May 2009 Archives

So What's Wrong With Hugging?

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This from today's New York Times:

"Girls embracing girls, girls embracing boys, boys embracing each other -- the hug has become the favorite social greeting when teenagers meet or part these days. Teachers joke about 'one hour' and 'six hour' hugs, saying that students hug one another all day as if they were separated for the entire summer."

The article, For Teenagers, Hello Means "How About a Hug?", explains the difficulty that schools have had "controlling" rampant hugging. It explains how some have imposed time limits on hugging, or even prohibited it altogether. But its most fascinating section postulates that the increase in hugging is a direct response to modern society's electronic isolation.

Of course, for us Jewish summer camp kids, hugging is nothing new. We've been at it for years and years, and I said "no duh!" when the article explained the inter-personal connection that hugging provides. Moreover, the idea of greeting my friends with a hug has become so commonplace to me (at least between Jews, and Bay Area residents) that I was surprised when the New York Times picked it up. I guess the east coast is a little different...

Beer Pong and Talented Singers

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Recently, I realized that Beer Pong and singing (at least its pitch-accurate aspect) have a lot in common. They both require the same kind of discipline to master, and effective practice techniques are nearly identical.

For those who don't know, Beer Pong is a game during which players toss ping pong balls the length of the table, and attempt to land them inside cups of beer. The challenge lies more in the distance than the side-to-side aim, since most American adults can throw a ball straight in front of them. Players can't, however, judge the air resistance of a ping pong ball compared to a weightier object, so their first throws usually fall short. Then, they overcorrect, and their throws land past the far edge of the table. Eventually, with enough disciplined practice, players can learn to control their throws enough to land the ball exactly in the cup.

Such is the case with singers too! The biggest difference between good and bad singers lies in the accuracy of pitch, and the ability to land large jumps on the correct pitch. Inexperienced singers frequently jump too short, for example to a 3rd or 4th instead of a 5th, and then they overcorrect by landing way sharper than their intended destination. After extensive practice and vocal training, however, (similar to training the muscles on your Beer Pong throwing arm), a singer can learn to accurately hit the destination pitch after every jump, like Aaron Mandel.

A note on practice techniques: Both Beer Pong and accurate singing can be practiced by starting with a smaller distance, and working up to your actual goal. Start with a 2-foot-wide table, for example, or learn to accurately sing 2nds or 3rds. Then, once you've mastered those levels, increase the distance a little. Make sure that you're completely comfortable with each level before proceeding, and feel free to bump down a level once in a while to ensure your confidence. Eventually, your arm or vocal chords will develop both the skill and the muscle memory to consistently land those wide intervals or aim the ball into the cup.

This is so exciting! My friend Jenessa (from back in my high school Jewish activism days) wants to be a magazine journalist. She wrote an article about the meaning of modern American Judaism to young Jewish adults, and she drew some really cool conclusions! Plus I was one of the interviewees, and I felt honored to contribute to such a cool article!

Here's the link, to J-Vibe magazine:

I like to try to walk through walls

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"The real key to the physicians' response is the phrase some level. If you interview a scientist about almost anything, they will tell you there is some level of risk. A while back, I talked to a prominent physicist who carefully explained that although the odds against all the oxygen molecules suddenly racing over to clump on one side of the room were really, really, really high, it could happen. And that if it did, it would be most unpleasant."

This was an excerpt from today's Gail Collins column in the Times about Joe Biden and the big flu. Something about how 63% of doctors think there's "some level of risk" that the flu could develop into a global pandemic. But her story about the oxygen molecules brings up some memories from my high school years.

At Camp Tawonga, I had a counselor who was a particle physicist. If we weren't asleep when he came back to the cabin, he would tell us stories about special relativity and quantum mechanics. Astrophysics too. One of the things I learned was about how most of an atom is empty space, with just a couple tiny particles bouncing around inside the force field. Thus began my pasttime of walking into walls.

If all the atoms in my body and all the atoms in the wall lined up just right, I could pass right through. (Or, if half the atoms lined up, I'd get stuck pretty awkwardly inside the wall.) And I know, it's a long shot, and it's highly extremely unlikely, but it could happen. There is some level of possibility that the atoms could line up, even though it's very close to impossible. And that's why I still walk into walls once in a while. Because someday, it just might happen...