Friday, April 29, 2011

Chocolate Review: New Tree's 73% Ginger

My readers will have to forgive me for this, for I've been holding off on this chocolate for quite some time. In truth I purchased a dozen of these all at once several months ago and couldn't bring myself to review them until the very last bar, as I kept getting absorbed in enjoying them without distraction. But my last bar has come to pass, so with minor disappointment (and longing for more) I must finally acknowledge New Tree's 73% ginger dark chocolate, which is another fine entry for the New Tree line.

Now, as you may know, I've been thoroughly disappointed with ginger chocolates in the past (1, 2), as in most all of them I couldn't taste the ginger. I theorized that it was because the ginger was crystallized -- cooked in a sugar syrup -- which may have rendered it unresponsive to my tastebuds. New Tree, however, incorporates the ginger in the form of uncooked shavings, which dramatically changes the experience.

Just about everything in the bar is wonderful. The aroma of warm ginger and cocoa is delicious, reminding me somewhat of cardamon and cinnamon, and I couldn't help taking in the scent over and over again. In the mouth the spice and chocolate flavors fuse together perfectly and linger for a very long time, finishing strongly with an intensified roasted cocoa note. The melt is wonderful at warm temperatures, and the residing ginger bits add a great contrasting crispiness in a very subtle sense, just as if there were pieces of fragile glass candy inside. Shine-wise it's dull and "dusty," and it does have some spots on the back from bubbles bursting on the surface, but at least the bar maintains the excellent design standards of New Tree with those very detailed leaf veins.

My only qualm is with the inclusion of guarana extract, which my search suggests is a stimulant similar to coffee. Eating too much of this has resulted in a rapid heart beat for me and more frequent restroom visits, though I really only have myself to blame for enjoying too much in excess, though enjoyment nonetheless. Given how stimulating dark chocolate is on its own I don't think it needs any more boosts, so I think the chocolate would do fine without the extract. Why not replace it with yet more cocoa and ginger? The flavor intensity and balance is great as it is, but more of a good thing ain't a bad thing!

I have to admit that this chocolate is absolutely in my top three favorite chocolates period, the others being Endangered Species' 72% mint and Green & Black's 67% espresso. I just love sitting in bed in the morning, lazily contemplating my life while nibbling piece after piece of ginger goodness. To avoid wasting I am even impelled to go after the miniscule shavings left in the wrapper.

It may be quite a stimulant, but this is one of my favorite chocolates of all time, one worthy enough to be bought in stacks. I enjoyed wrapping myself up in its pleasure so much that I couldn't bare to break my contemplative mood to take tasting notes, and now I'm sad to see my horde has been entirely depleted. Be sure to give this one a delicate tasting if you should find it, as I give it my fullest recommendation.

Weekly Summary # 28

I lost about two days of productivity this week due to an intense desire to rest, but I don't regret it in the least. Sometimes restoring yourself can be more constructive than continuing on with petered out faculties. Overall it's been an okay week, though I missed quite a few goals, but at least I've come to identify some significant changes I need to make to my life and lifestyle in order to foster more a better state of spirit and mode of living, which will help determine my self-improvement goals for this week. Though, once again I've come across the conundrum of trying to comfortably allow myself to forgo some values in favor other ones, as it is natural to want to enjoy all values at all times.

Most significantly, I've been questioning my routines. As you may know, I've been practicing meditation to order to try and alter my temperament to a more calmer state and to improve my health, but these past two weeks I've been failing to meet the routine since it's so danged time-consuming at a half-hour per session. That's a full 3.5 hours per week, 14 hours per month, and 168 hours per year. It's a beneficial practice, but can't I be doing something more efficiently? I have an alternative practice in mind, and that's in addition to my cold shower practice. More next week.

Other than that, I've realized how pained I am to neglect walking, one of my favorite activities period. Due to work and other activities I have been going without it for a long time, and taking one recently submerged me in a very intense contemplation that lasted for hours, a mood that took hours to alleviate. I don't know why I operate like this, but the more I go without introspection sessions the more the urge grows down the road, finally coming out as an intense and isolated mood. One of the best resting activities I can undertake is to use my free time to take extremely long walks to collect my thoughts. Walking should be more a part of my routine than it has been, but at the same time I need to realize that I shouldn't walk when I have no urges for thinking, and instead take to my writing or reading.

Finally, I've also come to realize how badly I've been going about my sleeping habits. It's a natural temptation to  want to go without a bedtime so that we may keep on doing things, especially productive things, but the lack of sleep, either in quantity or quality, can really put a damper on one's competence. For several weeks I've been wasting time in bed because my body wants to wake up at a set time (between 7:30 and 8 AM) when I really need more sleep, so I stay in bed since I'm under the impression that I can keep sleeping, but my body won't allow me to. That's wasted time for productivity that leaks unto the rest of my day, slowing my capacities and lessening my overall abilities. One day this week I went to bed and woke up early feeling utterly fantastic, and in combination with a great walk I had a rockin'-ly productive day where my momentum was sustained throughout. It's amazing how one's sleeping habits can have such broad and long-lasting effects like this. While I would like to stay up, I think it might be better for me in the long-run to establish better sleeping habits since while I might be spending more hours sleeping, I'll be able to put more into the hours I'm awake. Even with my late-night restaurant job I can still pick out a constant schedule for regular sleep, so I have no excuses.

Here's the list for this week:

1.) Finish Charlie Palmer's Practical Guide to the New American Kitchen: Finished. I'm entirely unimpressed. Charlie Palmer doesn't seem all that unique, so my curiosity has smoldered out. I'm not so sure I want to visit his restaurant in the Joule hotel anymore now.

2.) Read fourteen chapters of Mind Over Mood: I finished the book, but to my error I turned out to be less than seven chapters away from the end. It is FANTASTIC. I must review it soon.

3.) Read/skim seven chapters of What Einstein Told His Barber: Nope. One of the problems with the imbalances in my life is that writing has been taking up a lot of my time, which has unfortunately been pushing out much of my reading. This desperately needs to be fixed for my studies. I think some lifestyle choices have been the problem at root, so I've got some goals in mind to address them.

4.) Look up Egyptian music: I did, but I found nothing of the sort I had in mind, so no music post.

5.) Look up Japanese music: Same as above.

6.) Watch some lectures on inflation: Not yet, though an important task I should get to soon.

7.) Document what I need to do for my new job: Not yet.

8.) Establish a banking account: Accomplished.

* * * * *

Aside from setting some productivity goals, this week I'd like to direct towards establishing better lifestyle and spiritual habits, as I see now how some bad choices, like my irregular sleep, has been having negative effects throughout every area of my functioning. Additionally, this past week I've made some major identifications about the nature of introspection, which I'll write about sometime next week. Here's what I'd like to do for next week:

1.) Introspect once a day in my introspection journal: This is a part of the major identifications I made about introspection. I'll elaborate later in that post I'm going to write next week.

2.) Read a particular essay about surviving an economic collapse: Yes, it may be a depressing subject to think about, but I've found that facing the issues has been strengthening my spirit against disappointment, especially since I'm optimistic about the culture and there are ways to bear the bad times. I'll link it next week, as I don't know the URL as of this writing.

Additionally, maybe I'll write some additional posts on bearing bad times, because as things get rougher people will certainly be in need of spiritual fuel. With all the negative writing about I think we need more voices pointing out the objective positive, no matter how small. Maybe I'll make myself one of those voices.

3.) Read What Einstein Told His Barber: It's a very unspecific goal I know, but at the very least I'll say that I'll strive to read a full section every time I pick it up, as I still need to correct the imbalances in my life that's pushing some important activities to the wayside. Correcting my sleep patterns will probably be the most beneficial, as it should increase my efficiency and give me more working hours. I should probably be less paranoid about my reading as well, as I overestimated how long it would take me to receive some inter-library loan books and now have about a dozen rentals I can't possibly finish before their due dates.

4.) Read Alinea

5.) Read What Einstein Told His Cook 2

6.) Write a book review for Mind Over Mood: Book reviews were a failed writing endeavor here in the past, but this book fits the blog's theme too well to be neglected, especially given how good it is.

7.) Watch those lectures on inflation neglected last week

8.) Go to bed by at least midnight every night: It may seem like a late bedtime, but the latest I get out from work can be up to 11 PM or later, so it's the time frame I can always isolate consistently. I allow myself to wake up naturally, without an alarm.

