Wednesday, 30 March 2016

REVIEW: "Speak Now: Marriage Equality on Trial" by Kenji Yoshino

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

Speak Now: Marriage Equality on Trial
by Kenji Yoshino
Broadway Books
ISBN: 978-0385348829
Copyright February 2016
Paperback, 400 Pages

Speak Now is an extremely engrossing book. It explores marriage equality in a legal context with such multitudinous facets and intricacies that it will be hard-pressed to find a reader unimpressed by the degree of intellectualism in the book. For readers without a legal background, the book could initially seem like a daunting and dense read especially with the presence of legal jargon. In persevering through the book however, more often than not the reader will find himself or herself acclimatizing to the legal idiom and standing to reap the corresponding intellectual rewards.

This book tells the narrative of a federal lawsuit filed against Proposition 8, the California constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage.

It was an absolutely fascinating experience to follow the legal discourse and reasoning through the twelve-day Perry trial. The reader is provided with ample background knowledge of the parties involved in the trial, from Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker who presided over the case, attorneys David Boies and Ted Olson who served as lead counsel for the plaintiffs, to the general counsel for Proposition 8's proponent, Andrew Pugno.

For the reader passionate in legal analysis, he or she will derive immense cerebral satisfaction in reading the arguments raised in the Perry trial. Examples of issues debated include optimal child rearing, gender-differentiated parenting, deinstitutionalization of marriage, and irresponsible procreation. Microaggressions and humiliations same-sex partners have had to endure in everyday lives were similarly testified. Readers will also come across the argument that the right to marry is a fundamental right.

A particularly interesting dichotomy one could glean from Speak Now would be the way advocates of same-sex marriage view homosexuality to be immutable and marriage to be mutable, against which detractors view homosexuality to be mutable and marriage to be immutable. Readers can possibly find certain arguments more relatable than others, such as one of the central messages Proposition 8 was asserted to convey - that homosexuals are labelled as inferior, unequal and disfavored as compared to the heterosexual male or female, which in turn propagates the stigma surrounding the gay community.

It was riveting to read about the direct and cross examinations held during the trial, and equally enlightening to learn of the set of trial tactics that serve to activate both narrative compassion and statistical compassion. Whilst the plaintiffs had their team of for example immutability expert Gregory Herek, parenting expert Michael Lamb, and history of women, gender, family and marriage expert Nancy Cott, the Prop 8 proponents' primary expert David Blankenhorn was sought for his very specific stance for being one who favored gay rights but who opposed same-sex marriage.

Readers will learn about the plaintiffs' fight for heightened-scrutiny jurisprudence and its rigorous need to prove discrimination, immutability and political powerlessness of the gay community. For the dedicated learner, the book could stimulate his or her critical thinking faculty especially with the myriad of slants brought up for debate throughout the Perry trial. For example, that homophobia preserves the hierarchy of men over women, the investigation of ways same-sex marriages could harm opposite-sex marriages, and whether bans on same-sex marriage should be challenged as sex discrimination or sexual orientation discrimination.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books for this review. 

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Sapphire Ng | Berklee Guitar Styles Skills - Jazz (Week 4) SPRING 2016 [Class Materials & Concepts]

Guitar Styles Skills - Jazz

Berklee College of Music
SPRING 2016 Semester

Class Teacher: John Baboian

[Week 4]

The class started with us needing to play arpeggio lines we were supposed to write for the tune "All The Things You Are". A general observation is that from the designated second section onwards where we are supposed to write lines incorporating chord tones of the arpeggios combined with diatonic passing notes, starting on the 9th bar of the tune, we should try to write lines that have more directional variation instead of the standard ascending and descending pattern that was illustrated for the first section of the tune where we only needed to write lines using notes from the arpeggio. 

After the exercise John said that we should practice playing the arpeggios to any tune we come across until we could naturally do it to any song we have to play. 

John did mention to me that I have to work on my articulation, and that the gap between each note has to be as small as possible. I do start to become aware that my articulation gets affected more when it comes to improvising as compared to if I'm playing lines that I've been practicing repeatedly. 

John also pointed out something I have to work on, he said that my swing 8th notes sound less like triplets but more like straight notes, and thus I should improve by playing swing notes that sound more like they were formed by triplets.

Concepts/content covered in class:

~ The first handout we were given today is titled "Modes of the Major Scale". John did mention that there is a system present in the music world that says that we could move through all the modes in a systematic manner, i.e. from Lydian to Ionion (from a scale with #4 to a scale without a #4), then Ionion to Mixolydian (where we would have a b7), and then Mixolydian to Dorian (where we just add one additional flat for the b3), Dorian to Aeolian (an addition of another flat specifically the b6), Aeolian to Phrygian (with an addition of b2 and where Phrygian can also be referred to as Natural Minor b2), and finally Phrygian to Locrian (with an additional b5). We were also asked to look at the second column and identify what we would use to refer to the chords as. The answer is diatonic chords to the scale. 

[Referring to the 4th column on the handout, and for the Dorian mode, John explained why a Dorian scale would work as well on the other chords listed there. For I-6, he asked what is the 6th of the scale, it is the characteristic note of the Dorian mode and that is why we can use the Dorian mode when we see a I-6 chord. And if we encounter a I-7 chord, we can play a Dorian as well because it can be a Dorian song and an example he gave is the tune "So What" by Miles Davis. 

[As for the Phrygian mode, one example my teacher gave is that when you see a dom7(#9) chord, you can play the phrygian mode over it. Thus referring to the rest of the chords listed there, it means we can play the phrygian mode if we encounter other chords such as dom7(b9) and dom7(b13).

[As for the Lydian mode, John gave an example where the mode can be played over the Imaj7 chord, and it would be the jazz tune "Misty".]

~ The next handout given out in class is "II V I Improv Lines". We were asked to sight-read the first three examples, and then John demonstrated all the lines by asking us to play only the bassline for the progression, the difference was that we did not have to play the full chords this time round as we comp for John. 

[Attention was brought to tensions used in the lines, for example, in the second example second bar, the line starts with #11 of G7 chord on the first beat, whilst for the same example third bar, the line starts with the #9 of the Cmaj7 chord.

[The last example in this handout was played to us repeatedly and we were asked to figure out what sounded off in the line. John finally revealed the answer to us by saying that he felt that there were too many "E" notes in the example, and he felt that the line would have the potential to sound way better if there were not that many "E" notes and yes, he would definitely want to change the line.]

~ We were given the lead sheet of the tune "Lady Bird", and we were asked the key of the tune, and the answer is an easy key of C for the Ionion mode. Discussion was made around the II-Vs present in the tune. The first set of II-V, F-7 and Bb7 can be seen as II-V to the key of Eb but which does not actually resolve to its key. For the second set of II-V in the tune, Bb-7 and Eb7, it is the II-V of Ab and it is seen to be able to resolve to the key in the 9th bar. For A-7 and D7 which is the II-V in the key of G, we are told that it resolves to the key of G, though it is considered a delayed resolution and that it resolves to a dom7 chord quality instead of a maj7 chord quality.

[We are asked to be aware of the number of bars for the tune, which is 16 bars. John went on to elaborate that for tunes which are that short, typically it would be played twice through and that the second time through should be played differently than the first time through. And this is where melodic reharmonization comes in really handy !]

~ A handout is given out containing arpeggio licks for the turnaround of the tune "Lady Bird". John did mention that this turnaround is one of his most favorite turnarounds of all. One of the things he said is, if you have a "hip" chord progression, all you need is to do is improvise by the written chord progression and then you will be able to sound cool. But if you do not have a "hip" chord progression, you would have to work really hard in order for your solo lines to sound cool. John demonstrated all the lines on the handout by asking us to play the bassline for the turnaround.

~ The transcription given for this week is "Night & Day" by Joe Pass. My teacher said that though the tempo for this tune is fast, the lines are clear and thus is manageable. He also said that if we choose to play this tune for the mid term exam, we can play it at a slightly slower tempo. 

Class Homework:

~ For the "II-V-I Improv Lines", we have to learn all the lines and be ready to play all of them in class the following week. For this case, we only need to be able to play these lines as written in the key of C, and we do not need to transpose them into another key. 

~ We have to practice improvising to "Lady Bird".

~ We have to learn the turnaround arpeggio lines for "Lady Bird" and be ready to incorporate them into our solos for the tune.

Class Materials/Handouts:

Modes of the Major Scale

II V I Improv Lines

"Lady Bird" Leadsheet

"Lady Bird" Turnaround Arpeggios

Night & Day - Joe Pass (For Django)

Monday, 21 March 2016

REVIEW: "The Freelancer's Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Have the Career of Your Dreams - On Your Terms" by Sara Horowitz

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

The Freelancer's Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Have the Career of Your Dreams - On Your Terms
by Sara Horowitz
Workman Publishing Company
ISBN: 978-0761164883
Copyright October 2012
Paperback, 496 pages

The Freelancer's Bible strategically positions freelancers on the road to success by coaching aspiring freelancers to handle their careers like the CEO of a company would. The book contains strategies and tools that equip the reader with a mindset effectively poised for performance and accomplishment by tackling the career of freelancing with regards to both short-term and long-term sustainability.

Autonomous freelancers will appreciate the approach and format of the book as it is highly conducive to enhancing the problem solving skills of the freelancer – by stimulating thinking, encouraging brainstorming, building the ability to assess various situations freelancing could entail and to come up with answers to important questions.

This incredibly hands-on book strives to plant ideas, possibilities and alternatives that would only benefit the freelancer and increase his or her versatility and adaptability to inevitable changes within the freelance industry. Concrete guidance is also provided for setting milestones and professional boundaries, for regularly reviewing results on a timely basis and to objectively evaluate financial status at different points in one's career.

Horowitz has packed The Freelancer's Bible with scenarios, questions, worksheets and numerical lists which adds interactivity into the reading process and promotes reader participation. With scenarios concisely articulated and systematically listed, the reader can easily identify the category to which he or she falls into and refer to the suggested solutions. An instance would be the freelancer finding himself needing to work long hours and cutting costs but still barely meeting expenses. The proposed recommendations include to track time spent on tasks in order to ensure an accurate time/price ratio, to raise rates to increase the freelancer's perceived value, and to study the ways successful and veteran freelancers package and market themselves.

Important frameworks are also provided in the book which supply guidelines for, for example structuring a four-level freelance portfolio, rebalancing the portfolio, constructing contracts, handling intellectual property matters, and assessing situations where engaging the services of virtual assistants or utilizing time tracking softwares or subcontracting could be the apt solution to the specific problem. Substantial information is similarly included that covers areas including business structure, tax, insurance, marketing, retirement planning and more.

And the book does not stop there. Horowitz goes the extra mile to cover statistics and data such as workplace misclassifications freelancers could be vulnerable to, the effect of deadbeat clients on freelancers and the state of the freelance economy.

Freelancers rights is a crucial theme that runs through the entire book and which aptly ties in with the fact that Horowitz is both the founder of Freelancers Union and the owner of Freelancers Insurance Company. This theme is similarly weaved into the book in creative ways as manifested with the “Advocacy Alert” sections, and the freelancer bill of rights which concludes the book.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the authors of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

REVIEW: "The Power of Broke: How Empty Pockets, a Tight Budget, and a Hunger for Success Can Become Your Greatest Competitive Advantage" by Daymond John

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

The Power of Broke: How Empty Pockets, a Tight Budget, and a Hunger for Success Can Become Your Greatest Competitive Advantage
by Daymond John, Daniel Paisner
Crown Business
ISBN: 978-1101903599
Copyright January 2016
Hardcover, 288 pages

The Power of Broke dispenses essential business and entrepreneurial advice in a highly accessible manner, being incredibly lucid in communicating business concepts and strategies in an easily understandable manner. The distinctly approachable and colloquial tone of voice employed with minimal use of jargon makes it an ideal reading for the general public who may or may not have a business background.

A practical and inspirational book, The Power of Broke is a great source of motivation for entrepreneurs currently building their businesses or contemplating starting new businesses. The book repeatedly emphasizes the importance of being informed regarding one's consumers and market, of intimately engaging with one's passions, and being authentic in approaching entrepreneurship in contrast to a superficial engagement with the building of a “business”.

Particularly interesting is John's coining of “SHARK Points” as a guideline for entrepreneurs. His three-word mantra “rise and grind” and relentless mentioning of the act of “hustling” throughout the book work well to reinforce the psyche of the ideal entrepreneur. It was fun noting the parallels drawn by John between positive characteristics possessed by successful entrepreneurs with sharks, the majestic creatures of the ocean.

The book contains enlightening entrepreneurial stories including the successes of the scholarship app Scholly which exemplifies the concept of first-to-market; the launching of a cupcake business, Gigi's Cupcakes by a woman who simultaneously managed a demanding cleaning business; the struggle and subsequent triumph of the author of the book The 4-Hour Workweek in relentlessly pursuing ways to position himself for strong selling opportunities; and John's boss, the producer of Shark Tank, Survivor, The Voice and The Apprentice, Mark Burnett's journey to becoming one of the most successful television producers in the business.

Though not a substitute for actual experience, this book qualifies as decent tutelage in the subject of entrepreneurship. It contains its fair share of warnings of for example overfunding, to attempts to convey the power of positive thinking, where an instance includes viewing John's dyslexia as an advantage to being a business owner.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books for this review. 

Friday, 18 March 2016

REVIEW: Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy by Martin Lindstrom

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy
by Martin Lindstrom
Crown Business
ISBN: 978-0385531733
Copyright September 2011
Kindle/Hardcover/Paperback, 304 pages

Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy examines the subject matter of branding, marketing and advertising in unprecedented depth. In reading this book, you will emerge possessing an invigorated level of heightened sensitivity towards the subtlest manipulation in advertising as you go about your daily life.

If you feel thrust out of your comfort zone whilst reading the book, it potentially signals your role as the beneficiary of the immense transparency the book practices in divulging practices of the advertising industry. You are entitled to feel mild discontent or even shocked as you read about the ways consumers are emotionally manipulated to achieve corporate goals of increasing profits, especially in the case of new mothers who are targeted specifically for their emotional vulnerability to fear and guilt advertising.

Brandwashed is packed with solid research and ingeniously designed experiments, the expertise and collaboration with industry players including neuromarketing firms, the insights of retail anthropologists and social psychologists, and procedures such as fMRI neuroimaging used to measure brain activity in consumers.

The book delves into the complex mechanisms of advertising from the perspective of a brand consultant who has engineered many successful advertising/branding campaigns, and who was even engaged to revive the brand of a royal family. As much as Martin is a veteran in the industry, he does acknowledge that he is occasionally equally susceptible to marketing schemes as you and I.

This book is a treasure trove for the reader who takes pleasure in educating himself or herself in the peculiarities and technicalities of the advertising universe - the undertakings of fragrance companies to devise the “ideal” scent for Calvin Klein; the painstaking specificity to which potential customer base is sought and dissected by Unilever in fabricating their highly targeted Axe campaign; the potentially controversial ingredients used to manufacture products from food to lip balm; an algorithm specifically designed to determine the precise number of bubbles to appear in a visual advertisement that would best sell the company's drink; the way auditory cues are used to incite cravings in consumers; and the similarity in brain activity between Apple fanatics and Christianity devotees.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the authors of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

REVIEW: "The Complete Guide to Writing Nonfiction" by American Society of Journalists and Authors

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

The Complete Guide to Writing Nonfiction
by American Society of Journalists and Authors
ISBN: 978-0060971359
Reprint Edition March 1988
Paperback, 896 pages

The Complete Guide to Writing Nonfiction lives up to its promise of being comprehensive, laden from cover to cover with information you are bound to find useful and intimately applicable in your journey pursuing a freelance career in nonfiction writing.

No matter your area of niche or interest, you are sure to find information in the book relevant to you - part II of the book covers writing about Science and High Tech, Environment and Energy, Medicine and Health, Psychology, Religion, Women's Markets, Food and Nutrition, Home and Garden, Hobbies and Crafts, Young People, Sports, Travel and Leisure, Consumer, Business and Finance, and Trades.

The book brims with captivating narratives and advice from practitioners who made a living writing nonfiction; the majority of whom relentlessly emphasize the value of perseverance to achieving a fruitful and satisfying career.

Learn the difference between being a generalist or a specialist writer and the arguments for each; absorb the wisdom of writing as generously dispensed throughout the book; commit to memory the importance of research and fact-checking to a writer's credibility and survival in the industry; be educated on the importance of utilizing references such as Writer's Market and Literary Market Place; and be persuaded that ideas can be generated from literally anywhere.

Highly recommended for the newcomer, and the more experienced nonfiction writers considering entering a different specialization. Also recommended for the general reader looking to understand the nuts and bolts of the vibrant and multi-faceted publishing industry, and the difference in financial compensation from selling articles to women's versus finance magazines.

As expressed in many forms throughout the book, being a professional writer is about being in the industry of organizing and packaging information. Most of the time you are not obligatory to have any prior specialized knowledge. It is the ability to be tenacious in continuously honing your writing skills, in carrying out diligent research, and in presenting the information appropriately to your target audience that you are granted the power to influence the world in ways you never imagined.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the authors of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Sapphire Ng | Jewelry Shoot #4: Artistic Jewelry

Jewelry Designer: Sapphire Ng

Photographer: Joe Harary
Model: Sapphire Ng

Jewelry Shoot #4: Artistic Jewelry