Monday, August 30, 2010

The Project and My Well-being: An Insight

In recent weeks I've been bouncing around thoughts on part of a comment that was posted on my article Daydreams and Realities:

Your observation that we create fantasy lives because our real lives are in some way inadequate or unacceptable is dead on. In particular, I've isolated several ways in which this happens. The feeling of futility that you mentioned is one.

My most tempting daydreams revolve around several (one in particular) of my psychological and emotional needs that are not being met, and that I have no prospect of meeting until I've improved my situation by several orders of magnitude. The daydreams are a way of getting those needs at least partially met. They can be the most disruptive to my progress, too, because although my coding and studying are enjoyable in themselves and are helping me meet equally important needs, I am easily sidetracked by obsessive thoughts about the unmet needs. This makes it harder to build momentum, and is teaching me to maintain a long term vision and to be persistent.
That's the phrasing I've been groping around for in that post: That excessive daydreaming can in part be caused by unmet psychological needs. I wished I would have made such an identification on my own much earlier, as I think it would have made things much easier on me before I had to take up this project to deal with this bothersome circumstance. When I think back to my daydreams now, back when I was prone to doing them in excess, I see now that I visualized much more than simply defeating the circumstance and enjoying the success of my project. I was also visualizing myself in valuable relationships, having reached certain business successes, experimenting feverishly, and more. Now I realize that more needs to be dealt with than the simple circumstance hindering me now.

I have mentioned before that I already have some goals set for after I complete my project. Originally I thought it might be best to delay those goals since it might make my project go faster or might antagonize my circumstance, but now I'm rethinking that strategy. Given that I've been horribly delayed in my project, I'm starting to become uncomfortable with the idea of procrastinating on my value pursuits for much longer, especially considering I haven't the least estimate of when the project will be finished. Many of the goals I have set for after my project is regarding the pursuit of happiness in my life; to wait on them is to wait on having a life worth living.

Consequently, I'm reexamining the idea that these pursuits should be delayed until after the project. While the answer may seem so simple as to say yes that I should pursue these goals now, it's more difficult than that. For one, some of these goals could actually antagonize my circumstances and make things more miserable than they already are, and I'm not too keen on that (you dig?). I'll need to be critical and evaluate all the expenses (time, money, effort) and consequences (success and its affect on the circumstance) of each goal before I reach a decision, which is going to require lots of thinking and research on my part. If I do decide to pick up one or more of these goals, then I'll be better off in having met a psychological need, rather than needing to resort to just daydreaming.

Unfortunately for you I need to keep silent publicly on the nature of these goals (which may or may not be the ones listed in *Beyond the Project*) and how they affect my circumstance since they may reveal too much about what exactly is bothering me, thereby leaving open the possibility that a reader could deduce the nature of my circumstance and project. This will be dealt with in private and with a trusted group of associates.

Overall, I wish I would have had this insight sooner. I never thought to think that my daydreaming could be such an indication of what's missing in my sense of life.

Book Review: The Vegetarian Myth

Hey, just to let you know, I've published my book review for *The Vegetarian Myth* over at Modern Paleo. Go take a read!

Friday, August 27, 2010

CR: Chocolove XOXOX (77% Cacao)

After reading Mark's own review of five chocolates, I have been glad to have been given the opportunity to try out one of the brands on his list, Chocolove XOXOX (which has a cacao content of 77%). While it has a nice cutesy name making it appropriate for a romantic gift, I don't react particularly strong to this brand.

Most importantly, it seems as if the very flavor itself is on the fence. It isn't too sweet, but it isn't all that dark either. The dead center of sweet and dark just seems to take the edge off of its chocolatyness. As promised in previous post, I have been doing better to slow down my eatings of my chocolate and have even been making my bars last longer, so as to help me concentrate better on the nature and attributes of the chocolate rather than being an undiscriminating glutton. However, no matter how many tastings I allow of myself for this chocolate I just don't get much of a reaction from it. It's just not much of anything, though I agree with Mark's post that it may be a good introductory dark chocolate since it's neither too sweet nor bitter. The discriminating and experienced palate, however, might think this a "novice" chocolate.

On the negative side I absolutely detest the mouthfeel. It's the return of the crishy-crunchiness I hate, since I'd rather have an instant melt-in-your-mouth sensation, or at the very least a softer chocolate that easily snaps apart. I tried momentarily to let the chocolate sit in my mouth and melt, but it's stubborn to body heat and makes me feel like I'm sitting with a chocolate-flavored block in my mouth, what with how weak the flavor profile is.

Aesthetically, even the appearance of the bar isn't all that appetizing. Upon unwrapping, you'll notice in an instance that this bar has the appearance of all stereotypical chocolate bars as they appear in popular media: plain little square blocks with little outward distinguishing features. Not even stripes for texture! I don't know why so many different companies have such different policies, but I'd like to see much more attention paid to the actual appearance of the bar. Take the chocolate company Newtree for instance, which not only makes great tasting chocolate bars, like mint and ginger, but also makes their bars look beautifully artistic: Up close, you can see an imprint of the veins of a leaf. No, not a rendition of leaf veins as they are perceived to be; it looks as if they actually encased a leaf in the chocolate. With so delicate a design, such an appearance cannot help but enhance the eating experience. As such, it's disappointing when other chocolate companies don't make an effort to give their bars individuality, or do so lamely by putting simple shapes on their bars, such as lines and dots. Even the name of the company written in a fancy font would be satisfactory to me.

In conclusion, I consider the flavor profile of this bar to be weak -- probably due to my other dark chocolate experiences -- the mouthfeel to be overly crunchy, and the aesthetics of the bar to be lacking. I wouldn't mind eating this chocolate again if it were given to me, but I wouldn't purchase it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Second Thoughts on *Marginalia*: How to Choose Priorities

So I officially put my study system into effect and have tried taking notes on Ayn Rand's Marginalia. While my brain feels good, I've instead decided not to continue studying this book, opting to shelve it in favor of another. My thoughts on the flaws of this book has given me a significant insight on how I should choose my study subjects.

The format of the book is that it posts excerpts of various readings Ayn Rand has done and then puts in the right hand margins her notes and comments. It draws from a wide variety of sources, but only includes excerpts, not whole citations, of each, and short ones at that. For some this can be a very good exercise in precision thinking and translating the meaning of sentences, but since the book jumps from focus to focus literally every paragraph it's terrible for integrative knowledge. It's like being tossed several puzzle pieces taken from multiple box sets, but never having enough to actually form one single puzzle. Each paragraph doesn't provide much food for thought unless you have quite a learned background, and many will find it difficult to concentrate intensely on that which may ultimately be over their heads, especially considering what little reward there is to reap in the end.

From this I learned by which priorities I should choose my subject matters: 1.) By how it will impact my thinking in the immediate term, 2.) how it will impact my psycho-epistemology (method of thinking), and, consequently, 3.) how it will affect my actions. Marginalia, in my personal context, fails to provide satisfactory answers to each count. It'll hardly impact my thinking since it doesn't delve too deeply into each line of thought, it'll have little impact on my psycho-epistemology since it isn't constructive for integrative knowledge, and it'll have no impact on my actions since there's too little of the cited material to be useful. At the very best, I did at least learn from the error of picking up this book and gained more knowledge of how to most effectively study.

I think I'll perhaps redesign my study to-do lists (I make separate ones on my computer for each textbook) to incorporate these questions for what purpose I'm picking a particular text. By answering them I'll have a more firm understanding of what I'm aiming for and will better maintain motivation, and by keeping them documented on my to-do lists I'll be reminded of my answers every time I reread the list and cross off/add stuff.

I guess this prompts the question, then, as to why I want to study Good Calories, Bad Calories? As for my thinking, it'll help ground my nutritional beliefs in reality and gain more knowledge of the history and state of modern nutritional science. Psycho-epistemologically, it'll help me gain a more adequate knowledge of proper scientific methods and sufficient proofs, which relates, again, to my central purpose in life, which is to be a scientific entrepreneur in the culinary field. Action-wise, it'll help me better argue for my health beliefs, to comprehend additional nutritional texts better, and to better pursue an objectively healthy diet. I assume from this you'll be able to come to pretty accurate educated guesses as to why I want to study The Logical Leap.

As to what to replace Marginalia with, I'm thinking The Journals of Ayn Rand. I haven't started reading it yet, but I assume that it posts entire entries from her journal (diary/notebook), which would not only be beneficial for my philosophical thinking, but also for my introspection and note-taking skills. I know I said the Objectivism section on my reading list was to be off-limits, but since I'm shelving Marginalia that technically means that I haven't utilized that section yet in this reading round.

As for my note-taking experience, I'm finding that some of the symbols I've decided to construct are unnecessary. I've gotten over my hesitation of writing in the margins (no more pretty books!) and the functions of some symbols can easily be delegated to another, thereby making my note-taking system a little bit simpler. For instance, I think it's completely unnecessary to come up with a symbol separate from that which denotes working notes in order to denote questions. Since I end up dissecting my questions in a series of statements afterwards, it would be inappropriate to designate a line in my notes as if it were only questions. Also, I've learned that some other symbols are needed to make my notes easier to read, such as a slash by each new paragraph in order to allow me to more easily separate them by sight.

I also relearned that I need to keep clocks out of view in order to most effectively study. I don't know if I ever told you this, but in my first study endeavor I found that keeping track of time was a huge distraction. If I were to, say, look at a clock, study a page, and then note it was ten minutes later after I've finished that page, I would panic about my pace of my work and struggle to make things go faster than they should. In intellectual work, one needs to be concerned whether an effort is actually being made, the nature of that effort, and whether it's effective, not how fast that effort actually is. In time my thinking, comprehension, and learning will improve in speed; rushing things will do no good. As such, I'm reestablishing the habit of keeping time-keeping devices out of my sight and setting alarms in order to notify me of scheduled actions and whatnot.

It is strange, but even though I've studied only about twenty or so pages of Marginalia I already feel more mentally competent. I'm typing this post at a faster than normal speed and am having less difficulty finding things to say and the words to express them in. Just goes to show me what can happen when you work the brain like a muscle. Right now my brain is literally experiencing a warming sensation, as if it were burning from exercise.

I also had another thought regarding my conceptual exercise and daydreaming, but I'll save that for later.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Note-Taking Concerns, *The Logical Leap*, and Study Advancement

How to most effectively take notes is still a subject of concern to me. Aside from making sure I practice a format most effective for learning, there's also the issue of adapting a format that doesn't interfere with the flow of concentration. If you were to try and take notes during a gripping fiction novel, for instance, breaking from the reading constantly in order to write could interfere with the flow of the story. I think the best solution is to alter my note-taking habits in accordance to what the nature of the book is.

To be clear, I mean changing up the intervals and format of my note-taking based on what type of reading I'm doing. For a fiction novel it might be best to do a summary of my thoughts after reaching the end of a section or chapter, but for a non-fiction book it might be best to take notes during the reading. I'm quite confident in the format I have laid out, but not in its impact on my concentration.

I think what I'll try out first for non-fiction is the method I used for Leonard Peikoff's book Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand: read the chapter or section purely first and then take notes during the second reading. I also did a third rereading in order to construct homework assignments, but I question the practicality of that, though it is a worthwhile consideration. For fiction, on the other hand, I'll do thought summaries at the end of the section or chapter, and at the end will try my hand at book reviews, perhaps write in conjunction a long essay summarizing the book's impact on my thinking. The matter of note-taking may clarify itself through practice, after seeing what works and what doesn't. You'll always be let known of my efforts.

Speaking of efforts, I have finished reading Infidel and The Vegetarian Myth, and am working on consequent book reviews and figuring out what's next in my study queue. I don't have much confidence in the quality of the book reviews I can create, but I'll exert myself anyhow and let you judge for yourself. My reason for doing so harks back to that thread I mentioned about the artist who posted every single piece of art he created to a public forum, good and bad, and let the observers watch him advance in competence. After all:

It is not the critic who counts, nor the person who points out how the strong person stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena; whose face is actually marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows great enthusiasm and great devotions, whose life is spent in a worthy cause; who, at best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and at worst, if failure wins out, it at least wins with greatness, so that this person's place shall never be with those timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.— Theodore Roosevelt
And so I'll shall not be embarrassed by any struggling.

(On a side-note, regarding the book reviews, for the sake of my motivation for writing I won't be talking about any works in progress from here on out. The only times I'll mention book reviews is if I have new thoughts on the process itself or on previous book reviews; nothing on that which has yet to be written or published.)

As for my next study subjects, I've mentioned that I'm going to shift my focus to the books I already own and have been neglecting due to my reading list problems. To help me keep those books in mind, I've stacked them on my coffee table. They are: Ayn Rand's Marginalia, Good Calories, Bad Calories, The Ominous Parallels, The Journals of Ayn Rand, Writing and Thinking, and CookWise. I've been particularly naughty with Writing and Thinking, as I'm more than halfway through that book -- reading, exercises, and all -- but abandoned it when my mental energy shifted towards the problem my project is geared towards. But a hundred or more so pages to go and it'll be finished.

At present, I plan on studying *Ayn Rand's Marginalia*, *Good Calories, Bad Calories*, and The Logical Leap. Marginalia will close off the Objectivism section on my reading list after it's finished, and Calories will close off Nutrition/Health. The reason why I want to study The Logical Leap even though I have a stack of books on my coffee table is because, as per my rules, I consider it of immediate importance. My central purpose in life is predominantly culinary, and within that territory I want to be a technical innovator, whether furthering food science or cooking technology. As such, I need to become intimate with science, and unfortunately enough I am far from acquainted due to a poor school education. I have other food science related texts on my list, but I consider this primary since it's a treatise on the fundamental epistemology of science itself.

