Monday, February 28, 2011

The 83rd annual Academy Awards

Two Oscar parties combined last night into a 12-person affair that left the best forecaster $80 richer. That wasn't me, but I came in second, thereby receiving $20, which helps soften the blow of having provided food and drinks, which of course I was happy to do. I made these, a more traditional version of individual portobello mushroom cap pizzas I made a few years ago.

Basically you remove the stems and dark gills from under the cap, turn them over, fill them with stuff and bake them for a bit. You can do pesto, artichoke, pepperoni, olives, whatever interests you. It's pretty easy and appreciated by those who like mushrooms.

I enjoyed the Oscars and the party, although I have subsequently read general dislike of the telecast. I think realistic standards are in order. It's an awards ceremony, thus is somewhat boring at times. But I thought it was nicely done and moved along at a good pace. I went out on a bit of a limb and predicted "The Social Network" for best picture, even though the experts were generally expecting "The King's Speech." I thought maybe, with 10 pictures in the running, enough of the Academy would have gone for the superior, more modern, more interesting movie. But no. I liked "The King's Speech" well enough but am not sure what larger impact it has, or will have in the future. Maybe in these times of short attention spans and questionable taste, a family-friendly movie about a king who tries to overcome a stammer is just what the doctor ordered, so to speak.

One of the guests at this Oscar soiree was my friend Paul, who was in town from Ann Arbor, where he's getting an MBA at Ross (the University of Michigan). He was one of my fellow "business associate" interns from last summer, at the Associated Press. Paul and a few of our co-workers are looking for full-time jobs in the media/technology space. That's a tough field to break into as an MBA because there isn't as much structure around the recruiting process as there is for, say, banking, consulting or marketing. So you need to do more leg work and be a bit patient.

Sometimes people ask me whether I feel like a "traitor" for leaving media and going into consulting. Especially former co-workers have commented that I'm moving into "the dark side." I'm not sure what's so dark about it. In the purest sense, I'm going to be helping companies find the best ways to make their employees be happy, productive and fulfilled. Maybe that's a bit Mary Poppins, but I sort of like to think of my upcoming job as being along these lines. We'll see how the reality matches up. And, indeed, some of the companies I help may be media and technology companies; there's a whole industry division of Deloitte called TMT, which stands for technology, media and telecommunications.

Maybe someday I'll end up being deployed to help the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences make their annual awards ceremony more interesting to people.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Groceries are expensive, but what isn't?

Of the things I am, price sensitive about groceries isn't really one of them. I note price when buying one-at-a-time items, like jeans, but when it comes to food, I sort of grab what I want, for the most part. I may notice that the fresh swordfish is $13 while the previously frozen is $7, and I may notice that my favorite apples are the priciest of the bunch, but often in these situations I treat myself to what I want, instead of what's cheap.

The result has been high bills. Last school year, there was a (ratherterrible) Shaw's in New Haven. I think the prices were low, because I don't recall having sticker shock at the checkout line. But that store folded. Now there's actually no supermarket in New Haven, as noted in this funny story in the Yale Daily News about another topic of interest, the possible opening of a Chipotle in New Haven. OMG I lurve Chipotle, y'all.

Anyway, now one must go to a neighboring town to get groceries; that probably sounds like an ordeal, especially if you're in a place like Texas, but in Connecticut towns seem to be very small areas of land, so it seems like you're in a new town every mile or two. My favorite grocery store is now Stop N Shop in Hamden. it has a great selection of just about everything I want. For example, today I'm making individuall portobello mushroom pizzas for an Oscar party, where the cap of the 'shroom is the crust. When I did this in Texas, I remember having difficulty finding 12 at one store; but that was no problem at my local Stop N Shop!

But I have also noticed that my grocery bills are out of this world. I can remember being a college student back in North Carolina, and feeling like I could buy basically anything I wanted, and I almost never paid over $100. These days, I almost never pay less than $200. Yesterday's bill was $227. Granted, a good portion of this consisted of party foods I won't be eating by myself. But that's still awfully high, especially considering there was no alcohol in my cart.

