Monday, August 31, 2009

Just a little play

Blue Cohort, Team Two, Class of 2011, Yale SOMI've mentioned previously that the Class of 2011 is divided into four cohorts, of which mine is Blue, and that those cohorts are further divided into seven or so study teams, of which mine is Team 2. There are eight people on my team. We're supposed to help one another with assignments and projects, and have already met a couple times to do that.

About a week ago, we decided to have dinner on Sunday (yesterday). Jeremy (sitting in the middle on the right side) and his wife, Tracy (to his right), agreed to host. (Only one member of our team couldn't attend.)

I'd spent Saturday at my brother's place, babysitting, because it was my sister-in-law's birthday. That was a fun trip -- Mike came along, and we did get a little accounting work done. The kids were somewhat well-behaved, although I'd actually never babysat in my life, so it was a challenge to do the whole bedtime routine. But Mike was a great help, and overall it was a fun time.

Naturally, though, hanging out Saturday meant needing to buckle down on Sunday, so as the time was approaching for this Team 2 dinner, I began to wonder whether I should bail, since I had so much work left to do.

But I didn't, and I'm so glad I didn't, because this was a much-needed opportunity to socialize in a relaxed setting Team 2and have a good meal on top of it. (My typical dinner since arriving in New Haven has been Triscuits with Laughing Cow cheese, an apple and some celery with hummus. I've lost 10 pounds on the Too Busy To Cook Anything Diet.)

What I learned, or what I think I learned, is that my assignments will get done, perfect or not perfect, and although I want to do my best in my classes, it's not worth shutting out real life to meet that end. Finding that balance, as I've mentioned, will be, I think, the biggest challenge for me here.

Anyway, back to work ...

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Behold the elusive Fourth Hole, and yours truly in a golf tie. Photo by Mark Butterworth / Yale School of Management

5 Pub Golf Pictures

Last night I participated in more than half of what the kids these days call "pub golf," which entailed neither pubs nor golf. To play, one wolfs down predetermined libations in as few sips as possible over a series of nine holes (apartments, in this instance). By Hole Five, the environment had grown too cacophonous for this serious-minded business school student, and my dear friend Mike and I sauntered away to do our own thing.

Here are some of the pictures I took. I managed yet again to not end up in any. If I'm in any pictures that end up on Facebook, I will redirect them here, because I was kind of proud of my ensemble.

Pub GolfThe rules are explained at Hole One. The drink: punch. My score: hole in one. The gentleman explaining the rules is a wonderful fellow named Ethan, a fellow Duke alumnus, and thus someone who understands how to drink.

Pub GolfHole Two. The drink: Jello shots. Another hole in one for ol' John, although I'm not sure how to consume a Jello shot any other way.

Pub GolfHole Three. The drink: Greyhounds (vodka w/ grapefruit juice). My score: 2. The grapefruit juice was simply too much ... I think the vodka actually made it easier to chug.

Pub Golf

Hole Five. I guess I forgot to take a picture of Four. And this is where I become grateful I did not volunteer my apartment for this ...

Mike at J.P. Dempsey's

The Nineteenth Hole. Back in my days growing up as a spoiled, pampered country club kid, we would eat in the Nineteenth Hole, which as the name implies is a dining room and bar for those who have finished 18 holes of golf. I never completed that prerequisite but nevertheless managed to have cheeseburgers there. In this case, Mike's and my "nineteenth hole" was J.P. Dempsey's, where we had nachos and beer.

All in all, a great evening, and one I think was well-deserved. I worked hard this week and stuff!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Just another dream

Last night I had a dream. I was at an airport/train station with a bunch of SOM people, all headed to various cities for the day -- Boston, Providence, New York, etc. My classmates had name tags and ribbons indicating where they were going and how they were getting there, but I didn't. I was too embarrassed to admit I didn't know what was going on, but eventually I got over it and asked an SOM staffer for help. She asked where I wanted to go, and I said Boston (since I've never been there), and she added me to some list. And off I went. I wonder what it could possibly mean ...

Meanwhile, it is gorgeous in New Haven -- crisp and cool, enough so that one can slide under one's comforter instead of sweating all night on top of it. And, yes, Rob Marciano of CNN is at this moment in Mystic, Connecticut, telling me about Tropical Storm Danny. I will pretend it's not true.

Speaking of jobs that depend on an understanding of probability, I really enjoyed doing my first probability assignment! I looove it. Here's an example of one of the questions:

A cancer screening procedure would result in detecting 75 percent of persons with cancer, but would falsely identify 1 percent of those without cancer. It is estimated that 1 in 300 persons examined has cancer. What is the probability that an individual does not have cancer if the test is negative? What is the probability that an individual has cancer if the test is positive? Do these results make sense? Explain in a few sentences.

So fun! Well, maybe not "time of my life" fun, but I love to sit down with a pen and paper and grapple.

Speaking of "time of my life" fun, if I have the stamina, I shall participate in a delightful evening of pub golf tonight. I think we all know where this is headed ...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Impossible? So it's only Day 3 of classes, and I must say that it already appears not to be possible to be the give-everything-110% kind of student I would like to be. There just simply aren't enough hours. But so far I am doing my best; probably, though, I will quickly be out of touch with new music and what's on TV.