Unfortunately it seems as if I don't have practical access to a copy in my library district. The only one I could find is not requestable, so I would have to drive way out to get it, which would cost me more than purchasing the book off the bat given the library's location. As such, I'm going to do some reading on David Harriman's other science articles to see if it's worth taking the leap to purchase the book upfront (natch). I think one of those articles was about Newton's life; I loved that one. Given the setback to my project I think I'll go ahead and renew my subscription to The Objective Standard, rather than letting it lapse as originally intended for budget purposes.

Aside from this, I still need to do a little bit of fleshing out of my curriculum, so that I may have a base I can endlessly add onto. Missing are fiction books and books on my technological interests. I'm not much of a fiction reader, so I'm in a bit of a conundrum as to what to look for -- perhaps I'll start with Victor Hugo -- and I think my technological interests will have to wait until after I get a more firm scientific understanding. At the very least, I think I could work on increasing my technological competence as a layman, though that is still questionable in its practicality given that my finances make it so I'm not much in contact with innovations, such as iPhones and laptops. More thinking is needed.

These are my short-term study goals at a glance. Now to pursue them. I'm still considering the subject of tracking my studying and practice progress, but I'm stuck on what to title such posts.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mental Calvinball at Work

Having mastered a task, it necessarily becomes boring with time. It no longer tests one's skills or presents new opportunities for self-development, so the practice inevitably dissolves into tediousness. It is strange to think of it in this way, but dish washing for a restaurant does include learning and practice. You've got to learn the best way to scrub, how to move your wrist to wash both sides of the plate, how to most efficiently load a pallet, and so on. Afterwords, you practice until it becomes second-nature. After that, you've got a routine.

Such is how I've been viewing my job dish washing lately at a restaurant. No, I'm not disenchanted in the slightest; I still love where I am, what I do, and who I work with. It's just that, having mastered my routine, I desire more development and challenges. Since I'm so intellectually active at home, studying and whatnot, I find that such mental inertia follows me to my workplace.

Unfortunately, I've found such contemplativeness has been biting into my performance. Since I no longer have anything new to learn from dish washing my mind goes off to work on other things, and the more contemplative I get the slower I work. Simply trying to force myself to concentrate brute force style doesn't work since my mind rebels at being pushed and wanders anyhow.

Then I remembered a story I read in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. A worker on an assembly line managed to induce in himself engrossing and intense levels of concentration on his work by playing a game. His job was a assemble a certain part of a device before it went off to another worker, so he challenged himself to do his portion of the job as quickly as possible by timing himself and keeping record. Not only did such a game not interfere at all with his work, it also enhanced his performance.

Deriving the principle from the story, one day at work I hurried to think of such a game to try out. I wasn't willing to allow my performance to stagnate for any longer, and I had already arrived at work and had to think quick. Suddenly I thought: Counting. I'll try to count everything I wash and put in a pallet, minus silverware (too much to count quickly), and treat the numbers as if they were points. The object is to count as much possible, retain the number mentally throughout the entire evening, and hopefully set a "high score" before the shift is over. Much to my surprise, the game worked. My productivity improved drastically. I had an intense amount of concentration on every dish and utensil I handled, held consistent motivation to wash as fast as I could (to score more points), and held my pace the entire evening. Such improvements even spilled over into my other work activities such as cleaning. By trying to retain the score in my head I had every motivation to get my other jobs done as soon as possible, so as to get back to the sink and score more points. This game has improved both my work performance and contentment.

It's quite silly to think of such a game boosting performance, but hey: It works. I plan on also creating other games for my other duties, such as peeling potatoes and mopping, so I can improve myself there as well.

As the post title might suggest, I've decided to call such a type of performance-enhancing game Mental Calvinball, after the famous unorganized game played in the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, though I do admit that I don't employ the rule of "never play with the same rules twice." The reason why I call it Mental Calvinball is due to the fact that I came up with the counting game spontaneously and arbitrarily, and exerted myself as if I were participating in a sport.

To derive a Mental Calvinball game for your own job is simple: Just make up some interesting rule or rules to follow in regards to your job functions and follow it the best you can your entire shift, treating the rule(s) like a game. In my case, I made the decision that I would count every dish and utensil I handled, regarded the numbers as points, and hoped I would get a sufficient number of dishes and utensils to set a high score.

Most importantly, however, make sure you don't come up with rules that actually detract from your performance. For example, if you're a delivery person, don't establish the rule that you'll try to deliver each parcel while trying to maximize the number of steps you take. Try to establish a rule that not only doesn't detract from your job, but also enhances your performance. My variant of Mental Calvinball, for instance, is entirely mental and doesn't get in the way of things the slightest. Secondly, don't be so strict about enforcing the rules of your game, otherwise you might disrupt the potential benefits and enjoyment you could get. I can't count everything that comes my way, like silverware, and I do occasionally lose track of my score; the enjoyment is all in the challenge of trying to do so.

Unfortunately I can't do much in the way of suggestions for Mental Calvinball variants that work for other professions. Oddly enough I seem to be entirely mathematically minded in this realm. If you're a cashier, for instance, why not try and keep track of how much money you touch each day? Or if you're a waitress, why not see if you can walk the fewest steps during your shift possible? If you think, surely you will find a challenge.

Best of all, as you improve you can endlessly modify your games so that there's always a challenge present, no matter how long you stay in the same job position. I already have multiple variations of my game prepared for when my current counting becomes inadequate. Once I improve my counting speed I'll eventually include silverware as an added challenge. And after that I could change at which rate I count (e.g. 100's, 1000's, etc.). And after that I could try to keep different categories in my mind at one time, such as counting dishes, tongs, spoons, and other things all separately. There's no way I can run out of challenges.

If you find that you've mastered your own job and have lapsed into tediousness, give this method a try. If you don't like one set of rules then simply try another; there are endless variations.

I'm really glad I thought of this game. It has thoroughly improved my enjoyment of my job and has allowed me to consistently perform well.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Without a Care

These past few weeks have been strange. After learning and dealing with the setback to my project my thinking has entirely altered. Whereas before I almost literally could not stop thinking about the end of the project and my business plans for the future, now my mind is entirely clear of such thoughts. Why?

Why I've stopped thinking about my business aspirations I think I could explain. Since I identified that my central aim in life is to open up a series of food businesses I documented a hefty portion of my ideas in a notebook I call my Entrepreneurial Journal. After spending so many hours with it I got a significant portion of my vision documented, so I assume my mind has let go of such thoughts since it no longer needs to actively remind me of them; it's all in the journal. I still need to flesh out my ideas more, especially in regards to means and aesthetics, but the skeleton to apply the flesh to is at the very least there.

My sudden indifference to my project is the concern. For months and months it's was just about all I could think about and direct my actions towards, but now that I'm playing a waiting game, working to make myself more valuable in my career, I hardly think about it anymore. I don't even get an emotional high from visualizing the end results as I used to. I'm still directing myself towards that end and am not neglecting any actions; I just wonder why my psychology has changed so.

Perhaps my other project is working well? I haven't enforced it yet -- I'm still doing a pure reading of Infidel and The Vegetarian Myth while blogging -- but I've found that the amount of vigor I take to my reading has altered my mental habits significantly, allowing me to daydream less and do more thinking. When I get on to my actual studies I assume the benefits will only intensify. But still, emotionally, what's different?

Maybe my mind has come to terms with how far my project has been pushed back and has consequently pushed the project to the back of my mind since I know there's no benefit in dwelling on it. It'll come, but not for several more months. In addition, perhaps my studying has improved my mental health to the point that I no longer need the emotional highs initiated from visualizing the end results, highs that only came in snatches after dwelling on a lot of negativity anyhow.

Something to mull over. I need to, at the very least, get back to fleshing out my business aspirations and the means to achieving them.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Making the Ideal Casual

In my article on David Bowie's song China Girl I noted that in the future I plan on pursuing romance goals, basically in the realm of self-improvement. While attractive, I do not consider myself as having achieved "lovability" yet. I'm a bit too introverted and don't express myself often enough in person, and even with what I do express I do not do much in the way of making myself match the vision of my ideals. I noticed, for instance, that I've often been too silent in the face of the expression of ideas I find false for fear I might offend. That's definitely no way to help advance the culture towards a better future, and it's even more so in conflict with how I want to develop myself personality-wise.

When I do begin pursuing romantic aspirations, both in developing myself and seeking the right person, I think the best place to start would be in making myself more comfortable in speaking about my ideals. You know, about Objectivism, Paleo nutrition, and all that. In my current state of being I find that my heart often beats nervously when such an opportunity arises, which influences me far too often to forgo the chance at self-improvement, development, and expression. I haven't quite formulated into words what I do view as ideal -- right now such thoughts are locked into imagery -- but I certainly know it involves being less repressed.

To achieve such a better state of personality is simple, though a bit uncomfortable: All I have to do is speak. By speaking out about how I think and feel about matters and what I value, I'll desensitize myself come practice and slowly eliminate any discomfort I feel. On the internet, for instance, I used to get very worked up and a bit panicky when confronted by ideas contrary to my own, but by continuously exposing myself to those ideas I became much more comfortable and calm in dealing with them, and today I get but merely intellectually passionate when I engage in expressing myself online. By eliminating the discomfort I would also be eliminating any psychological barriers to self-development, and will but only grow through such achievements.

One such initial practice I see as a means to this end is adopting the method of Socratic Questioning, which in this context means openly asking questions about matters, ideas, and values. That in itself is uncomfortable, but more mildly so than actually asserting oneself. It would be the equivalent of slowly inching into a cold lake, slowly accustoming oneself to the temperature before fully submerging. Such baby steps would make asserting myself easier later on and would also help me determine the nature of the people I deal with. (Some people, for example, get very hostile when asked the slightest question that strikes a nerve in their worldview, thereby exposing them not to be good people to engage in conversations about ideas. I was yelled at once for asking a person why he thought bright sunlight would fade the color of his carpet.)

It is another question, however, whether I can undertake this goal during the project or should delay it until afterwards. A concern arises as to whether this could make matters more difficult for me, so I'll think about it. For safety I am currently considering delaying it, so that I can make my project get as much attention as possible and make it operate smoothly.

I do not want to delay it for too long. Lately I've been thinking about my upcoming 22nd birthday. It is far too easy to procrastinate indefinitely and watch time blur, suddenly reaching one's forties without having achieved any ideals.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Reading Lists

One of the difficulties I ran into early on in my first study endeavor was how to most effectively go about reading. I noticed that, left unchecked, I too often flocked to reading one book over another and to reading one type in neglect of others. If my habits were kept so unrefined then I would probably read novels all the time, and since I didn't have a very good check on switching various activities I actually at one point spent entire days just reading one book. I managed to solve the latter problem by making lists that needed to be completed in whole before refreshing it. That is, I had to complete all my assignments on it before I created new ones, otherwise I would just keep flocking to my favored ones, quickly advancing in one activity while the others stagnated. The former problem, however, shall be addressed now.

My reading list is the most valuable document on my computer. It takes such a long time to construct, but after it's established it's absolutely demotivating to have it deleted. On two such occasions did I mistakenly overwrite the data with an unrelated document, destroying over a year's worth of reading documentation, and now I'm slightly paranoid every time I go to save a file. I have well-defined goals in reading these books -- goals related to my central purpose in life -- so to see those book titles get erased and forgotten feels like actual harm has been done to my life. However, as valuable as my list is, I still need to reorganize it so that I have better habits in confronting it.

There are two problems with my habits as of current. My reading list segregates titles into multiple different classifications based on what type of reading it is (Objectivism, Biographies/Memoirs, etc.). Near the top I have listed what titles I plan on reading next, and at the very top in green colored text are the titles I found valuable enough to want to purchase. As of current I pick out titles far too hap hazardously, often concentrating too intensely on one section in neglect of others, and take a whim-based approach to picking out titles I want to read next. It's messy and in the long-run will lead to books forever being neglected despite my interest.

Last time I noted such a problem I tried a rather flawed solution: Rent out two books at a time, one fiction and the other nonfiction. It's far too broad and doesn't address the various classifications I have. To refine matters I'll try the "static list" approach again: Come picking out titles, I'll pick out one book from 2-3 classifications and will prohibit myself from picking from those sections again until I have partaken in each and every category in my list, with one exception to the rule. The exception would be that I would allow myself to alternate between the categories titled Nutrition/Health, Cooking/Baking/Cold Prep, and Specific Foods since my central purpose in life is culinary-based after all.

The other problem is the organization within the sections themselves. While having categories is good in itself, it still doesn't help in trying to decide on which title to pick within the section. Even if I'm concentrating hard-core on a category some books can still go neglected. I think the solution is dating when each title has been added in order to help me remember how long it's been sitting on the list. Unless I can objectively determine that one title is of immediate importance or if it should be read prior to reading another title (like math books), I'll go through the section in order of dates.

This may sound mechanical and as a way to take the fun out of reading, but I doubt it. Often I have found myself procrastinating on picking up a title -- and then suddenly being engrossed in it once I do motivate myself to pick it up. A particular title may not pique my interest at the moment as I put it in my queue, but I'll probably think otherwise upon picking it up.

Right now I'm vigorously reading Infidel and The Vegetarian Myth, though without the use of note-taking or formal study methods. I do think they are worthy of purchase, however, and do plan on doing a formal rereading and study of them. Next I think I should turn my attention to the neglected books that already live in my home: Ayn Rand's Marginalia and Good Calories, Bad Calories. In addition, a book from the library: The Logical Leap: Induction in Physics.

Also, I think it might be good for my writing, thinking, and comprehension to perhaps begin writing book reviews. I enjoyed the one I did for Walt Disney's biography and am already mentally outlining reviews for Infidel and The Vegetarian Myth. Food for thought.

