Sunday, July 31, 2011

Links, Week 6: Struggling to maintain focus

Dammit. Not acceptable.

Writing: 7 hours, 40 minutes
Guitar: 2 hours, 19 minutes
Email: 1 hour, 2 minutes
Surfing: 8 hours, 29 minutes.

The problem with last week was trying to learn 10-ish new songs on the guitar. I procrastinated learning them, instead visiting Quora and associated sites. Now I'll never get 8 hours of my life back. Throw my computer into the ocean, someone!

A bundle of links:


How to have a picnic in Central Park. The boy paradox, assholes to gay guys. Why professors have it so hard when trying to catch cheaters, or do they?


Tech billionaires: who are they? While America is looking for jobs, their phones won't stop ringing. I'm not sure what this path is. Why Paul Adams (creator of Circles) left Google. Reddit rises; digg dies. Why Quora's design sucks. I can't get into Stack Exchange. Or Vark. And Stack Overflow? Forget it. The NYTimes on why people like me don't answer email. Sync Google+ with all your other social networks. But Google Circles will never really work. If I really want to waste time, I'll go HN random. The most expensive Google Adwords. Facebook secretly hiding posts.


Best sports books ever. Need to read them. Baseball's 10 best players in terms of trade value.

General Knowledge:

How much will Obama's budget proposal cost you? One click to find out. History's greatest baddassHabitable planets outside of Earth. Let's all try to be more curious. Test how big your vocabulary is. The best creative bar codes. Having a bad day? Make everything OK. Why I need to start watching Breaking Bad. I hope I never sell out and create a pick-up website. I don't know if I've linked to this, but it's too good not to, again: Dilbert on life lessonsRay Dalio, hedge fund superstar, has some off-the-beaten-path ideas.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Jasjit, clean shaven

I've been saying many goodbyes lately. I said more during graduation, but back then, the atmosphere was so chaotic, my family needed attending to, and I knew I'd be in New Haven afterwards, so the hugs and handshakes, well, they lacked feeling. Now, 8 days away from leaving the East Coast permanently, the goodbyes have finally become what I've expected them to be: redolent, drawn-out, effusive; studded with meaning in mere motes of time.

I said one of these goodbyes Sunday morning. The man's name was Jasjit Singh. I met him 2 or 3 years ago in the dingy Berkeley basement, playing ping-pong with John Song. (Which rhymes!) I was taken aback by his features -- the huggable frame, the wavy, thick tangle of beard-mustache, the turban. He reminded me of a gnome. We had a normal conversation: oh, Williams, transfer student, you're an entrepreneur?, Peanut Labs, sweet, co-founder, I'll look it up, cool.

I didn't see him again until the first game of intramural basketball. C-Hoops. And man, I did not expect to see him. I knew he played tennis, knew he had asked me about the game, knew my introductory email was galvanizing and salacious, but if you've seen Jas, you'll know he does not look like the prototypical basketball player. Even for C-Hoops. But I trotted him out there, promised I would, and we won. Here's what I wrote in my journal about the win:
...Magoon and Jared formed the twin towers down low, I added a little stability to the PG position when Zachary Enumah wasn’t playing, and Josh and Jas and Mike added more defense than I expected. It was a good C game—bad shots, but also plenty of fast breaks, and we really got it going at the end of the 1st half, as we went up 18-8, and then 35-22 for the win.
In the post-game report, I wrote, "Jas: Great defense on the perimeter, and dont worry about the layups--they'll fall." Next game, he was back. We won again. I wrote, "Jas - Strong showing, surprising handles down the court (I saw that fast break), and GREAT FREE THROWS AND LAYUPS."

Jas ended up playing the entire season. It was a semi-miracle on hardwood: along with Josh and Mike, Jas was the perfect role player: he picked his spots to shoot, played by-the-book zone defense, rebounded without fear, got off a few unexpected layup attempts -- some of which he converted -- and stayed engaged on the bench when he wasn't playing.

As the season dragged on, Jas' roles started diminishing. In my two years of C-Hoops, the game became progressively more competitive, more fierce, backhanded and sly, splotches of unadulterated hatred bleeding onto the scoreboard and standings. I had promised everyone at least 10 minutes of playing time, but the vortex of needing to win, the burden to having to stick it in the other team's face, over and over, and never relent -- it made me play the starters more. Which meant Jas (and his peers) were squeezed out. When we won the championship, John, our player-coach, wrote this about Jas:
Jazz (sic?): First of all, I apologize for not putting you in earlier. I wasn't sure how much time was left in the game and ended up not giving you much run at all. But, I'd like to thank you for being a great teammate all year and for being a vocal supporter of all the guys. I know we all get a little boost from bench encouragement and you are a crucial part of the team.
The following year, Jas didn't show up that much. Obligations. You know. But playoff time, he was there. Standing on the sidelines, knowing his role, cheering the team on. He wasn't dressed to play, but if he had, he would have been out there doing what he -- and I -- knew he could do.