Summary of my classes:

1. Economics. Taught by the dean for the first half, and then another professor for the second half. The dean enjoys "cold-calling" people; in fact, she has a deck of cards with each of our names and faces on them, and she deals them out to determine whom to call. That is intimidating, although my impression is that the questions will be more like "Why do you think the company priced this product this way?" and less like "Give me the formula for arc elasticity of demand or leave the room immediately." Fortunately for me, I just took economics over the summer, so everything we've covered in the book so far is fresh and familiar: supply and demand curves and what causes them to shift, how to determine equilibrium and various elasticities, basic concepts and definitions, etc. And we've also had some pretty interesting articles to read; I think the emphasis of this class is more on real-world problem solving than on abstract concepts.

2. Spreadsheet Modeling. I think this is going to be the hardest class for me (and, from what I can tell, for most people). We had a rather lengthy and somewhat complicated assignment prior to the first class, and on my own I got almost nowhere. Then working through it with my friend Mike, we got somewhere. Then working with a few members of my "team" -- we're divided into 8-member teams we're encouraged to study with -- we got a little further. But in class, we went over the assignment, and it seemed like everybody wasn't quite there. The class used to be a second-year elective, but now it's a mandatory first-year core class because students said they needed to know this stuff for their summer internships. So the good news is that I will probably learn important, useful things. The bad news is that doing so may be unpleasant.

3. Accounting. This is probably going to be the second-hardest class for me, not because it appears to be particularly hard per se, although there seems to be a lot of homework, but because I am unfamiliar with this topic. We were all required to do an online accounting module over the summer, so that has been helpful; at least I basically know what a balance sheet, income statement and statement of cash flows are, and I think I know the difference between operating, investing and financing activities. But a lot of concepts and words are coming up that I have to look up, because I didn't deal with the financial end of my industry at all. That'll make this slow-going, and I expect to have to do a lot of re-reading. Flash cards are in the works. The professor also cold-calls, and actually does ask questions that have actual answers, like "What's goodwill?"

4. Probability & Statistics. If the first class is an indication, I think I am going to (a) enjoy this a lot and (b) perhaps be successful at it. I took statistics over the summer, so everything we covered in the first class was very familiar (and, honestly, not hard). But, of course, when that's the case, it's easy to not take it as seriously and quickly fall behind. So I will do my best not to do that. But I truly love statistics, especially probability. And I don't necessarily get the impression that tons of prior "business" experience is a big advantage in this course. But it may be too early to make that generalization.

5. Problem Framing. This seems interesting, although I still don't quite understand what the work in the class will entail. The point of this class is that managers and CEO's have been telling Yale that their MBA interns and hires could use more skills when it comes to approaching problems in interesting or insightful ways. This class is supposed to explain how and why we shouldn't just accept a problem's "frame" and blindly solve the problem as it's presented, but should instead ask questions such as, "Is this even a problem? Could it instead be an opportunity?" Accoridng to the professors, this is a unique class not offered by other MBA programs, although I imagine the same concepts are covered in one manner or another. Again, interesting, but I don't have a sense of what the homework/assignments will actually involve.

6. Careers. Haven't had it yet; it meets once a week, and my first class is today. The readings were interesting, though. Obviously this is a more introspective class designed to help us determine our career paths, so in some ways this may be the most "important" class, although I have no sense of whether it will be hard.

Speaking of class, off I go ...

Monday, August 24, 2009

My first class starts in one hour

I have a metaphorical apple for the teacher (i.e. my smiling face) and am ready to go. I spent the weekend in diligent study. I'm going to learn, learn, learn until my eyes bleed. Then I'm going to have a successful, exciting, fulfilling, meaningful and happy life.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Hanging in there

Tracy Kodner artwork Today Susan and I finally hung up our pictures, including my most prized art possession, a painting my friend Tracy Kodner made for me a year or so ago, called Garden on the Sun (pictured). Isn't it a delight? This picture might not make it clear how large this thing really is -- it's five feet wide. I'm so relieved it survived the move. We also bought some curtains today because at night I get the feeling that my sweaty, half-naked body is on display for the whole neighborhood to see. And I don't want to start a riot.

This morning we awoke to no power in our building, which is always a funny experience because Sue at Nica'syou realize how totally dependent you are on electricity. No TV, no Internet ... even my piano plugs in. So Sue and I went to Nica's for breakfast sandwiches, then hit Target and Lowe's for aforementioned curtains and other goodies (shoe organizer, clock, blah blah).

The rest of the day was spent reading the first chapter of my accounting textbook and doing some of the problems. I will admit that I found the reading and notetaking part pretty boring, but once I tried to do some of the problems, I kind of got a kick out of figuring it out. Accounting is completely foreign to me (except that we had to do an online module about it over the summer). I hope and assume it will not be foreign to me two years from now ...

