Friday, September 24, 2010

Steak a la Pizzaiola

One of my good friends and co-worker is a phenomenal chef who loves to experiment. She invited me over one night for some cooking and musical fun and that night we decided to create a new dish. Technically it is Steak a la Pizzaiola, but what made it fabulous was the mashed potatoes mix which contained numerous ingredients (such as cayenne pepper and thai spices) that don't normally go into a Southern potato mix but tasted wonderful. Below you can see the end result, along with a few of my steps to get there:

Thursday, September 16, 2010

You Will ads

I cam across these videos at work today and realized at how much has changed in the short span of time since they aired:
I remember seeing these ads during the Cowboys Super Bowl games of '93 and '94. At the time the features shown in these ads seemed so far off, yet now many of them are so common place that we forget about living in a world without them (well, other than the phone booth aspect). When I was 13, the "3d character animation for motion pictures and games" industry didn't even exist. And now I train people who live thousands of miles away from that industry, and we do it while seeing each others faces in real time. Similarly, I can call my family and see their faces from my phone and send them movies and photos at the same time. And I can even write this post and update it to a digital blog from the comfort of my bed without having to worry about wires, monitors, overheating, or any of the other early 90's computer annoyances.

With advancements like these, I wonder what we will be taking for granted in another 17 years when my children graduate...

Monday, September 13, 2010

Passion: Healthy progress

When I created this blog I stated my different passions and goals, one of which involved my health:

A decade ago I was underweight and couldn't gain weight no matter much I ate. 2 years ago I was overweight and lazy. Through hard work and dedication I was able to lose 40 pounds and get back into decent shape. Now I want to really work on being fit and being able to get the most out of life.
At the time of my first post I had run a 5k and 10k at roughly 10 minutes a mile and was proud of my growth from couch potato to amateur runner. One year later, I am running unplanned half-marathons for fun (also at 10 minutes a mile but my first 10k is at about 9 minutes a mile, the last one kills me). I've brought my 1 mile speed down to sub 7 minutes from 9 minutes and will get it even lower by this next year (it would be great to see a mile in the 5 minute range). And overall I've just had fun with running, something I never thought would be possible.

As for my weight goals, I began working out more. As mentioned above, I had lost 40 lbs before beginning this blog, but it the process lost a lot of muscle too. Below you can my transformation from 10 years ago to 3 years ago to last year at the time of my first post:

While I am not at the "fit" point that I want to be I am on the right path. I have gained 15 pounds since last September, yet my pants size has dropped one size so most of the weight is now in my upper body. My workouts now have me lifting double/triple the amount of weight I was a year ago. My max pull ups doubled, I went from roughly 10 max "perfect push-ups" to over 50!

I am building a future post (likely for 2011) on this subject that will include more embarrassing before and after photos so I won't go into too much here. Without giving too much away, here are some photos one of running buddies took, without me knowing, of my obsessive relationship with pull ups (both overhand and underhand): If I see a workout bar on the street, you can expect to see me at least pump out 10 pull-ups. You can even see the sequence where I drop down and suddenly realize they were taking photos. Not shown: the severe beatdown I gave to them afterwords. But hey, at least I have something to show now, right?

I am on my way to a fitter Jay!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Goals: my blog's 1st year

So last week marked the one year anniversary of this blog. At the time I was busy running an impromptu half-marathon and was unable to address it, but my plan in creating this blog involved a yearly check-in to verify I continued to meet my theme:
This blog will document my passions, progress, and random musings so at the end of the day I can look back and see that, while I have not reached everything I have hoped for, I am further than when I started. And tomorrow is always another day on the road to a new Jay.
So how did I do? Well, for base stats I posted 220 stories in 365 days, blogging for roughly 60% of the year. While this is far from a 100% posting rate I had imagined, it is a vast improvement over the 1 post per year rate I had previously. I also noticed a trend of 3 months off and on for my posting habits. I was really strong September and October (literally posting everyday) and then posted only 30 times over the next 3 months (having a new baby may be a good excuse though). I then did well from Feb-April, but disappeared from May until July. Although at this time I was stuck on the notion of emphasizing the posting date over the completion date, and many of April's 29 posts were actually written throughout May and June. I then picked it back up for July and August and have maintained roughly a 60% monthly average since. Not bad, but it could be better.

