Friday, August 29, 2008

I Lied...

This video was too hilarious to pass up.

-Taylor Baldwin

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Olympic Montage

This might normally be the type of thing that I post on my Tumblog, as it lends itself more to scrapbooking content, but I when I saw this short Olympic montage broadcast on NBC several days ago, I knew this was something I needed to find online and share. Now, some crappy computer speakers coupled with the terrible image quality leave this video with much to be desired, but I think you can get the point. And I promise, more substantive posts from now on.

-Taylor Baldwin

Monday, August 25, 2008

Business on the Deck

This morning, I sat on my deck, feet propped up against the railing, the low rumble of the highway wafting over the pool-goers as they crossed the hot black asphalt, and I conducted business. No longer am I consigned to that dark corner of Hell every Friday and Saturday night that is restaurant work. Instead, I'm organizing my teaching schedules. Yes, I'm on my way to becoming a self-employed man.

Almost two months ago, I awoke from some eerie dream where I had lost my job as a server and on the cusp of an expense hike in the rent area of my budget. It was a sober reminder of the thin ice on which I was already treading. The restaurant wasn't doing well, and all of us servers were allaying the uneasy notion that we might have to find other jobs. As I sat down to think about this problem, I came to the conclusion that I didn't want to work for other people anymore. If I worked for myself, I could set my own prices, work fewer hours, and make more money. So I started planning my piano studio.

Well, this past weekend I reached my goal of 9 students. This surpasses any money I would have made at the restaurant. It seemed like such a daunting task at first, but I made some great contacts and continually reminded people that I was teaching. This brought in enough referrals, and now I'm set on a more financially, if not emotionally (restaurant business is tough), secure path. Now my entire week's obligations (teaching lessons, teaching classes, taking classes, homework, and about 18 hours of practice) amounts to about 35 hours per week. All the while I'm making much more than I use to make in a 40-hour, full-time job.

Well, it's warming up, and that pool looks tempting from here. I think I might run down there for a bit.


Oh, and that restaurant? It closed.

Friday, August 22, 2008

One More Poem

Summer Storm
Dana Gioia

We stood on the rented patio
While the party went on inside.
You knew the groom from college.
I was a friend of the bride.

We hugged the brownstone wall behind us
To keep our dress clothes dry
And watched the sudden summer storm
Floodlit against the sky.

The rain was like a waterfall
Of brilliant beaded light,
Cool and silent as the stars
The storm hid from the night.

To my surprise, you took my arm-
A gesture you didn't explain-
And we spoke in whispers, as if we two
Might imitate the rain.

Then suddenly the storm receded
As swiftly as it came.
The doors behind us opened up.
The hostess called your name.

I watched you merge into the group,
Aloof and yet polite.
We didn't speak another word
Except to say goodnight.

Why does that evening's memory
Return with this night's storm-
A party twenty years ago,
Its disappointments warm?

There are so many might have beens,
What ifs that won't stay buried,
Other cities, other jobs,
Strangers we might have married.

And memory insists on pining
For places it never went,
As if life would be happier
Just by being different.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What Saturdays Are For

A poem that reminds me.

W.H. Davies

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Monday, August 18, 2008

When Scheduling Is Counterproductive

As most of you probably know, I'm a pretty big fan of schedules and really just organization in general. Many of my posts have raved on the benefits of the power of a focus and some clearly defined goals. But scheduling has a dark side, too. Scheduling itself can become a distraction from actually completing your goals. This might not be a problem for most people, but for me, the mathematical process of breaking down a goal into workable and easily executed sections is quite enjoyable - indeed, it is generally the most enjoyable part of my day.

The problem with reaching our goals, however, has far more to do than mathematical processes. If simply coming up with a good plan were all that was required to reach our goals, I think we'd all have reached our goals (which quite honestly, sounds like a boring life). The truth is that there is a human component to it all. And I've found that scheduling and planning can easily become the excuse to not executing our goals. Now, I'm not a proponent of just jumping into things without planning or thinking them through, but sometimes, you just have to take advantage of that motivation when it hits you, lest you be consigned to some cold corner of a coffee shop endlessly mapping out your unreachable destinies.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Social Norms vs. Market Norms

I was reading Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational the other day and found his discussion of social and market norms to be very interesting. He introduces the topic in a short video on his blog. I'll just be making a few comments on the topic.

Social norms are those norms which govern our social relationships. They operate in our social exchanges that take place all the time. A friend has invited you over for dinner as a favor. You ask for help in moving a couch into your new apartment. These things are simple favors, and most people have no problem doing them for others. These favors establish a respect in other people, good feelings in the volunteer, and the simple give and take of social relationships that generally show the mutual kinship we have with friends and family.

There also exist market norms. These are the norms upon which work relationships are established - generally with monetary trade. You go to work and exchange your effort for money every hour. You go to the grocery store and agree to trade your money for a certain product.

The two norms don't operate at the same time, however. Here's an example. There was a certain Israeli daycare center that decided to test the effects of these social and market norms. They used the problem of tardy parents as the center of their experiment. Occasionally parents would arrive a few minutes late to pick up their children, and to offset this, they daycare instituted a fee for those who were late to pick up their children. The fee had the opposite effect, however, and the rate of parental tardiness rose dramatically. Suddenly, parents were thinking, "I only have to pay a little bit extra so I can finish this tennis game or some of these errands before picking up my kid." Parents didn't need to feel badly for showing up late because their payment of the fee alleviated that guilt. The social norm that previously told parents that they ought to arrive on time was replaced with a market norm, allowing a monetary value to be placed on their tardiness. Even when the daycare removed the fee, the rate of tardiness remained at the elevated level, the social norms having already been replaced by market norms.

Ariely gives another good example: If I asked for your help in changing a tire, you would probably agree to help. But if I offered you a dollar in exchange for changing the tire, you'd probably refuse, thinking that one buck is hardly worth the work of changing a tire. If there is anything that we can learn from this, it's that in social situations, it's best to not introduce market norms. You probably shouldn't mention the price of gifts given to friends and family, nor should you insist on paying for gifts or favors given to you. And we'd probably be best advised to avoid the temptation of laziness in opting for monetary presents, when we really ought to put some thought into it and just purchase an actual gift.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

50th Blog Post

Well, today's post marks an important one for me (not that it's necessarily exciting for anyone else reading this). Today is my 50th blog post on this site, and for me it represents a milestone. I decided almost four months ago to start blogging again, this time with a little more serious intent and at regular intervals.

The discipline of writing three times a week, even when I didn't feel like it, really pushed me into a creativity that, many times, just didn't come unless I just started writing. Most of history's greatest composers were not necessarily prodigies. In fact, being a prodigy of a composer is something that could be attributed to perhaps less than only half a dozen. The overarching truth to the careers of all great composers, however, is that every composer improved from their early years. And this was only because they approached their craft with a daily and continuous production. They made a discipline of composing music even when they felt no particular inspiration. It is my belief (which is certainly not unfounded) that inborn talent plays only a small role in success. It is discipline and hard work that really makes the difference.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Chilled Berry Soup With Honey & Basil

I picked up some soup ideas from an NPR article on cold summer soups the other day and decided to go ahead and try out the berry soup. As the article points out, this soup is a light and refreshing addition to a warm summer evening. Sipping this soup on the deck the other night might be one of the highlights of the season so far. I made a few alterations to the recipe. The addition of basil actually works well with the honey and vanilla. It actually gives the soup a sort of flowery flavor, which I really enjoy. The soup is extremely easy to make, as well, taking all of 5 minutes. It's also affordable and healthy, coming in at around a buck and less than 200 calories per serving.

Makes 4 servings.

3 cups fresh or frozen berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries)
1 cup unsweetened cranberry juice
1 cup yogurt (I prefer whole milk)
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tbsp. honey (or to taste)
juice from 1/2 lemon
basil (for garnish)

Blend the berries and cranberry juice in a blender. You might need to add a little bit of warm water to get it thin enough to strain. Strain this mixture through a sieve to remove the seeds. Pour the strained liquid back into the blender with the rest of the ingredients: yogurt, vanilla, honey, and lemon. You can add the honey slowly until you achieve the sweetness you want. Just chill in the refrigerator for a few hours, or if you used frozen berries, the soup is generally cold enough to go ahead and eat. I like garnishing with basil, yogurt, and blueberries with a drizzle of honey on top.


Friday, August 8, 2008

The Importance of Focus

I was thinking today, and somewhat ironically as you'll see, about the importance of focus. I was at Starbucks this morning working on some scheduling before I went to practice piano, and random to-do items kept popping into my head. "Don't forget to pick up shifts at work; don't forget to go grocery shopping; you need to start working on your Beethoven piano sonata project." All the while, I was trying to complete my scheduling for the day, but all I could think about were all the things I needed to do, and the stress continued to mount.

Until, I realized that I have time set aside to think about these things later. I'll remember to pick up shifts at work. I go through my finances every few days and am reminded about it. I'll remember to go grocery shopping, and I have scheduled times already to work on my Beethoven project. There's no need to let these thoughts consume me now when I have already consigned them to other times in my schedule. Now the irony in all of this is, of course, that thoughts of focus kept distracting me from completing my scheduling. But I was thankful for the intrusion, however. For it was by this one thought that all the others went away.


Monday, August 4, 2008


I bought a book today. It's not that this is, in and of itself, some sort of novelty; I read books quite a bit nowadays. It is that I bought The Tempest by William Shakespeare which is sort of surprising. I am more of a nonfiction person myself, rarely venturing from the cold grasp of lifeless facts. (Quite candidly, nonfiction is anything but cold and lifeless and whose author possesses almost a greater task to creatively order and explain those things which have already happened.) I don't really know anything about The Tempest. I know there is a Beethoven piano sonata which bears the title as its nickname.

It was yesterday, while at lunch with my mom that she reminded me of the other type of book. Having just finished Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera, she encouraged me to take it for a read. I flipped through a few pages of it and opted instead for the Elizabethan play, but it was her suggestion that reminded me of those other worlds - stories which encapsulate the reader in alternate times and places, and which oftentimes poetically illustrate those concepts laid out in nonfiction.

I think fiction can teach you just as much as nonfiction. Characters and stories share with you experiences that you don't typically get from nonfiction writing. So tonight, I'm excited to lay down before bed and start working on this book. I'm thinking it'll take some time to digest and understand. And like most foods, I think that's a sign of good nutritive value.


Saturday, August 2, 2008

Goals, Schedules, and the Like

Now that I'm done with summer classes, I can finally start to relax a bit. The welcomed break is really less a break and more a chance to refocus. As I review my ever-expanding list of goals, I find that it takes a good amount of time to even go through them, thinking on each one. As I go through and evaluate my progress, I keep coming to the conclusion that I need to find a good way to think about these goals and how I can accomplish them.

One of the ways I've been forming these lists into more concise and digestible nuggets, is by organizing them by categories. I've been finding that many of these categories overlap with each other. So far these are the groups I have come up with: Exercise, Nutrition, Financial, Career, Piano, Education, Reading/Writing. It's easy to see how many of these overlap. Exercise and Nutrition obviously overlap; Nutrition and Financial goals overlap when you start planning around food costs; Financial and Career overlap; Career and Piano overlap for me; Piano and Education overlap in that applied piano lessons are a large part of my degree; and Education and Reading/Writing obviously overlap.

The other way in which I have been able to change my thinking concerning these goals in order to make sure I accomplish them is by scheduling. This kind of goes along with the post I wrote about thinking ahead. By scheduling, I can think ahead through my day, through my week, planning ahead to make sure things happen. To make sure I'm taking the small steps everyday in order to complete the larger journey that are most of these goals. This surprisingly takes many, many hours to complete - about 45 minutes per category.

For the Exercise category, I schedule my workouts for the week - not only when they will take place, but what I will be doing in each workout to accomplish my overall set of goals. For Nutrition, I research food options that are healthy and affordable that I can prepare fairly easily, or in advance, for the week. This typically includes thinking ahead and setting a mindset in certain situations. For example, when I get to my serving job, it's hard for me not to grab a bit of the loaf of bread that somehow always mysteriously appears in the server station. So I have to think ahead and make my decision now to not graze on bread for the whole shift, instead of waiting until I'm hungry to make that decision.

I'll cover the other categories in my next post. But in case you haven't discovered the power of scheduling your goals, try it. Setting goals and achieving them is great for your overall well-being.