Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ready to Compromise

I don't like it, but I think I'm ready to compromise on my Project. There's actually another means through which I could get my Project done much more easily and earlier, but I had been adamantly opposed to it this entire time. It contains a lot less quantitative risk than the other means I recently tried, but it's risk of a special kind, one that particularly frightens me. If my fear were to become realized, my Project would fail altogether and I'd have yet another Circumstance to complain about, so while I could have gotten my Project done several months ago through this means I have been thoroughly refusing to entertain it.

But I think I'm beyond fed up with dealing with the Circumstance I currently am. Since my last push to get my Project completed I noticed a change in my state of being: I'm more hostile, angry, and sometimes even malicious. It's hardly had any, if any, impact on my working life, so I seem to be developing -- in emotional, not moral, terms -- a Jekyll-Hyde complex where I treat with great benevolence the values of my life while I practically perpetually bear my teeth at the sole anti-value in my life: The Circumstance. I think my subconscious is most displeased with me: Contentment was returning to me since I had the tantalizing prospect of finally, at long last, getting the Circumstance out of my life after a several months long struggle and getting back to being absolutely absorbed in nothing but values, but when I found the means I wanted to employ is prohibited to me the Project's value was yanked away and the Circumstance became another loose end for my subconscious to deal with. I thought I might be able to bear this setback with grace and indifference, but I don't seem to be taking it well and the psychological consequences of continuing to deal with the Circumstance are worsening. Again I'm thinking constantly about it, and strangely enough the thing I think and daydream about the most is constructing the rough draft of the article about the specifics of my Project and the Circumstance; I so want to be on the other side of the Project so I can talk to you about all this, but alas, I might be stuck again unless I utilize this alternative means.

Honestly, I'm not very happy about it, though it may be due to the stress of dealing with the Circumstance. I seem to be losing my capacity to truly enjoy my values as of current. Even chocolate disinterests me, though I still take pleasure in eating it. Everything seems kind of gray and I'm not too excited about anything. The very worst part is the jealousy I feel when I read about other people's adventures in cooking and baking, especially when culinary endeavors aren't a driving force in their life. Here I am, one who plans on becoming a professional chef and eventual restaurateur, and everyone else is having a good time with their food while I'm scrimping financially and eating monotonously. Hmph! 

But nobody owes me anything, and I find contemptible that I even experience such emotions. I really need to defeat the Circumstance, otherwise the future may grow bleaker. As a reminder, the Circumstance itself isn't always concretely stressful; it's the way I'm forced to psychologically deal with it that's pressing on my well-being. Concretely and physically, everything's fine -- it's the spiritual issues that are of concern.

I will win in the end, guaranteed. I've been engaged in this Project for about eight to nine months and haven't the slightest intention of giving up. There's simply too much to win. I just have to change my means and wait a little longer for the ultimate end, that's all. It is true that this alternative means won't get me where I desire to be, but it would put me in a much better place, give me the psychological fitness I desire, and allow me to strive towards my true goal with incredibly greater strength.

To give a time estimate, I believe I could get this Project finished in the neighborhood of January-February, and I don't intend on being any more precise than that for the sake of secrecy. It is still an achievable goal to complete this Project before it comes to the one year mark, so that is my least consolation prize.

At the end of this emotional chaos, I have the knowledge I need to avoid getting myself into a similar situation again, though, to be clear, it's not like I got myself into it in the first place; the Circumstance has been present literally my whole life. I've had to deal with it by default, but ousting it and never dealing with it again is voluntary and the necessary life-serving choice. I'll drain myself of my thoughts in that long blog post I've been promising you, emotionally heal -- maybe take up meditation again -- and live my life as if the Circumstance were never present. It is but a frustration I merely have to deal with temporarily, and it never needs to be relevant again. On the other side of my Project, the weight of responsibility is entirely on me.   

Monday, November 29, 2010

My Recipe Structure for Blogging

Given my culinary-related central purpose in life, this blog will gradually become more and more food oriented as time goes on, though not to the point of becoming totally so. I will, of course, still want to talk about other things in life, such as my pursuit of realizing the ideal in myself or my favorite movies, but it should be considered inevitable that my writing will soon be dominated by my primary interest in life: The culinary arts. As a corollary you can expect me to be posting recipes here as well as track how I'm doing in educating myself in cooking, baking, and whatever else exists as a food preparation method.

The recipes themselves won't be in a consistent stream and will lack photos until a much later date, but I will post them to show what's going on in my kitchen, both to track my own practices and to give my readers thought for their own culinary practices. After assessing how many different ways other blogs post recipes I have formulated my views as to how I would like my recipes to be structured, and will make that explicit here.

Out of everything I have seen, the two structures I hate the most are 1.) When the recipe is buried in the post and 2.) when the recipe is integrated into the post text with no formal separation. The former is extremely inconvenient if you're one to bookmark pages as a way of documenting recipes, as you're forced to look through a sometimes great body of text for just that small section you need. The latter is even worse in that you have you patiently dig through the text in order to separate the recipe procedure from the author's descriptions and other talking, and it's especially difficult to have patience when you need immediate instruction.

Consequently, I'd like to avoid committing such vices by having a formal structure to my recipe posts, which I will follow strictly. First, anytime I post a recipe it will be at the very top of the page with little to no introduction. There will be the recipe title, a description as to what it is (maybe), prep and heating time, servings (sometimes), ingredients, and step-by-step instructions. The recipe text will be uninterrupted by anything irrelevant and will be kept as short as it possibly can. I'll try to limit each post to only one recipe in order to make things easier to reference due to each recipe being on top. I do not anticipate ever running into the need to post two recipes in one article, though the future may prove otherwise. It won't be until after the recipe that I'll talk about my experience with it, my evaluation of it, whether I'd continue making it, changes I'd make, etc. Once I start posting photos I will post only one photo at the top of the recipe and save the rest for after; I hate it when a blog integrates several huge photos throughout the recipe instruction since it entails cumbersome scrolling for future reference.

If anyone thinks of anything I could do to optimize the readability of my recipes please tell me so, as I want to make my recipes as easy and efficient to read as humanly possible. I'll post my first recipe on Wednesday.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Weekly Summary 11/19/10 - 11/25/10

Well, consider this to be the worst week to date, as I've gotten nothing done in terms of my short-term study goals. I wasn't idle -- I just couldn't get it done. My worst fear has come to be realized, for my subconscious is fully aware of the stagnating nature of my Project and has made me concerned with the Circumstance or otherwise distracted. I tried hard to complete my reading for Good Calories, Bad Calories, but I kept running into that problem where my mind would seize up without my knowing it. I would just be on my way reading when suddenly I would blank out and start thinking about the Circumstance, unable to catch myself until several minutes later. I would always reassert concentration whenever I caught myself dwelling on such, but it would only be short-lived as I would shortly be distracted again. One day I spent two hours trying to read two to four pages.

Worse yet, it seems like my backup methods are failing. I've tried reading the text aloud to see if that would force me to concentrate, but somehow I've learned how to recognize and speak words verbally while my mind is off in another place. Once I get to the end of a paragraph I get confused as to why I don't remember anything of it, and when I reread it it's like a new experience. Rubberducking, too, is failing. Some days I undertook to have extended speaking sessions lasting an hour or more, and I hardly feel relieved or have a cleared mind. Distractions with the Circumstance would persist regardless.

The strange thing is that very little of this, if any, is actually affecting my work life. When I'm at work my mind is on the relationships I'm nurturing there. I feel like I'm in my currently ideal place, feel calm, and treat others with the greatest benevolence I can. When I get home, however, the reality of the Circumstance reasserts itself and I become mostly tense and on edge. If I actually have to deal with the Circumstance then I'm cold, angry, and hostile. On the other hand, if the Circumstance should happen to be temporarily absent, then calmness is restored. In sense of life terms, it seems like I have a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing going on, and I don't like it. I'm not being destructive to my values or being immoral in any way -- I'm still striving for moral purity and the ideal -- it's just that I don't like how I'm responding to what I perceive to be anti-values, especially considering I'm dealing with an anti-value that's been present throughout my entire life and have been trying to oust for years.

Something certainly needs to be fixed, or a new method otherwise needs to be employed. I can't keep studying like this, for even an entire day of effort won't amount to anything. Back in worse days when I was in college and in utter conflict with myself as to why I was there, my mind prohibited the use of my intellect because I was opposed to my endeavor, and yet was trying to do it anyhow. Consciously I had reached the conclusion that college -- for my context, values, and pursuits -- was destructive to my values and that I should be engaged in something else, or at least should refrain from going to college until I have reached the conclusion that it was worthwhile. I went to college despite these conclusions and consequently pit the entirety of my psychology against me. Sometimes I would spend the entire night working on a homework assignment and still wouldn't get it finished despite over eight hours of effort. In retrospect those assignments could have been completed in an hour or less, but since my psychology was its own obstacle it was impossible. I found it so hard to function that I failed nearly to the point of being expelled, and it wasn't until I dropped out that my maladies in this area were able to be cured.

It's extremely unfortunate that my last attempt to finish my Project involves means that are prohibited to me. Sure, there was extreme risk in that means, so extreme that they could cause my Project to fail, but I know that getting my Project done would do so much good that I would be infinitely more fit to deal with that risk, perhaps annihilate it. As long as the Circumstance remains in my life it remains a problem, and as long as it's a problem undealt with it'll be a loose end in my subconscious.

I am somewhat ashamed at presenting these lack of results to you, my reader, as part of my effort in life is to serve as inspiration to others. I know how it can fuel my own motivation to observe the achievements of other people, so I try to fulfill that role to some small extent -- whatever I can. That I haven't makes me perceive this unproductive week as a failure upon my moral being. But perhaps it's second-handed of me to want to serve as inspiration, and I should be entirely selfish in my concentration.

To tie my study problems with my mental health, maybe it could be an issue of intellectual input vs. intellectual output. By "input" I refer to study activities that involve more "absorption" type learning that entails taking in and digesting information, like reading or watching a video, rather than coming up with a creative product, and by "output" I refer to intellectual activities that do amount to a creative product, such as an essay or recipe. My thought is that I could possibly be unbalanced between the two sides and am engaging in one category when my energy really desires to be expressed in the other. For example, maybe I'm reading when I should be writing. If I remember correctly, there have been some days in which I'll peter myself out in writing and then will take to my books and note-taking like a thirsty sponge that has just been freshly wrung dry. This point is also further collaborated by the fact that while I was utterly distracted with my reading, I still managed to get myself absorbed in constructing some articles, even managing to sustain effort over a period of hours.

Maybe this study period would be beneficial in the best way if I take care to introspect and recognize whether I want to create something or take to relaxed contemplation and reading. Perhaps all along I've been irrational in determining to complete a specific assignment regardless of my psychological urgings at the time. To make this into a formal goal, this week I'll strive to be careful and introspect on the nature of my mind at any specific moment I decide to undertake a study-related assignment. If I feel like writing, then I'll write until that part of the brain is spent, and if I feel like reading I'll feed my brain until it gets the sustenance it needs. Even if I have to write all day to eliminate an itch I will do so.

I'm not quite sure what to do, however, if I should happen to be incorrect in my assessment of this issue, but I guess I'll have to cross that bridge when I get there.

This week I'll strive to complete one of every subject, exhaust my desires depending on whether I want to engage in "input" or "output," and will work to establish my recipe system with notecards. I'll also contemplate another means to getting my Project finished, one that carries much less risk, but risk of a special kind. I have been adamantly opposed to employing the means considered for a long time now, but I may be willing to compromise now considering I've virtually reached my limit in how much longer I'm willing to tolerate the Circumstance. I just can't keep living like this.

I do apologize to my readers for being so thoroughly lame for these past few weeks, and will not cite my difficulties as any sort of excuse. I'm still not giving the total 100% -- there's more pushing that can be done. To end matters with a quote by Leonard Peikoff:

"[The proud man] does not demand of himself the impossible, but he does demand every ounce of the possible. He refuses to rest content with a defective soul, shrugging in self-deprecation 'That's me.' He knows that that 'me' was created, and is alterable, by him.

The struggle continues.

Chocolate Reassessment:: Baker's Unsweetened Chocolate (100% Cacao)

Now that I've taken to storing my chocolates in a different way due to a  certain incident I am finding that some of my past chocolate reviews may have been minorly unjust. Previously I took to storing my chocolates in the fridge, and that may have to some extent altered how I interpreted the flavor profile and mouthfeel of some varieties. I cannot for the sake of both my integrity and sense of justice let any new interpretation go unreported, as I want every chocolate variety to be considered as it truly is, without distortions. Any future chocolate review will presuppose the knowledge that I'm storing my chocolates in the way the link above details, and I'll take to correcting my views as I discover that they might be incorrect.

However, this isn't to say that the reviews before my change of storage method are drastically distorted. Eating chocolate while it's still cold will alter to some extent its flavor intensity and texture, but the essence is still there. Waiting until room temperature is achieved won't erase the overly-sweet profile of Endangered Species' organic health line (1, 2, and 3) for instance. If the chocolates were good, on the other hand, then bringing them to room temperature will merely make them better, which only makes my reviews inaccurate in failing to assess how intensely good they are.

Anyhow, to cut to the chase, today I'm reassessing my views on Baker's Unsweetened Chocolate, which I had reviewed in conjunction with Ghirardelli's 100% Cacao baking bar. In that review I reached the conclusion that I preferred Ghirardelli, as while it's more expensive it's much better for out-of-hand eating. Baker's was so thick and dense that I drooled all over myself trying to bite into it, and breaking it into pieces was beyond difficult since even my steak knife could hardly separate the two tiny blocks.

Keeping things at room temperature has made me realize that Baker's isn't truly that hard to eat. Pulling it right out of the fridge distorted things by making it harder. Eating the chocolate at 71 degrees still leaves it rather crunchy, but not frustratingly so: Now I could easily bite off the block without acting like a dog gnawing on a bone. I still couldn't separate the blocks by hand and gave up on trying to do it with a steak knife, but biting off is easy enough that I wouldn't be too concerned about it.

I also noticed a slight change in the flavor profile. Unless I am mistaken, Baker's is slightly less bitter than Ghirardelli's, enough of a degree that it should significantly impact one's purchasing decision. Lovers of bitterness would do best to stick with Ghirardelli. For the rest, Baker's will suffice, or maybe even Hershey.

In the end, I have reached a different conclusion as to which chocolate I would prefer. I still like Ghirardelli way better since it's much better for out of hand eating and dipping in nut butter, but I'll take to purchasing Baker's variety more regularly since it's cheaper and will allow me to save more for my Project. Previously the near unbreakability of the blocks is what made me detest this brand, but now I see that my interpretation is incorrect and that this variety is quite acceptable. Hershey's own variety may have the same flavor profile as Baker's, but it's probably nutritionally different, perhaps inferior, since it contains both cacao and cocoa (cocoa doesn't contain all the same attributes as cacao).

For those rare people who like to eat baking chocolate as I do, hopefully this allows you to save a bit more -- to buy more chocolate, of course.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Study Conundrums

In my last weekly summary I noted that I need to undertake a reassessment of my study methods in order to try and improve my habits, as I haven't been very studious these past weeks and have for a long time been beneath my ideal level of functioning. While I consider my system good in theory and always improving due to constant introspection, I am in doubt as to whether I understand fully my own personal style of learning and may also still be prone to learning fallacies instilled in me from a bad institutionalized education.

Simply put, these past few weeks I've hardly been engaged in my books, and I'm also worried that I may not be learning in the most effective manner. Ideally I should be spending a good portion of my week engaged in my studies, at a rate of completing at least one subject item per day, and should be working better to push myself to my limits, as I have a personal hypothesis that pushing myself to mental exhaustion most quickly leads to cognitive improvements. (This latter point is substantiated by anecdotal evidence, where I'll be mentally exhausted one day and wake the next with improved faculties.)

There is no excuse for the behavior I have been practicing these past weeks. Before I thought the collapse of some suppressions (I am mistaken in that link by having written "repression") is what led to my lapse in my ability to concentrate, but after demonstrating an ability to concentrate on some endeavors without having had to reestablish concentration training I see that isn't the case; my ability to concentrate is still intact.

Furthermore, the Circumstance, which has actively hindered my studies in the past, is continuing to grow more recessive and is less likely to interrupt, if at all. Previously it used to be very frequent and I could do little about it, but given some recent developments I've been able to have long stretches of hours without any environmental distractions. Given some distraction filtering practices I could probably even reduce the distractions to zero. Consequently I can no longer cite the Circumstance as an excuse for being distracted from my studies, due to both the facts I had an experience that has largely cleared my mind and that the Circumstance is becoming recessive. It is true that part of the distraction in the past was that I anticipated being interrupted and so only allowed weak concentration on the subject at hand, but it is no longer reasonable for me to persist in such an expectation.

Given all this, I think it may be entirely possible now that I could reattain a near-ideal state I had achieved in the past, where most of my days were oriented around my intellectual pursuits, and I grew so attached to the practices that I hardly enjoyed daydreaming and actually felt uncomfortable if I weren't mentally stimulated to some degree. Recreation too was heightened in my ability to enjoy it, as after a long day of hard studying my mind and brain got increased pleasure from rest; my brain even once throbbed in erotic anticipation of a simple episode of Mythbusters. I don't plan on spending my life in a state of reclusive study, but I certainly need to do better in nurturing a love of learning and a life of the mind. My culinary interests may in the long-run make me primarily a man of action rather than one of thought, but I still must never neglect thought and should always strive to keep intellectual pursuits a part of my life.

So what's hindering me now if not the Circumstance or an inability to concentrate?

While I'm pleased with the general skeleton of the study system I have come up with, I think there may still be some serious flaws which could be leading to serious conflicts with my own preferred style of learning. I might be stubbornly maintaining some practices which don't lead to actual learning given my own nature and am forgoing chances to practice better methods. The conflicts with my personal learning style may not only be leading to ineffective/null learning, but also a lack of motivation which causes me to view my studies with an aura of disdain. I want to be able to devise a system of study that allows for a nurturing of love and excitement in the learning process, and right now I view my studies as nearly the equivalent of a chore.

The primary problem could be in my note-taking. I don't have strong views as to why I should take notes, and old fallacies I adhere to may be leading to irrational practices. As far as my thinking goes now, I'm utilizing note-taking as a way of formulating the information I'm ingesting into my own words and thus am making it a more creative process rather than one of passive absorption. Additionally, the act of writing in proper sentences forces one to think in complete sentences with no allowance for half-digested thoughts or uncompleted formulations. Writing won't necessarily make me reach definitive conclusions, but it will at least prevent me from thinking in half-sentences or stopping in the middle of a thought to daydream. I even find the very act of cursive writing makes the endeavor more pleasurable.

However, I haven't been doing well to exercise good judgment on which information is worth documenting or in what way I should document it. Further complicating matters is that I don't write my notes with the intention of looking at them ever again; my intended purpose is for the act of writing itself to help with my learning. As such, these past months I've been writing my notes as a series of disconnected sentences that often serve as commentary to specific sentences or paragraphs in the reading. Combined with the fact that I've internalized that I should write a few notes as I can for the sake of essentializing, I've ultimately been writing very little of value.

One reason for my disdain of notes is the fallacy I've held from my institutional education that one should merely copy down the concrete information presented with no effort towards creative thinking. That makes for nothing but wasteful hand movements, which has made me believe that notes are a waste since I can simply look up the concrete facts in my reading. This fallacy has made me look towards my studies with a sense of disdain since I view the note-taking itself as a chore; I have little problem doing the subjects in which I strive to do pure readings of.

It's quite perplexing as to how to fix this since a creative element entails a greater quantity of writing whereas succinct documentation of concretes requires concentrating information through essentialization. The former encourages the most amount of writing while the latter encourages doing the least by necessity, though that conflict only arises if one chooses to emphasize one in neglect of the other.

The solution may lie in better symbolization of my notes, which would allow me to better practice each methodology. As has been mentioned in several posts, I have taken to symbolizing my notes so that I can know at a glance what type of content a specific passage composes of. For instance, a number next to a page number will indicate that I'm writing commentary that I couldn't fit in the page margins on a specific passage in the reading, and a X will indicate a word I either have a hard time pronouncing or remembering. There are more, but you get the idea. Through consistent practice I have learned which symbols I use the most and which not at all, so I think I could make my system more efficient by paring down the symbols to bare essentials. My system may be too cluttered: all I really need are symbols for working notes (plus sign), essentialized concretes and integrations (asterisk), conceptual exercises (uppercase O), definitions (either copied or formulated) (square box), hard to remember/pronounce words (uppercase X), and passage-specific commentary (a reference number followed by the page number). Everything else, such as documentation of percepts I need to look up or quotes I want to remember can be subsumed under this or otherwise noted by all capital letters exclamations.

I think this may, in a way, allow me to have my cake and eat it too. With this minimized symbolization I'll be easily able to distinguish the content of what I'm writing, so I'll be able to write as much creative thinking as I please while still doing as much essentializing as possible in terms of concrete documentations. In the end, when I view the creative and concrete writing separately, they both should amount to only as much writing as is needed, the concretes being as short as possible and the creative being as long as possible. I'll employ these essentialized symbolizations the next time I take to my notes.

This does, however, prompt the question as to whether I would find it of value to consult my notes in the future. Right now I never take to looking at my notes again, as I only write for the writing act itself and never refer back to previously written notes. Is this rational? In addition to the fallacy above of only documenting concretes, I have also fallen prey to the notion that most learning can be done through rote repetitions of the material being considered. That is mere memory, not learning. I used to think that repeating the information rote did encourage learning and so practiced it for years, but got discouraged when I found I would soon forget the material. As such, I tend to view referring back to old material and writing as the equivalent of doing rote repetitions, so I end up lacking motivation to do so. This needs to be fixed.

In regards to notes, what I'll do is practice the note symbolization I have noted above and will try to keep in mind that I may refer back to this material and will try to construct my formulations accordingly. If I am successful and do end up encouraging a more learning-oriented active mindedness, then I may kindle a motivation to reassess old writing to fuel new thinking or to reinforce my memory. I am still debating with myself of the value of such a practice, but I should at least write my notes so that there's an open door for the practice in the future.

Outside of the form of the notes I'm taking, I could also be doing better to employ practices that encourages the most productive thinking. From reading The Journals of Ayn Rand and listening to some of Leonard Peikoff's podcasts I have learned of the question method of note-taking, in which one writes down questions and then attempt to answer them. In my own realm I have found this extremely helpful, as it works to expose exactly where the gaps in knowledge are or where the essence of the issue lies. To better my creative thinking I think I should take a more Socratic approach, by which I mean I should intensify the quantity of questions I ask. Heck, I should probably start answering questions with even more questions. Questions really help in digging down to the depth where my thinking really needs to be, so perhaps I haven't been taking full advantage of the question method.

Outside of note-taking itself I think I have been maintaining some deleterious psychological practices, namely failing to uphold my integrity towards myself. By that I mean I'm not taking my thoughts seriously, and many times when I make promises to myself I break them. For instance, each day I write down a set of goals I would like to complete by the end of the day if nothing else were to be done, and too often I don't strive to my fullest extent to complete the entire list and will go to bed or engage in recreation before all the tasks have been completed. Maintained in the long run this will lead to a very weak dedication to putting my thoughts to action: I'll think something, won't take it seriously, and will ultimately betray it in action. I know people who are notorious for engaging in hypocrisy on a nearly daily, almost minutely basis. They're always saying things and then immediately acting otherwise. If you don't take your thoughts seriously and strive hard to put them to practice, then how can you take full advantage of your potential and realize it? The ultimate, tragic consequence of this behavior will be to have lived life recognizing the ideal in the abstract but having strayed so far from it in practice, maybe passing from this world having betrayed it in every degree. The mere thought that I am eight years away from being thirty is sufficient for me to feel like I'm close to death, and I intend not to waste any time in living my life.

The majority of the problem may be that I think too carelessly. That is, I'll do just a little bit of thinking and then mentally commit myself to some action, but since my thinking was so short and weak I won't truly feel dedicated to the action and will likely betray it. For instance, if out of anxiety I have overeaten I might quickly swear to fast the next day in order to give my stomach a rest and to reestablish comfort, but if I make that decision too quickly with too little thought then I'll succumb to the least temptation the next day and quickly break my promise. In the short term this weakens my resolve to seriously put my thinking to practice. I need to be more careful, thorough, and meticulous in my thinking so that I'll feel the brevity of the thought and have greater energy to practice my thinking.

All I need to do is take my time in my thinking and to be more conscious of what I'm committing myself to, rather than letting thoughts run on the whim of the moment and quickly making decisions as I feel pushed. Given extended practice my ability to stay true to my thoughts should be easier and more natural to my deposition as I'll have the backing of my deepest emotions behind every decision. To be clear, I am having no problems maintaining my integrity in the moral realm; it is the realm of productivity that's the problem. All I need is a little more patience.

Now, what of my studies in general? While the above methods may increase my ability to learn and my resolve to continue pushing on, they do nothing for my actual goals in life. My central purpose in life is related to science and culinary pursuits, and right now I'm not studying any culinary texts nor engaging in any serious cooking. Despite how deeply I claim to hold culinary values, they are the values that have been most severely neglected. I need to alter my studies to include culinary education of some kind.

Truth be told I've been neglecting serious culinary endeavors because I've been scrimping financially for my Project. I am loath to spend money when I'm so eager to oust the Circumstance from my life, so I've been eating a monotonous, though still varied, diet so that I may maximize my finances and better the chances for the completion of my Project. As such, for a long time now my culinary indulges have been restrained to my chocolate eating and reviews, Good Eats, browsing around in the grocery store, and daydreaming. Honestly, it's been painful to neglect my interests like this, and I've been desperately longing to be on the other side of my Project so that I can chain myself to the stove.

However, as recently mentioned my Project has once again hit another setback. I was going to try and implement it early despite there being risk since I know the completion of the Project would lead to great psychological benefits and an overall increase of my emotional health, but my eagerness is wasted since my planned means are prohibited to me. I would like to get done, but the necessary actions aren't possible, so I'm stuck waiting whether I like it or not. As such, perhaps I should review my financial practices in order to break free from my monotonous eating and get back to culinary experimentation.

Since I anticipated getting my Project done by the beginning of next year I wanted to clamp down on my spending so that I'd be extra prepared, but now that I know that the requirements are different I can perhaps loosen my spending a bit or be wiser about it. It might even increase my ability to make money, as the old adage "You need to spend money to make money" goes. I need to reassess my grocery habits and see how I can best alter my practices.

I could have all along been engaging in more varied meal preparation since even my restricted finances would make allowances for such, but I have been neglecting doing thinking on that since I was so concerned with my Project. I hate the Circumstance so much that it has become a primary concern with me, but I'm stuck with it for much longer, so I might as well endure it the best I can. Furthermore, I could be employing some note-taking of the sorts to further enhance the benefit I get from my culinary education, and so should even be able to enhance my learning and motivation.

At present I think the best I can ask of myself is to try one new recipe each week. It's what I've done in the past and found extremely effective. As time went on, I started viewing foods more as individual ingredients rather than primary foods I didn't know what to do with except eat raw or heated, and I eventually learned how to better and better vary my meals as a natural consequence of exploring. The monotony in my diet should naturally vanish given a little introspection and experimentation.

When preparing my grocery lists, I'll work to include ingredients that will allow me to try one new recipe each week. Since I strive to grocery shop only twice a month in order to curb fuel costs, that means I need to plan for at least two new recipes each trip. That will give me plenty of time to think. Maybe I might even do well to reestablish planning my meals for the entire week, in order to increase both my efficiency and culinary introspection. I don't need to firmly commit myself to having a certain meal on a certain day of the week, but it would help to know what it is I could potentially make given the ingredients on hand.

As for recipes, what of documenting them? Finding them on the web is easy, but I've found keeping track of them is a pain in the rear. I noted that I was using a web service in a past entry, but I've since become disenchanted with it since there's no way to organize each recipe and it can be frustrating to try and hand type anything that the website can't automatically formulate.

The best solution I can come up with given my abilities is to utilize old fashioned notecards. I still think there's the potential for an awesome hi-tech solution for documenting recipes in a much more valuable manner, but right now I see nothing that lives up to my expectations. The next time I shop I'll pick up several stacks of notecards and start documenting my recipe database, as well as keeping tons of blanks around for new additions. Beyond that, I also want to develop a system for sub-recipes, so that I'll have a way to organize recipes that are but mere variations of other ones. Finally, I also need to think out a way to organize these cards into different categories and to set up dividers between them. I'll do my thinking outside this post and follow up on it at a later date.

As for note-taking on my culinary endeavors, I think I could utilize my new recipe system in order to maintain a diary of the sorts. On the corner of each notecard I'll write a number which will correspond to either a document or folder on my computer. If I only work with one version of that recipe or if variations of that recipe aren't significant enough to warrant creating a whole new recipe for it (such as alternating the filling in an omelet), I'll simply create a word document on my computer that will contain the number of the recipe card as its title and then will type up my thoughts and experiences with using that recipe on a particular date. If there are multiple variations that warrant different recipes, then I'll instead create a folder bearing the recipe card's number and will input separate documents that bear the variation identification (such as 1a or 3c), and will document the dates of each entry inside each variation document as I utilize them. This will not only mesh perfectly into my new recipe system, but will also work to make my cooking and baking a more intellectual endeavor. Additionally, this should play right into the hands of my desire for creative thinking in my learning and so will encourage me to do a lot of writing on my processes. Cooking and baking should become more exciting, and I should be able to further enhance my active mindedness through these methods. I still need to work out the specifics however, and will update in the future.

To summarize this article, my problems with studying have been poor note-taking methodology and irrationally held fallacies, a lack of integrity towards implementing my thoughts, and an absence of culinary endeavors in my life. It will be my next project to try and defeat these problems, and if I'm successful I should come out in the end a more competent and wealthier (in spirit and perhaps money) man. I might even be able to not only tolerate the Circumstance in better form, but may also be able to better defeat it.

As for my next actions, all I need to do is implement the symbolization system I have noted above, buy notecards and dividers, and contemplate how I'm going to go about planning my groceries and meals from now on. Additionally, I have also changed the word processor program I use to keep track of my lists, as Microsoft Works Word has been glitching and preventing me from being productive. To give an example, it won't allow me to open files by double-clicking them, so I've had to drag each and every file to the shortcut icon in order to get it to activate, which is a pain when you have as many lists as I do. Saving too takes way longer than it needs to, so I've ended up either evading my lists or leaving some of them open all day since I'm loath to close them. It's beyond time that I fix this problem.

The end result I'm seeking in all these endeavors is to make myself a more intellectually active person. I want to be able to study in the most efficient and effective manner and to reattain the attitude I had in the past, such as where I actually had a physical hunger for knowledge, and I want to get back on track with my culinary goals and to nurturing my love of cooking and baking, and to make myself more competent and knowledgeable in the endeavors I plan on dedicating my life to. I don't know how long of a time I have to live as par the norm of being mortal, and I intend not to laze through life taking the most comfortable routes at each path and to end with nothing of the ideal having been achieved.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Not-So-Comical Funny Story

Through a strange and random incident I have undertaken to store my chocolate in a completely different manner. Last week I had a rather unpleasant surprise when I woke up.

First off, I sleep on my floor out of choice since I think it's more comfortable than a bed. My computer and writing/reading desk have both been modified so that they allow for me to stand up while using them, and all the footwear I use is specifically designed to give a more barefoot-friendly accommodation. To make my bed all I do is set a layer of two blankets on the floor and plant myself on top with another blanket on top of me.

Anyhow, last week I was just going about my morning routine when I noticed there was a strange clump on the edge of my bottom blankets. When I looked at it closely I discovered it was a mouse. It was curled up into a ball with its eyes closed, which means it had been sleeping with me. When I attempted to move it, hoping not to wake it up, I found out it was dead. I don't know by what cause it died, but it's possible I squashed it while rolling over.

How pitiful is it that mice feel so comfortable in my home that they're willing to crawl in my bed and sleep with me? And here I thought my presence would be frightening to them. Nope, I am but a bedmate.

This makes me fret for my chocolate. At the time I had them in a cardboard box. I used to store the chocolates in the fridge, but I fear blooming, crowding, and distorted tastes due to temperature fluctuations, so I wanted to put them in a room temperature climate. My pantry is a no-go since it's directly behind the furnace, and my personal cupboard contains all my herbs and spices. My current setup now is that I have my chocolates stored in my recreation area in a sealed plastic container with an open box of baking soda inside and a blanket covering the top. This should protect from odors, heat, and pests.

I've also set some poison out by my sleeping area, but hopefully any leftover mice don't choose to spend their last moments with yours truly. I'm not frightened, but it does make me paranoid. Good thing I made the original discovery after I had gotten up.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Weekly Summary 11/12/10 - 11/18/10 and Some Bad News

This week started out in a buzz of productivity and then slowly shifted away from my studies for the sake of other pursuits. This week I completed a chapter of The Journals of Ayn Rand and The Logical Leap, completing nine conceptual exercises for the latter, and I neglected Good Calories, Bad Calories out of sheer laziness. The most insightful thing I've learned is that I should do TLL in installments, as the information dense reading taxes my attention span and can hold it for only so long, so I should strive to do only as much as I can at one time and to either switch to another activity or replenish myself. I am pleased by the content of my efforts, though certainly could do better to increase the quantity. In truth, I'm dissatisfied with my mode of studying, and I'll explain why a little later. First some bad news.

I thought this would be a generally fantastic week since I thought I would finally set in motion the gears that would eventually lead to my Project being completed -- but no. It turns out that despite my willingness to implement my Project and my acceptance of the risks entailed by getting it done early, it seems that my means might be entirely prohibited to me, so despite my desire to act I cannot. I did some discussing about and it turns out that my means probably won't be accepted and so I am stuck again. At first I faced this barrier with a sense of indifference, but I admit that when it finally sunk in it mildly depressed me. I wanted to act -- it may just not be possible. I thought I had more direct control, but apparently not.

To the greatest of misfortunes, this means that I once again cannot give an approximate end-date to this effort. It might even go beyond the one-year mark, which I have desperately been hoping it wouldn't. It's disgusting to think I've spent so many months on this piddly endeavor when I could have been doing other, more valuable things. In fact, I think I'd be doing exemplary if it weren't for the Circumstance's hinderment in the past. The worst part is that the Circumstance doesn't need to necessarily be a problem, but that it is is what has caused me to act to solve it. Such wasted time, in rare moments, makes me envious of other people who have no such Circumstance to deal with, and I feel guilty for feeling such emotions. I do wish I could tell you more in depth, but I cannot! The cumbersome secrets must continue.

There are measures being taken to remedy this, but the wisdom and degree of their effectiveness are questionable. More thinking is still needing to be done, but I think observing how the independent variables holding me up are acting is pretty much the best I can do. The last thing I want this to come to is mere idle waiting. As long as I can do something I'm fine, but having to wait for things to happen would be terrible. I've always been one to say that I'd prefer to make someone wait rather than be the one waiting.

What all this means is that things are pretty much going back to the way they were: My gung-ho is wasted. Aside from waiting, all I can really do is continue to self-improve, study, and implement some alternate means for my Project if my observations prove that my current independent variables are inadequate.

What I dislike most is the impact the Circumstance has had on my intellect, which leads me to my current dissatisfaction with my studies. Well over a year ago I had myself in what I considered a near-ideal mental state, where my concentration was strong, my mind incredibly active and engaged, and I had a positive emotional attachment to knowledge and studying. I remember the days in which I either recreated for too long or had otherwise been unwisely away from my studies, as my brain would feel hungry as if it were an animal that hadn't been fed. To borrow a metaphor from Sherlock Holmes, my mind was similar to that of an active motor without an automobile body to take it anywhere: Left alone, it racks itself to pieces in one place.

I also loved how I felt when I got proper stimulation. I remember watching an episodes of Mythbusters once where my brain throbbed with erotic anticipation of the content it was about to receive. My life back then was so emphasized on the mind that it had a deep impact on my physical sensations and emotions. I have still retained many of these attributes in their essentials, but nowhere near the degree I had achieved back then. The Circumstance was present throughout the entire time of that period, but back then I was still ignorant of the Circumstance's true impact and so maintained a weak awareness of it. As the Circumstance continued to assert itself, however, I became more and more aware of it, eventually to the point that I became obsessed with it and couldn't concentrate on my studies at all and soon shelved my study for a few months in trade for dedication to the Project. Even as I have resumed my studies I continue to be distracted by the Circumstance, even when it isn't actively distracting. In the periods in when it should happen to not be asserting itself I am loath to get too absorbed in my studies for fear of interruption or, at worst, because of a sense of hopelessness or disinterest in my efforts. I still haven't been able to reclaim the state I had achieved before, and now I frankly feel like my overall intelligence has actually weakened. Each day that passes with the Circumstance is another day in which the fullest dedication to my mind lacks its fullest potential.

I would love nothing more than to not only reattain this near ideal state, but to intensify and enhance it even further beyond that, pushing myself to my absolute limits. I would love to have days where the only thing that stops my mental activity is brain exhaustion, not a weak attention span, inward distraction, or environmental situation. I would love to heighten even more the pleasure I get from contemplation and to nurture an immense love for the learning process. Every day I would test my mental abilities to the max, and the only days off from intense thinking would only be when my brain is entirely fried and unable to summon more energy. That's the ideal for me! It'd take a lot of work to reach that, but how powerful an individual I would be! That is my most anticipated aspiration for when this Project is finished.

I'm dissatisfied with my studies now not only because I feel I can't reach my full potential in engagement (concentration and thinking) and learning, but also because I feel that my current mode of studying is either impotent or not enough attached to the material aspects of my life. Also due to the Circumstance, there's a significant hold as to when I can implement my learning, as my finances are current mostly restricted to combating the Circumstance. I can't, for example, run right out to buy ingredients to try a new cooking technique I've learned. I clearly need to rethink how I'm going about my study endeavors.

Though I may only be making excuses. The Circumstance hasn't been flaring up as much as it has in the past, and there's reasonable evidence that it may continue to weaken in the future. It won't entirely disappear, but maybe I should take advantage of its growing impotence by rethinking and restructuring my studies. While it may seem natural to add "reintensify" to that to-do list, I don't think that's fully possible since the Circumstance prevents certain methods of study I'd like to employ. I think I'll dedicate a separate blog post about my study conundrums and possible solutions. Perhaps part of the root of the problem is not that I'm making my studies largely irrelevant to the material portions of my life, but that my studies aren't connected to the total of my life. Maybe I need to go through an overall remodeling in which I develop myself more into a man of thought and action, so that I'm always implementing my thinking in the realm of action. A train of thought to write about next week.

My goals for this upcoming week are to complete one of each study subject and to entertain and try to solve the problems currently affecting my mode of study. I know these past weeks have been lame in regards to studying, but at least I can be glad to say that it's now due to lack of initiative -- something entirely in my control -- rather than an emotional conflict. In the background to these efforts I'll also be thinking about what can be done to solve the current problems with my Project and see how I can best influence the independent variables to my favor. The setbacks to my Project may have been enough to leave me mildly depressed for an hour or so, but my resolve hasn't been harmed in the slightest; just a temporary demotivation, that's all. The ideal is still in my mind and is eternally worthy of striving for.

Chocolate Review: Endangered Species 72% with Cacao Nibs

Now cacao nibs is something I've never had before! If I understand correctly, cacao nibs are simply broken up pieces of roasted cacao beans. I've been interested in trying them, and I'd definitely be intrigued to see how they'd work in a chocolate chip cookie recipe, which perhaps may be idea fodder for my culinary education in the future. This time we're considering Endangered Species 72% dark chocolate with cacao nibs.

The essential difference I noticed from this being sweetened chocolate is a very mild crispiness. No, not crunchiness: crispiness. The cacao nibs here have been broken up to the point that they're smaller than rice or tapioca grains, so while they have a very noticeable impact on the texture they can hardly be seen, which means they don't contribute much to aesthetics. I appreciate this attribute greatly, as I'm a very big fan of crispy textures and enjoyed them in candy bars in my pre-paleo days.

The nibs have an impact on the flavor profile, but only subtly so, and mostly the aftertaste at that. At first I was disappointed when I bit in the bar and thought that the nibs merely affected the texture, but a few second passed and I noticed a slightly nutty aftertaste. To be precise, it is quite reminiscent of the aroma of hazelnuts. It isn't very intense, so you'll have to be one to pay attention in order to not let it escape your notice.

As for the solid chocolate itself, it's of the perfect amount of sweetness and has a nice melty mouthfeel with no traces of the bitterness of cacao. It's dense enough that it won't necessarily snap off and melt upon biting, but its low melting point is still sufficient to avoid being crunchy. On the flavor notes, I was surprised since I fully expected the nibs to contribute some bitterness of the sorts, but they did perhaps at least heighten the chocolate note. Once again I felt compelled to consume the whole bar despite promising myself to eat only half: a vice on my behalf and a virtue to the chocolate. I may have sinned nutritionally, but Endangered Species is to be commended.

Overall this bar offers some subtle virtues, but generally the solid chocolate dominates. The nibs contribute a crispy texture and hazelnut-aroma aftertaste, but not much else. The chocolate has just the right amount of sweetness and a soft texture, though I'd still like to see a bitter contrast. I much like some saltiness with anything that has a crispy texture, so I'd like to see in the future a cacao nibs bar with sea salt added.

The attributes of this bar are of a mild nature, but they are enough that I would certainly enjoy this again. I recommend it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Return to Clarity

As noted yesterday, I think the essential reason why I became so mentally obsessed with the Circumstance is because it had the status of an unsolvable problem in my subconscious, so I was constantly inwardly encouraged to think about and "solve" it, which can't be done except through the Project. Thus a whole lot of frustration and distraction. However, I've noticed that ever since I've committed myself to finishing the Project through the means that would get it done earlier that my mind has been cleared and contentment is returning.

This is an awesome feeling, to be able to think clearly again. Thinking previously was a struggle since I was always trying to suppress the urge to contemplate the Circumstance. Now I look towards life's difficulties with a more pleasurable outlook and feel a strengthened resolve to take control of things. I think I can make it so no problem bothers me ever again as significantly as the Circumstance has, so long as I can take steps and make progress towards an endpoint. It's the stagnating helplessly in one spot that's so horrible.

There might be a slight negative side-effect to this return to contentment, however. While it is positive on my side, I seem to be losing the will to contemplate and talk about the Circumstance. That might make writing the explanatory blog post I've been promising a little bit more difficult. Even though I'm still affected by the Circumstance, nowadays I'm more concerned with contemplating the end of my Project and life on the other side of it, not the negative things that drove me to it. In regards to my sense of life this is great since I'm not concentrating on the bad or insignificant things in life, but I still think it's important that I talk about the Circumstance after my Project so that I can provide intellectual guidance for those who are also affected by similar situations, since I think my own experience is actually very common and hurting a lot of people. I've always been trying to solve the Circumstance, but it took me many miserable months to discover what the best solution is. I don't want people to have to go through the fruitless trial and error that I did considering the time could be better spent pursuing other, worthwhile values.  

It might be best that I actually start constructing drafts of the blog post I've been promising a few months in advance, so that I still have the motive to talk about the Circumstance. After the Circumstance ceases being an issue I want to do as little thinking about it as possible, or none if I can. All the hours and hours I've spent thinking about it did bear intellectual fruit, but very little of that fruit is actually worth keeping, and I could have spent the time picking at other trees of knowledge. Some of this fruit may have worth in defending my position as to why I'm making the choices I am, but for the practical concern of acting it does little to help. I've learned what I've needed to learn, so I think it's nearly time that I move on and discard the Circumstance from my mental world. While it's still fresh, however, the fruits I'm preparing to throw away could help so many others, so while it's not essentially important that I write that long blog post I would like to since, my god, is the Circumstance a crappy thing to have to deal with, especially when you've been dealing with it an entirety of a lifetime as I have. It becomes even more miserable when you become intellectually aware of it, because then you feel an irrepressible urge to want to eliminate it from your life, only to be stuck doing trial and error while that one definitive solution evades you. To learn when to precisely identify when my definite solution is necessary and that the Circumstance becomes hopeless by any other means is priceless. If I learned about the necessity of the Project years ago then I might already have been long finished with it, and would have been much further in my other life's goals.

Though I am questioning the wisdom of my continuing to talk about the Project given how far along I am. It still needs to be a secret, so perhaps it might be in my best interest to keep entirely quiet about it until it's entirely finished. At the very least, I'll strive to talk about it at a very bare minimum, so that I'll be entirely unimpaired in my efforts.

In the meanwhile, I'm certainly enjoying the excited anticipation of being impeded by the Circumstance in just a few short months. There's still work to be done, but thank god that work isn't the pain of idle waiting! 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Cacao Crisis To Threaten Chocolate Supply?

Via Discovery News I have learned that it is possible that there could be a chocolate shortage in the coming years due to a shortage of cacao. According to the article, the causes driving such a threat is unsustainable farming practices for cacao plants and farmers leaving their plantations due to a lack of profit. It's very frightening for me to hear of this considering chocolate is such a big value to me. I probably wouldn't be able to eat it period if the price skyrocketed by the shortage.

However, I think that this shortage is in actuality very unlikely to happen. The solutions to preventing such a shortage are mind-numbingly simple and easy to implement: Just start utilizing more sustainable farming practices and pay the farmers a greater price. It makes so much economic sense to do this that I can't see how any company would be able to overlook this, and given the amount of intellect and effort it took to make chocolate companies as successful as they are I highly doubt they're going to ignore this. Endangered Species, for instance, has always been oriented around fair wage and sustainable growing practices, and their products are very decently priced still. It should hardly impose on other chocolate companies to do the same.

What will probably happen is that we'll all be frightened about something that won't happen, including me. The means to solving this problem are far too easy to employ and it's so incredibly in the selfish interest of these companies to utilize them that I can't conceive of them doing otherwise.

MAJOR Project Update

In my last weekly summary I noted that I was contemplating a specific means to getting my Project done a little earlier. It has risk attached to it, but the completion of the Project would put me in a much healthier and fit condition to be able to deal with that risk. I've done my thinking and reached a conclusion.

I'm going to do it.

At first I was extremely hesitant and afraid of utilizing such means given the risk, but after realizing I made a significant error in my calculations and restored confidence in my ability to defeat my problems I have decided that it would be in my best self-interest to get this Project completed as soon as possible. Finally I can give a time frame for the projected completion date: Let's say within the next two months or so. I have a specific time in mind in which everything can be accomplished, but for now vague approximation must be given for the continued secrecy, thought I hope you're glad as I am that things won't need to be kept secret for much longer.

Needless to say, I'm very pleased. My mind has become even more clear of the Circumstance since I've made this decision, which gives more evidence that my psychological troubles were a matter of my ability to solve my problems. Before I started the Project I was obsessed with the Circumstance because I couldn't deal with it through the means I was then attempting to, and after starting the Project my mind was clear and inner peace was restored since I was making steps towards my goal and solution. When I got caught up in independent variables and the Project stagnated once again, I once again became obsessed with the Circumstance since it returned to being unsolvable. Now that I'm taking steps again -- and the final steps this time -- my mind is clear and peace is restored. Once everything is finished the peace should be continuous.

However, I need to be careful to recognize that this isn't a magic bullet solution; the Circumstance, after it is conquered, could still have a psychological impact on me which I'll need to work on introspecting and correcting. The only difference is that with the Circumstance gone I'll have nothing to hinder my development or to agitate my problems; trying to develop myself while the Circumstance is still present in my life is like asking how one can heal a cut while still reopening it everyday. I'll have full responsibility after this Project, and I'll know that everything in my mental life will be a consequence of my actions alone.

Now I can get back to work on this Project, a pleasure I've been away from for too long. I think I might even begin constructing drafts on that long blog post I've been promising you about the Project for after I'm able to talk about it. Though, again, don't get your hopes up for it being exciting, since it's more important to me than it is to you and you'll probably be disappointed to learn why I kept matters a secret.

At the very least, I'm glad that I should be able to finish this Project before it hits the one-year mark. I started working on it in March 2010, which makes for nine months I have been engaged in this.  

Friday, November 12, 2010

Weekly Summary 11/5/10 - 11/11/10

Not a terribly productive week, but I am getting better. I completed chapter 13 of The Journals of Ayn Rand and chapter twelve of Good Calories, Bad Calories, completing four conceptual exercises, and part of the third chapter of The Logical Leap, which I didn't finish since the dense information could only hold my attention span for so long. Additionally, I unintentionally constructed six posts for the blog this week since I was in a writing mood. Generally I have been nicely productive; the issue is with quantity. I'm getting better and am getting back into the drift of things, so I need to merely intensify my efforts to restore things as they were. The Circumstance is still hindering my efforts, though.

I noticed that there seems to be a strange attribute with my concentration where I'll be able to intensely concentrate on something for a sort period of time before I inevitably burn out and catch myself staring at the same sentences for a long period of time. Oddly enough the period of concentration sets me in a thinking mood, so it's not that I transfer from concentrating on my study subject to fruitless daydreaming but rather that I get tired of reading and need to think. It's not always the case that I become contemplative about the subject at hand; I just think about things in general. This is probably due to some issue of absorbing information vs. digesting it mentally, so I need to be more careful to balance things. In the future when I catch myself getting in this dazed state after intense concentration I'll pace around and see if I can harness the contemplative mood and direct it towards intense dissection of the subject at hand. I think this has the potential to greatly enhance my thinking and learning capabilities.

A bit of good news on the personal front is that my mind is still largely clear of thoughts about the Circumstance. Except when I'm exposed to it, I've been able to concentrate pretty well on my endeavors and have been quite content. I'm not sure whether or not any of my "up" cycles have ever lasted this long before, but it looks promising. If it continues it will certainly make up for the months of suffering I have undergone constantly concentrating on the Circumstance in such a miserable fashion. Perhaps I might even be able to start living my life once more as if the Circumstance were irrelevant. But truth be told: That might not be necessary.

Perhaps the best news is that I think I might be able to once again give a time frame for my Project. It's possible that I could complete it by early January and finally bring to an end nearly a year's worth of effort, though I'm still debating with myself on the means I have planned. You see, in order to establish this time frame as definite it would also carry with it the risk that my Project could fail in a major way in a short few months, so I don't know right now whether it's such a good idea to initiate the means I have in mind to bring things to absolute completion. It's still a very confusing issue, as on one hand the completion of the Project could improve my mental health to the point that I would be infinitely more fit and able to prevent its failure, but on the other hand there's still the risk that such fitness could ultimately amount to nothing and leave me with another significant problem to deal with, perhaps even bring the Circumstance back into my life and make it worse than ever. I still need to do lots of thinking and talking with other people about this.

Needless to say, the thought of getting my Project done in the next two or so months strongly appeals to me. I've been working on this Project since March 2010 and am utterly sick of it. I also feel a guilty sense of envy towards those that are able to accomplish what I'm trying to accomplish in dramatically shorter periods of time. A person I know that accomplished the same thing that I'm currently trying to do had started way after I had began my form of the project and managed to get done in about a month. My situation angers me, and that the Circumstance has driven me to it is more angering. Regardless, I'll get done what I need to get done in my own way and at my best pace, so I'll just take the damn lumps and deal with it.

Again you'll have to be left in the dark about the specifics, but I'll let you know about any advances in my thinking and decision making. In the best of all scenarios it's possible that I could have something happen which will make the contemplated means utterly unnecessary -- and there is a chance of that -- which I am honestly hoping for since it would put me in a much better position and put me at less risk. I don't know what the odds are of it happening or when I could expect it, so it's still up in the air. In any case, the sooner I can get my Project finished is the sooner I can start living my life to the fullest again.

I have to confess that this possibility of knowing when the Project could be finished is kind of distracting and comforting. Wednesday, for instance, was largely spent pondering some specific tenets of the aftermath of my Project. I doubt it'll all be so distracting as to prevent me from going at my pursuits, but it is on my mind nonetheless. It should be on my mind considering I'm contemplating a somewhat risky means of achieving my goal, but I should take care not to let it dominate my thoughts.

Given the considerations of my Project, I'd like to continue my pacing for my goals this week: One of every section in my study subjects -- not exceeding the current chapter in TLL -- with emphasis on coming up with an answer to my Project conundrum, and perhaps some continued emphasis on my blog post writing. Life is going good right now, but I must make it better.

Chocolate Review: Theo's 70% Mint

I love mint. It's positively my favorite flavor and aroma. I just love how, given the perfect intensity, it has the power to make the entirety of my head feel cool and icey, right from the center of my brain to the edge of my skull. After my Project is finished I'll probably do more cooking with mint in actual herb form, so be prepared for that. It is naturally to be expected, then, that mint chocolate would be one of my favorite treats and would be most catching to my attention. This time I'm taking Theo's 70% mint chocolate into consideration, which is also soy-free (for those concerned about it).

So far on this blog I've only done one review for a mint chocolate, Endangered Species 72% mint, and that considered in conjunction Green and Black's 60% mint and New Tree's 73% mint with green tea. My conclusion then was that ES was the clear winner, as G&B's is too sweet and New Tree, while offering a high mint intensity, is simply too expensive to enjoy on a regular basis. Endangered Species' mint, then, has been my favorite chocolate in the whole wide world since. How does Theo compare? Quite frankly, it doesn't.

Just about everything about this bar makes it inferior to the the three competitors above. It has ugly packaging, an ugly bar design, and a trio of flavors that's unimpressive and absurd. It's only culinary virtue is that it has a good mouthfeel, a sort of medium-like crunchiness that is comparable to ES' version but softer. In comparison to Theo's orange this bar is definitely harder and not as fragile -- it doesn't shatter like glass upon eating -- but only subtly so. With its other vices in mind, the mouthfeel amounts to nothing.

Oddly enough, this bar offers a trio of flavors instead of the two you would anticipate. I certainly love the experience of a complex bar, but the flavors here are absurd and don't go together. The mint tastes the same as you would find in the ES version and is of the same intensity, but the chocolate note itself is much weaker and thus too mild. The third attribute makes no sense: rye bread. Out of curiosity and impatience I took a few bites of this bar right out of the fridge before the official tasting and thought I was mistaken at my interpretation, but when I let it warm up and went about the official task I confirmed that I was correct: There is absolutely a very noticeable attribute of rye bread in this. The note itself is slightly stronger than the mint and cacao attributes, so there's no way you can miss it. It wasn't strong enough to arouse in me any actual sense of displeasure, but it is nonetheless unwelcome and unfitting for a bar of mint chocolate. It doesn't necessarily ruin the experience, but in conjunction with the weak cacao it's enough to leave one unsatisfied.

I can't think for certain as to how this flavor note could have made it into this bar. I don't store bread in my fridge, my other chocolates stored in the same fashion picked up no such attributes, and it was shipped in the same box as Theo's orange; I think the most likely culprit is the manufacturer itself. I don't know whether this was intentional, but it should be fixed. Theo does make a bread and chocolate variety, so it's possible that cross contamination could have happened, but I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and say the problem is with the recipe itself.

There are no grounds on which I can think to validly recommend this bar. Even that it is soy-free is a virtue erased by the weak chocolate and out-of-place rye. Endangered Species' version has no such odd flavors, has a pleasantly sweet and mildly assertive chocolate note, and has better packaging and bar aesthetics. Endangered Species is still the clear winner in my book and continues to be my favorite, so do well to pass up this Theo bar.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Another Change of Mind on Reviews

I'm sorry to be so fussy, but I have changed my mind again in regards to how I'll conduct my chocolate reviews. A little while ago I stated that I would start conducting the reviews by establishing a hierarchy based on how one would confront a chocolate bar, dealing with the packaging aesthetics first, the bar style second, and the mouthfeel and flavor profile last. I thought this would be logical since this is the natural order of the eating experience, but now I'm having second thoughts.

As I've tried to construct my reviews I found that this makes for very awkward writing. In my writing the flavor profile and mouthfeel demands to be heard first, so trying to fight that natural inclination to structure my pieces accordingly has been making for reviews I'm less than satisfied with. The form of my connoisseurship has made it so that I give serious consideration to packaging and bar aesthetics since I firmly believe they contribute to the whole of the eating experience, but I must understand it's probably not as serious a concern with my other readers and so should be saved for later in the article and be given less space. The makeup of the flavor profile and mouthfeel are absolutely the most important and essential attributes.

So from now on I'm going to take a more natural approach to writing my reviews and allow them to be constructed in a way that allows for the most dominant qualities of a bar to be mentioned first and be given the most space; lesser elements will come later and be given briefer mentions. You read my reviews to find good confectionery, not to admire pretty wrappers!

This should lead to more valuable reviews in the future, and I hope it will be more helpful to influencing your purchasing decisions, giving just attention to those treats that truly deserve it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

We Are What We Repeatedly Do

Several months ago I wrote on the phenomenon of living one's life in disconnection, which means living in such a way as to not allow actions to accumulate into a sum (and therefore give reason for passing moral judgment on that sum). The main example I had cited was a time I was unjustifiably yelled at for maintaining my nutritional standards, in which the offender was confused about my consequent hostility despite his irrational behavior having happened just moments previously. I realize now that there's another aspect to this kind of mentality, one I would call filtering the negative in order to reach selectively constructed sums.

Last week while I was at work I had the uncomfortable experience of being confronted by a past associate whom I absolutely detest. He is a deplorable character, as he's slovenly and intensely driven by his emotions. At the times in which I had to deal with him I was very tense, as he was often in a very negative mood which would make him uncomfortable to deal with. On some occasions he would be openly malicious, and at one point stated out loud that he wished one of my other associates, an actual friend, would get "electrified" by a microphone he was handling, implying that he wished death on him. His estimates of various people were constantly changing due to his mood swings, so he was ultimately a very terrible person to deal with. Even when driven to act benevolently on the basis of a good mood I could not enjoy his company since my moral evaluation of his being dictated by emotions. When he disassociated from me and other people it was a wonderful thing, and the workplace atmosphere has never been better since.

When he returned for a visit, however, the tensity immediately returned. While he was driven by a benevolent mood at the moment, I again could only treat him with the barest civility considering his emotionally-driven nature. He can certainly redeem himself by introspecting, identifying, and altering his vices, but he had provided no evidence that he had done so, which leaves my negative moral evaluation intact. He was around only briefly, but it was once again satisfying to see him leave. One scene that sticks out in my mind was witnessing him speak on a very friendly basis with someone who he had mistreated in the past; the person acted like no wrong had been committed. I still think fondly of that particular associate, but this incident gave me fuel for abstracting from the case.

Humans, as a species, are value-oriented. We want to live life in a way that gives us pleasure and joy, not pain and suffering. Even people who explicitly believe otherwise are still value-oriented in some way; masochists themselves have a psychological mechanism that makes them interpret certain forms of pain as a form of pleasure. Absolutely no one wants to live on the basis of anti-values, especially when dealing with other people.

Unfortunately, I think this value-orientation could lead to a natural inclination to a coping mechanism -- one that everyone can be naturally prone to, but alter -- as a way of dealing with certain anti-values. In the incident cited above, I think some people in regards to relationships will filter out the negative aspects of people in order to maintain a positive sum in mind and therefore allow themselves to continue dealing with those that are essentially bad. If a person consists of 9/10 vice, then other people might filter this fraction so that they view the 1/10 virtue/amorality as the person's essential character and therefore be able to continue bearing them. If the 9/10 of vice were kept in mind a person would either be unable to allow themselves to continue dealing with the bad person or would have to drastically alter their behavior towards them.

I think this is more along the lines of a common innocent error rather than vicious evasion. Humans naturally want to eliminate or minimize anti-values to the best extent that they can, so this psychological maneuver is but one way of doing that. It is not a healthy thing to do, however. Regardless of however intensely a person concentrates on the 1/10 virtue/amorality that they see in a person, it is the 9/10 that will compose the essence of the relationship and will dictate the overwhelming majority of the experiences one has with such a bad person.

I've seen some rather pathetic cases where this mentality has led to some rather sad results. I once had a friend who had an emotionally deficient and potentially abusive boyfriend. His emotional needs consistently dictated the essence of their relationship, and she was consistently stressed by it. However, on occasion did she enjoy his company, so it was on those rare moments that she concentrated on and used to derive the sum of the relationship, despite the fact that the sum was quite to the contrary. As a result she maintained a relationship that was objectively harmful for longer than it was worth. In another case I know this parent who has a child who has been incredibly malicious and self-destructive throughout his life and has caused little else but grief to the parent. The evil elements in the child way over dominate the slightly bearable elements, and so has been overwhelmingly frustrating to deal with. However, in rare moments does the child achieve a state of indifference and short-term amorality, so on this basis the parent has derived the essence of his relationship to the child and has continued dealing with him. Pathetically, the parent has maintained this mentality towards the child for several decades and has spent a virtual lifetime of suffering the malicious outbreaks.

While this filtration mechanism may allow us to "bear" a particular person's vices it will not bring us one step closer to happiness. Despite all your concentration on the "good" it will be the vice that you will experience and suffer the majority of the time, and in the long-run that will amount to wasted time that could have been spent dealing with better people or in more worthwhile pursuits. To achieve happiness and to deal with good people, we must exert ourselves to allow a person's actions to form a sum and to judge and treat him accordingly. It may be tempting at times to ignore or "forgive and forget" some negative actions, but that would be immorally dropping the context on what composes a particular person's entire character. Judge the whole person all the time.

One of my favorite sayings in this regard, one that drives both my pursuits in life and dealings with other people, is by Aristotle: "We are what we repeatedly do."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

More Obtainable New Tree Chocolates

You know New Tree chocolates? I've spoken very fondly of them many times here on this blog, but have cited as their primary vice that they're way too expensive to encourage regular consumption of, so while I'm itching to give some varieties a just review I have been abstaining from purchasing them. New Tree does have its own online store through which is sells its products, but everything is very expensive and the baseline shipping rate is $9.95! To boot, the store can be a little glitchy and confusing, such as how the front page measures its prices in the different currency, so I wouldn't make a purchase there without contacting a service representative and making doubly sure everything went through fine.

Happily, I have found there is another option. Amazon.com has restocked on several varieties and many of them automatically qualify for free shipping. Additionally, the large bars here only cost $1.49 per ounce, whereas from New Tree's website they cost $1.95 per ounce! Buying in bulk here will save fifteen dollars!

I give my strongest recommendations for the 73% ginger and 73% mint varieties, which are my personal favorites. I plan on giving each of these their own review, but I'm going to have to start saving up first, so it'll be in the distant future. More likely, however, is that I'll go ahead and make a more expensive purchase from New Tree's home website since not all varieties are available on Amazon. The bulk ginger and mint is definitely something worth saving up for nonetheless.

As much time as I've spent talking about how great these bars are, I'm glad they're finally being sold at a more reasonable price.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Green & Black's Differing Product Lines?

For some reason Green and Black's chocolate has been on my mind this past weekend, so I thought to take it upon myself to investigate their website to see if I've missed anything I might like to try. I may not be shopping right now -- I have a significant wave of chocolates scheduled to be shipped to me -- but I'm always open to looking for things to add to my wish list. While looking around I found something perplexing.

Apparently G&B's offers significantly different product lines depending on what country they're selling in. Some varieties are only available in one country and not another, and sometimes the same variety is produced differently across borders. To cite some examples, the milk butterscotch variety isn't available in the US and the dark espresso variety has a cocoa content of 67% for the US and 70% for the UK. Why such differences?

Most importantly, however, I have found that their dark mint variety is 70% cocoa in the UK! I love mint! I feel gipped by not having access to this particular version, as I think it has the potential to become one of my favorites. I have had the 60% version they offer here in the US, but while I think the mint intensity is perfect the low cocoa content makes it too sweet for my taste. Just a little bit less sweet and I'd find it the best chocolate in the world.

I wonder why G&B's has decided to sell their products in such a fashion. Have they conducted studies which has given them evidence as to which varieties a particular audience will favor most? Connoisseur that I am, I wish they would at least establish some sort of international online store which would allow for costumers to purchase the varieties they have the least access to; that mint bar is a cruel deprivation. 

It makes me wonder whether other chocolate companies are holding out...

Friday, November 5, 2010

Weekly Summary 10/29/10 - 11/4/10

An overall good week, though again I could do more in exerting myself at being productive. I relaxed on Saturday and Sunday in addition to going to work (which isn't really work to my experience), and during the week I managed to complete the second chapter of The Logical Leap, completing six conceptual exercises, and read approximately half of the thirteenth chapter of The Journals of Ayn Rand, but I didn't get to Good Calories, Bad Calories since Thursday was so full of chores, driving, and other neglected things. Shame on me for continuing to neglect my studies, but I cannot bring myself to feel guilt since I'm too much enjoying the peace of mind away from being frantically worried about the Circumstance. My inner state, really, is tremendously more important than my outer one at this point given the plain misery I've been enduring for the past few years. There have been some interesting bits of information I've heard recently that could have a significant impact for the better on my project, so perhaps I'm right to feel comforted.

At the very least I should recognize that I should be somewhat disturbed that I've been taking too much of a carefree attitude these past weeks regarding my efforts. I am relaxed and more at peace, but things aren't getting done! Then again -- perhaps just enough is getting done. Maybe the problem is that, in addition to my suppressions, I've been pushing myself too hard under the stressful circumstances (lower case c) and needed all along to balance my work and play with a different ratio. Or maybe I've finally exhausted my stress through my therapetic rubberducking? I honestly still don't fully understand the nature of my current state of consciousness. I need to continue with my introspection in this vein and see if I can gain a better understanding of the essential attributes of what I'm experiencing now and utilize it towards making myself more productive.

Generally, my current state is that I've been thinking about my values, like chocolate and my writing chocolate reviews, in exchange for being largely emotionally unaffected by the Circumstance. I haven't been very intellectually engaged with my study subjects, but I have been concentrating on introspecting the nature of my emotions while at work and treating people with a more benevolent attitude. My recreation and work life have certainly been improved by this shift in consciousness. If I can gain an understanding of what is going on then maybe I can use it to help maintain a peace of mind while putting forth serious effort towards my other goals where a lack of peace of mind has been the primary obstacle.

As tempting as it may be to do otherwise, I've come to realize that it's important for me to work only on the quantity of goals that are within my ability. Far too often I have been constantly adding more and more goals to concentrate on all at once, which has been stretching me thinner and thinner until the point is reached where my most serious goals are neglected. Building on recent posts, I think the most rational hierarchy to establish is to concentrate on maintaining and improving my current peaceful state of mind, and to work on maintaining a consistent level of productivity. I think I can also work on my lovability goal as well, since that entails merely keeping a tally of my honesty and conversation topics. Beyond that, nothing should be added. I need to maintain the strictest focus on these goals since they are the most essential to my well-being and ability to pursue other goals in life. Aside from introspection, I think the best methods are to continue on with my rubberducking and keep tabs on how I'm constantly changing my to-do lists.

As for my goals this week, I'll keep it mild again in order to make room for emphasis on my self-improvement measures: One section of every study subject. Throughout I'll work to maintain introspection on my emotional nature, particularly during my walks; exert myself at rubberducking, and continuing to work on trusting my to-do lists. It may be little, but perhaps just what's needed.

I'm not sure as to whether or not I'm getting any closer to getting my Project finished, but I'd certainly like to think so. There are some positive signs in that direction, but not definitive ones. It could be a few weeks or a few months still. Whatever the case, I'll continue to strive for the ideal self in the meanwhile.