Happy 30th birthday to me!

Wow, I made it to three decades.

I don't have much to say here--or in general, making me question the general purpose of such a neglected blog--but I will say I've learned a lot, especially in these last few months, and I have healthy priorities guiding me.

I'll spare swaths of texts shrouded in ambiguity in saying that I'm quite excited about this year. I'm planning to be my healthiest yet (think: diet, fitness, sleep) as well as my most productive yet (work, hobbies, reading). Specifically, this year, I'm targeting:
  • Getting 7 and a half hour sleep as much as possible (meaning lights out at 10pm most days)
  • Continuing to count my calories and monitor my workouts
  • Cutting back on going out of drinks with friends and improving my diet overall
  • Learning a ton more in my free time (tech, music)
  • Crossing off all those books on my reading list

Above all, for the first time in my life, I'm actually focusing on me, and I couldn't be happier to do it. And with that, I'm off!

Migrating from Puppet to Ansible

My current company, NewsCred, recently launched its tech blog, Credible Code.

Their latest featured article was a post I wrote on a year-long migration from Puppet to Ansible to handle our company-wide software configuration management.

It's a pretty high-level discussion of how we made it happen, but I hope you enjoy.

Instant Classic, the new international quartet champions

On July 4, 2015, my four best friends in barbershop became the new international quartet champions, having won a fierce competition featuring over 50 qualifying quartets, among an organization including tens of thousands of singers.

It's been an absolute joy watching them over the years, as friends, singers, and role models. Their contributions to the Barbershop Harmony Society extend far past quartet singing. These fine gentlemen have also directed a local, internationally-ranked chorus; led youth harmony camps; arranged and recorded innovative, new music; judged competitions outside of their home district; and taught educational courses at Harmony University. Beating the odds was just the start of what will surely be a long, productive, and rewarding barbershop career--all while pursuing full-time careers of their own.

In the barbershop international contest, sometimes you have "winners" and sometimes you have "champions". The men of Instant Classic are true champions. Congratulations, David Zimmerman, Theo Hicks, Kohl Kitzmiller, and Kyle Kitzmiller. I wish you nothing but the best as you continue reinvigorating this hobby we love so much.

Into the Woods tags

In barbershop, there's a concept of a "tag" which is essentially a coda to a given song that restates the theme, often over a sustained note (known in the style as a "post"). It allows for some harmonic variation and clever chord progressions, and it's just plain fun to "chord worship", as you hold particular chords until they tune just right. In the social barbershop setting, tags provide an opportunity to capture the essence of a song in a few short minutes (of teaching and execution), allowing any four people to make some harmony without significant learning.

Recently, I penned my first tags, inspired by one of my favorite musicals (now a film), Into the Woods. I had some friends coming from out of town to see my barbershop concert, and it seemed like a novel way to combine the two.


Giants in the Sky

I also wrote a longer, more ambitious version, meant to capture the different motivations of the ensemble cast (while incorporating a post)...but I realized it was too ambitious for people unfamiliar with the form (and the need to learn several notes and words at once):

Barbershop has a long history of using movies from musicals as an inspiration (for example, this amazing rendition of 76 Trombones from The Music Man). Into the Woods is perhaps too difficult to use as source material given the often simple harmonic content of Sondheim's music, but tags still offer an opportunity to capture the ideas in a snippet and experience the nostalgia of a favorite song. 

If you ever get the opportunity to meet some barbershoppers, I highly recommend singing a tag or two!

The Chipotle salad

The Chipotle chicken salad bowl used to be my favorite guilty pleasure. Sure it had some "bad stuff", but I figured there was plenty of lettuce, tomatoes, and healthy things to go around.

Until I visited ChipotleFan.com.
Nutrition Facts
Amount Per Serving
Calories 775Cal from Fat 465
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 51g78%
Saturated Fat 18g90%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 185mg62%
Sodium 2160mg90%
Total Carbs 34g11%
Dietary Fiber 4g16%
Sugars 21g
Protein 46g
Vitamin A0%Vitamin C0%
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
INGREDIENTS: Chicken (4oz),Tomato Salsa,Corn Salsa,Cheese,Sour Cream,Lettuce,Chipotle Vinaigrette

Click Here to view

I used to think I was intelligently cutting corners by forgoing the tortilla, but it looks like you'd need to try harder to get a healthy meal out of a visit to the No. 6 healthiest fast food restaurant.

So what is the healthiest burrito you can construct? I played around with the calculator and considered each category:
  • Wrap? No thanks. That will set you back 15% saturated fat and 25% sodium, unless you opt for mini hard tacos.
  • Rice? Let's skip that too, just to keep the carbs down. But as people suspect, the brown rice fairs better than white, though by negligible amounts.
  • Beans? Black wins over pinto by a hair (more fiber, less sodium). We'll need some filling here, especially if we cut the meat.
  • Protein? I used to think chicken was the healthiest of the bunch, but actually steak looks the best overall. Same inevitable 10% fat and saturated fat, but with half the cholesterol and 13% less sodium. It even has 25% more protein.
  • Salsa? Medium trumps mild (tomato) and hot (red) with half the sodium content. We need some sort of sauce, so we'll go with this.
  • Extras? All the "good stuff" that's really the "bad stuff". Forget your cheese, sour cream, and chips; you don't even want to know their fat content. The salad dressing is surprisingly bad for you, with generous amounts of fat and sodium to go around. The guacamole fares better, but 20% fat and 10% saturated fat don't make up for its 24% fiber (and price hike). In short, you'd have to skip them all.