Then again, one hypothesis that I am looking into this year is whether posting too often about productivity is detrimental to my actual productivity. Maybe I need that other 40% of time for my projects? Or maybe not. We'll see how my numbers are in September 2011...

My most common themes were:

Jay (53) - it is a blog about me, so this is not surprising
photography (53) - did not expect this, but in retrospect it was far easier to spend a weekend with the family and a camera to create 5 posts than it was to animate for 3 weeks to get 1 post
animation (44) - it is my job and hobby, but not enough of these posts were showing progress in my work, they were informative articles or links
family (41) - a vast majority being photography of my frequent trips to visit the family. These will be fun to look at over the years
music (34) - surprised it was this high, I feel like I didn't create enough performance videos this year
theme (33) - a somewhat nebulous category since the majority of my posts do involve my theme of progression, I just got tired of tagging them all and only tagged the major milestones.

So that is a brief look at my first year in blogging. Over the next month I will create a retrospective post for each of my passions to see reallly how much I progressed during this year...

And with that, I shall end this much like I began it: it's my blog and I will do what I want!

(and I have)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Die Pennies, Die

I admire this man's passionate diatribe against pennies, plus he gives some very good points as to why pennies are no longer needed:

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Streaks - the Seinfeld methods meets the iPhone

Exactly one year ago I wrote about Jerry Seinfeld's method of marking a calendar each day he worked towards a goal and trying to create a visible "streak" each month on the calendar. I implemented this into my workflow and found it very helpful. But I did have months where even though I did work on my projects each day I never wrote them on my calendar since I wasn't near it when I completed the goal. Recently I was told about an app for the iPhone that recreates this goal method perfectly called Streaks. The app is very simple: you have a calendar with a task title, such as "Work Out", and each day you do the assigned task you mark it in the calendar. The app then tracks your streaks each and lets you know how many times in a row you have done it! You can create a separate calendar for each of your various tasks and track them all.

If you are serious about tracking your work towards a goal then I highly recommend picking up this app, otherwise pick up an actual calendar and try it the "old fashioned" way.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Parallel Parking

This 30 sec short should help to remind everyone to always pay attention to the street signs before parking, else you could end up like this:

Parallel Parking from Yum Yum London on Vimeo.

Nice stop-motion style to the piece too, kudos to the creators.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Glee-fully Looking Back at Children in Eternity

Welcome to another pseudo-Jay's Playlist! Today's topic is about confused familiarity with new musical themes.

The other day I was watching the first few episodes of the show "Glee" and heard a theme I recognized. As two characters (who are destined to be together as the season progresses) begin shyly flirting with each other a simple, beautiful piano theme plays in the background. Each time I heard it I racked my brain trying to determine where I heard it from. A quick Google search brought up the song "Looking Back" by Kerry Muzzey: (beginning with the theme used 0:56)

While the mystery of the song title was solved, a new one presented itself: I had never heard of the piece before, so why was it so familiar? How could I hum the upcoming notes to the piece even before I had even heard them the first time?

The answer came when a began listening to my "favorites" playlist with all my top ranked singles. One of my favorite pieces from 1996 suddenly called up emotional Glee scenes in my mind as it played:

Soon after that, my Final Fantasy piano playlist began, and it happened again:

It is amazing how a simple melody pattern can appear so often in my emotional favorites list, and in roughly the same key no less. "Looking Back" and "Eternity" both use the B-flat, A, F to B-Flat, A, E-flat pattern (Eternity pulls the e-flat from the baseline though while the treble still plays the F), and Children does the same pattern but with A-flat as the starting note.

Upon hearing this many people may call it plagiarism, but really it is just a coincidence. In the end, there is a finite number of melodic combinations of the 12 chromatic notes, so the same combination is bound to appear in numerous pieces. Malcom Gladwell addresses this in his essay on "Plagiarism":

Ferrara once served as an expert witness for Andrew Lloyd Webber, who was being sued by Ray Repp, a composer of Catholic folk music. Repp said that the opening few bars of Lloyd Webber’s 1984 “Phantom Song,” from “The Phantom of the Opera,” bore an overwhelming resemblance to his composition “Till You,” written six years earlier, in 1978. As Ferrara told the story, he sat down at the piano again and played the beginning of both songs, one after the other; sure enough, they sounded strikingly similar. “Here’s Lloyd Webber,” he said, calling out each note as he played it. “Here’s Repp. Same sequence. The only difference is that Andrew writes a perfect fourth and Repp writes a sixth.”