9.) Put orange safety glasses after 10 PM (unless working): Another neglected health practice. Based on my reading I have found that humans produce the hormone serotonin when exposed to blue spectrum light (like that available in daylight) and melatonin in its absence, and serotonin makes one feel alert and awake while melatonin prepares the body for sleep. This is why we awake to the sensation of daylight and feel sleepy when going without blue light. I've learned that such electronics like computer monitors can generate blue light and thus keep us producing serotonin much longer than we otherwise should, which explains why I was able to stay up until 3 AM while a teenager, and is probably contributing to my sleep troubles. In addition to using f.lux, I've found that wearing orange safety glasses -- and the color is important, since it filters out blue light -- has indeed allowed me to calm down and get sleepy more easily at night while not sacrificing electronic usage. I've been forgoing them these past weeks, and f.lux used alone isn't too effective, so that's probably why my sleep schedule has been getting messed up. I may look weird wearing them, but they really help stabilize my sleeping patterns, and when habituated in wearing them I'm not bothered in the least by their presence. Additionally, I also wear a face mask to keep my eyes in the dark (since my house mates don't keep the place totally dark) to prevent myself from being woken prematurely.

10.) Look up resources for improving my speech: Speaking continues to be an ongoing problem with me, which was the subject of a major self-improvement venture in the past (unfortunately, I can't find my online documentation of it), and yet I seem to continue to have difficulties. Simply put, my hearing-impairment affects greatly how I'm able to speak since I can't hear all the pitches a normal person is able to and because I hear my own voice differently than other people do, excluding the obvious fact that I'm hearing myself in first-person. While I've made major improvements, I'm still having great difficulty speaking effectively, especially fluidly, and people still tend to think I'm some kind of foreigner due to an "accent."

Personal aesthetics aside, I'd like to improve my speaking since it has been source of great difficulty in the past. For instance, some people used to think I was literally retarded because I couldn't pronounce certain words, and I couldn't pronounce them correctly since I couldn't hear their distinguishing pitches (bath, for example, I would pronounce as "bass," and scissors as "thissors"). The major improvements have come by way of understanding how to generate the proper tongue movements to incorporate the pitches, but more work yet needs to be done. It doesn't help that I misinterpreted my problems as a matter of accent in the past, since as a teen I spoke with a fake British accent to "cover it up" and have thus ingrained some bad habits, which is why I have a category for my speaking habits in tracking my moral perfection. (To make sure I keep speaking with my *true* voice.)

* * * * *

That's it for this week. I look most forward to seeing what the lifestyle choices, such as sleep, will change matters.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Logic Makes Things Harder?

Here's a weird one. For those interested in formal logic and logically precise thinking, have you ever found that such precision has made it more difficult for you to deal with certain situations?

For instance, I remember as a kid I played the first Pokemon video game in a strange way due to my way of thinking. Pokemon may not need any introduction, but just to be clear: In the game there's more than just simply catching Pokemon; you also have to make them get stronger by engaging them in battles. Now as a kid I thought the abbreviation "exp." stood for "exercise points" rather than "experience," so my conception of the way to make my Pokemon stronger was to engage them in physically strenuous battles. You've got to work out intensely to develop muscle tissue, right? It's a perfectly logical assumption to make in considering why a character is growing stronger: The battles are equivalent to intense exercise.

The game isn't programmed according to that logic, however. Absurdly, a Pokemon can grow stronger even if he doesn't lift a finger in a battle. All you have to do is make sure he's the first Pokemon to appear in battle and then swop him out for another immediately, and at the conclusion of the battle the Pokemon that didn't fight will still receive an equally divided fraction of the experience points and grow stronger. A sign in the game even explicitly notes this, revealing that the game developers wanted players to level up their weak Pokemon without them getting crushed by stronger foes.

However, I couldn't process this as a kid. Except until after you beat the game and find a secret area, the majority of wild Pokemon you catch are too weak to be useful in battle, so at a lost for what the game expected me to do I did the hard thing: I battled with only one Pokemon exclusively and strengthened him to an obscene level, beating the game with him alone. Of course, this meant I died dozens of times since he wasn't fit for all situations, but it quickly came to be the case that he could defeat any enemy in a single blow. The game probably took much longer and was unnecessarily harder because of this, all because my logical thinking couldn't process the game's illogical ways.

Another more prevalent example, one most likely easier to identify with, is in interpreting people's speech and thoughts. People these days tend to speak very carelessly and often say things they either don't really mean or don't mean precisely. One time in math class my teacher said to practice a certain mode of diagramming *several* times, and since the word bears similarities to the number seven I ended up practically overflowing my page with writing, and my teacher actually meant us to practice only three or four times. Just a few weeks ago I was taking a quiz to prove my personal identity as part of changing my address online somewhere, and while I knew for certain what the correct answers were I kept worrying that the quiz was constructed with approximate figures and that I might fail anyhow.

Imprecision bothers me because it can lead to nothing other than more imprecision. Epistemologically, it's a systematic poison that makes it harder and harder to keep one's thinking straight since the amount of imprecision will simply continue to accumulate if not remedied. Those people who care not an ounce for keeping precise I have found to be nearly impossible to deal with, as miscommunication is happening continuously and without end. I remember once I kept shuffling furniture pillows around for several minutes because the person couldn't comprehend that they were asking me to move their couch cushions, not pillows.

So have you found that in your own life that exercising logic makes it harder to deal with illogical situations, or to expect incomprehensible approximations around every corner?

Why Do You Love to Learn?

A question directed to the nerds amongst us here.

It goes without saying that I highly value knowledge. Intellectual reading is a constant in my lifestyle, and I've even gone so far as to initiate my own study routine even though I'm in no school institution. (I'm also preparing to take it on again.) It takes knowledge to be able to deal with life and existence successfully, and it is knowledge that I do not neglect.

I'm wondering, however, if it could be possible for people to have different motivations for a love of learning than the one I've identified. If you love to learn, then I ask: Why? Why do you value it and what impact does it have on you?

For me, it's about mastering reality. The only way to have successful actions and pursuits is to have the necessary knowledge and thinking skills to complete such feats. You can't just learn a static amount or depend on what other people say; you've got to be mentally active your entire life to be able to deal with a changing world. People who don't will find themselves unhappy and impotent.

My enjoyment comes from the use of my learning, in which my knowledge physically demonstrates itself. It can be anything, whether it be an emotional change from successful introspection, a good meal cooked with new methods, a solution to a business problem, and more. The more achievement I earn, the more I see before me how important knowledge is and how it drives my life upwards. The very reason why I love to cook is epistemological: It represents the full process of knowledge: the learning of scientific theory, the physical challenge of its application, and the sensuously pleasurable results. It shows the entire cycle of how knowledge works in reality.

Some people, I know, love learning as its own end and aren't concerned solely with practical applications, and I admit I don't quite understand that. It also makes me wonder if there could be other reasons and motives, and I'm interested in hearing them.

So what roles do learning and knowledge play in your life?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Another Change of Mind in Chocolate Reviews

Aside from the demands of my palate, one of the main reasons I've been limiting myself to dark chocolate exclusively is because I was under the assumption that lesser amounts of cacao/cocoa meant that a greater amount of sugar would take its place. Consequently, for my Paleo diet I've been avoiding things such as milk chocolate. However, a friend spoke fondly of a milk chocolate under an organic brand I liked, so out of curiosity I checked its wrapper while in a store. To my surprise, even with its low cocoa percentage (under 40%), it still had a very tolerable level of sugar. It even bested out other much darker varieties, like a 60% one I examined. Its ingredients list was also largely unoffensive to my dietary standards, remaining about equal with other dark varieties I've eaten before. And no, they didn't distort the sugar listing by breaking the information into smaller serving sizes. That means that a lower cocoa/cacao percentage doesn't necessary mean an increase of objectionable ingredients or sugar amount.

