The Best Blah Blah Blah

28 10 2011

Short little post here.  While I was in Cambridge today, 4 police cars with lights and sirens blaring went by me on one of the small, one-lane alleyways.  It was weird.

Anyway, today I’d like to say two cents about baseball, and being a fan.

The World Series’ last game is today.  Texas Rangers vs. St. Louis Cardinals.  Game 7.  This has been one of the best postseasons in recent history, and a game 7 in the WS is about the best thing that baseball can offer.  9 innings of live or die.  I am rooting for the Texas Rangers.  This is for multiple reasons; one is that the Rangers were in the WS last year and didn’t win.  Another is that I almost always root for the American League.  However, the third reason is entirely the fault of St. Louis Cardinals fans.

Yeah, you.

First, a disclaimer:  there are plenty of loyal, good-hearted Cardinals fans who follow their team through whatever.  Individually, I don’t really have a problem with you if you’re a Cardinals fan.  But collectively…oh man.  Cardinals fans call themselves “The Best Fans in Baseball.”

Think about that.  In other words, they are literally saying, “We are better than you.  Deal with it.”  Does this not sound ridiculously pretentious?  No group of fans should ever call themselves the best fans of anything.  Maybe you can compete amongst fellow fans, but that’s about it.  So, pretentious, and untrue.

That’s right, Cardinals fans.  You aren’t the best in baseball.  Not even close.

The St. Louis Cardinals are a likable enough team.  This is generally because they win all the time, and have one of the best players in baseball history playing First Base for them.  It is so very easy to like a good team.  Yankees fans–eh.  Not really fans.  Its like liking a cake.  Everyone likes cake.  Big deal.  How about the Pittsburgh Pirates fans?  They haven’t had a winning season in 18 years.  Or…how about the Kansas City Royals fans?  One winning season in the past two decades.  We still root for our team.  I think the fans of the losing teams are the best.  I think KC fans are better than St. Louis.  Yeah I said it.

I’m typing this now basically to avoid the “oh you’re just mad the Cardinals won” thing.  If they win, so be it; good for the Cardinals.  Cardinals fans–both the true fans and the bandwagon ones who can’t name any players other than Pujols–just don’t be jerks about it and constantly berate other teams like KC or Chicago because you’re better.  Thanks.

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Differences Across the Pond

26 10 2011

I don’t really have anything new to tell you specifically about me.  I’m taking classes, doing rehearsals, blah blah blah.  So instead I’ll let you know about some generic things that I’ve noticed:

1.  The location of Kansas City is only known by few people.

Here’s a conversation for you:

“I’m studying here on an exchange program; I’m from the United States.” Me
“Oh cool, where in the States?” Brit
“Kansas City.” Me

To which the Brit will reply with one of these:

  • “Oh, Cool.”
  • “Ah, Kansas.”
  • “…Where is that?”

This is in order of commonality, from least to most common.  Usually, I say “West of St. Louis” by about two hundred miles.  If they don’t know where that is, I say, “West of Chicago by a couple hundred miles” which has yet to fail me.  Of course, for the people who assume I’m from Kansas I have to tell them that I’m actually from Missouri and that KC is essentially a Missouri city.

I have debated whether or not to say that I’m from Washington DC or New York just to make it easier on people.  I haven’t.

2.  Things are more expensive in England

At home, you can get a full meal (including drink) from Taco Bell for $4.  That’s impossible here.  Most price numbers are equivalent to the states, but one pound is 1.5 dollars, which means almost everything is 1.5 times more expensive.  This is unfortunate, as I am attempting to eat cheaply.  The cafeteria is shockingly expensive, and therefore my food is mostly sandwiches from the College bar/mini restaurant thing or microwavable foods.  Yeah.

3.  Life in Cambridge is completely different from anywhere else I’ve been.

In the States, cities or towns are built around the fact that automobiles exist.  Walking or biking is impractical.  This is because stores are so spread out with huge parking lots and have their own buildings.  All streets in the states except for rural ones are wide enough to have one lane of travel in each direction.

Cambridge is completely different.  The city is old.  The city center is dominated by walkers and bikers; in fact, most cars aren’t even allowed in the city center.  What we would call alleyways, streets not big enough for a vehicle, pepper the entire city.  There are rarely any square intersections because most roads are very curvy.

Core part of the city centre. Note the haphazard layout.

It isn’t as easy as you would think to get lost here–this is because everything is unique and the city is not large enough to be a true maze.

4.  There are indeed less obese people in England.

Heck, there are less overweight people in general.

5.  I have seen one pickup truck.

SUV’s are not uncommon, but much less common than the United States.  England knows how to not suck the world dry of oil.





The Non-London Experience and Some Random Thoughts

22 10 2011

Hello, dear readers.

Today is Saturday (because yesterday was Friday!  Friday!  Ahem.)  Like Rebecca Black, I was looking forward to the weekend, weekend.  I had decided earlier in the week that I would be going to London on Saturday.  I’ve been here for three full weeks and the time that hadn’t been spent in Cambridge had been spent alone in my room.  I wanted to experience some other parts of England. I assumed someone would go with me because there were plenty of people from Jewell alone here in England.

So, I asked 8 different people about going with me to London.  Eight.  Including, I might add, two of my new horn player friends.  All eight of them either did not respond or were unable to go with me because of various other reasons.  So, here I sit in my room at Cambridge.

I know you’ll probably say, “But Matt!  Just go by yourself!”  This is true.  But I’d feel like a big loser, and London is a big place and I don’t want to go by myself.  Who will take pictures of me by Big Ben or by Platform 9 3/4?

There is no train for Hogwarts. But there is a Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station.

So I’m bummed about the whole non-experience.  I realize I have no control over the amount of other people’s work, but its just discouraging.  If I can’t find anyone to go to London with me for one day, what are the chances I find someone to go multiple places in Europe with me over a couple weeks in March?  Ok.  Disappointment over.

Since I obviously have nothing new to show you, I’ll quickly talk about a couple of random things.

1.  Money in Sports

I don’t understand athletes sometimes.  Here’s why.  They sign big, multi-million dollar contracts.  Then, when that runs out, they look for marginally bigger multi-million dollar contracts.  Here’s the thing:  if you make $5 million per year, you are rich.  If you make $15 million per year, you are still rich.  Frankly, I’m confused why athletes almost always place money before comfort or happiness.  You’d think that they would be more loyal to their fans.

Case in point:  Albert Pujols.  The future hall of fame 1B for the St. Louis Cardinals’ contract runs out this year.  He has made $14.5 million per year for the last 8 years (more or less; baseball contracts are often weighted back-heavy, but this is the average).  The Cardinals were willing to pay him $200 million over 8 years ($25 mil/year).  Pujols was reportedly looking for a 10 year, $300 million deal ($30 million/year).  After the World Series ends, Pujols becomes a free agent.

The weird thing is that everybody (especially Cardinals fans) think Pujols is the best person to walk this earth in addition to one of the best players of all time.  The latter is true; the former most certainly not.  Pujols is another money-grabbing baseball player.  If he really wanted to stay with the Cardinals (like he professes), he knows they can’t give him a deal like he is asking for without crippling their spending ability for the next decade.  If he looked past the extra $5 million/year that he would be making, he’d probably see that no one in St. Louis wants him to go.  Heck, I don’t want him to leave St. Louis and I don’t like the Cardinals.  He still could resign with the Cards, but the damage has already been done.

Politics

People are often stupid.

Honestly, we all are pretty dumb quite a bit of the time.  But there are some things that bring out the worst in us.  Politics is one of these things (Arguing about religion is another).

