Thursday, April 29, 2010


One of my trepidations in starting a blog was that I would cease to be dedicated after the novelty of pretending to have readers wore off. I originally wanted to focus on my pursuit to change the world, one homeless man at a time (I did buy lunch for a very appreciative pair today!) intending to channel my writing aspirations into an avid blog. When the novelty of that wore off, I reorganized and decided to be devoted to just blogging. But about what? Sometimes I sit in front of the blank post screen tapping the keys wondering, "WWCBW: What would Carrie Bradshaw write?"

I have many things I think about, but are all worthy of becoming formalized text? In one episode of Sex and the City, Carrie mills over what to wear, referring to the classic female dilemma, "closet full of clothes, nothing to wear." Often I feel that I've got a brain full of ideas, nothing to write.

I sit here waiting for a thought to send me galloping off in a new literary tangent surging with energy, thought and feeling that I can't type fast enough to keep up with the strings of words circling in my head. The moment I'm away from my laptop my brain swirls with blog ideas and sentence fragments like puzzle pieces waiting to be fit together churning over and over again, but then I sit in front of the screen and the only word the continues to resonate in my head is blog. Blog. Blog. Blog.

Tonight is my last night at 22, the eve of my 23rd birthday. I wanted to blog about something to commemorate the final moments of this year of my life. I waned between blogging about my canceled flight this weekend, the new book I'm reading, my favorite college professor, my solidifying plans for attending grad school... but the words were static. I might as well have been punching in numbers. Then suddenly I was struck by the memory of another time when I was severely afflicted by writers block, only then the resounding word was ferrocarriles.

I spent a semester in a Spanish university my junior year of college. Spanish universities function predominantly off of student's ability to demonstrate fact rentention and memorization, a stark contrast from the analytically-dominated American system. Spanish courses are passed or failed based on student's scores on the final exam and occasionally a mid-term or term paper- no homework, no assigned reading, no participation or attendance required.

I remember arriving to take my first exam, a mid-term for my US History Course. There were a few other Americans in my class, a sprinkling of Erasmus students from Ireland, Germany and France, but the majority were native Spaniards. The professor distributed blank sheets of paper to the class and sauntered to the board slowly. With the flick of his wrist, he pulled up the projection screen and revealed the word ferrocarriles (railroads) etched in white chalk across the blackboard. I sat stunned. Railroads. What about railroads? Where was the question? What was I to answer? I glanced around at the other students- their heads were buried in their desks scribbling away- even the others Americans! What had I missed? I wasn't sure where to begin. There was nothing to compare and contrast. There was no request for specific dates, times, places, people- no direction at all. So, I buried my head and wrote down everything I could think of: Chinese immigrants laying rails out west, the Southern Pacific, the transporation of goods, the Civil War and Lincoln... anything and everything I could think of that could in any way correlate to los ferrocarriles.

I left the exam feeling confident. I listed all the dates I could think of. I discussed influences of war, privitization, economics... I'd heard horror stories of Americans failing classes abroad, but after that exam, I felt confident I'd escape placement in that category. A few days later grades were posted outside the professor's office next to our name. I slid my finger down the list searching for my name. Much to my surprise and chagrin, I had failed. Although students have minimal interaction with professors outside of class, I walked in to his office to discuss where I'd gone wrong. Waving his hand over the body of my scattered dates and facts that littered the page, he concluded I'd failed to reference that Chicago was known as the slaughter house. Yes, I'd failed because I omitted Chicago's role. Fortunately all Spanish exams comes with a make up test for all those who fail and those to fail to attend the original test date, and I was hardly alone for the retake. (Although that didn't coat my embarrassment that I'd failed a history exam about my own country!)

I did pass the second exam and the course in the end. On top of proving I could pass Spanish university classes, I also will never forget that Chicago was the hub of slaughtering livestock shipped from the west en route to eastern markets.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

CA Happy Meals just got a little less happy

The state of California recently outlawed the inclusion of toys in Happy Meals at McDonald's (and other fast food chains) due to the lack of nutritional value in the meals. The intent is to incentivize fast food chains to provide more healthy choices and to market healthy eating habits to kids. Though this legislation is innovative in encouraging kids to opt for a salad over a cheeseburger by way of a free toy, as noted by the CNN broadcaster this morning, few kids need a toy to spur their desire for a cheeseburger.

Thinking back to my happy meal days, I remember the desperation I held for collecting all McDonald's Ty teenie-beanie babies and the persistence I had in begging my parents for another Happy Meal. Had I been faced with the choice between a new mini Ally Alligator a la salad or chicken nuggets sans toy, I'm sure I'd have choked down some leafy greens.

This legislation won't stop kids from preferring beef patties slathered in ketchup over tofu and green beans, but with the right toy, it might make a few rethink their orders.

