Gymnastics, Music

Good Mood Music: In the Mood

Another genre of music I enjoy: big band or swing.

The genre was at its peak in the 1940s, although it had a resurgence in the late 1990s into the early 2000s. Big band music is typified by four sections of instruments: saxophones, trumpets, trombones, and a rhythm section that consists of a guitar, piano, double bass and drums.

One of the most recognizable pieces of big band music is “In the Mood.” The most popular version of this song was done by Glenn Miller and Orchestra in 1939, but it was actually a cover of the original done by Edgar Hayes and Orchestra the year prior.

The Glenn Miller version got a big boost when it was featured in the movie Sun Valley Serenade in 1941, a movie I profiled a musical scene from last year.

I first heard the song as a part of Kim Zmeskal’s floor routine in the early 1990s. (Side note: I just happened to publish this blog entry on her birthday.)

It’s actually one of two big band songs that make up her music. The other is “Sing, Sing, Sing,” originally done by Louis Prima and the New Orleans Gang. The two songs, as well as many others, are commonly heard together because of a compilation medley done by Larry Elgart in the early 1980s called Hooked On Swing.

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Random

Please Stop Lowballing Freelance Writers

Among a group a freelance writers, or those of us who write for a living, the conversation about people lowballing for writing services comes up from time to time. Here’s an example of one of the more egregious job ads I’ve come across recently:

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Where do you start with this? (Other than the typo in the first sentence.)

First, $16.50 or $18 is good for a hourly rate, not project-based work. This is a project that could legitimately be given a quote for more than 3x what this company offered. Here’s how it breaks down.

The company wants two 500-word content pieces per week. A good freelance (or per project) writer should be charging no less than $0.10 per word, which means each piece in this instance is valued at least $50 — and this company is hinting towards wanting someone with some experience by asking for applicants to “have past work for us to see, please.” Frankly, those with more experience and/or specialized knowledge will (and should) be charging more.

Plus, crafting a good piece of content isn’t as straightforward as simply writing about the topic. You have to give consideration to the keywords potential website visitors may use when they search, and weave them into the piece in a natural way to rank as high as possible on Google or any of the other search engines out there.

But that’s not all. This company also specifies that there is a second item it wants for each deliverable, or content piece: a two-sentence meta description. A meta description is the short blurb you often see on Google, Facebook or elsewhere that appears under the featured image of a link. Typical meta descriptions are about 150-160 characters.

Usually, freelancers don’t just include a meta description along with the content piece so it might cost extra depending on the freelancer’s policy.

Job ads like the one above illustrate how the general marketplace doesn’t have a grasp on the value of writing services. Imagine how you’d feel if you saw an ad for a job you know costs at least $55 per piece and it’s only offering $16.50 per piece ($18 if you do well on the first 3 assignments!). A little disheartened, right? Unfortunately, it’s a common feeling in the world of freelance writing.

Gymnastics

2018 Women’s NCAA Gym Preseason Thoughts

The 2018 season starts Friday! Thus, it’s time for some preseason musings. Doing this a little bit differently this year. I’m going to give a quick thought about each of the top 10 in the preseason coaches’ poll.

dqxazkfv4aa6huc1. Oklahoma
No surprise here. Like I said with Florida a few years ago, you’re the champ until someone dethrones you, especially after multiple consecutive titles.

2. Florida
Speaking of Florida, if there were a team to break the credo stated above it would be to put Florida #1 in this year’s preseason poll. While Oklahoma lost a few key routines from last season and reloaded nicely, Florida lost no competition routines from last season and brought in a powerhouse freshman class.

3. LSU
I really thought last year was one of the best shots they had to win the title. This year, the challenge is to replace the all but automatic high scores on 3 events from Ashleigh Gnat and the consistent contribution from McKenna Kelley, who went down with an Achilles tear in preseason training.

4. Alabama
Surprisingly enough, the poll is a little more bullish on Alabama than I am coming into this season. The team was an enigma last year, not its typical consistent self. If the injury issues are settled and they can find a couple more 10.0 start value vaults, Bama won’t have a problem challenging again.

5. Utah
Utah has a really nice group of gymnasts, but it’s not a big secret that the X-factor for them is Mykayla Skinner. I don’t believe it’s unfair to think that how she fares will dictate if their season is competitive at Nationals good or contending for the title good.

6. UCLA
With all the star power present, it could be surprising to see UCLA ranked this far down, but I see the reasoning. UCLA is kind of Alabama West (or, if you prefer, Alabama is kind of UCLA South). Both have some recurring issues with injuries and lack the number of 10.0 start value vaults they have when compared to other teams they are expected to compete with for the title.

7. Michigan
Heartbreaking is the only way to describe the last two seasons for Michigan. The biggest question here is: who’s going to step up and produce the consistently high scores they came to depend on Nicole Artz and Talia Chiarelli for?

8. Denver
The little team that could. Denver set a lot of individual meet records last year and set the school record for highest final ranking (9th). Now to see if last season was a flash-in-the-pan performance. Likely not, but the competition to get Nationals is going to be fiercer than ever this season.

9. Nebraska
Not really flashy, but seemingly always knocking on the door at the end of the season.

10. Kentucky
Much like Florida, Kentucky didn’t lose any of its competition routines from last season. This team is Nationals-worthy, but got caught up in a very competitive regional and narrowly missed out in 2017.

Notes on a couple others:
The most notable team missing from the top 10? Georgia (#16). A disaster of a Nationals last year was the latest development in a frustrating few seasons for Georgia  — a development that lead to a cleaning of the coaching house and the return of a couple of familiar faces. You can only hope the 12th place showing in 2017 was the storied program’s rock bottom moment, and they’ll be moving up from here. They will have to contend with the fact every single member of its 4-member freshman class is carrying a significant injury into the season. However, 3 of the 4 are expected to return at some point during the season.

Stanford (#18) should make a big jump up from last year. A class of 7 freshman — led by Kyla Bryant, Rachael Flam and Lauren Navarro — is expected to help immensely in keeping Stanford away from ranking in the mid-30s like it did for most of 2017. Stanford, like Georgia, is also in for a culture change from a familiar face to the program. Tabitha Yim, a former Stanford gymnast, took over as head coach late in the summer after a stint as head coach at Arizona.

Media

My Reading List of 2017

I started out the year wanting to add some non-fiction to my readings because last year was really fiction heavy. It ended up with me going on a bit of a biographical to semi-biographical kick over the course of the year.

The biography that impacted me the most is called In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom by Yeonmi Park, who escaped with her mom when she was 13 (she’s just 24 now). The book is extraordinary not because it’s hyperbolic and propagandist (which to be clear it isn’t), but because the situations she found herself in were so unlike anything most people would ever experience. And — as far as biographies go — it was an easy read. No filler.

Sophia Loren’s autobiography was really good too. I knew a little about her and was familiar with a few of her films, but I didn’t realize she had been through so much. It was kinda like a few years ago when I read Susan Lucci’s autobiography on a whim despite not being a soap opera fan. It turned out to be one of the more engrossing books I read this year.

When it comes to the fiction portion of my annual reading list, I read my fair share of a lot of different stories, including a couple of Karen Robards mystery suspense stories and a couple Danielle Steel novels per usual.

My favorite of all the books I read this year, however, is Basketball (and Other Things) by Shea Serrano.

I actually read two books by Shea this year. BAOT and The Rap Yearbook, the latter of which I finally got around to after wanting to read it for a few years now. In both cases, once I picked them up they were hard to put down. In fact, I bought BAOT the week it came out — a rarity for me. I really enjoy Shea’s irreverent, casual style and how much info is delivered in a non-tedious way.

In total, I read 30 books this year. That number doesn’t include any Audible books either. Not a bad literary year, I’d say. Continue reading “My Reading List of 2017”

Music

Good Mood Music: ‘Butterfly’ and ‘You’

It’s a 2-fer this month. This year marked the 10-year anniversary of two of my favorite albums: Butterfly by Mariah Carey and The Velvet Rope by Janet Jackson. Both albums are landmarks releases of what were already legendary careers at the time. Both albums were also both products of introspective periods and produced a number of songs I’ve consistently listened to since 1997.

Butterfly, Mariah’s first release after her split from husband and manager Tommy Mottola, signaled her transition into a more independent self. It was when she took full control of her music and image, exhibiting a side of her that had been hidden since she made her debut at the beginning of the 1990s.

The album’s title track is a straightforward take on how she felt like she was finally emerging from the cocoon of the previous chapter of her life. I can play the album from start to finish without skipping a track, but “Butterfly” is my absolute favorite. In fact, it’s probably only behind “Can’t Let Go” on my list of favorite Mariah songs, if not 1B.

The Velvet Rope is a concept album revolving around the metaphor of the velvet rope as the boundary you set around your emotional availability. Who do you let in? Who do you keep out? I remember in an interview Janet saying that this album was her letting people behind her velvet rope. Throughout the album many sensitive subjects are touched upon such as: the then-emerging phenomenon of social networking, depression, sexuality, homophobia, domestic violence, and self-worth.

You” is the song I go to when I need a musical kick in the rear. It’s a good pick-me-up when I begin to wallow in self doubt. Other songs on the album like “Got ‘Til It’s Gone,” “Together Again” and “I Get Lonely” became much bigger hits, but none were as impactful to me.

Sports

The Human Factor of the NFL Slide

A lot has been said and written about the declining viewership of the NFL. I even wrote about an aspect of it last year. While scrolling my Twitter timeline the other night, I came across this exchange:

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It’s a really good point on one of the probable reasons the NFL is encountering a headwind unlike any other its had to weather before. The league has depended on and perpetuated facelessness and systematic replaceability for (most of) its players for decades. (An aside: the “most of” is a discussion unto itself.)

But now athletes, or anyone really, don’t have to go through traditional channels to have their perspective disseminated to the masses. There’s never been more access to the players, and many players are taking advantage of the opportunity to interact with fans despite the potential drawbacks from trolling and the like. As a result, there is more connection to the individuals who play the games than the league has ever seen.

The Information Age has also brought about more public knowledge about the risks associated with football. We always knew that football wasn’t the safest activity, but we now have unprecedented data into just how destructive it can be. The more is known about the players as people, the harder it becomes for fans to reconcile watching what these athletes do for entertainment alongside the knowledge of what it’s doing to them long-term.

However, not all the reasoning from fans reassessing their NFL support is altruistic of course. As evidenced by the pushback to player protests and demonstrations, there is a significant faction of the NFL fandom (like in general society) that doesn’t want to see the players on the same level of human as themselves. The ones saying their football watching is being impacted by the protesters are essentially saying that players asserting their humanness is making them recoil from the NFL.

Even in this instance, while opposite on the compassion spectrum from being uncomfortable because (consciously or unconsciously) you don’t like the toll the game takes on the players, the wane in enthusiasm towards viewing is directly connected to humanity.

The actions the NFL will take in efforts to stop its slide may not be clear yet, but one thing is clear: the playbook has to change and riding the fence is less of an option each day. Whatever moves it makes, the league will end up ostracizing a group of people. The question is: which side of the social issues swirling around it is the league willing to stake it’s existence on to stand? How much individual humanity is it as an entity willing to give its players?