After that, senior year came and went. And for all the other memories we had: losing exorbitant amounts of money at Mohegan Sun -- twice; using him as a citation in a School of Management final paper; the Social Network midnight screening where there were literally 10 people in the audience; a Bass library procrastination pit stop where, in his infinite energy and curiosity, he found Daily Show and Colbert Report tickets, effusive as ever about hitting free-ticket-cultural-event-paydirt; his Decennial in Fairfield when, at 2 a.m., I made him CTM (Chicken Tikka Masala to the uninitiated), of course making myself one too and promptly dribbling most of it on my boxers -- in spite of all these events, what I will remember most of Jas, the first thing that will come to mind when I am away from him and Yale, will not be what he looks like currently, the clean-cropped, coiffed, newly revelational figure that I hugged in the parking lot of Shake Shake; it will be the Jas from C-Hoops, in that one game, against that bastard college, where Jas, even though his turban was falling off and the folds of the cloth unraveling, was still running full speed back towards the ball, one hand trying to hold his hair in place while he scanned, fumbled, sprinted to his spot on the floor in order to contribute to the team, his beard, back then, still rich and plump, full-bodied, well-aged, and himself a seer amongst us mortals.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Guitar for the win: Street performance tomorrow

Christy, James and I are going to be playing guitar for New Haven's Flights of Fancy wine tasting event from 6-8 p.m. on Friday. (That's in 17 hours!) We're setting up everything -- the chairs, the amp, the mike, etc -- around 5:30 p.m. in front of the Willoughby's at the Art and Architecture school. I am so stoked. Here are just some of the classics to be performed:

Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue - Art Landry (1925)
Don't Touch Me - 3OH!3
Knock You Down - Keri Hilson
The Prayer - Kid Cudi
The Show Goes On - Lupe
You Belong With Me - Taylor Swift
I'm Yours - Jason Mraz
Wagon Wheel - Old Crow Medicine Show
Her Diamonds - Rob Thomas
Paparazzi - Lady Gaga
Let It Be - Beatles
Don't Know Why - Norah Jones
Fly Me To the Moon - Frank Sinatra

As you can tell, it's a mix of everything - pop, r&b, jazz, country, which keeps it fresh for us, too.

Our "band" -- currently unnamed, although I like Flying Tangerines -- has somewhat of a unique history. The day after finals ended, Christy, the seasoned vet in the group, gave me a two hour guitar lesson. I learned how to play C, A, Em, and G. From there, I turned to Youtube and James K. to learn the rest -- strum patterns, barre chords, vocals. I was voracious: 8 hours a day for the first week and a half, then 1-4 hours everyday for about a month. During that time, I told James F. I had been learning, and then taught him the basics. He took it up as completely as I did, and we spent many days on Cross Campus strumming and exchanging techniques. All three of us started playing together shortly thereafter.

In the beginning of July, my suitemate Zach forwarded me a contact of a New Haven group that was looking for live acts. Christy emailed them, they responded enthusiastically, and the rest is history.

The evolution of my guitar playing has been interesting, to say the least, and deserves a essay later. For now, the one-sentence synopsis: Two months ago, I had never played a single chord on the guitar. Tomorrow, I'll be playing (and singing, horribly) for 2 hours. If you're in New Haven, stop by for a bit!

Unless, of course, the weather intervenes. There's a 50% chance of thunderstorms. Cross your fingers...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Zack Wheeler for Beltran: Too much?

7 interesting links... (my psychology + trade commentary at the bottom):

"His upside, which he could still be 3-4 years from reaching, is as a very good No. 2 starter and maybe even an ace for stretches of time."

If the trade goes through, looks like Sandy Alderson wasn't as pliable as he was in the past, when, as the Oakland A's GM, he traded (in 1997), free-agent-to-be Mark McGwire to the Cardinals for Eric Ludwick, T.J. Mathews and Blake Stein. (Who?) That was Alderson's last trade with the A's.

Wheeler seems like he's the real deal: 

1. Wheeler's Psychology

2 Youtube interviews with Wheeler: and They're kind of funny, but only if you think they are.

Baseball Analyst's interview with Zack on draft day here:

In the interview, he said he models himself after Carlos Zambrano (Career ERA: 3.58, not bad...)
BA: Thanks a lot for taking the time to talking us today. You’re obviously one of the top prep pitchers eligible for the draft, and it’s been said you’re a lock to be a first round pick. Where will you be on draft day and who will you be watching with?

Wheeler: I’m going to be up at a place called Stars and Stripes. They’ve got bowling and everything, some big screen TV’s, it’s like a family hangout. That’s where I’ll be watching it. I’m going to have friends, old coaches, current coaches, family…that’s about it.
Hold on. He's talking about Stars and Stripes? A bowling-alley, arcade-laden, family-friendly hangout? Zack might be the Tebow of baseball.
BA: What’s your greatest strength as a pitcher? Something you’re really proud about?
Wheeler: I think my mound mentality. If something goes wrong behind me I just keep on pitching, you know, try to get more outs – don’t try let anything get to me really. I think that’s a good strong key to have.
The "mental resolve" answer: always good. He knows he has the pitches, and he's confident about executing. I like this man already.

2. Raw Stats - Let's balance the psychology with some stats:

Baseball Reference: Zack was #55 prospect overall in 2011:

Here's his up-to-date stats on the San Jose Giants:

Amazin' Avenue notes that Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America have Wheeler as the #35 (BA) and #36 (BP) prospect in America.

3. Minor League Guru, John Sickels 

Zack's a solid B grade player -- and that hasn't changed since the pre-season. A "B" grade means that the prospect has "a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role."


(5 Days ago):

4. Adam Foster of Project Prospect scouted him May 23, 2011.

He says Zack has two plus pitches: "91-94 MPH fastball with hard, sharp-bending tail" and "72-78 MPH curveball has elite, two-plane break and is a no-doubt swing-and-miss offering." He has a below-average "82-84 MPH changeup" that could get to a little above average. He also has a "mechanical inefficiency" that has plagued pitchers like Jarrod Parker and Jeremy Hellickson before, and which could portend arm injuries. (Hellickson right now has a 3.27 ERA and 1.15 WHIP).

5. Splashing Pumpkins

FanGraphs estimate Peak WAR for Wheeler is 5. "He's got the ability to induce groundballs (63% GB rate), which in addition to his strikeout rate, makes him extremely valuable."

In contrast, Beltran's career WAR is 60.2, and in 2011 his WAR has been 3.6 so far in 2011. 

6.  A Small Salve

If you want to feel better about the trade, what about reading how poorly Wheeler did in one start in 2010? "In just 2.2 miserable innings, Wheeler gave up six hits, six earned runs, three bases on balls, two wild pitches, and a hit by pitch."

7. But the future! 

From Bay City Ball: one major risk in the future is that "[not] just that Wheeler will become an excellent starting pitcher, but that the Giants will have no ability to reduce the overall cost of their rotation in the next few seasons." Doom scenario. His post reminds me about how we gave up Liriano and Nathan for some hot-headed catcher...

Oh, and follow Zack Wheeler at: @Wheelerpro45.

Bonus: the Present with Beltran

Let's say we face Atlanta or the Phillies in the playoffs. Beltran to the rescue!

"The switch-hitting outfielder owns a remarkable .351 lifetime batting average (26-for-74) with four home runs and 17 RBIs against Hudson. Beltran also is a respectable 2-for-8 off Venters, though that’s not a representative sample size. There’s also no denying that Beltran has trouble with Lowe (.225, 9-for-40), Jurrjens (.182, 4-for-22) and Hanson (0-for-10).

Beltran has succeeded against Halladay (.333, 14-for-42, two homers, 10 RBIs) and Hamels (.278, three homers, five RBIs). Lee (.125, 1-for-8) has given him problems. But Beltran loves to face Ryan Madson, Phladelphia’s top set-up reliever (.429 9-for-21, four homers, six RBIs)."

(He's apparently also 88% on his stolen base percentage. Wow.)
Personal Thoughts

Personally, I love prospects. Love following them, love seeing them succeed. I have to admit, I didn't know much about Wheeler before the trade rumors, but he's the archetypal minor league stud: #1 on the minors' organizational depth chart, pegged as the cheap, high-value youngster in 2013 to baited breath. I loved seeing Bamgarner's first ever start -- 5.1 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, and 76 pitches thrown -- so it's sad knowing I won't see Zack.

It's strange how fandom works; within seconds of hearing about the trade, I've gone from hoping Wheeler is an perennial All-Star to hoping he flames out in the minors as the (now) the 2nd-best prospect in the Met's system. The complete 180-degree turn has nothing to do with the kid's character, poise, or talent. He's just on a different team. It's natural out-group bias: We can't help but develop an irrational hatred or negativity towards dissimilar groups. Sometimes the divisions are deep rooted -- Sunni and Shiite, white and black, Chinese and Japanese -- but as often they're arbitrary, like dividing a group of summer campers into the Eagles and the Rattlers. And then there's baseball.

Sports is the only realm where the in-group out-group switch occurs so drastically. In most cases, it's impossible to jump ship and be embraced. (Although, switching allegiances from China to Taiwan? Hmmm...) But in sports, it happens all the time. It's immediate gratification at its finest: when only the win-loss column matters, the transfer of skills is paramount.

And on the Beltran - Wheeler trade (which hasn't even been finalized yet): I hate to see a prospect like Wheeler go, because of his HoF potential. But I'm trading this might for another might: the Giants winning another World Series.  After the Phillies shellacking us last night with Zito on the mound and some guy named Worley (Who? Where did he come from? Are you telling me the Phillies have 5 aces now???) 3-hitting us, I realize I can't rely on another pixie-dust WS run this post-season.

And it was magical. Seriously: Cody Ross was our MVP. Sure, I can see Huff upping his production and Keppinger maybe making a difference (and OK, Belt might get more comfortable as time goes on) this season, but I really, really, really do not want the Panda as the only over-.800 OPS hitter on our team. Heck, I'd trade some more of our farm system, maybe Neal or Peguero, to get Cuddyer (maybe) or Upton (in my dreams). Because with Beltran, I still think our offense is below-average. What's to prevent teams from just pitching around him when he gets super hot?

I'm in the win-now camp: I've lived in SF for 16 years, and the taste of the championship parade last year has left me hungry for more. Let's just hope our postseason doesn't end with him called out looking on strikes.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Love and other duds: agency, the chase, and the role of kismet

John Song recently wrote an eloquent and arresting response to my post about Love and Other Drugs. It's worth reading in its entirety, but this section in particular got me thinking:
To Peter, "Love and Other Drugs" was a perfect kind of idealized mirage of what life is-- being a Game-versed, successful skirt-chaser, while ultimately finding "the one" in a lightning-strikes-tree moment of fate.
More importantly, Peter is one of the most analytical and perfection-seeking Type-A people on the face of this planet. The fact that Jake Gyllenhaal was revealed as a perfection-seeking Type A person (why else would you go to med school instead of settling for a job that pays more and is much more glamorous?) that found the perfect spunky girl make him relateable to Peter. Not only was this spunky girl hot, she empowered Jake Gyllenhaal to realize that he was a good guy, someone better than his current circumstances as a (at the time) fledgling drug rep. To Peter, "Love and Other Drugs" was the perfect archetype of the (gender-switched) chick-bait movie: a Type A personality finding empowering, intellectual, and beautiful love. As a Type A person, he could relate to the movie and it was his fantasy.
His insight is that one's enjoyment of a romantic comedy is based on how well it adheres to one's idealization of a romance. In other movies, plot, cinematography, acting, and special effects are equally important as the portrayal of the subject matter. In a romantic comedy, everything but the idea of how love should be fades to the background.  

John's hypothesis is that I loved this movie because it portrays my ideal relationship. And in a sense, he's right. I've always believed that you can't just let things come to you; that it's imperative to you grab what you want before everyone else strips the tree bare. I don't want to say it's a dog-eat-dog world, but I will say inaction and apathy are by far the biggest blunders one can make. Or at least I can make.

In Love and Other Drugs, Jake makes the entire relationship happen. He f*cking does it! He worms his way into pretending to be an intern with a renown doctor, has the balls to introduce himself to Anne on the patient table, then flatters his way into getting her phone number. He literally makes this relationship happen through sheer willpower.

This does not happen in regular romantic comedies. Usually, fate intervenes so that the two people magically meet again in movie-land (see: Notting Hill and Serendipity), or the girl inexplicably falls head-over-heels for a completely average guy (see: She's Out of My League). These movies are cute; they're a lovely jaunt through fantasy. Too bad they're completely unrealistic.

This is what I meant when I said Love and Other Drugs is the archetypal modern romantic comedy. Jake has agency in his life; when he wants something to happen, he makes it happen. Anne is similarly actualized; in the beginning, she sets the terms. When Jake wants more (a relationship), she doesn't immediately capitulate, and instead fights, pouts, and breaks up with him. She makes him work before she shows her true colors. And even the happy ending at the end, like John notes, isn't all that happy. Anne still has Parkinson's. (What's going to happen to the two of them twenty years from now?) But that's why I love it. It's real. Which means I can see a version of this happening to myself.

John's a completely different creature. We've psychoanalyzed each other plenty; he knows I'm a zealous goal-setting, fame-seeking, analytical machine. In college, my modus operandi was bouncing around different suites visiting others; in college, he was most comfortable sitting in his common room, waiting for people to come to him. John's a go-with-the-flow kind of guy. He'll waste four hours on the computer watching sports in order to allow the two beautiful, spontaneous, random interactions to come to him. He's able to live this way, as an island, because of his best quality: his ability to truly see the positive in everything that happens to him. That's why he's such a happy guy, even in situations where other people wouldn't be.

That's also why John's archetypal romantic comedy is the passive, kismet-dotted kind. He has an enduring belief that something good great will happen to him without having to overextend; without having to change. At one point in my life, I think I believed it too, but then I tasted the grass on the other side. Now I can't go back. Overall, it's made me a less happy person -- all those missed opportunities! -- but it's been counterbalanced with more excitement and experience.

So, John, yes. I want to find empowering, intellectual, and beautiful love. I want my successful skirt-chasing (which, really, isn't that successful) to engender -- instead of hinder -- finding "the one." I want to have to invest fully -- emotionally, physically, spiritually -- in order to win her over, instead of bagging myself a trophy wife. I need the chase. Most of all, I don't want love like this to play out in a romantic comedy. I want it to happen in real life.

Monday, July 25, 2011

HELP: singing lessons needed

I cannot sing worth a damn.

When I was at John Song's house during spring break, we played Rock Band (with James, too). After the requisite Taylor Swift song, John told me my singing was "endearingly pedophilic." It's the nicest thing anyone's ever said about my voice.

I know I suck: after all, as a kid, I never took singing lessons, never sang with a youth choir, never even listened to non-classical music until I was 11. (My first album was Ludacris' Word of Mouf, from Raju -- what does that tell you?) I had poor posture, was often short of breath while playing sports, and was pretty quiet in general. As a result, I never exercised my vocal chords, and I didn't know how to breathe.

Second semester freshman year at Yale, I joined the Gospel Choir. There were no tryouts, the bass section was super-chill, and I attended practice every week more for the camaraderie than the music. Sure, I sang, but our songs were powerful, and I was in the back; e.g., nobody heard me. I performed in 5 or 6 concerts before I dropped out, and during that time was never singled out to practice. Nobody ever caught on that, well, I didn't actually know how to sing.

Two months ago, I started playing guitar. When I learned how to strum and sing, I became painfully cognizant that my singing voice was weak, underfunded, and throaty. It had taken me tens of hours to learn how to sing and strum simultaneously, and yet, after I had learned, I was embarrassed to show others simply because my voice was so bad.

I asked advice from everyone. Dylan told me to sing from my stomach. Jason told me to really listen to myself. Tommy told me to sing as loudly as possible so all the nuance would be lost. James tried to teach me one night, but with his 17 years of classical training, it was like a dolphin trying to teach a kangaroo how to swim. Nothing worked. Thankfully, at that point, I didn't care too much.

That changed a month ago, when I learned I (along with Christy and James) was to be hired by the city to do a live performance during one of their wine tasting events. It would be the three of us in front of Willoughby's singing pop music to 40-year-olds. With less than five days before the big event, I'm panicking, because I. Can't. Sing.

I was hoping Youtube would come to the rescue. Two months ago, I watched two hours worth of Eric Arceneaux teaching me the basics of singing. I've come back to him tonight for hail-mary tips before Friday. In the public interest, I thought I'd share some of his insights with you. (His Youtube channel has over 14 million views).

Poor singing is caused by insufficient warm-up, lack of vocal exercise, poor chord closure, and poor register coordination. 20 minutes of vocal exercise a day will strengthen the muscles. His favorite exercises are:

1. Replace all the words in the song with a bratty “a” sound. It's the "a" in "cat". Use this "a" sound to sing a staccato melody. Don't force anything; let it come naturally, and after the exercise your throat should not be hoarse or hurt.

2. Squeeze the two sides of your mouth and perform a lip roll to the melody. Don’t overly push; keep the lip roll steady and even. The key to power is not through force, but through freedom. The lips have to be flapping.

3. Sing from the diaphragm. Do not take breaths that are high and tight (e.g. where your chest goes up and stomach is sucked in). You have a lower diaphragm that you should be utilizing; if you put your hands on the sides of your waist,  every breath you should feel an expansion and contraction of every part of your mid-section, from the stomach to the back to the sideward expansion of the ribs. 

Again: bring the breath down low by standing up straight, relaxing the shoulders down and drawing them back so chest is comfortably lifted, slightly bending the knees, and pulling the hips under and knees over the shoulders. Squeeze the body firmly, breathe and expand all areas at once. When singing, put a hand on the throat. If there are large vibrations, something is wrong.

4. Take relaxed and open breaths. Singing should not be forced; the throat should not be tightened.

5. The more frivolous exercises, in my opinion: (1) Make a "shhhhhh" sound really loud and really strong until all your breath is gone. Repeat. (2) Gasp. Put a hand on your larynx and make sure it's dropping when you gasp. Repeat. (3) Stand up straight, bend one leg slightly (just one), bring other leg up all the way to touch your chest (you can lean against a wall to do this), and hold for 15 seconds. Pay close attention to form. Breathe deeply. (4) Do a lip roll starting out in your head voice and working your way down to chest voice. Like, "bbbbbbbbbbbbb" deeper and deeper.

6. Scales. While playing scales, open your mouth, stick your tongue out, and keep your jaw perfectly still as you say, "Ya-ya" to the scales all the way up. Make sure the jaw does not move. Repeat with "La-ga," "Ya-ga," "Ta-la," "La-ga," and "Ah-aw-uh." (For the last one, go from head to chest voice smoothly.) You can also do this with the sound, "Goog."

He has 112 videos, and I've only covered 8 of them above.

No time to hire a voice coach before Friday. What I need now are some basic tips for going from a 10th percentile singer to 50th percentile. I've been practicing, but I haven't had anything "click" yet. Anyone have tips?

Update: someone does have tips! Thanks. You know who you are. =]

1. To practice breathing correctly (singing from the diaphragm), lay down and sing. When you lay down, you naturally breathe through your stomach and this is the "correct" way of singing. 

2. Practice panting and or laughing. Pant like a dog, but do it controlled and to a beat. Laughing is good too for strengthening your diaphragm. You could do both of these laying down if you are not breathing correctly yet.

3. practice singing the vowels sing a-e-i-o-u in one long breath and really stretch out your mouth. You're making your mouth more flexible.

4. Pick a song to sing, listen to it, record yourself singing it, and often times the reason why you may not sound as good, is because you're not moving your mouth the same way. Try over exaggerating all the consonants and vowels. Start with slower songs or ballads where they have those "strong" / "powerful" notes where they just hold it (think "rolling in the deeeeeeeeeeeee ee ee ep" the deeep is held out. if you can't actually hit that note, sing it an octave lower.

5. If tune is an issue, sit by a piano or guitar and play a note and sing "dooo". It's all about listening. If you really want, you can record this and see where it's off. If you can't quite put your finger on it, sing into your guitar tuner.

extra tips:
- when singing super high, or super low notes, do not raise your chin or lower it. Relax your vocal chords.

- when singing higher notes, support from the stomach. you should be pushing air through flexing your stomach. there's this thing called "the italian secret", the idea is if you are an italian opera singer, imagine you're taking a really constipated dump and you're pushing really hard. You push through your stomach/abs. This is the same as when you sing, just don't poop anything out.

- this should have been first on the list, but do warm up properly. A great way to warm up is to laugh a lot or panting. Try pushing air through your stomach and sing "hee hee hee" really pushing air through each "hee" like you're breating all your air out in each one.

- finally, last tip, imagine your voice going through the back of your head and through the top of your head so that all through your mouth is moving and producing a sound, the sound is going up and not straight out of the mouth

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A lesson from street fundraising: How to approach strangers

Prelude note: In 5 days, I've tried to stop over 1,500 people. The lines below have all been battle-tested, and I promise that every one, said with confidence and aplomb, will get a smile or laugh.

I became a street fundraiser to push the limits of my confidence. (Read more here.) I spend my days from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on the meanest streets in America (New York) trying to:

(a) stop people 
(b) pitch a non-profit
(c) get them to give me their credit card number

Needless to say, it's a hard job.

The most fun part, obviously, is getting rejected, because doing crazy shit becomes the mother of necessity: it's the only way to get people to stop as they’re running to work / yoga / a meeting / lunch. Of course, the best way to stop someone is to flirt with them. That's why male fundraisers are most successful with females, and vice versa.

There's a Corona ad near Times Square that says, "No strangers -- just future friends." That's the attitude you absolutely need if you want to stop someone. It’s called being positively assumptive: believing that people want to have a conversation with you, because, simply put, you are an awesome human being.

We learned in training that 91% of the approach's success comes from body language, eye contact, and tone. 9% come from the words out of your mouth. The three keys to successful approaching are:

1. Strong eye contact starting from at least 10 feet away.
2. Upright, confident posture and welcoming body language.
3. Direct, loud, yet ambiguously needy introduction.

The compilation below contains pickup lines taken from Matt J., a veteran fundraiser who has signed up over 800 people. That number probably means nothing to you; just know it’s absolutely insane. He’s probably one of the top 10 fundraisers in the entire US.