And that leads me to a couple thoughts on work/life balance. We were told repeatedly during orientation that networking is as important, or more important, than studies. And tonight I did turn down an opportunity to go out (sorry) ... But here's the thing. I'm a nontraditional MBA student who knows virtually nothing about business. So all the networking in the world will be useless if I don't understand accounting, economics, spreadsheet modeling and so forth. So all things being equal, I'm probably going to pick studying over going out, especially at first. (Staying in is also the economically shrewd choice. That loan money still hasn't made it into my checking account! Monday, supposedly ...)

Friday, August 21, 2009

I met a CEO, then saw Anderson Cooper

Erika and SuzanneMy class (including Erika and Suzanne, pictured) went to New York yesterday for what turned out to be a fantastic day, one that offered a glimpse of what it might feel like to be important.

We got snazzed up in business attire and boarded four private cars on the train, and headed to Grand Central, from which we took a short walk to the Yale Club for lunch. The Yale Club is restricted to Yale alumni and faculty (and, I believe, current grad and professional students) and still holds fast to old-fashioned dress codes. Our lunch was fine, especially considering it was made for more than 200 people. Our guest speaker was Christopher Granger, Senior VP for development at the NBA, and a '99 Yale SOM grad. He was a great speaker.

Then we broke up into small groups and visitied the companies for which we had signed up several weeks ago. I chose Time Warner, and from what I can tell, our group ended up with the best deal -- the 20 or so of us got to sit around a conference table with the CEO, Jeff Bewkes, for more than an hour. He's a Yale undergrad alum, which may explain why someone of that level would bother talking to us. He talked about the company and the challenges for media ahead, which are aplenty, and took our questions. We also got to talk with a panel of four other execs from other Time Warner divisions, all of whom had MBAs.

Anderson CooperOn the way out of the building, my group's elevator stopped, the doors opened, and there was Anderson Cooper (pictured, along with his arms). He looked at the full elevator and basically turned around and scuttled away. Thus I believe us to currently be best friends. The building was amazing; no cameras allowed, though.

After that, we scooted to the New York Stock Exchange to have cocktails and appetizers; that was also amazing, and there were also no cameras allowed. Sorry!

Mike, Mark and SuzanneMy buddy Mike and I had some edamame cakes somewhere, then became witness to a violent and bizarre exchange between our cab driver and a limo driver who was blocking the street. They exchanged words and projected drinking cups at one another; then a chase ensued, and Mike and I got out several blocks from our destination. I have no confidence that both drivers are alive and uninjured.

Our destination: The Brass Monkey (pictured: Mike, Mark and Suzanne), where we met up with classmates. Then, finally, we took what seemed like the longest train ride ever back home. All in all, a super day in New York City for this starstruck little Texan.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

3 days of bombardment

A break during orientation, in Davies Auditorium.If the first week of orientation last week didn't feel like a traditional orientation, this week has more than made up for it. We've had wall-to-wall sessions on student clubs, data analysis and spreadsheet programs, library services, student government, security, transportation, diversity, the honor code, health services, the communication center, the career office, our international trip, plus guest speakers (including Laszlo Bock, Yale SOM alum and VP for People Operations at Google), a homework assignment, bowling, a "taste of New Haven" luncheon. That's a lot. Of these, the surprising gem was the honor code session, which involved some interesting discussion about eight supposed violations, whether they were wrong and why, and what the punishments were or should have been.

Vinnie, Susan and Matt.In addition to all that, my roommate, Susan, has moved in, assisted by her boyfriend, my best friend Matt. His stay was brief, but I got to have dinner at his brother's family's house and get some face time, which we haven't had much of over the past few years. Hopefully we'll have more if and when he gets a job in New Haven; for now he's back in Virginia. Their cat, Vinnie, is joining us in New Haven. He has not yet embraced my affections.

So one of the main points of getting an MBA is to connect with a good professional network, an advantage that was nicely illustrated in an exercise we did today. We broke into groups of about 25-30 and each had to write down a professional desire: Examples included "I want to learn more about investment banking," "I want to learn Spanish," or "I want to meet so-and-so." Then each was read aloud, and if we could help that person, we were to write a Post-It and pass it up. I naturally didn't figure I'd be able to help much of anybody, since I don't have a business background, but in fact one person wanted to learn how he could improve his public speaking, and I was all over that. My request was to learn more about opportunities for MBAs in the news, newspaper and media industries, and four people said they could help; I have not pursued how.

Truthfully, the networking aspect of the program offers a distinct challenge to me, because although I think I'm pretty good at social networking, professional networking really isn't a game I've had to play. The difference is that the latter requires a deeper understanding of the industries involved -- to do it effectively, I need to be able to comprehend what people's jobs really mean and make mental connections, and that's been a little tough for me. (If someone tells me they "were in mergers and acquisitions," it takes me many follow-up questions to begin to understand what that person in fact did.)

Much of the career advice hinged on needing to, basically, get serious, and get serious very quickly. That's obviously what I am trying to do, although it's a bit overwhelming to be more or less asked to determine what kind of internship and career I might want when we haven't even had our first class! But, as I keep being told, that's just the reality of this world, like it or not. I'm reasonably focused, though. I want to find out what kind of jobs exist in which I could apply business knowledge to help news companies pursue successful new strategies and ventures. I shall, indeed, find this out, in due time.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

An old friend for dinner (nom nom nom)

I am Dave, and I am serious.
I met Dave in Corpus Christi in 2001; we both worked for years at the Caller-Times. He now lives in Hartford, about 40 minutes away, and works at the Courant. He came down Saturday, and I have two awfully painful blisters on my foot to prove that we, like, mad explored and stuff. Among the many, many places we went, I discovered three loudly trumpeted local establishments of note:

1. Educated Burgher, on Broadway. Dave is generally willing to stuff his face, and on occasion I'm more than happy to follow. Observe my supper: a bacon/swiss/mushroom cheeseburger, a foot-long hot dog with hot salsa, fries and what's called Birch Beer, which is basically clear root beer. I think this was my first burger since getting overloaded on them for work at the Star-Telegram, where I judged 10 burgers in a two-week period. Great burger and fries; a so-so hot dog.

2. Ashley's Ice Cream, on York. This place boasts "the best ice cream in Connecticut." Their offerings include a $22.95 sundae that features seven scoops of ice cream, nine toppings and two bananas, served on a frisbee. I had a vanilla cone. Dave had a Coffee Oreo cone. We both thoroughly enjoyed them.

3. Wine Thief, on Whitney. This is a beer, wine and spirit store adjacent to Manna, the first grocery store I visited in New Haven. Very cute and inviting, with what seemed to this unsophisticate to be an ample, exotic selection. Not a Bud, Miller, Blue Moon or Sam Adams in the joint. We enjoyed (a) Paper City Brewery Summer Brew, brewed in Western Massachusetts, and (b) Ithaca Beer Co. Apricot Wheat, though it was a touch too fruity.

In other news, I'm moving closer and closer to dumping my dumb car. I've been here two weeks and driven three times: to a supermarket, to visit my brother, and to drive back from the tow yard. The visiting-brother thing is really what keeps me from getting rid of it today, but I better make it up there an awful lot to justify it.

Friday, August 14, 2009

5 clambake photos (from Thursday, Aug. 13)

One of the orientation activities Thursday was a trip to the beach (Lighthouse Point Park, in East Shore, also known as Morris Cove) for beautiful scenery, food, drinks and, naturally, merry-go-round rides. There are oodles of pictures already on the Web, but the Web could always use more, especially since mine are clearly superior, as I am a professional, published photojournalist.

Lighthouse Point Park in Connecticut.

The Long Island Sound. It's kind of like the beaches of Corpus Christi, except cool and calm, instead of humid and wind-tunnel-like. Photo by John Metz. To purchase, please send money.

New Haven Lighthouse in Connecticut.

The New Haven Lighthouse, which opened in 1847 and is apparently interesting because of its octagonical shapitude. Photo by John Metz. To purchase, please send money.

Lighthouse Point Park in New Haven.
I assume people who say New Haven is shitty don't spend much time here. Photo by John Metz. To purchase, please send money.

The carousel at Lighthouse Point Park in New Haven, Connecticut.

The carousel, which I indeed rode. This is also an accurate illustrative representation of how I felt roughly 12 hours later, thanks to one too many cocktails. Photo by John Metz. To purchase, please send money.

The carousel at Lighthouse Point Park in New Haven, Connecticut.

And post-clambake, the evening descended into madness, beginning at a place called GPSCY, which is apparently a popular place for grad students to go. Nice place! There was a screening of Wayne's World. Pictured are Mike (SOM) and Giancarlo (Forestry), two of my best friends in New Haven, which means people I've known for less than two weeks, and Kasia (International Relations), who I met last night, and is therefore also one of my best friends in New Haven.

Audubon Street project

Daniel MacPhee of the Yale Sustainable Food ProjectOver the past two days, we had an orientation activity where we broke into groups of eight and had to put together a 7-minute presentation on how an empty store front near campus should be used. It was a good glimpse into group work, and a lot of fun (woulda been funner had I been healthier, but whatevs).

Based on this, I think when it comes to group work it's going to be a challenge for me to negotiate the conflict between contributing what I know I can do -- journalism stuff -- vs. taking on things I need to learn how to do, like put together financial statements.

For instance, in this activity I did a minor bit of reporting, interviewed a guy to get some quotes for our presentation, took some pictures (above) and wrote some of the text in the PowerPoint. I did not, obviously, contribute anything, or even follow, the financial and accounting stuff. It seemed like six people in the group were familiar with that, and two of us were a bit lost, but we both had other ways to contribute. I also realized I could've contributed more if I had had PhotoShop and Premiere on my school computer, so I installed them tonight. (Did I mention Yale SOM gives every student a laptop?) Depending on what future projects are like, I may even invest in a video camera and tripod, because I could do some spiffy stuff for presentations like this.

But whoa there, Nellie. On the other hand, if I always jump on the journalism stuff I know how to do, I'm not going to learn I came for the knowledge.anything, which is the whole reason I'm here. Since this was just a fun introductory orientation activity, it didn't seem like an appropriate venue to slow down the works and ask a bunch of questions (like "Say wha?"), but after classes start and I be learnin' some things, I will certainly need to move into less comfortable roles, or else I will have kinda wasted my money and time.

By the way, the idea for our project was to use the space and partner with the Yale Sustainable Food Project to do a produce market / restaurant and have cooking classes. The Yale Sustainable Food Project (pictured above, with the farm manager, Daniel MacPhee), among many things, runs an organic, student-managed farm about a block from my house that I had noticed, and even taken pictures of, but didn't know what it was. Apparently they have free brick-oven pizza on Friday nights, so I will swing by there sometime and do me a little planting, then a little face-stuffing.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Still sick and hot, but trying to attack life

Glorious New Haven, Connecticut.

My computer computes on, despite the beef lo mein incident ... just a couple sticky arrow keys. Today was tragedy free, although I remain ever so sick.

Behold glorious New Haven! I shot this during one of my orientation events today, a bus tour, and it didn't turn out too badly for a cellphone photo. This is from a high-altitude spot known as East Rock, which is also the name of my 'hood, although I don't have this view. Isn't it grand? Off in the distance, you could see New Haven Harbor and, beyond it, the Long Island Sound if it were a clearer day. Going to the beach is on my ever-growing list.

I keep being impressed by how nice and down-to-earth my classmates seem to be, and with quite varied careers -- government, education, the military, banks, theater, public television, the Peace Corps ... even a couple other newspaper writers, although neither appears interested in staying in media after graduating. They're probably both smarter than I am.

I was lucky enough to meet a fellow Class of 2011 homosexual today, who had some insider knowledge that apparently we are the only two people in the class (of 223-226 ... I keep hearing different numbers) who identified ourselves as gay on our applications. Surely there must be more; guess we'll find out when the Q+ Gay/Straight Alliance meets. There are also some gay boys in the Class of 2010, none of whom I've met. And word on the street is that they are pretty common in the law school.

I was also lucky enough to meet a fellow Class of 2011 Texan -- a girl in my cohort who was in the Army and stationed in Killeen, which is between Waco and Austin. How much do I miss Texas? Top five things: my friends, my job, relatively inexpensive goods, lenient parking rules, and air conditioning.

A new day

A tow truck that made my day more difficult.Yesterday was rather unlucky for yours truly. I broke a glass, my car got towed (i.e. stolen by the city), I got a cold, and I spilled hot, gooey beef lo mein all over my laptop keyboard, and subsequently my carpet. Seemed like it was just one thing after another.

But today is a new day, and the first day of general SOM (School of Management) orientation. Today's schedule is light -- class photo, an address by the dean, lunch with your cohort, a bus tour and then ice cream. I wish I didn't feel as though somebody had blowtorched my throat. But I'll just have to put on a happy face and do my best, then crawl back into bed the first chance I get.

Come to think of it, I got sick when I arrived for undergrad, too. Maybe it's the stress, combined with all the handshaking with strangers. Whatever the reason, it's ill-timed, but not the end of the world.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Schedule! Laptop! Cohort!

For me, today was the start of orientation, because I'm part of a group of about 38-ish SOM students doing a two-day math review (aka Math Camp), which I assume I was invited to becuase I didn't do any math in my career and didn't take any in college, other than integral calculus first semester, 12 years ago. I'm glad to have the refresher; today was pretty basic -- linear and nonlinear equations and their accompanying graphs. Not hard, but it's stuff I haven't thought about since the Spice Girls were popular.

Doing this today also meant getting to pick up my laptop and get some orientation info, like the name of my cohort and my class schedule. The laptop is an awfully nice perk ... it's "free" (included in tuition) and has all the programs we'll need, plus wireless access to the Internet on campus. I really haven't looked at it yet.

My "cohort" is the group 50-some students with whom I'll be taking all my first-year classes. There are four: blue, silver, gold and green. I'm in blue. I met a couple Blue people at Math Camp and think I'll be meeting everybody else Wednesday. I've heard that these are the people I'll get to know particularly well.

I also got my schedule, which seems to be on a quarter schedule. The first quarter, which is eight weeks, includes some eight-week classes and others that are shorter. Looks like I'll have classes starting at 8:15 a.m. Monday-Thursday, but no classes on Friday, both of which are great (I'm a morning person). The courses are (1) Basics of Economics, (2) Spreadsheet Modeling, (3) Basics of Accounting, (4) Probability Modeling & Statistics, (5) Problem Framing, (6) Careers and (7) Game Theory -- again, those don't all necessarily happen simultaneously, though it looks like at any given time there are pretty much four or five classes happening at once.

Then there's a week for exams, followed by a week for some type of management teamwork thing with a schedule TBA, and then the next session of classes begins the last week of October. Those are the Fall-2 Courses in the integrated curriculum, so the classes are called Competitor, Investor, Intro to Negotiaion, Customer and Sourcing & Managing Funds. Those seem to last about seven weeks, followed by exams and winter break.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A casual day with family? Why, I never.

My nephews.Before today, I don't think I'd ever had the occasion to just drop in on any member of my family, spend the day and leave after dinner. That's because ever since the day I left for college 12 years ago, I've lived nowhere remotely near anyone in my family.

But as of a week ago, I finally live near someone in my family -- my brother, his wife and their two kids, who are 5 and 3. So today I drove there for a visit. It's less than two hours away, and a scenic, easy drive. It was really fun, and not just because they have a pool and fed me well, but because my nephews are a hoot, and I'm excited to get to see them more often. Till now, each time I've seen them has been almost like being introduced to new people -- now this one can talk, and the other can walk, or this one now has a personality, etc. Now I can build something resembling a relationship. Who'd have thunk?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Get money for grad school

In the absence of thrilling developments (went to Toastmasters, ran some errands, etc.), I thought I'd talk a little bit about money*.

Over the past several months I was entertained by people's reactions to me going back to school. At work, for example, I had several elevator and hallway conversations like this:

Co-worker: "So I hear you're going back to school!"

John: "It's true. I leave in _____ weeks."

Co-worker: "And you're going to Yale?"

John: "Yes sir/ma'am."

Co-worker: "That's expensive!"

(Other common responses included "It's cold up there," "That's far away," or -- and I'm not kidding -- "I don't think you will be happy.")

To me, getting an MBA doesn't feel expensive, because it doesn't feel like I'm spending actual money. Dropping $100 on dinner feels expensive. Getting $144,000 in debt for an education doesn't.
This house is for sale in Dallas for $144,000, the price of a Yale SOM MBA.If I told people in Dallas that I was buying a $144,000 house (the listing price of the house in this photo), nobody would remark about the expense. And although it's a good investment, an education is a better investment for me, given what I was earning in newspapers and what I expect to earn in a few years.

But I can't pretend I was always nonchalant about borrowing $144,000. In fact it was the No. 1 stress I had right after being accepted, probably because the most substantial purchase I've ever made -- the only thing I've ever financed, in fact -- was a digital piano. (No, I've never bought a car.)

Fortunately, Yale was very good about making clear what needed to be done and when. It was basically a five-step process: (1) I filled out a couple forms, (2) I received word on how much I was eligible to borrow, which was the maximum possible, (3) I chose a lender basically at random, since they all seemed the same, (4) I filled out another form or two, (5) The money I asked for was credited to my online bill. It was 100 times easier than the process of registering to take a summer class in the Dallas Community College system, which was a 218-step process on par with taking a magic ring to Mount Doom, or wherever that elf was going. I wasn't really paying attention.

To clarify, I won't get access to my actual living expenses until classes start in a couple more weeks, so to anyone considering doing this I would suggest either having a few thousand dollars saved, or a credit card on which you don't mind charging a few thousand dollars. Grad students must live modestly, but so must 20-something newspaper journalists. I'm not expecting a big learning curve.

*I accept donations.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

My day in New York City

Here is a photo I took of Grand Central Station, which is surely the first time it's ever been photographed.
Yay, Shiri! Today I went to New York to visit my friend Shiri and her 18-month-old son, Josh. I took the Metro North train from Union Station in New Haven to Grand Central (pictured) in Manhattan, which was $28 round-trip. And parking all day was $10. Not bad! And it's a pleasant commute, just a straight shot. At about 100 minutes, it's not a trip I'd necessarily make casually, but it's certainly nice to be so close.

Shiri and I go way back -- we've been best friends since we were 15. But we haven't lived in the same city since we were 18! We still don't, but this is by far the closest we've been. It's just a nice feeling that we can spend a day together every now and then, as opposed to every year or two.

It was a great day. We had lunch at a place called Tequilaville (because we saw it, and we were starving), and then, far more interesting, trekked over to Max Brenner, where we split this:

Max Brenner
Josh, up to no good with John's wallet.This was deliciously unnecessary. Then we went to Madison Square Park, where I made her son look timeless and poignant while he was stealing my wallet, thanks to the sepia setting on my camera.

I've been to New York several times, but there are several other cities equally close to New Haven that I've never had the occasion to visit, like Providence and Boston. So those are on the list.

Shiri asked a good question today, which is where I might like to live after school. It's something I have absolutely no answer to. New York? Eh, I guess maybe ... I have no feelings about it. Back to Texas? Maybe. Minnesota? Montana? I'm pretty much up for anything. I do tend to lean a bit toward the smaller towns, so I'm not sure a long-term residence in the heart of Manhattan is exactly best for me, but having said that, I'm sure that's what'll happen somehow.

My band

Going back to school necessarily means chasing one's dreams like a fat kid chases an ice cream truck dragging Twinkies behind it. My dream is to do what I should have done in undergrad but didn't have time because I was busy watching The Real World: New Orleans -- to start a band.

Tomorrow, when my stuff arrives, so too will my piano. I took lessons for 14 years and have written hundreds of songs. They are so brilliant that simpletons don't like them. To gain mass appeal, I must find a way to sand down the genius and up the mass appeal, and I think I can do it with the help of some hip bandmates. Fortunately, I'm well on my way.

Two nights ago, I met a flute player from Peru. Last night, I met a harpist (a serious oI need people in my life who know the ... she brought her harp and everything) from Cleveland by way of my hometown, St. Louis. And I also met a former trumpet player; I'm not sure that instrument fits in the mix, but it's too early to say. Now we just need a percussionist, a singer, a few backup dancers who like to show skin, and maybe one more instrumentalist who can round out the sound. I'm thinking theremin (see video above). My goal is to establish our band as a staple in the New Haven ska-influenced adult-contemporary live music scene, which we will start, so I can make enough money to pay off my $7.3 million in loans I will face in two years.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The whoops that ate my day

A screen grab I'm probably not allowed to have taken from the accounting module.
This is a good opportunity to talk about the summertime coursework Yale SOM requires of its incoming first-year students, since I spent today up to my neck in it, even though I thought I had finished it all several weeks ago.

First, though, I should give a shout-out to yesterday, my most social day in New Haven yet, which is to say I interacted with people who were not selling me things. I met up with an old, long-ago friend from high school, Emily, and her girlfriend Amanda at a coffee shop called "Koffee? On Audubon" [cq]. They both just finished at the law school and are about to move to D.C., but they showered me with New Haven knowledge. Then in the evening I met up with two guys from my class at SOM and another guy from the forestry/environmental school, and we tried out two bars: Anna Liffey's and Geronimo. Fun times and nice conversation were had; we all had pretty different stories. I'm certain I had never before had a Belgian-style beer in an Irish bar in Connecticut with a Peruvian, an Uzbek and a chemical engineer from Atlanta.

Now to today. Every incoming SOM student is required to do the same summer work, which includes (but is not limited to) two online "modules" (mini-courses) in financial accounting and spreadsheet modeling, neither of which I was the least bit familiar with, and therefore both of which were very useful (and at times confusing, I won't lie). Being a conscientious fellow, I finished both pretty well in advance. But last night I got an e-mail that I had not actually completed one of them. The details are boring, but basically I had to redo the accounting module today. Although I would rather have been doing something else, it was a useful (perhaps even necessary) refresher. But my butt hurts from eight consecutive hours on the floor. Furniture arrives Friday. :-)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

If I vanish, look here

House of Ghastly Murders ... I mean, the basement to my building. This is the basement to my building. For the sake of my Texas friends, a basement is a man-made cave beneath a structure that's meticulously decorated to evoke feelings of ghastly horror. In the Northeast, it's also where you're supposed to do laundry, take trash and store stuff.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Thank God I'm gay

Movie ticket to Moon.
Just kidding -- there's no God.

Seriously, though, if I were new to town and expected to pay for two people each time I wanted the company of an attractive, single woman, I would be immediately bankrupt with movie ticket prices like these. Ten dollars and seventy-five cents? American dollars? At least Moon was woooonderful. I knew it was about a man who spent many years isolated on the Moon, so I figured it was a tale apropos to my current circumstance. It wasn't, but I still enjoyed it.

In addition to catching a movie at the Criterion Cinema downtown -- what a bizarre name for a theater, incidentally -- I accomplished much today. Let's talk parking. Here in New Haven, one must have a sticker to park most places, including my street. Thanks to Yale SOM doing a truly fantastic job keeping incoming students up-to-date on all the things they might need to take care of, I was prepared this morning to head down to City Hall and stand in lines with various forms and get this task done. It, of course, turned out to be even more complicated than I had imagined. I will not go into the details, because they're not interesting, but I will say that I left the house at 8 a.m. sharp and returned at about 10:45 with the actual sticker. Which, incidentally, expires Sept. 30 ... thus I will have to do some, but not all, of this again.

But the trip did get me more familiar with the downtown area. City Hall, it turns out, is also where the Greater New Haven Toastmasters Club meets every other Wednesday (but not this Wednesday). Anyone who knows me know I am an avid Toastmaster; I was in two clubs in Dallas-Fort Worth, and was an officer twice. So if time allows, it's certainly something I'd like to continue while in New Haven. The other club nearby is a Yale club, and it meets Fridays. I will be doing that this Friday.

I hit my second grocery today: Nica's, which was not as charming as Manna's but had a better selection of fruits and vegetables, which I loaded up on. On which up I loaded? Up on which loaded I? I bought fruits and vegetables.

Beyond that I did some reading and just a wee bit of time-wasting, but not much. It's funny -- I do have some legitimate pre-orientation things to do, but not nearly a week's worth. More like a few hours' worth. So I feel guilty when I'm not doing something "legitimate," even though I know there aren't a full day's worth of legitimate things to do. But getting acclimated is legitimate, I must tell myself! And it's informative. Like today I learned that parking at a meter downtown costs $1.25/hour, and that the Starbucks near City Hall has a super friendly shaven-headed barista, who makes an iced skinny vanilla latte that's interchangeable with those prepared at Starbuckses elsewhere. This might not come up in class, but knowledge is knowledge.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

5 photos from around New Haven

Yale School of ManagementHere is a building in which, I assume, I will spend a great deal of time over the next two years.
Photograph by John Metz. To purchase, please send money.

Signs for Humphrey Street and the Peabody Museum in New Haven

These signs, on my way from home to school, assure me that every day of my life I will be reminded of two of my best friends, Helen Humphrey, and Chris Kelly's dog, Peabody.
Photograph by John Metz. To purchase, please send money.

A tree at the Farnam Memorial GardensI like all trees, including this one.
I bet it might like me if it were to give me a chance.
Photograph by John Metz. To purchase, please send money.

The Peabody Museum Thank God for my mad Medusa skillz,
or this confrontation would've turned ugly.
Photograph by John Metz. To purchase, please send money.

New Haven Green This is New Haven Green, in downtown.
Apparently there are regular concerts here. Lovely!
Photography by John Metz. To purchase, please send money.

I live in New Haven, Connecticut

My apartment. Yay! I have Internet access! Plus, I like exclaiming the obvious. I wonder how people from hundreds of years ago got by without the Internet. Maybe they didn't get by, and that's why they're all dead. Now that I’m hooked up I intend to embark on a series of adventures with specific destinations, as opposed to aimlessly driving around and ending up in danger. Fortunately, the bad part of town does not appear to be directly outside my door, which is not something I could have said at my last apartment in Dallas, where I was accosted by a transvestite prostitute while taking a walk on a Sunday afternoon. But that’s a story for another time.

My room.It was a short drive into New Haven on Saturday. I tawt I taw the Long Island Sound, which did not strike me as a body of water into which people would likely enter willingly. I was relieved to get into my new apartment, and very thankful for what I saw there – it’s so beautiful! I took the above photograph from the bathroom, and it captures part of one of the bedrooms and the foyer on the right, and part of the dining room and living room on the left. Out of view is the kitchen to the right, and my bedroom to the left (pictured at left). Clearly I’m ready to entertain, as long as my guest doesn’t want both of us to be seated comfortably simultaneously. The apartment will be furniture-free until the movers arrive Thursday, and it will be woman-free until my roommate Susan arrives in two weeks. The view to the north (The view.pictured) is a pleasure. I’m curious about how old those houses are. They sure look nice. I also am curious about how many other people over hundreds of years have been in my position, moving onto this very street or perhaps this very apartment to go to grad school two blocks away. Maybe Indra Nooyi, a Yale SOM alumna and CEO of Pepsi, lived here and sat where I'm sitting, on the floor, drinking a Coke. The idea, though almost certainly untrue, makes me feel kinda special.

I semi-explored on foot today with the limited time I had before needing to be home to wait for the Internet installer. I bought some staples at a market/deli a couple blocks from my apartment, called Manna’s. Small, with a slim selection, but charming, thanks to Chong, the gregarious woman who checked me out and guessed right away that I was a new student. (I assume she gathered that because I still look like a healthy, fresh-faced 20-something, not because I had a lost, confused expression.) She’s lived in New Haven for five years and says she loves it. She was excited to tell me how they make their chicken cutlet sandwiches, and that I must return to try one, and that I should go shopping for shoes in nearby Hamden, and that if I had any questions about the city I should come ask her. Score one for Northeasterners being friendly! Two, actually, including the Internet guy. Take that, regional stereotypography.

It’s been fun to unpack what I brought in my car and hang a couple things on the wall, and note that despite my best efforts, I neglected to pack a few things I could probably use, like a can opener, or companionship. Rest assured, though, that I have three corkscrews, five tubes of Chap Stick, two umbrellas, four pairs of scissors and about 25 pens. And a vase, in case anyone sends flowers.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Road Trip Day 2: I Heart Virginia

Scenic Virginia, in the United States.Greetings from a beautiful Best Western in Morristown, New Jersey. Yes, I made it quite far today ... roughly 900 more miles, leaving me with a nice short trip into New Haven tomorrow. Today's drive took me through several states -- Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia (briefly), Maryland (briefly), Pennsylvania* and New Jersey. The most beautiful was Virginia, and the above picture (taken on I-81) doesn't do the full 360-degree view justice.

EdelweissMaking Virginia even more spectacular was a little German restaurant in Staunton that I like to call Edelweiss, since that's its name. This place was really something -- live accordian music, waitresses in lederhosen, a fantastic feast of beef stroganoff (the special) with spatzel, cabbage and green beans ... and one of the best desserts I've had, ever! An apple crumb something-or-other. All the desserts are made in house by a German lady.

It's fun to eat at a restaurant by yourself sometimes. This was such a relaxing experience ... I sat outside, overlooking the lush trees, in a perfect climate, surrounded by the overpowering aroma of fresh flowers. It made me want to move to Virgnia, or spend more time there at least. Granted Edelweiss was more expensive than the Subway across the street, but come on.

I was so excited to get to a hotel to share what a wonderful day of driving I had, but then relatively severe inconvenience struck. I decided at about 11 o'clock it was time to turn in ... and yet you'll notice from the time stamp on this blog that I didn't end up in a hotel room until after 2. Long story short, I had trouble finding a vacant hotel room. Special thanks to my favorite guy for hopping online to do a little digging for me.

And with that, it's time for a well-earned four hours of sleep. (Gotta get that apartment key before noon, you see.) Gnite.

*smells like horse manure