I'm sure these high bills are exacerbated by how infrequently I shop. But things aren't cheap in Connecticut. My two-bedroom apartment, for example, is $1,445/month. (I have a roommate.) Let's examine my previous rents for comparison:

-- One-bedroom apartment, sort of crappy but really not that bad, fireplace, w/d hookup, dishwasher, garbage disposal, balcony, $439/month.
-- Three-bedroom house (yes, house!), quite nice, big yard, fireplace, w/d hookup, dishwasher, garbage disposal, two full bathrooms, $975/month.
-- Two-bedroom apartment, very cheerful, carpetted, spacious and on the older side, no amenities, $595/month.
-- Odd arrangement where I rented a small garage apartment from a woman in her 80s, included cable, electricity and meals, $100/month.
-- Two-bedroom apartment down the street from Apartment #3, exact same floor plan and lack of amenities but a little crappier, with bad hardwood floors, $425/month.

-- Absolutely gorgeous one-bedroom apartment with high ceilings, fantastic appliances, French doors, amazing floors, historic built-in cabinets and great lighting, w/d (coin operated), garbage disposal, dishwasher. I loved it so much. $700/month at the beginning; got raised to $775 over time.
-- Sort of dumpy but neat two-story, one-bedroom townhouse, kind of tight on space, fireplace, laundry room on site, dishwasher, no garbage disposal, $700/month. 

-- Very nice and quite spacious two-bedroom apartment, renovated, coin-operated laundry in basement, no dishasher, fireplace or garbage disposal, heat included, was $1,415, raised to $1,445.

I guess "expensive" is all relative. I'm sure New Haven rents are a dream to someone coming from New York, or even San Francisco, Los Angeles or Boston. But for me, it's steep. Fortunately, what I'm spending isn't real money, right? It's fake loan money ... like Monopoly money that will never come back to haunt me ... 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Club election complete

This year, I was a co-leader (along with a classmate) of Q+, the LGBT club at the School of Management. The time came recently to anoint leaders for next year. Each club goes through this process a bit differently. We have an amazing group of first-year students who would make awesome club leaders, but we really had no idea how many of them would want to run.

We decided to accept statements of interest, then hold an election in the event of more than two candidates. It seems like this setup had the effect we were hoping for, which is that the first-years sort of selected amongst themselves privately, so that in the end we did indeed just get two candidates, obviating the need for an election. And I'm personally thrilled with the people we got -- a guy and a girl who were probably the most involved in the club throughout the year. They're quite different from each other but get along great, and they are both good friends of mine. So I think the club is in good hands.

Being a club leader for Q+ turned out to be maybe the most formative and meaningful activity I took on this year, because I actually did learn how to lead better. I tried to create an environment where people feel listened to, supported, praised and encouraged.

That sounds like BS, so I'll be more specific. At the beginning of the year, I made a concerted effort to welcome each first-year, introduce myself, befriend them on Facebook and take each out to lunch, to assess what they were like, let them know they were important, and find out what their interests were. In light of the vibe I was getting -- that these were really nice people, almost all in serious or semi-serious long-distance relationships, and generally well-focused professionally -- I then started a weekly newsletter that focused on things to do at Yale that I thought would interest them, things Q+ was doing, career/networking opportunities, news and announcements, etc. I tried to make the tone somewhat newsy and professional but also dryly funny when appropriate -- my goal here was to keep people accountable, involved and publicly acknowledged.

Throughout the year, I tried to take care of the logistics that would stand in people's way; so for our trip to the Reaching Out conference in LA, I tried to deal with the hotels, flights and preparations for the students who went. Whenever possible, I completed reimbursement forms for people so they could get travel expenses and other things compensated easily. I also tried to listen and take action when people had ideas or issues; so when a student complained about the same-gender roommate policy for the international trip, for example, I inquired, found out what steps we needed to take to change the rule, formed a committee, asked someone to write up our thoughts formally, and submitted it on behalf of the club, thinking that something with the club's official name on it would be taken more seriously than the grievance of just a few students.

I could go on, and this is starting to come off as a boastful post, which wasn't my intention ... But I wanted to impart some personal learnings beyond vaguely saying that I learned things about leadership. I think a different approach, and one that might work for certain types of leaders in certain scenarios, would have been to be more authoritarian, plan all the events myself, and wield around the weight of my authority. That's definitely not my style, or my strength, and I think leading the club has been a good opportunity to sort of test how my natural personality can jibe with a leadership style. Ultimately, though, I wouldn't have been successful at all if the first-year students hadn't been so involved and responsible.

I hope I contributed, but at least I can choose to believe I didn't actively stand in the way of success.

Another TA stint is complete

This quarter, I was a TA for an course called the Economics & Financing of Journalism. Unlike Careers, a first-year required core course for which I was TA last fall, and Innovator, another core course I'm TA-ing next quarter, this journalism class was an elective. It was offered in, I believe, 2007, '08 and '09, but unfortunately not last year, so in needing a TA, the professor knew that in choosing a second-year student, he'd be choosing someone who had never taken the course. I decided to volunteer because I was a journalist and did pricing-strategy work over the summer at the Associated Press. And I was going to take the class anyway; this way, I didn't have to do the assignments, and I got a small stipend (quite small, it turns out, since it was an elective with only 11 students).

Anyway, this stint is over. As a TA, I have to say I didn't feel like I did all that much because the professor handled the grading and the logistics of bringing in each week's guest speaker. I mostly tried to support him -- making dinner reservations for the students after class, answering his logistical questions about the school, and things like that. Ultimately he asked for my opinion on grades for all the assignments. He kindly told me our assessments were uncannily similar.

I'm glad I did this because I really enjoyed the class, and getting to know the professor and guests, and I got the benefit of the material without having to be responsible for the assignments, which were substantial. One was a case study of a media organization in transition, and the other was a suggestion for a new business model that could support quality news journalism. Those are both pretty big issues.

I think the class went well and that the students enjoyed it. Almost everyone participated a lot; I attribute that, actually, to the cherry-picking effect that would come with not having offered this course last year. Consequently, I think we got the most interested students from the Class of 2011 and the Class of 2012. I hope that, somehow, next year's group is as enthusiastic.

Who watches short shorts?

It was an Oscar-filled day yesterday. In the early afternoon, I saw "Winter's Bone" over at my friend Susan's place. That was my eighth (of 10) Best Picture nominees to see, and it looks like that's all I'll get to before tomorrow evening's awards. I still think "The Social Network" was the best, and in my opinion it will win, but "Winter's Bone" was awfully good.

It took place almost entirely in the forgotten woods of Wherever (there was a reference to driving to the Arkansas state line, so perhaps the story unfolded in my belolved home state of Missouri). The movie looked at the mysterious network of destitute people involved in a mysterious, mafia-like web of meth making/dealing. Amongst them is a bright, surefooted, sober 17-year-old girl who is raising her two younger siblings and catatonic mother. When the law come 'round, she gotta find her daddy right quick or she gon' lose that there house, which ain't much but's all they's got.

In the evening, I attended an SOM party with an open bar (a generosity that Yale may just be able to afford now that I've quit drinking) at a place I'd never been called Kelly's. After some time there chatting with classmates and partaking of free food, I rebelliously scooted to the movie theater next door to see the collection of Oscar-nominated animated short films.

They were cute. I'm not sure what the criteria are for judging these things, but I think there's no doubt that the 6-minute Disney/Pixar short "Day & Night" was the most clever and fun. If that wins the day, great. If not, my money's on "The Gruffalo," the star of which was a cute mouse pictured above; that was certainly the most memorable. The only short I didn't care for was "Madagascar, a Journey Diary," which was the most artsy and innovative in terms of animation but was trying too hard; the result was totally boring.

I really have tried to catch up with movies this year because, when you don't, the Oscars aren't much fun to watch. But despite that, I'm not nearly as wildly into them as I have been in years past, when I could name all the nominees quickly and discuss each one's merits at length. Maybe next year, once I'm living the leisurely life of a consultant, I will have plenty of time to get into the movies ... Ho, ho.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

How's sobriety treating you?

Eleven days ago, I decided I was going to quit drinking, cold turkey. I have succeeded so far, and I wouldn't say it's been particularly difficult, although last night I had a dream I "accidentally" drank almost an entire bottle of white wine; in the dream, I drank the wine, then remembered I had said I wasn't going to drink anymore.

I'm doing this because over the past several months, my body is not processing or metabolizing alcohol properly. I have a doctor's appointment next week to talk about it, but in the meantime I think the safest move is to make 0 my limit, as opposed to 1 or 2, which I think is harder to maintain in practice.

Quitting has been easy and hard, in waves. On one hand, there are very salient benefits to not drinking. I spend less money, can drive to where I'm going, and feel better at the end of the night (and certainly the next day). I also think I'm a better conversationalist, better company, and less likely to do or say something regrettable. On the other hand, it's a little weird to sip Earl Grey tea while everyone else is passing around a bottle of red wine. Friends know me to be a drinker, so they want to know why I'm not imbibing, and then I feel the need to be honest and explain. And, really, part of me wants some of that damn wine.

Am I an alcoholic? I don't think so. I just think that lately it seems that I get drunker off fewer drinks, for longer, and to greater consequence (like memory loss). It could be age, or it could be something else. Hence the doctor's appointment!

Going out and drinking is a large, large piece of the social MBA experience. Even the school hosts a weekly happy hour with beer and wine every Thursday. And at my recent visit to Steinway & Sons, the reception had appetizers and wine -- no soft drinks, or even water. So I just ate and was thirsty. These are the kinds of things one doesn't really notice when one drinks alcohol.

So we'll see how it goes. I think until I talk to a doctor, this is the safest move.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Steinway to go

It is not every day that I get to play a Louie XV style Steinway Heirloom Piano with a mahogany finish, originally manufactured in 1930. But if I had $98,000 to spend, it could be.

I had an enjoyable visit today with my fellow MUS 673 students to the Steinway & Sons headquarters on 57th Street in New York. We met with Ronald Losby, the company's president, to talk about all things Steinway. And it was fun for me to get to play some original music for him, and for my classmates and the professor (who is also the dean of the music school). People were complimentary, which was kind.

When I was in newspapers, I shared my colleagues' interest in (and frustration about) that industry's challenges, to some extent finding them to be unique. As I've gone through business school, I have come to see lots of common threads between newspapers' plight and that of other industries, like pianos, which were once a centerpiece to about 1 in 3 living rooms and a key skill of any refined person. That's no longer the case, and Steinway is dealing, like anyone, with how to navigate digital technology, changing customer needs and habits, and even macro cultural issues that threaten the piano industry.

For example, for pianos to be sold, people need to know how to play them, which requires lessons. With two parents working, who's going to take kids to the lessons? And do young members of a somewhat instant-gratification generation have the patience and dedication to learn an instrument? It takes years of sometimes painful endurance to get to the point where playing is a genuine pleasure. People these days -- adults and kids alike -- don't want to wait even a moment for much of anything. Maybe this is all the more reason why it's important for people to learn an instrument, to gain the valuable skills of precision, and to experience the fruits of practice, patience and commitment.

Anyway, it was a very interesting visit, and it was nice to be back in New York. And with this field trip over, my absurdly long spring break officially begins! I will be off for the next month. Let the good times begin.

Monday, February 21, 2011

3 easy steps to getting rich

Now that I'm almost finished with my MBA, I know everything. Among my newfound knowledge is a deep understanding of securities markets. So when people ask me how they should invest their money, I'm thrilled to help.

Not one to sit on my laurels, I encourage people to come up with their own active portfolio, and then combine it with a common, well-diversified index, such as the S&P 500. "How do I create an active portfolio?" you ask. It's pretty easy. Just find a few stocks that look good -- spend a few weeks doing in-depth valuations, or throw darts; the odds of success are the same -- and estimate alpha for each one. Then you need to figure out how much of your money to put into each stock. Use this formula:

wi0 = [ai/si2(e)]/[Sai/si2(e)]

No problems so far. You're just taking each alpha, which is a nonmarket premium specific to each security, and dividing it by the idiosyncratic variance of those returns, as a fraction of the sum of these ratios across all your stocks! Now that you have these weights, you need to decide how much you want to invest in this active portfolio, vs. the passive index. Again, this is a breeze -- just plug and chug!

wA = [aA/sA2(e)]/[E(rm - rf)/[s2(m) + (1 - bA)(aA/sA2(e))]
... where bA = Swibi
... and aA = Swiai
... and sA2(e) = Swi2si2(ei)

All you'll need to know here are the alphas and betas of your active portfolio, which are simply weighted sums of the individual alphas and betas (beta, of course is the covariance of a security with the market, divided by the market variance), as well as the active portfolio's idiosyncratic variance, which is a sum of the product of the square of each security's weight and each security's firm-specific variance, which itself is the square of the standard deviation. Oh, and you'll need to know the expected market premium, which is the difference between market returns and the risk-free rate; you can use historical data to calculate this if you want. Oh, and the market variance -- again, this can be researched on your own. And that's it! You'll know what percent of your money to invest in this active portfolio, which, thanks to your innate overconfidence (which you might want to compensate for with an overconfidence factor), you think is better than the market portfolio everyone else is using, and you can just subtract that weight from 1 to determine how much to invest in the passive index.

Now you're almost done! Finally, you'll want to assess your natural level of risk aversion to figure out the most comfortable mix for you between this new-and-improved risky portfolio and a risk-free asset, such as Treasury Bills. Mine is 1.8. You should be able to assess yours, if you don't know it already, through various psychological surveys. You can feel free to use mine for the time being; I'll need it back, though. Anyway, take that number and plug it into this formula:

w* = [E(rp) - rf]/Asp2

This will tell you how much to put in this mixture of the active and passive risky portfolios, and how much (the remainder) to stick into T-bills. And you're done! Good luck to you.

And to me. I have an Investment Management midterm this morning.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Three of a kind

As a homosexual, I want people to respect my personal life, so I try not to judge. But I nevertheless was struck with rather WTF feelings last night at the symphony, seated behind three people whose dynamic my friends and I could not explain.

As violinist Wendy Sharp (Yale '82) and the Yale Symphony Orchestra began delighting us with Beethoven's Violin Concerto ion D Major, Op. 61, this dude in front of us reached his arms around both his female companions and spent the duration of the piece stroking their arms as they rested their weary heads on his shoulders. The women at times whispered into his ear, close enough that they were nearly nibbling his flesh. What the hell was going on?

I left at intermission, not because of this trio, but because I had developed a stomach ache. I'm not sure whether to blame the afternoon's all-you-can-eat lunch at Sushi Palace, or the heavy-as-a-brick prosciutto manicotti I had just eaten at Mory's. Either way, I left in a hasty fashion, unfortunately missing Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 in e minor, Op. 64. I'll just, you know, listen to my copy later today.

When I returned home, I was delighted to have received a copy of my late grandfather's book, which is about reincarnation. I ordered it on Amazon's UK site, since it seemed like the only copies available where in England. Not sure why or how that happened. The one I received seems to have at one time found a home in a library. This man, my father's father, wrote this book while in his 70s, and it was published in 1983, a few years before he died. It's subtitled "The Rationality of Reincarnation." I remember seeing several copies of it in the house I grew up in, but over the years we've lost track of them, and I never really owned one. Not sure what even made me think of it, but I thought it was something I should read. I'll tackle it in a few days, once my three-week Spring Break begins! I have a long list of books to read during that time.

I wonder what my grandfather would have to say about threesomes. Maybe the topic will come up in his book.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

My gift of a day

You're doubtlessly wondering how I spent the day that Fate gave back to me, following the last-minute cancellation of jury duty. I cleaned the kitchen, strolled around campus, studied for my Investment Management midterm in the wonderful Gilmore Library, worked on some original music, cooked me up some stuffed pork chops and sweet potato for dinner, and squeezed in some total laziness, all capped off with an evening trip to Starbucks and the Yale Cabaret. Better than jury duty.

The show was called PleasureD, and it featured three quirky-acting women in a bathroom, with virtually no dialogue, taking turns ringing a bell, brushing their teeth and doing various assorted strange activities with sexual implications. I've come to expect that everything I see at Yale will be weird. This was also very entertaining, clever and at times quite funny. The performers were all actresses in the drama school, and they conceived and wrote this show, too. They were very talented.

More culture will happen tomorrow when I see the symphony. Yay for access to quality arts!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Court is not in session!

I just got the most amazing news. I was scheduled to go in for jury duty tomorrow at 8:15 a.m., and stay Who Knows How Long. But the instructions I received suggested calling the night before for a pre-recorded message that would tell me whether my services were needed. On the recording were a list of names of people who were not needed, and mine was among them.

I feel like I've regained a day of my life. What a precious gift. I will have to make the most of it. I could, for example, study for my Investment Management midterm! Hahaha. No, really, I could have some kind of adventure. But what ...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Are you on board, fellow?

A little over a year ago, a second-year student named Brian asked the first-year members of Q+ (the LGBT club at school) if anyone would be interested in succeeding him for a year-long stint on the board of CABO, the state's first and only LGBT chamber of commerce. I said I would, and it was done. Now, in the blink of an eye, my commitment is nearly at an end.

I have therefore been asked to pass the torch. But rather than just pluck another gay guy from the first-year class and cross my fingers that this system is sustainable, I'm proposing that CABO participate in something at school called the Nonprofit Board Fellows Club. Actually, one of the leaders of this club suggested I approach CABO about this last fall, but sometimes it takes my brain a few months to process a simple piece of information.

This is a club that matches first-year students with nonprofit boards in New Haven. The purpose is, according to the club's materials, threefold -- to give a student a chance to experience board service, to give boards an MBA resource, and to strengthen ties between the school and the community. Because this is a program that's very in line with SOM's mission and will in theory exist going forward, I think joining forces makes sense.

I've said in this blog repeatedly that I was over-committed this year, and I don't think any of my commitments suffered more for this than CABO. Because I never see the fellow board members other than at meetings -- in other words, because I don't bump into them in the hall -- it was easy to prioritize this work below more immediate and pressing concerns at school. Not that I was totally useless, mind you; I used some of my multimedia editing skills several times, scrutinized some budgets and publication materials, attended a regional summit one weekend in Philadelphia (and thereby missed the Spring Formal), manned the front desk at a few mixers and am trying to get some members on campus to speak to students. When I put it that way, maybe I wasn't such a bad board member after all! But I feel like I should have been setting aside, say, one Saturday a month to stuff envelopes and make tons of phone calls. That's what it sounds like Brian did. But that never really happened.

I'm glad I did this, though, because I enjoyed learning more about CABO and board service more generally. I also liked the people on the board a lot and was glad to spend time with them. One takeaway, though, is that if I am going to sit on another board in the future, I will make sure I'm not simultaneously juggling a dozen other things. It's not fair to the board if each seat isn't being occupied by someone with a lot of drive, passion and, most importantly, time.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Celebrate VD with sex trivia

To honor Valentine's Day, five classmates and I put everything we know about making whoopee to the test at the sex-trivia competition at GPSCY, the grad-school pub. The seven rounds covered all sorts of exciting topics, including the velocity of ejaculate, sex symbols throughout history and name-that-tune. There was even a round during which we had to identify pictures of sex toys.

We came in second out of 25 teams.

Speaking of things that are hot, it started to warm up today -- I think the high was about 53 -- and the snow began turning into an ocean. There are still massive drifts, but progress is good. Now it's gotten cold, but it should warm back up toward the end of the weeks. I am looking forward to the spring flowers.

And speaking of flowers, I was a good son and got my mommy a pretty impressive bouquet, about which she called to express her appreciation. A good tip for all men whose mothers are living: Buy her flowers on Valentine's Day. She'll think you're a hero. And she'll be right!

A lot of people have a distaste for Valentine's Day, but I think it's nice to celebrate love, which takes all sorts of forms, like self-acceptance, music appreciation, passion for good coffee, and of course love of one another.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Don Giovanni: 195 minuti dell'opera

This afternoon I saw Don Giovanni, a pretty funny opera that uses Mozart's music to tell the story of a womanizing lecher and his semi-faithful servant. It was required for my music class. I was originally a bit wary of the 3.25-hour running time, particularly because I have other things to do today, but as it turns out it was plenty entertaining and worth the time. The professor for this course is also the dean of the music school, so when I submit my impressions per the assignment, I will offer praises, and they will be sincere.

Fortunately, I finished my Investment Management problem set this morning with my friend Sarah. I don't regularly work in coffee shops, but I have to admit that I think I'm a lot more efficient when I do, even when I have the distraction of someone's company. Not having a finance background, I may not seem like a likely candidate to enjoy this class, but backgrounds can be deceiving. We'll see how long that lasts. Right now we're learning about the Black-Litterman model of active portfolio management. Never thought I'd see the day. We have a midterm exam one week from tomorrow.

Tonight I'll be finishing a short paper about the book Blink, which we were supposed to read excerpts from for my Behavioral Perspectives on Management class, although I read the whole thing over winter break because I found it interesting. The book (by Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote The Tipping Point) looks at the amazing power of intuition and how people can, in some situations, be surprisingly adept at reaching accurate conclusions based on very little information. And since a lot of the processing is subconscious, they may not be able to figure out how they know what they know.

In weather news, the high temperature tomorrow is 48, which is stunningly warm and should cause massive (and possibly problematic) melting of the snow. Boots it is.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Q+ day of service

This afternoon, six members of Q+ (the LGBT club at Yale SOM) spent a few hours volunteering at the New Haven Pride Center. We cleaned the common space, reorganized the storage area and left the place warmer and more welcoming than we found it. It's nice to be able to see the fruits of our efforts. The center is totally run by volunteers, so I think our help was appreciated.

I stayed strong despite a bit of day-after-house-party nausea. En route to last night's affair, my friend Matt and I noticed a sign at a church advertising Christmas Eve services; there was also a nativity scene (pictured) with a special bounty of snack cakes. I'm surprised there's still evidence of Christmas anywhere; even the pride center was still decorated for Christmas (until we undecorated). I'm all for the holiday spirit, of course, but that ship has sailed.

Tomorrow, my weekend continues with some opera. This, when added on to volunteerism and homework, will complete the mature grad-student triad of culture, service and academics, concepts that are the backbone of our great society and that probably sound pretty cool in Latin.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Surreal dinner companions

What a day. The multicolored appointments in my Outlook calendar were stacked like a totem pole, from 8:30 a.m. until 9 p.m., with the longest break being a half hour from noon to 12:30, during which I shoveled a gyro sandwich into my face.

Fortunately, it was also a great day, full of my favorite classes and activities, culminating in a  fantastic kicker: dinner at the Graduate Club -- a 119-year-old private dining club -- with my Leadership Strategies for Music Presenters class and our two guests, incredibly fascinating music writers Anne Midgette and Greg Sandow. We ate in a private room, fireplace roaring, and had fantastic conversation about classical and pop music and arts criticism. We debated whether a music-appreciation education at a young age would really lead to classical concert-going as an adult, how/whether music creativity can or should be taught, and what role music critics do, or should, play, and who they should be writing for. This last topic was especially interesting for me because I was thrust into some classical-criticism assignments at both my papers, basically because I was a pianist. I always had fun at such concerts but found them difficult to write about.

This was the second time I've gotten to enjoy such a thing this week. On Monday, the professor of the Economics & Financing of Journalism class I TA took the students and our special guest David Shribman, editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, out for dinner as well. That conversation, both in class and at dinner, was a little frustrating, because the variety of ways I feel newspapers are missing the boat came flooding back to me. Now that I have the self-confidence (be it justified or not) to offer opinions from both a journalism perspective as well as a business-strategy one, I find it harder to swallow some of the rhetoric that print journalists use to defend their industry, while at the same time I remain skeptical of a lot of the solutions that non-journalist business students propose. It's an industry that needs help but doesn't really seem to embrace an MBA way of thinking. Maybe it's the better for it; who am I to say. 

Anyway, regardless of where the conversation leads, these types of evening experiences are very kind of the professors to orchestrate, and I'm sure will be among the most memorable times I take away.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Bloody nice portraits

My friend, classmate and fellow impending consultant Susan's old art history teacher once said that many artists spent months or even years doing a piece, so the least you can do is spend a full minute looking at it.  

After recently discovering we are both blessed with class-free Tuesdays, Susan and I are hitting up some of those "Bucket List" Yale attractions we really should have gone to by now. Our first: The Yale Center for British Art (usually referred to as the British Art Museum).

The permanent collection (pictured) featured mostly portraits and landscapes, which while not always too exciting in and of themselves, often had somewhat interesting back stories in the explanatory plaques. I was particularly impressed with how shiny and wet-looking these several-hundred-years-old paintings were. On the third floor we breezed through the current exhibit, a much more modern and abstract series of pieces by someone named Rebecca Salter, called "into the light of things."

Some of the other things Susan and I want to do are to see the Collection of Musical Instruments, the Beinecke, and the University Art Gallery. It's just a good idea, if you go to Yale or any school, to see these types of popular attractions. Somebody down the line is bound to ask whether I've ever been.

Tonight was the final formal installment of LDP, or the Leadership Development Program, a series of evening sessions for first-year students, for which I was a Second Year Advisor (more or less a TA). We ended on a good note, with a great discussion about goals and strengths. The program gets some heat for being somewhat misfocused; "teaching" leadership is hard to do. But I hope some of the students got something out of it. As for me, my favorite aspect was getting to meet with the first-years in half-hour one-on-one advisory sessions. I much preferred that aspect to having to try to help facilitate the class, and having to play disciplinarian. But, you know, it's a living. (Being facetious there, although we do get paid.)

Speaking of pay, I was pretty psyched to receive half my sign-on bonus from Deloitte today! I'll get the second half after I start work. I must be prudent about it, though, because it's money I'm going to put toward living expenses over the summer, as well as working on some music during that time. Still, though, I'd like to treat myself to a little something I've always wanted ...

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Application assignment

Behavioral Perspectives on Management is, so far, my favorite course of this semester, and probably my favorite elective I've taken at SOM, and thus probably my favorite course of any kind at SOM, and therefore potentially my favorite course I've ever taken of any kind. Any class whose assigned readings are often from The New Yorker = a class I'ma lurve.

Today, I've been working on our first "application assignment," which is a brief paper in which we try to apply a class concept to our real life. We spent time last week talking about the Beltway sniper shootings from 2002. Remember those? We discussed it in the context of "expectancy," whereby one sees what one expects. In this case, there were early reports of a suspicious white van speeding away after the first shooting; once that information was released, there were always reports of a white van. This is, of course, because white vans are common. It turned out that the snipers were never in a white van, but when people were looking for one, of course they saw one.

I think this phenomenon has interesting implications for journalists. Generally, from what I observed, the mission of the newspaper was to inform the public quickly and accurately, but not much consideration was given to any type of psychological, decision-making ramifications. I can't imagine in the newsroom a manager saying, "The police have told us people should be on the lookout for a red truck, but I'm not convinced that they received reliable eyewitness accounts, and if we release that information then people will be subject to an expectancy bias whereby they will miss other potentially relevant pieces of evidence because they will be too focused on looking for a red truck. Therefore, we will not include that detail in the story."

Is it the media's responsibility to choose what it thinks the public should know, for the public's own good? Such a role makes me uneasy, because in the wrong hands, this intention could have scary consequences, like propaganda. Then again, media organizations already determine what it thinks the public should know, on some level. But I think the frame of mind usually has to do with what's true and fair, not what will best aid in solid decision-making.

Anyway, that's what I'm working on. I have an entirely open day, since my original plans were to see "Black Swan," which I saw yesterday, and to go to the Dartmouth-Yale hockey game, which sold out. Whoops. Having seen "Black Swan," I've now seen 5 of the 10 Best Picture nominees. My preference for those movies, in order, is:

1. "The Social Network"
2. "The King's Speech"
3. "Black Swan"
4. "127 Hours"
5. "Inception"

I still need (or would like) to see "The Kids Are All Right" (which I've received from Netflix and may watch this weekend), "True Grit," "Toy Story 3," "The Fighter" and "Winter's Bone." I am going to be teaming up with my friend Carolyn, who actually receives television in her home, to throw what I think will be a small Oscar party. Small because her apartment is small, and small because it's the Sunday after our spring break begins, so people who are smarter and richer than us will probably have flown somewhere tropical.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Star Search

SOM has something called the Internship Fund, which is a student-run effort to raise money (from other students) to supplement the sometimes-meager wages earned at nonprofit summer internships. Throughout the year, there are various fundraising efforts, among the most fun being Star Search, a talent show.

I participated as a piano accompanist in last year's show, in two acts, but this year I had the pleasure of just watching. It was a good show -- a few singing medleys, some dancing and some humor. In school we often don't get to see one another's talents, so this is a good showcase. More importantly, it was a fun time.

Perhaps my favorite entertainment of the evening was a series of videos that played between skits. Unfortunately, the inside jokes will be lost on people who don't go to SOM, but nevertheless here are links to parts 1, 2 and 3 if you're curious.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Hockey tickets sold out

Last year I attended the Yale-Dartmouth hockey game, and this year I won't. Tickets are sold out, because Yale's hockey team is #1! Or it was, recently; maybe it still is. I don't really keep up with such things.

Snatching tickets was on my Outlook Calendar every day this week, but I never made it over there, due to a combination of busy-ness and treachery. An ice storm this week made the city not such a pleasure to walk around in. Fortunately, as students we have access to a free shuttle system, both a regular one on a route and a point-to-point service. On my way downtown last night, I was able to take the regular shuttle with no sweat. Coming back was harder, though, because I was returning after regular hours and therefore needed to rely on the point-to-point service.

In theory, this service is great, but in practice, it rarely is. Just about everyone I know has some sort of bizarre or hilarious shuttle fiasco story. Last night's mishap revealed some pretty fundamental operational issues. Observe!

11:48 p.m. -- I call for a shuttle. They said Bus #82 will be there at a little after midnight.

A little after midnight -- I get the phone call that Bus #82 is approaching, so I head down a couple flights of stairs. On my way down, I get another call that Bus #82 waited for me and didn't see me, and drove away.

A few seconds later -- I call the shuttle back and explain what happened. They tell me a different vehicle, Car #16, will be there at about 12:20.

12:20 -- No car.

12:30 -- I call back, and they tell me that there had been an error, and someone else's name (and phone number) was put in for the request instead of me. I ask for a car, and they say Car #16 will be there at 12:40).

12:30 to 12:45 -- No car, but I do see a bus and two other shuttle cars pass by; they don't stop, because I'm not on their list.

12:45 -- I call back to check on the status, and they tell me Car #16 will be there at 1.

1:05 -- I call a freaking cab, which I should have done in the first place. But right after I do, Car #16 shows up, so I cancel the cab.

The kicker in all of this is that I indeed have a car, and so theoretically shouldn't need to deal with any of this nonsense. But my car is buried beneath enough ice and snow that I haven't been motivated to deal with it. But this Monday the high is 41; I'm not sure if that's enough to melt some of this crap, but here's hoping!