Despite Matt’s (middling) looks, his energy, aura, and confidence are through the roof. The man is absolutely relentless, as well as hilarious and quick-minded. Here are the pick-up lines he uses to stop people on the street. (Note: 80% are from him, 20% come from the rest of my team.) Remember, say these confidently, flippantly, and with a wry smile.

Strategies on approaching women:

(Each section is organized from most effective to least effective.)

1. Be Affable

·         I know this is going to sound crazy, but let's talk.
·         *extend hand* Friendly conversation?
·         You're walking my way, we're both nice people, let's have a conversation.
·         Stop -- in the name of love.
·         If I dance for you / sing for you / will you sing / dance along with me?
·         Your shoulders look so tired. 
·         It's a beautiful summer day. Let's have a conversation.
·         How do you feel about high-fives?
·         Penny for your thoughts: child poverty.

2. Be Moderately Flirtatious

·         You look talented. (Most often, they'll say, "Why?" Then make something up.)
·         If you stop, I promise, promise I'll talk to you.
·         If you keep walking that fast, we're not going to be able to have a conversation!
·         You know how nice I am? I will literally stand here and keep you company while you eat.
·         *Look at her Starbucks cup* Hi <insert name>! (This always works.)
·         You know you just stepped into my personal office right? Don't worry, I cleared my schedule for you.
·         You know if you're wearing a pink shirt / have a red bag / wearing heels it means you have to talk to me.
·         I planted this tree right here so we could have a conversation in the shade.
·         You know smoking while walking is dangerous, right?
·         Miss, I just need an hour of your time. I swear, nothing more.
·         I missed you! You promised you would talk. 
·         Can I have your watermelon?
·         Miss, let's talk. Human to human. Two arms, two legs, 6 holes.

3. Be Extremely Flirtatious

·         Things are never going to work out if you don't stop. 
·         If you don't stop, how are me and you ever going to work out?
·         Why...are you so adorable?
·         Do you remember that time when we met just a second ago?
·         (If they're holding something): Oh, you didn't have to get those flowers / cupcakes for me. I just want to talk to you.
·         So…I was thinking a lot about what you said last night, and I wanted to let you know I resolved it. Thanks for your advice. Just kidding, I just want to talk.
·         I don't want your hat. Just kidding, I do. Let's talk.
·         Excuse me, I've been waiting for you my entire life.
·         Excuse me, I just thought you were adorable. Hi!

4. Be Direct

·         You need to stop.
·         I want you to stop.
·         You need to stop.

5. Use Movement

·         *spin* Hi.
·         I'm going to do a side-step for you. *side-step* 
·         I'm going to do a sidestep, *sidestep* and you're going to walk into a friendly conversation.
·         *turn body to her as if telling a secret* Psst -- I need to talk to you.

6. On the phone

·         No need to text me honey, I'm right here.
·         You never have time for us.
·         What about us?
·         Multi-tasker, huh? Let's add a conversation to the list.
·         You know texting while walking is dangerous, right?
·         We never get to talk. What about us?
·         How can we have a conversation if you're on the phone?
·         (Headphones) Am I boring you?

For men:

·         *Flex* These guns? Don't worry, I won't use them. I just want to talk to you.
·         Those dreads are incredible. You know what's also incredible? Saving a child's life.
·         You have a beard? I have a beard! Dude, mano-a-mano. Let's have a conversation, just you and me.
·         Handshake?
·         Superman! I need to talk to the man of steel right here, right now.
·         Hey dude, great convo headed straight your way. 
·         You have facial hair, I have facial hair -- let's talk.
·         Hey, you're a man, I'm a man. Let's stick together. Let's talk.
·         Are you nice?


I'm in a bit of a rush:
Me too, I'm trying to get kids out of poverty. 

I don't have time:
I’ll write you a late note.
Don't worry, you can have some of mine.
Really quickly, I promise, or you can slap me afterwards.

I'm late:
Then make it worthwhile.
After the rejection:

·         I miss you already!
·         I love you!
·         Think of me tonight!
·         Goodbye, beautiful!

"I'm Peter. Thanks so much for stopping. I genuinely appreciate it. I'm on the streets trying to get one child out of extreme poverty today."


Say your comebacks expecting them to stop.
body language / eye contact / short and sweet
mirror their energy

Links, Week 5: Return to baseline (free movies, Lego concentration camp)

My stats for last week:

6 h, 31 m: Blogger and MS word.
4 h, 44 m, 39 s: Guitar tabs, Youtube (covers), and Jay Chou websites (for Jian Dan Ai!)
46 m 11 s: Gmail
7 h, 2 m: Wasted time (Quora, Google+, Facebook, Google Analytics)


Most of the 7 hours, believe it or not, came on Saturday. The reason? I woke up at 9:40 a.m., decided I wanted to keep sleeping, and didn't wake up again until 3:30 p.m. I realized I missed an entire day of work fundraising. I felt really badly. Then I realized I had signed two people up yesterday, and that if I got fired, I'd be leaving, at least, on a good note.

So I called it a lost day. I ate walnuts. I read alot of Quora. I watched Men in Black as well as Love and Other Drugs. I walked outside to a hole-in-the-wall dumpling shop and ordered 10 boiled beef dumplings, wonton soup, and soy milk for $6. I wrote and edited many of these blog posts. I played guitar, without a pick.

I was also scared of going outside. Social interaction! I didn't know I could do it. (Of course, when I picked up dinner, walking down the sidewalk didn't seem so bad.) Being forced outside because of hunger or works seems like the best way to get my juices flowing.

I didn't get to 3 hours of total online time. But I did manage less than an hour on email all week, which might be a personal best. (Of course, I also haven't responded to many emails I should have responded to...)

Here's the link section, tight and sweet:

The best high quality, illegal, free, clean movie site online. Yale is going to be in Brook's Brother's new line. Bulldog Burrito is gone, but they kind of sucked, anyway. Visualize your social network with LinkedIn maps. The best fundraiser in the street world (this is just here for me). Watch Men in Black for free, then read about how Will Smith cultivated his image. The WSJ hedcut that I want. The coolest photo effects editor ever! The best Rube Goldberg machines; the evolutionary purpose of dreaming; and a Lego concentration camp, discovered through Quora.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Love and other drugs: a review, and bonus personal psychoanalysis

Part 1 of 3:

I am, currently, 2 minutes removed from watching Love and Other Drugs. I wish I could say I was watching it with someone I cared about, or maybe even with a group of friends on a comfy couch, but I'm not -- I'm sitting on my really hard, angular dorm room chair without a shirt on, air conditioning off. Actually, it's not such a big deal. One of the strengths of a romantic comedy (maybe for me at this point in my life) is that it's easy to get sucked into the storyline. All my attention is on the movie; as a result, it doesn't really matter what my actual surroundings are. It's not like eating alone, or having a drink alone, or walking down the street, activities all enhanced by the presence of another human being.

It was the best movie I've seen in a long, long time. I never thought I'd be reviewing a movie on this blog, or allotting any of my mental space towards popular media, like John Song usually does, but it's happening, and it's because I loved this movie.

I couldn't really -- and I don't really want to -- tell you why I loved it. There must be thousands of amateur bloggers online that will give you a review if you want to read one. I can tell you, though, that I wasn't planning to watch it at all. I had every intention of stopping if the first three minutes were boring, and I almost did; thankfully, the opening scene with Jake (that's Gyllenhaal) selling electronics and the rapid-fire banter at the dinner table hooked me. When I realized this was a modern romantic comedy (hook-ups, businessmen; pharmaceuticals; Parkinson's, entrepreneurship, sex tapes, game), I was sold.

I loved it because it felt modern. Anne (Hathaway) is a smart, incisive woman, penetrating and unforgiving. She tells it like it is, cuts through all the bullshit, and isn't afraid to let Jake know he is, deep down, a great guy. Jake, who has never cared about anybody or anything before Anne, transforms into the man she wants him to be.

There are also refreshing mentions of "the game" within the movie. At one point, Jake breaks down his skirt-chasing strategy to his boss: call a cute drug rep "Lisa," even though that's not her name. She'll eventually come over to correct him. When she does, he'll apologize and say she reminded her of an ex-girlfriend. She'll feel a need to win him over (mechanics are vague). Game, set, match. This, in a romantic comedy? That's cool.

The end of the movie doesn't seem overwrought, either. In the middle of the inevitable break-up between Jake and Anne, Jake has a threesome without any on-screen remorse. Even after the have-to-happen theatrics -- chasing after her, the Embrace -- the movie doesn't overreach to wrap up a happy ending: Anne doesn't miraculously get better, we don't see them getting married. It's the lack of forced sentimentality that makes me believe this movie could be the hidden history of anyone, even the couple I saw walking along the streets of New York yesterday.

In a great rom-com, I'm always left wondering, during the movie as well as afterwards, if love can actually be this perfect. In fact, immediately after watching this, I posted this question on Quora:

Is falling in love like what it's like in romantic comedies? 
I just watched Love and Other Drugs, and I'm wondering if this happens in real life, where you "can meet thousands of people who don't touch you -- and then you meet one." On a related note, what percentage of people are capable / actually find this?
I guess the question, if I could be more general, really is: can life ever be this perfect? I understand that movies are shot scene by scene; I'm obviously watching the best moments between Jake and Anne. Those moments, though, aren't overstated. They're of the two eating Chinese food; walking down the street in Chicago; sitting on her bed. And thinking back to my relationships, I've had similar moments that have meant the world to me at that moment, but now, thinking back, don't seem as reverent as the scenes I just watched.

When the screen went to black, I saw my own reflection in the computer screen. Needless to say, I don't look like Jake, and I'll probably never go out with anyone as attractive as Anne. The lifestyle both of them lead in the movie are out-of-bounds. If it's attractive, grade-A movie stars falling in this kind of love, what kind of love can regular people like me have? Is the best I can do to live vicariously through their romances? Is that why romantic comedies exist -- to let us know how great life could be, but never will be?

I got invited to my very first wedding a couple weeks back. The friend who invited me said the exact same thing as what Jake said in the movie: "You won't know what it feels like to meet the one, until, of course, you do. And then you know." I want to believe this so badly. To a certain extent, I do. But then I walk outside on my street in New York and see all these women and men dressed up in short skirts and expensive jackets, with mascara and cologne, walking from one dead-end bar to another, and in this environment I'm drawn to believe that life isn't about romantic comedy love -- that it's more about missed opportunities, unrequited love, and the human condition to find happiness in a less-than-ideal situation. That it's more about wasting time on Gmail and watching romantic comedies than it is sneaking into doctor's offices to introduce yourself to the woman you're going to marry. That love first blossoms viewing the profile of a 22/f/san francisco than in a chance encounter on the street. It's a sour, somber thought, and one that definitely wouldn't be happening if I was out in the wilderness of Utah or busy immersed in my work at a hedge fund, but, nevertheless, might be true. I'm not sure what to believe.

