Why Baseball is Just The Best

I’ve never been a huge sports nut. I won’t pretend to know every player on my favorite teams, all their stats, or even their first names. But one thing I do know: baseball is just better than the other sports. In honor of Opening Week,  I humbly present my reasoning below.
Dodgers Opening Day
1. Baseball has the best movies. Does any other sports movie conjure the smirking nostalgia of The Sandlot? Or the teary-eyed, goosebumpy pride of A League of Their Own? Baseball movies run the gamut from saccharine, G-rated fantasy (see: Rookie of the Year, Angles in the Outfield) to hilarious but barely appropriate for children (Major LeagueMajor League 2…even though we all watched them as kids). These movies not only taught us the value of hard work and playing fair, most of us developed our curse word lexicon from these movies.

Hell, Kevin Costner wouldn’t have a career without baseball movies (Bull Durham being the best, obviously).

2. Baseball players wear PANTS. Like GENTLEMEN.

3. The pacing of the game is just right. Some people might say baseball is too slow, and those people would be wrong. Baseball is a usually leisurely game perfectly punctuated with moments of tension and driven by detailed strategy. At a basketball game, you could miss all of the game, save the last two minutes on the clock, and still catch 110% of the excitement. With scoring every few seconds, it takes away from the relief and joy of scoring. And soccer, I mean, God–it could go on for hours without a score.

4. Vin Scully. Okay, my Dodgers bias is showing through, but the man is a poet. Listening to him call a game is like hearing Homer himself read from The Odyssey.

5.  It’s tightly woven into American culture. It’s the working man’s sport–well, it WAS, before tickets to see the Yankees or the Dodgers cost more than a cross-country flight to get there. Kids from all different generations and socioeconomic backgrounds grew up playing catch with their dads, or starting pick up games with their friends in the lazy days of summer. Baseball history has even mirrored the political climate of the country: women stepped in during World War II, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier by joining the Brooklyn Dodgers, suburban sprawl led to record attendance numbers, the 80s kind of sucked, and our modern, ultra-competitive attitude comes to a head with the steroids scandals of the 90s and 00s.

6. The food, obviously. This is the main reason I go almost anywhere in public. Some baseball stadiums even rival surrounding restaurants. Citifield, for example, has a Shake Shack, and according to legend, it sometimes doesn’t have a line. Dodger Stadium has these aaamazing carne asada nachos that I dream of regularly, and likewise Petco Park in San Diego has some pretty serious Mexican food too. And AT&T Park in San Fran features–what else–a Ghirardelli sundae.

I think I’ve made my case. Next time any of you baseball haters opens your mouth to complain about how long and boring the game can be, fill it with a Dodger dog.

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Podcasts are the New Black

Podcasts are having a bit of a “moment” right now, digitally speaking. Yes, YouTube’s dorky, less attractive cousin is finally getting some love. We can probably thank Serial for a lot of that…for the rest, we, or at least I, can thank traffic.

So, I live in the Valley and work in Torrance. If you don’t live in LA and thus can’t recite all the possible freeways permutations between those two points and the surface street alternatives and have all the camera lights memorized, let me spell it out for you: it’s a bitch of a commute. Usually about 60-90 minutes each way, give or take depending on weather, holidays schedules, presidential visits, and the rotation of the planet Mercury (my theory, anyway).

Suffice it to say, I’m in the car a lot. All by my lonesome. After a while, the morning radio shows didn’t cut it and I needed sometime to distract me from the compounding realization that I am wasting 3 hours of my day sitting on the 405, anxious to get wherever I am going, because life is a neverending rat race, the finish of which is constantly, achingly just out of reach.

So yeah, podcasts. My timing was impeccable, because right as I started making this commute, Serial was just starting to blow up, and I blew through the first 6 episodes, salivating for the next. I would save the new episodes, which were released on Thursday mornings, for the afternoon commute, like a squirrel saving a nut for a long winter.

To fill in the gaps between Thursdays, aka the rest of the week, I’d pepper in episodes of the TED Radio Hour, which adapts several loosely related Talks into radio-friendly episodes. It’s the perfect balance of fun and cerebral intensity: just enough to take my mind of my existential strife, and not too much where I’d rear end the $90,000 convertible inching along in front of me.

Then of course when Serial ended, I needed more. Criminal proved to be a suitable stand in (as is The Staircase, available on YouTube, if we’re talking non-podcast). Stuff You Missed in History Class made me feel like I was being productive–in the car!–by, you know, learning stuff. Sometimes I’ll flip on Coffee Break French to brush up on mon francais.

Then I moved on to the harder stuff…audio books. I blew through all three Hunger Games books (yeah I know, shut up) and Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn’s other two novels, which are, delightfully, even more messed up that GG. Now I’m listening to “A Brief History of The Middle East,” which I’m pretty much only sticking with at this point to be able to tell people that I’m listening to “A Brief History of The Middle East.”

So I’ve learned to turn my commute into the proverbial lemonade. It might actually contribute to me being a better, more well-rounded, possibly multi-lingual person. Who knew?

The Maui Gypsy Guide in Action

Technology gets a bad rap for robbing us of our humanity—we’re constantly transfixed by tiny screens instead of the open sky, stuck in our heads instead of actually interacting with other people. But I recently downloaded an iPhone app that made me wonder how anyone could have gone without it.

While in Maui, the hubs and I used The Gypsy Guide, series of audio guides designed to be used while driving. It uses your phone’s GPS to cue geographically pertinent information, like where to park and which markers to look for, in addition information about the attractions themselves. They say good design is good usability, and this was certainly the case–it was like having a treasure map guiding us through the tropical jungle.

All of those crowded arrows are talking points, for both the way there and back.

All of those crowded arrows are talking points, for both the way there and back.

This guide was especially useful as the hubs and I took The Road to Hana, a famous drive in Maui dotted with beautiful waterfalls, exotic beaches, and excellent roadside stands…not to mention nauseating hairpin turns and stressful one-lane bridges. The drive itself is the toll for experiencing all that beauty. I can’t imagine how many tourists must have spent the drive either lost, or missing out on the hard to find natural treasures because of the lack of signage. This could have easily turned into an argument-filled, miserable afternoon cluelessly meandering through the rainforest, narrowly missing beautiful sights, if only we had just known where to turn.

In the three hours it took us to get to Hana and a bit beyond, we stopped at a good 10-15 sights–though there are many, many more than that, but to see all of them properly would take more than a full day. The friendly narrator, who professed himself a local, laid out the game plan: he’d let us know if we were coming up on a “must see” stop, and was honest about other stops that could be skipped if we were pressed for time. The app even knew when we were on our way BACK, and narrated the history of Hawaii and Maui to keep us entertained, starting with the Tahitian migration, up to (reluctant) US statehood. The app helped us take full advantage of an unforgettable experience.

A tight squeeze for two way traffic...eesh!

A tight squeeze for two way traffic…eesh!

Inside the Keanae Arboretum. Got bamboo?

Inside the Keanae Arboretum. Got bamboo?

There's always money in the Banana [bread] Stand.

There’s always money in the Banana [bread] Stand.

Inside the Keanae Arboretum. This flower was as big as my head.

Inside the Keanae Arboretum. This flower was as big as my head.

Gorgeous Rainbow Eucalyptus trees

Gorgeous Rainbow Eucalyptus trees

Black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park. Never seen anything like it!

Black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park. Never seen anything like it!

The Pools of Oheo, inside Haleakala National Park

The Pools of Oheo, inside Haleakala National Park

The 834,232nd Post You’ll Read on The #IceBucketChallenge

Just to get this out of the way: I am not saying that ALS is not a worthwhile cause or that it’s not a devastating disease, and I would never suggest that you should not donate. What I am commenting on is the set up and execution of the recent awareness campaign that you’ve no doubt failed to escape on your news feed.

The #IceBucketChallenge has raised millions of dollars in just a few weeks…And that’s fantastic. The ultimate goal of pretty much any campaign for a cause is to raise money, because that’s what will fund research that leads to a cure. So in that respect, the campaign has succeeded. In other ways, it hasn’t.

ALSIceBucketChallengeMeme

Having worked on awareness campaigns from the beginning phases (agencies like to call this “ideation”…barf), I know that it’s not *all* about the money. The second priority is awareness. With diseases like ALS and Lupus, many people may not even know they exist, much less the symptoms, prognosis for current patients, treatment options and prevention, if applicable.

“Awareness” is a term that gets thrown around a lot on social media in relation to charitable causes. “While I’m not donating money, tweeting this hashtag is contributing to the awareness of the issue,” is the common slacktivist motto. But I’m talking about actual awareness: marketers need to educate audiences about the disease itself, the steps taken (and those needed to be taken) to find a cure, and how the disease is affecting real people. (Some participants have uploaded videos that give a bit more insight into the disease, like this one making the rounds on Facebook, but that’s a bit outside of the campaign’s call to action.)

True awareness is what can help convert the campaign from a one-time summer fad to a cause that people care about (and contribute to) year round–non-profits need to encourage brand awareness too! If all people know about the cause is that they got to film themselves dumping a bucket of cold water over their heads and got lots of likes and comments, the message is going to fade faster than a summer tan.

It’s what bothers me most about the Ice Bucket challenge: it’s so blatantly superficial. I’m obviously not the first to notice–it’s been compared to a wet T-shirt contest many times already. I imagine the meeting in which the idea was developed went something like: “How about we…make people do something kind of crazy to get their friends to donate, like, I don’t know…dump ice water over their heads. That’s a bad example but you get the id–”

“Brilliant! Okay we’ll go with that. Lunch?”

Marketers for non-profits are well aware of the vanity factor. A depressingly large part of why people donate is because they can look like good citizens to their friends–good citizens who are doing well enough financially to give money away. And a chance to show off your bikini body to boot? People just couldn’t resist.

I wish it wasn’t the case–that it didn’t take silly antics and the promise of short term Facebook fame to get people to care about a disease they’ve never heard of, but it’s a fact of human nature. But while vanity is a powerful tool for non-profit marketing, it shouldn’t be the centerpiece of a campaign. I like this Forbes writer’s list of suggested alternatives to the Ice Bucket Challenge, none of which wastes water, all of which are considerably less annoying.

Facebook Made People Sad, This Time on Purpose

Last week, news of a Facebook experiment outraged users and even research and privacy experts. To test “emotional contagion,” about 700,000 Facebook users were unknowingly shown a filtered version of their news feeds—scrubbed of either positive or negative content. The result told us something we’ve already suspected: people shown positive updates are more likely to post happy things themselves, and vice versa.

But it wasn’t the experiment’s decidedly un-revolutionary result that has people guffawing. Bloggers are calling the experiment “unethical,” saying  that “Facebook intentionally made thousands upon thousands of people sad.”

sad puppyTechnically, and uh, legally, I do think Facebook was in violation, as they had no “informed consent” to conduct these experiments. Apparently they even tried to retroactively cover their behinds by sneaking that little technicality into their terms 4 months AFTER the experiment was conducted, which further points to their culpability, and their knowledge thereof.

But we’re in a bit of a gray area, ethically. Facebook didn’t create happy or depressing content to show users; they simply filtered the content from those users’ friends. Our news feeds are already filtered; most of us have enough friends or follow enough pages to where we cannot see ALL content, so Facebook’s algorithm chooses what we see based on our previous interactions. In the case of this experiment, they just tweaked that algorithm.

And in case you weren’t aware, this isn’t the first instance of emotional manipulation on the part of a large company—that’s kind of the definition of advertising. Brands try to make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside so that you associate that feeling with whatever their slingin’. Or, they go for negative reinforcement: what about those ASPCA montages of super-sad looking puppies and kittens? (Yes, I know ultimately it’s for the good of the puppies, so maybe it’s not so terrible.) Or other products that make you feel uncool if you don’t have them—why aren’t we up in arms about that?

Yes, the experiment was dishonest and a bit creepy. But is it really a big deal that some people were a little more bummed out than usual? I don’t think people realize that Facebook isn’t a free-for-all, public forum—for example, when you post something on Facebook, they have all rights to use that content. You’re choosing to use their website and abide by their terms, even if you’re not aware of them all. It’s naive to think that your activity on the internet isn’t being tracked or studied, because it definitely is. Armed with the awareness of that fact, plus awareness of your own emotions, might just make you a little less susceptible to digital manipulation.

 

Sweet (or Savory) Tat, Bro

I’m pretty anti-tattoo. I won’t judge you if you have one, but I don’t need to advertise that I’m a free spirit by permanently etching a butterfly above my butt crack, or an esoteric Chinese symbol that may or may not translate to “obscure assailant” on my bicep.

tattooBut I LOVE the idea of recipes as tattoos—the kind that wash off, anyway. I Tradizionali created a series of just that: temporary tattoos of Italian recipes that can be applied to your forearm for easy reference.

Practical? Not exactly—there’s this thing called The Internet that can provide thousands of recipes for free. But hey, are real tattoos practical? At least these won’t severely limit your job prospects or cost thousands of dollars to laser off.

I think it’s a fun way to show off your foodie pride, and it would be a great conversation starter. I even think permanently tattooing an old family recipe as a commemoration would be a cool idea—it beats the hell out of those creepy tattoo portraits. Hmm…how much real estate do you think I’d need for a Whoopie Pie recipe?

Thanks For My New Butt, YouTube!

I’m starting to think YouTube is better than actual TV. What’s on? OH, EVERYTHING. For example, I love Food Wishes for super simple, no-frills, easy to follow recipes. For silly, brain-break stuff, I love Smoothie Freak, Pleated Jeans, and even Jenna Marbles–despite the fact that I am about 10 years older than her average audience member.

But my faaavorite thing about YouTube lately is the exercise videos. I’m getting married in a few short weeks (eek!), so I guess you could say I’m a little image-obsessed. Okay, more than a little. But now that I’ve upped my workouts to every day, the same pilates/yoga/piloga routines get tiresome. Once you’ve memorized not only the moves but the instructor’s inane commentary and voice inflection, it’s time to mix it up. My favorite butt-whoopin, tummy tuckin’ channels are:

ToneItUp

A great ab routine from Tone It Up

Tone It Up: If you’re like me and have a crippling addiction to bad reality TV, you might recognize trainers Karena and Katrina from their show on Bravo, “Toned Up.” Their YouTube channel features short workout videos (ranging from 5-30 minutes) that are much more useful and practical than the reality show, which was pretty much a compilation of them giggling and occasionally looking confused. Their cues and instructions are easy to follow and decidedly un-annoying; there’s not too much fluff and commentary around the workouts. And they group their videos by playlists: total body, arms, thighs, etc., so finding exactly the kind of routine you want is super easy. Plus, they serve as motivation themselves–if I can end up looking anything like them, sign me up!

Blogilates: (Don’t you love a good fitness neologism?) Similar in format to Tone It Up, fitness instructor Cassey Ho delivers short, targeted routines than can be done in your living room with little to no equipment. Though this one might require a slightly higher tolerance for cheerleader pep and megawatt smiles, especially as you’re sweating and grimacing through a tough ab routine. She caters her videos to common trouble areas that most women like to focus on, and mixes it up so you’re never doing the same exercise twice.

BeFit: This seems too good to be true–DVDs from Jillian Michaels, Denise Austin, and others, in full, on YouTube, for free? They have everything from yoga to dance to cardio to “bootcamp.” You probably won’t find new releases on here, but your glutes don’t know what year it is, right?