Managing to lead

Today I attended an industry luncheon for young professionals focusing on leadership skills and strategies for expediting career ascension. After a brief presentation highlighting some strategic tactics and inspirational quotes, each table discussed various leadership topics. The leading topic- leadership vs. management. Prior to this luncheon, I hadn't put much thought into the difference and generally perceived the two as interchangeable. I was first at bat to share my thoughts with the table, and fortunately, I was able to quickly internalize the definitions of the two words and conclusively formalize my thoughts.

A leader is someone who inspires and does not require an authority position. A leader shows and demonstrates ways to be successful.

A manager dictates and organizes the strategies for success.

Managers and leaders do not have to be mutually exclusive, but are frequently influenced be one another.

Though this was something I'd never thought about before and it made me reflect on my past leadership positions- was I actually a leader or had I simply been a manager?

In group projects I'd always take charge and develop deadlines and delegated the distribution of responsibilities and work. In the summer during college, I worked as the director of junior tennis. In my position, I told my teaching staff what skills to work on with their students, divided the players per my judgement and determined court assignments. Overall, both of these examples led me to believe that perhaps I'd failed to be a leader, but rather only served as a manager. However, my assumption and execution of authority was not without demonstrating strong work ethic, picking up the slack for outstanding work or hours, taking full responsibility and helping when needed- qualities of leadership. It's not my intention to toot my own horn, but rather to remind myself that although I currently feed at the bottom of the fish pond with my company, I can still be a leader.

Friday, April 16, 2010

verisimilitude: the best 'tude for business success

Verisimilitude: the quality of appearing true or real.

The first time I heard of verisimilitude was when reading The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorn in 10th grade American Lit. Although the book was fictional, Hawthorn frequently attributed many events in the book to "witness accounts" in order to create a sensation of reality despite the known fabrication of the story. Though I was less-than enraptured by the snail pace of Hawthorn's five-page description of a red rose juxtaposed against a dark cellar door, the motif of verisimilitude is something that struck me and remained all these years. Hawthorn's use of verisimilitude was often an admission that events in the book may not have in fact occurred, but he was simply relaying them as reported; he was "honest" that he could not defend these accounts to be fact: Hawthorn admitted his "shortcomings". Though I generally write more reflective pieces rather than fictional, the theory behind and purpose of verisimilitude is something that extends beyond literary purposes, and something that I feel directly applies to success in business.

My first laptop was a Dell. Just after one year, that computer continuously crashed and erased all of my files and memory; this was a nightmare for a college student. Since this began after my one-year of free warranty had expired, all service support was routed to India for a fee of $50 per call. I made multiple calls to their service center, continuously racking up bills, and to no avail. Even more frustrating was that I knew many other Dell users experiencing the same symptoms with the same model laptop. After several failed attempts to troubleshoot the computer, I was deferred to the manager who offered to send me a free basic printer "for my troubles". Though the intention was empathetic, it didn't fix the problem and it didn't void out all the money I'd lost trying to fix my computer.

In the end, I purchased a HP Pavilion laptop. My computer problems didn't end when I made the switch, but the way I was treated did. Two years after I brought my HP home, the wireless and Internet connections failed. I did a little research and found through HP's site that this was the preliminary sign of a motherboard failure. I immediately contact HP (for free) and spoke with a representative who, recognizing that this was a model failure, sent me a pre-postaged packed to mail back for corrections. I was well-over my warranty period, but HP admitted to their shortcomings, took care of the problem for free and made me a very satisfied and now faithful customer.

Verisimilitude allows authors to convince readers with an air of doubt. Rather than demanding readers to believe all that is written is fact, the author, will the reader, admits the lack of logic or reason behind their own text and draws the reader to trust him or her. When HP readily admitted to me that there was a major failure with their product, I wasn't angry with the company for selling a faulty model. When DELL continuously sent me bills and then a cheap printer for a reoccurring (and common) problem, I lost all trust in the company and will never return to patron their business.

The theory behind verisimilitude for business and fiction confirms a basic principle: honesty is the best policy.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Stress: a history

I spent Easter Weekend with my parents hiking through snowy trails and avoiding fist fights for sparse parking spaces inside Yosemite National Park (but that's another story).

After breakfast Friday morning, we bid farewell to the trolleys of San Francisco and set onward to the giant sequoias and towering rock formations that beckoned us. It is incredible that within three hours we escaped entirely from the race of the city to the lethargic still of untouched nature. The transition was somewhat gradual- slowly the towns shrink in size, their frequency diminishes and the population begins to disappear as the roads slink around the Sierras surrounding Yosemite.