In the United States, the Democrat/Republican dichotomy just makes things painful.  An awful lot of people in America (and the world) are very, very bad at reasoning without emotion.  Comments like, “Republicans have no idea what they are talking about” or “Liberals are deliberately ruining America” or some variant of the thing are common everywhere.  Intelligence or coolness is never a good thing to include either.  “Candidate X is obviously the worst; you are stupid if you vote him” or “Candidate Y is cool and hip; I’m going to vote for him because that’s what everyone else is doing” are very bad.

Even very smart people that reason effectively get caught in the trap of accusing the other side of being stupid or inherently wrong.  Frankly, immediately accusing the other side of being a particular way is offensive.  I’ve found that the best thing is to not associate yourself with a particular party.

This all being said, I’m going to comment on something that relates to politics.  So don’t kill me for it.  This is Herman Cain:

He’s one of the Republican nominees running for President, and the media has absolutely no clue how to deal with this guy.  On a whim, I looked up who was running a couple of months ago, and have kept tabs on the race since.

Cain has ran for elected office twice before, but has never held public office.  Rather, he’s a fantastically successful businessman, best known for his CEO work at salvaging Godfather’s Pizza from the brink of bankruptcy in the 90s, but he has also been CEO of other food companies and was head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City for a few years.

The media doesn’t know what to do with him.  This is due to a number of factors.  First, he’s not a politician, and his political correctness is practically zero.  The media goes nuts sometimes over things he says.  Second, because of his non-politicianness, his answers are honest and straight-up; mispoken statements are really just that.  The media, used to the normal sliminess of politicians, tried to infer things from what he says and assumes that he means things other than what he does says.  Third, he’s a black conservative.  The vast majority of blacks in the U.S. vote Democrat, so the media’s just not used to this.  Also, he normally wears yellow ties.  Not sure how much that affects anything.

Regardless of whether or not you agree with Cain, I think the country would be a lot better if more people like him ran for office.  The leaders of the U.S. at every level should be honest and experienced outside of the bubble-world of politics, regardless of their status as Republican or Democrat.  The country needs people who are in touch with reality.

That being said, remember to vote LaMar 2036.





The Insane Day Known Only as the 18th of October

19 10 2011

Tuesday.  Nothing particularly special was happening in the world Tuesday.  Happy peaceful music was playing in the background (if it was a movie).  Birds were chirping.  But Matthew Jeffrey LaMar had no idea what the day was to be like.  He woke up rested around 10 in the morning and was looking forward to a productive day.  Unfortunately…

So begins the story of Tuesday.

I really don’t know what I was thinking.  Apparently, I overestimated how many hours were in the day.  Or neglected travel time.  Or whatever.  So, here’s what happened:

As I said, I woke up at 10.  I almost immediately began to work on the last bit of work I had due in the afternoon so I could get it finished before lunch.  The work was a glossary of terms for my class Music and Science.  I finished it, and had a pretty late lunch–around 1:00.  I went to The Griffin (the Homerton equivalent to the Cage (a mini-restaurant/snack place)) and got a sandwich, a can of Fanta, and a chocolate muffin.  Their chocolate muffins are great, but they don’t have them all the time.  Needless to say I snatched one up.

Speaking of muffins…Charles found this very odd site before I left for England.  Michael and I were playing Smash Bros, as usual, but Charles was watching these weird videos about muffins.  This was by far our favorite, but Charles absolutely loved it.  Tell me if this is as funny as he (we) thought:

However, I did not eat the muffin for lunch (and no it was not a mini muffin).  At 2:00, I had a supervision for my Analysis class at the music faculty on West Road.  West Road is about a 15 minute bike ride away; I left roughly around 1:40.  Here’s where my life starts to get a little nuts.

