Monday, January 31, 2011

Ice Cream Review: Haagen Dazs Five Coffee

Coffee is my new flavor interest. I disliked it and stayed away from it most of my life, but that Green & Black's espresso bar has got to be one of my best ever food experiences period. It not only induced euphoria, but also left a pleasure aftershock that lasted about two days. Man, it might even beat out my love of mint! To maintain my sensitivity to caffeine I will still try to severely restrict my coffee intake -- I won't allow myself to drink any, for instance -- but coffee confectionery is definitely going to catch my eye now. I had to try Haagen Dazs Five Coffee ice cream.

From this experience I learned most importantly that I need to try different kinds of coffee to educate my palate, as I've tasted so few that it's currently a primary flavor. What else can I say that this tastes like except coffee? Its intensity is that of a happy "just-right" medium, neither too weak nor too strong, with a thoroughly consistent coffee experience on the tongue and sweet half-and-half memory on the breath. Appreciable, but I wish there were more dimensions.

The texture is where the most is left to be desired. It's surely smooth enough and melts acceptably -- just okay -- but the outer edges have the crackliness of large ice fragments and melts in a lumpy fashion. The coffee beans were ground to the point that they're but a fine powder that fuses with the base and leaves no solid specks, only a caramel glow like that of coffee whitened with sugar, so the problem is obviously with the cream base itself, not the coffee incorporation. It could be done better.

Unfortunately, this variety did not induce the euphoria experience I got with the chocolate bar. It really didn't get much of anything out of me, except to make me feel more alert. To give sufficient time for my confectionery consumption to work through my system and not interfere with my sleep I tend to eat it first thing in the morning (yes, ice cream for breakfast), so I came to my tasting still pretty groggy, only woken by the anticipation of my treat. It hardly kicked me awake: I just naturally pepped up with little of its assistance. Disappointing.

I like this variety; it's okay -- I guess. I would eat it again, but probably won't since I have higher values that deserve my money. I cannot recommend it or advise against it either way -- I'm just indifferent. Coffee is so much better in chocolate. Perhaps that would be a good ice cream in the future? Oh, and with caramel too!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Chocolate Review: Ghirardelli's 86% Midnight Reverie

Ghirardelli's 86% Midnight Reverie is a chocolate I've been long in getting to. Time to throw out another worthy competitor to the likes of Lindt and Green & Black's, no? (Though, I do believe Ghirardelli is owned by Lindt.) I've been especially intrigued in this since some of my friends have been enjoying this particular one, and I always have an incredible curiosity for whatever good sweets my friends are eating. Say you're eating chocolate and you'll know what question I have.

The packaging is very fitting for a dark chocolate bar: black as midnight, just as advertised. The front is very simple with its nightly colors, rigid text, and portrait of chocolate pieces. I feel somewhat prejudiced towards liking Ghirardelli's bird mascot, for birds are my favorite animals, eagles being one of them. On the back is a silver contrast that reminds me of the stars at night, and the space is filled with flavor descriptions, tasting notes, and an extremely basic overview of the chocolate making process, the last being oversimplified and perhaps not worth including. I like informational reading with my chocolate; can't learn enough about it. The tasting notes promise a crisp snap and a taste of roasted flavors with hints of the red fruits cherries and plums. We'll see.

My own sensation is that the dominant attribute is that of a sort of roasty smokiness. Vanilla plays a subtle role, but is strong enough to surely stand out on its own. Red fruit seems to be too specific an identification, but there is a tart attribute reminiscent of tart fruit in general, which cherries and plums could certainly be a part of, but not be the first members to come to mind. Most of the experience is subsumed by the smoke and roast attributes, especially emphasized in the aftertaste inherent on the breath, and the fruitiness becomes most noticeable on the backmost sides of the tongue. The aftertaste on the breath might linger, but in the mouth the memory easily departs.

Each bite has a slightly viscous melt. It does indeed deliver on the crisp snap, and the melt comes at a moderately decent pace, transforming somewhere between a thin goo and a cacao butter. Ah, it can easily coat your entire mouth. Be sure to let it.

Appearance-wise the bar mimics the packaging quite well. It's black as midnight in its flesh, but given the right lighting source the dull shine makes it look as if the moon were glowing on it, beckoning to the back of the box. Each square is mathematically precise in its shape and textured symbol of the Ghirardelli medallion (I always love those signatures), and the back, while of the same tone as the front, has a odd sort of blobby and spotty shine. Inwardly the gradient is almost absolutely smooth, explaining the even melt.

More fruit makes itself apparent in the aroma, though oddly ones that don't really make an appearance in the bar. I am impressed dominantly with cocoa and raisins, and more generally with that of dried acidic fruit. Berries? Whatever the case, the raisins stick to the scent and delegate the flavor roles to other fruits.

A very important question to ask at this point is: How does it stack up to its competitors? So far I've reviewed Lindt's 90% (I'm skipping the 85% review), Green & Black's 85%, Chocolove's 77%, and Endangered Species' 88%. Most importantly, the flavors showcased in this variety, in order of increasing intensity, are tart fruits, vanilla, roastiness, and smoke. Few, if any, of the others contains this array of attributes, making Ghirardelli a unique contribution. Lindt and G&B's emphasizes sugary cocoa and a deliciously strong and boozy vanilla note; Lindt is the economical choice, but I favor G&B's for its density and heavenly mouthfeel. Endangered Species' very strongly emphasizes the bitterness of the cocoa and has no noticeable vanilla hit, which I don't like since I'd rather just go for a 100% cacao baking bar if I wanted bitterness. Chocolove is just too mild to give much of an impression of anything, so I wouldn't even consider it.

Quality-wise, I'd say this comes down to a choice between Ghirardelli, Lindt, and G&B's. Ghirardelli has the roast, smoke, and fruit whereas Lindt and G&B's has the intense vanilla and sugary cocoa. Between Lindt and G&B's, G&B's has an incredibly greater mouthfeel. My choice would be to have both the Ghirardelli and Green & Black's bar, as in one mood I could go for fruit and smoke and in another for vanilla drinks and a velvety mouthfeel. The world can be made grander with more choices.

In the end, I regret holding off on reviewing this variety; its merit has been too neglected. It has a thin, buttery mouthfeel; a complex orchestra between strong savory impressions and quietly sweet supporters, and a smell that harks back to childhood boxes of raisins. Certainly it's worth the eat.

Weekly Summary 1/21/11 to 1/27/11

Last week I said I would try pressing my abilities by setting myself up for a demanding week. How did I do? I got everything finished! I studied three chapters of Good Calories, Bad Calories (completing 29 conceptual exercises), read five articles from The Objective Standard, completed Capitalism Unbound, read up to page 200 in Becoming a Chef, established a reading guide for Food Styling for Photographers (though I think I'll skip it for The Professional Chef since it's so large), published that significant essay on Dragon Ball Z, constructed an article on leg cramps for Modern Paleo, checked out Turbo Tax, and did a thing for my Project. The toughest part was the taxing study of GCBC, which was really the only thing that tested my concentration. My concentration seems to be back to its old potency again, but I still lack the enthusiasm I had in my productive efforts a few weeks ago. In short, I feel rather gray emotionally.

The only difficulty I see in my endeavors is that I was prone to mental shortcuts in my study for GCBC and also neglected tackling other items on my to-do lists as well, but I guess that's to be expected when you push your abilities. Whatever got neglected, I concentrated on those few things I wanted to get done -- and I got them done. It is true, then, that I am capable of extracting much more out of myself than I had been demanding. Once I bring my intellectual strength up to the point I can handle these demands easily, could I perhaps push myself even more?

Emotionally, however, I am disturbed. I was rather indifferent this week, and one night I even gave up on completing my daily goals at night since I just felt so stressed out at my current conditions. When I achieve such a productive concentration like this I become aware of the Circumstance in a special way: I see how it interferes with each and every one of my strivings, and I long for it to be out of my life. The better things become, the greater my sensitivity to anti-values. I want but a life of value as pure as it can be, so the closer I get to obtaining such the more hostile I become to anti-values, such as the Circumstance. No, I didn't obsess over it this week or was particularly concerned, but I did maintain a constant awareness of it. Just because my mind can be occupied with other matters doesn't mean that the Circumstance has gone away; it's still there. It'll always still be there until the Project in finished.

At root, the stress that I felt that one night was a sense of punishment. Yes, it feels almost as if the Circumstance were some sort of punishment bestowed upon me, and, larger than that, my general situation as well. Here I am working diligently to improve my character, life, knowledge, and competence, often late into night, and what reward do I get for it? The Circumstance and the stagnation of my Project. I feel both jipped out of something I deserve and forced to deal with aggravation I had no part in bringing upon myself and do not deserve in the least. But, oh, why whine about it? A night's sleep alleviated my stress the next day and I caught up in pace.