If you're a regular reader of the blog, or know me, you've heard this sappiness before. I'm a sucker for the Korean drama. Now, I realize that it might be because I'm scared that, in my own life, I'll never have the happy ending that Love and Other Drugs implies will, and should, happen.

P.S. Read John Song's response to this post here; and my response to his response here. It's like a trilogy!

Street fundraising is like baseball: my first week in the majors

F*ck it. It's 4:13 a.m., but this post is going up. Need to put this into words. Action. You know.

Street fundraising is like baseball. You start off in the minors (training) to hone your approach. Your first at-bat in the majors is scary and shaky. The opposing pitcher (stranger on the street) doesn't tip their hand; you don't know if you're getting a curveball or slider or spitter (their objections to the charity). You might get lucky and hit a line drive to let field, but just as often as it skips down the line for a double, an outfielder might be right there to catch it. There are many strikeouts. There are very few walks. There are no balks.

Eventually, though, with enough at-bats, you learn what to expect. You adjust your swing to make it more powerful, natural. Your batting average climbs from below the Mendoza line to near .300. It's not great -- you're still making outs 70% of the time -- but it's damn good in comparison to your teammates. Your team lifts you up; sometimes, when you hit a double, someone else is there to drive you home. When you're not making contact and they are, you're heartened that your boys are getting it done. Unless you're jealous of the signing bonus they're going to get.

Baseball's all about slumps and hitting streaks. Fundraising is the same. On Thursday, I was stationed in Soho, in 96 degree weather, and had a tremendous 0-fer. I couldn't stop anyone; scratch that -- I was too scared to even look pretty Caucasian women in the eyes. Three people stopped for me -- an Asian lady, a balding guy, someone else I don't remember -- but I couldn't finish the deal, even though they all left fat, hanging pitches in the strike zone. What's worse, my fellow fundraisers were hitting home runs everywhere, spraying hits to every corner in the park, and their success was so eye-opening that I doubted whether I deserved to be in the majors. At the end of the day, at 8 p.m., I took a taxi back, defeated, having signed nobody up.

I came into Friday feeling good. My skipper (Matt) had told me I needed better body language, strong eye contact, and a less-needy tone; I was ready for the challenge. Then, in the batter's box (our office), I fell into a mental slump. Despite being a boys versus girls challenge day, and despite having a solid, veteran team (one of our guys has signed up 800+ lifetime), I started stewing in my own spite. Worst of all, nobody at the office talked to me.

It was a sweltering day. On TV, there was a health advisory warning for the sun. And, prolonging the slump, I couldn't stop a single person before 1 p.m. At 2:15 p.m., I finally managed to stop one person. He was a business man. I could tell on his face he wanted to sign up. But I literally stumbled so badly through my pitch that I lost a sure thing. Matt (him of 800+ mandates) told me I wasn't being loud enough. Expressive enough. That I didn't know my facts. The new guy on our team was double-stopping people (which makes me mad), so I walked across the street. But when I got there, I gave up. I sat down and stared at the ground for 15 minutes, thinking about how I would tell everyone I was quitting after tomorrow. I wanted to save myself the embarrassment of getting fired. At that moment, I hated people. I hated the world. I took out a piece of paper and wrote this:

"2:24 sitting, hiding after new guy / matt said I suck, basically. want to quit. can't wait to go. Need to man up afterwards and either pump up or tender resig. ego bruised. heat. feeling worthless. gone emmon now."

At 2:30, we took our lunch break. Matt told me, "If you're going to sit there, there's no point in being here. You can just go home." At the pizzeria, while everyone else was talking, I fell asleep with my head in my hands.

Big Lebowski slump.

3:30 p.m.: I'm on the streets, not at all ready to try again. People don't stop. I see this guy, carrying two heavy fans, walk up the sidewalk. I almost don't stop him. What's the point? He's sweating everywhere. I say, "Hi, a minute of your time?" The line never works. He puts the fans down and says, "Give me what you got." I go through my pitch -- poverty, children, volunteer mothers -- and after 2 minutes, he says, "Let's do it." I give him the sheet, he fills it out, and we're done. I have one. It's unbelievable how easy it was. I asked him what he did for a living. He said, "Oh, I'm a writer for TV. Have you heard of a show called How I Met Your Mother?" I tell him, "Yea, I think I've heard of it." Turns out he started out writing for Full House. That he lives in LA, but has a summer apartment here. What. A. Baller.

I couldn't help but smile when I handed in the form. From then, I was just happy. It became infectious: everyone around me smiled. I stopped 4 people in half an hour. (Which is really, really good.) I embraced the world, and it held me in its soft, cuddly arms. At 6:20 p.m., 5 minutes before closing time, I asked this tall, made-up woman if she had a minute. She kept walking, until I said, "Please." After she heard my pitch, her first question was, "Where's the Trader Joes here?" A minute later, I was walking with her to Trader Joes, filling out her birth date and credit card information. Four blocks later, I had my second sign up. It was the team-high for the day.

My two mandates wanted to sign up. They were good people. Kind people. People that have saved me from getting fired for at least 3 more days. People who ended my slump. Tomorrow's another day, but for now, I'm good. It's so hard to control your emotions with this job!

One last note, about office shunning. My leader, unsolicited, told me that when he arrived, everyone shunned him. But now that he'd been here for 4 months, he realized it had to be this way: when we work for a company that hires 30 people and fires 28 of them after the first 2 weeks, it's not smart to invest in people who disappear almost immediately. It's only when you're a veteran that you're invited into the circle. It's analogous to the "bitch shield" syndrome of beautiful women: you can't invest in everyone who wants to be your friend. You have to be selective.