As such, I'm thinking about incorporating a broader category of chocolates into my reviews to add more variation and spice, and to also increase what's available to me. Dark chocolate is the only candy I eat, with maybe some fruit leather also, so I'd like to liven it up a little. Overall, my standards will change to allow for chocolates of varying cocoa/cacao percentages so long as the company provides a listed percentage (outing varieties that simply say "dark" or "milk" without qualification) and so long as the bar lists Paleo-friendly ingredients, barring the amount of sugar (since it's the amount I'm concerned with, not that it's there) and soy lecithin (since it's pretty much in the vast majority of chocolates). That means I won't try such things as organic chocolates with grain infusions like cookie crumbles, or any chocolate that includes any other component of soy or soy in whole, such as soy extract.

Overall, I'm just going for what I'd call clean chocolates: chocolates that have varying cocoa/cacao strengths, but are at the same time acceptable in dietary moderation. To tell you the truth I'm not sure if I'll keep this standard, but I did buy some varieties that are contrary to the norm. I am at the very least willing to try this as an experiment to see how it goes.

Hope it provokes your cravings. There's some intriguing stuff I'm anxious to try.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Why Does Evasion Cause Pain?

When I speak of evasion I am speaking of an epistemological-psychological phenomenon in which one chooses to either ignore or pretend certain facts of reality don't exist, such as pretending (to oneself) that one doesn't know something that actually is known, or taking a certain course of action even though the available and known facts demonstrate that a different course is proper. Evasion is wide-spread in our culture, and exists everywhere in everything from politicians to significant others.

One thing I haven't thought to ask up until now is why the act of evasion causes pain. Have you ever exposed an evasion to someone in a certain issue and witnessed them become emotionally unhinged, doing everything from becoming hostile, panicking, and running away from the discussion? It's happened to me countless time.

For instance, once I was having a political discussion with someone -- and they left themselves open to the possibility since they expressed political opinions -- and the topic that sparked it was the practicality of unemployment benefits. When the other person expressed relief that a certain family member had received an extension of their benefits, I noted that unemployment benefits actually create unemployment. When they asked me why, I noted that it was funded by the government, and they know where government gets its funding, don't they? Here's where the evasion comes in: The person then said in a very meek tone that they didn't know. Given their old age I thought it was absurd, but I humored them nonetheless and began to explain coercive taxation, how it involves the confiscation of money from one person and giving it to another. A few sentences into my explanation the other person then flared into anger and then snapped that I should be grateful for all the things the government does, and when I continued to explain the impracticality of those measures the person panicked, got up, said they couldn't do anything about it, and left the room.

This kind of thing surely happens frequently, and I'm certain you've come across it. It could be just a key word or sentence, and the next thing you know your conversational partner is falling apart.

Why does evasion cause such intense discomfort?

So far I only have a hypothesis. I think it has to do with how painful it can be to pass negative moral judgments on oneself. It's easy to judge someone else as evil and to feel intense anger towards them, but directed towards oneself the same evaluation can be devastating. It can generate emotions so intense that it may sap one's motivation to pursue values, to remain active, or to even continue living. If you judge yourself to be evil, then you won't believe yourself worthy of values or living.

With knowledge comes the responsibility to act on it, and to act contrary to it is to be guilty of acting in ways you know you shouldn't have. By knowing something is wrong, one is impelled to take responsibility for those actions, or to at least feel terrible about such behavior. However, when someone wants to indulge in an emotion or whim that encourages contradiction to one's knowledge of proper living, one must evade that knowledge in those contexts in order to be able to "comfortably" engage the whim, and the whim can only be emotionalistically indulged so long as the evasion stands. When other people expose those evasions, such as I have in the above conversation, then the person will feel impelled to acknowledge the true nature of their stances and judge themselves accordingly. But again, to judge oneself as evil is very psychologically destructive, so any human foul enough to be evil is going to be motivated to evade the issues so as to avoid making that evaluation. In an attempt to avoid judging oneself or feeling guilty, the evader then acts like the problem resides outside of their being, they externalize it, and instead does such things as get angry at the people who exposed the evasion(s) to begin with, thus piling evasions on top of each other. That means that in my above conversation the person was trying to avoid feeling guilt about their unthinking endorsement of employment benefits, and instead resorted to another evasion by pretending the problem was with me, a person who questions those premises.

The solution to all these problems, of course, is not to evade to begin with. Evasion is probably the cause of uncivil debate. People in those circumstances haven't thoroughly thought out their beliefs, so they're trying to cover up their evasions and construct new ones by becoming hostile in those conversations. Shouting, for example, could be an instance of a person trying to shout down their inner voice and silence it, rather than direct it at the people in the conversation.

As for me, I've found that becoming an Objectivist has done wonders for installing a resistance to evasion. Nowadays I can only tolerate evasion almost just momentarily. The problem is not that I struggle with evasion, but that it takes me a short time to recognize that I'm doing it, and my philosophical premises, that evasion is evil, is what keeps me on track by making me uncomfortable whenever I should carelessly fall victim to it.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Loneliness and the Necessity of Friendship

Oh hum. Since my big move I've become much more aware of other areas of my being, and most prevalent seems to be my intense loneliness. I am entirely on my own in this state, everyone I used to associate with being in Michigan, and most significantly I've never met another Objectivist such as myself, only having spoken to one on the phone. This I think have been the source of my painful longing, so it's high time I put my lovability self-improvement skills to practice and actively nurture a social life.

Philosophically as of late, I've been contemplating the role of friendship in a human life, and have been pondering whether it's actually a basic requirement for happiness. Giving things a run through at different angles is making me realize that my previous resistance to this is due to my having accepted bad second-handed notions of the role of people in one's life, so I've made the mistaken as taking an incorrect and isolated view of some notion, treating it as the only/definitive one, and rejecting it on those grounds.

All of my youth I was taught that being alone is a bad thing and that having friends was a necessary "good" for some reason. These ideas were never explained in any deeper detail to me: It's just "bad" to be alone and "good" to have friends. I was bullied a lot as a kid and was constantly losing friends for some reason or another, so I grew up quite pained with my situationally enforced aloneness and resistance to friendship due to consistent losses, so I always hated the notion that being alone was bad because I was practically forced to be so. It wasn't until I discovered Objectivism and started building self-esteem that I became content and fine with being alone, while at the same time still being able to enjoy friendships. The difference is that I didn't panic about being alone from then on and didn't seek to be with people in order to escape this somehow bad state of being alone.

I realize now that, aside from the notion being empty to begin with, my elders were condemning physical aloneness; that is, being alone in body. Being emotionalists, they judged being alone to be morally bad because it makes them feel bad to be alone, so they're condemning on whim. The remedy they proposed was to haphazardly develop friendships in order to maintain physical contact with people, and they were so unsophisticated in their views that they encouraged me to maintain relations even with people whom I shared no interests with and was bored to death dealing with. As such, I've come to reject the notion that friendship is necessary since I've unthinkingly internalized my elders' false view.

Loneliness isn't about being alone in physical body; it's about being alone in spirit. People like to speak about the supposed paradox of feeling alone in a crowd of people, but there's no contradiction. The loneliness exists in the spiritual realm and can only be quelled by people spiritually similar to you. Dealing with people at random in order to physically be with someone will only serve to evade that matter, and once the people depart the pain will immediately return. First you need to know yourself, and then after having established that working knowledge you ought to seek people who appeal to your personal attributes.

Probably the thing I ache for the most is people whom I can be intellectually open with and discuss deep matters with without fear of them becoming hysterical. The ideal time in my youth I remember is those school lunches during which I was just beginning to discover Objectivism and would have deep philosophical discussions with my friends. Those conversations were immensely satisfying, and I felt such a intense pleasure being intellectually stimulated this way that my brain actually became physically pleasured. I don't thrive on total agreement within a group; in fact, it makes me uncomfortable since I want my positions challenged so I can move forward in my thought. I deeply respect people who can absolutely disagree with me and yet set down the matter as an adult and resume polite relations. Philosophy classes were also my favorite for this reason.

The friendship problems arose when I lost contact with these people. I still loved philosophical conversations like those, but soon my life became filled with people who can only tolerate conventional opinions, and the slightest deviations makes them fall apart and become undone. Since I don't meticulously pay attention to what are deemed to be popular and "accepted" ideas, I couldn't predict how these people would respond to my own thought-out stances. There have even been uncomfortable confrontations about whether it's reasonable to stick a sponge in the dish washer. This as a consequence is probably what has led to me becoming so reserved as I am today, where I tend to keep quiet about my opinions, as I was consistently in environments hostile to differing opinions. Recently I've become a little bit more open about my opinions, and have been reminded how refreshing it is to associate with people on such open terms.

While I'm certainly going to hone my views on ideal friendships as I go on, it might be most beneficial for me to seek out people comfortable with differing opinions, and where a better place to look than people who share my philosophy? Objectivism rejects whole-heartedly emotionalism -- using one's emotions as the means to knowledge and persuasion -- and given the group reviews I think I'd find very satisfying conversation there. Unfortunately, with my current work schedule it doesn't seem like I'll be able to attend any events in the short-term, but I'm going to keep a meticulous eye on this group.

Friendship, though I need to do more thinking, is necessary for one's fullest happiness, but not necessarily for a fundamental contentment. To be alone in the world spiritually can be quite wearisome, as even though I might hold conclusions to the contrary the world feels like a hopeless place when I'm surrounded by emotionalistic and provocative people, as I have been most of my life. Emotions are predominantly inductive, though they are greatly influenced by conscious thought, so constant bad experiences can add up negatively in one's emotional arithmetic.

My line of thought, however, is far from even having begun on this matter. A lot of this is admittedly not yet digested, and I'd be interested in hearing what other philosophers have to say about the nature of friendship, including the big one known as Aristotle. While I won't detail the specifics of my activities, I will in the future detail how I have been spiritually affected by conducting satisfying relationships. It might be alright to be alone when surrounded by bad people, but can you really make the most out of life in that condition?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Chocolate Review: Endangered Species 72% Cranberries and Almonds

I haven't been doing well in keeping track of my efforts, for this variety had almost slipped my radar and gone unnoticed. Thankfully, someone pointed out to me that I have neglected this variation, so when Kroger had a buy-1-get-1-free sale on chocolate I took the opportunity to pick up Endangered Species' 72% dark chocolate with cranberries and almonds. Nobody is going to turn down their favorite chocolate brand when it's on sale, right? I've tried this before, but that was before my formal reviews.

It's quite oddly constructed, very sloppy. The almonds are plainly visible as humps in the back, and unfortunately in my bar they seemed to be all clustered at one end. That's poor manufacturing; machines could be more precise than that. Additionally, I've noticed that the design on the front has been changed from the lone fruit tree to boring diagonal stripes. What's up with the sudden switch? Overall, it's not that great a looking bar, as the shine is dull, the design is lazy, and it's imprecisely formed.

The flavor is heavily imbalanced due to the inconsistent infusion. Everything is mostly muted and mellow, and the few cranberries present add a quiet fruity touch without the berry's signature tartness. I didn't experience the almonds until the second half where they all clustered together, and even then, without salt, the nuttiness was too subtle, making the almonds mostly contribute a dry and crunchy texture. The chocolate did its job, but it's hardly strong and has a stubborn melt. It smells like milk and nuts, making me think of peanut butter for some reason.

The combination of nuts and cranberries is a good concept, but this is a poor execution of it, what with so little dried fruit and the almond segregation. My suggestion for improvement would be to crush the almonds more finely and salt them, and incorporate the cranberry as an extract. That, I think, would fix the aesthetics, flavor imbalance, and intensity problem.

Nice in thought, but could have been done better. Pass this one up.

Weekly Summary # 27

Holy crap has this been a busy week. My new job is my fullest employment yet, so the hours I've been clocking there have been taking priority over much of my other stuff, including my nearly dozen library books rented and my meditation practices. Most days I've been just waking up, cooking breakfast, writing, and then going to work, relaxing once I get home. It's no matter: I need to but improve in my efforts. My only qualm is that I've been getting terrible sleep lately, the kind where I wake up with the sense that I need to sleep more, and yet my body won't allow me to, thus wasting more time in bed. There have been periods since I've gone Paleo that I've been able to get fantastic sleep night after night, so I don't understand why that ability comes and goes. I'd like to correct this so that I can get up earlier without mental or mood consequences. Anyhow, here's the list:

1.) Look up online cooking schools: Ran out of time.

2.) Read one Robert L. Wolke article from the Washington Post per day: I read about two, but again ran out of time.

3.) Read a chapter/section a day of The Guide to the New American Kitchen, What Einstein Told His Barber, and Mind Over Mood: Ran out of time just about everyday.

4.) Look up and learn more tasting concepts: I have a website documented, but my search was unfruitful. I doubt now that I'll be able to find an extensively compiled list of tasting terms, so my best bet is to continue reading food reviews and cuisine books specialized on a specific food. The latter might be more apt to use tasting terms given its isolated focus.

5.) Go to Master Grill: Done and reviewed. Utterly delicious. Next month I think I'll go to Charlie Palmer at The Joule.

6.) Look up Egyptian music: Ran out of time. I'm looking for something that fits a model in my mind, and may make a music post about it.

7.) Look up Japanese music: The rhythm I heard in Love Letter to Japan bothers me, because I feel like I know some traditional Japanese music fitting it, but cannot put my finger on it. I ran out of time for it this week.

8.) Get a gym membership: Done. It's great to be working out again. I cater my regiment around the Body by Science methodology, and it's the only workout routine that I've consistently valued and enjoy doing. I hate going without exercise now.

9.) Look at the Dallas Objectivist Society: Done. I've been experiencing my loneliness full force ever since moving to Texas, and I think it's high time to meet some fellow Objectivists.

* * * * *

In summary I feel like this week was much off kilter, and in a way I feel like a failure for not having been able to complete all my daily goals this week. Oh well, I shouldn't be so harsh on myself, for the time constraints were there and still need some adjusting to. What most worries me is if I have to return my library books before I'm finished with them, as the library system here in my area is more difficult to deal with than the one back in Michigan. In Michigan it was very easy to place inter-library loan requests online and to have them quickly shipped, but here I've got to hand-fill out forms and wait much longer for them to arrive. I've got to be more diligent in my reading pace.

This week I'd like to try and get myself adjusted to my new working life, though I'll alter the wording of some goals so as to acknowledge the time constraints.

1.) Finish Charlie Palmer's Practical Guide to the New American Kitchen

2.) Read fourteen chapters of Mind Over Mood: This book so far is proving to be fantastic, and I'm thinking about doing a review of it once I'm finished since it fits the theme of this blog so perfectly. The chapters are very short, so doing fourteen should be no problem.

3.) Read/skim seven chapters of What Einstein Told His Barber: While I love Robert L. Wolke, not all the articles in here interest me enough to keep my attention, so I'll peruse it to see what strikes my fancy. I'm starting to feel less and less guilty about the prospect of not reading a book cover to cover. I only have so much mental energy, so it would be a waste of my time and learning capabilities if I exert my efforts towards things that don't interest me and aren't relevant to my life.

4.) Look up Egyptian music: Short and sweet, but good to have a reminder amongst my weekly goals.

5.) Look up Japanese music: Same as above.

6.) Watch some lectures on inflation: A scary subject to think about, but one nonetheless in need of preparation for. I'll link the specific lectures next week. (Lazy, yes.)

7.) Document what I need to do for my new job: With a new job comes new self-improvement ventures.

8.) Establish a banking account: I may change my decision if inflation protection demands it, but I want to move my money to Texas now.

It's quite time for me to take on another big project (lowercase p), isn't it? My weekly summary feels boring and monotonous without such focused strivings to concentrate on. Oh well; soon enough. It's time to get back on track first, then contemplate the next big endeavor.

However, I will say that my life has been getting increasingly better since my move. The Project (uppercase p) is proving to be one of the most important projects I've ever successfully completed.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Restaurant Review: Master Grill

As soon as I heard about the concept I knew that Master Grill was going to be the first restaurant I would visit after my move to Texas. I've never heard of the Brazilian steakhouse concept before this, and upon hearing of it I had to try it since it's the most Paleo-friendly restaurant I know of.

The setup is that after being seated you get this little plastic token that has a green and red side that indicates whether you're open to a goucho (meat server) coming to your table and offering a selection of meat, to be carved off right onto a serving plate. It's all you can eat, and additionally there's unlimited access to an extensive salad bar that has meats, darkened and chilled vegetables, cheeses, and more. Check their menu here.

The decor is quite cozy and relaxing, with the atmosphere controlled to let only so much sunlight in, leaving the rest to golden light fixtures. I was seated towards the front by the greeter, and in hindsight I slightly regret that decision since it looked so much more soothing in the back. It's not gorgeous inside or anything, but everything is put together to be worth deeming professionally acceptable.

I planned way in advance to come in quite hungry to take nearly unfair advantage of their buffet, as I fasted for over 24 hours and did some weight lifting two hours prior, and was not disappointed. My token was on the green side virtually the whole time I was there, and in between meat servings I raided the salad bar of its many items and things unknown to me, hurrying to make sure I made it back to my table before the gouchos went back into their dwelling.

While there being only be a single table of salad bar items may seem small, the variety is very satisfying. The spread includes floral and citrusy roasted bell peppers, silky raw salmon with sour capers, mild and salty cheeses, spiced and peppery potato cubes, shrimp with paper-thin shells, smoky salami, and more. From the Paleo perspective what pleased me the most is that the majority of the buffet is subsumed under my nutritional guidelines, with very little straying from it. I gorged myself on a much as I could, but soon I lost my adventurousness in favor getting extra helpings of asparagus, roasted peppers, and that delightful salmon. I usually prefer all my vegetables hot, but they were a good temperature and texture contrast. The cheeses were the low point, as most of them are very mild, the strongest one hardly registering as salty, and were drowned out with the other flavor pairings. I couldn't taste the mozzarella at all.

The star of the show, of course, is the meat. It was always to my pleasure to see the goucho approaching me, bringing a surprise on a skewer, and the green token ensured constant visits. They didn't give entire cuts -- say, a whole chicken breast -- but the portions were doled out at the perfect tasting size, allowing me to have room for every single meat they had. My first offering was the bacon wrapped chicken breast, which was chicken done right. It was juicy, salty, porky, grassy, and slightly sweet all at once, no flavors interfering with each other. From here I don't remember the exact order of my dining, but I believe I was given the Parmesan pork next. It's too bad they don't offer that cheese in the salad bar, for it's my favorite: Sharp, tangy, highly salty. The covered pork underneath is mild and succulent once gotten to. The leg of lamb soon followed, a new meat to me, and has an decent marbling and equal, mild parts gamey and sweet taste. A good introduction. The top sirloin has a great spicy and burnt crust, strongly similar to the wonders of outdoor barbecues, with a unsullied and beefy interior. The pork sausage was sweet and tangy. The finish of my tasting array came with what I believe I heard to be hotel steak, which was smack dab medium-rare and had the strongest of all the fatty flavors. A good healthy greed made me ask for extra helpings of the chicken and lamb. (My second regret: Not getting more of that Parmesan pork.)

Not all was great, however. Flank steak was another new cut I was pleasured to try, but it was an overdone-gray and overcooked bland. Garlic is one of my favorite things to pair with beef, but their garlic beef has too much an overwhelming burnt and smokey taste, the garlic probably destroyed by the heat. My biggest disappointment was the filet migon wrapped in bacon, which came off more as a firm sausage saturated with bacon flavor.

Due to my nice workout I thought to have some dessert, choosing the chocolate cheesecake sitting atop a grid of caramel and mango sauce. Delectable. The cocoa mingles with the slightly funky cream cheese wonderfully, and I was determined to wipe off just about every drop of that sharp mango sauce underneath, though the caramel is overridden.

I ate until I was bloated, but it was worth it to have eaten more than I paid for. I walked out satisfied with my choice and am already getting hungry thinking about my next visit there, whenever that will be. At worst the servers could work to make themselves more visible, as several times throughout the evening I lost track of my waitress and sat parched for water for several minutes. Nonetheless everyone showed good concern for my experience, and did well to remember my requests even as they took a long time to process, especially that one goucho who cooked a leg of lamb at my sole asking. However, I felt like I was slighted come dessert, as I didn't know they charged extra for it and saw no pricing guide beyond the buffet cost; it's not even on their website. That's unfair.

The execution isn't mind-blowing, but it's the best buffet I've ever been to and am gung-oh to recommend. If you want to minimalize the expense like I have, you'll do best to weight train and deprive your stomach like I did, to make possible a great gorging on the feast they have.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Restaurant Reviews

I've finally gotten myself back into work, which now means I can move onto some other goals and pursuits, namely my culinary education. While I'll certainly be more detailed on my spectrum of goals sometime in the future, for now I'm concerned with detailing the development of my palate. For that, I need to eat.

I need to do more extensive thinking as to how I should handle my finances, but at this moment I am thinking that I ought to strive to go to a fine dining restaurant at least once a month for educational purposes (and gastronomical pleasure). It might be monetarily demanding, but a necessary part of my self-development that becomes painlessly integrated into my life's purpose. For the value I'm getting in knowledge and experience it's quite a cheap price to pay, as no one should hesitate to trade one value for a higher one.

To broaden my writing skills in conjunction I'm thinking about writing restaurants reviews, which will not only strengthen my writing but also train my culinary and restaurant thinking, so expect to see them here at least once a month. I cannot promise you a consistent schedule, as I need to coordinate my dining with my work schedule since I'm always going to want to attend dinner service. That means sometimes I might dine on Sunday and have the review on Monday, and other times I might dine on Tuesday and put the review out on Thursday. No consistency.

Ratings wise, I'm not so sure what to do. Given my lack of sophistication I wouldn't dare do something such as a five-star system, but I don't want to be as simple as my chocolate reviews where I either recommend it or I don't. More thinking must be done.

Given my limited range I may not be speaking much to people who have access to these restaurants, but hopefully my readers can find value in thinking about what food concepts they're interested in and seek them in their own areas.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Fluctuating Environments Enriches the Mind?

It's interesting what you can learn about yourself when you become attentive at the right time.

I've mentioned it a few times here and there, but one thing I haven't emphasized much is how I'm a proponent of the productivity methodology detailed in Getting Things Done by David Allen. At first glance it seems like just another way to set up those dreaded to-do lists, but Mr. Allen meticulously takes into account and identifies various facets of human psychology towards being productive, so his system differs in that it strives to clear one's mind of worries of other activities by constructing lists that are meticulous, very well distinguished among different actions, and downright intuitive. The end point is not to just have to-do lists, but to have a set of lists that discourages evasion of what you have to do and prevents worrying about what you're not doing. I have set up such lists and it plays a big role in my life, certainly having increased greatly my productivity.

However, the downside is that all of my lists are kept on my computer. To avoid discouragement and monotony, I've chosen to go the electronic route in keeping lists so that they're quicker to set up and edit, and I don't have to rewrite them from day to day. It's so great I'll never go back to paper planners ever again. The downside is that it means I'm most productive when I have access to my computer, and I'm still utilizing a non-portable desktop PC.

It wasn't until recently that I've been struck by how significant this fact is. While waiting for the details of my new job (though I have started another one) I've largely been focusing on my writing and reading. The only hand-writing I do at length is for my introspection journal, meaning everything else is typed on my computer, and to keep track of my reading assignments, progress, and book rentals I need access to my computerized lists and library account, so combined together I depend pretty heavily on my computer to keep track of my life and activities, regardless of whether or not the computer is actually needed in the task. As such, I'm often glued to one spot.

Recently while traveling about town and being exposed to changing environments I was intrigued by how refreshed and energized I felt. It's strange because the particular activities I was engaged in weren't very high values to me, so to observe such a level of inner renewal in contrast to other activities I value higher was interesting. Instantly I was reminded of a post I read on Mark's Daily Apple about how changing one's environment can improve one's study capabilities. (I can't find it.) Physiologically, could that be what was at work here? Could being around different environments on a regular basis be mentally refreshing?

I'm entertaining this question, of course, because studying and frequent learning plays a huge role in my life. I've seen what wasted lives non-thinkers lead, so I don't intend to follow the same path. Logically, I'm always open to new ways to enhance my study methods and learning potency, and simple things like these seem like they're worth trying.

Could humans be wired in a way that makes it so that being in a monotonous environment is more damaging beyond that of mere boredom? Could changing environments on a regular basis enhance one's learning through the refreshing change of atmosphere? While I admit this could all possibly be hardly justified and easily refuted, I'm tempted to try it. So long as I learn to filter out distractions, like that of other people about, introspecting on the past reveals to me that such changes were consistently enlivening to my mind and thinking.

I'll have to do more thinking and research on this, but at first glance it seems like it may be a worthy goal to save up for a laptop and smartphone, so that I can more easily carry my productivity tools with me, especially my broad lists. It's an entertaining goal to word, but I'm thinking about sticking myself in random places and seeing how it affects my ability to be mentally productive.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Bearing the Bad Times

Times are undoubtedly getting bad. Not only for the United States, but for the entire world. The economy is quite bad off, and with current political actions it's probable, if not certain, that a bout of intense inflation (or hyperinflation?) could come our way and eradicate everyone's savings. US foreign policy is a mess, with our enemies largely being ignored and unimpeded in their murderous endeavors, leaving the possibility for devastation in the future, while American soldiers engage in fruitless combat in obscure locales for obscure purposes and clear-cut failure. Laws are getting more dictatorial and ambiguous, eroding freedom more rapidly ever before, and the assault is going to continue for years yet. With things as difficult as this it can be easy to get depressed in assessing the situation, and that's probably the mindset of most of the people in the US today, particularly Objectivists, who with special emphasis pay attention to the culture at large.

These past several weeks this is what has been upsetting me, mostly, as I hate viciously problems I have to deal with that are not of my own making or moral failure. I am thoroughly attached to the notion of living by my own judgement and living or failing by that alone, so to suffer due to someone else's evil is downright infuriating. But I must, as we all, deal with it, for it's a problem already long here, with no other option than for me to tackle it. While it's easily to speculate on the matter of degrees, it's hardly contestable that things are going to get worse. Life -- true life: full happiness -- will be delayed for all of us.

But I have come to terms with this negativity, and aside from recognizing it I am learning to cope with it. It can be easy to despair over such issues and to sense that things are hopeless. If they truly were, however, then wouldn't you be dead? Without any prospect of anything to live for, wouldn't you cease maintaining your life? Your sustained living shows you're still here on earth for a reason. I myself still believe life is worth living, and beyond that I believe there's still reason to be objectively hopeful for the future.

Even as terrible as things are, I still maintain the same optimism I had in 2009, and recent happenings are strengthening my case. It's too easy to lose hope for the future and happiness when a terrible piece of legislation is passed, such as mentioned in that post, or when a disaster happens, such as the earthquake in Japan, but we must remember to introspect on the entire context and to take a bird's eye view of things, waiting to arrive to conclusions until after a distressed mood passes. Additionally, I think there are also some methods to maintain some base level of contentment during the meanwhile, to bear the stress during the bad period.

The best sign of positive change is on the cultural front regarding ideas. As I've noted elsewhere, people are more and more starting to discuss and debate alternative ideas to long-held dogmas, which indicates that the battle of ideologies have already begun. You know how Galileo, the scientist, was arrested by a church and sentenced to lifelong imprisonment? (In his own home, I believe.) He was in a legitimately hopeless situation. His mind was so potent that he was identifying aspects of nature that nobody else had before, making him the only man in the world, at his time, to have knowledge of such facts. (I don't know much about Galileo, except that arrest was his fate.) That situation can be summarized as one man literally against the world, and in his own personal realm it was a battle in which he was overwhelmingly outnumbered and could not win in his lifetime, though at least passed on his ideas to other generations. Given the impossibility of his situation -- judging from the limited context of his personal happiness, not his cultural impact -- despair would be the logical and inevitable response of any person in his shoes, and reasonably so. But this is far from the situation today -- far, far, far away. It's not the case that only one or two people are holding positive ideas against a crushing world of opposition, but rather that there are thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of people who hold better ideas to combat the ones being practiced today. And I don't mean just strict Objectivists either; in addition to those people, there are also helpfully sympathetic people who are, while not fully adhering to the philosophy, do agree with some of its most important aspects (e.g. the capitalist politics), and furthermore there are still good people who are neutral or innocently mistaken and can still be reached with honest and respectful debate. Even counting Objectivists alone is a sign of hope, as they are many and still sufficient to greatly offset any "one man against the world" scenario.

Besides that, many of the advocates of bad ideologies have self-defeating behaviors which thoroughly limits the reach they have. Evil ideas have bad and evasive epistemology at their root, so most, if not all, of these people who operate on these ideas have not thoroughly or honestly thought about them before accepting them, so their potency in persuasion is limited. People who are not honest usually ignore alternative ideas in debate, become hostile in their behavior, run away from challenge, and so on. Let's just think about these three behaviors. If they ignore alternative ideas in debate, then how can they strengthen their arguments to take into account the alternatives that are being given? Their opponents are made all the more powerful by such evasions. If they become hostile in their behavior, then what type of people are they going to appeal to or repulse? They'll likely garner the weak-willed afraid of disagreement and people who already agreed with their conclusions, and the honest and respectful people will listen more attentively to those who not only present their case calmly and respectfully, but also take into account alternative ideas and modify their positions to acknowledge them. And if evil apologists decide to run away from challenge, then what's going to stop the good guys from spreading their ideas? Fewer challenges mean fewer impediments, and with continued evasions the evil guys could wake up one day with a culture past its ideological tipping point. Truly the battle of ideas must be fought against the inertia of old ones, as the evil advocates of rotten ideas don't put up a competent fight and only have the advantage of pre-established traditions and habituated thinking.

Concretely, we can see good ideas are getting mentioned more and more all the time. Our politicians may be stuck in their thinking and destructive courses, but it seems the American people aren't staying mentally idle. Opposition to current politics is being sustained and strengthened by the continued destruction. Just look at how the Ayn Rand Institute is flourishing. In just a span of two or three years, they've been making more television and radio appearances, putting out newspaper columns and blog articles, giving frequent lectures, getting increasing donations and support, building new offices in various states, and there's probably more I'm not aware of. To see this dramatic increase of life in the institution in just a span of a few short years is impressive, and we can expect to see it increase its impact for a long while yet, especially given the sales spike of Atlas Shrugged due to the newly released movie.

In the meanwhile things are just going to have to get bad since cultural momentum has driven us to this point, and yes it will be painful. Aside from looking at the facts that justify objective hope for the future, there are ways to grin and bear the frustration in the meanwhile. As difficult things are, I've been thinking about what facets constitute thorough happiness in human beings, and I think that if we were able to just at least satisfy the very fundamental needs of our psychology in the meanwhile, things would be more tolerable during the period they must be bad.

My thinking is hardly in depth at this point, but I've been introspecting on how such a small thing as being back to work has satisfied me. I value my career to the point that I don't think I'll ever retire from working, unless it meant moving from one field to another, and being back to work has satisfied me on a deep level. During my labor-intense shift I noticed I was actually getting increasingly relaxed and started doing refreshing exhaling. Given my view on the role of work in one's life I have a psychological need to work, and working satisfies it. I don't even think all that much about the money; just whether I'm doing my job well. If things go to hell and we're all poorer, I would still be satisfied if I were still minimally employed, scraping by. I may not be able to pursue my fullest happiness given economic restrictions, but it would at least basically satisfy the need.

Another facet I've been thinking about is the need for valuable friendship. I tolerate alone time quite well and even enjoy it, but I'm starting the feel the pain of being alone spiritually. Given complications from my past life, I've seldom had satisfying relationships with people who share my worldview, and I crave to meet those people so as to add value to my own life and keep before me the good that exists in this world. If I were to satisfy that need, then my contentment would increase and my life would be richer, making for another facet of my being that has been satisfied.

What I'm trying to say here is that one's psychological needs is composed of various facets which have requirements for satisfaction, and to leave any one unsatisfied is to reduce one's satisfaction with life and bring on uncomfortable, even painful longings. I'm not sure how many facets there are, but I can at least think of career and friendship as two. I assert that if one were to satisfy the barest basic requirements of all these facets, then a deep-down contentment can be nurtured and render one more resistant to the stresses of the world. Without these general satisfactions, then the pains of the world will intensify in their stressful nature. To paraphrase Atlas Shrugged, with inner satisfaction set then pain will only go down so far, never succeeding to erode the fundamental contentment. I'll have to do more thinking about what other facets there are to be tended to, but I'm starting to take steps and am planning on leading a more active social life, including attending an Objectivist Society here in Texas.

The bad times are here to stay for now, but I don't think they will be permanently. There are many objective signs for hope for a better future, and we shouldn't let our emotions get the best of us and decide everything is hopeless just because a single bad event has happened. And even while the bad times are here there will still be some values untouched and available to pursue, contributing to the happiness of one's life, so while the bad times must be endured it is these values one should concentrate on.

If you or I really judged things to be hopeless, then I don't think either of us would continue living. Why would we? And yet, here we are. I think life is still worth living all the way to its natural end, and I think you do too.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Chocolate Review: Hageland Costa Rica 71%

I was browsing around a Wal-mart during my last months in Michigan when I was suddenly enticed by the beckoning picture of a golden dog demon from the various shelves of chocolate, and I couldn't resist picking it up. It seems awfully high-class to be found in such a place as Wal-mart, and even more surprising is that it's apparently only carried by them exclusively. I couldn't even find an online shopping venue! Anyhow, the demonic chocolate is Hageland's 71% Costa Rica, and it marks another foray into single-origin bars.

To get one vice out of the way, the bar looks lazily designed, rivaling the lack of inspiration seen in Theo bars. The whole bar is divided into squares that are slightly raised into a partial dome shape, with these high ridges on the end that almost look like handles for gripping. There is positively no artwork or company branding anywhere, so it's entirely plain and boring, though I appreciate enough that it's clean looking and cut precisely. Otherwise, it has a dull glossiness that doesn't qualify as a shine and a quiet "clicking" snap, making overall mediocre aesthetics.

The perfume is complex with nutty and sharp fruit traits, with a floral overtone permeating everything. In tasting, things start off with a hit of coffee and warmly spiced cocoa, slowly transitioning through a fruity period and ending with smoked cocoa. It's soft, slow-melting, and kind of lumpy, but at least is acceptable texturally. Eating without care, the dominant theme seems to be the fruity tones.

It's not a dazzling or assertive flavor sensation, given many of the notes are mild, but I like it. The complexity of the factors to pay attention to alone makes for a more enjoyable experience, demanding the use of one's intellect and precise attention. However, I much prefer Godiva's single-origin bar over this one, for theirs is much sharper and assertive, not to neglect a little cheaper too.

It was a nice treat, but probably one I won't exert to obtain again. It's worthy, though at the same time it's passable given better alternatives.

Weekly Summary # 26

Unfortunately I did not get the details of my new job yet, so this week was mostly spent writing and perusing the massive stack of library books I have. It was satisfactorily productive, but I've got to push harder than this to reach my ideal level of functioning. At the very least it's good to be having my mind fed again, though I strongly wish to supplement the process with active note taking. Here's this week's checklist:

1.) Take notes on everything I taste: I did for the most part, but I forgot a meal and then eventually gave up when I realized it wasn't making me think any more intensely about the food. Some additional thinking made me realize that my problem is not that I'm not tasting my food seriously enough -- I do -- it's that I have a deficient tasting vocabulary. It's one of those things where you want to express something of the sorts but either cannot recall the proper concept or do not know the concept at all, which in my case makes it so I cannot identify the sensations I'm experiencing. Here I think I merely need to expand my vocabulary, and perhaps I'll be able to better make identifications on my own from there.

2.) Take a cold plunge (i.e. cold shower) every shower session: Done. A session or two I hesitated, but I remained disciplined and took them, even managing to persevere for five minutes during all sessions. Overall it has indeed relaxed me, even pushing me to the brink of sleep multiple times. The shower in this household doesn't even get that frigid, so about a minute in it becomes nice and endlessly refreshing. I'll continue it, though I'm wondering if there's such a thing as doing it too much. I'll aim for doing it about twice a week from now on, not including the sessions I'll take after a workout in the gym.

3.) Get a gym membership: Nope. Still waiting.

4.) Go to Master Grill steakhouse: Same as above.

5.) Read a chapter a day of two books: Pretty much; I need to modify my view on what constitutes reading. I read a chapter a day of What Einstein Told His Cook and even finished it (exemplary book), but I read only in small sections Will Write for Food. The latter book turned out not to be as totally valuable as I thought it was, so instead of wasting my time trying to read it cover to cover I just skimmed through and concentrated on what I viewed to be beneficial. I view this as a rational process in going about one's reading given finite time, but it makes me feel conflicted about what constitutes having "read" a book. Since I didn't read all the pages it cannot contribute towards my New Year's goal of reading twenty books, but then again isn't that splitting hairs?

From here I'll fret less. Only books that have been read cover to cover will contribute to my twenty books goal, but if I don't view certain sections of a book as beneficial to my being then I'll duly skip them as I only have a finite amount of time and energy, which would make trying to read all of such a book an unfruitful endeavor. It confuses me as to how I'll be able to rightly word my reading goals from now on given that I'm allowing myself to peruse books like this, but I guess I'll rest content with my readers knowing my practices and that I'll make it explicit each time I skim.

* * * * *

An intellectually fruitful week, but I am getting incredibly lonely now, being away from work and like-minded people for so long. In addition to daydreaming vigorously about being back in the restaurant kitchen, I've also been daydreaming about friendships too. It's a painful desire, but at least I can partially satisfy it with these thoughts. Soon enough; I must continue being patient.

Again this shall be another flexible week. Mostly I'd like to up my reading load to keep myself more mentally rigorous than I have been, if possible, though at the same time things will be healthfully supplemented by the routine ideas I come up with for day-to-day goals, which makes for filled days even as my weekly goals seem empty.

Here are the aims for this week, which may be added to by the time you see this checklist next week:

1.) Look up online cooking schools: While I have a bad view of colleges overall, I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that culinary school may be a benefit given my aims.

2.) Read one Robert L. Wolke article from the Washington Post per day: What Einstein Told His Cook was a positively absorbing book. I've quickly become a very big fan of Mr. Wolke and recommend him full-heartedly.

3.) Read a chapter/section a day of The Guide to the New American Kitchen, What Einstein Told His Barber, and Mind Over Mood: It's great to be reading studiously like this again. I predict I'll be able to finish the Charlie Palmer book this week and will try to finish WETHB too. Mind Over Mood is for my general self-improvement and lovability goals.

4.) Look up and learn more tasting concepts: Simple vocabulary exercises.

That's all for now. Additionally, I'll also be working on improving my writing habits and perhaps increasing my output. Writing, for some reason, has been more enjoyable lately. If work calls, of course, these goals might be disrupted. But then again I should push harder, no?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Civil Debate: Concerns and Practices

On the forefront of my mind lately is the topic of civil debate, as it's been becoming more and more relevant in my life. Contrary to the past, I've been finding myself in more situations where people are very expressive of their opinions, and as part of several self-improvement concerns, including activism and my lovability goals, I would like to flesh out my ideas on this subject more and establish some new habits so that I'm better and more persuasive as a person.

The most dominant problem is the fact that I'm most consistently silent on my views, even when hearing views I agree with, for fear of the other person's reaction. This strikes me as strange, for I remember a time in my youth in which I was very open about ideological matters, even freely bringing up matters of theology in casual conversation. Now I hardly express my opinions in person at all. This must be due to my last several years spent in suppressing my character and views given that I was constantly around people who couldn't handle the slightest disagreement. Often as a response to my differing views I would get yelled or shouted at, be insulted or intimidated, have my statements misrepresented, be spoken to in snobby tones, be walked out on, get ignored, have my voice drowned out by electronics, and more. And this is just in mostly 1-on-1 conversations where, for the most part, the other person is most responsible for having initiated or left themselves open to the discussion to begin with. As such, even when I'm in the company of people I agree with, I tend to keep to myself because I feel people are ticking bombs quickly ignited by any sense of difference. I mean it literally when I speak of these past people getting upset by the slightest disagreement. Once a guy contested my nutritional views in a very polite and respectful tone during a party and properly dropped the issue when we didn't reach an agreement, but after the party some people threw a fit about the debate and were awed by the guy's "rudeness," demanding he be banned from an upcoming get together. The slightest disagreement.

I know, however, that many people are of course not this ridiculously sensitive to having their views challenged, but it still frightens me. Ideally I'd like to reattain that state in my youth were I could freely speak about the deepest issues without the slightest discomfort and render myself immune to any opponents' discomfort, but I don't know how to go about that. Rubberducking seems like an obvious candidate for practice, as I could treat an inanimate object as a debate opponent, but it still seems questionably limited since I may not be able to project all the ways an opponent could respond. All in all, it looks at this point like I just need to throw myself out there against my discomfort.

There are also a couple more additional concerns that are making me hesitate on expressing my views. For one, what is the best and most polite way to correct someone? This is most related to my fear of setting off someone's temper, for I don't want to go about an improper way of correcting someone's facts or understanding while trying to persuade them that mine is correct. At the very least I know which assertions are and are not essential to the point, so I'm not in danger of desiring to correct the entirety of a person's statement, even their trivial points.

Secondly, though a derivative of the first question, what is the best way to deal with facts in general, in both conveying them and dealing with an opponent's? At the tip of my thoughts are those facts that are just plainly asserted without reference to proof or where/how they learned of it, leaving their point vacuous and unmoving. For instance, recently a guy tried to teach me how the body uses a specific form of energy, but he referred to no scientific tests or valid method through which he came to hold this conclusion. It's just "floating." As for my views on how to properly convey facts, I do at least work to remember roughly the sources I learned of something or had my thoughts provoked from, but I worry about conveying other information in the most concise manner possible while still using a valid method and being persuasive.

Has anyone more developed thoughts on this than I? What do you think?

Past Issues and Character Passions?

Not oft mentioned but consistent enough in this blog is that I am an adherent to Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. I think about philosophy every day -- have for years since I've discovered this system -- and Rand's system permeates all the principles behind my thoughts. Lately I've been pondering something about Rand's character itself. As is well-known, Rand was an advocate of individualism and rational egoism, a way of living that logically leads to the endorsement of capitalism, and she spent much of her life identifying the nature of statist ideas. It is her passionate opposition to statism that interests me.

Succinctly, could it be the case that the amount of passion she had for advocating right ideas and refuting bad ones is rooted in the fact that she lived in the Soviet Union, which was itself the result of evil philosophy? I'm not asking if this is what motivated her to address this specific issue; rather, I'm asking if her past experience is what made her so interested and intense in this regard.

In examining my own being during philosophic thinking, I've noticed the issues that are the most well-thought out and consistently entertained are the ones that I've suffered great consequence in the past. Constant themes on this blog are self-improvement and relationships, and I think I entertain those topics most frequently because I have grown up around people who have wasted their potential, inflicted suffering on themselves through idleness, eroded their relationships, lived on whim, and so on, all with the poison of a specific behavior or idea behind it. I've witnessed and experienced first hand what harsh results that way of living has brought, so I contemplate those topics and guide my actions accordingly in order to prevent myself from ever deserving such a fate. Though, of course, my goal isn't to merely avoid suffering; I work on these issues most because my part experience makes their importance very real and serious to me.

Beyond Rand and I, could dominant themes affect all humans in this way, making them most concerned in the realms where they've had the strongest experiences (though not that necessarily involving pain)? I haven't dealt with enough people intimately to even come up with a guess, but it's an interesting question.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

[Blank] and Effect

Lately I've been thinking about a piece I wrote in the past, where I expressed my annoyance at people who perceive mental activity as equivalent to being idle, and identified that at root it reveals that such people view the mind as irrelevant to existence. Luckily I do not deal with such persons anymore, but I still feel an incredible contempt for such people given what deplorable and self-destructive behaviors such a belief leads to, and lately I've made a deeper realization about this mentality.

While these people may recognize desirable effects such as intelligence, they think anti-causally and evade the proper facts that would give rise to the effects they desire, even going so far as to undermine those causes while they yearn for the effects at the same time. This dawned on me when I thought about my experience with that person in the above linked article and remembered that in the future from that date they have implicitly complimented and shown great appreciation for my intelligence. They give me baffled looks when I tell them I'm studying by my own accord, call my activities "just" reading, and freely interrupt me as if I weren't engaged in anything important, and then they show appreciation for what intellect I have developed? It's the studying and reading that have given rise to my mental powers, so to insult my means while complimenting the consequence is doubly insulting. Imagine if someone spoke contemptuously of your weight lifting routine and then later admired fawningly your muscle size and strength.

It goes the other way too, where such a person will seek out what they view to be as practical causes and evade what effects they lead to. Here they are at the very least taking action towards desired ends, but since they ignore what consequences are occurring while they're employing the means the goal remains out of reach. I've seen people boast about their healthy diet while having decaying teeth, multiple medical conditions, and obesity, and still others claim that being with a particular person makes them happy when there's decades of evidence towards the opposite being true. They're destroying themselves and ruining their chance at happiness, yet they believe they're employing the practical means to health and loving relationships.

I'm fairly sure that this is a consistent mentality that runs both roads in all persons who adopt this mindset, though not certain. Nonetheless, they are terrible people to deal with, for they treat effects as things that have magically come into existence and act like ships heading towards icebergs in their habits.

As for me, I'm going to keep my eye on reality. Persons in the past -- and maybe even ones yet to be met -- may think it's a frivolous endeavor to study and do academic reading without the guidance of an educational institute, but I can observe for myself that this endeavor has led to me becoming an overall better and more competent person. So I will not stop.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Reducing My Public Openness

I have reached the conclusion that the particular piece I've been promising, about that emotional identification, will never be written for public viewing. From day to day I feel the same hesitancy about writing it, so it is silly to think that more time passing will bring with it more comfort. While my largely open writing may have benefited many, I have changed as a person since completing my Project, and that recognition is going to make me alter drastically what I write here.

Privacy has always been a value to me, and of course I don't write everything here, but since entering my new life I have come to value privacy even more strongly than before and found more desire to keep things secret. For the past weeks this has been confounding me, for the type of information is nothing so unordinary that it would qualify as anything more deeply personal to be revealed, but still I just don't want to write it. Some certain persons having become aware of this blog may factor in, but largely my move to Texas has just made it so I don't want to be as open as I once was.

My theory as to why this is is that I've transitioned from being materialistically helpless to being independent. In the past when the Circumstance was still present there was little else I could do except talk and think about it, so my openness then was the result of my just disclosing the necessary information to have people judge my situation and offer the proper advice, and, later on, I was motivated to reveal yet more so that I could identify the philosophic roots that gave rise to my problems to begin with. In my new life I am no longer trapped, so any problem that comes my way is entirely defeatable with my own powers. I've whined enough already and need to drill into my mind that everything in my life is my own responsibility. The major difference in my last situation is that I was born into by default and had no hand in constructing things as they were. Because I am in little to no need of help or support in the spiritual sense, I have no urge to talk about my life as openly as I once did. Besides, it might be the best for my personal relationships, as keeping things private with my friends invests more emotional energy into the relationship and strengthens the bond.

This does not mean I'll be entirely secretive, however. Overall I am just going to be much more selective and strict in what I choose to keep private and what I don't. There will still be experiences and thoughts of light personal worth that will be written about, to entertain myself in writing and assist introspection, that should still serve of equal satisfaction for those that have appreciated my musings on self-help and psychology in the past.

Thankfully, by being vague there has been little to advertise about that piece, so hopefully no one is disappointed by my choice to abandon it. I hope you understand.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Love Letter to Japan

Music posts are becoming less rare here, aren't they? It's not that I've run out of things to talk about; I actually am finding these interesting to post.

I love female vocalists, though admit to feeling slightly embarassed of the femininely romantic theme of this piece. I've come to really like The Bird and the Bee, as many of their songs involve the worship of one's significant other, though through the female perspective. This particular song is really fresh and bubbly, very easy to get in one's head. The only thing I don't like is the video.

The dominant question on my mind is exactly what part of the culture of Japan this song references. The rhythm reminds me strongly of some old Japanese tune, perhaps ancient, and I can't think of what it is. Do any of my readers know?

Anyhow, even as I have done well to nurture my tastes in music, I still find that I'm not all that attached to listening to a wide variety. Could it be that individuals are usually more receptive to certain arts above others, so that while I appreciate music there are other art forms I'd rather dedicate myself to? My subsuming habit in music listening is to find a few pieces I like and listen to them endlessly; I've been known to listen to a single song for hours on end and to sustain the practice for over a year. Yes, weird.

Whatever the case, I am beginning to value the tones of specific bands. My favorites at the moment are The Bird and the Bee, Metric, and Thievery Corporation. (That last one sounds like it has bad philosophical elements, but I've noticed none in its music nor heard of the band's explicit views, so it seems like only a pointed title at present.)