December 29, 2008

A gang of pigeons on West 55th St.

Note that this is my first attempt to blog from my phone. Early adopter!


Lazy Sunday

December 28, 2008

Friends (and former readers) know that I love baseball.  That can be phrased slightly differently for emphasis.  Baseball is one of my great loves.  I love its steep tradition and strategy.  I’ve loved baseball for as long as I can remember.

I only started paying attention to the NFL around 2001 and have closely followed the Patriots ever since.  But over the past few years (largely due to a fascination with fantasy football) I’ve come to love the whole league and started watching more games.  By extension, I’ve really come to appreciate football.

Football carries a palpable beat that baseball lacks.  More so than football, baseball is a game that is made off the field.  Teams don’t have salary caps, so large-market teams spend outrageously and buy up the best players.  There are hundreds of objective, almost rigid metrics by which talent is evaluated in baseball.  And acquiring this talent most often presages success on the baseball diamond.

But in football, there are no numbers that a statistician would call “analysis.”  Football teams are governed by a complex, but strict salary cap.  Owners put a team on the field that is chiefly evaluated with eyes and ears, and when numbers matter, they are 6’3 220 lbs for Larry Fitzgerald, an elite wide receiver, or 5’11 200 lbs for Chris Johnson, running back.  40-yard dash times, 225 lb bench-press reps, and 3-cone drills rule the NFL scouting combine, where players are known by the number on their back.

I also think football is a lot like war, and you can’t say that about baseball.  Baseball is like a war simulation: you put 9 guys on the field and you don’t change the squad until it’s over.  In football, you cycle soldiers in and out.  You have generals watching from above who call in circuitous formations to confuse your opponent.  The Wedge.  The I-Formation.  The Shotgun and the Wildcat.

Yet by far the most intriguing element of football is how offenses and defenses unite on one team.  Unlike any other sport — hockey, baseball, basketball, soccer — football is the only team sport where players exclusively play one side of the ball, and have to helplessly rely on the second half of the roster to excel to achieve overall success.  I love this element of the game, and it is so much different than every other team sport, where athletes compete on both sides of the ball and share skills (i.e. fielding, rebounding, hitting).

Just a thought on America’s Sunday ritual.

Christmas in Shrewsbury

December 28, 2008

I’m poor with real cameras but was able to snap a few with my phone during Christmas that I thought appropriately summed up my time in Shrewsbury.

Here’s our awesome Christmas tree, art directed by Mom.  Red and white lights with an elf at the top.  We cut our tree every year, on the morning after Thanksgiving, at a Christmas tree farm 500 feet from our house.  My parents love to tell the story about how during their first Christmas in Shrewsbury, they had no idea that the farm was down the street, so they drove to Paxton and trudged through cow dung to chop a tree.  Ooops.

Poor Dad.  No, really.  Poor Dad.  He slipped before Christmas and tore the patella tendon in his right knee.  Six years ago, he did the same thing to his left knee.  The doctors said this was a freak incident.  So, Christmas this year was slightly less mobile than in previous years, but of course, spirits were still high, despite his appearance in this picture.

Steph put a Christmas bandana on Hobbes.  He didn’t mind.  Per usual, when the clouds parted, he stretched out in the sun.

The screen clouds this shot, but we had a beautiful, warm, white Christmas.

We lit a fire when our family came over for dinner on Thursday.  Visible: Steph’s feet and sweet turquoise moccasin slippers.

Christmas in Shrewsbury, wonderful as ever.  Here’s hoping everyone had a great Christmas.  New Year’s next.  Let’s all party like spacemen.

Twitter: Ruining Communication

December 18, 2008

I have no data to support this, but four to six months ago, Twitter achieved critical mass.

For those unaware, Twitter is a service through which individuals can dispatch messages consisting of no more than 140 characters to users who follow their updates.  You can consider and interpret its purpose in many ways, but that idea is Twitter’s beating heart.

Twitter launched sometime in 2006 and I was first introduced to it in early 2007 by a friend of mine who has always been quick to adopt technology and recognize valuable innovations.  My first interaction with Twitter was solely through SMS; my phone would sporadically chime when Ed sent a “tweet,” or an update about his whereabouts, disposition, whatever.  “At the BU pub,” it might read.

I assume Twitter had a web interface at that time, as well, but I didn’t use it.  I briefly followed a few people but quickly tired of my phone buzzing with information that I didn’t care about.  So, for the most part, I ignored the service until two months ago, when its call became too loud to ignore.  Turns out I wasn’t alone.  According to its Wikipedia entry, Twitter had “well over 5 million visitors in September 2008 which was a fivefold increase in a month.”

I signed up for Twitter as @YouIntern and began “tweeting” updates about our website (www.youintern.com).  Given that I work on a startup on the side and am employed full-time at a marketing communications agency, I naturally began following various technologists, marketing strategists, brand thinkers, and other people who classify themselves with ambiguous descriptions such as “thinking and breathing in the social brand sphere” and “uniting consumers and connecting brands to empower social media benevolence” or whatever the phrase of the day is.

And after a two or three week honeymoon period, I’ve realized that Twitter might be the most deleterious communication “innovation” in years.  Here’s why:

1.  Self-aggrandizement

Twitter is really all about one person: me.  It’s about what I have to say, what I want to say to you, and how much I can cram into 160 characters that will grab someone’s attention.  It is the most superficial of the social networks, and that’s saying something given that we mainly use Facebook to prove how artsy or muscular or educated we are.

Almost all of my tweets are about my website.  When someone follows us, I hope they’re following YouIntern for real-time updates about internships for which they can apply.  But if they’re not, I want them to see how we’re progressing and hope they see success.

2.  There’s not much to say in 140 characters

One of my favorite Twitterers is Shaquille O’Neal.  Shaq mostly tweets funny quotes, and, horribly misspelled as they may be, they’re usually entertaining.  Recently, he said ”

But most of us can’t say much with so little, and truncating our opinions into tiny soundbytes is another example of our devolution online.  I’m guilty of this.  I find myself glossing pages rather than absorbing them because I feel the web and it’s tsunami of information has trained me to pick up little pieces during my travels.  That was our reading; this is our writing.

3.  I don’t follow the right people, and the right people don’t follow me

Our objective on Twitter is to shout-out updates and new jobs we’ve posted.  Our target audience should be college students looking for internships who want real-time updates when they are available.  Instead, we’re mostly followed by friends and techies.  I would almost hope they don’t read them, since they are of no relevance; I don’t read much of what they write and I follow most of them out of e-courtesy.

Certain Twitter users follow hundreds, upwards of thousands of other users.  I see messages on my feed from users who get back from meetings and are astonished at the 300+ tweets they need to read.  At a max of 140 characters, that’s 42,000 characters.  By comparison, Thomas Friedman’s editorial today in the New York Times is just north of 5,000 characters.  Now, in the history of the internet, that might be the most pretentious sentence ever written, and no, I didn’t read the editorial, I read my Twitter page instead, which is something I should stop doing.  Dangerous, no?

4.  Links

Of the 20 most recent tweets that my Twitter page displays, 11 of those have links that they want me to visit.  That’s right — over 50% of the updates on my page want to direct my attention elsewhere after reading their note.

One user I follow, an industry connection, sent seven consecutive tweets with her company’s URL within 15 minutes.

I don’t have anything prescient to say about this.  I just don’t get it.  Blogging and micro-blogging (as Twitter is known) has an unhealthy obsession with linking readers to other sources for unknown reasons.  A blog full of links looks more credible than one without, but that note probably features less opinion and more summary.

A service like Twitter is bound to evolve through its users, and it has become a massive link exchange.  I don’t know who has time to read all the links sent along by friends or followers.  I don’t click any of them and I sincerely doubt that most people do.  In fact, I think the people who include links in their tweets don’t click other users’ links either.

I think Twitter has endless possibility.  I think Yammer is a fantastic tool that can replace quick inter-office email and keep groups coordinated.  I like how brands such as JetBlue and WholeFoods seem human on Twitter.  And it’s worthwhile to connect with smart people, whether they be my friend Eugene or the CEO of Zappos.

But through social media, we’ve clipped our words and opinions.  These are things we ought to value and sometimes they are our only creative or provocative outlet.  As the social media Concorde flies ever-faster, I think we should pause and consider.  Speed does not always equal progress.

Lunch at Luger’s

December 14, 2008

My father is a wonderful cook.  He is capable of producing meals from our Armenian heritage, eagerly tackles Spanish comfort dishes, and has a particular way with fruits di mare.  But if there’s a flaw in his culinary portfolio, it’s not what he produces for the dinner table, but the esteem in which he holds certain of his dishes, most notably, his steak.

Going out for a steak is a quintessentially American practice that my father would have none of.  When my grandparents (note: his inlaws) celebrated their 60th anniversary, our family went to a trendy steakhouse in Worcester (yes, there is one) and he reluctantly approved of the meal that was roundly praised by everyone in company.  By contrast, I very much enjoy going out and getting an occasional steak.  I think the particular benefit of going out for steak is the quality of the meat that you enjoy at a steakhouse — far superior to the average cuts you’ll get at a supermarket and likely even a butcher shop.  It also provides a very traditional, reliable, masculine sense of satisfaction.

And so, while home for Thanksgiving, I told my father that when I got back to the city, I’d be going for lunch at Peter Luger Steakhouse as an indulgent means of celebrating my new job.  He’d just seen a special on Luger’s on the Food Network and, intrigued, wanted to know about the meal after I’d finished it.  I told him I’d give him a call.

I went to Luger’s with my friend Jeff, who is as rich of a gourmand as any 24-year old can be.  I’m frequently privy to his stories of luxe dining in Europe and in New York and often left hungry when the conversation ends.  A victim of the recent investment banking implosion, his afternoons are free while he charts his next course, so we went for lunch.

Though I’d never been to Luger’s, I knew it was a casual restaurant, with its famously gruff waiters and rustic interior.  Still, anticipating at least a somewhat businessy crowd, I wore khaki’s, dress shoes and a tie.  I walked to Jeff’s apartment and waited outside; he emerged in a tattered Brown University t-shirt and jeans two sizes too big.  I’m not sure if he showered.

It was obvious that I had overthought the day and, by extension, the restaurant.  When we arrived at Luger’s, I recognized the interior from the television show, but not the clientele.  I expected to see business lunches, with the Brioni-clad man to my right closing a real estate deal as tore into Luger’s famous porterhouse.  Instead, there were a number of contractors and other regular-looking folk who might not have worn ties in the last year, let alone for lunch in Brooklyn.

Luger’s is known as much for its steak as for its atmosphere, raw tabletops, chalk-and-bone colored plates and servers wearing white shirts and black bowties.  It helps to dine with a veteran, because I was soon privy to the small details that make Luger’s what it has become.  “No menus,” said Jeff as he quickly ordered a tomato and onion salad and bacon strips for our appetizer.  This, too, was reported in the special.  The appetizers come out in deference to each other: the tomatoes and onions, both the thickest, crispest I’ve ever had, rest quietly on top of one another, while the bacon (if it can be called bacon) arrives crackling.  It’s less bacon and more massive ham steak.  Both were delicious and were enjoyed with the house sauce, meant to be applied to everything but the steak.

Luger’s is famous for its porterhouse, of course, so we ordered it for two and it arrived soon thereafter.  The arrival of the steak is something of a show.  According to the special, the rule at Luger’s is that the steaks must be removed from the oven, sliced into pieces, and delivered to the table in no less than two minutes.  A small plate is placed near the edge, on which the platter rests, so that the juices and buttery solvents flow toward the bottom for quick scooping.  With two spoons, the waiter places the sizzling meat on my plate and drizzles it with juice as we begin eating.

As if there was ever a doubt, the steak was bliss.  My preferred sirloin chunks were flavorful and tender, and the filet had a supple note that stood out.  It was a flawless plate.

“And the best thing,” Jeff says with a pause, “is that it is like this every single time.”

Peter Luger democratizes gourmet dining — and make no mistake, the eating at Luger is elite by any measure.  Jeff commented that Luger is “begrudgingly” awarded a Michelin star because despite the absence of tablecloths, it does its one thing so well that even the most snobbish of food critics must recognize its performance.  But Luger’s is well-liked as much for its charm and decency as for its food.  As we slumped in our chairs, defeated from the meal, Jeff lamented to the waiter that I wouldn’t be able to try the “schlag,” a homemade whipped cream that accompanies each desert.  He gave a chuckle, picked up our plates and returned a minute later with a completely unexpected, complimentary bowl of schlag that was a sincere and perfect cap to the meal.

As we struggled to carry ourselves back to the subway, I called my father and reported my experience.  I’m sure he didn’t quite grasp my satisfaction, and though the meal is affordable by gourmet standards, he thought I’d lost a screw for paying that much for steak.  But I’d do it again today, and I’m not sure if it could get old.

Kanye West’s new album, 808s and Heartbreak, was written and recorded in light of West enduring two life-changing events after becoming the world’s most recognizable babyfaced, Gucci-clad rapper: his mother died from complications during plastic surgery, and he ended his engagement with his long-time girlfriend and fiancee.  These tragedies color West’s most experimental record to date, an album lacking any organic sound, choosing instead to create all of its beats using a Roland 808 drum machine and the Auto-Tune voice enhancement/synthesizing technology.

This is Kanye West’s most personal album.  It’s deviations from the past are blatant as soon as the album picks up, with the minimalist, hardly-there beat of “Say You Will,” and the melodic, almost soothing sounds that West sings on the track.  But perhaps the most noticeable shift in the six-plus minute opener is that listeners expect the track to explode three minutes in.  On Late Registration, Kanye would have dropped a Justice sample and launched into a bubblegum hook that would move millions of discs.

But in this release, Kanye’s melancholy leaves listeners anxious, a little uncomfortable, and possibly even fearing for Kanye’s safety.  If your college roommate recorded this album, you’d call the campus suicide hotline.  Kanye’s lyrics are very dark, and while they don’t qualify as well-written lyrics (or even transcendent hip-hop lyrics), they are caustic and blunt.  On Kanye’s last album, the sun shines on his life and he writes “whether you’re broke or rich, you gotta get this / having money’s not everything, not having it is” as the listener is treated to 60 minutes of bombast and glory-coated lyrics.
As if depression has seized his life, now Kanye sings “my friend showed me pictures of his kids / and all I could show him was pictures of my cribs.”  Success has apparently left Kanye empty, soulless, with a closet full of Louis Vuitton luggage but a Blackberry lacking any true friends.

Nearing the middle, Kanye picks up the beat and laces tracks that would get a club bouncing, if only the lyrics and song titles were left on the MacBook.  “Heartless” and “Love Lockdown” are exciting tracks about unpromising situations: infidelity and isolationism.  The former carries an especially keen beat that makes heads bob.  But don’t expect listeners to chant their lyrics at the club.

Kanye West delivers a great, if not spectacular album that will be seen as a turning point in what is sure to be a sustained career.  It would have been too easy for Kanye to pen Graduate School, an album about his new Lambo and the six pair of Prada shoes he copped at Bergdorf.  Credit West as an artist, not a rapper, for having the prowess to reverse direction and interject two new elements to his music: personal lyrics and artificial music.

Maybe we’ve had a negative first impression of Auto-Tune because its introduction came on the shoulders of T-Pain, a banal hip-hop sideshow act, clowning around with a cane and exaggerated top hat.  Truthfully, Auto-Tune enhances West’s music, because Kanye has an ear for melodies, but lacks the chops to belt them out.  That’s fine; music should embrace its technological advancements in this manner, using them for good and not in jest.  It’s plain that Kanye can’t hit the notes on “Love Lockdown.”  In fact, from live performances, he can hardly voice them.  Auto-Tune can’t smooth his raspy voice as it climbs for the higher notes, it can only manipulate the tone that voice emits.

But without this tool, the melodies would have stayed in Kanye’s head and he wouldn’t have shared them with us.  On the other hand, the Roland-808 gets stale as the album wears on, and at times it capitulates entire tracks, specifically “RoboCop,” whose chorus sounds like a Trans-Siberian Ochestra Christmas disaster.  Unlike Kanye’s voice, the beats in this album lack any hint of sincerity.  They aren’t natural with artificial sweetener, but rather crusty and fake.

For West, it is a turning point, and it will be interesting to see how sincere this album is.  Will he follow “Welcome to Heartbreak” with “Good Life” on the live stage?  Or will this cause the now-single and lonely Kanye to retract from the public’s spotlight and sharpen his artistry and not his beaming star?  Lucky us: we’ll likely have dozens more opportunities to learn more.


December 11, 2008

I recently went to my high school reuinion and was genuinely touched when an old friend of mine asked where my old baseball blog disappeared to.  I never knew that people enjoyed my writing.  So, with a bit of hubris, I’ve started a new blog and hope that you enjoy what I have to say.  Unlike The Golden Sombrero, I’ll be writing about much more than baseball.

Hello world!

December 11, 2008

Welcome to WordPress.com. This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!