Monday, December 31, 2012

Meet our first New Year's Eve Girl...Jessie Yang

Not sure what to do to ring in 2013? Start by checking out our interview with our first-ever New Year's Eve Girl, Ms. Jessie Yang:

A new year demands a fresh perspective. So why not a new talent to admire as well?

Meet Jessie Yang, our first-ever New Year’s Eve Girl, and one of the sweetest, most energetic people I know. She really is surprisingly new on the scene, but has already done well over 150 photo shoots, has stars in two web series, and is doing all of this while double-majoring in Psychology and Nutritional Science. And if that isn’t enough to embarrass you into getting off the couch, getting your act together and kicking some ass in 2013, I’m not sure what will.

Jessie Yang. Photo by Diem Franke.

Jessie Yang. Photo by Diem Franke.

Name: Jessie Yang

Occupation: Student and Model

Education: I’m still in university but it is my last year. I’m taking Psychology and Nutritional Science as a double major.

Stats: I’ve done over 150 shoots in one year.

How did you get started on your current career track?

Just for fun, took some professional photos with a friend. After getting professional photos done, people on my social media started to pay attention to me more. I got more requests to do photo shoots and that was how it started.

What gives you the most satisfaction as an artist?

Being creative and inspiring others to do the same.

[Read the full interview, and check out Jessie's video and photo gallery...]

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Problem (as I see it)

I've been putting off talking about last week's shooting because I wanted to give myself time to wrap my head around it. It's pretty clear, if you spend any time at all on social media, that things have been sharply divided yet again. However, since I have a background as a scholar ( of those damned liberal intellectuals), I've devoted my time to presenting figures and fielding counter-figures.

Here's what I've learned:

  • Japan, the UK, and Australia have very rigid gun laws, and since enacting them have had no mass shootings.
  • Switzerland, Norway, and even Canada have fairly expansive and open gun regulations, and also have few to no mass shootings.
  • Take guns away and psychos will just find another method of murdering people en masse; like McVeigh did with his bomb...
  • ...except that McVeigh opted to use a bomb instead of a gun, when guns are readily available. And there's no evidence from countries (like the UK) where guns have been removed from private ownership that bombs will become the weapon of choice.
  • We're only talking about the industrialized world. I won't get into countries that are actively torn apart by civil war and/or (largely American led) invasion.
  • Bill Maher points out that defending hunters' rights is a bit silly, since in North America food is readily available in stores.
  • Hunting is important, because it helps cull herds and manage wildlife populations...
  • ...except a) wildlife populations do that on their own, and b) I've never heard a hunter declare, "Look! I shot the weakest, sickest deer in the herd!" They always -- always -- make a point of looking for the best breeding stock as their prize.
  • The NRA and its devotees continue to tow the line that guns don't kill people. They're inanimate, so it's not their fault (as if it's even possible to blame an inanimate object and hurt its feelings).
  • You can kill people with knives. Taking guns away won't stop murder. Then again, it's harder to run away from a bullet than a knife.
  • One side argues this is because they (meaning liberals, presumably) took prayer out of schools. The other side argues it's the wider "gun culture" (meaning conservatives, presumably) that's to blame.
Net result from my perspective as a relatively gun-indifferent Canadian outsider and liberal? Neither of these positions is correct. In fact, they're both WAY off the mark.

First, a fact. The Second Amendment, which is wielded like a carte blanche for any and all gun violence, states quite explicitly:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Very few in the "gun lobby" can quote this in its entirety, but it's important to what's at stake in the US. First: "a well regulated militia" does not mean free and unfettered access to firearms of all kinds. It means, "a militia that is well regulated." For what its worth, this was written in because the United States had no army at that time. Second: "security of a free state" does not mean in defense against the encroachment of liberty by one's own government. It means "against invasion by the guys we just ditched." Third: "the right of the people to keep and bear arms" simply means there is no class restriction on who can participate in the aforementioned militia. Switzerland has no standing army, and so its citizens are required to own and be trained in the use of firearms and come to call in the case of threats from foreign powers; i.e., a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state.


My own take on the responsibility of owning firearms of various action and calibre: more control is necessary in terms of restricting who can access them. Gun control doesn't mean taking weapons away from qualified people. It means ensuring those who own them are actually qualified (read "not dangerously insane").

The list of reasons to own or not own a firearm is far too extensive for a blog post. But I will say that I've been discussing these issues in an open and honest conversation with a friend who is an avid gun collector and shooter. In fact, he hand-builds firearms himself, which is pretty cool. I personally have no use for a gun and see no purpose in hunting, therefore, I don't own one.

My friend and I resolved that it's impossible to look at precedents in other countries, because the impact of varying degrees of gun control has no set pattern of result. And we can't know the motivation of an occasional insane person either. On the surface it seems easy: if there are no guns at all, at least the sociopaths won't be able to use them.

So where does that leave the discussion? Nobody's right, gun control does or doesn't work, and mental health has yet to be worked in as a significant factor (it's curious that the Regan administration seems to have eliminated a lot of mental health programming while simultaneously espousing freer gun regulations...hmmm). Here's where we come to what I think is going on.

I'd hate to argue for censorship. But you see so much TV where people are devalued more and more; a culture where image is everything and relevant thought is actually frowned upon. A place where things are valued more than lives and celebrities worshiped more for what they can get away with than for what they can do. Disaster movies kill off millions as easily as they blow apart buildings, and the recent trend in the zombie genre even makes play cannibalism a source of amusement rather than revulsion.

I believe that the glorification and dehumanization of gun violence in entertainment creates a dissociative effect in the mind of the killer. They see the act frequently enough without consequence and internalize it as a rational possibility.

Life is losing its currency, and human lives aren't any more valuable. So it's easy to look for fame, relief or catharsis by making lives disposable in as dramatic and marketable a way as possible. Given the sensation and attention mass shooters get in the news, it's not surprising that this could be an attractive outlet for a disturbed individual.

It's not about the Ten Commandments in school. Our culture as a whole has to stop treating violence as an end in itself, and start giving a shit about meaningful living again. Stop humiliating ourselves for a hundred bucks just to get on TV, and focus back on the value of human life.

That means the only way to fix it without censorship is to instill critical thinking in our kids. If they have an aesthetic and can tell good from bad entertainment they'll find better things to do. And with no audience the media will have to change its message. It will have to stop promoting the escapades of mass murderers, each of whom tries to outdo the last in both carnage and shock value, and start providing value once again in the form of entertainment and stimulation.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

How many challenges can you face?

So, I've decided to take up salsa dancing.

OK, let me explain: I'm not really comfortable on the dance floor. Everyone has this assumption that because I'm a musician, I should have a natural sense of rhythm when it comes to moving to music. On top of that, I've spent years (decades, really) accompanying dance classes on the piano. So I should be a great dancer, right?

Wrong. I have no idea if I'm a great dancer or not, because I don't really like to dance. Why? Simple. I'm a musician. I spent the formative years of dance "learning" actually on stage. So while people my age were dancing and getting their awkwardness about it out of the way, I was usually either playing the music they were dancing to or hanging out with the DJ who was. Or I was hanging out with my headbanger friends who were too cool for dancing.

Regardless, it's something I've missed out on for the most part. So when I saw a Groupon for salsa dance lessons in Markham, I thought, "what the hell...why not?" And the rest is history. Or, the future I guess, since it starts next month.

So the gang at The Man Sphere caught wind of this, and now there's a challenge on. This is how we're doing it:

We're calling it "12 Months of Groupon Out-of-the-Box Challenge." 
The prize: You get to do stuff you wouldn't normally do. 
The challenge:
1. Go here: and get an account (or use your account if you already have one. 
2. Find deals that offer EXPERIENCES more than just stuff. Your mission will be to get one deal a month (you're free to try more) that takes you out of your comfort zone.
- Spend no more than $50 on any given experience.
- Buy no more than one Groupon per month for the purpose of this challenge. You can buy as many as you want of course. But for this exercise one is enough (nobody wants you to go broke).
- If presented with a CHOICE, choose the two-person option.
- Try to strike a balance between activities and things like restaurants.
- Don't get stuff like car care packages or home decorating.
Keep a journal, and write about your experiences. We'd love to hear about them here, and we'll publish your stories at the end of 2013, and see how much fun you've had!
Just to give you some ideas, right now there are GTA deals for dozens of restaurants of all kinds, walking tours, wine tasting experiences (one includes snowshoeing!), dance classes, spa packages, teeth whitening...the list goes on and on. So check your local area, throw the "it costs too much" excuse out the window, and take a leap out of your comfort zone!

I'll be following and blogging along with this challenge all year, because it's FUN. I've already booked in for teeth whitening in Downtown Toronto, and have two tickets for Yuk Yuks in Ajax. I'm looking forward to finding more cool things to do come January.

Thing is, this isn't my only challenge for next year.

Remember, I have it in mind to tackle the Tough Mudder in 2014. To this end, I have sort of a strategy (sort of) in terms of my own workouts. I could use a few more on my team though...but one way or another, it's about me finishing. So, starting in January:

Mornings: TACFIT Commando. This is major endurance and mobility training in a confined space, but it will get the joints and muscles honed and moving through full ranges of motion.

Evenings: T30 (four weeks) to cover strength, testosterone, and some additional cardio.

To do the entire TACFIT program from beginning to end actually takes a year and a half, so there's no need to take breaks there. I also have RushFit, if I get bored (it's similar in structure and tactical or mobile fitness). There are other muscle building programs I plan to take on throughout the year though, notably those by Vince delMonte and John Romaniello. I'm hoping to do some trail shredding to help with the obstacle part of the Mudder as well.

Think that's enough?

Not for me. Not for what I want to be when I grow up. To improve cognitive function as well as general well-roundedness, I'm going to get on the language bandwagon. I have in my collection several language learning programs (details later), including French, German, Italian, Russian, Mandarin and Japanese. Each program is forty-five hours in length. At an hour a day (in two half-hour sessions), that's six weeks per course, so it's doable in less than a year. For sure I want to get a handle on French, Russian and Japanese though.

Is that the end of my challenge list for 2013? Not by a long shot. But it's a pretty good start, I think. And you may be thinking that's a lot to put on one plate for a guy who has a full-time job, two businesses to run, and a four-year-old (soon to be five...yikes!). But really, what's here represents an hour a day of exercise and an hour a day (usually while driving) of language practice. The Groupon stuff, that's just spare-time material.

These are challenges designed to improve myself or in some way break my usual routines. They're not my goals. My goals are very specific, and in some cases the challenges I've set for myself are part of the method of attaining those goals. But in other cases, they're just part of the overall goal of being more awesome.

What challenges are you taking on in 2013? Maybe...try that Groupon one! You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Getting Ready for the New You

Last week, The Man Sphere launched a wildly successful special edition called "The New You Issue." In it, we focused on a lot of subjects designed to lay the groundwork for the classic "New Year's Resolution" game people play every January 1st.

The thing is, without some groundwork, there's really no chance of success. You can't resolve to lose weight if you don't do two things first: determine exactly how much you want to weigh, and figure out how you're going to do it. It's a bit like saying, "a scarf will keep me extra warm this winter," and then waiting until the temperature drops to start researching what materials make the warmest scarves, how long it should be, and what colours match the majority of your winter wardrobe.

You have to plan ahead before you attack.

So, for my loyal readers here, I thought I'd give you just a little heads up on what's coming in January. First of all, there's an interview with the incredible Anita Majumdar, who starred in the role of Emerald in Deepa Mehta's much-anticipated epic Midnight's Children (based on Salman Rushdie's 1982 novel of the same name). This interview will be coming just ahead of the next screening of Midnight's Children on January 10 and 11 at the TIFF Lightbox as one of Canada's Top 10 Films of 2012.

Exciting? Hell yes.

But then, it gets even better. See, we're releasing a new six-week e-course in January called "Your Personal Reset Button." This is like coaching for your resolutions...get motivated, find your path, get on track, and make success happen. Here's a sample bit from Week 1:

Now, in order for a goal to be effective it must be real, attainable, and above all it must be specific. The goal of creating goals isn't to be general at all. It isn't enough to say, "I want to eat healthier and get more exercise." It isn't enough to say, "I want to lose weight and get in shape." Everybody wants those things. A goal, for this purpose, needs to be a target you can hone in on so that all your efforts in that area are directed to accomplishing that one thing. 
In the example above, the solution is, "I want to weight 170 lbs., and be able to shovel the driveway next winter without being exhausted." That's a specific fitness goal. Things like eating healthier and getting more exercise aren't goals; they're strategies for accomplishing the goal of a specific weight and level of activity.

Good stuff huh?

And so, there's another great special edition coming up at the end of January: our Internet Fitness Special Edition. You DON'T want to miss this one, because these are some of the most motivated, and successful, people in the fitness industry online. Not only are they the ones you'll likely look to for real fitness advice (and we'll share our own opinion on some of their products and programs), but they're also great examples of people who have achieved financial independence, leadership status, and minor celebrity status in their field through actually helping others achieve their goals. Names like John Romaniello, Vince DelMonte, Ryan Murdock, Adam Steer, and of course Flavia DelMonte as well.

Like I said, not to be missed.

Keep an eye on your inboxes and here on the blog...pre-registration for "Your Personal Reset Button" will be starting soon. Oh, and did I mention it's FREE?

Yeah...because being awesome means helping you be awesome too.

Are you excited about 2013 yet? I am. Let's do this...

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Local or Global: Where's your comfort zone?

As I was reading this blog post from Derek Sivers, I realized two things: I'm not as alone as I sometimes think I should be, and I've been missing blog posts.

Oops on the was a big issue day on Monday over at The Man Sphere with preparing and editing for the "New You Issue," so I've been preoccupied with getting all of that together.

Now, on the matter of the first, I should explain. Derek is a hero of mine for a number of reasons, not least of which is his business acumen. But beyond the fact that he built and sold a multi-million dollar business (he was the founder of CDBaby), he also has a philosophy of living that's quite liberating and worth reading in detail.

Derek vagabonds. He lives a life with very minimal possession in order to allow himself the liberty of just up and moving to another place. And in his blog post, he points out the conflicts he sometimes feels about that. But he narrows it down to the basic conclusion: he lives a life, that is more global than local. He feels an affinity to locales as distant as Tokyo and Woodstock, New York, yet his personal and professional network is spread across the globe.

That doesn't work for everyone. Some people build deep roots in one community, carving out their own particular place in the universe where they feel "at home" and surrounded by those they care most deeply about.

His point? Do whichever works best for you. It's a comfort zone model. Never assume that because you're not a world traveler you must necessarily be disappointed with the accomplishments of your life. Likewise, don't assume that because you haven't settled down in one place to start a family or build a brick-and-mortar business you're necessarily doing something wrong. Business and lifestyle writers are constantly pitting one of these options against the other, and ultimately neither is right. Take personal pleasure in whichever mode of operation works best for you, not what someone else tells you you must do in order to be happy.

Derek solicited comments for the blog post from his readers, but by the time I got there there were already hundreds. So I emailed this observation to him directly instead:
Derek, this is fantastic. I sometimes feel like I'm on the cusp of those two lives website has a huge reach, and I have friends in Toronto, Atlanta, Sweden, Australia...but don't really have what you'd call an "active" social life where I live. I would almost feel bad about it, but I've come to realize that my vagabonding is more cerebral. Finding like-minded individuals in the little town of 17,000 where I live is pretty unlikely, but there's one in every other town out there. So online is where we connect. 
Does this absolve me of the necessary travel that I should plan on eventually? Of course not. But it does make me feel like less of a recluse when I realize that I'm not secluded at all. I'm merely separated by distance. Yes, I would like more of a local social life, and will be working more diligently on that (after all, it's hard to really date over the internet), but I'm certainly not as lonely as I once thought I should be.