I've been doing too much waiting for things to happen with my Project, and it's showing in my subconscious: I've started thinking about the Circumstance again. When that type of obsessing happens it means my subconscious is recognizing I haven't been doing a good job tying up the loose ends in my life, so it perpetually reminds me of my problems until I actually take steps towards solving them. While I am waiting for an effect in my Project justifiably, my subconscious is not pleased, and I'll have to take action towards my Project soon or I'll obsess again.

But I have to admit I've been feeling disenchanted with my Project lately, though not demotivated. It's just been going on for so long. Nearly eleven months now. And geez, my original estimate was about three or five months! It was my greatest hope that I could get things finished before the one-year mark -- but I don't know anymore. Every time I think I'm at the end there's some sort of obstacle there that decides otherwise. The greatest annoyance is that other people can, have, and do regularly accomplish the same thing I'm trying to do in mere weeks. On their side it's just another extension of their value-oriented pursuits, something sufficient for their happiness, but not necessary. On my side I find this endeavor to be positively essential in helping me obtain full mental health and to be able to peacefully concentrate again and be happy, something sufficient and necessary for my well-being. Yet the endeavor takes two weeks for most and over five months for me? Blast this state of affairs!

However, in the end it all remains just that: an annoyance. There is no way possible for me to actually become demotivated in this Project. The misery simply pushes me to desire a remedy all that much more. Full happiness will not be possible unless this Project is completed, and I won't stop craving it until then. I will persevere, only having taken this moment to rant. However difficult the Circumstance, I will ensure this is the last time it ever has an impact on me. 

Let us move onto this period's goals, shall we? I'd like to maintain this demanding pace since I know it's within my abilities, and I'd like to add a big pinch of self-improvement in there as well. If I get myself used to maintaining this rigor on a consistent basis, then who knows what I'll be capable of?

Study-wise, I'd like to finish GCBC (I have but the final chapter, epilogue, and afterword left), finish my current issue of TOS (about five articles; many short book reviews), read up to page 300 in Becoming a Chef, read up to page 50 in The Professional Chef,  and read up to chapter two in Food Styling for Photographers. I sense I may get these done quite early, especially since I'm slowly becoming more desirous of keeping myself busy, so I must exert myself to go beyond this if I do succeed.

Self-improvement-wise, I'd like to practice tying my shoes and apron faster to increase my efficiency; perform a trial run with some new perfection categories under my exertion category, studying/thinking (to track my intellectual effort, slash marks meaning I'm lazing); do my own taxes, buy groceries that will emphasize my cutting skills, and try two new study techniques: writing/speaking out "everything I know" at the end of a section and during my connoisseurship, and adhering to a definite time limit during these activities in order to prevent myself from taking mental shortcuts and trying to end it early. And yes, I'll add that writing subject to my list of goals as well so I don't neglect it. I promise.

All in all, I've really picked myself up, haven't I? Remember those series of weeks when I couldn't accomplish all my weekly goals, even though they were much less demanding than this? You've just got to keep pushing on no matter what. Giving up is the only definite sign of failure.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Why I like Dragon Ball Z

Ever since I identified what I loved about conventional villains I have been consistently sensitive as to how artists portray moral characters in their works. For a long time it used to concern me as to why I liked feeling "evil," but now I see it's rather the case that I'm responding to virtue which has been improperly mixed into villainy.

To recap my previous writing, I've learned that the reason why I admire villains so much is because they're often given virtuous traits that are withheld from the heroes. It's not the evil I admire, but the specific virtues which can be cast into isolation and appreciated individually, such as intelligence, strength, and physical attractiveness. I made this identification while playing a video game, Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story (which I sold). Near the end of the game the anti-villain, Bowser, gets trapped in a safe and is abandoned by the heroes in favor of other pursuits. What confused me was my emotions: I felt a great sympathy for the unfortunate Bowser, especially considering he might suffocate, and felt contempt for the heroes being so indifferent. It was strange to me as to how I could feel positive emotions towards an evil character, but I found the answer in the fact that many of the facts in the game don't match the evaluations you're encouraged to adopt. For instance, Bowser is portrayed as a very unhealthy eater, as he eats almost nothing but meat while the Mario Bros. are strict vegetarians, but despite the fact the game developers want you to think Bowser is unhealthy it is an obvious fact that Bowser is much bigger, stronger, and resilient than the Mario Bros., and is lean for his body type while the Bros. have fat bellies. Furthermore, in contemplating the Mario Bros. series as a whole I learned that there are other facets to Bowser's character that makes him more admirable as a person than the Bros. In fact, if one were to omit his evil intentions, he'd be the greatest hero of the Mushroom Kingdom. I highly recommend reading my above linked essay to see by which concretes I reached that conclusion.

But this interpretation isn't limited to the Mario Bros. series; it's all over art. Very often is it the case that the villains are utterly fantastic while the heroes are hardly worth mentioning. By making an integration from M&L:BIS to the whole Mario Bros. series and then to art in general, I learned why I was usually never satisfied at the sight of conventional heroes triumphing over villains, and why I always faintly admired super villains. Because of how the culture is set up philosophically, many traits which are actually virtuous -- such as ambition, self-esteem, and pride -- are given to villains as a symbol of their evil, and the heroes constructed to defeat them them usually contain their antipodes, such as laziness, self-loathing, and humility. Most interesting could be when an artist creates these characters of these natures without intending to. I'm sure the creator of the Mario Bros. would not condemn strength as a vice, but that Bowser is given physical might while Mario is deprived of it -- is quite revealing.

Now that I know what specific traits I admire in villains I can sit more comfortably in my admiration, but, of course, I cannot get total spiritual satisfaction this way. While Bowser has the potential for being a moral giant, it is still the case that he is actually immoral in his pursuit for dictatorship, so while he's exciting as a character he's still worthy of condemnation. The same goes for most all villains, so the virtuous traits that have improperly been handed to them goes to waste artistically. Where are the true heroes?

Happily, I think I've found a series that provides nearly unadulterated virtue. Yes, as the title might indicate, I'm talking about the classic animated series, Dragon Ball Z. Recently an abridged version has starting airing, Dragon Ball Z Kai. I didn't appreciate the series very much as a child, but I thought it would be enjoyable to watch it anyhow on Saturday mornings, now as a more keen adult. To my surprise, I learned that there is a significant amount of good philosophy in this series. There are some negative elements of mysticism, such as magic and otherworldly dimensions, but the basic premises of the relation of good to evil more than makes up for it. The villains are very exciting to witness and attractive to the eye, but they have flaws that severely undermine their character, like painted warts on an attractive portrait, and the heroes not only have the moral high ground, but also possess authentic virtue that makes one glad they can claim morality. The portrayal of evil is intensely intriguing and awe-inspiring, and at the same time the heroes always manage to come up much more incredible and admirable in the end. In short, I find that this series has an extremely good conception of heroism, one that is both authentically good and spiritually satisfying, regardless of the mysticism. Given the prevalence around the web of the image of the super saiyan, I suspect that people recognize this virtue on an emotional level and admire it accordingly. I don't think I've ever seen anyone portray in a positive light the villains: It's always the heroes, usually one who can transform into this golden form, or the heroes actively beating up the villains.

Fan or not in the past, I have seen the majority of the series; watching DBZK is simply a more thorough experience. In introspecting the whole series I have noticed that these themes of the nature of good and evil are very consistent throughout, thereby making the show very philosophically consistent. As such, I'd like to exhaustively detail my observations about the series in the hopes of persuading you to value it as well, perhaps enough so to get up on Saturday mornings to watch it as well.

Before I start, however, I'd like to make a few things clear. First off, no background knowledge of the series is necessary. Since I'm taking the time to exhaustively detail my observations, at least as much as I can for one essay, I will explain how certain things function in the series, such as what exactly is the nature of a "super saiyan." Secondly, I'm going to do the best I can to exclude mention of any filler, movies, or Dragon Ball GT. As far as my knowledge goes, this material does not correspond with the original graphic novel series from which the "true" animation derives its source material, so I omit them in order to keep my points consistent since some of the material, such as the movies or GT, are not entirely consistent with the moral philosophy I've derived from the show. (Note: filler in anime is animation used to take up time and is not consistent with the source graphic novel.) My secondary purpose in doing this is so that my points reflect upon the original artist himself as much as possible, so including material he didn't create would prevent such an examination on his being. Finally, since I don't have access to the original DBZ that aired on Cartoon Network's Toonami I am largely writing from memory and may not be absolutely accurate, so I ask anyone more knowledged in the series to correct any inaccurate information.

Now then, let us examine DBZ, a series with true heroism.

The Heroism

Primarily, this is a series about physical ability at extraordinary levels. It revolves largely around the fighting lives of a few select martial arts masters, and how they cultivate and use these abilities to destroy evil beings who happen to have the same abilities as well, if not more. The potential for strength development is literally infinite: while there may be limits on muscle volume, there is none on density or strength, so the characters transition from being able to lift boulders to be able to move mountains, and then to even destroying entire planets. They learn of laws of reality known to few but accessible to everyone, and train themselves to command nature like a god, learning everything from how to fly, shoot disembodied energy, teleport, and more. All these techniques are available to all beings within this universe, but they're only known to a severely limited amount of people and, worse yet, only taken advantage of by rare individuals. Anyone can potentially fly, but even as millions of people witness these rare individuals do so in the fighting arena it forever remains a novel sight, one that no one ever seriously considers learning how to identify the nature of. The rare individuals are hardly gifted, though to some extent are. They are in contact with the same reality as everyone else, though decide to take advantage of it in a unique way and become superhuman only by the virtue of their breath-taking effort. Goku, the main hero in the series, did not get to being able to move entire worlds just by fact of his birth: It took years of brutal and agonizing effort in order to reach the heights he has, effort that very few have matched and even fewer have attempted.

Most admirable in this realm is that the heroes are self-made. Sure, the heroes may have some advantages which may make them superior to the average human being, such as Piccolo's ability to instantly regrow limbs or Goku's ability to instantly get stronger after healing from a fight, but by and large it took intense effort for the heroes to build themselves up to where they are. They constantly train, persevere in brutal conditions, and never so much as contemplate giving up even after agonizing injury. It is through the sole exercise of their freewill have they moved themselves to accomplish such, and by this they claim total credit for what they have achieved.

The moral righteousness practiced in the main heroes is totally pure of any poisonous elements, even that of altruism. Any fight to defend the good is done so with the passion only possible to men morally certain that their position is right, and they act not out of sacrifice, but to protect their values: Their freedom, loved ones, and life. Given the stupendous strength the heroes possess, it is no less than exalting to see that they possess the moral high ground, making them fully the giants who deserve to be giants. No where is moral purity better portrayed than in the series' main hero, Goku.

Goku is the epitome of morality in this series. He is free of bad elements, conflicts, and any chosen vices. Near the first part of the show he is victim to a few intellectual errors, but he does not stay static with his beliefs and so corrects them when he learns better. He is so pure of evil that for many years he literally couldn't even conceive of it, and has a virtually nonexistent capacity for anger until he witnesses the most extreme of evils. As a child he once fought a devil-like man who used a special ability to make people explode through the power of their evil thoughts. In a flashback the devil-man indicated that he once even made a "pure" monk, a being with control over his mental processes, explode sheerly by whatever dust specks of evil was within him. And yet, when he tried the same technique on Goku all it did was make an aura of colors surround him, prompting him to comment on how pretty the technique was. Goku was so innocent that morality was simply his natural, near-instinctual state, one so strong that for a long time he literally didn't even think about evil. His outlook on life matches his inner state, for he believes that there's good in everyone, and even if he meets someone evil he must be pushed to his utmost limit to fully believe that they're irredeemable.

This last facet constitutes a naivete' which Goku holds only since his worldview is so strongly benevolent, and unfortunately it causes him a lot of grief in the series. He very seldom kills bad guys, instead opting to injure them and leave them to redeem themselves, which unfortunately has turned out to happen in the majority of the cases, thereby fueling his ignorance. He even gives mass murderers a chance at redemption, which time and time again comes back to haunt him in the form of injury or stronger evil in the future. It is unfortunate that Goku should have had this trait, but he adopted it out of pure innocence in the belief that good is so potent as to be nearly irresistibly persuasive. Who can blame him given the amount of evidence he obtains throughout his life? After all, the vast majority of the heroes, even the greatest ones, started out as villains.

With rare exception, almost everyone that Goku has met in his life has started out with evil intentions. Yamcha was a thief in the desert. Tien and Chiaotzu were training to become professional assassins. Piccolo planned on enslaving the world. In various degrees did these villains practice their creed, but upon being confronted by Goku they were put in their place and gave up their malicious strivings out of uncoerced choice In each case Goku never actually forces them to change their course through the threat of retaliation or destruction, but rather convinces them of the impotence of their evil by way of their defeat. After witnessing the impotence of their evil ambitions, the villains then transform themselves into moral beings, even going so far as to redeem themselves absolutely by becoming the greatest heroes in the universe.

It took many years for Goku to even conceive of the slightest possibility of there being someone absolutely irredeemable, someone so vile that it's impossible for them to make amends. Even after Vegeta, a villain at the start of the series, becomes responsible for murder, Goku allows him to depart for his planet in the belief that mercy would be the proper thing to show in order to give Vegeta the chance at redemption. Even Frieza, one of the most memorable and main villains, is given a hefty account from which to withdraw second chances from, even as Goku's friends are slaughtered, including his best friend Krillin.

This naive belief, while destructive, is not permanent. Goku finally learns of his error after defeating Frieza. After Frieza gets sliced in two by his own energy disk, he begs Goku to show him mercy, for he'll never go about his evil ways again. He was entirely trying to take advantage of Goku's good nature. Being pressed by his moral premises, Goku undertakes to heal Frieza in order to give him enough strength to be mobile, and intends, out of disgust, to let Frieza escape the about to explode planet they were on on his own. While Goku is flying away, however, Frieza tries to kill him with one last attack, to which Goku responds by blasting Frieza into near oblivion. Upon arriving back to Earth, Goku fully recognizes that some people in the world are so vilely evil that they simply will forgo every chance at redemption, and so must be destroyed in order to be fully defeated. After that realization, Goku always took the effort to vanquish every evil thereafter, but still -- to some extent he held onto his old premises. While he knew evil needed to be destroyed, he still held onto the notion that there was always the slightest chance at redemption. Before he defeated the final villain of the series, Kid Buu, he openly speaks aloud that he hopes that Buu gets reincarnated as a better person, and god rewards Goku by doing just that.

Goku's morality is not sacrificial; it always comes with reward. In convincing the major heroes to give up their evil ways and redeem themselves, Goku is rewarded with their friendship, respect, and protection. Everything Goku does is either to gain a value or protect an existing one. Some of the more knowledged fans may be tempted to point out to me that Goku "sacrificed" himself when he allowed himself to be killed in the act of teleporting away a self-destructing android, but in reality that is not a true sacrifice since Goku would have died either way. In order to protect his loved ones -- there was a heaven anyways -- he gave himself; if he did not, then he would have died along with his loved ones as well.

In the period that Goku is dead (people can be brought back to life in this series), he is rewarded by earning a spot in a kind of "Super Heaven," a heaven above heaven. In that heaven the very best people in the universe group together to practice their favorite thing for all of eternity: martial arts. What is a more just reward for Goku than to have him spend all of time with his moral equivalents engaged in his exalted passion? All of the other heroes -- again, once villains -- also manage to earn a spot in this special heaven.

Unlike other conventional heroes, the heroes here are physically attractive, intelligent, strong, resilient, and, most importantly, self-made. They are not average ordinary folk "like you and me," but rather giants who have accomplished something that is possible to all, but only reached by few. For once, these are moral beings who deserve the honor of triumphing over evil, and it is very pleasurable to watch them do so.

The goodness of the characters seems to correspond with the universe itself, as if it were inherent in nature for the good to dominate.

The Benevolent Universe Premise

Not only are the heroes giants in their skills, but evil is also largely absent to begin with. In the world depicted in DBZ, it's shown that times are largely that of peace. There have been mentions of war and the like, but the only things you're shown are peaceful countrysides, peaceful villages, peaceful towns, and peaceful cities. As far as I know, the only major worldly threat that involved mostly normal humans was that of the Red Ribbon army, and even with the great quantity of evil there Goku defeated it single-handedly as a child. Evil is largely absent in the majority of mankind, and things such as robberies appear as a tiny drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things. After all, many of the heroes could defeat a robber literally with one finger. The truly competent evil belongs to very few select individuals, and each has a short reign. Regardless of their age, Frieza, Cell, and Majin Buu were all defeated within approximately a week after confronting the Z fighters.

Moreover, when defeated evil is the one to stay down. In conventional portrayals it is usually the villains who come back time and time again after each defeat, resolve unharmed, while the heroes protrude an aura of luck given that they might not survive a single defeat. This is an obvious display of the malevolent universe premise in modern philosophy, the notion that the universe is set to metaphysically favor evil and doom man to frustration, suffering, and destruction. If one will take the Megaman series of video games as an example, the same root evil comes back to haunt the heroes time after time for centuries, maybe even millennia. It's impossible to enjoy any sense of the heroes truly overcoming evil since they never make any headway and are doomed to lifelong fruitless fighting.

