Monday, May 4, 2009

Tzena Tzena, for Cello, Oboe, Violin and Plastic Chair percussion (or, How to survive really weird weeks)

Last week was one of the strangest weeks I've had in a while. For most of it I was on a business trip to Houston. In my day job, I'm a research scientist at a small privately owned lab that does mostly artificial intelligence research. Personally, I do human-computer interaction research and worry about how to make AI systems a little more understandable and useful. I was down in Houston to get some training on a new user interface toolkit that NASA is currently building to support future mission control systems.

The week started off with me arriving in a street flooding, school closing, thunderstorm. I was so flustered that when I got to my hotel I left my keys in the car, the car running, and the windshield wipers on. Which, when the rain stopped in the middle of the night, practically melted the wipers to the windshield. Sigh.

Next up was me and some colleagues getting a private tour of Mission Control including the historical Gemini / Apollo mission control center and the currently operating International Space Station and Space Shuttle mission control center. For a nerd like me, this was an amazing experience.

On Wednesday night I was taken to a local Houston Mexican restaurant called Hugo's. This place was lovely and yummy and had a menu that was authentic Mexican, not the Tex-Mex I usually get. The hoot of the night was ordering a plate of grasshoppers as an appetizer. Yes, grasshoppers. Dry roasted in spices and served with hot sauce and tortillas. I had double checked the kashrut of grasshoppers already and found that, for a Conservative Jew like me, they checked out ok. And they were quite yummy.

On Friday I got back to the North Coast and found that my Jewish twitto-sphere (my Twitter feeds) was buzzing. It seems that the JTA, "The Global News Service of the Jewish People" had just posted "JTA’s 100 Most Influential Jewish Twitterers". The 100 were broken down into the top 50 Individual Twitterers, the top 25 Organizations, and the top 25 Newswires. I was surprised and flattered to find myself at the #36 spot (such an auspicious number!). Of course, the way they computed the list is a bit questionable and the implication that I'm influential is even more questionable. But it was great to be included. Thanks JTA! that finally brings me around to Tzena, Tzena. Yesterday I brought my elder wiggler to her last day of Hebrew School first grade (Kita Aleph). While dropping her off, I was grabbed by the Wendy Zohar, the music teacher, who was short a percussion section for the graduation concert. Now, please understand, neither Wendy or I were under any illusions about my drumming ability. I have none. But we were both hopeful that my meager musical background as occasional performer (high school clarinet, open mic guitar 10 years ago) and full time fan would get me and the band through the Israeli Medley she had arranged. Of course, the show was in an hour and not only had Wendy no drummer, but she had no drum.

So one fast rehearsal later, I found myself up on the bimah with a set of fine elementary school violin, cello, and bongo drums, and a high school cello and oboe (both ringers recruited for the show). And me, sitting there looking a bit dazed, banging in time on a plastic chair to Tzena, Tzena, Oseh Shalom and a couple of other of Wendy's favorites.

And that was the week that was.

Because I hate any Teruah posts that don't have a play button, here's Arlo Guthrie performing one of the most discombobulated Tzena, Tzena's I know of. Pretty much how I felt yesterday.

Arlo Guthrie sings 'Tzena Tzena'

Hat tip to YouTube user YidVidz for uploading the video.

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