Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Snipper of the Week: Timi Siytangco

In this edition of Snipper of the Week, we caught up with self-confessed “hedonist geek” Timi Siytangco to talk food journalism, trends and her favorite restaurants in the world. You can follow Timi’s take on food culture in her always-excellent (and mouthwatering!) collection “Eater Reader.” 


The description of your Eater Reader collection says: “food as proxy for the human condition.” Can you explain what you mean by that?

The whole of human emotions can be represented by food. It reflects cultures, society, our preferences and biases. And a good bottle of wine or single-malt scotch can turn anyone philosophical about life.

How did you get into food? 

I’m Filipino so my environment growing up was always food-centric. Five meals a day was normal. I first tasted local cuisines through family get-togethers: Filipino dishes (lots of pork, adobo, stews), Spanish (which has a large influence on our cuisine), Chinese (from my dad’s side of the family) and American. Then as I started working — and had some money! — I could eat out more, and travel, which broadened my palate.

What are your thoughts on the Guy Fieri/New York Times episode?

I’ve not tried the food so no idea if it was deserved or not, though the article had its funny moments. I was surprised at the tone, though, it seemed more of a “personal blog” kind of rant, not something coming from the New York Times. The follow-up coverage was entertaining, but 18 hours in, it got boring. 

You snipped an Atlantic article about the “moral crusade against foodies” and commented that we shouldn’t take this all too seriously. Can you expand on that a bit?

If we’re lucky enough to eat three healthy, square meals a day, we should be thankful. Everything else, like willingly paying $5 for a cup of coffee, let alone getting up at odd hours of the night to make a booking at a Michelin-starred restaurant, is gravy.

What’s your favorite restaurant in the world and why?

This is like choosing between pets — impossible! There’s a tapas bar in Barcelona called Cal Pep. It’s a bit of an institution, and I love it because of the memories. I went there with two good friends and had the best tapas experience of our lives. The baristas took care of us and shook our hands after the three-hour meal, then we all walked out onto the dark plaza at half past midnight and did a delirious group hug, we were that happy.

The other favorite is St John Bread & Wine in Spitalfields, East London. Somehow Fergus Henderson can do something both homey and elevated at the same time. 

When I visit my parents in Manila, I always order the Chicken Joy from Jollibee. Everyone grew up with it and it’s bigger than McDonalds over there.

You snip pieces from some legendary food writers. Who are your favorite food writers working today?

Right now I have Adam Gopnik on my bedside table. He is insightful, has a wonderful way with words and is a great storyteller. I also enjoy Peter Meehan of Lucky Peach. I am also a fan of Anthony Bourdain’s early works. My favorite wine book is The Judgement of Paris — gripping stuff, I tell ya.

What are your favorite food publications?

There are two food writers whose blogs I read regularly, Robyn Eckhardt of Eating Asia and Katie Parla of Parla Food. They both go beyond the “this-is-scrumptious-and-here’s-the-recipe-and-a-photo-with-ridiculous-depth-of-field” type of writing and really give their readers a sense of place through food. Also, The Ulterior Epicure. I visit Eater once in a while as well.

What would you say were the biggest food trends this year? 

In the last 12 months I was able to spend time in Singapore, Rome, London and Australia. “Locavore” is everywhere. Also, unexpected flavors in ice cream, gelato  and macarons. And there is some kind of movement brewing (pun intended) around specialty coffee. There’s a coffeeshop not 6 months old in my neighborhood that serves some of the best coffee in town, and people are walking out with bags of single-origin beans and those Hario pour-over gadgets.

What do you think the trends next year will be?

More of the coffee thing. And something unpredictable coming from North Asia (Japan/ Taiwan/Korea).

What would be your last meal on earth?

It’s a toss-up between a steamer basket of xiao long bao, and my friend Lou’s chocolate cake.

You can subscribe to Timi’s “Eater Reader” collection here
Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Snipper of the Week: Cherry Davis on Obama’s Reelection

In this edition of Snipper of the Week, we chat with Cherry Davis, who won our Election Contest with her fabulous collection “Politics.” Below, we chat with her about why she voted for Obama, what’s next for Mitt Romney and the challenges of the next four years. You can subscribe to Cherry’s collections here

Why did you vote for Obama?  

I love our country and want us to move forward so that we’re able to compete with the world. I voted to reelect President Obama because of his “Modern New Deal” visions. It will be a blend of short term (get people back to work) and long term (increase revenue to fund research/education) solutions.  I also firmly believe that our president should both embrace the diversity of our nation and be able to work well with other nations.  

What do you think turned the election in Obama’s favor? 

His campaign had a clear goal and plan to win that had been in place since he was elected for his first term. His campaign gathered support and made sure that people were registered and able to vote. They also did a superb job in showing the stark difference between Governor Romney’s extremely conservative platform and the President’s vision for the future.  Once people started to see the types of extremely conservative policies Romney and Paul Ryan would put in place, all the campaign had to do was rebut any dishonest points the GOP ticket made to try to dissuade less informed voters.

What do you think hurt Mitt Romney most in the campaign?  

Mitt Romney made two major mistakes that made him less appealing to the average voter.  First, his decision to not be transparent meant that no one knew for sure where he stood.  His refusal to detail his plans and policies made him seem dishonest, especially when he would say different things to different audiences.  The second mistake was that it took him way too long to pivot to the middle. His selection of Congressman Ryan (who’s Congressional record was very unappealing outside of the GOP Conservative base) didn’t cement his base, which is why he kept focusing on issues that would alienate minorities and women (immigration, abortion, birth control, rape policies).

What do you think the future holds for the Republican Party?  

I think Republican Party will spend about twenty years sticking to the policies of the religious right. They will likely elect someone who’s ‘truly’ conservative for the next two cycles, who will then lose in the general election.  They will also have a more difficult time electing state-wide candidates as the demographics of our country change. It will likely take about ten years for them to be a regional party and then ten to fifteen more years before they are able to wrestle control from the more extreme members of the party.  I think that eventually the GOP will split, with the more more conservative wing forming its own party. So in about twenty years or so we will have three major parties in the states and within 30 to 40 years will have regional parties that will dominate state elections.

For Mitt Romney? 

I think he’ll focus on creating a Romney dynasty where his sons will run for office. 

What’s the biggest challenge you think Obama faces this year, and over the next four years?  

The President has MANY challenges with the GOP-controlled Congress.  Not everyone in the Senate and Congress share his vision of a modern ‘New Deal’ so he’ll have to drum up a lot of support from the American people. With his final four years in office, I believe he’ll have the freedom to make lasting changes by adding new Supreme Court Justices and focusing on getting the country back to work.

What part of our political process do you think needs to be revised or reformed? 

We have to make voting easier. That means expanded days, online voting, day-of-election registration, a day off, shorter lines at polling places and nationwide rules. I also think our country will have to change campaign funding to something similar to the UK, where they can only run for a few weeks and can’t inundate everyone with ads. It would make it a more level playing field enabling our nation to have more viable parties regional and nationwide.

You chose The New York Times and NY Mag as your prize for winning our Election Contest. What made you choose those two publications? 

I think The New York Times is the best newspaper in the nation, with writers on all side of the spectrum. Whether I agree with their positions or not, their arguments are well thought out and articulated. NYMag is a great read that keeps me abreast of the East Coast, where I lived for many years before relocating to LA.  I miss the people, style of writing and culture.  These two publications give me a window into my old region.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Strategic Leadership Advisor Joan Waltman On Effective Bosses, Company Culture and Work-Life Balance

In this edition of Snipper of the Week, we chat with strategic leadership advisor Joan Waltman about the qualities of effective bosses, how to create a healthy company culture and work-life balance. You can subscribe to her ever-informative collections here

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what you do now?

I started my career as an engineer and eventually became the president of a division at a Fortune 500 company. I spent the first 10 years of my career discovering what I really cared about and learned a lot about how to create a great place to work. Today I advise high tech companies on how to be competitive by discovering their true mission and creating a company culture that employees love.

What are the qualities you think all great business leaders need to possess to be effective? 

Trust and authenticity. A leader needs to be trusted enough to be able to dig deep into the details and get the truth, confident enough to make tough calls and do the right thing and genuine enough that people know they are dealing with a person of integrity that they want to follow.

What pillars must be in place for a company to grow healthily and steadily?

You have to have the end game in mind when setting out your strategy for “how” you run your business and “what” you are going to do “when.” If you don’t know where you want to be in the future, you take short cuts that preclude you from ever arriving. You also have to have a strong sense of “why” you are doing it at all. If you don’t have a strong sense of “why,” then employees won’t know how to fully commit to your vision, and your brand and product will communicate your misalignment rather than your conviction. Customer loyalty and devotion to your brand come from fulfilling all facets of delivery in a consistent, intentional manner.

Your Culture & Workplace collection is fascinating. What are the most important tenants of a healthy company culture? 

Much of what is out there focuses on competitive pay and benefits, requisite policies and procedures, appropriate guidelines for reviews, etc. Those are table stakes. What matters is that an employee can return from a long day at work and be able to tell his or her family, “I am trusted; my opinions are heard; I am appreciated; and I know that what I am doing matters.” Designing a company culture that allows employees to feel this way doesn’t happen by accident. It must be taught, so having a leadership team that is open to learning and mentoring is important as well.

What are some effective ways to assess a candidate’s fit within a company culture in the interview process?

I like to learn about what new candidates care about, what their values are, their work ethic, how they like to operate, examples of good and bad bosses they’ve had in the past, examples of places they think are great places to work and why. I would also ask them about companies that they feel have succeeded and/or failed and why.  Tony Shei from Zappos is known to ask the bus driver that shuttles the candidate from the airport to the office how the candidate treated him, which may provide the most insightful feedback of all.

"Micromanaging" is a term thrown out in many a workplace complaint. How can micromanaging be avoided? Is it ever a good idea?  

When leaders are dealing with urgent issues, for which there is no time to delegate and train, micromanaging may be necessary.  Habitual micromanagement is an indication that there is a lack of trust between the leadership and the team. This creates mutual animosity, which often goes unstated and results in bad morale, less initiative and zero risk-taking amongst employees. It’s really up to the micromanager’s boss to identify this weakness and help figure out what is at the bottom of it. 

How much of a company’s success do you think is driven by the overall happiness of its employees?

Success has as much to do with timing and luck, which are difficult to control. You can stack the deck in your favor by cultivating a happy workforce. Their willingness and desire to put in more effort than they are asked, to go above and beyond, to take initiative beyond their job description is driven by an inherent happiness to be a part of something bigger than themselves, something they believe in. Without that, employees tend to fall back to doing just what is asked of them, what is expected.  Ultimately that leads to mediocrity.

What are some of the most effective ways to motivate employees? 

Help them align their personal goals with the company’s goals so that they know why they should care. Create an environment where people feel their contribution and voice is valued, where they can contribute to the success and innovativeness of the company, at every level in the company. Recognize and reward employees discretely; openly celebrate success as teams.

What are the characteristics of a successful meeting?

A meeting can have a successful outcome – goals defined, to-do lists created, statuses communicated – and yet be a failure.  Why is this?  Because meetings are an opportune place to both reinforce or ruin a company’s culture.  How people feel leaving a meeting is as important as what was accomplished.

"Work life balance" has been quite the buzz phrase in the media this past year. What are your thoughts on the topic?

Life is all about priorities and choices; you make room in your life for what you prioritize. I decided early on that a full life would include nurturing a loving family as a wife and mother, developing friendships that are bound by trust, having a career I could be proud of and contribute to the lives of fellow employees and my chosen field. The balance of work and life became inextricably tied together, as one enhanced the other, and the supportive nature of a loving family, trusted friends, and business partnerships enabled each to support the other in achieving personal and professional goals.  In the last 20+ years, I have seen women and men’s familial roles evolve with a lot more acceptance of this give and take between the two, a trend that is very encouraging. 

You can subscribe to Joan’s collections here. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Snipper of the Week: Chris Miller Talks Wine

Welcome to Snipper of the Week. Each week we catch up with a Snipper with a particularly interesting collection. This week, we chat with wine expert and educator Chris Miller about the up-and-coming regions, how to read a wine list and Sideways. 

Let’s start with a primer on wine regions: Which are the classics and which are the up-and-comers?

The classics are Bordeaux, Burgundy, Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo, Champagne and the such. And in the US, Napa Valley. Then there are places in the Rhone and Provence, which were classics for a long time but then went into a bit of slump. They’ve come out of that, so you could say they’re now up and comers. Central Otago, New Zealand (for Pinot Noir), Mendoza, Argentina (for Malbecs), Willamette Valley (for Pinot Noir), Mendocino and similar places are considered today’s up and coming regions.

What are some trends going on right now in the wine industry?

Right now the industry is built so that it’s very hard for small wineries to find customers and market to them directly. I think we’ll start to see new ways for wineries to collect data about their customers and potential customers. Wineries should have the opportunity to know who enjoyed their wine regardless of how it was bought or where it was consumed — for example, if it was purchased during a meal at a restaurant.  I’m launching a business called that focuses on making it easier for wineries to market directly to customers, using data and data filtering. Small producers should have the chance to make more money and build a better relationship with the customer. We’re also trying to make it easier for people to learn about wine, based on what they’ve tasted, liked and learned.

There seems to be such a high barrier to entry to learning about wine. For someone who’s just beginning, what do you recommend starting with?

For someone who really wants to learn about wine, you have to buy bottles above $15.  Below $15 is sort of a gamble, meaning a Pinot Noir at this level could taste exactly like it should, or nothing like the grape at all.  Bottles in the $15-$30 range should taste like what they say on the bottle — so that they represent the grape and region in a manner that can educate.  So start here, by figuring out what different grapes taste like.

Once you’ve mastered that with your favorite wines, the next level is to know what grapes taste like when they’re grown in a certain place. What’s the difference of a Sauvignon Blanc grown in New Zealand versus one that’s from Sancerre in France? That’s where you ultimately want to end up. To be able to confidently say “I want a Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre or a Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley,” and have a basic understanding of the type of wine each is.

What’s a good strategy for narrowing down a wine list at a restaurant?

You should get a wine that best pairs with the cuisine, but doesn’t overpower the cuisine. There is a scientific approach to this, but that can be intimidating for beginners. So if there isn’t a sommelier or wine captain around, use the culture as a guide  If it’s a Northern Italian restaurant, for example, look for the style wines your like from Northern Italian wine regions. 

What about navigating prices on wine lists?

The best-priced wine on the menu is always going to the pet of the wine director or the sommelier. It’s usually something off-the-beaten-path, and is there because they have a sweet spot for it.  So look for the bottles you don’t recognize, and that’ll be the one with the least markup. The worst values are going to be the big brand names — ones like Opus One, Silver Oak and Santa Margarita. 

What are your favorite bottles of wine right now?

In California, I’m loving stuff from the Mendocino region and Anderson Valley. Copain makes a great Pinot Noir. I have always had a soft spot for cool-climate Pinot Noir as well — Wines like Foxen and Ampelos in Santa Maria and the Santa Rita Hills or from the greats of Burgundy like Courcel in Pommard or Roumier in Chambolle-Musigny (but these can be awfully hard to find and pricey). Sometimes it just comes down to a farmer making simple and gratifying wines at great prices like David Coffaro in Dry Creek Valley.

How much of being a sommelier is about molecular science and how much is about aesthetics and taste?

There’s a trend towards the science side of things, but that’s very “inside baseball” and can scare wine drinkers that aren’t wine geeks. I never want to put a barrier in front of people enjoying wine. Being a good sommelier just comes down to practice. You have to learn what wines smell like and learn to read and talk to every level of wine consumer.  

In terms of smell, 90-95% of wine flavors are the aromas. There are around 200 different aromas that you can smell in wine — whereas in nature there’s something like 400,000 different kinds. But without practice, humans get confused when it gets above 20-30. The top sommeliers can distinguish between 100-200 different aromas.  Our brains are like a giant filing cabinet for smells, we just just have to learn to find the right files. With practice, a great sommelier can distinguish between the nuances of a white, green or black peppercorn or between a ripe lemon and an underripe one.

Sideways was the wine blockbuster, but is there another wine movie that’s more revered within the industry?

There’s a movie called Mondovino, which is like the holy grail of wine movies for industry insiders. It’s a documentary about commercial versus non-commercial wineries, based on when Mondovi went into the South of France and tried to buy a swath of land for planting vineyards. All the locals didn’t want their culture to become commercialized and stood up to them — it’s  really a great movie.

And what about Sideways? How does the industry view the movie?

Sideways is actually ridiculed a bit within the industry. It was great to see Santa Barbara celebrated — and Pinot Noir sales skyrocketed after it — but it also did some things insiders didn’t like so much (like make Pinot Noir more expensive). At one point in the movie, the main characters bash Merlot. As a result, Merlot sales crashed. But then at the end, they drink that 1961 Château Cheval Blanc, which is supposed to be the “ultimate” wine of the story. But that wine comes from Saint-Emilion in Bordeaux, a region known for Merlot and Cabernet Franc. So they bashed it and then talked about it being one of the best wines ever. That part of the plot just didn’t really make sense.

You can subscribe to Chris Miller’s Wine Business collection here

Friday, October 5, 2012

Snipper of the Week: Matt Cannizzaro

Welcome to Snipper of the Week. Each week, we chat up a Snipper with particularly interesting collections. This week, we caught up with aviation enthusiast Matt Cannizzaro to talk drones, common misconceptions about flying and commercial flights to space

Can you tell us a little bit about your background, and what you do?

For my day job, I’m a software developer working in San Francisco. I’ve spent most of my career working on various development tools; currently I’m working on a C/C++ toolchain for Flash. I also hold a private pilot certificate and enjoy exploring California by air.  

What’s the hardest part about learning to fly?

It’s different for everyone. Personally, I find figuring out how things work fascinating, so learning about air traffic control procedures, navigation, and reading complex aviation maps came easy to me. Rote memorization of regulations took a bit more effort.

Actually operating the airplane is a different matter entirely though. During flight training, many people will hit a “training plateau” where they are stuck on a single maneuver and can’t seem to improve, no matter how many times they try. While you’ll get over your plateau eventually, this definitely happened to me. The maneuver that gave me trouble is intended to simulate what would happen if you pull back too aggressively during takeoff. Eventually I got the hang of it, and when I took my first solo flight it was worth all the hard work.

What are the hardest flight issues to recover from?

 To some extent it depends on both the aircraft and the pilot’s experience. The training for a private pilot certificate in the US requires only basic instruction on how to fly the plane using its instruments only and no visual references, as one would have to if flying in a cloud. For someone who is not prepared and trained for instrument flight, like myself, flying into a cloud or an area of low visibility is very dangerous. The plane itself will fly just fine in a cloud, but it’s very easy to get disoriented and confused about which way is up. While this is more of a concern with newer pilots, spacial disorientation is still a concern in airlines — check out China Airlines Flight 006 for an interesting example.

Another concern are situations where the pilot loses control of the airplane. For small private planes, this most commonly happens if the pilot tries to maneuver the plane too aggressively. When startled, the natural reaction is to pull back on the controls, intending to put more distance between obstacles on the ground and the airplane. But most airplanes display counter-intuitive behavior in this situation: pulling back gently may yield a climb, but pulling back abruptly will cause a descent. This happens because the airflow over the wings is no longer smooth, but turbulent and disrupted. The only way out is to restore airflow by pushing forward on the controls, bringing the plane closer to the obstacles the pilot is trying to avoid. When this happens close to the ground, an accident may be unavoidable, but as the recent tragedy of Air France 447 has shown, even professional pilots flying miles from the ground are susceptible to this problem.

What are some common misperceptions about flying planes?

I think there are many, but I’ll mention two. I think that while sitting in the back of an airliner, many people imagine the pilots performing a delicate balancing act, where they carefully guide the plane through the air and the slightest inattention results in the whole craft plummeting out of control. A fun way to cure yourself of this notion is to take an introductory flight lesson at your local airport. You’ll find that planes, even small ones, are very stable and forgiving of errors. You can pretty much fly them hands off, even without an autopilot or any of the other automation you would find in an airliner.

Many high school and even college students are taught that planes generate lift because wings are curved on the top and straight on the bottom. This theory goes on to explain that the air split by such a wing travels faster across the larger surface area on the top to meet up with the slower air traveling across the bottom. Since the air moves faster on the top of the wing, the pressure there is lower, yielding a net upward force on the wing. Unfortunately, this theory doesn’t quite explain how a plane could fly upside down or with a symmetrical wing. While I don’t claim to understand the details, fundamentally wings make lift because they push air down, which in turn pushes the wing up. You can observe the same effect by holding your hand out the window of a moving car.

Which is more dangerous: the take off or the landing? 

There are more accidents during landing than during takeoff, and since hopefully the number of takeoffs is equal to the number of landings, that would suggest that landing is more dangerous. One reason is simple: landings happen at the end of the flight, so the chance for crew fatigue is higher. In my experience, there tend to be more variables in landing. Perhaps you misjudged your descent and are a bit high, maybe the wind has blown you off course during the approach, or air traffic control has asked you to maintain a higher than normal speed. Takeoffs, on the other hand, tend to start the same, with the airplane at a stop, pointed down the runway. Airline pilots take care to maintain a stabilized approach which is intended to remove many of these variables.

How do you think drone piloting is going to affect commercial aviation over the next 50 years?

I think it’s safe to say that we will see a large increase in drone flights, especially within US airspace. As with any big change in aviation, there’s some risk in this, and unfortunately I would not be surprised at all to see at least one fatal accident involving a drone. There have already been close calls involving drones and civilian aircraft. I snipped an article about this recently.

How will it affect military aviation?

We can already see the effects on military aviation by looking at the situation in Pakistan, where the CIA is routinely conducting drone strikes. Drones have made it easier, cheaper, and less risky — for the people controlling the drones — to engage in bombing campaigns and other warfare. I think this is a dangerous development.

What’s your favorite plane in operation right now?

I will always be partial to the Cessna 152, since it’s the first plane I flew solo. It’s simple, it works, and is a great training airplane. 

 Do you think traditional airlines will ever need to service space?

I hope so! I think in order for space flights to become routine, we need some economic motivation. It’s fun to imagine mining asteroids and going on a vacation to the moon, but I think that’s a long way off.

You can subscribe to Matt’s Aviation collection here
Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Maria Marem on What Distinguishes “Style” from “Fashion”

Welcome to Snipper of the Week. Each week, we talk to a Snipper with particularly interesting collections. This week, we caught up with style maven Maria Marem to talk about the best of New York Fashion Week, what “style” means, and the three pieces of clothing every man and woman should own. 

Which trends from New York Fashion Week last week do you think will be the most enduring?

My style collection’s title is Coco Chanel’s thesis: “Fashion fades, only style remains the same,” which I totally agree with. In this sense, the most enduring trends from New York Fashion Week will be the classics; which is to say the ones we can wear frequently that don’t follow the six-month rule. They will be things like a dress that you can wear all year round and in the winter transform with the simple addition of a coat over it.

Which “trends” do you think will be most quickly played out?

Those that are quickly adopted by celebrities. Celebrities have the most influence on fashion and people blindly follow them, without really thinking about style. 

So how can you tell if someone has “great style?” 

By three things. 1) They don’t destroy style with too many trends. 2) They have a sense of individuality 3) They know what looks good on them and what doesn’t. When someone abides by these rules, they will have great style. 

Which celebrities or icons do you think epitomize “great style” in our current era?

My top style icon is the fabulous Ines de la Fressange, who in my opinion is close to perfection. I also love Amanda Brooks’ amazing style, and Emmanuelle Alt’s unique attitude. 

You snip a lot of J Crew. What do you think the brand has done so well throughout the years?

I am a J. Crew lover for many reasons. Their classic and mix and match style is very successful. But most of all they are marketing gurus: They’ve revolutionized the concept of high quality products and style that is affordable.

What are three essential items you think every woman needs in her wardrobe? 

I think every woman needs one pair of jeans, a white shirt and a little (but not necessarily black) dress. Every woman must have these “comfortably dressy” clothes that she can wear all the time.

What are three essential items you think every man needs in his wardrobe

Men’s wardrobe essentials must be a pair of jeans, a white shirt and a classic navy blazer. This snip shows in a perfect way how important the classic navy blazer is for men’s wardrobe.

You snip so many great classic films in your Cinema collection. What is your favorite film of all time and why?

Classic cinema is like an ocean you dive into and each time you come up with a different pearl. It’s hard for me to pick my favorite of all time. But a few of my favorites are The Last Year in Marienbad, The Adventure, The Seventh Seal, Ugetsu Monogatari, The Godfather Part II, City Lights,The Wizard Of Oz, Meshes Of The Afternoon, Citizen Kane, Breathless, Limite, Lawrence Of Arabia.

Your Music collection is equally fantastic. What’s your favorite song of all time? And band?

It’s easy for me to pick my favorite band of all time. It’s The Beatles. Why? Because they did everything. And when Sergeant Pepper Came out in 1967 they gave the world not only their masterpiece but a work of art that still influences the modern music industry. Favorite song of all time? If a song can make you shiver then it’s “Song ToThe Siren” sung by Elizabeth Fraser in 1983. As a big Tim Buckley fan I already knew and loved the song. It’s a haunting ballad about doomed love inspired by Homer’s Ulysses. But Fraser’s singing took the song to a higher level and made it classic. It was as if she had become the siren, luring listeners to a permanent ecstasy!   

Which do you think influences fashion or style more: Music or movies?

Movies and TV influence fashion more without any doubt. Far toο many outfits worn in TV shows are quickly copied by retailers. You can really see all that with shows like Mad Men and Gossip Girl

What are your favorite collections?

My favorite collections are the Books & Literature collections. 

You can subscribe to Maria Marem’s collections here. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Henry Shepherd on Connecting with Other Cultures and the Most Exciting Part of the Internet

Welcome to Snipper of the Week. Each week, we chat up a Snipper with particularly interesting collections or snips. This week, we caught up with Henry Shepherd, a fellowship coordinator at Soliya, to talk about his work at the nonprofit, his thoughts on the election race, and the most exciting part of the Internet. You can subscribe to Henry’s collections here

Can you talk a little bit about your work at Soliya?

Soliya is a nonprofit that uses new media to connect people from the west and the predominantly Muslim World, from Morocco to Indonesia. We use video conferencing so that people can talk to each other about their lives, and share their perspective on the world. They talk about their anxieties, fears, and hopes. The goal is to promote a better understanding of each other. 

Is there a common theme you’ve noticed that runs through the conversations? Or something you’re always struck by?

I think it’s the insight people get from being part of open dialogs. When they talk to someone from a group with whom they haven’t connected before, they can put a face to the idea and to the group. The videos on CNN of people chanting, getting shot, demonstrating, aren’t doing any favors for understanding. Through Soliya, I can say I have friends in places that are “no-gos” on the map. When you have a real connection with a person, you are less prone to take cues from the media about what a place is like, and more prone to take cues from what they those people say. 

Moving onto your US politics collection, what do you think of the election race?

I think it’s a very different kind of election than four years ago. 

How do you mean?

As a young person it’s humbling to see the tone of the political discourse change so quickly. I wouldn’t say that I was an unreserved Obama fan four years ago, but I was a supporter. But this time around, it doesn’t speak to me the same way it did. I don’t get teary eyed when I see the viral videos talking about the change they promise for Americans. 

Why do you think that is?

Well, it’s not a great surprise. Establishing someone as a national political figure is very different than what it takes to maintain a political stance or popularity in office. It was an inevitable outcome.

What do you think about the tone of the campaign?

I’m honestly not interested in the theatre of it at all. If anything, I just look at the Five Thirty Eight poll tracker. It seems like nothing is actually being discussed, and the race is just a way for people to align themselves with one political culture or another. I’m not seeing any sort of real public debate.

What about with women’s issues? That seems to have taken a prominent place on the stage.

I’m very lucky to have a handful of female friends who are kickass Facebook posters and bloggers, who follow various parts of the feminist blogosphere. I love seeing what they’re writing about.

What do you think is most interesting?

In the world of feminist blogs and political blogs that deal with women, gender and sexuality, the points of view and comments are so diverse. The opinions are varied, conflicted and rigorous, and not all liberal. It’s one of the most lively and interesting parts of the Internet in my opinion. 

Let’s move on to your Tech, Culture & People collection. What are you trying to capture there?

I’m trying to document my own evolution in thinking about how people use the Internet, so I can be a thoughtful participant and maybe a builder of some kind in the future.

What’s your biggest grievance of the Internet?

Slideshows and lists. I think they signify a short-term and shortsighted way for publications to get attention. There are other business models that might enrich, rather than debase, the level of discussion.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Grant Hendrick on Controversy at The Olympics and Where Photography’s Headed

Welcome to Snipper of the Week. Each week, we chat up a user with particularly interesting collections and post the interview here. This week, we caught up with one of our first (and most prolific) Snippers, Grant Hendrick, to talk The Olympics and photography. 

(For more Olympics glory, be sure to check out our 2012 Olympic Moments contest, running now through Closing Ceremonies).

Do you think these Olympics feel different than any other past Olympics?

Not that much has struck me as new. That’s actually one of the things I like about the Games — there are threads that have run through them since their beginnings in Greece. Even controversy like the badminton “scandal” — stuff like that’s been going on forever. In fact, I just snipped about the Men’s 400 meter controversy at the 1908 Games in my History collection. There’s always been cheating, agony and ecstasy in The Olympics.

What else do you love about The Games?

To me it’s very much about the emotions and the emotional dynamic of the athletes. I also like how it brings exposure to not-so-popular sports. How much does the general public hear about archery outside of a movie? Or badminton even? It brings exposure to these people who have dedicated huge parts of their life to this stuff and celebrates them, even if it is every four years.

Aside from all the hard work and dedication of the athletes, what about The Olympics do you think makes it so emotional? 

Even though it doesn’t stop wars or hardship, it’s about people coming together to compete in good faith. For example, in 1988, a Canadian sailor in second place stopped to save two injured Singaporean sailors who couldn’t right their sailboat. There’s so much in the way of humans coming together that people don’t see or remember. To me, that’s what makes it so emotional. 

I love your Photography and History of Photography collections. Where do you come down on Instagram?

Their influence has been huge. But it seems to me that it’s more about the ease of sharing images than about photography itself. Images are starting to play a larger role in everything, and become more and more important. And if Instagram gets purchased for a billion dollars, there is definitely a group of people who think that’s the case. And I think video is next.

Do you think tools like Instagram and the the Lytro camera are ultimately good for photography?

Well, just because you snap a picture and slap a filter on it, doesn’t mean that it’s a Pulitzer prize winner. Though I’ve seen some great things on Instagram, good photography has to be about the subject, composition and emotion.  I like the Lytro camera for that, which I snip about a lot because I’m a beta tester for them. I like the challenge of composing for a square image, and also the things you can do with depth of field and perspective. I’m excited for parallax shifting in the Lytro as well, which will come later this year. It’ll make taking pictures a little Harry Potter-like and 3D.

A lot of skeptics seem to wonder if photography should be that “easy”

When the pencil with the rubber eraser first came out, there was a huge uproar about the “decline of civilization” — people thought that weird pink blob of rubber was going to make us stupid and careless. Same thing with talking in movies.  My perspective is that there are always people who will drag their feet on an innovation no matter what the topic is.

What are your favorite collections?

I love all the photography collections. And I also like to just scroll through my subscriptions and see what I find. I like random discovery. 

You can subscribe to Grant’s collections here

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Gary Clayton on Speech Recognition Technology, The Best Albums of 2012 (So Far) and Mick Jagger

For this week’s edition of Snipper of the Week, we chatted up Gary Clayton, Chief Creative Officer at Nuance Communications (and also one of our investors). Gary began his career as recording engineer and mixer at Russian Hill Recording in San Francisco, and went on to found Clayton Multimedia in 1985, where he was instrumental in moving film and music post-production to the computer. Since that time, Gary’s held top creative and speech strategy positions at Tellme Networks and Yahoo! We caught up with him to talk advances in speech recognition technology, the best albums of 2012 so far and Mick Jagger.  

What’s the hardest thing to pick up in speech recognition technology?

Two things come to mind: Speech in noisy environments (for obvious reasons) and kids. They tend to speak in higher registers and they have unusual speech patterns. Also, the speech market has historically been much smaller there, so there hasn’t been much effort put into it out. But that’s going to change, especially when we get into new modes of content using voice. Siri has opened up a lot of people’s eyes, and speech technology is becoming more ubiquitous. Kids are going to realize they want it too. There’s going to be a new market for interactive voice content for children very soon.

Where else do you see speech recognition technology growing? 

There’s going to be a far greater demand for it in other languages on the input, as well as the output side. We’ll see a lot of growth in day-to-day travel and transportation scenarios. It just enables you to have a much more pleasant experience. 

You’ve had a very interesting career in music mixing and then digital media production and post production. How did you get involved in that?

The 80s were a very interesting time to work in music and movies because most of the work was being done in Los Angeles, but the unions there squeezed out any chance for change and innovation. In Northern California, there was strong technology to support the industry, and the unions up here were weaker. So you started to see people like George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola come up to Northern California because they didn’t want to be stifled. 

I got involved through a combination right place/right time and having an obsessive personality. In Northern California around that time we had Lucas Films, Dolby Laboratory, Apple, Adobe, digidesign — tons of interesting companies with innovative products and an innovative way of working with the world. The Apple Macintosh introduced the first real (non-synthesized) audio. I had a couple of friends who were deeply engaged with the early Macintosh at Apple, and someone who was working on the Newton, and they came to me for sounds. 

What sorts of things did you work on?

I helped move recording from tape to digital tape to non-linear computer systems and film post production from film stages to computer-sync based studios. I worked in films, records, TV, interactive content, toys…you name it.

Work on anything we’d recognize?

I produced the first sound recordings at Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch (featuring the San francisco Ballet Orchestra), worked on blue-book CD production for David Bowie and Brian Eno and also did some projects with Michael Jackson, The Cure. I was a lucky guy.

I love your Toonz collection. What are do you think are the best albums of 2012 so far?

I actually don’t think it’s been a great year for music so far. The fact that I’m having to scratch my heads for good records sort of says it all. But Frank Ocean’s album is great. Even despite all the collateral hype, it’s a really good record. The Japandroids record was terrific. Also, Best Coast, Passion Pit and Patti Smith.

Which artist playing now would you stand in line to get tickets for?

It would have to be Adele. I saw her at the Grammys, the first time she sang after her throat operation, and the place was electric. When there’s talent, there’s talent, and she’s got it abundantly. She’s the real deal.

You commented on a snip about The National, saying they’re one of your favorite bands. They’re mine too. What do you think makes them so great?

I think it’s the quality of the voice and the way it integrates so beautifully into the songs they play. It seems like a perfectly formed entity.

Your snips are about Mick Jagger are highly entertaining.

I mean, what can you say about Mick? I don’t know if anyone really knows him. I find his persona so interesting. He’s in his mid-60s and just gets up there and kicks it — it’s amazing. He’s just an odd guy and there’s so much shit that’s gone on in his life over the years. Keith Richards’ memoir is a fantastic read — he’s not at all what I thought he was. Far smarter, a bibliophile, a family man, and not as crazy as everyone thought. He’s just a regular, smart guy. After reading his memoir, I would love to see Mick Jagger do one to get an unvarnished view of his life. And I’ve always loved the Stones. 

You can subscribe to Gary Clayton’s collections here

Monday, July 23, 2012

Pat Novak on Creativity, “Soul Mates,” and Why So Many Americans are Single

Welcome to Snipper of the Week. Every week, we chat up a Snipper with particularly interesting collections. This week, we talk to Intuitive Counselor Pat Novak about overcoming creativity blocks, the “medication generation,” and the myth of a “soul mate.”  

You snipped the much-talked-about WSJ article  ”Medication Generation." It’s a tricky subject, but what are your thoughts on using medications to alleviate mood disorders and issues?

Personally, I usually won’t work with a client who is on anti-depressants. Their energy is very dull and it keeps them from getting in touch with the very feelings they need to get in touch with. I have had numerous clients who (with their physicians cooperation) have gotten off of such drugs during our time together. I understand severe cases may need them, but as a whole, I feel psychiatrists are too quick to medicate people. Especially the younger generation. I find it a very lazy form of therapy. The younger people I have worked with are very angry they were put on medication, not realizing what consequences it would have later in life.

Do you see meditation and other alternatives gaining traction in Western medicine? 

In the Western world, the whole “mindfulness” movement has become popular, which is great. I’ve studied personal development, metaphysics and spirituality for years. People are more open to what all this means in their lives. I’ve always used meditation as part of my practice. Now people want to learn more about intuitive life skills, as they find the world changing and new challenges arise.

You snip a lot in your Creativity/Discovery/Inspiration collection about being “blocked” or “stuck.” What, in your mind, what’s the single-best tactic to overcoming that feeling?

Healing occurs as we become more of who we truly are. Rather than who we have been subconsciously “programmed” to be. Creativity is a wonderful way to explore and express yourself more “authentically.” I always want to challenge how people think. Perfectionism is the number one killer of creativity. Moving away from trying to make something perfect, opening up to messiness and play. To risk being wrong, in the pursuit of what is right. 

If you work in a boring environment, how can you foster your own creativity?

I work for myself, doing what I love, so I do not work in a boring environment. That is why I post about fostering creativity if you do. There was a time that I did jobs that were pretty meaningless to me. It just kills you inside. You need to first find a way to express “you”, no matter how small it may be. The internet has created the opportunity now for people to create jobs which express their gifts. I love the ” paid to exist” movement. A good place to start is

You made a comment in your Women/Men/Relationships collection that 50 Shades of Grey finally gets us talking about female desires. Do you think American women are sexually repressed? Why or why not?

I think women don’t “honor” their sexuality enough. They either give it away too easily or are afraid of it. This book created the “permission” to talk about it.

Very interesting snip about "I Hear You" being the new "I Love You." What do you think that’s about?

It’s about recognizing how vital good communication is for healthy relationships. “I hear you” is about taking the time to connect on an authentic level, rather than what can easily become a superficial level. For women, having our feelings “heard” is how we feel love and honored. For men, really listening when they are ready to talk and not shutting them down (how can you say that!) or giving advice (This is what I think you should do) helps them feel we trust them.

What do you think about all the pressure society puts on finding a “soul mate?”

There is a big misperception about “soul mates”. In your lifetime, you can have many soul mates, not just one. A true ” soul mate” is one who will challenge and cause you to grow. Not someone who “completes” you, which is what society generally has told us we need to be whole. Not true, you need “you”, to complete you. So that “ex” you hate, was probably a soul mate. The question is, did you learn the lesson? If you learn the lessons, you will pull in a more loving, supportive soulmate next time. 

Why do you think so many Americans are single right now?

There is more opportunity to be independent, so we don’t need to rush into a relationship for validation or survival. There is also an upswing of narcissism in America, which does not lend itself to vulnerability and honesty. Two key components required for relationships. The internet, while it opens the world to us, can also close us off from developing connections of any real intimacy. We feed our need for socialization, but without perhaps, the emotional risks true relationships require. We play it safe behind our computers, believing we are not alone.

What are your favorite collections?

I always learn something new from Jan Angevine.

You can subscribe to Pat’s collections here