It is possible for people to come back to life in this series, but the villains are always exempt from the benefit. It is always the heroes and good people who get to come back to the world while the villains continue to suffer in Hell. The heroes may be beaten, battered, severely injured and tortured, and even killed, but they always come back indefinitely. Villains? But one life to live, and they're gone forever.

All the villains arrive on the scene with ferocious strength that dwarfs the Z fighters in the beginning, but in the end the Z fighters not only triumph, but do so with overwhelming force, annihilating evil excessively beyond any necessary minimum requirement for their destruction, showing how powerful the good is in comparison. The final two villains, Cell and Buu, are totally vaporized in one fell swoop while at full health and peak energy. The despicable reigns of terror are brought to an end with the greatest of destruction, with salt and citrus acid rubbed in their wounds. What once started out as an nearly invulnerable threat now hardly registers in our beings, and we never feel impressed by outdated powers of the villains again: They're being pushed around in Hell now by insultingly lesser beings, weaker demons. The good guys do eventually temporarily situate themselves in Hell -- not out of deserts of course, and they do get out -- and the old bad guys of the past pounce and are immediately overcome in a joking matter, as if they weren't worth taking as serious threats anymore.

The jokes are another good aspect of this series. While not of high quality, they are very innocent and treat the heroes respectfully, thereby not undermining their characters and making us lose respect. For instance, when Goku travels to Other World after his first death he is sent to train with a king on a small planet. The king, however, mistakingly believes that Goku is there for comedic training, and so requires Goku to make him laugh with a joke. Goku is a terrible joker, so he assumes a fighting stance, cringes his face, and shouts, "I sold my car for gas money!" (in DBZK) The incongruity of Goku's body gestures with his words brought a smile to my face. This type of humor is a constant through the series, making you laugh with the heroes instead of at them, and the only insults are hurled at the villains. Much of the subtle humor, in fact, can be found in character of the villains themselves, though it takes a keen eye. The villains may look appealing to the eye at first glance, but they have several characteristics in their behavior, appearance, and actions that works together to undermine the severity of their being and make us take them a little less seriously.

Treatment of Evil

Given the mild complexity of each major villain, I'd like to dedicate separate space to all three in order to give full justice to their foolishness. Theme-wise, they have defects in their character and aesthetic appearance, are mostly not self-made beings, and in addition to being impotent in their aspirations they assist in their own destruction.

Frieza: The first thing that strikes the eye is how utterly feminine he looks. Yes, that's right: He's a male, not a female. When I first saw him I think it may have taken years for me to correct that misconception. His colors are queenly, he has an hourglass figure, his finger and toenails are black as if they had been painted, it looks like he's wearing lipstick, and he has the husky voice of an obese woman in menopause. To further the misconception, his first appearance shows him levitating in a throne-ish kind of pod, which gives off the appearance of him being a queen. He's a despicable and ruthless killer, but can you feel contempt at the same time thinking he might be using cosmetics?

In essence he's an intergalactic dictator. His purpose in life is to "sell" planets, in which he sends his henchmen to exterminate a planet's lifeforms to be sold as vacant in the future to those alien species willing to pay enough. It's entirely feasible to suppose that Frieza kills his own customers and again sells the planet. Mirroring the dictators in the real world, Frieza is also very insecure with his abilities, and is paranoid that some of his henchmen might become stronger than and overcome him. For this reason he undertakes to exterminate nearly an entire alien species, the saiyan race, the same genetic lineage that Goku belongs to. But even with that threat largely nullified he still maintains his paranoia. Consequently, he travels to another planet to collect magical orbs called dragon balls, which, when all seven are gathered, can summon a dragon that can grant three wishes. Frieza's wish is for eternal life. In this pursuit he is responsible for the murder of countless people.

To his ultimate dismay, however, his effort was entirely futile to being with. After the heroes finally do manage to summon the dragon, Frieza flies over and shouts his wish at it, but of all the ironies: the dragon will not grant wishes spoken in anything other than Namekian, the dominate language of the planet. Given the heroic nature of all the Namekians on that planet, no would could even be tortured to speak his wish for him, so all his efforts were wasted for something unobtainable.

After failing in his venture, he's left on the about to explode planet with Goku, who had been pushed to achieving super saiyan mode, a genetic ability that modifies a saiyan's strength incredibly (and turns their hair golden and eyes blue), after Frieza killed his best friend. From there he fights a futile battle. Goku could have killed him at any time, but given his mistaken premise that evil can always redeem itself he only intended to punish Frieza with a beating and then leave him alone. As another irony, it is largely Frieza who destroys himself. A disk of pure energy was traveling right towards him, and moved by his benevolent nature Goku tried to warn him. Frieza's paranoia and distrust made him believe that Goku was trying to fool him into looking away, and didn't listen. He paid dearly with having his arm, tail, and torso sliced off. He begged Goku then to help him, trying to appeal to his good nature, and promised never to engage in evil again. Goku gave in and healed him so that he would be mobile, but Frieza betrayed the gesture and tried kill Goku one more time, earning him one final blast from Goku that subsumed his whole body. He was then left for dead, but only got slightly more injured, even after the planetary explosion.

After being reconstructed with robotic parts, he traveled to Earth in order to try and kill Goku's loved ones, but was met by future Trunks, a saiyan from the future, and almost insultingly overwhelmed. One of Frieza's major attacks, for instance, was pushed away with a single finger. His deathblow came from being sliced in half and exploded into ashes. What once was a sick dictator is just another soul in Hell.

Cell: Cell is an organic android who is able to able to utilize the DNA and powers of the people he absorbs with his tail, and he can make only the best genes express themselves in the most positive way. His pursuit is for a perverted sense of "perfection": He desires to be the most physically perfect and powerful being in the universe, and to destroy anything lesser than he is. He is the epitome of a not self-made being. In the series he's practically freshly born and is probably only truly two-weeks old when he grows into a full-powered adult, so the only way he could have developed himself the way he did was through stealing other people's abilities and strength. Obviously he is meant to give off the appearance of an insect, and we can derive from his absorption and perverted notion of "perfection" that he is a parasite. In the architect world, his character equivalent is Peter Keating. Is he so foolish that he thinks he can become great by stealing other people's greatness?

His exoskeleton, while "cool," looks bizarre if we're to think how it would translate to the real world. Things sticking out everywhere, squeaky hinges at each step, and a deformed looking tail sticking out between his shoulder blades. In personality he is entirely arrogant to an annoying extreme, mostly because he obviously doesn't deserve any pride for his stolen powers. His confidence is inflated with just a heavy gas, and it contributes to his downfall.

Goku's son, Gohan, was the one to defeat Cell, and interestingly enough Gohan could have defeated Cell almost any time he wanted during the final battle. The only problem is that Gohan had a personal conflict: He thought that the release of his fullest potential would result in him losing control and destroying everything he valued. For this reason he largely abstained from fighting Cell, causing Cell to start taunting him and try harming his loved ones. It wasn't until a once-pacifist android convinced him that it was alright to use his fullest strength to protect his loved ones that he released his restraints. Upon doing so, he gave Cell a severe and painful beating, even temporarily causing him to revert back to a previous, less powerful state.

The final blow came through a showdown of two conflicting energy waves that confronted each other in equal strength and stayed in one position ("Kamehameha" waves). If either Cell or Gohan weakened in his exertion of the attack, then the other would be overcome fatally by the opponent. Feeling inflatedly confident about his strength, Cell didn't give his fullest attention to his attack, and allowed himself to glance at the surroundings when one of the heroes tried to antagonize him. During this period of foolish distraction Gohan then allowed his fullest potential to show through while heavily injured and with one arm, overcoming Cell and vaporizing him. Even if Cell had been paying attention he would have still been doomed, but it is noteworthy how unseriously he took the situation even as he was in a fatal position.

Majin Buu: Majin Buu is the final and strongest villain in the series, and I think my images practically speak for themselves. The fat version is known as Fat Buu or Mr. Buu, and that's how he's first seen in the series. The slimmer version is when the evil escapes from Mr. Buu and reverts back to Buu's original form, Kid Buu. Kid Buu stands mighty at four feet tall, is probably made out of taffy (literally), and is strong only because he was born that way. All his abilities, including being able to reassemble his body parts instantaneously and learn fighting moves just by watching, are only the result of magical powers he has by default of his birth.

Aside from his obscene pinkness and bizarre build, his biggest failing is that in all forms he has the psychology of a young child, and at worst he's totally insane and whim-driven. Even more embarrassing, he doesn't have access to his full power unless he throws a screaming tantrum. Near the end of the series he nearly causes the metaphysical fabric between dimensions to rip apart just because he's screaming so loudly out of frustration. Unless he's throwing a fit like that, he has no access to that strength.

His deathblow is virtually all his own fault. Goku managed to gather up into a giant ball all the available energy of Earth and its population, and had tossed it directly at Kid Buu. The ball moved slowly enough that Buu had more than enough time to move or teleport out of the way, but with his pure insanity he decided to take on the ball and try pushing it back. He was successful for a short while, but a wish made with the Namekian dragon gave Goku back all his energy and allowed him to push back with far less than his full strength. Kid Buu was absolutely overtaken and destroyed on the atomic level.

Kid Buu is most representative of how evil is treated in this series, as he's the final and most important villain. Most noteworthy is that he's the most evil: He destroys and murders not in pursuit of anything, but for its own sake, whereas Frieza and Cell were at least after something. And what kind of being was concocted to represent the embodiment of pure evil? An atrociously pink monster with the build and temper of a child, and lacking the least bit sanity. To give an idea of his insanity, when he blows up planets he makes little efforts to get off them beforehand, instead opting to get blown to smithereens along with them. His magical ability to regrow and reform his body is all that prevents him from dying. It's a curious question as to whether he can even speak coherently, as he only speaks a single sentence and spends the rest of the time screaming, grunting, and growling.

* * * * *

To look back on this section as a whole, the second and third main villains, Cell and Buu, have debatable competence. Each has special healing abilities that allows him to fully heal from any attack as long as it isn't too severe. Cell is able to regrow his entire body in mere seconds so long as a single cell of his is left alive. During his fight with Goku he goes so far as to get his upper body completely blown off, but he instantly regrows it at a quick enough pace to resume fighting. Buu, on the other hand, can come back so long as his atoms are intact. In his fight with the fused being Gotenks he is burnt to ashes, and yet is able to gather up his dust and reform himself multiple times quicker than Cell ever could. To think of it, Buu wouldn't even need to retaliate if fought, for he could lay on the ground and survive literally nearly any explosive force applied to him.

These healing abilities make these two villains' competence questionable since they're utilized so often in the series. If they lacked them, then the Z fighters would have killed them nearly immediately. Are they such bad fighters that they cannot avoid such damaging attacks and are protected by their special healing ability, or do they feel so secure with it that they don't take the effort to fight to their fullest? I don't know.

* * * * *

Given such a display of heroism and villainy, it comes as no surprise that many people favor the image of the super saiyan. The super saiyan state is representative of the strongest state the heroes can achieve, and with its golden overcast it's a beautiful juxtaposition against the villains. I've never seen anyone depict favorably any villain from the series. In fact, there's an animated image out there that shows a frustrated Super Buu trying to strike Gohan, only to be effortlessly blocked. I think that people admire the heroism of the series on an emotional level, even if they aren't able to make explicit why they feel such admiration. Simply put, we as humans desire our heroes to be morally righteous through the exercise of strength, rather than possess the moral high ground out of default of their weakness. Goku and his friends are incredible given what extreme heights they're able to achieve through effort alone, and it's satisfying to the soul to see them overcome evil with dramatic and heroically excessive force. It's refreshing during a time in which the malevolent universe premise dominates the culture, and the villains are always superior to the heroes and are able to come back from any failure an infinite amount of times. The conventional portrayals gives us hum-drum heroes who excite us none at all and leave us unsatisfied whatever their successes are, since we know another evil is just around the corner, waiting to cause more suffering. It might be a slight virtue to see conventional heroes have limitless resolve in combating endless evil, but that resolve does not extend to the bystander: It's such a bleak picture to see indefeatable evil like that. DBZ is clean of those failings.

To further emphasize my point, I'd like to provide a contrast with another popular animation series, Naruto.

Contrast: Naruto

This series is about ninjas that use a mystical force known as "chakra" (magic, as far as I'm concerned) in order to pull off mystical feats, such as creating clones out of thin air, breathing fire, holding a ball of electricity, and so on. In addition, there are also these mystical demons known as bijuu which are the most powerful beings in the world and are oftentimes fused inside the soul of a human host both in order to restrain the demon and concentrate its power. Explicitly, the purpose of the series is for Naruto, the main character, to become the greatest ninja in history and establish world peace. It's not finished yet, but there is enough information to derive a philosophy from.

Most interesting to me is that it seems that the show's own fans tend to hate it to some extent. I've only sampled one message board and admit my lack of research, but by far the most consistent trend I've noticed is how often the people complain about how deplorable the characters are. Such annoyance and hatred has spawned words such as "Narutard" and "Sasukgay," slurs of the names of the main characters Naruto and Sasuke. Given the exact nature of the show, I attribute this not to nihilism, the despising of values because they are values, but rather to an emotional recognition that these people aren't truly admirable as heroes, but given they are portrayed as heroes arouses a sense of disgust.

To start, the main characters all have severe failings. Naruto, the lead character, is often portrayed as incompetent, immature, unintelligent, and lacking in ability. He later does develop himself into a very able ninja, but it's hard to appreciate his work when considering the fact that he has a bijuu sealed inside of him, the most powerful one of them of all. This bijuu gives him way more power than he would otherwise have on his own, so watching him in his most powerful states is equally impressive as watching someone hack into a video game and unfairly modify a character's strength. Goku may have had certain genetic gifts as part of being a saiyan, particularly the ability to go super saiyan, but it is still the case that he'd had to exert exhaustive effort to realize his potential. While Naruto does have great work ethic, it's hard to ignore how many advantages the demon gives him. Worse yet, Naruto often needs a lot of help from other people in order to obtain the strength he does, such as using a mentor to keep his murderous temper under control while perfecting an explosive technique or having his mother help restrain his bijuu while he took power from it. Naruto is hardly self-made.

The other characters have incredible irrational sides that are almost sickening. Kakashi is a master ninja who can copy techniques just by watching them with the use of a magical eye inherited from his dead friend, but while he's extremely competent his character is severely insulted by the fact he openly reads pornography in public and makes no effort to hide it. Sasuke is the secondary main character who once dedicated himself to avenging the murder of his family and species (there are great difference in genetics despite everyone being human), but despite his early claims for justice he quickly develops into an emotionalistic murderer who gives in to his worst emotions and whims. Sakura is a genius and expert medical ninja, but she feels a great love for Sasuke even after she finds out how vile he's become, and the worst thing is that it isn't true love at all: From the start it was always lust divorced from character; Sasuke has always been deplorable and unworthy of admiration. With main "heroes" like these, it's no wonder people think so lowly of the series.

This series is positively soaked in emotionalism. Most, if not all, of the characters are driven by their blind, irrational emotions which they refuse to acknowledge are nonsense. Naruto, for instance, is pursuing secondarily the redemption of whom he considers his best friend, Sasuke. It is positively asinine that Naruto feels any sense of positive emotion towards Sasuke, as Sasuke has not only become a whim-driven murderer in general, but has tried to murder Naruto at least five times, including trying to burn him alive, stick his hand through Naruto's heart, and slam his brains out by driving him headfirst into the ground. How in the hell can Naruto feel an iota of affection for Sasuke after this? That he does indicates a warped psychology and makes him more repulsive as a hero.

The worst effect that the emotionalism has is that it saps the emotional energy of the series by making so many things unbelievable. Gaara, a once mentally disturbed individual who had intense urges to commit murder and would relish in the act, gives up on his sick ways only because he's "moved" by Naruto's affection for his friends. Given how extremely sick Gaara was portrayed, one cannot believe anything making him better except a mental ward. Furthermore, a major villain in the series, Pein, gives up on his evil ways only because Naruto manages to make him "feel" that his path is righteous by the sheer force of his emotion, as if he somehow transferred his emotional energy across the room. It happens so suddenly that it's a blatant display of whim-worship.

Naruto's strength is the worst aspect, for it too is emotionally driven. Similar to Majin Buu, Naruto for a long time could not access his full power -- power from the demon of course -- unless he got angry and lost his temper. He goes to a state that similar to that of going super saiyan in that it modifies his strength, but it's disgusting in that it makes him glow with a blood red aura, develop more whisker marks on his cheeks, grow larger teeth, grow sharper nails, and run on all fours like a wild animal. He takes to growling and snarling too, and even resorts to such flailing attacks as scratching. In this mode he is almost entirely whim-driven, and those whims serve the source of his power. If he goes into even more powerful states, symbolized by how many tails he has, then he faces the possibility of losing his mind altogether, drowning in hate-filled emotions and trying to murder everything in sight. Will we want to hang portraits on the wall of heroes who need tantrums to order to be their most potent?

But there are actually admirable heroes, though I don't know much about them. They are the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Hokages, the leaders of Naruto's ninja village elected to lead solely due to their extreme competence. For all I know, these men practiced pure virtue and are giants among everyone else, though have the misfortune to all pass away. What's their big reward for their virtue? Why, being stuck in the stomach of the Death God, bathing in stomach acid for all of eternity! In order to try and stop a villain from achieving his evil ambitions, the Third performs a technique which pulls souls out and effectively sends them to hell, and while he fails to take the villain, he intentionally gets himself, the First, and the Second Hokage's soul swallowed. What a just universe! Makes one think more fondly of that Super Heaven given to Goku and his friends, no?

All in all, I think this series is justly deplored, if it be popularly deplored, though again I think many people have yet to largely recognize intellectually what it is that they dislike about the series. They can probably point out the specific concrete acts of emotionalism that bother them and explain why, but alone they won't derive the principle of emotionalism and see how it applies to all acts.

Final Thoughts

In the end, I offer my highest recommendation for the Dragon Ball Z series, especially that of Kai, which is much more enjoyable due to its faster pace in my opinion. There may be a bad element of mysticism, but it's harmless given that it only serves as part of the show's mechanics rather than as an intricate focus of it. The universe is just, the villains fantastic and despicable, and the heroes awesome and admirable. With such a good underlying morality it's no wonder why this series has become so popular, and it well deserves it.

This will continue to be my Saturday morning enjoyment, and I state it without hesitation that I enjoy it. I don't care that it's marketed to children, all I care about is that it has an absorbing story and exciting depiction of the triumph of the heroic over evil.

Today's culture leaves so much to be desired with its lame, "everyday" heroes, such as how fat, dwarfish plumbers defeat a powerful dragon with far more merit for respect. For too long now have I admired the villains of a series and shown no respect towards the heroes, leaving me without spiritual guidance. Even if I do explicitly admire a villain, how can I dare strive to be like him knowing that I consider him evil? For once, in Dragon Ball Z I've found heroes. Not average men, nitwits, or lazy sloths. Heroes.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Random Self-Improvement Update

1.) It's been a while since I mentioned this, but I've been doing a lot better dealing with words that are unusual to me, such as foreign names or scientific terms. To remind, I noticed I had the problem of my eyes and mind skipping over such words since I didn't want to break the fluidity of the reading and would therefore ignore anything that gave me resistance, which, of course, made it more difficult for me to retain concepts and remember names. My remedy is to draw a square around each difficult word in my reading and then write it over and over again until I can spell and pronounce it easily. It works: I've been bettering and bettering my reading competence. Continued practice should do wonders for my intellect and speaking.

I wonder if this could help with my music difficulty as well. As noted previously, right now I don't value music very strongly even though I'm capable of enjoying it, so I often don't remember the names of the pieces or artists that I like. I think I could solve this problem with the same methodology: Writing the artist or piece name over and over again, forcing my mind to concentrate on it. It should especially help with the classical music I enjoy, where the composers can have particularly difficult names and title their pieces using technical musical terminology.

2.) The stopwatch has really been making me more efficient at work. Knowing my times has really been doing well to establish standards and obligate myself to perform consistently. For example, I shaved about two minutes off doing the final clean up of dish line, ten minutes off cleaning front and back line grease traps, ten minutes off separating crab legs, and more. With my past performance documented before me, there's simply no excuse for me to expect anything less of myself. Even if I do establish a record that I find impossible to break, then at least I have a standard which I should strive to maintain absolutely consistently. No excuses.

The timing has also made me much more aware of my life. Think of it: I shaved ten minutes off separating and bagging crab legs. What was I doing before? Those moments that disappear without our knowledge is where most of life is wasted. Take making your bed for instance. Let's say it takes about five minutes to make it. That's 35 minutes a week, over two hours every month. In a year you've spent an entire 28 hours making your bed, a whole day of your life wasted right there. You're not going to get that time back. Oh, and of course making your bed isn't the only time sink. How about how fast you wash dishes or dress? Those moments must be minimized. With my stopwatch, I find I can eliminate such waste; I need to be more meticulous in using it.

3.) The moral perfection categories have been working wonders in my life. They're hardly ever on my mind, but the mere fact that I have them written down always makes me aware of whenever I've committed a violation. Just like my honesty and conversation categories I started out with, slash marks rapidly declined just within a few days of utilizing them. And again the exertion category has been the most help definitely: I constantly urge myself to push all the time now, even though I'm not thinking of it as directly related to what's in my notepad. I intend to keep this as a life-long practice. How did I live without it before?

I wholeheartedly recommend this methodology, though I must remind that my categories won't necessarily be everyone's idea of perfection, or be something in particular they need to track. My voice category, for instance, is only included in my perfection pursuits since I spoke with a fake accent for so many years, so now I need something to keep me constantly aware of my speaking habits, lest I throw some inflections in.

* * * * *

That's it for now. Lately I've been saying to myself in the morning: Today is the day to get better.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey Ice Cream

I've really been getting back into ice cream lately. In truth, it's one of my favorite confections, below dark chocolate and above cake. To reserve my chocolate palate I shall not allow myself to indulge often, but it can be a good treat now and then. For the first time in my life I'm discovering just how much better the premium ice creams, like Haagen Dazs, are over the cheaper grocery store varieties. They may be much more expensive, but the quality of the ingredients, fat content, and better texture are much worth it; I'll save my money for them, even if it means eating ice cream less often.

Most recently I've had the pleasure to try Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey, banana ice cream with walnut pieces and fudge chunks. Bananas are one of my favorite fruits, and I especially love them in my confections. I'm still waiting for someone to make a good banana dark chocolate bar, for the Valor version is simply unacceptable with its stale taste and throat-irritating properties.

Overall, this ice cream is nice, but not sufficient enough to be good or great. The banana base is wonderfully sweet and smooth with it being entirely devoid of fruit puree chunks, but the walnuts and fudge resign themselves more to texture than flavor contributions. I wish the walnuts were a little saltier, for being frozen and trapped in banana ice cream covered up the nuttiness and leaves but a soft and yielding crunch leftover. As a dark chocolate connoisseur the fudge was a virtually useless inclusion: Given my high cacao threshold (up to 100%), sweeter chocolate varieties tend to taste less chocolately to me. The fudge must be low in its cocoa concentration, for the chunks just tasted like flavorless blocks of matter, making this confectionery entirely absent of any chocolate note. More intense chocolate would be a definite improvement.

Nonetheless, it is the banana base that I admire in this variety, and the walnuts do add a nice texture contrast. The fudge might be wasted space, but not enough so that you feel like bland bites are in excess. I came for the banana ice cream and got the banana ice cream. It's good and worth the scoop, but surely there are better potential successors. Is there no chocolate ice cream with cocoa percentages, or is that but a dream right now?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Managing Data Bits with Categories

I had an insight on my short-term memory problem. For lack of a better term, I've been calling it my "Data Bits" problem since it entails having a hard time retaining a significant quantity of individual pieces of information. It has had its strongest impact at my restaurant job when I'm cooking, because when items need to be replenished at the buffet I'm notified which individual foods need to be cooked, and the time between pulling the foods out and cooking them can make it difficult for me to retain all the information.

I realize now that this is an issue of crow epistemology. Simply, I'm having a hard time remembering because I'm challenging my ability to hold a certain quantity of things in my mind at once. It might be easy to count twenty people, but to visualize them all distinctly is impossible. There are but seven food items of which I'm in charge of, but even at that I'm working nearly at the edge of my capacity to remain aware of everything.

My solution is to group things into categories. To further elaborate on my problem, when I'm given all these individual items to remember they're all entirely unique and demand a certain amount of energy from my mind, so if I have to cook six of the seven items then my RAM is pretty well loaded. To ease the burden, I need a way to tie everything together, like placing stuff into a box for easier carrying.

The food items can be classified into two categories: Things that need to be prepped before cooking and things that are already prepped. The former need to be floured and battered before I cook them, whereas the latter are immediately ready. By making this distinguishment I go from holding entirely distinct items to groups. Furthermore, each item becomes easier to remember by way of this association since it gains significance in accordance to its dominant attribute (prepped/not-prepped), so even if there's multiple members in each group I have an easier time singling out which ones I need. It becomes even easier when I need the entirety of a group, for then I can forgo retaining its individual members and leave them be implicit in the category's symbol ("Prep," "Group A," etc).

I've tried this out the last cooking shift I had, and to my surprise it made things much easier. I haven't taken yet to spreading the suggestion around my workplace, but when given a list of items it all unjumbles into their appropriate categories in my head, and when I look to the storage I know exactly what I need and am not straining to try and remember everything. Given further practice, I think I can make it so that my capacity for forgetting items reaches zero; the categories just make things that much easier.

This would be a great idea to make a restaurant workplace more efficient. (And I give you the idea free!) Language, for instance, could be sped up and simplified by establishing categories, thereby reducing speaking. Instead of, "I need items A, B, C, D, E, and F" people could say "I need A B from [Group X] and all of [Group Y]." Both communication and understanding would increase in pace.

This does not, however, touch upon my difficulty with trying to piece together words that are spelled out to me. I cannot think of any way I could form a category to fit the individual letters in as I'm fed them, so each letter as such remains a distinct item which challenges my crow epistemology. Further thinking is needed.

It may not solve the difficulty entirely, but I think the categories will go a long ways towards doing so.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Chocolate Review: Endangered Species' 72% Hazelnut Toffee

Toffee: Yet another confection which I haven't tried, but have been introduced to through chocolate. By paleo standards it hardly seems offensive, as its basic ingredients are butter, sugar, and nuts. Given the salty descriptions I've read about this apparently delectable treat, I was more than salivating at the chance of trying Endangered Species' 72% dark chocolate with hazelnut toffee bits. I'm aware that Endangered Species also sells a thicker version that comes in individual pieces, and I'm intrigued enough to want to buy some.

For the most part, this bar is actually disappointing, but I think it has the potential to become something good. The flavor profile is dominated by sugar and milk, which overrides the toffee. The start is very powerfully milky, and it only subtly touches upon the toffee notes in the middle, with an even subtler salty finish. There might be a nutty aftertaste just barely on the breath, but it's much too weak to be identified as hazelnuts.

The inner flesh of the bar revealed the problem. Inside the chocolate the toffee pieces can be spotted like little glassy jewels or polished rocks trapped in the chocolate, and there's so few of them. The ratio of chocolate to toffee sets things way too much in favor of the chocolate and drowns out the other players. I can still taste the toffee and salt even though the notes were too weak to invoke pleasure, so I think my craving could be a sign that if these players were just strengthened a little bit the bar would be awesome. Simply: It just needs more toffee, either in the quantity of the bits or as a filled center. The filled center might be a viable choice, since it would allow for a concentration of flavor. Whatever the case, I hope this bar does get its potential fully brought out.

As always, the bar is very attractive. The top is extremely smooth, shiny, black as coffee, and reflective, almost as if it were hand-polished, and the bottom is a twist to ES' usual standards by being bumpy, slightly lighter in tone, and wavy in its shine. Like with Dagoba's Conacado, there are streaks and varying amounts of shine intensity, only in this case it seems to be a coherent pattern, like horizontal rows of clouds being tossed apart by the wind. Full-credit, as always for ES, in the aesthetic realm.

The aroma is very simple in it primarily being sweetened, milky cocoa, though there is an odd attribute of spice in it. I don't mean spice as in herbs and spices, but spice as in heat. The toffee nuts seem to give this bar a sense of it being warm, as if heat were an individual aroma manifest in its own matter. It's nice, but just far too simple.

I barely enjoyed this variety, but the salty taste I get in my mouth while thinking about it makes me conclude it isn't entirely worth dismissing. The toffee is too far pushed off the stage, but with greater inclusion I think the balance could be set right and this would be a wonderfully buttery and nutty experience. Until then, this chocolate remains largely chocolate with only "suggestions" of something else. I do hope ES considers modifying their recipe, for the potential for greatness is there. Otherwise: This bar is kind of bland, but is at least worth tasting. I'll add the Coexist pieces to my wish list and consider it in the future.

Weekly Summary 1/14/11-1/20/11

Yet another good week. After spending so much time not being able to do anything, I'm doing a very good job getting my weekly goals finished. This week I studied chapter twenty in Good Calories, Bad Calories (completing ten conceptual exercises), read six chapters in Capitalism Unbound, read up to page 100 in Becoming a Chef, read two articles in The Objective Standard, constructed those two blog posts I promised on moral perfection and rubberducking, edited that significant essay, did my breathing exercises for ten minutes everyday, wrote down everything I ate (with one or two exceptions), established a list of categories for my moral perfection and started tracking them in my notepad, fasted on dairy products except for butter, made plans to save up for a restock of my chocolate review supplies, and listened to my recorded rubberducking conversations. Most significant is that I got all this done even with a few surprises being thrown my way, such as an article being published prematurely (thereby encouraging me to write another to replace it) and happenings at work setting me up for an additional shift. Surely this demonstrates I'm capable of much more than I'm aspiring to, as I think I could have still gotten a lot more done. While I'm doing well to reestablish my concentration, I still haven't recaptured that enthusiasm I once had in my productive efforts. My goals were well taken care off, but I'd still like to have a little leftover momentum for side-endeavors to demonstrate my true productive capacity.

On the worst side, I think the breathing exercises and writing down everything I ate are hardly useful practices. The breathing did make me feel good in the morning, particularly if anxiety had caused me to do shallow breathing, but I don't think it contributed anything to my efforts; I might maintain it just for health reasons. As for the food writing, it did nothing whatsoever for my thought processes and was an annoying burden to maintain so meticulously. All it did was make me acknowledge the food items on paper; nothing more, nothing less. It might be beneficial to try and see if a full-out food diary would be a much better practice, tasting descriptions and all, but I will be dropping this particular practice. Obscenely annoying!

The rubberducking, I think, had a subtle effect on my psychology. It's making me much more aware of my speaking habits and is perhaps assisting me in altering them, and I do notice I'm getting more and more comfortable listening to myself speak about uncomfortable subjects. At first I would grimace at a disturbing thought or word, but now I can assess myself with complete coolness. I am starting to doubt whether this will help me be a better listener in the presence of other, sensitive associates, but for now I am seeing value in this practice. It will help my speaking habits, at the very bare minimum. I'll continue recording myself as I drive to get a better picture of the long-term benefits, if there be any.

I love the categories I have chosen to include in my pursuit of perfection. It's made me so much more aware of all my habits, not in deliberate consciousness, but as a sort of omniscient subconscious sensitivity. The slash marks may be excessive right now, particularly in the concentration category, but day by day I feel like I'm becoming a better and better person. I could easily imagine this becoming a lifelong habit; it isn't as bothersome to rewrite the categories daily at all as I thought. Already the slash marks are reducing in their quantity, and never do I forget what I am striving for. The exertion category has absolutely been the most help, as I noticed I've been pushing much harder this week, thanks in part to my stopwatch. Benjamin Franklin was really onto something.

Nothing happened in regards to my Project this week. I'm still waiting. Patience.

The only thing I wish I could change about this week is my lack of enthusiasm. It almost seems paradoxical how my productivity could be increasing and increasing while I'm at the same time I'm feeling more and more dissatisfied. While I feel proud of my efforts in retrospect, my outlook feels somewhat -- bleak. On an emotional level, it feels like there's no reward to all this effort, and that there might actually be punishment. In a way, I am partially justified: To some extent and some forms, my virtue to better myself has been met with disruption, contempt, and dismissal. The Circumstance itself is somewhat of an undeserved punishment, and dealing with it for so long makes it feel as if punishment were somehow woven into the metaphysical fabric of reality itself. Until the Circumstance is vanquished, such will remain to be the appearance. But while I may feel a sense of punishment, I do know better: Things can be otherwise. With work, reward can become the constant. It's just, such things are a long way off . . . What to do until then?

Aside from the massive benefit the Project itself has to offer, another thing I'm looking forward to after its completion is the ability to be much much much more open on this blog. Because the way things are set up in my life, it's necessary I use vague terms such as Project and Circumstance, otherwise things would become more difficult. It is a very strong desire of mine to publish my much deeper and more personal thoughts -- though there's still plenty leftover for privacy, certainly -- but they all get caught in the web of the Project and Circumstance even if they aren't directly associated with them, so I have to keep quiet on those matters too except to severely delimited individuals. I'd be writing a heck of a lot more if it weren't for those artificial restrictions, and I think it'd be more satisfying as well. But oh well: again, patience.

Perhaps now that a significant portion of my ability to concentrate has been restored I might be able to recapture my enthusiasm this week with further practice of my habits. Given time, practices increase in their natural intensity. Besides, there are still some rewards in my life to negate whatever unjust punishments there are: a storage box full of chocolate, new ice creams and fish in the freezer to try, a slightly higher income, and plenty of valuable associates. These are the things that should dominate my list of good things: That's what matters in life. So, what shall I aspire to this week? Let's make it rough and demanding.

Study-wise, I'd like complete three chapters of GCBC, complete in total Capitalism Unbound before Tuesday (it's due then), read up to page 200 in Becoming a Chef (unless I can't renew it), read four articles in TOS, construct a guest post for another blog, and try to publish that significant essay. Oh, and let us not forget that I intend to maintain the blogging pace here as well. I also anticipate new books from the library, so I'll work to establish a reading guide and pace for them as well. My brain can give a lot more than I've been asking of it lately.

I'm currently drawing a blank on what self-improvement goals I could dedicate myself to other than my general practices, like my list of good things and moral perfection categories, but as always I tend to add goals mid-week, so again don't be surprised if I mention achieving goals you haven't heard of. Things are not to be left static to this study summary.

Things are going good, but why settle for that when things could be exemplary? Perhaps my general theme this week should be that of productivity. I like this quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson: "Determine never to be idle...It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Getting (Studying) Done

A few thoughts on my current studying process.

Taking notes continues to be the bane of my studying endeavors. I never look at my notes again, I don't think I'm including good information, I'm not sure if it's benefiting my learning much, and more. Simply put, it continues to be a hassle being maintained with my studies, which the only positive thing I can say of it right now is that it helps me concentrate on my subject matter. This problem has been persisting for years now, with solutions slow in the making, if not entirely non-existent. There must be some irrational attribute in the way I'm taking to my notes. What is it?

Maybe a lot of it has to do with the different types of material I'm mixing together. To save space I only do single line breaks, so from a distance my pages look like a big wall of text. Looking at it inspires no motivation to dig through it to see if there's something I could refresh myself on or reformulate: It's all just "stuff," which at this point renders my note-taking as write-only read-never. I can think of two possible solutions: Start creating greater line breaks, put different types of notes in different books, or both. I am particularly interested in the second item, as it would make my books more purpose-driven and easier to find one type of material in. I could, for instance, designate one book entirely to working notes and text commentary while another could contain just questions to inspire further thinking and research, maybe homework too. It'd be a little more pricey to buy more notebooks, but perhaps a worthwhile investment.

Most importantly, maybe I'm just not trying hard enough. Maybe I'm acting too much like a schoolchild concerned more with satisfying requirements than with actual learning, by which I mean I might be more concerned with satisfying the minimum assignment processes before I consider myself finished. Read some paragraphs, write some notes, do some conceptual exercises, boom bam done. Likely this is a combination of a psychological issue in which I'm failing to concentrate on my actual learning and a study method issue where I'm setting up rules that can far too easily be cheated like this.

For the psychological factor I merely need to be more introspective and continuously make explicit that my aim in studying is to learn, not to get an assignment "done." Through such repeated identifications I should be able to make myself much more deeply aware of my practices and be subconsciously motivated to study more thoroughly through having established new thinking habits. If the schoolchild mindset is allowed to persist, then the consequent temptations to take shortcuts will continue to plague me as well.

For the methodological factor, I don't think there's much I can do except add another practice or so, as I'm mainly seeing this as a psychological difficulty now. To add onto my current practices, I could start including a "What did you learn?" section at the end of my notes, which is a method originally explicated by Lisa VanDamme. In this section, I would try to make explicit everything I believe I learned from doing a particular reading -- everything. By doing this, I would be preventing myself from walking away from my studies with only an implicit-sorta-feeling that I understood what I read, and would instead be challenged to bring up to surface all the knowledge possible. That should make things sink in more deeply and allow for more integrations. Might be something worth doing on a separate piece of paper as homework, in order to segregate different material.

Mostly, I think my problem is that I've been desiring too many mental shortcuts. Using multiple notebooks and listing out everything I know will certainly help in my efforts, but at root I think I just need to shape up and be more rigorous, and state some mantras if I should be tempted to laze. There's little reason to continue allowing temptation to persist since it is within my power to alter my being so that no such temptation can exist: All I need to do is introspect and set new habits. Sure, there will be resistance at first of course, but once the new habits are successfully established those practices will no longer be a burden to my daily routines, but rather be so a part of my natural state that I find it hard to imagine it being otherwise. It's all about the habits.

My study methods may be still far from optimal, but I will never refrain from improving them to perfection. It's a long journey.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Branch Out?

Here's a thought: In an effort to increase the amount of writing on food I do, how about I break the limitations on which foods I review and share my thoughts more extensively about what I'm eating? Oh, I mean hardly supplementary to my chocolate reviews -- those are what I'm the best at currently, and I intend to keep my formal practices, keep improving, and publishing articles regularly in that area. What I'm talking about is the possibility of submitting informal reviews on other days of the week.

Chocolate tasting has really changed the way I enjoy my food, as I tend now to maintain my perceptive attention even when eating non-chocolate bar related items. For instance, I've been trying out several varieties of ice cream lately, such as Haagen Dazs Five, and I've been enjoying it in a way that motivated me to write small reviews of it on my Facebook page. And yes, I enjoy writing those reviews too, so why not give myself more space to write and share some of that material here? It wouldn't be limited to ice cream; rather, whatever strikes my fancy. I just find myself writing more and more about food not only as a chocolate connoisseur, but also as a developing gourmand.

I'm hesitant to say so, but I am currently against the notion of becoming a full-time professional taster. I've read the testimony of one regarding how much he must eat, and with confectionery I think that would make me quite sick, unless amounts were varied and I could remedy it with exercise for insulin control. Right now, my tasting practices and learning are merely a cultivating of my culinary passion in general, and I engage myself in it as an enjoyable hobby, learning experience, and opportunity to get better in my field. I may not plan on becoming a professional taster, but hey, things such as tasting would come in handy for dish creation, and food photography would be great for reviews and menu preparations, and so on.

Off the bat I'll have to say that anything such as an ice cream review would come inconsistently and at random, so this post is only to forewarn of a trend. Hey, just exactly how much could I take to tasting and writing about? I better go do that thinking I need to do more of...


Another integration. I was thinking about a portion of my essay about maintaining consistent habits, how consistent habits lead to consistent performance, and I realize that the part about setting consistent expectations could really be put to use in my life. Now that I think of it, a lot of things are only approximate in my life, aren't they? And again, approximate standards lead to approximate performance. Just how fast do I wash dishes in the morning? Or make my bed? Or get dressed? Do I have any measurements I could utilize to compare my actions day to day? No.

To enhance my career life I've purchased a stopwatch to take to work with me, which I'll use to meticulously time how quickly I complete certain tasks. I used to use my cellphone for this, but it's far too pesky; a real stopwatch is much more portable and efficient to use. At first I thought I would keep its use solely to my work life, but now I'm seeing much greater applications. Simply, my purpose is to time myself doing certain tasks in order to set standards, which I can then obligate myself to uphold or improve consistently from then on. This is a variation of my Mental Calvin Ball games.

Without such timing practices, I think, how can I motivate myself to remain rigorously consistent? Without measurements I can only say to myself that I worked "kinda fast" or "kinda faster/slower" on a daily basis since my mind is not capable of keeping as precise time measurements as a stopwatch. With a stopwatch, I can set records and hold myself responsible for maintaining and improving them, and if I do drop the ball significantly then the growing numbers on the display are sufficient to make me feel guilty and ashamed of my efforts.

Furthermore, this method's nature as a Mental Calvin Ball game makes upholding a consistent performance much more exciting. When I hit start I suddenly feel invigorated to explode into my best effort since I know I'm competing against myself at my best, and an additional element of excitement is involved in trying to uphold the same standard even as the context changes, as nothing is ever consistently messy to the same degree when I clean. Matters become not only rigorous in expectations, but also a race to do the same high-quality job in a lesser amount of time. The more meticulously I use my stopwatch, the more often I can consistently challenge myself as a person.

But why restrain this practice to my workplace? I've noticed, for instance, that at home I'll often wash my meal dishes at a very lazy pace since I'm under no obligation to get it done at a particular speed and because I sense no difference between this day's effort and the next. Again: It's kinda-sorta-maybe okay/fast. A stopwatch in my home eliminates any excuse for lazing about in my chores: There will be records, and guilt-trips in not upholding them. Given long-term practice, I should be able to eliminate a lot of wasteful idleness in my habits.

I won't time myself, of course, doing recreational activities such a grocery shopping (which I enjoy due to my culinary interests), but I do intend on timing myself as much as absolutely possible: Taking out the garbage, laying down my bedding, getting dressed and undressed, and more. I haven't thought of much yet, but with mental awareness I'm sure my list of times will grow.

I haven't used my stopwatch much as of yet, but already I love it. It doesn't make moving fast uncomfortable and stressful; rather, it makes it exciting and fun. Will I set a new time? is always the thought to have. It's possible that I could grow to love my stopwatch so much that I keep it in my pocket at all times as part of my necessary nerd-gear.

If you find that you have a hard time motivating yourself to "get moving," then try timing yourself: The measurements, the facts of reality, will be a sufficient enough motivator.