programs with universities in China, Cameroon, Germany, and several other countries.  There are about 200 students at SPSU at any given time as a result of these efforts.  Rich is also the author of the definitive History of SPSU, and I hope we’ll see an updated version of this fine work one of these days.  On a more personal note, I’ve travelled a greater distance with Rich Bennett than with any other person, except for my wife and son, and possibly my Microscale Chemistry coauthor Mono Mohan Singh.  I’ll have to do a calculation one of these days to see.  I’ve gone to China several times and to Cameroon with Rich, and he’s one of the great travelers—he always knows what to do and where to go, he has tons of interesting stories to tell, and I can even speak to him in Hebrew because part of his travels included Israel.  Plus, he can hold his own better than anyone I know when it comes to giving toasts at a Chinese banquet.  Rich is in hot demand to teach post-retirement in several countries, so he’ll keep on accumulating those frequent flyer miles—I think he’s earned Plutonium status!  I was at Rich’s retirement party on Monday and it was a fun affair (thanks Julie!).  Rich’s wife was there (who I had met on several previous occasions), and I also had the pleasure of meeting his children.

In Computer Science and Software Engineering, Barbara Bernal retired on November 30.  Barbara taught Introduction to Software Engineering, User Centered Design, Software Testing and Quality Assurance, Computing Ethics, as well as courses in Information Technology.  She was one of the co-founders of the SPSU Usability Research Lab, was Chair of the Software Engineering Department in 2005-06, and won an Outstanding Faculty Award in 1995.  Barbara was also very active in ASEE, where she was the Southeast Section President in 2008-09, and the Chair of the Software Engineering Division three different times.  Not surprisingly, as a result of this extensive work, she won the ASEE Southeast Section Tony Tilmans Section Service Award in 2007.   The School of CSE will be hosting a retirement party for Barbara on Monday afternoon.

Finally, Joyce Mills, SPSU’s Library Director, retired on November 30.  Joyce came to SPSU in 1990 as Assistant Director for Public Services, where her first major task was to automate the library and oversee installation of an integrated online circulation system.  She became Library Director in 1993.  Joyce led the library as it brought in the PALS system, migrated to Endeavor/VOYAGER, and most recently, opened the knowledge commons now known as “The Hive”.  Most people don’t know that prior to coming to SPSU, Joyce started her professional career in England, where she was Head of the High School Division of the American School in London, where she managed the library and oversaw their move from Mornington Crescent to St. John’s Wood.  She started her family in London too—her son was born there, I learned.  Joyce has also been a world traveler throughout her life.  While an undergrad at Spelman, she participated in “Operation Crossroads Africa”, where she was a member of a library construction crew in Serowe, Botswana.

 Joyce3Joyce receiving her timeline from Yong Li Ma (photo by Diane Payne)

Joyce’s retirement party was this Thursday, and I had the pleasure of meeting her husband (I’m looking forward to seeing his art gallery) and son.  Her library colleagues created a timeline of Joyce’s life, including pictures of her from age 14 or so to today (though no bearskin rug photo!).  One thing that was obvious from the various pictures—Joyce hasn’t aged a bit.  What’s up with that?


Last Week’s Trivia Contest

Last week’s contest dealt with the word “smoke”, and the winner is our own V.P. of Business and Finance, Bill Prigge.  Bill’s success can be marked down to persistence—he’s entered the contest several times, but up till now, someone has always just beaten him to it.  Here are the correct answers:

  1. Used in many ancient cultures as a form of long-distance communication.  Smoke signals
  2. R&B singer with the Miracles, he became a vice president of Motown.  Smoky Robinson
  3. A deceptive explanation.  Smoke and Mirrors (or Blowing Smoke)
  4. She messed around with a bloke named Smoky/she loved him though he was cokey.  Minnie the Moocher
  5. It’s found in Katmai National Park, Alaska.  The Valley of 10,000 Smokes


This Week’s Trivia Challenge

2012’s final trivia challenge focuses on holidays. As usual, the first with the most takes the prize.  No looking up the answers now!  SEND ALL ENTRIES BY EMAIL TO, since if you put them as a response on the BLOG, everyone will be able to see them!

  1. Favorite flower for Christmas.
  2. Bing Crosby movie about a hotel that’s only open 12 days a year—the big hit song was “White Christmas”.
  3. Name of the candelabra used on Chanukah.
  4. The Hindu festival of lights, it comes on the last day of the Vikram calendar.
  5. Muslim holiday that falls on the 9th and 10th days of Muharram (December 5 this year).  It’s an optional fast day, commemorating the saving of Moses and the Israelites from Pharaoh.
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6 Responses to December 7, 2012

  1. Pierrette Maillet says:

    Favorite Christmas Album: Easy. Vince Guaraldi, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

  2. Mark Stevens says:

    Amahl and the Night Visitors by Gian Carlo Menotti.

  3. Jacqueline F. Stephens says:

    First Christmas Record for Children because it has two of my favorite christmas songs on it: C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S (this one reminds me of the meaning of Cristmas) and The Littlest Snowman ( is so sad but so sweet that you cannot mean to like it) but as far as a whole album I like Merry Christmas by Bing Crosby. I think listening to Bing just puts Christmas in the air, plus his voice isn’t so bad either.

  4. Vickie says:

    Why of course, the King of Rock in Roll, Elvis Presley’s Christmas Album 1957. (Mind you I’m not that old now, but the album was in my parent’s record collection and I listened to it over and over every holiday season. It’s hard to beat the very soulful sound of both traditional and playful Christmas tunes. While “Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me” didn’t apply to my personal situation, I was in awe of his spiritual renditions of other favorites. Plus, Elvis is more than dreamy and dashing on the album cover!

  5. Diane Payne (SPSU) says:

    This isn’t very high-minded, but I still play songs from A Very Special Christmas I and A Very Special Christmas 2 every year at this time. However, my all-time favorite Christmas song is “Silent Night” by Manheim Steamroller. I listen to it with all the lights out except for the Christmas tree, and it gives me chills at the end. Of course, my No. 2 pick is the polar opposite — “I Want a Hippopotomus for Christmas” by 10-year-old Gayla Peevey (1953). Who can resist lyrics like “No crocodiles or rhinoceroses, I only like hippopotamuses”?

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