Friday – Day 249 #TheNextBigThing

April 11, 2013

Firstly in case you noticed the odd title of this post, I will be hashtagging a number of my posts as such for the next few weeks. This is because I’m part of a promotion at the University of Pennsylvania to promote the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and have been given the opportunity to own one myself if I pass a sufficient threshold of views. Selling out it may be, but I trust you to forgive me for the period of two weeks or so. Also, if you feel like being particularly generous, like my posts, as that counts extra!

Friday was intensely busy with grading CIS 121 midterms for a good majority of the day. It was relatively uneventful with the exception of a difficult coding question at the end. The gist of the question was as follows:

Assessing student responses was difficult, even more so given that many of the TAs found the question to be challenging as well.

In the afternoon I caught a bus to New York City, where I would be staying for the weekend as part of the Glee Club NYC Performance Tour. Upon arrival I was taken by my fellow clubbers Dan ‘Po’ Carsello and Kirk ‘Mortton’ Arner to a home in the West Village. The place where I was to be staying for the weekend belonged to one Daniel Pincus, Glee Alum and renaissance man.

Dan was a consultant for The Quantic Group, a pharma focused consulting group. Balanced with that is his position on the board of The Muslim Jewish Conference, an international non for profit that focuses on discussing topics of shared concern between the two faith communities. That was paired with additional activism efforts he engages in across the middle east, working to free women from repression and on the establishment of civil liberties.Oh and did I mention he founded his own popular dance troupe?

Not only is he professionally accomplished, but he is something of an artist, with a work of his own on display and varied books on artwork and photography.

Sitting on Dan’s coffee table was a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, a top of the range, full frame, digital camera. He was gracious enough to let me take a few photos on it, but the feature set was overwhelming and combined with my very amateur skills, didn’t result in any fantastic images.

Opposite the coffee table, I fell in love. As I entered the room for the first time, my eyes were immediately drawn to a piano mysteriously labelled with a white number 15. The piano was a Steinway upright, already a good sign, and as I tinkled at the keys, rich, full, dulcet tones rose from the heart of the beast.

Piano #15

Piano #15

My first impression of Dan when he walked through the door was already pretty favourable. His stride evoked a sense of confidence but the smile on his face and his demeanour as he walked two guests into the house betrayed a side that carried more spontaneity. Bolstering my impression of him was the two fine ladies that entered with him, a gorgeous Pakistani in a flowing yellow evening gown and a researcher from the Antarctic circle, casually in conversation.

From his position, it would’ve been easy to lay the three awkward Glee Clubbers in his house aside and make haste to away to his next destination of the evening, but generously he offered us to join him on his next adventure.

His next animus was to convene with an artist friend of his, who, residing above a dumpster owned by an Italian Mafia family, had been commissioned by Dan to build a ‘Gamelatron’ – a fully automated Indonesian gong music ensemble. He showed great passion towards this pet project of his, and enthused all of us as to it’s transformative powers. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to embark on the trip (Dan and Kirk filled the car anyway) but a few hours later they returned with stories of wonder. It seems they two were as impressed by Dan as I was.


Dan then explained to me the story of Piano #15 and my breath was almost taken away. He took a photo of the signatures under the lid and explained to me that the piano I had played on was in fact purchased from Carnegie Hall and had been played on by artists such as the great Lang Lang.

Lang Lang's Signature

Lang Lang’s Signature

Following their return, I closed up my Physics books, unpacked on the couch in his most spacious apartment and soon fell fast asleep.

Friday/Shabbat – Day 120/121

November 28, 2012

I was intent on not letting any of today go to waste. Thus it was up as early as possible, despite the late night, in order to go into the city of Detroit and see all it had to offer.

First up was the ‘Black Friday’ sales at the local mall. Even arriving at 10AM people were still going a little mad and the place was packed. Every store was full of people queuing up for bargains that weren’t all the great and sometimes not even there. For me, this reflected one of my less favored sides of the US. The rampant and needless consumerism. Everything everywhere on the streets implies and impulse to ‘buy, buy, buy’ without bound.

However, despite all that, there was one product I couldn’t help but find mildly adorable: Lord of the Rings Lego!

Following that we drove to the Heidelberg project, an outdoor art installation designed to highlight the challenges that Detroit is facing, poverty and dilapidation amongst them. The project encompassed a number of houses, adorned tastefully in castaway items.

Someone’s house!

In between the houses, on the ‘sidewalk’ and on nature strips in the center, objects were nailed to trees and signs posted, with religious and eschatological themes.

We walked in the cold for a few minutes however the chill was soon too much for us and after finishing the length of the street we raced back to the car.

Next stop was the newly reopened Detroit History museum that chronicled the life and times of the city. As today was its grand reopening, entry was free and we spent a good few hours in the many exhibits! Grace and her boyfriend met us there after lunch and I was glad to see them both after having gotten along so well with them the night before.

A genuine Detroit car

Amongst the things I learnt in the museum was that Detroit was once the capital of stoves, with a large stove manufacturing industry through the mid to late eighteen-hundreds.

Who would’ve thought?