So besides a larger bill, what does this leaner steak-and-beans salad bowl with mild salsa get you?

Nutrition Facts
Amount Per Serving
Calories 330Cal from Fat 75
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 8g12%
Saturated Fat 2g10%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 65mg22%
Sodium 800mg33%
Total Carbs 28g9%
Dietary Fiber 12g48%
Sugars 5g
Protein 38g
Vitamin A0%Vitamin C0%
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
INGREDIENTS: Black Beans,Lettuce,Green Tomatillo Salsa,Steak (4oz)

And what if we pass on the steak altogether for a tasteless bean-and-salsa salad?

Nutrition Facts
Amount Per Serving
Calories 140Cal from Fat 15
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 1g2%
Saturated Fat 0g0%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 0mg0%
Sodium 480mg20%
Total Carbs 26g9%
Dietary Fiber 12g48%
Sugars 4g
Protein 8g
Vitamin A0%Vitamin C0%
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
INGREDIENTS: Black Beans,Lettuce,Green Tomatillo Salsa
(Of course, at this point, why even bother ordering?)

I guess I'll have to think twice before visiting Chipotle.

Happy birthday, barbershop!

Well, specifically, the Barbershop Harmony Society.

In honor of this special day (April 11th), my chorus organized a webcast featuring choruses throughout the New York area and free to view worldwide. This special presentation also included the international barbershop quartet champions (four guys, all younger than I), who were featured on the Today Show and an impromptu performance in Times Square.

I could gush over how amazing it was, but instead I thought I'd offer tweets from the rest of the world -- an audience that included over 110,000 people from all 50 states and 10 countries.
I think this is the 1st time my son is hearing men (instead of women) singing barbershop. 
He's mesmerized. #bhs75 - @erinccpi   #bhs75 loving the webcast! - @bassman_michael 
Great opening to the webcast by @RingmastersQtet - if you're not watching http://barbershop.org , you're missing out! #bhs75 - @HarmonyInc 
#bhs75. Ringmasters rocking the stage! -@Fuller6544  
Enjoying the webcast so far! #bhs75 - @zedramaqueen 
Voices of Gotham killing it on the live webcast #BHS75!!! http://www.barbershop.org ! - @MusicCityChorus  
Watching @flatironfour tear it up for #bhs75 online http://barbershop.org - @QuartetLead 
loving the bhs webcast! #bhs75 - @ValCeeCee 
This is so great to watch! Can't wait to hear sweet Adeline's :) #bhs75 - @singmusic4life  
@voicesofgotham Fantastic performance, gentlemen! Gotham City is in good hands... who needs Batman?!? #bhs75 - @dekesharon 
We need to do more of this, just get everyone together, sing, reminisce, honor this craft, for free, and shared around the world! #BHS75 - @Cmicorcoran
...And that was just a sample of the trending topics.

I'd say it was an overwhelming success, and I'm glad I got to be both part of and behind the event.

Barbershop outreach

The key to barbershop youth outreach is finding a constructive way that makes the style not only approachable but desirable.

A vocal style that has taken youth by storm is the "collegiate a cappella" style, which many find appealing for its solo-driven nature and flexibility in application. For a given cover song, the music "arranger" can pull from practically any genre, past or present. This makes it fairly easy to promote and convince without much effort -- you already know what it is and how it's done before you even hear it.

Barbershop is tricky. It's much deeper and richer in historical roots and music theory, so it's no surprise that the easiest way to explain it has traditionally been to just "sing a tag". Factor in the polished rules, established society, its musical proselytes, and it can seem daunting and far too structured at first glance, resulting in the stigma that surrounds the art form.

For so long, I've looked toward collegiate a cappella with disdain, believing it lures potential singers away to a simpler style focused on all the wrong elements. But it occurs to me, that this other style accomplishes exactly what it intends to do, and we can use that to our advantage. Collegiate a cappella aims to faithfully recreate a song using the voice as instruments, whereas barbershop aims to capture the spirit of a song and enhance it using the distinctive elements of its style. They're not actually opposing forces, and they can work together.

Perhaps the Barbershop Harmony Society could use quartets in outreach that perform songs -- initially sung in the typical solo-accompaniment collegiate a cappella style -- then transformed with the richer harmonies and homophonic texture found in barbershop. Anyone focused on that singular stardom can immediately witness how a quartet can make everyone a star together, how the group is stronger than any individual member. Not only would this add a level of accessibility, but the noticeable contrast could promote barbershop simply for what more it offers and the ease by which it offers it. Of course, you could still throw in a polecat and a blockbuster song.

In the end, I think we forget that barbershop is a simple style that we've enhanced it over the years. Like collegiate a cappella, it started off with woodshedding, but like other genres, it has evolved into so much more. Even with all of its rules and structures, at its core, it utilizes four-part harmony that isn't strictly choral (it is, after all, a style, not a genre). Yet it possesses other elements by consequence, those that actually make it easier to grasp, from the sound of individual parts to the overtones it produces as a whole.

We know a simple tag can serve as the gateway for singing barbershop music. But this approach could convince others to sing music using barbershop. Introducing others to the fundamentals and what they can do with it -- as is the spirit of singing a tag -- will make them come back to the one place they can learn more: the Barbershop Harmony Society. And when they come back, you've succeeded in your outreach.