My supervision lasted a little over an hour–we analyzed this little piece together (my supervisor and my two other supervisees) and talked about next week’s work–a short paper on an analysis of a movement of a Mozart piano sonata (K. 333, if you want to know).  So it was a little after 3 that I got out.  I had an additional supervision at 3:30.  I had to find where it was because the Music faculty building is kind of arranged like this:

There are multiple staircases and way too many doors everywhere.  Thankfully only the building (which used to be a house) with the faculty offices is like this.  Otherwise concerts would be a pretty trippy experience.

My 3:30 supervision was about Popular Music and Society.  I’m going to enjoy this one a lot, as I feel that popular music is overlooked in a musical education when its ubiquitous nature should mean we give it at least some due.  The teacher/supervisor is an American, from Arkansas.  It took me a full five minutes before I realized this in the lecture last week because I just assumed everyone spoke in a British accent.

It lasted an hour, but the catch was that the Homerton College Charter Choir (which I am in) was supposed to gather at the church across the road from Homerton at 5:15 to practice for Evensong.  By the time I got to Homerton, it was 4:55 or so.  I didn’t have time to eat dinner, but thankfully my chocolate muffin was still there.  I ate it, got some Dr. Pepper for additional sugar to survive the night, threw on my suit, and went across the street.

Choral Evensong (which is described under the heading of music here) was quite fun and a good experience.  I briefly talked to my Director of Studies afterwards, who attended the Evensong along with Homerton and Cambridge graduate Peter Maxwell Davies.  Sir Davies is a famous British composer, so apparently I got to see him…which was…nice?  Until I play something or hear something of his, I can’t really brag about it.  And I didn’t even talk to him either.  But I sang to him!

Anyway, this is missing the point, which is that Evensong ended at 7:10.  I had to be at West Road again for orchestra rehearsal at 7:30.  I didn’t quite make it on time, but I was only a few minutes late.

Orchestra practice ended at roughly 10:30.  I exhaustedly cycled back to Homerton.  Then I got some Subway, because I was very hungry at this point and that was the only thing open at that time.

Essentially, I was constantly doing things from 2-11.  Nine straight hours.  It was tiring, to be sure, but the silver lining was that I was physically able to do it in the first place–if I hadn’t gotten my bike last week, I would not have gotten to the requisite places at the correct time.

I realize that pictures haven’t really been too common, but I will try my best to get some pictures taken with me in them around Cambridge.  And London.  Hopefully going there on Saturday.  Then I’ll really have my British experience down.  Cheers.





Short Update

16 10 2011

Hello.

So last time, remember when I said that I was playing 2nd horn and wouldn’t have to do 1st?  Well, essentially, I’m co-principal.  Which means that I’m playing first on half of the pieces.  Which means of course that one of those is Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, which contains sprinklings of solos everywhere and a big, gigantic, exposed horn solo in the last movement.  There is literally 2 full minutes of build up to the solo, which then sounds like this.  Scary.

Also, I got a bike.  Yay!  It took my about a third or fourth of the time on a bike than it would have on foot.  That is technology, my friend.

Finally:  My first top 10 list (LaMar’s Lists tab) is up.  My top 10 lists take a while to write, which is why there is only one per month.  Don’t worry, I’ve spread the writing out over the past week or so.





Going to school? What a novel idea.

12 10 2011

So I’ve been here for almost two weeks and I am just starting to get into schoolwork.  This is partially due to the fact that I was here a week before classes started, and my supervisions (and therefore when my work is due) happens next week.

I’m getting ahead of myself.  In keeping with the explanation of British things, I will explain how classes work in Cambridge.  At Cambridge, one learns through two ways.  The first way is the lecture.  I do not need to explain what a lecture is, unless you, my dear reader, have run into a serious bout of Amnesia, in which case you should probably go to the About Me page to remind yourself why you’re reading this.  We have one lecture per week.

The second part, and what is considered the core part, of the curriculum here is the supervision.  In a supervision, one student or a small group of students less than five meet with the professor to talk about their work.  In the supervision, essays are read, ideas are stated and argued, and the student gets a chance to ask the professor questions about the subject at hand with personal input.  Supervision work is done on your own, and by its very nature, supervisions are more flexible than your average class.  While there does exist a syllabus of things that are going to be covered, the student is encouraged to seek out information on his or her own and present it during the supervision.

While in a supervision, you need to be able to defend your findings or your arguments, and not end up sounding like this (Either the wordpress video embedder thingie isn’t working, or I’m a moron).  To be honest, it wouldn’t be stupid if she had kept on the ‘Americans might not own maps’ track, but then she brought South Africa into it and couldn’t dig herself out.  Also…why did they ask that question in the first place?  Its a pageant show, for crying out loud.

Here’s a funny picture.

Jamie Hyneman, ladies and gentlemen

Ok, so, back to reality.

Now, I play the french horn.  It actually is called the ‘horn’ but non-musical people want clarification, so I always say french horn when introducing it.  Ahem.  At Jewell I am the only horn player.  It is really sad and depressing.  The only respite I get is when I played with the Liberty Symphony, but that was only like 2 rehearsals and a concert.  For the most time, I was alone.  So, coming to Cambridge, a university in which the student population is almost 20,000, I rightly assumed there would be more horn players.  There are.  It is shocking.

Furthermore, there are two University-wide orchestras and a band (there are other ensembles within the various colleges too).  It is audition-only.  So I auditioned.  I hadn’t auditioned for anything for a long time.  I wanted to get into one of the ensembles.  I wasn’t picky about seating.  Just wanted to play with other horn players who had been playing as long as I had.

My audition went well.  My callback audition went well (although I had to practically jog for 40 minutes to get there–don’t worry I’m getting my bike tomorrow).  Then, they offered me the position of principal horn in the first orchestra.  I did not expect this.  The weird thing is that I didn’t want to be principal.  I’ve never been principal in an orchestra, and being first horn when the orchestra is playing such heavy things like Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky is a big deal with a lot of pressure.  Lately I’ve gone through a period of an odd amount of nervousness, and I didn’t want the stress.  So I gave the position up, and am playing second.  Then they asked me to do first in the band…excuse me, ‘wind symphony.’  I wasn’t going to turn another 1st position down (besides, less stress for band).  So I’m playing 2nd horn in the flagship orchestra and 1st horn in the University’s best band.  I’m definitely excited…and I’m thankful that I have the talents that I do.  God’s pretty cool like that.

I'd vote Luke Skywalker

These pictures are there to break up the monotony of words.  I find it helps with concentration.  Wall of text = bad.

Tonight, I believe I am going out to a Polish restaurant with fellow Jewell-ite Kasia (whose blog you can find via my Blog Links page at the top).  Probably get a pierogi.

Also, just for fun, I’ve decided to add another page to the top of my blog.  It will be called ‘Lamar’s Lists’ or something of that sort.  I like lists, and you apparently like reading my blog.  So I’m going to write a list a month.  The fun part will be that I won’t tell you when the new one is there.  So it will be like a game; you will have to check on your own!.  Think Pong, only completely different.

 

 





Life in Cambridge

7 10 2011

Today, Friday the 7th of October, marks one week and one day in which I have been in Cambridge.  One week in the foreign land known as the United Kingdom, the land of British accents.

Like every American, I love a good British accent.  Brilliant.  Coming to a country in which that is the norm is kind of awesome–for a while.  Everyone has a British accent, and for a few days it is always fun to hear people say ‘cheers’ or ‘all right?’ or ‘let’s chat’ along with all manners of normal speech.  Then for a couple of days it felt like a sugar high.  Too much British-ness; I found myself wishing more people than just Hannah and Kasia or I would speak with a humble American accent.  Thankfully, that has also passed.  Now, I am sort of desensitized to the accents.  Life as normal can go on.

I suppose I haven’t told you about Cambridge yet, and how its organized.  If you are familiar with it, skip down a bit.