I love being intellectually active again.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Study System Followup

Well, I did some brainstorming on my study system and have come to the conclusion that I'm really making matters more complex than it needs to be. As for documentation, the only things I really need to keep track of and will be having a hard time retaining are the various steps of my conceptual exercise and the symbolization for my notes (to indicate the nature of what is being written). I have the essence of the thing down, but concretes will have to be fooled around with, and I'll have to figure out what to do with one essential practice, food preparation.

Essentially I plan on reading lots of books and taking notes, doing homework where thought possible or given the opportunity. The venue of heavy reading may sound limited, but the purpose of my study system to begin with is to foster active thinking during the process, rather than passive reading. I would be open to other venues if I judge them valuable, only there seems to be next to none. I am not aware of any cooking science podcasts, for example, and the most informative thing I can think of video-wise is the television show Good Eats. As such, the only things I can think to do are read, write, and practice, with reflection (i.e., thinking) throughout.

For reading, I'm a bit mixed up. While I recognize that note-taking is a good device for integration, identification, and memorization, I'm a bit conflicted as to how to employ it. On one hand constantly breaking myself from reading in order to write might make it harder for me to maintain concentration, but on the other hand I could practice it for so long that it becomes a natural habit that practically maintains itself. I don't know, but I'll opt for the latter in practice and see where it takes me. Good habits are the key to a healthy intellect.

The style of notes to take is another thing that perplexes me. Should I be formal by documenting key concepts, writing summaries, copying definitions, and so on, or informal by writing down thoughts and questions as they occur to me? Is it best to be as succinct as possible in one's writing in order to encourage referencing, or to allow as much writing as possible in order to encourage the greatest volume of thinking? I'm currently leaning for the latter in both prior sentences. I like the informal style since the notes are for my eyes only after all, and I like encouraging the greatest volume of writing since I think it encourages the most rigor. To elaborate on that last point, by putting my thoughts on paper I'm subjecting them to the strict rules of expression (grammar and syntax), especially that of logic. By doing so, I theorize that I'm encouraging myself to flesh out my thoughts as much as possible by forming them into coherent sentences. I've been surprised before at how ungrammatical and undeveloped my thinking processes were, and how I sometimes even had thoughts that had no coherent grammatical expression. The purpose of such lengthy writing is to eliminate that.

The symbolization itself is quite easy. A dash is used to indicate working notes; a number followed by a page number (e.g., 1. p. 254) is used to indicate commentary on specific content in the text; a circle indicates a vocabulary entry that utilizes my conceptual exercise; an X indicates a word, concept, or symbol that's difficult to retain; a square indicates a copied definition (but not in the form of my conceptual exercise); a section identification title (chapter name, number, or whatever) followed by the word "reflection" indicates an end-of-section summary of my thoughts; a question mark indicates questions I have, whether as a point of research, something to retain, or something to tease out my thinking. Three significant changes have been made, deviating from my past efforts. First, I'm trying to incorporate my conceptual exercise as something to *constantly* do, rather than something to participate in as an isolated activity. I run into concepts all the time that I do not fully understand, so it's overly restrictive that I did the exercise with only five or so concepts every two or so days. By constantly doing it I'm constantly refining my understanding. Secondly, the section division (the one symbolized by X) for hard to remember symbols, concepts, or words is in order to combat my selective memory. (I had totally forgotten about that venture [natch].) Sometimes I run into concepts or words (in the case of names) that I find hard to remember, or at worst don't register it at all. For example, people with foreign names. Because those names have origins in unfamiliar languages I often find my eyes skim over them and don't register them at all, so when I read/hear the names again I get confused as if I never heard them before. In practice in my notes, what I would do is simply write down the unfamiliar word in order to call attention to it, and write what it means if need be, whether it has meaning as a concept or as a symbol for a specific person. Thirdly, I'm integrating Leonard Peikoff's question method into my notes. If I have trouble with my thinking, then, like Leonard Peikoff, I'll try engaging myself in a series of questions to see if I can clarify matters that way. I am uncertain about the practicality of this last point, but I'm willing to try it.

To summarize, what I want to accomplish in my note-taking is to encourage as much active thinking as possible. In reading it can be much too easy to simply "say the words in your head" and then forget about them when you put the book down. It certainly couldn't be further from my intentions to forget what I've read; I aim to retain as much as possible for as long as possible. My note-taking methods will definitely be refined, both in adding and subtracting particular practices, but for now this is what I view as a good starting point.

Writing outside of taking notes, I think, needs no tampering. The more intellectually active I become the more naturally intellectual my thinking becomes, so I think informal intellectual essays would be a logical consequence of my personal studies. Of course, I would post my essays to my blog since I like having an audience, but further thinking still needs to be done anyhow as to how I would go about that process. Right now my current thought is to simply make my writing just a tad bit more formal by being more meticulous about constructing outlines; it is often the case these days I just rush right into my blog posts after a bit of contemplation. The last thing I want to become is some amateur academic that preaches on subjects he doesn't have a firm grasp on, which is how I view my writing over at Benpercent, minus a few favorite entries.

Food preparation is where things get tricky. I'm working with a highly restricted budget while my project is in progress -- which may only get more restricted as I finish my project -- so I don't know how to make it work given my financial concerns. Plus there's a concern with my kitchen that further undermines my efforts with what I can do, but I'm not going to elaborate on that. I imagine myself ideally taking a Thomas Edison approach to food preparation: experimenting all the time and having multiple experiments going on at once. I don't think that's possible given my current finances, but that's what I'd like to achieve; there is but one life to live and so much learning we can do. Maybe at this current time the best I can ask of myself is to resolve to try one new dish each grocery day and to figure out how to get the most knife-handling practice I possibly can. I estimate the knife skills to be most essential.

Outside of the above specified methods and practices I also plan on having a routine math exercise regiment. It would be a value for not only cooking measurements, but also in scientific calculations themselves. (I'm interested in both food science and technology, not just the preparation of cuisines.) My deficiency right now leaves me far too dependent on the calculator. I would like to develop myself so that I can do equations in my head, both as complex and quickly as possible. I've found some good JavaScript programs to that effect, but there are some limits. I'll talk more about them below.

In a nutshell this is the current study system I have planned. Sorry if it seems a bit messy. Perhaps being from my studies for so long has intellectually weakened me? If so, I'll soon be on the fast track to restoring my powers. Aside from the kinks mentioned above, like my uncertainty of whether a certain method is practical, I still have some significant questions to answer:

1.) What's my optimal sleep regiment? I've noticed once or twice that by going to bed mentally exhausted (through mental exertion) I have gotten my best sleep and woke with improved cognitive powers. Might it be best to sleep only when tired, including naps, or to have established bedtimes? I definitely want to give further testing to my neurological theory that mental exhaustion signifies coming improvements and that sleep speeds up the process.

2.) Will it interfere with memorization to deal with too much content in too short of a time period? This has made me wonder whether there's such a thing as studying for "too long." Maybe napping in between substantial subjects will help?

3.) What should I do with the excess food my food preparation practice generates? Refrigerators and pantries are only so big.

4.) What are the best, free online math programs that allows one to generate math equations for solving? Here's an example of what I mean. In the past what I tried to do before is set an egg timer and solve as many problems as I could in my head within the time limit, not typing anything down until I got the whole answer. The program has limits, however, in how complex the problems can be made and what types can be generated. I want a more versatile program, or programs if need be.

These questions need not be answered immediately, but they are food for thought. I guess the next step now, aside from waiting for input, is to pick out the next thing to study. More later.

Friday, August 13, 2010

CR: Endangered Species' 70% Cacao with Goldenberry and Lucuma

This bar marks the last of my supply of Endangered Species' "Organic Health" dark chocolates, and you know from my two other reviews (1, 2) that I've been overall displeased with what I've tasted. So far the bars have either tasted like overly sweet milk chocolate or sickeningly sweet milk chocolate, with the individual flavor players muted. Thankfully though, Endangered Species' 70% cacao with goldenberry & lucuma has proven to be the exception.

I was fully expecting it to taste like milk chocolate like the others, but it isn't overly sweet and one can taste at least one of the individual flavors (goldenberry I estimate). I can't tell whether or not my estimation of the sweetness matches the 70% bitterness of the cacao, but at least I can say it tastes dark enough like it's supposed to and isn't overly sweet. The sweetness of the other two organic bars was imposing and made me procrastinate on finishing them; in fact, I still haven't finished the one with acai berry, cacao nibs, and yacon since it's so unappealingly sweet. This bar seems to toe the line and may be desirable for those who still maintain a sweet tooth but are trying to consume bitter chocolate.

The flavor profile is quite interesting. It tastes like dark chocolate with raisins, an oddity since there are no raisins. I assume that the goldenberry simply has a similar flavor profile to raisins, much like how I think goji berries taste like a blend of oranges and cranberries. Keeping in consideration the bar's moderately acceptable sugar content, I'd consider this a wonderful substitute for Raisinets. The lucuma, however, I do not think I can detect.

The mouthfeel of this bar is about the same as most other Endangered Species' line: Crunchy and slow to melt, but I'm not complaining. It is only when multiple bars share similar flavors do I desire to have different mouthfeels available, much like the difference between Lindt and ES.

Overall, I like this bar, particularly because I was once a huge fan of Raisinets, but I'm not too terribly impressed. Given a limited amount of money I would still opt for Endangered Species' mint, New Tree's ginger, Lindt's 85% , and perhaps Endangered Species' cherry.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Coping Mini-Project: A New Study System

I noted a few posts ago that due to the setback to my project I'm going to have to find a way to cope with things as they are while I work on my finances. This circumstance has done a lot of harm to my sense of life, and because of its stubborn nature it eventually ate up my attention and left me unable to concentrate on anything meaningful. This led to the slow and unintentional cessation of my personal studying. At first I broke from it temporarily to search diligently for a job, which was successful, but it remained neglected even as things advanced in my project. I rationalized that it was but short and temporary since I thought I was so close to the end of my project -- and that the circumstance would just continue eating my attention anyhow -- but now that the time frame is completely indeterminant I think such neglect would be horrible abuse to my mind. There are some ways to make myself unaware of my circumstance, but I originally thought them unnecessary; they're necessary now if I'm to continue on pursuing values.

To at least bring my studies closer to being revived, I'm going to take on the miniature project of planning out a new system of study: what resources to choose, how to take notes, dedicated routines, etc. I did well last time in my last attempt, but there is still much room for more rigor, more intensity, and more consistency. The way I symbolized my notes, for instance, was often inconsistent from notebook to notebook. And I often refused to nap when tired, which deprived me of opportunities to test my neurological hypothesis that sleeping after achieving mental exhaustion is a good method to improve brain power. And I didn't really do my math exercises everyday as I resolved to, did I?

My aim is to achieve a documented system, one I can refer to on my computer or on paper so that I can maintain consistency in my endeavors. Certainly it will be open to editing given further insights, but not without editing the "official" documents. I doubt I would even be able to retain it in my memory if I tried, as I've never been able to retain even my vocabulary exercise without constantly looking at the instructions I wrote. All in the name of rigor and true learning.

By constructing and implementing this new system I hope to not only improve my memory, concentration, and learning, but to also fill up my consciousness so that there's no room to acknowledge the circumstance I have to deal with. Yes, evasion, in a way. It is true that evasion is generally immoral, but that only applies to epistemology and ethics in practice. What I propose is not making myself believe that the circumstance isn't there, but rather keeping it out of my mind as much as possible until I simply can do something about it. Right now little can be done but wait, so this partial-evasion could help me get on with matters. In action this means keeping myself so busy with reading, writing, studying, planning goals, cooking, working and so on so that the circumstance simply becomes invisible to my mode of living. I can't eliminate it right now, so the next best thing is to push it to the edge of my consciousness.

To tend to my concentration I'll do most of my brainstorming on paper and later present you with the results, rather than doing the brainstorming on here. After posting my draft I hope to get input, and then after that I'll start implementing it. If I am successful and do manage to minimize my awareness of my circumstance, then the psychological barriers to my self-development will be further diminished.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Chocolate Shipping Idea: Frozen Blocks

One of the things I've heard on one of my chocolate reviews is that it isn't a good idea to order chocolate online during summer, since, after all, heat melts it. I did in fact order my bulk Endangered Species chocolate near the beginning of the summer and thankfully saved it from the porch before anything happened to it. It was insulated enough that it hadn't melted at all during its voyage, so it arrived in mint condition (natch), albeit warm.

This prompts a question for me: Why can't chocolate stores alter their shipping policies during the summer? I know frozen blocks can be shipped with items that are temperature sensitive; my grandmother purchased a cheesecake one winter and it arrived with such a block sitting right beneath it. (And kept it for future use.) I know it would raise shipping and handling costs somewhat, but why not at least offer such a feature as an option for those that insist on internet ordering? In my own context I live in a particularly chocolate deficient business district, a district which seems to be slowly eliminating its options. For instance, I went to a Kroger today in order to purchase an Endangered Species bar with blueberries only to find it had been taken off the shelf, among several others. The internet is a good way for me to have access to variety, as well as save money since I live in a countryish area.

So what's up chocolate companies? Why can't we have these frozen blocks? I'd be willing to pay for it.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Cease Job Hunting?

As you probably know by now, the completion of my project requires a specific level of income, not a lump sum of money. As such, the only things that are holding me back from getting it done are the costs, particularly considering the taxes. Previously I thought it would be best for me to get another job in order to meet my goals, but given new information I am rethinking that.

Yesterday while I was out applying I learned from an employee of a particularly busy restaurant that even they, what with their huge customer base (given their location in a tourist town), might not be able to accommodate my need for additional hours since the working shifts fluctuates with demand. Having given further thought to the nature of the restaurant business, I'm starting to think it might be altogether impossible for me to hold two restaurant positions at my skill level, unless I were to, say, engage in nothing but in-advance prep work. Most of the restaurants I have observed require their employees to be available for holiday shifts, so that would inevitably lead to conflicts if I were employed at multiple places. Plus, if I became a more valuable employee to any particular place then it would place a hardship on them -- and me -- to try and get more working hours when another employer has demands on my time. It may, in fact, prove hinderous to my overall goals.

Given the above I'm starting to think that it might be best to simply stick solely with my current employer and develop myself there. As I become more skilled and knowledgeable their demand of my time should naturally increase, thereby making things just a matter of having patience.

I still need to do more thinking on whether or not this is the optimal course, but my current impression is that it is. For one, it would allow me to concentrate more on what I have before me, my career as it stands now and my studies at home. Secondly, this course of action would be cheaper since it would require less driving on my part, thereby padding my finances. If I were to take this course then the only things I would need to work on at present would be my study skills and ways of coping with things as they are now.

I'll sleep on it for a few nights.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Correction on Cocao vs. Cocoa

I made a mistake on my post A Note on Cocao vs. Cocoa. It isn't spelled as cocao, but rather as cAcao.

It is still the case that my distinction still stands; I just made a misspelling.

Daydreams and Realities

I wonder if one's inclination to daydreaming is in part influenced by one's sense of life. Daydreaming in small amounts is not harmful of course; the exact nature of my inquiry is that I wonder if a negative sense of life can render one more inclined to excessive daydreaming, daydreaming in such a great amount that it interferes with one's ability to concentrate and be productive.

When I was in the 9th or 10th grade I read a slogan on my math teacher's filing cabinet that, paraphrased, said: "We dream of other realities because we are dissatisfied with our own." I never intended to remember it nor have I thought about it extensively, but for some reason it resonated with me and integrated into my memory. Ever since I was a little boy I was often deeply engrossed in daydreaming and found it hard to concentrate for even minutes at a time. Any attempt to do so would be fought with an urge to give up and daze. This disposition has been with me nearly my whole life, making me think it was my natural state, but recent thinking and developments make me conclude otherwise.

Reiterating from other posts, the current project I'm engaged in right now is for the purpose of both advancing my mental health and status in life. I have to deal with a circumstance that has been cumbersome to my efforts, and my failure to adequately deal with it made it so that it took up a significant portion of my consciousness. No, I never evaded it or refused to do anything about it, it's just that up until now I didn't realize the proper methodology for dealing with it and have been working counter-productively. Anyhow, for months and months this circumstance bothered me deeply and retrogressed my trained concentration to the point that I was excessively daydreaming again, slowing down my intellectual advancement. Unsurprisingly, the majority of my daydreaming was imaging myself dealing with the problem, solving it, and picturing in vigorous detail what the success will look like. It's been helpful in sustaining motivation and relieving stress, but it has also offered me an insight. In my case, that slogan was right: so dissatisfied with my own reality I started dreaming up others to combat the negative emotions and stress I was feeling.

While still not complete, my mere engagement in my current project has done wonders to boost my sense of life and clear my mind. The closer and closer I get to my goal the more and more I feel like I'm already in my projected state of success. My theory is that, without this project, my excessive daydreaming was a defensive mechanism for dealing with a circumstance I felt I couldn't escape from. If you were to believe an alternative, better reality were not achievable, then what else can you do except hopelessly dream and pine for it? However, my circumstance is not undefeatable. After months of thinking I have finally found the solution and have put months of effort into making it real. The alternative reality I seek is becoming real through my efforts, so daydreaming about it is largely unnecessary. The boost to my sense of life is coming from my evaluation of how I'm making my life the way I want it to be, not by how I idly wish it were to be.

At the end of this project, aside from the long post I promise to write about its nature, I plan on allowing the circumstance to leave my mind permanently. In Beyond the Project I mentioned that in my studies I had once achieved a state where daydreaming was very boring to me, and that I actually felt physically uncomfortable if I wasn't intellectually engaged. That state has been lost, but only temporarily and is slowly being regained in the meanwhile.

Based off of this then I offer advice to all those who have a problem or problems that affect their mental functioning: establish a plan for dealing with it and work to achieve it. Believe it or not, just the mere act of writing or thinking up a plan will do well enough on its own to clear your mind and dispel negativity. By constructing a plan to tackle such problems one's envisioned reality will cease being a mere dream and transform into a destination. By putting forth effort you're doing the traveling, and the act of traveling will let you know something is being done about your problem and that it will be cured in the end. It doesn't matter how difficult the problem is or how long it takes to solve it, just draw up some plans and start working, or at the very least construct the plans. In my own situation I am slightly unfortunate: it is possible to cure my circumstance nearly instantly, within a week or so, but I do not possess the income to do so, so I have to wait. I've been working for over six months on my project and still have to deal with the troubling circumstance in the meanwhile, but the project alone is helping me get less bothered by things. Do the same and you might find it having profound effects on your life.

To close I offer a modified slogan: "We dream of alternative realities because we're dissatisfied with our own. To stop dreaming, work those dreams into reality."

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Major Setback to Project

I should have seen it coming, but I didn't. My assumptions were far too benevolent, and just now, several months later, I have come to a realization that sets my project back significantly. I don't know whether or not I can get it done before the year is over as originally planned. Last week I worked a significantly longer shift than usual and was fully expecting it to be reflected in my paycheck, but to my extreme disappointment it was way smaller than anticipated. Upon examining the taxes I found that the government ate up over eight of my working hours. Foolishly enough I had constructed my project around the assumption that I would have access to my full income; instead a significant portion is simply being stolen from me by the government for persons and uses I'll never know. Last night ended up with an upset stomach -- having to deal with the circumstance for that much longer! -- but I feel better after a night's rest.

This project certainly will not be defeated, but it's upsetting that one of my aims -- getting it done ASAP -- can't really be achieved now. Really this project isn't about a set of actions that take a long time to perform; rather, it's about being adequately prepared to perform this one action of which the project is in essence all about. All these months of work is really building up to this one essential day in which I can complete my project in nearly one fell swoop. Annoying to have to engage in so much preparation for so little action, but it's necessary.

I'll overcome this, but it has its challenges. The only solution I can think of is to intensify my job hunt and find more work. Given my central purpose in life of becoming a culinary entrepreneur I really can't increase my income by any other means at present. There's self-employment for sure, but that would require a certain amount of competence I don't have yet, and again there's the notion of wanting to get this project done as soon as possible. I don't think I would do very well trying to establish a business in my current situation, what with the intellectual barriers.

I think, then, the best I can do is strive to get more work and find more ways to save money. The prospect of working a lot or even all the time doesn't bother me since it would be advancing my goals and getting me out of a bad place. In fact, I find that the less I work the worse I do, as I like to establish some inertia and maintain it; working too little gives me the impression that the job is a side-pursuit. As long as I have a consistent period for sleep and at least one good meal I'm golden. Time to write cover letters again.

Friday, August 6, 2010

CR: Lindt's 85%

When I reviewed Endangered Species' 88% chocolate I promised that I would purchase a bar of Lindt's 90% to do a comparison, but irritatingly enough it seems that it might be the case that the stores in my *whole* area have taken it off their shelves. Given my current project and income I'm not willing to order it online or do any significant traveling, so I purchased a bar of Lindt's 85% and believe it will be similar enough to 90% to make a valid comparison.

My memory did indeed hold out to be true, though not entirely. The vanilla is certainly much stronger than ES -- strong enough that I say Lindt should advertise the vanilla since the bar doesn't taste like pure sweetened chocolate -- but it really doesn't show itself except in the aftertaste period. As for mouthfeel, it's certainly much more creamier and melty, but it takes a few seconds for it to occur.

Between Lindt and ES I still hold the conclusion that they're both worthy of having in your pantry, but, while similar, they offer different attributes that offer different experiences. ES is crunchier and more resistant to melting in your mouth, and the vanilla is so subtle that it serves more to curve the bitterness and give you a pure chocolate experience. Lindt, on the other hand, will snap away easily at your incisors and quickly transform into a chocolately goo, and the vanilla is so strong that you can taste it clearly during the aftertaste. Personally I prefer Lindt's version, but I stocked up on ES since Vitamin Shoppe's outlet on offers a great 99 cents shipping rate.

(If you're into extreme bulk purchasing or need to order over $100 worth of items, check out Lucky Vitamin. They have an enormous amount of the ES chocolate line, and the per-unit cost goes lower and lower the more bars you buy. Purchase more than $100 worth of stuff and shipping is free, which makes it a good place to, say, buy your supplements and use chocolate to push you over the $100 mark.)

Also, I have to say that Lindt offers the most attractive and useful packaging I have come across, which can add a novelty value for those that pay attention. The cardboard cover is practical in that it allows you to easily enclose your chocolate if you don't finish the whole bar, and the foil is so pretty that every bar looks a bit like a luxury present to yourself. Other bars I've seen utilize a clumsy paper material that stubbornly resists being folded, making covering leftover chocolate annoying, and gives a cold, metallic impression. Against Lindt I'll say that the foil may be a tad too fragile, so be careful not to rip too much or in the wrong places, or the fats in the chocolate, left exposed, might absorb the flavors of the smells around it.

To comment on the chocolate brand as a whole, Lindt is definitely one of those top brands that offers a healthy chocolate at an extremely low price, perhaps even the lowest price for a chocolate line that explicitly lists cocao percentages. Upon reading the ingredients list one will be pleased that their dark versions don't include those evasive "flavorings" listings that some companies use to avoid listing ingredients. From a nutritional perspective I don't see one ingredient in my 85% bar that conflicts with the principles of the paleo diet except for sugar, but then again that's fine too since the degree of sugar consumption is what actually matters. If you worry about soy lecithin or are a college student on a budget, Lindt's your brand. However, it disappoints me that most, if not all, of their flavored varieties are listed without cocao percentages, a sure sign that it's below 60%. As such, I still maintain ES as my favorite brand since they offer many flavored versions at 70% cocao and higher, my desired range being between 70% and 100%.

In the future I hope to review Lindt's 99% cocao bar. It'll be intriguing to find out how that 1% alters the experience. It's a bit expensive since it's costs more than the 3.5 ounce bars and is half the size, but I consider myself a bit of lay chocolate gourmet and would be willing to save money for it. Someday.

On a side note, a commenter has brought a good chocolate website to my attention, It offers a wide selection of dark chocolates, including Lindt, but isn't exhaustive; New Tree and Green & Black's are absent for instance. I'm especially interested in trying the brands that state they use cocao beans from different geographical areas, thereby offering different flavor profiles, but again that's something to save up for.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Note on Cocao vs. Cocoa

I've noticed that there seems to be no universal understanding or use of a distinction between the concepts "cocao" and "cocoa." I've seen them used interchangeably, even by chocolate companies. While there may be no agreement on how such terms should be used, maybe even no ongoing conversation about it, I'd like to make explicit to my readers that I personally do make a distinguishment that has an effect on the meaning of what I write.

When I write "cocao" I refer to the actual substance of which pure chocolate is composed of, so when I write about cocao percentages and all that I'm referring to the pure chocolate content of a product. A 70% cocao chocolate bar, for instance, is 70% pure chocolate and 30% other stuff. If I were to ever write about "cocoa," however, I would be referring to the beverage. A subject where this distinguishment comes in handy would be cocao powder vs. cocoa powder: cocao powder would simply be chocolate powder, fats removed and whatnot, while cocoa powder would be chocolate powder processed a different way and intended to be used as a beverage mix. I also pronounce the words differently: cocao as ko-kow and cocoa as ko-ko.

In the future let this be the guide for understanding my intentional use of these concepts. Chocolate companies may treat them as interchangeable or as sharing the exact same meaning, but I don't.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Practice Tracking

It's a horrible shame I can't find this website again -- I think it was linked on the Objectivism Online Forum -- but there was an immensely inspiring forum thread in which a man tracked his artistic development from amateur to master. He promised forum members that he would draw at least one thing per weekday and four things per weekend, and that he would publish every single thing. He not only kept his promise, but also maintained such a strong determination in his practice that he became an expert in his craft and managed to become an art teacher for adults. Amazing. In dozens and dozens of pages you can look at every single piece of art he has produced and track his growth. To watch his life unveil before you is deeply inspiring.

One of the things that inspires and moves me the most is to read and observe the lives of good men who have great achievements to their name, even if just in the personal realm. Sure, Ayn Rand's heroes from The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged are inspiring, but I find myself more responsive to real men like Walt Disney and Winsor McCay. Knowing they have existed and what they have achieved, I am given fuel for my own efforts.

As such, I have a question for my readers: Would you be interested in reading about my own development much like that artist did in posting his art? You know that once my project is over with that I'll be adding extra heavy emphasis on my career development, in pure studying, food preparation practice, and experimentation. I'm prevented from doing so right now due to psychological barriers set forth by the circumstance I am trying to cure.

I was thinking maybe, if this type of reading were of interest to my readers, that I could establish a static title for all posts of this type and set up a labeling system for conveying what it is that I did to develop myself on that day. For example, I would tell how much of what books I read, what writing and assignments I did, what I cooked (maybe with pictures), and so on. These posts would be frequent since I plan on engaging in as much self-development as the physical limits of my body and brain will allow, until they need rest. There would be benefits to both parties: You get to observe my intellectual and competence development, and I get extra incentive to maintain my efforts.

So what say you?

(Also, if anyone can provide a link to the forum thread I speak about that would be great.)