Once inside the park, we paused at the visitor's center to browse the exhibits, take a break from the chill of the brisk spring air and watch a video detailing the formation and preservation of Yosemite as a national park. Yosemite was commissioned as a national park in 1864 by President Abraham Lincoln. Even during the chaos of the Civil War, Galen Clark was able to catch the ear of the president and sway him on the importance of preserving this unique collection of natural, North American history. Shortly thereafter, influential California naturalist John Muir visited the park and Mariposa Grove and was left enamored. Although Muir's tenure in the park began in the late 1800s, he described the prowess of the surroundings to allow visitors to escape from the stress and chaos of daily life.

After the video, my mom remarked on how strange it was that Muir had lamented the stress of life back in the mid-1800s. She wondered, "what stress could he have had?" alluding to the vacancy of internet, cars and other high-speed indications of modern life. Muir didn't have TV, kids growing up too fast, gas prices skyrocketing, families torn apart by scandal and money; life moved at a much slower pace... it must have been much simpler. What was Muir trying to escape?

After leaving the park that day, we trudged back through winding hills to our tiny motel room in Mariposa, a town with just over 1,200 inhabitants. The town itself stretches no more than one mile and falls 40 minutes from the next town with a sizable population. The town had a tattoo parlor, a few restaurants, a bar, a couple florists, a toy shop and an inn. Mariposa is a time capsul of the wild west- the only street in town is flanked with building architecture reminiscent of the gold rush. With a small population, isolation from the "outside" world and no cell phone reception, life in Mariposa appeared to be in line with what Muir had sought: a release from the daily ritual and the stress that accompanies it. Or was it?

The idea got me to thinking about stress. What is the base of all our strains comprised of? When I think of the things I stress about, nothing about modern life really tends to play a factor: I worry about money, the future, family, love... all things inherent to life, regardless of the decade or era. Even though Mariposa is small in size, it's still just a microcosm of the world I live in. The stress of paying bills, missing loved ones and the mystery of the future aren't any clearer just because they fight for parking in a town of 1,200 people while I duke it out with 800,000 people.

Even though Muir probably never felt the pressure to send out a public statement within one hour of an event's occurrence or balancing communications on twitter, facebook, gmail, texts, work phone, cell phone, etc... the core of what he was escaping from is the same as that which we scorn today. Maybe Muir wasn't so off with the ability to get away from it in places like Yosemite. It's simple. It's natural and so captivatingly beautiful that you forget the worries that usually consume your thoughts and instead marvel at the age and immensity of the giant redwoods flanking the hiking paths.

It seems ironic that even on the brink of industrialization Muir yearned for an alternate. A couple decades earlier, Thoreau took up camp in Walden pond. The idea that life was always simpler doesn't seem to hold true. Each year we progress in ways to "simplify" life: dishwashers, netbooks, iPods, smart phones, vaccines, but we also find ways to make it more complicated. The plight of humanity to perfect living wages on, and fortunately for fore thinkers like Muir, we can take weekend vacations to regroup, re-center and evade the daily grind.


For a food aficionado, there’s nothing like a well-balanced meal topped off by a fitting beverage. Creating the perfect meal is as delicate a formula as following chemical equations to create new compounds; it’s a science of precision, balance and portions. The cook must ensure that not one flavor overpowers the others on the plate, that the tastes blend and pair together yet create such a contrast that all flavor sensations are fulfilled when the fork finally rests upon the plate. Finding a new food to add to the repertoire is a cook’s divinity; it’s that ability to expand and diversify however still achieve that same satisfaction that defines a true master. Although the thrill a unique flavor bursting on the tips my taste buds is an irresistible satisfaction that pleases my pallet, I find the sensation infallibly usurped by that of the discovery of a new word.

Though my obsession with language, etymology and linguistic may seem to waver on the nerdy side, the importance and power of our daily diction is so frequently overlooked. To apply the term “word” broadly in order to include names only deepens the value held by every unique string of letters. In Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, John Proctor relinquishes his freedom and his life, refusing to sign his name to confess satanic activity crying out, “Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life!” We assign feelings and judgments to names, or words. Without knowing anything about a food, a place, a person or the meaning of a word, the sound- be it cacophonic or euphonic- can blindly sway us to form an opinion on the object or administer a guess at its meaning. Words draw us in. Foodies exploring new restaurants make selections based on the words describing a dish. It’s not a list of ingredients included in each dish that causes our mouths to water when browsing menus, but how the description paints the flavors.

Foodies scour farmers markets and ethnic restaurants for ingredients hailing the bizarre, the uncommon and the fresh. Wordies scour books, radio, newspapers and daily conversation for the same, yet our cravings don’t require caloric intake to satisfy. Finding a new word isn’t as simple as researching synonyms for a common adjective- a true gem is coming across a single word that can eliminate the use of an entire phrase, a word that encapsulates an entire emotion or thought. Each language has words that will serve this purpose, though these words generally do not cross language boundaries and are dependent on the culture. When I lived in Spain, the freedom to hop between English and Spanish with my bilingual friends, exploiting the convenience of the two languages was bliss: the Anglo influence in English and the Roman/Muslim influence in Spanish provided a dynamic balance with a multitude of proficient words that easily eliminate any excess.

Being a wordie has nothing to do with finding big words. A wordie is someone who enjoys finding something so basic that carries such powerful meaning. I always was a critic of classmates in school that would flaunt their SAT preparation by decorating their essays with obtrusive and obnoxiously large words. A big word may seem impressive because it spans 10 or 11 letters, but among a string of malformed and ill-described concepts, these titanic words just look like blemishes. The point of writing is to describe or express a concept or idea. I most highly revere the writers that are able to accurately and efficiently portray his or her message, not those that send me reaching for my dictionary. Great cooks don't throw in impressive new dishes just to showcase their ability to make them unless they have the right balance among the other parts of the meal.

Two of my favorite words: unanimity and ubiquitous. Just the thought of their potential sends me reeling for the {porqué} to write another entry. I do admit I am guilty of using these words in most writing, but I justify my repetition through one more comparison to foodies: despite their quest to try new foods, aren't all foodies guilty of caving and deferring to an old favorite?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

my virtual family

I love technology. I could spend days wandering the aisles at Circuit City or Best Buy. When a new suite of Microsoft Office debuts, I create conveniente excuses to drop by computer stores just to play around with the new features. I become easily enraptured for hours with experimental projects just learning the various features of programs and the fastest ways to navigate them.

...and I love social networking.

I first opened a Facebook account before picture and video uploads were available and the principle behind the application was connecting students within their college spheres. In fact, the name "FACEBOOK" stems from the creator Mark Zuckberg's prep school's tradition of distributing a photo catalog of all students and faculty members, unofficially dubbed the "face book".

As Facebook grew in popularity, so did its functions. My mother abhorred at the idea that I was uploading pictures of my college antics or posting status updates that could assist a persistent stalker in tracking my favorite haunts. However, when I packed my bags for a 6-month stint in Spain, I drafted my mom to the Facebook troops to facilitate fast and efficient updates of my travels abroad. Two years later, she's mastered the site and even catches up with her own friends with photo uploads, wall posts and comments.

One of the major benefits of Facebook is its global reach. When I bid farewell to Spain, I left behind a network of friends from Slovenia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Morroco and scattered areas throughout the United States. Without the help of Facebook, the consolidated network that interconnects us all, the probability of keeping in touch would have a near impossible feat. Though checking photo uploads and reading their status updates (when written in a language I know!) doesn't constitute "keeping in touch" per se, it does keep us connected. A French classmate contacted me when she saw I was moving to San Francisco via my Facebook status. Ironically, she was going to be in the city for an extended stay shortly after my arrival. Had Facebook not updated her on my move, we'd have had to file a missed connection on Craig's list ex post facto...

Not only does Facebook help me maintain my ever-expanding web of friends and classmates, but the use of the site has actually enriched the relationships with my own cousins. Though growing up we were all based in the North East, age gaps and busy schedules prevented me and my cousins from really getting to know each other. As adults, we've scattered all over the country- stretching from Boston, DC, Michigan, NYC, California, Hawaii... but somehow we're a little closer. We talk more. We know more about each other. The "appropriate familial behavior" facade has erroded and our personalities have emerged through pictures, wall posts, etc. We've discovered common interests, experiences and goals through our Facebook profiles.

Though our strengthening bonds through social networking can't trump time spent together, our personal expression via our Facebook pages has enabled family gatherings to get a little more personal. We know more about each other and are more aware of each other's lives. When we gather, we spend less time listing our calendar of events or activity resume and more time discussing and divulging deeper into learning about each.

Many criticize the ease of "stalking" others on Facebook, but with a family so wide spread, and a global network of friends, we stay connected and close through our self disclosure. And though we're not making memories together, we're at least able to partake in sharing them.

Happy Easter

A special surprise greeted me this afternoon in my mailbox: this card from my friend Brittney!

"Time to get home, kids.
I don't know what you were doing hiding
under those bushes. And wearing all that
outrageous makeup! Wait until your
father hears about this!"

I love receiving cards, and my friend Brittney always does a wonderful job finding timely, witty and lovely cards to stock my mailbox. Wedged between bills and advertisements, I always smile when I spy a colorful envelope poking out of the stack.

I love the simplicity and the thoughtfulness evoked from cards. Since the practice of writing letters and sending cards has died with e-mail and phone calls, a handwritten card or letter exhales, "just an extra way to say I was thinking of you" as you slide it out of the envelope- no matter what it says. The same message could have also brightened my day had it been posted on my Facebook wall, but to hold the message in my hands- to hold something tangible, no technology can provide that authenticity.

{thank you, Britt}