The University of Cambridge was founded in 1209, and stands as the second-oldest English speaking University in the world (behind Oxford), and is the seventh-oldest University globally.  To give you, the reader, some context, the oldest University in the United States is Harvard University.  Harvard was founded in 1636, over 400 years after Cambridge began handing out diplomas.  One could continually watch Star Wars: Episode IV over and over again roughly 1,750,000 times in 400 years.  Its a long time.  Here is the crest of Cambridge:

Very England-y

Cambridge, unlike England, does not shy away from including terrifyingly awesome animals on their flag/crest.  Just saying.

Cambridge (and Oxford) are different from the Universities in America.  In the US, a 20,000 student University is one entity, often with rough organizations of academics into similar colleges.  Another difference is that the University is interspersed throughout the town.  The town center, essentially, is a mixture of University buildings and other business and residences.  This is because of the unique division within the University of Cambridge.  It is divided in two separate directions; one can think of it as horizontally and vertically.  Horizontally, the University is composed of faculties.  Faculties of music, engineering, natural sciences, theology, etc. have their own buildings and their own libraries.  Every student in Cambridge is a member of a faculty.  Each student is also a member of the vertical division, which are the colleges.  The various colleges are the residences of the students and often the center of student life; the meal hall, chapel (if there is one), and dorms are within a college.  This helps break down the largeness of Cambridge into manageable chunks.  One of the biggest selling points of Cambridge is that one receives a large University education and a small college education rolled into one.  This is part of the reason why Cambridge is consistently rated among the top 3 or so Universities in the world.

I am a member of Homerton College.  Homerton is not actually in the city center where most of the other colleges are.  It is south of the city, 2 milesish or so away from the city center.  Homerton’s crest looks like this:

Cool animals, again. UK needs to step its game up.

 

So what’s it like living in Cambridge?  I’ll tell you!

Cambridge is a very bustling city.  It is also a very English and European city.  The town is a thousand years old.  Therefore, its layout is a bit wandering.  Unlike Kansas City’s grid layout, the streets in the center of Cambridge begin and end at their own leisure, winding around, becoming thinner as it passes by a huge chapel.  Also, street signs are practically nonexistent.  This makes it easy to get lost.  Thankfully, I have a map of Cambridge which helps immensely.

Homerton sits by the main road, which goes into town.  The one problem about Homerton is that it is so darned far away.  It takes 30-40 minutes to get to the city center, depending on where one is headed.

Here are some pictures:

There's a Subway here. I ate there once.

Public Transportation is a lifesaver

Buses are a common way of transportation, as are bikes.  I have used the bus many times.  Very useful.

Typical Pub

Good example of old buildings and new shopping

Tiny Streeet!

English streets do not use the yellow line to denote that traffic is moving in the opposite direction on roads.  When they do use it, its kind of irrelevent.

Pretty grass.

Many colleges, or at least the big ones, have a courtyard enclosed by its main buildings.  These colleges are full of uptight people because you can’t walk on the grass.  Which is dumb.  But it sure looks nice.

King's College

This is the entrance to King’s College, sort of the flagship college of the University, you could say.  It is featured in more than one film, most recently in Chronicles of Narnia:  Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  Its architecture is quite stunning, and is a tourist destination.

King's College Chapel

The fantastic King’s College Chapel.  Wonderful for architecture buffs or for people who like cool things.

So there’s your tour of Cambridge!  This week has been kind of odd for me, because it is Fresher’s week.  I am not a fresher (freshman), but neither am I a seasoned Cambridge vet.  So I have yet to make many (read: any) friends.  Though I did meet this one Guy last night during matriculation dinner.  Guy was nice.

As far as my musical exploits, I am a member of the Homerton College Charter Choir, and auditioned to be in one of the various instrumental ensembles of the Cambridge University Musical Society.  I’ll keep you posted.  Cheers!

Helpful tip for the day: