Mornings

This photo of sunlight streaming through the east window of Grand Central Station was taken from my phone, with a filter from the Instagram app.

While taking the picture, it struck me. I really like mornings.  And I love mornings in the City, especially in transportation hubs like Grand Central, Penn Station and Port Authority, during the weekday rush.  I’m surrounded by people who are eager to get somewhere.  From these trains and buses are people who will fill the buildings, perform their tasks, collect their paychecks, pay their taxes (hopefully!), and change the world.

Sometimes, there are hiccups in the transportation system (it’s bound to happen with so many moving parts), like delays and stoppages.  One thing I’ve noticed is that since everyone in the bus/train/station is subject to the same conditions, there forms some sort of strange affinity (like when everyone’s running late, but at least you’re not alone).  As soon as people get to the office, they usually open all conversations with “Guess what happened at the subway today”, or “Traffic was terrible at the tunnel”, or “My train got delayed.  We were stuck in the same spot for 45 minutes!”.  We grab our coffee, and we go about our day.  Those morning hiccups and delays will have been forgotten in a few days (unfortunately because they’re usually replaced with new ones).

This type of morning commute has become a way of life for so many people.  And this controlled chaos makes me feel alive.  Look, I know I’m weird for being fascinated with these things, but I’m sure I’m not alone in this.  Here’s a cool illustration of NYC’s population – day vs. night:

image credit: Buzzfeed

Sometimes I do struggle to get out of bed, especially after a late night at work.  I do have those days.  But after I win my heroic minute and take my shower, I’m usually ready to go about my day.

Maybe someday, I’ll grow tired of this frenetic pace.  But not today.  And maybe not anytime soon.  I’m enjoying this too much.

(Note: this post is probably too random for taste, but I needed to blog something for February 2011, just so I don’t skip a month)

Lost my voice! (only getting it back)

I started my year having lost my voice due to a cough. It was a terrible feeling. For a good week or so, I could barely speak without going into bouts of coughing. I would whisper to people I attempt conversation with. For the first time in years, my sleep got interrupted multiple times due to coughing in the middle of the night (people who know me know that I sleep like a log).  I’ve tried all the home remedies and various expectorants and mucolytics. And I’m glad that I’m convalescing and getting my voice back.

During the past week, I realize that I gradually began to lose patience with small talk. I began to screen my conversations, and really attempt to speak when really necessary.   I would mime some (Charades!), or would carry my notebook so I can write something down that I could not get across. (Took a lot of notes, wrote lots of emails, sent a lot of text messages).

I realize I listened a bit more, and all the more appreciate how great a gift it is to be able to communicate orally. It’s a good realization to have, and I do appreciate the insight. I probably needed it.

I got to thinking about that phrase “Talk is cheap”.

What if it’s not?

What if we human beings only have a limited number of words to speak in our lifetimes? What would we say? Who would we say it to? Will we attempt something profound? Humorous? Will we shoot for impact or legacy? Will we be more careful of what we say and how we say it?

It’s so easy to take things for granted.  Coming into 2011, may we appreciate the gifts we have.

Here’s a cool video I came across in 2009, featuring Nick Vujicic:

My wish is for everyone to find their inspiration.  2011 is going to be great!  Cheers!

Note:  Today,  1/10/11 is  palindromic date!  And tomorrow, too! (1/11/11 )  Something about these kinds of dates make me geek out.

Finished Reading: The Way of Kings

Credit: Image from Tor.com.

I think I will run out of positive superlatives when I write about the experience of reading a Brandon Sanderson book.  Most recently I just finished The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive) and I’m still reeling.

What a book!  This is the kind of manuscript wherein the reader faces two strong conflicting forces – the careful discipline to read slowly to savor every bit of the story as it unfolds, and the compulsive urge to read faster to find out what happens next.  And there’s that all too familiar dread that the book is running out of pages, and just when the story gets really, really good.  The book is massive 1,007 pages, and yet it feels too short.

Brandon is extremely skilled in creating fully realized magic systems, with a complete set of rules (not yet fully revealed in this first book) that despite its fantasy origins, somehow seem logical in their application.  I believe that’s his strength as a fantasy writer, and what sets him apart from other writers in the genre.  In this book,  he just outdid himself.  I particularly loved the currencies being charged by Stormlight and Soulcasting and the idea behind Fabrials (where technology meets magic).  Of course, there’s Lashing (a bit reminiscent of Allomancy in Mistborn) and the Shardblades and Shardplates.

But it goes beyond that.  In TWOK, his character development is definitely above par, and he explores pretty universal themes such as brotherhood and family, achievement and talent, religion and culture, race and class systems, language and the role of stories, courage and cleverness, hunger for power, struggles for survival and overcoming overwhelming odds.  Despite the fantasy setting, the stories delve into emotions and machinations, relationships and situations, virtues and vices that very human, and therefore very relatable.

And of course, there’s the artwork, which is plainly superb.  I was fortunate to receive an ARC through a Goodreads raffle (it did not have the same amount of artwork).  I realize it does enrich the worldbuilding and the storytelling, as it provides the reader with a much-appreciated visual element, and Brandon discusses this in a recent podcast on Writing Excuses.

My only very minor quibble would be some of the interludes.  Only because sometimes they feel like interruptions to the main story lines (Kaladin and his bridge crew, Dalinar and Adolin, Shallan and Jasnah, and Szeth).  It does show, however, the expansive world imagined by the author.  And from my experience with Brandon’s previous work, I have to trust that these will come to play in future chapters and in future books.  When I read the annotations to Mistborn and Warbreaker on Brandon’s site, I do realize that much thought and effort is devoted in the placement of these chapters and interludes.  No words are wasted.

I cannot wait to read the next book of the Stormlight Archive, though I hear it might not come for another year or two.  From what I read in reviews and forums, I’m not alone in this.  I do believe that this first book barely scratched the surface of the stories that can come out of Roshar.  The last few pages (Epilogue, Ars Arcanum), as well as the symbols and maps on the inside covers indicate that there’s more in store for us eager readers.

Mr Sanderson, may you live long to write more books and tell more stories and reveal more worlds.  I’ll probably be one of the first to click “Pre-Order”.

To anyone who hasn’t read any of Brandon’s books, do yourself a favor and pick up the Mistborn Trilogy.  The best thing about that series is that it’s finished (no waiting!).   Elantris is also a good pick because it’s a stand-alone book.

My guess is that soon enough you’ll be a fan too.

Cheers!

<a disclaimer: this mini-review is by an unabashedly avid fan of Brandon Sanderson’s work – The Mistborn Trilogy, Elantris, Warbreaker, Alcatraz, and his continuing contribution to the Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time.  A bit of bias might be expected.>

Watching: DVR recordings of The Sing-Off

I think I’ve said this before. I’m a sucker for reality TV.

I just watched through a few episodes of the a capella singing competition “The Sing Off“. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The contestants? They’re extremely talented folks. No autotune on these voices.  And no instruments!

I can say that my favorite groups are in the finale on Monday. And I’ve cast my vote for one of the final four.  They’re all brilliant in different ways!  I totally understood how the judges could not pick one to eliminate out of these four (and in so doing, retained their goodwill to the show’s audience).

I love the judges in this show. Shawn Stockman, Nicole Scherzinger and especially Ben Folds. They’re genuinely passionate about music – both the technique and the art – not the marketability, or packaging or niche, or how many records they would sell, or how they will fare in the charts. These judges are witty, articulate and intelligent, honest and succinct in their critiques without being patronizing or condescending.

Case in point:  In the very first episode, after Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town performed “Save the Last Dance for Me”, Ben Folds talked about the back story behind the song (how the songwriter had polio and could not dance with his wife).  That’s the kind of information that adds dimension to the song.  Not a lot of reality show judges would have the same wealth of knowledge and insight that this guy has, and demonstrate it without seeming like a blowhard or a know-it-all.  The comments from all the judges feel tailored to the performances and feel like they’re coming from people who actually listened (Cough! American Idol!)

Anyhow, here are my favorite performances thus far:

From Street Corner Symphony (The country-rock dudes)

What I love about these guys is their laid-back vibe.   Just a bunch of buddies hanging out on the porch drinking beer after an afternoon of fishing.  They don’t take themselves seriously – none of the elaborate choreography, etc.  Just plain good sounding Music.  I also loved how they “un-practice”.

From Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town: (The Godfathers of a capella – a classic-sounding barbershop sextet)

As one of the judges pointed out, these guys have an unfair advantage because of their much extensive experience.  But this group is so much fun to listen to.  In the latest episode, they sang “House of the Rising Sun”, and they were right on the money.  Jerry has been singing for decades.  That’s inspiring, because here’s a guy who pursued his passion, and kept on singing because that’s what he loves to do.

From The BackBeats (Members coming from rival choirs to form a group that shines with Pop/Emo ballads)

I must admit – I didn’t really dig this group that much at the start.  They’re good individually, but didn’t feel like they really sang well together as a group (they came from rival groups, and banded together to form The Backbeats).  Their strength lies in their power vocalists, and that awesome lady percussionist.  But they’ve grown on me over the past few episodes.

From Committed (The gospel choir who had felt awkward singing secular music)

What’s remarkable in this number is the fact that the group had a seamless transition in that string of solos.  And their voices melded together so well.  They seem to be the judges’ favorite.  But in a sense, the same could be said of the other groups because again, they’re pretty diverse.

Speaking of diversity, from the runners up, I really like the following jazzy take on Mike Posner’s “Cooler than Me” From Groove for Thought:

The videos might not work on the site.  Just click on the Youtube links in the embedded boxes, and enjoy!

Can’t wait until the live Monday finale.  Happy weekend everyone!

Listening: Playlist of 2010

Jogging today  (desperately trying to burn off the Thanksgiving binge),  I realized that 2010 has been a pretty good year for music, and decided to mine my iTunes playlist and Amazon MP3 downloads for the songs that I’ve played the most throughout the year.  I came up with this list.  In no particular order:

1.  “To the Sky” by Owl City

This came from the movie, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole. I love the feel of this song when it played in the credits.  And it was a good film.

2.  “Smile“by Uncle Kracker

I remember that earworm of a song, “Follow Me” from years back.  And this promises to follow that tradition.

3.  “King of Anything” by Sara Bareilles

This album is just amazing.  I could listen to it all day.  It brings me to my happy place.  Listen to it.  You’ll know what I mean.  And check out this cover by Sam Tsui:

4.  “Rhythm of Love” by Plain White T’s

A bit reminiscent of “Hey There Delilah”.  But I loved that song.  Enough said.

5.  “Thinking of You” by Christian Kane

I first heard this song in one of my favorite TV Series, Leverage.  There was that scene wherein Elliott, the character played by Christian Kane, pretended to be a country singer for one of their cons.  The team fully planned to autotune the character’s voice, but Elliott caught his teammates by surprise with his “hidden talent”, and sang the heck out of this song.

Of course, there’s the following songs:

  • “Love the Way You Lie” by Eminem and Rihanna
  • “Pyramid” by Charice and Iyaz
  • “Raise Your Glass” by Pink
  • “Just the Way You Are” and “Grenade” Bruno Mars
  • “F— You” by Cee Lo Green
  • “California Girls”, “Teenage Dream” and “Firework” by Katy Perry
  • “Hey, Soul Sister” by Train (I saw Train’s collaboration with Martina McBride on CMT Crossroads – it was amazing!)
  • “Billionaire” by Travie McCoy and Bruno Mars
  • “Airplanes” by BoB and Hayley Williams of Paramore
  • “For The Summer” by Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs
  • “Kings and Queens” by 30 Seconds to Mars
  • “Loved by You” by Jake Coco
  • “At or With Me” by Jack Johnson

I realize for the most part, these are mainstream songs, and some are a bit overplayed (especially when they’re covered by the Glee Cast).

I do listen to the radio a lot with long commutes.  But these songs are a good mix of fun, sad, romantic, sentimental, angry.  Just plain feel-good listens.

The videos I embedded yielded from a basic Youtube search of the song titles (some might not even play unless you click the linked video).   No copyright infringement intended.

Here’s to hoping 2011 will rock just as much!

100 miles and counting

Milestone!  100 miles logged using my Nike+GPS app!  It’s been quite a trip.  I never really thought I’d be able to do it.  In fact my legs are feeling it.

Now that it gets dark crazy early, and it’s getting really cold, it becomes a bit more difficult to log the miles.   Plus there’s the almost inevitable holiday season binge.  I have to celebrate my small accomplishments.

Next target: 500 miles.  Might as well dream big. 🙂

Reading: Taking an Unplanned Vacation

On Twitter, I found this post that really hit home:

I realize, I have not allowed myself to take any “unplanned vacations” recently.

It jogged a memory.  January 2007.  In a site visit that I did for one of my audit clients in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania,  I started work at 7, and finished my tasks at about 4PM.  My hotel was in Gettysburg, so I figured I had some time to spare before sunset, and I felt I should explore.

Being new to the place, I decided to just drive around Gettysburg – the town and the battlefield.

By myself.

With my HP IPaq 6515 phone with built-in but very faulty GPS navigation, which I just pointed back to the hotel as I drove further.  Funny and annoying how it was constantly saying “recalculating”, “make a U-Turn” or “Proceed to the nearest road”.  Unfortunately,  I couldn’t turn it off for fear of losing the GPS signal.

I really knew nothing of the place.  I’ve only heard of Gettysburg in the famous Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln, which we were made to memorize in High School.

Driving around the battlefield, it was so quiet.  There were not a lot of people because of the chilly Pennsylvania air (I did mention it was January).  The museums were already closed.

I explored the monuments and memorials.  I climbed the Observation Tower and got a good view of the field and the sunset.  I did manage to take some pictures until it got dark.

See a few photos that I was able to salvage from my backups (the hard drive where I originally stored these crashed):

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Anyhow, this “trip” happened in the course of a couple of hours (definitely a much smaller scale compared to the article referenced above).

But it was unplanned.  And I very much enjoyed it.  While it was technically a work day, I had a mini-vacation.

Got me to thinking – I should force myself do this more often.  I should aim to cover more of my the map I blogged in the past.  Not get lost in the busyness of work and the humdrum of daily routines.

Then in my head, I start planning trip logistics.

Old habits die hard. (sigh!)

More info on visiting Gettysburg – http://www.nps.gov/getc/index.htm