Health Care Reform we need to start from scratch

Study: Over 2,200 US Veterans Died in 2008 Due to Lack of Health Insurance.

If that isn’t sad enough. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now does an excellent interview with Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, professor of medicine at Harvard University and co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program.

Really frustrating facts about the health care reform bill:

  • 500 Billion hand over to the Insurance Companies
  • Public option will not be cheaper and mainly there to take the worst cases off the private insurers
  • We tried this model already 10 years ago in Massachusetts. Premiums didn’t go down.
  • Basis of the Senate bill is a document authored by Elizabeth Fowler, who’s a former vice president of Wellpoint, the nation’s largest private insurance company
  • Insurers and Pharma happy with the bill

She suggests to start from scratch and I agree.

Black Forest winter can come. New bird feeder installed at my mom’s.

I was visiting my mother in the Black Forest and helped get her garden winter ready. After two gratifying and exhausting conferences there is nothing better than spending some time in the fresh air getting dirty in the garden. Highly recommended. Cutting the lawn I can do without though.

I also installed a bird feeder and tweeted about it. Richard Hirsch asked whether I created it. I once built a bird feeder as a school project a very long time ago. Nowadays you get these at the local store for 10 bucks, although without a stand. That price point takes a bit the wind out of doing these kind of projects, which is sad.

My solution for the missing stand was to buy a big stake and ram it into the ground, secure the bird feeder with a screw and a washer. It wasn’t easy, as I didn’t have a lot of room for the screw driver, but at the end it worked and I am really happy about it.

First fall winds already came through and It is stable.

Picture taken by Mark & Marie Finnern.

Make Some Music. It Makes You Happy!

A couple of weeks back I stumbled upon this little video of Bobby McFerrin bringing the audience to sing the pentatonic scale while he is improvising on top of it.

World Science Festival 2009: Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

His last sentence is the eye opener: No matter where in the world I do that, they all get it as in they all can do it. — We all can do it. Music is the universal language of the world.

The downside of having developed devices that give us musical perfection at our fingertips is, that we know how music pieces sound when the best are playing it. The knowledge of perfection makes it endlessly hard for us to pick up an instrument or even just sing beyond the four walls of our bathroom. You have to put some effort in, before you even can play a little tune and it sounds horrible and you know it.


My favorite quote by They Might be Giants: Music self played is happiness self made. It is wonderfully true for me and as this example shows I think for everybody. You play an instrument or sing and your whole body resonates, relaxes and makes you happy. Try it.

My father learned how to play the Accordion when he was 65 without any prior music teaching. I so wish I had a recording of it. When he did I picked it up too and one of the greatest moments was, playing together with him.

Bonus link: 10 Geeky Instruments

Pet Peeves going up in flames

Balsaman was bringing Burningman back to size and smiles at Baker Beach in San Francisco yesterday.

I envision that Burningman many years ago had a similar feeling when they were still doing it in San Francisco.

Best quote of the evening by one of the organizers: Only in San Francisco so many people come together around such a stupid idea.

My friends Sophia and John aka Ray got an art grant of $2 for their Temple of Pet Peeves.

You write down your peeves and drop them in the temple to be burned later that evening. It was quite the flame and a relief of seeing them going up in flames. More pictures at Flickr.

Picture taken by Mark & Marie Finnern.

Have you encouraged and read to your child today?

Ira Glass and his This American Life team have done it again. This weeks stories about going big, brought me to tears of joy when I heard the one about the Harlem Children Zone:

Act One. Harlem Renaissance.

Paul Tough reports on the Harlem Children’s Zone, and its CEO and president, Geoffrey Canada. Among the project’s many facets is Baby College, an 8-week program where young parents and parents-to-be learn how to help their children get the education they need to be successful. Tough’s just-published book about Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem’s Children Zone is called Whatever It Takes. You can see a slideshow of more photographs from the project here. (30 and 1⁄2 minutes)

It is amazing what they are able to do with these kids by catching them early. 8 weeks program with the parents to teach them to encourage their children and give them greater verbal skills by reading to them every night, with amazing results:

If you’re looking for the third-graders who are below grade level in math, you’ll have to go to another school

This past spring, 100 percent of the third-graders at HCZ Promise Academy II scored at or above grade level in the statewide math tests.  A few blocks away, 97 percent of the Promise Academy I third-graders were at or above grade level.

Many of these children have been in HCZ programs from the time their parents were in The Baby College, which highlights the effectiveness of our comprehensive model of supporting children.

Finally a way to break the poverty cycle. Obama and his administration has earmarked 10 Million dollars to expand this program to 20 other cities. Very sweet.

Bobby McFerrin Demos Connecting Power of Music

World Science Festival 2009: Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

Super beautiful demonstration of the Pentatonic Scale by Bobby McFerrin. His last comment is especially interesting, that wherever in the world he tries this, the audience is able to sing the pentatonic scale and follow his improvisations. Remindes me of Joachim Ernst Behrend’s book Nada Brahma: The World Is Sound. Music is the great connector. Let’s make more of it.


During regular days, I seldom stop and listen. The routine, all the other things to think about and still need to be done: “Nina, please go to bed. Now!”

Last night after a great meal and being on vacation even though it was way past her bedtime, we were hanging out on the balcony of our hotel in Santa Cruz looking onto the ocean with the full moon shining down on us.

It was getting cooler and over time Nina ended up rolled up in a blanket on my lap. And she started to ask questions:

Nina: Is this how the sea sleeps?
Me: (thinking: Wow, how do you answer this?) Well, you can say so, yes.

Nina: Why isn’t the sea sleeping like Mama?
Me: What do you mean?
Nina: Well, with a blanket and a pillow?
Me: (thinking: Now, how do you answer that?)
Nina: It isn’t quiet.
Me: No it isn’t.
Nina a bit louder: Stop it!

Nina laughs: The sea doesn’t listen to me.
Me laughing too: No, it doesn’t.

Nina: It’s the beach. It’s because of the beach that the sea can’t sleep like Mama.
Me: (Smiling while envisioning the ocean turning to its side while having a blanket and pillow) I guess so.

That little exchange made my day.
Need to stop and tune into Nina more often.

Picture taken last night by Mark & Marie Finnern.

The O’Reilly Factor

Tim O’Reilly currently has 800K+ twitter followers. He liked my Wikipedia Papers idea and tweeted about it, after pinging me that I should update my blogger profile at O’Reilly with my twitter handle. Will do, it is @finnern.

You probably would like to know what is the O’Reilly factor of being mentioned in one of Tim’s tweets?

40 re-tweets 18 new followers (welcome) within 24 hours.This is of course only one data point, your millage may vary.

The greatest of all is, that my idea of letting students improve Wikipedia pages instead of writing papers reached a lot of people. Let’s hope it gets momentum. Spread the word.

Highlands Marching Band Best of 4th of July Parade :-)

I am still stunned, that within a month I with the help of some friendly neighbors was able to bring 20+ musicians and helpers together to rehearse three times and then march and play in the 4th of July Highlands parade. Sweet proof of how the internet can bring us closer together.

Almost 2 years ago we moved to the San Mateo Highlands [map] an Eichler community of about 550+ households. There are two centers to the community, the Elementary School and the Recreational Center with pool, small gym, playground and preschool. These community engines are the reason why we have our own 4th of July parade.

4th of July Waiting Area

This year it almost got canceled. It needed a call for volunteers and thank you Mozique Daviel and others for stepping up and making it really beautiful with the red wagons and balloons. Check out Bowling Alone if you want to learn about why these things are so rare these days.

Last year for the first time I watched the little parade. Liked it a lot and as someone who loves music and dabbles with many instruments, I was hoping and waiting for at least one marching band to come by, but there wasn’t one :-(

Where am I supposed to stand again?

I started to ask around why and people said: The kids are out of school for the summer, therefore there are no High School bands available.

The backbone of any local community are the mothers. In the highlands there not one, but two active lists run by mothers, the Highlands Parents Google Group and Highlands Parents Yahoo Group.

Start of the Highlands Marching Band 4th of July Parade

I got active on both of them, first to find out whether there is general interest and then to announces the rehearsals. I also told everyone I met about it, in the playground, at the pool, the garage sale, …

Myself I have never played in a marching band, of course I omitted that fact when I started to recruit musicians. How hard can it be? You agree on a couple of simple songs and play. Only later I realized, that it is essential to have sheet music especially if you don’t have a lot of time to rehearse together.

There We March up Lexington

What made it additionally tough was, that some of the instruments are tuned in Bb, but others in Eb or C. We needed the sheet music transposed. What makes marching band music interesting is when not every instrument plays the same note, but when the music is arranged with small variations and harmonies in different sections of the band. I was able to find a program that transposes the simple songs, but arranging a song for a marching band is way beyond my reach.

But not out of the reach of Stephen Bell, who is an elementary music teacher who joined for the first rehearsal and was then literally instrumental to the arrangement of our songs: Chasing the star, America the Beautiful, Rock-A-By.

Highlands Marching Band in Full Formation

David Solomon also joined us for the second rehearsal. He is a veteran marching band drummer and boy does that make a difference. It gave us structure and time to breath between songs.

I was also super glad that the Chen family came out in force. Father on the clarinet, daughter on the sax, son playing the trumpet and the mother Judy organizing a lot of the logistics including making and carrying our banner.

First two Marching Band Rows

Coming back from LA, I almost missed our last rehearsal, where for the first and only time we created a formation and marched around in the Elementary School Yard. That fun we had that evening alone was worth every hour that was spent leading up to it.

The last week I practiced the songs  so that I could play them without needing any sheet music. I still hit wrong notes here and there, but was able to enjoy the parade a lot more.

Reluctant Leader ;-)

On the day of the parade we had 5 trumpets, 4 clarinets, 3 saxophones, 2 drummers, 2 euphoniums, 2 banner carrier and 1 flute player (hope I didn’t forget anyone.). It was amazing and we sounded amazing too, for having only been together for 3 rehearsals, actually a couple of the players joined us that morning.

It was the greatest to play sweet music together with friends and on the way bring smiles to your neighborhood.

Trumpets, Drums and Euphoniums

As rehearsed we stopped in front of the Rec-Center. When the announcer heard that we are going to play America the Beautiful he advised everyone to get up for it and people did. We played our best, people cheered and we marched on.

Our enthusiasm must have even reached the Jury and we got awarded the best of parade. My only regret is, that we didn’t make a picture with all the musicians that were still around when the winner was announced.

The whole event was one of the most fun and rewarding thing I ever did. There are 51 weeks left until the next 4th of July, enough to dust off your instrument that is buried somewhere in your garage, or even pick up an instrument at our local shop: B-Street Music and start from scratch. By June next year you will be good enough to play with us. Looking forward to it.

If you want to know what is going on or when the next gig/rehearsal is happening, please join the Highlands Marching Band Facebook group. There you will find additional links to pictures from this year’s parade.