But Ferrara wasn’t quite finished. “I said, let me have everything Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote prior to 1978— ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’ ‘Joseph,’ ‘Evita.’ ” He combed through every score, and in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” he found what he was looking for. “It’s the song ‘Benjamin Calypso.’ ” Ferrara started playing it. It was immediately familiar. “It’s the first phrase of ‘Phantom Song.’ It’s even using the same notes. But wait—it gets better. Here’s ‘Close Every Door,’ from a 1969 concert performance of ‘Joseph.’ ” Ferrara is a dapper, animated man, with a thin, well-manicured mustache, and thinking about the Lloyd Webber case was almost enough to make him jump up and down. He began to play again. It was the second phrase of “Phantom.” “The first half of ‘Phantom’ is in ‘Benjamin Calypso.’ The second half is in ‘Close Every Door.’ They are identical. On the button. In the case of the first theme, in fact, ‘Benjamin Calypso’ is closer to the first half of the theme at issue than the plaintiff’s song. Lloyd Webber writes something in 1984, and he borrows from himself.”

In the “Choir” case, the Beastie Boys’ copying didn’t amount to theft because it was too trivial. In the “Phantom” case, what Lloyd Webber was alleged to have copied didn’t amount to theft because the material in question wasn’t original to his accuser. Under copyright law, what matters is not that you copied someone else’s work. What matters is what you copied, and how much you copied.

In this case, it doesn't matter whether the composers knew they were "copying" each other, the end result is the same: three beautiful, emotional themes. So the next time I hear a new theme that sounds familiar, I should listen to my "favorites" playlist as I may have discovered yet another pattern that emotionally resonates with me.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

World's Scariest job

Saw this video and found it quite interesting and vertigo-inducing. It is great reference for climbing, especially for those of you animating for first person games. And even though the video is just a small square on my screen, my body still cringes and reacts as if I was the one doing the actions:

Boy am I glad my job keeps me grounded...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Marathon at the Bay: a photo story

Have you wanted to run a 1/2 marathon but were unable to do so due to health/weather/rabid coyote concerns? Or, if you are not a runner, have you ever wondered what walking next to a bay at sunset looked like? Then this post is for you!

One day I walked outside and said "I am going to run until I cannot run any longer". After 13.1 miles, 2 hours and 24 minutes, and numerous stops for photos passed I walked into my house and collapsed asking myself why I ever decided to do such a thing. Now you can enjoy the experience without all the annoying knee pains, gasping and wheezing lungs, and sore legs which refused to go up or down stairs for a week afterwords!

Below you will find my final course through Emeryville. While I didn't originally plan on running a marathon when I started, I ran these various trails enough to know their distances and by mile 9 decided to take a detour to reach that 13 mile marker (final total was 13.4 miles). The numbers shown below are actually locations of pictures for reference (not miles). Click on any photo for a larger, more detailed photo. Sometimes the tiniest/furthest parts of the photo are actually my next destination in the run!

For full effect, press the play button to hear the music I listened to for most of the run, a piece which is perfect for watching sunsets.

1. Looking West towards Marina -
At about the 2nd mile I was stunned by the beauty of the oncoming sunset and took the first photo. The little tree in the center of the road is about 1 mile away at marker 2.

2. Looking West towards San Francisco - the first of many shots showing the sun slowly lowering towards the horizon, which for this vantage point is the Golden Gate Bridge. San Francisco is the land in the center.

3. North towards Berkeley Marina - The brown land mass in the center of the photo is the Berkeley Marina (marker 9); one hour later I would be standing there taking a photo of my present location.

3.2 East towards Berkeley - in about 20 minutes I would be running along that path bordering the water on the other side of the bay

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Girls at the airport!

My first joy each time I fly to see the kids is seeing my children waiting for me at the airport. And the feeling is shared by them: