Friday, December 31, 2010

Disney pictures

The arrival of my USB cord in the mail has enabled me to extract the dozens of glorious photographs taken during my recent trip to Disney World. I am compelled to share a few. Scroll over for captions, if you wish!
















Thursday, December 30, 2010

Films and books



To my surprise, I loved the newest installment in the Chronicles of Narnia series, Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I thought the first movie (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) was fine but not life-altering, probably since I'd read the book and seen at least two other screen adaptations of the story. I found the second movie (Prince Caspian) more or less forgettable, evidenced by the fact I could indeed not recall anything about it while watching Voyage. But this new one, which is available in 3D although I saw it in 2D, was really something -- spectacular effects, excitement, great performances, and even tender and touching moments that made me sniffle. Critics don't seem to share my enthusiasm, so maybe I was just in the right mood, but I did love it. I appreciate the poignancy and reverence with which director Michael Apted shares C.S. Lewis's classic tale of personal courage. I also think Skandar Keynes is hot.

I've been remarkably out of touch with movies this year, which is no surprise given that I spent most of the year with not so much as cable TV. Golden Globe nominations came out recently, and I'd seen very few of the movies nominated in major categories. In fact, I'd heard of very few. A few years ago, that wouldn't have been the case. I got very swept up in Oscar season, and not just because I was an entertainment journalist, but because I genuinely found it fascinating. I don't find it as interesting anymore. It happens.

Switching to another medium, I finished Blink and just began the second book I brought to Florida, Firing Back. Both of these are required for courses I'm taking this spring, although neither is required in full. I'm reading them in full nevertheless, because I don't have too many compelling obligations competing for their attention, especially since it's too cold to go to the beach. I didn't care for Blink, though. The first chapter was interesting, but the subsequent chapters were tenuously relevant, not altogether interesting stories. The takeaway was muddled because it seemed as if although Mr. Gladwell had a main topic, he didn't have a main thesis.

Two more Italian neorealistic films arrived from Netflix yesterday. I'm not sure I will subject my family to the depressing subject matter, but I will try to consume them in my own time. Enjoying the visit still, and glad I'm not stuck in what appears to be a major blizzard back in the Northeast.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

So far, people survived my dinner


When I got to my parents' town, I went to the grocery store to get a few things upon which my survival depends. One such set of things were intended to be cooked one night for dinner -- "one night," mind you, not "Christmas night" necessarily. But with meal schedules unfolding as they did, that meal turned out to be our Christmas dinner.

Had I known in advance that cooking Christmas dinner would turn out to be my responsibility, I'd have gone with a menu far more glamorous than breaded pork chops, baked potatoes and Brussels sprouts. I can do up a holiday meal quite nicely when I want to, as I've done when I've hosted Christmas dinner in the past. But the holiday has gotten lower and lower key over the years, so there you have it. It was tasty, and we are fortunate to have hot food to eat on Christmas.

Meanwhile, I've nearly finished Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell, which had a promising first chapter but has turned out to be a rather dull hodgepodge of either unrelated or contradictory stories. I have one more chapter to go. We also watched one of the neorealsitic Italian movies on my list, Rome Open City, which was informative, well-acted and depressing, since it was about Nazis and death and other depressing things. Watched The Queen last night. Pizza is on its way. I dunno -- I kind of love vacationing at my parents' place, frankly. It's almost too relaxing.

I hear they're supposed to have 16" of snow up in New Haven. Ha!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas


The little boy in me tries to bust out every Christmas. As a youngest child, I've tended to be the biggest Christmas enthusiast and am usually the first one up. This year is no exception.

I'm not the most religious man. Scan this blog, an account of the past year and a half of my life, and you won't find any recountings of Sunday morning trips to church. or Bible study. But I still get into Christmas. Logistically, the holiday is not what it was when I was a kid, of course. There's far less to unwrap, there's no snow in South Florida, and my two brothers are far from here, with their own kids. But the true meaning of Christmas has nothing to do with presents, weather or geography. I see Christmas as about happiness, hope, kindness and love. That's stuff everyone can get into.

With that, I wish you and yours a Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Around the Disney World in 3 days


Greetings. I just landed at my parents' house in Sanibel, where I will enjoy two weeks of quality time and relaxation. I had an amazing few days with my friend Carla at Disney World, where the laughs and adventures far exceeded the space I have here to recount them. We hit what most people consider to be the three major parks in as many days: Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM), Epcot and, of course, the Magic Kingdom.

At our age, and childless, Epcot really has the most to offer, and it didn't disappoint. We had fantastic meals at a few countries (Mexico, Japan and Germany), went on the major rides (Soarin', Test Track, Mission: Space, Imagination and Spaceship Earth, for example), saw several shows/films, played with technology and even did a few things nobody else would probably be aware of, like the "Living with the Land" tour of the greenhouses where they grow massive vegetables. And it ended with a truly eye-popping multimedia/fireworks display. Carla is a big fan of Epcot and knows the place inside and out, so I didn't have to do any thinking; I just showed up.

We also had fun at Hollywood Studios, which was done up majorly for Christmas (pictured above), complete with fake snow. We did Tower of Terror and saw some of the shows and demonstrations. It's a good place. The Magic Kingdom is also a lot of fun, but more for nostalgic reasons. We hit the big ones, like Space Mountain, It's a Small World and Pirates of the Caribbean. The whole thing was a perfect escape from real life, and I can't imagine having as much fun doing so with anyone else!

Now it's kick-back time on the island that my parents call home. I'm sipping a Bud and ready to de-stress.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

I'm in Florida!


Greetings from Florida, where it's not quite warm enough to skinny-dip in the ocean, but it's an improvement over New Haven. After spending an evening in Brooklyn last night with my friend Kristin, I came into Sarasota this morning -- small world, but I ran into a first-year student from SOM in the Atlanta airport -- and am visiting one of my oldest and dearest friends, Carla, who like me is visiting family during a break from grad school. We've had much fun catching up and will be getting up bright and early to go to Disney World tomorrow morning.

It wasn't until today that I fully comprehended how long it's been since I've visited Disney World. I think the last time I went was during Spring Break of my junior year of college, which was in 2000. But that trip is a blur. Carla and I think we've visited Disney World together three times, and we've been using a paucity of unlabeled photographs to play detective. We've concluded that we went to Magic Kingdom in spring 1994, to Epcot in spring 1995 and to MGM (now Hollywood Studios) in spring 1996. It took us a long time to piece this together, and we're going to use our mommies as more reliable verification sources. All of this is to say we haven't been to Disney World together in about 14 years. Sometimes I can't believe I'm old enough to make such statements.

Now that I have a business education, and am 32 years old, I wonder how innocently and joyfully I can approach this trip! Will I get lost in the wonder, or will I be so fixated on operational efficiencies, pricing strategies, marketing endeavors and competitive trade-offs that I can't let in the magic? In fact, we did a case on Disney in my Competitive Strategy course, looking at how the different aspects of the business (films, parks, cable network, merchandise, etc.) tie together. So will insider knowledge spoil the fun, or enhance it?

Eh, whatevs. I'm thrilled to be here and certain these next few days will be a blast. Space Mountain, here I come.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Have a holly, jolly, neorealistic Christmas


Soon I will be on my way to Florida. For the first few days, I'll be having a great deal of fun at Disney World with one of my oldest friends. Thereafter, I will be down in Sanibel with my parents, who moved there 11 years ago. Hard to believe it's been that long.

Being there is usually pretty rejuvenating. This was particularly true last year when I was coming off of the notoriously hard first semester of business school. Coming off that turmoil, I saw the break as a great opportunity to get ahead for spring! So I started forging ahead in the textbooks for one of my classes, The Global Macroeconomy. It turned out that my efforts were pretty useless.

You see, in this MBA program, you can't really just jump into a textbook and expect to get ahead, because professors don't follow textbooks. This isn't 8th grade, after all. Instead, the textbook is usually an optional supplement to the lectures and cases, which are the real meat of the class. So, now that I've become aware of this, I'm going to resist the misguided temptation to drag my 1,000-page Investment Management textbook to Florida with grand thoughts of getting a head start for the spring.

But there are some things I can do to get a nice jump start on courses. One is to watch movies! I'm going to be taking a grad-level seminar next semester called New Italian Cinema, about Italian movies since 2000. This is the first time the class is going to be taught, and it's an outgrowth of another class the professor teaches on Italian neorealism, a genre about poor, working-class Italians post-World War II. When I met with the professor to get permission to take the class (which, with just 8-10 students, will be small enough that her permission in this case is rather critical), she suggested I screen some of the movies from the neorealism class as background. Turns out that almost all of them are on Netflix. So, since my mom is an avid film buff who majored in Italian and was born in the middle of World War II, I'm hoping she'll be willing to put some of these films on her queue and that she'll want to watch them with me. Maybe it can become a new holiday tradition, to watch depressing black-and-white foreign films. Ho ho ho!

There are a couple other things I can read over break, for other classes, that don't require the cooperation of my mother's Netflix account. One is the bestselling book "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell, which I bought a few weeks ago for my Behavioral Perspectives on Management course. We'll be reading what last year's syllabus calls "large excerpts" from it, although it amounts to only 105 pages total. So I may just read the whole thing, since it's supposed to be great. The other required book I've obtained is for my Strategic Leadership Across Sectors course -- "Firing Back" by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld and Andrew Ward. Sonnenfeld is also the professor, and kind of a big deal. Last year's syllabus required five of the 12 chapters, but, again, I might just read the whole thing. It's not as if I have a bunch of competing commitments in Florida.

I always have such good, studious intentions -- that's never the question. The question is how many weeks it will take before these good intentions dissolve into all-too-familiar procrastination and laziness. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

10 best things about '10


Last night I turned in the last of my assignments, making me officially done for the semester. What a wonderful year 2010 has been! I was just reflecting on it and was starting to lose track of all the cool things I got to learn, see and experience this year -- and so much of them wouldn't have been possible, or likely, before going back to school. Among the highlights, in no particular order:

1. Travel. Since beginning 2010 in Key West, I've spent the past 12 months going to all sorts of places I'd never been, including New Zealand (where I went skydiving in the photo above), three cities in Australia, Boston, Philadelphia and the Jersey Shore. I also returned to a couple places I hadn't been in a long time, like Los Angeles and, in a couple days, Disney World. That's not bad, considering I'm a full-time student on a shoe-string budget.

2. Concerts, shows and art. I saw my fair share, including Mariah Carey, Lady Gaga, Kathy Griffin and "La Cage aux Folles" and "Next to Normal" on Broadway. I also soaked in great works of art at the MoMA and the Met. Man, am I gay.

3. Friends. I met, and got to know better, many wonderful people I'd never otherwise know, and caught up with several longtime friends I hadn't seen in ages, especially during my summer in New York. (See 9.) School can be feel a little artificial at times, but I think I found some gems.

4. Romance. I tend to avoid this subject in this blog, because it's personal and has nothing to do with a journalist pursuing an MBA. Then again, maybe it does. Getting to meet interesting, appealing, similarly oriented gentlemen is to some extent a natural and fantastic outcome of shifting from an insular, long-hour work environment in Texas to a more open, densely populated, liberal environment at Yale. I'll just say Cupid has outdone himself.

5. Work. Although the first few months of 2010 were spent coping with internship rejections and nail-biting anxiety, I ended up getting the summer opportunity I most wanted, at the Associated Press, and then, in the fall, securing the full-time job I most wanted, at Deloitte, which will start after school. I know I'm very fortunate on both counts, especially since the economy is still struggling. And although I enjoyed most of the eight years I spent as as print journalist, I'm really excited about going down a high-velocity new career road -- and being able to make loan payments in the process.

6. Health. This was a particularly bad year for the health of people I love. My brother got thyroid cancer and had surgery, my dad was hospitalized twice for nasty falls, and my best buddy is having back surgery today. On the bright side, everybody's still ticking. And for yours truly, it's been a pretty good year -- my worst setback was strep throat. I lost weight, quit smoking, cooked frequently and hit the gym nearly every weekday morning. On the physical-wellbeing dimension, I feel better than I have in a long time.

7. Leadership and activities. I co-founded a club at school, co-led another club, organized a few events, helped change school policy and served as a teaching assistant, second-year advisor, admissions interviewer, online tutor and board member of CABO, the state's LGBT chamber of commerce. All these activities and involvements were new to me as of 2010. Makes me wonder what I did in my spare time before ...

8. Academics. I learned about loads of new businessy things this year, like macroeconomics, operations, HR strategy, corporate finance, media theory, venture capital and statistical modeling. Who knows what had to fall out of my brain to make room for all that stuff.

9. New York. My first visit to the world's greatest city was in October 2002. Since then, I've returned a handful of times, always marveling at it and wondering if I'd like living there. I got a 12-week trial over the summer and was convinced that not only could I do it, but I couldn't not. Best summer of my life. I'm eagerly anticipating moving there after school. 

10. Hope for 2011. Perhaps the best thing about 2010 is that it made me genuinely excited about 2011. I can't wait to take 1-9 and crank them all up to 11.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I'm like the cat


I love my MBA program. I've learned so much. Countless exciting opportunities have come before me. I have grown as a person, a thinker and a leader, and wouldn't trade the experience for anything in the world.

And, yet, it's amazing how quickly happiness and psychological peace are restored once the semester ends. The ability to wake up at my leisure with little worries, cook, sort through things and take it easy -- to live like Ophelia, my roommate's cat -- has incredible restorative, healing powers! Not that I'd want every day to be like this. That would become depressing. But it's nice to be in break mode.

Or in 80% break mode, at least. I still do need to wrap up Data-Driven Marketing, which I plan to do tonight before heading out to meet some friends for a beer. But if 80% done feels like this, 100% done is perhaps going to be too much bliss to handle.

Meanwhile, in the land of first-years, I received e-mails from several excited students who just today found out they've been invited to interview for a summer internship at Deloitte, in human-capital consulting, which is what I'll be doing full-time after school. I'm happily offering support and advice, and to practice interviewing and casing with them so that they're at their best in the interview. It's interesting how quickly one ascends from feeling like a downtrodden reject to an accomplished and revered sage. OK, both of those characterizations are radical extremes, but there's some truth captured in them.

In pre-first-year land, this is also a time of year when I am particularly flooded with requests for information from prospective students. I'm having lunch with just such a person tomorrow, and then Skyping with someone else in the evening. (I'm contacted by these people because I'm listed on SOM's Web site as an "ambassador" for the Q+ Gay/Straight Alliance. So LGBT students naturally want to know what life is like here and so on.) Always happy to be on this side of these interactions; I much prefer being "nagged" to feeling like I'm nagging others for their time. Maybe that's why I wasn't a very good reporter.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Analyzing ringtones in the law library


With one remaining project for school, and all week to do it, I'm putting in more time than is justified. The assignment is for Data Driven Marketing, and it's open-ended: Analyze this here data. Despite the fact it's a group assignment, and the professor emphasized we shouldn't spend more than 5 hours on it, and it's worth only 10% of our final grade, I nevertheless decided I'd see what I'm made of and spend several hours today toiling with it. I am not made of much, it seems, as all of my conclusions were, basically, that you can't conclude much from this here data. (The spreadsheet we were given contains real figures about keyword searches for ringtones a few years ago, so it's entertaining to investigate, actually. For me, at least.)

To dive into this academic challenge without distractions, I decided to relocate from my usual place of study -- my couch -- to somewhere a bit more grand, distinguished and, dare I say, Ivy League. Naturally I will not be finding such a place at the School of Management, which is widely mocked for its sub-par facilities. (New campus coming in 2013!) I knew my friend Mark was an aficianado of Yale's libraries and study rooms, so I asked for his advice. Among his recommendations: The law school library. It is pictured above. I wondered how many people there identified me as an imposter.

One drawback to this seemingly fool-proof plan is that my walk back, exactly 1 mile, was made in what turned out to be 20-degree weather and a 9-degree wind chill. I'm usually nonchalant about such things, because I think it's wimpy to complain about the cold, but OMG it was so c-c-c-c-c-cold. I couldn't feel my fingers, toes, legs or face by the time I got back.

Now I'm cookin' me up some dinner. You know, I could really get used to this one-assignment-per-week gig. It's a good way to live.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I loved this weekend so much


I adored every fantastic moment of this fantastic, fantastic weekend. It might have been the best one I've spent at SOM.

On Thursday evening, I submitted my final assignment for Competitive Strategy, a group paper that we did on the diamond industry. With that out of the way, and only one assignment to go, I had a pretty clear conscience heading into the fun series of activities that would follow.

On Friday, I went with six classmates to two Connecticut wineries, White Silo and Gouveia Vineyards, a trip that three of us (not me) won last year at a fundraising auction. White Silo, which is in a remote and farmy area called Sherman, does mainly non-grape fruit wines, like raspberry, blackberry and black currant; they were light and easy to drink. Gouveia does more traditional grape wines and had a much more upscale kind of vibe. Between the wineries, on the suggestion of a woman who worked at White Silo, we had lunch at a restaurant called American Pie Company (similar to Cracker Barrel). The woman had warned us adamantly not to order the soup, especially French onion. So how could I not order it? It was mediocre.

Later Friday evening, I went to GPSCY, the pub for grad students, for a party/fundraiser for New Haven Reads. That event was upstairs, but I never made it there because I ran into some non-business friends of friends downstairs who wanted to go to Center Street Lounge, a gay bar I'd neither been to nor heard of. Since that's something I rarely do, I I went, and had one of the best times ever -- without over-imbibing, even.

Saturday was packed with party preparations for the Q+ holiday soiree, which my rooommate Suzanne and I threw. We (Suzanne, mostly) went all out with mulled wine, bacon-wrapped dates, cheese and veggie platters, all sorts of goodies. It was a superlative joy. We did a Secret Santa-type gift exchange, caroled around the piano, decorated homemade sugar cookies with homemade icing, and enjoyed the amusing company of my 8-foot inflatable Santa, which apparently had sprung a leak. He consequently looked tispy and tired by the end of the night.

Anyway, it was the kind of weekend that just makes me so happy to be a student again. I know that, post-SOM, this concentration of fun things will be a thing of the past. So I'm soaking it up while it lasts.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The end is here?


Here's a glimpse into my mental state. I was sitting in Competitive Strategy this afternoon at 1 o'clock, waiting for it to start, when my friend and neighbor cheerfully noted that this was our final class of the semester. I don't mean merely that it was our final Comp Strat class; it was, in fact, our final class, period. "By Jove," I thought. "She's right!" Man, that snuck up on me.

When I got home and realized it was Thursday, I did what I do every Thursday: Check billboard.com for the latest music charts. On the landing page were large, colorful promotions for their year-end charts. "Wait a minute," I thought. "Why are they already doing year-end charts?" 'Cause it's the end of the year, I replied. (If you're curious, you can see the list here.)

These two seemingly unrelated (and uninteresting) anecdotes are meant to illustrate that this year flew by. I'm sure I will muse on the year gone by in a future posting, as it was probably the most exciting and eventful year of my life and deserves a mention. For now, though, with my classes (but not assignments) complete, having officially hit the 3/4 mark in the MBA program, here's a look back at the courses I just completed. These were all electives.

Corporate Finance, taught by Heather Tookes. My hardest class, as I predicted, but essential to having an MBA, in my opinion. I'm never going to do this stuff, but I'm glad I know a little more about it so I can follow conversations and comprehend WSJ articles more easily. In this class we covered a whole lot, including valuation techniques (how to figure out how much a firm or project is worth in dollars), capital structure (how a firm should finance projects, be it with debt or equity), strategic reasons behind investment decisions, bankruptcy, LBOs and governance. The work load was heavy, but our professor was very professional, systematic and straightforward. She won last year's excellence in teaching award, determined by the Class of 2010, and she was indeed an excellent teacher. I learned a lot.

Data-Driven Marketing, taught by Oliver Rutz. This was a very practical, real-world focused class that looked at methods for analyzing and making decisions based on secondary marketing data (i.e. real behavior, as opposed to surveys). We covered topics like demand models, logistic regression, scoring and variable selection. The point was to give us tools so we could analyze stuff like the effects of pricing, promotion and advertising strategies, how to target customers with catalogs, how Amazon does that cool thing where they recommend what you should buy, and so forth. Professor Rutz was very focused on casting the content in the context of what we might actually be doing in real life. The assignments were pretty fun because I loved my small group. The lectures were dry.

Competitive Strategy, taught by Judith Chevalier. This was a case-based discussion class (meaning we had to read a lot and be prepared to talk) about how companies can get ahead and stay ahead through the tradeoffs they make and the positions they take in an industry. We looked at many different types of industries and companies, including Disney, USA Today, Benetton, Coke/Pepsi, Coors, Du Pont and Enterprise. The discussions were usually interesting, and the work load was relatively light. This course had been recommended to me and described as the be-all end-all class at SOM, and although I think that's over-stating things a bit, I can see why this would be pretty essential and useful for students going into strategy work. Professor Chevalier created a good atmosphere, and I think everyone liked her a great deal.

Theory of Media, taught by Francesco Casetti and (a few times) John McCay. I'm glad I took this because class, which was my first foray into something at Yale outside of the School of Management, because it worked my brain in a different way. We read the seminal works by influential media theorists, covering topics like media as sensorium, as social symptoms, as a means of communication, as utopia and as prosthesis (which was the topic I found most interesting, and the subject of my final paper). We also talked about the public sphere, myths and decoding. I'll grant that this might not have been the most useful class in the world -- maybe I should have taken introductory Mandarin instead. But I enjoyed it. Professor Casetti was a fantastic lecturer. Professor McCay was clearly a brilliant person, but most of what he said went over my head, and he spoke really quickly.

Those were my four semester classes. I also had a fifth class, Venture Capital, that was only frist quarter, but I've already given my summary of that one.

This was a good semester, mostly because of the teachers. I'm especially looking forward to next semester, though, when I'll be loading up on the OB (Organizational Behavior) classes that will be more directly relevant to my full-time job at Deloitte.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Do they know it's Christmas?


This evening I devoured what I'm quite sure was the best patty melt I've ever had, at Prime 16 with my friend Lizzie, who is going to London next semester and thus finishing her stint at Yale next week. Afterward, I enjoyed the crisp fresh air on the walk home. Though my extremities were numb, my heart was warm, thanks to the lovely glowing sight of this tree in New Haven Green, which is a park downtown whose potential to be pleasant is somewhat dashed by its nearly constant infestation of belligerent homeless people.

I don't mind homeless people, but I do mind belligerent homeless people, because they're belligerent. I mind belligerent people who own several homes, too. But at least belligerent rich people don't make me uncomfortable and bore me to tears with untrue, long-winded, convoluted diatribes and sob stories that seem always to begin with: "Excuse me! Pardon me! Sir, God bless you. And how are you doing this fine evening? Sir, I've got to tell you, if I could just have a few minutes of your time, please, because, you know, I've just got to say, sometimes in this life ..." OK, buddy, you've already said about 40 more words than I want to hear. Get to the point. I'm happy to give money for good causes; I sponsor a little girl in Senegal, for example. But I'm not sure giving a homeless person $5 solves any of their problems. Doing so may even perpetuate their problems.

New Haven has more than its share of homeless, or at least it seems that way anecdotally. I've actually never seen so many homeless (or homeless-looking, to be fair) people in one place at once as I do in downtown New Haven on any day or night of the week. The key to coping with this situation: headphones. Fortunately, I had just put mine on before taking this picture of the tree, so it allowed me to convincingly ignore some man who started shouting at me: "Excuse me! Pardon me! Sir, God bless you ..."

Ironic, perhaps, that I didn't want to be bothered by someone asking for unselfish kindness because I was too busy admiring a Christmas tree. Maybe the true spirit of the season has escaped me. I better rent Home Alone 2: Lost in New York ...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Let's try to live another 32 years


Today is my 32nd birthday. I feel healthy and happy and have a lot to be grateful for. I've been flattered and delighted by well-wishing from friends, including the one who lives with me and went to the trouble of designing and constructing the banner above. Suzanne is a wonderful roommate and person. All's good.

I also had a routine doctor's appointment. I think it's a good idea to go occasionally to ensure that all functions are functioning functionally. Unfortunately, however, I'm extraordinarily squeamish about having my blood taken. It's been known to make me faint with panic. These days I can keep myself conscious with the help of headphones and a little Wilson Phillips.

My father told me yesterday that 32 is a great age, and I agree. First of all, it's a beautiful number: 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2. And it also has the winning quality of sounding simultaneously youthful and mature. As my dad said, in the professional world nobody takes anyone in their 20s seriously. But people may just listen to a fellow in his 30s. It's also a nice age dating-wise because there's an appealing radius of prospects. So I welcome 32. And I'm showing no signs of senility, even though I did run the coffee maker this morning without having added water. Just a fluke, I'm sure.

As I move through life, I find that whenever 5 is added to my current age, I consider that age "old." So from where I stand now, that age is 37. The thought of being 37 sends shivers down my spine. But when I was 27, 32 sounded old. And I'm sure if I re-read this at age 37, I'll say 37 isn't old, but 42 is, and so on through life until I'm dead.

I will be celebrating my birthday with Japanese food, as I often do, given that Dec. 7 happens also to be Pearl Harbor Day.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Yale Camerata's Advent Concert


Now this is more like it. Two of my friends in the Class of 2012, Bryce and Jason, have somehow managed to find time to sing in the Yale Camerata, which performed a free holiday concert Saturday night at Battell Chapel. It was sacred music, mostly Bach, not songs of the Here Comes Santa Claus or Feliz Navidad variety. When I was a first-year student in his first semester, I rarely felt I had time to attend these types of things, much less participate in them. So kudos to these singers.

It was a reverent and relaxing end to a day that should have been spent diligently working but was instead spent largely on the phone and engaged in various nonproductivities, partly because I was distracted today by the unexpected and unwelcome news that my father was hospitalized late last night for reasons still not entirely clear to me (or to doctors apparently). A diagnosis is pending, but there are theories. There's apparently no reason to panic, so I'm not panicking, but it was nevertheless distracting.

Meanwhile, 'tis the time of year for false fire alarms in my building, which, because I experienced so many last year, I have determined are false enough that I don't even bother leaving. I just watch the fire trucks from the warmth of my living room. If I turn out to be wrong one day about the falseness, then whoops.  

Caught on film


Upon entering Friday's formal, attendees could pose with Mad Men-style props in whatever manner they felt was befitting of Mad Men. Here I am, doing that, with my friend Carolyn.

Prom again


SOM has two formals a year, tied to winter and spring. I managed to miss both last year, but on Friday night I attended my first, the Mad Men-themed winter formal at which I enjoyed myself insofar as I had several nice conversations and felt occasional glimmers of gratitude for witnessing an affair that is significant to my friends and that would be fodder for chastization were I to miss it yet again. Dancing to Don't Stop Believin' and various songs by Ke$ha with mindless abandon is not exactly my primary source of escapist joy, but that's not the formal's fault; it's just how I'm wired.

As an introvert (and perhaps as a gay introvert to boot) I think I'm cursed with an isolating sense of feeling like an outsider at big formal dances. I tend to look at people and puzzle at the source of pleasure. And when I don't quite get it, and yet everyone else is happier than I've ever seen them, I worry that perhaps I'm from some other dimension, and I will always be incompatible with most of what happens around me on Earth.

Is that true, though? Am I a weirdo because I preferred the small pre-party gathering at my apartment to the party itself? Am I an even graver weirdo because, frankly, I would prefer playing cards with three friends and eating cookies and drinking coffee to moving around rhythmically in a suit as trite songs that have no meaning to me blast in my ear, and various colored lights go on and off overhead, and people, many if not most of whom I will rarely or never see again come May, stumble by and dribble uninspired mixed drinks onto my shoes? I hope not.

Anyway, glad to have gone. Part of the grad-school experience, and the fruits of what I know was a great deal of effort and anticipation on my classmates' part. Will keep my options open when the spring formal rolls around.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Straight But Not Narrow


My friend Jason, a first-year student, pulled off an amazing feat today. He organized and delivered a fantastically well-attended diversity event called Straight But Not Narrow, a series of skits and conversations about how LGBT allies can handle situations in which some sort of anti-gay negativity is being expressed. He had done similar workshops for his previous employer, so he was well-rehearsed. I'm not sure I've ever seen a student-run/initiated event that was so fun and so packed with people, especially professors and higher-ups at school. I think everyone had a lot of fun, and it started some great conversations. This was all under the purview of Q+, the LGBT affinity club at the School of Management of which I am a co-leader, and although I did contribute to the writing of a skit and playing a small part in one, it was basically Jason's show; so I'm glad to piggy-back off his efforts and call this a home-run for Q+.

Preceding this event, we had a really interesting speaker from Google in my Data Driven Marketing class -- Chris LaSala, the Director of Local Markets. He spoke about some trends and initiatives in advertising and content. That class, which has been a semester long, has had several neat guests. The lectures tended to be a bit dry (maybe unavoidable given the nature of the content).

In the afternoon, the IT folks fixed a problem with my computer that had been driving me insane -- whenever I'd type, the cursor would jump away and leap to wherever the mouse pointer was sitting. They installed some type of driver, and now not only is the problem gone, but the touch-pad mouse works much better than ever. Always go to IT, I've learned.

In the evening, I went to New York to have dinner with a few of my future Deloitte colleagues at Dos Caminos. Pretty good food, and it was fun. Just returned moments ago. Now it's off to bed for less than four hours of sleep before I get up to hit the gym. Nothing stands in my way, I tellz ya!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Conversation marathon


The day was long, with rigorous morning exercise, two classes, a Human Capital Club meeting to anoint the incoming officers and a Human Capital Club guest-speaker event featuring two alumni from Aon Hewitt, and that was all before lunch. Granted, I had lunch at 2:30. Anyway, the real endurance test came in the second part of the day from 3:30-8:00, when I had nine consecutive -- albeit enjoyable -- half-hour individual meetings with first-year students, per my commitment as a Second Year Advisor (or SYA).

I still remember my meeting with my SYA last year. His name is also John, and he had interned at the Associated Press the summer before, so we spent much of our time talking about that, since I was interested in doing the same. Today, I tried to open the floor to whatever was on the students' minds, and given that they're in the final weeks of an insanely stressful quarter, many of them had stories that involved pressure and worry, although a few were taking the whole thing in stride. I like that the school formally arranges these types of meetings between members of the two classes, because from their end it's (I hope) useful to get some advice and perspective on topics like elective classes, working in groups, recruiting and time management.

From my end, it's fun to meet the first-years, hear their stories and be reminded of what I successfully endured last year.

Corp Fin is fin


Behold the purposefully illegible work I just submitted to my group for our last write-up in Corporate Finance! Funny how a question so short -- how much debt should the company should use to finance its acquisition of the other company's operating assets, and why? -- can yield an answer so long. Perhaps I shouldn't take such liberties with the word "answer," though. What I did was more like a crack at an answer.

And so ends, basically, Corporate Finance, as this was the last assignment. This was my most challenging elective this semester (by a lot, really), and therefore probably the course in which I learned the most. One of the benefits of SOM's anti-grading system (we don't have A/B/C/D/F grades, or GPAs, or class rankings) is that a guy like me with no finance background can feel dandy about taking a class like this, just for the sake of learning more about it. Helping matters was that we had a great professor who was so great, in fact, that she won last year's award for best teacher, as voted on by second-year students. I'm not sure I'll ever do any of this stuff again, but I enjoyed the exposure and had fun with my work group.

Gniiiite.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Journalist accepts job offer, celebrates


In a way, I feel like I could shut this blog down today, because I reached what some consider the finish line of the MBA race: I accepted a full-time job offer. (I won't do that, though; we're not quite at the 75% completion mark, so there are still adventures to be had, and shared.)

I will be working for Deloitte, the world's largest professional-services firm (hence one of the "Big Four"), as a senior consultant in the company's Human Capital service area, in what's called the Organization & Talent service line. I will be helping clients, most of whom are big companies, with the "people" issues that arise during a major challenge or transition, such a merger or a new strategic endeavor. Issues that fall under human capital include organizational design, training, performance management, technology, internal communication strategy, culture, morale, pay, recruitment and so forth. You can read details here. The job starts in September, giving me the summer free, and is based in New York, though I will be doing a lot of regular work-related travel.

I'm very excited about the job. I think it's going to be fascinating and that I'll learn a lot. The people I've met from Deloitte have been fantastically smart, interesting and passionate about their work. The compensation package is music to the ears of someone like me who has always struggled to make ends meet. And I can't wait to live in New York. I'm also relieved that this process is behind me so that I can focus on school for the rest of my time at SOM.

I think it might be valuable to retrace the steps that got me to this opportunity because to some this may seem out of nowhere; I started this blog in July 2009, and the word "consultant" doesn't appear until late September 2010. So I realize this news could look random. Plus, the job hunt has been an area about which I haven't always been wholly forthcoming in this blog, because it's sort of sensitive and private. So now that it's official, let me back up a little.

Prior to SOM and throughout my first year of school, I was focused on journalism/media as an industry, given my background. That's not to say I didn't look at other options, though. Around this time last year I was getting steered by friends and the Career Development Office toward marketing, but none of those internships panned out (which was disappointing at the time, but now I'm grateful, because I don't think marketing is a good fit for me). After my flirtations with marketing ended, I applied to AP, which was my "that would be awesome" internship prospect throughout the year; I was thrilled to take it. I loved my summer there, but they do not extend full-time offers to MBAs post-internship. I also was starting to feel somewhat fatigued about the media industry. It's a fascinating field and near to my heart, but it kind of feels like I've been having the same conversation over and over for 10 years now. I'd like to see what else is out there.

The courses I enjoyed most during my first year were in the field of Organizational Behavior (OB). Although I've genuinely liked learning about economics, strategy, finance, operations, marketing and all the rest of that stuff too, OB has been where I've shown the most passion, interest and aptitude. But it wasn't clear to me what career opportunities were available in that area; that's what led me to co-found the Human Capital Club at school with my friend Erika, who prior to SOM worked in HR at GE. There are MBA programs that have a well-regarded human-capital track, like Cornell and Vanderbilt, but generally human capital is a relatively new (and not universally understood or bought-into) emphasis of MBA curricula.

During the summer, a Yale SOM alumna who works in Deloitte's Human Capital practice contacted me to see if she could be of service in any Human Capital Club events. We had a nice chat, and I found her work very interesting, even though I really hadn't considered consulting before. She put me in touch with a couple other consultants, who in turn hooked me up with still more people, and suddenly I was inadvertently networking with people at Deloitte.

Consulting is a popualr job for people with MBAs. For the Class of 2009 at SOM, 19% accepted full-time jobs in consulting. The other most popular sectors were finance (46%), general management (20%) and marketing (13%). I never looked at consulting last year. At all. I'm not sure why. Part of it may have been that it seemed too competitive. My classmates who were pursuing it were frantic and seemed to be tripping over one another for these opportunities -- plugging away at networking events, doing informational phone calls and coffee chats, practicing mock interviews, casing, entering competitions, going on job treks, doing workshops, reviewing each other's resumes and so on. One needs to be awfully hungry for a reward to endure all that, and I was not hungry to be a consultant whatsoever. Consequently, I more or less turned a blind eye and kept my focus on media and journalism, a space where nobody else was competing, and where I thought I had good odds of getting a nice job that would interest me.

Anyway, flash forward to last summer, I've now started to learn more about Deloitte's human-capital work, and it sounded neat and like it could be a good fit, and that it would give me exposure to lots of different companies and industries that I'm not familiar with. I decided to apply, was invited for first-round interviews, was invited for second-round interviews, and was extended an offer. Because I wanted to do this specific kind of consulting at this specific firm, I could be focused in my preparations, which involved minimal practice casing and one Consulting Club workshop, on casing.

In taking this job, I'm not abandoning all hopes of working in the news media. In fact I'm likely to get staffed on what they call TMT (Technology, Media & Telecommunications) projects, in light of my experience in that industry. But regardless of whether or when I find my way back to media, for now I'm just doing what I think is best for my post-MBA career development. I will have more to offer if I deepen my understanding of a function and continue my education through the rigor of consulting, and Deloitte, to boot, recently topped Business Week's list of the best places to launch a career. So I think I'll be in good hands.

I've been warned by former and current consultants that the lifestyle is difficult, but from what I can gather it's probably most difficult for people with families or spouses, and that's not me. There will also be some stressful deadlines and piles of hard work; but I'm used to the former, coming from the newspaper industry, and I'm not afraid of the latter, as evidenced by my return to school. I'm actually genuinely excited by my fears that this will be difficult. I have a very brief and special opportunity to capitalize on being a newly minted MBA, and I feel very fortunate to have snagged this offer. This is no time to settle for something easy and unchallenging; if there was ever a time to see what I'm made of, it's now. I also truly think this is going to be a load of fun. I'm psyched.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Back in the saddle


It's been a busy Thanksgiving holiday for yours truly. Gooey butter cake in tow, I visited my brother and his wife and two sons, who live less than two hours away. We enjoyed the typical Thanksgiving meal and several fun activities over the subsequent days, like setting up the Christmas decorations, going horseback riding and visiting the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan.

It was my first visit to the museum -- I think. The dinosaur bones were fun, especially for my nephews, who are 4 and 6. I also got to see Lucy, a 3.2 million-year-old hominid. The museum left all of us pooped. My nephews are quality young men, and it's been fun to spend more time with them since I moved to this area last year for school. The elder one clearly takes after his uncle mind-blowing musical talent, as he's already picking melodies out by ear and playing them on the keyboard. And the younger one is reading books to his classmates and exhibiting immense compassion for others: After we spent the morning playing some games, like Candy Land and Hi-Ho Cherry-O, he later in the day started putting little stickers on my shirt. I asked why, and he said it was because I never win. Sweet, eh? So they're fun, and I'm glad that I'll be moving to New York after school and will get to spend even more time with them. I generally, however, don't tend to relate too well to boys between the ages of 8 and, oh, 24, so we'll see if sharing genes changes things.

Now I'm in New York City, enjoying the peace and quiet of the Yale Club library. I have some plans this evening and will return to New Haven tomorrow. It is not even 5:00 p.m., and already it's as dark as midnight out there, an oddity of life in the Northeast United States. It makes me want to eat dinner earlier, and fall asleep earlier. But, furthering the oddity, folks in New York don't like to eat dinner until 8 or 9. I love this place because it's weird.

I'm grateful to be a member of the Yale Club, but I wish they had napping rooms. If I'm going to be good company this evening, it would help not to pass out at 9, and a nap would hit the spot. Maybe I'll just shut my eyes for a few minutes ...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

St. Louis-style sweetness


As a native St. Louisan, I grew up on a steady diet of toasted ravioli and gooey butter cake, the former of which I would never dare to attempt to make, but the latter of which is easy as pie. A lot easier than pie, actually. It's a very sweet confection that serves as both an unhealthy breakfast food (think coffee cake) and an unhealthy dessert (think lemon bar).

It consists of two layers. The bottom is yellow cake mix, butter and eggs, all blended together. The top layer is powdered sugar, cream cheese and eggs. You can find recipes online with other twists, like pumpkin or chocolate, but I've only ever made the straight-up original, as my mom used to around Christmas. I made it to take to my brother's for the holiday weekend; I am now waiting for it to cool. It looks a little on the underdone side to me, even though I cooked it longer than I usually do. That's one of the many disadvantages of having had about 10 addresses in as many years -- all ovens are a little different, so for things I make occasionally, there's always some guesswork. We'll see.

But at least I've had ovens, which brings me to my list of five things I am thankful for this holiday season:

1. An oven. More specifically, the fact I have a place to live and that it has the appliances I would need to bake; I am also thankful to have the money to buy ingredients, the time to bake, and the health to be able to move freely around and do so.

2. Job offers. Looking for work can be stressful, and I know I'm very fortunate to have come into great opportunities so early in the year.

3. Access to the big city. I'm thankful to have had the opportunity to live in New York over the summer, to get to visit there this weekend, and to move there permanently after graduation!

4. Yale SOM. I go to a great school, which I don't really say enough. Case in point: This past week, members of Q+ (of which I am a co-leader) wrote an eloquent letter to Student Academic Services asking them to reconsider their annual policy that prohibits mixed-gender hotel arrangements on the first-years' required International Experience trip. They listened, agreed with our point of view and announced a change in the policy, all in a matter of days. That's one of the reasons I love it here -- it's a small enough school that it does feel like a tight-knit community where you can get things done, and the people here are pleasant, reasonable and responsive.

5. You. Thanks for taking the time to look at my blog and read this list. That's very kind, and I appreciate it. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I can't see myself the way others do ...


... because my mirror is awful. But at least I can justify lapses in fashion sense.

Today I am cleaning the apartment and laundering my clothes, and later I will be tutoring kids online and then perhaps running some errands in advance of Thanksgiving tomorrow. My local Stop N Shop tends to be packed regardless of the time of day or day of week, so I can only imagine the madhouse it must be on the day before Thanksgiving. With better planning I would already have the ingredients I need to make the treat I intend to bring to my brother's house tomorrow, but solid planning doesn't always happen in grad school, or in general.

I have officially declined Job Offer #1 and have placed my signature by the X for Job Offer #2; I just need to fax the acceptance over, which I may try to find time to do this afternoon. Then I'll do the big reveal.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ten-hour breakfast


My friend Matt and I have known each other for almost eight years, since back when we worked together at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Now we coincidentally live a few blocks away and see each other most mornings, when we go to the gym. That this is our routine would probably surprise the 2002 versions of ourselves, who did not tend to spend leisure time in as healthy a manner.

On Saturday, I went over for pancakes and ended up staying for hours, lingering over coffee, until we eventually ended up ordering a pizza and having a drink. It was a great day, reminiscent of many similarly great days back in Texas, and one I certainly paid for on Sunday when I was slammed with work. But no regrets, of course.

Personally, I like the on-the-go aspect of New York, so I'm looking forward to living there after school, but I also like the not-as-on-the-go aspect of a day like Saturday, and I hope I can continue to be able to have such days even amid a job that will be more demanding of my time and effort than the one I had in Texas. Ultimately, if I cannot spend a Saturday having coffee with a friend, then what's it all for?

Now it's back to the grind. In about 20 minutes my four groupmates and I will be giving our required presentation in Corporate Finance. Every study quintet does one. We're all required to do regular case write-ups, but each time a case is due, one group does a presentation on that case instead of a write-up. Sadly, we happened to get ourselves into the semester's only "raw" case, which is something they sometimes throw at us here at Yale. A typical case, or "cooked" case, usually consists of a narrative, maybe 15-20 pages or so, and another 5-10 pages of exhibits -- financial statements, graphs, organizational charts, or whatever might be relevant. Then there are questions. Most of the cooked cases we, and students at other business schools, read are written and distributed by Harvard. Sometimes we have cooked cases written just for SOM students, but that's sort of rare. Anyway, a raw case is presented on a website but has a much briefer narrative and a lot of links to outside resources, like large documents, financial statements, videos, news articles, etc. It's supposed to be -- and is -- a better simulation of how we'd do problem-solving research in real life. It can involve quite a bit more work, but the material can also be more fun. Our presentation will be looking at Kmart's bankruptcy from the perspective of the creditors.

OK, I'ma run through my part.