Amongst the things I already knew was that Detroit was famous for its auto industry with a number of the world largest manufactures calling the city home. In fact, I was later privileged enough to visit the Ford Rouge manufacturing plant that takes raw materials and processes them, eventually producing a car. All at a single plant.

Museum Exhibit – Lowering the body onto the chassis

The tour of the Rouge factory that we later went to was fascinating but at the same time scared me a little.

Frightening, fascinating and fantastic all the same time.
A tribute to human engineering but also a condemnation of they we can live
I felt so bad for the workers doing the same thing a thousand times a day
And scared by the rate at which the factory was consuming resources.
But the moving assembly lines and cars were marvels of creativity
And showed the power of the mind. Ingenuity and innovation.
Unfortunately at this point Grace and Mike had to leave but she made sure to tell me to add her on facebook so that we could stay in contact!
The final stop of the day was the Detroit Institute of Art. The fantastic gallery was home to a great many famous paintings and though my time inside was limited (it was getting dark fast), I was able to spend a good bit of time with works I had only seen in books and online.
The rest of the evening was a quiet night at home with Tammy and family.
Saturday was pretty peaceful again, with not much of an outing to write about. Tammy’s Dad was excited to meet me, someone knowledgeable in Judaism and had taken the liberty of putting a tanach (Jewish Bible Collection) on the side of my bed just so I felt comfortable in a more Christian home. It was lovely of him to think of it.
In the evening I worked for a while on my project while Tammy’s ex came round to visit. Following that Tammy and I settled down with some microwave popcorn and watched The Hunger Games, which though predictable was relatively fun. I’ll probably end up seeing the other two now. And then we stayed up till 3AM talking before finally collapsing and falling asleep.

Convocation – Tuesday – Day 47

September 9, 2012

Today the various schools (faculties) at Penn hosted their freshman welcome sessions. The event pages on the university website made it sound interesting and worthwhile enough that I decided to attend and pass as a freshman for another few hours.

At the Freshman Engineering Welcome the various Deans, Vice Deans etc spoke. Contrary to other official speakers I’ve heard in the past, the short messages they gave were quite inspiring. A highlight was the beginning of Vice Dean Sun’s talk.

“I would like to get to know you, the class of 2016. If my statements apply to you, please don’t be shy,” he began.

“Who here has saved a life?” – a few in the crowd stood up to roaring applause.

“Who here has played in varsity level sports?” – a larger number stood.

“Who here has performed in front of hundreds? Sit down. Thousands?” – it was my turn to stand and, for a moment I really did feel special.

After a few more of these he ended with one last statement: “who here has failed or flunked a big test, interview, paper or exam?” and everyone stood, bringing the class together. He talked a bit about imposter syndrome for a bit and told everyone that if they were sitting in the auditorium they were meant to be there. Though I knew I wasn’t quite meant to be there, I felt that it was important that I had come. Penn truly was a place that I needed to get to and thanks to hard work and a good bit of luck I had made it.

He talked about the fact that Penn held the rewards for a life thus far well lived, and though it felt strange to me to be receiving awards before having done anything of note, I could understand the sentiment.

The rest of the daylight hours were spent arranging my upcoming trip to Canada, meeting with immigration advisers to figure out how to stay validly on my visa.

However, the night brought a big event, ‘Convocation’, the formal opening of the academic year.

Penn Band

With a grand opening by the band and the formal entrance by the faculty and house deans, the ceremony began in fine style.

Due to the rain, it was moved to a large indoor basketball stadium that unfortunately lacked cooling and so the thousands of students and many professors sweated heavily, fanning themselves with programs. Amy Gutmann, President of Penn, gave a speech that, though well written, fell slightly flat due to the lack of concentration amongst the attendees who were far more concerned with the heat.

Amy Gutmann

A few musical performances could hardly be heard in the ‘echoey’ stadium and everyone quickly tired of them.

Penn Glee Club – Very Good

Finally, Jonothan Youshaei brought out the class of 2016 flag and the closing ceremony began.

Everyone together sang “The Red and the Blue”, Penn’s school song, replete with heart beating on the words “hurrah for Pennsylvania”.

As soon as she announced the commencement of the academic year and the dignitaries filed out, the freshman swarmed to the exit, desperate to free themselves from the warm gluey mass of bodies, radiating heat all the while.

From there it was to the President’s Dessert Reception, held outside in the humid heat, after grabbing a few desserts I spied a few freshman I had met earlier in NSO¬† and went to say hi. This was my one really unpleasant interaction thus far. One of the girls in the group who I believed I was getting along well with took me aside to talk. She had become uncomfortable with seeing me so frequently during NSO and additionally I had sent her a few texts etc. to try and begin a friendship. She had taken it as a more dangerous interest from an older guy and asked me to stay away. It was done so for the most part in a polite manner however, there were a few seconds where she slipped up and it became quite cold and direct, rending a little tear in my outer confidence and happiness. Thankfully, we parted on decent terms, if never to really speak again and though it was an unpleasant experience, overall my experiences have been unforgettably brilliant.

With that NSO came to a close and my semester began.

© 2012-2024 Shaanan Cohney