[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 775 Cal from Fat 465
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 51g 78%
Saturated Fat 18g 90%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 185mg 62%
Sodium 2160mg 90%
Total Carbs 34g 11%
Dietary Fiber 4g 16%
Sugars 21g
Protein 46g
Vitamin A 0% Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 0% Iron 0%
* 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 330 Cal from Fat 75
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 8g 12%
Saturated Fat 2g 10%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 65mg 22%
Sodium 800mg 33%
Total Carbs 28g 9%
Dietary Fiber 12g 48%
Sugars 5g
Protein 38g
Vitamin A 0% Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 0% Iron 0%
* 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 140 Cal from Fat 15
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 1g 2%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 480mg 20%
Total Carbs 26g 9%
Dietary Fiber 12g 48%
Sugars 4g
Protein 8g
Vitamin A 0% Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 0% Iron 0%
* 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, 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.

[Essential, free Android apps, from a new smartphone user]

A few months ago, I bought my very first smartphone. Sure, I was late to the scene as compared to most technology enthusiasts, but I made this cost-effective purchase because having my two-year-old Samsung Gravity II -- which I regard as the "smartest dumphone" around -- just didn't make sense.

For my first foray into the next generation of devices, I stuck with Samsung and went with their top-tier mobile device: the 32 GB "pebble blue" Samsung Galaxy S IIII (go big or go home). Not bad for just $200. Oh, and thanks to T-Mobile Costumer Care for striking a deal with me. Aside: When I say it "didn't make sense", I feel the need to point out that my month-to-month bill would remain the same using the Gravity II or using the Galaxy S III with a a generous unlimited data plan.

In using this supposed "iPhone killer", or at least the first formidable competitor, I came across some essential Android apps available on Google Play Market that I thought I'd share. Honestly, I don't know how I anyone could do without them, as they've dramatically improved my smartphone experience.

Sure, I might be new to the smartphone scene, but at same time, I haven't resigned myself to the quirks present since the earliest days of Android and iOS. The following free apps work with Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean. I've selected them after careful consideration of several apps that attempt to realize the same goals. Even if you're a seasoned Android veteran, you should really consider them.

I may add more to the list, but for now I have a nice round number. Here are my ten essential apps.

[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.

[Producing reinforced falsetto]

Lately I've taken an interest in learning how to produce the countertenor reinforced falsetto, frequently used by the highest voice in the barbershop style. I've noticed people (incorrectly?) refer to it as "head voice", which I distinguish as the lighter, airy voice (even with full support).

My understanding about the male voice is that it has several registers, some of which overlap.
  • Vocal Fry: the ridiculously low register that has a popping or crackling quality (since it involves producing notes at the low end and beyond the low end of tonal sounds). This is outside of the scope of this post, but I wanted to make note of it.
  • Modal voice: the chest voice which overlaps with your speaking voice, usually topping off around E4 (E above middle C). This voice feels like it resonates in the chest or throat.
  • Head voice: a higher voice that takes over around E4. This equally powerful but less effort-intense voice feels like it resonates in the head and not in the chest, but it is not falsettoIt can sound indistinguishable from modal "chest" voice, so I consider it the upper part of one's "full voice".
  • Falsetto register: a generally higher voice that overlaps with the range of head voice and sounds like a flute. Though it can overlap with about an octave of chest voice, it has a light, breathy, or "hooty" quality, depending on the vowel target, and it requires less physical effort to produce. Barbershoppers seem to call this "head tone", since it too feels as if in your head, though it lacks the strength of full voice. 
  • Countertenor (reinforced falsetto) voice: the other "false" voice with a significantly stronger ringing voice (earning the name "reinforced falsetto"), which overlaps with head, falsetto, and the upper part of modal voice. It is used predominantly by singing countertenors and overlaps with the female alto range. However, I'm led to believe it is produced quite differently from falsetto to attain that "Mickey Mouse"-like sound. The voice feels as if it is produced in the back of the head and resonates at the very top, as if above the head. This is what barbershoppers simply refer to as "falsetto".
  • Whistle register: the ridiculously high voice that lies above head and falsetto, sounding much like a whistle. It's more apparent in children and females, though males have it too. This is outside of the scope of this post, but I wanted to make note of it.
I am most interested in the countertenor voice, which is the one register I should be able to access as a tenor but haven't tapped into since joining the Barbershop Harmony Society.

Here are some links I've come across that have been helpful, though I still have plenty to figure out.
I also found some interesting reading at The Counter Tenor: Vocal Issues and Answers.

If you're wondering what I'm aiming for, here are some characteristic videos, featuring well-trained singers around my age:

Here are some examples with guys around my age: