Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A British Accent, Eh?

Before I starting blogging I took a significant self-improvement venture to improve my speech. It should be documented on the internet somewhere, but unfortunately I can't find it. It was an impediment I struggled with for years due to my bad hearing, one that gave me much grief, that I'm proud of having cured after a lifetime of having it.

As noted in my post about hearing-impairment misconceptions, my impairment lies on the high end of the pitch spectrum, where I'm deaf to many high pitches still within human hearing range and have a hard time detecting or distinguishing sounds on the edge of my capacities. This gave rise to my speech impediment, as the phonetic sounds /th/ and /s/, voiced and unvoiced, are impossible for me to distinguish between due to them being so high pitched. I never confuse words within sentences due to the context of meaning, but if you said an isolated word like "think" I might believe you said "sink," and in pronunciation I could mangle a word such as "scissors" into "thissors." The only way I can distinguish the sounds is by the tongue movement used to speak them; otherwise I hear no difference between them. The adults taking care of me didn't catch this, so I've spent the majority of my life mispronouncing words left and right because of this, never knowing.

It's given me a lot of difficulty. Kids used to bully me severely probably because of this, frequently calling me names like "retard," and I think this impediment is actually what led to me being put in special education as a child, as the adults probably thought my speech was evidence of mental disability. After all the hardship it caused me, I unfortunately didn't learn there was something "off" about my speaking until a trusted friend pointed it out to me, though his unsophisticated insight didn't reveal the true nature of the problem. I concluded that I must somehow have a "deaf accent," that accent known of deaf or nearly deaf people who know spoken language, which comes off as very throaty and deep. To remedy it I took to maintaining a false British accent for years in the hopes that it would cover it up, though my mistaken conclusion meant I was still mispronouncing words in the same fashion. It might have improved my speaking aesthetics, nonetheless.

I was still disturbed by questions as to "where" I was from, however, as even after I lightened and tried to eliminate my British accent habit years later, some people still wondered whether I was from a foreign country, which I assume they asked because they thought I didn't have a firm grasp of English. A few more years later I actually got some speech therapy, which is when I finally learned that I was mixing sounds I either couldn't hear or distinguish, and finally got to correcting the problem at its root. I've readjusted my habits and am able to nearly flawlessly distinguish the sounds since I'm so accustomed to how different the tongue placement feels for different words.Finally, the impediment is vanquished!

Or so I thought. To my shock, it appears I may still have some leftover work to do. Since moving to Texas some people have taken to ask me where I'm from, and I assumed they were only asking because I don't have a Texan accent. Recently at work, however, someone asked me where I was from, because it sounded like I had a British accent.


I thought I had abandoned it years ago, but I guess that since I maintained it consciously for a sufficient number of years, about two or three, it has melded itself into my habits in a way that I can't really sense that I'm doing it. I detect nothing characteristic of it even when I listen to my voice on my audio recorder, which I do on a regular basis. But, introspecting on how it physically felt in my throat to speak such a way, I can tell now that some traces of it are still there, and that I tend to exaggerate it when trying to speak in a gentle tone. Most difficultly, I cannot conceive of speaking any other way: To my own perception, I'm speaking in an entirely American accent, so it's hard to me to notice in what way I'm still maintaining a British accent, except when I emphasize certain pitches.

The dominant question on my mind, contrary to what you might expect, is whether I should actually undertake to change my accent or leave it as it is. On one hand, I have no known English heritage and grew up around American-accented people, so the implication could be dishonest. On the other, I don't actually intend to speak this way on purpose, so it might still be honest since I'm not intentionally speaking this way. It's hard to tell which side is more valid.

My biggest hesitancy in undertaking a self-improvement endeavor is that a significant portion of the people I meet do appear to find my voice aesthetically pleasing, and after many years of being made fun of for an unknown impediment and thinking that my speaking was unattractive I very much enjoy that attribute and am attached to it. I wouldn't want to give it up if it means decreasing the aesthetic value of my speech, which while it may not be a necessary value, it's still a value to me regardless as part of my conception of beauty. If I could maintain the same or an increased level of aesthetic beauty in my speaking I'd be gung-oh, but I guess any self-improvement undertaking would have to be a joint venture since I don't interpret my voice the same way fully-hearing people do.

At the very least, I'm thinking about doing some practice with speaking clearly and at an even pace for the sake of practicality, and improving my yelling. That last one may sound weird, but I've noticed that when I yell I'm often at a loss as to how to place my voice properly and probably end up distorting it somewhat in the process of magnifying it. I frequently need to yell at my workplace in order to announce to the waitresses that silverware and cups are ready to be sorted, so I get embarrassed with how off-track from my normal speaking my yelling must be. 

On the accent issue I'm not sure what to do, so what do you think?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Semi-Intimate Conversations

Stupid me! I didn't realize up until now that there was a conversational habit that could have significantly helped my lovability goals and contributed to my relationships. As noted, up to this point I've been immensely craving companionship on a very deep level and hoping to find friends to bond with at a spiritual depth and have open, comfortable ideological talks with. This applies to both a romantic partner and general friends. What I didn't see is that I could still fulfill my needs to a partial degree by engaging in what I call semi-intimate conversations.

As per my nature I strongly dislike shooting the breeze or engaging in any short bit of chatter, such as quick short sentence exchanges that only last a few seconds or quick how-are-yous, as I prefer to entertain myself with deeper thought processes that these kind of exchanges distract me from. However, why didn't I think to make these exchanges deeper than they otherwise ordinarily would be? In other words, I could be digging a deeper depth into these conversations that would allow me to be more enjoyably engaged and bond with a person.

For instance, if I asked a person whether they had a nice day and they said they enjoyed their fishing outing, ordinarily I would leave the exchange at that and move on, but instead I could deepen it a little by asking leading questions such as why they chose to go fishing, why they like it, how they got into it, and so on, that would turn a few second interruption to my train of thought to a thought process itself. It might not be philosophically deep, but perhaps it could lead there, and the depth would be of interest to both of us participants, though I need to be careful against becoming a rubberduck.

Even as I'm gradually getting surrounded by more people I have been missing out severely by not using this technique, and becoming a more undesirably quiet individual, especially at work. Just practicing this in even a small degree has done well to satisfy any severe craving for companionship, and more fruit is to be harvested through its continued practice.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Music: David Bowie's Space Oddity

Overall I have a mixed opinion of David Bowie, but this piece, along with China Girl*, I consider very thought-inspiring music. The spacey rhythm and consistent singing tone makes me think of technology and a strict, intense concentration on important matters at hand, but at the same time made me feel mildly sad. It reminds me of the present-day culture where one's achievements and excellence can be punished for their good nature, as marked by the worrisome and frantic finish to the song hinting at Major Tom's possible disaster.

(*Video embedding was disabled at the time this article was written.)

And unless I'm mistaken, isn't there a sort of female remix of this? I saw a car commercial once where a seductive female voice was conducting a launch countdown and transitioning into something similar to this, but I know nothing about the song and have forgotten the car brand. Might somebody know what I'm talking about?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Good Example of the Practicality of Pacifism

Pacifism annoys me in a particularly unique way. Unlike other philosophical ideas, it's suicidal in the most naive and quickest way, and I cannot project what kind of rationale pacifists maintain to hold such a belief. I argued on my other blog in my essay Dr. Dolittleism in Foreign Policy why such a belief is so dangerous, and was prompted by an example I saw in a Saturday morning cartoon. Since then I've noticed an even better example in the Japanese anime One Piece.

The scene involved Franky, a man who turned himself into a cyborg after being nearly fatally injured and left for dead in a garbage dump. In the present, he had been abandoned in a wintry place called "Genius Island" and was in danger, for his supply of cola -- he's fueled by cola -- was running low. Surgeons managed to restore him by restoring him with tea, but comically it changed his personality from a rambunctious surfer to proper gentlemen, which his rescuer didn't like. In an attempt to return his old personality the person threw him out into the wild to confront dangerous animals, in hope it would bring his high-energy personality back.

Strangely, as part of his gentlemanly nature Franky had become a pacifist as well. When a cyborg gorilla started beating him up Franky only resorted to talking to him, ignoring that the animal was not open to reason. As the fight went on Franky kept getting constantly punched in the face, having his sentences interrupted and peace negotiation efforts cut off again and again. The gorilla simply did not respond at all to Franky's words. Eventually Franky became infuriated, the tea inside him boiling, and he swung around the gorilla like a mace at the surrounding vicious animals, thus promptly ending the violent confrontation in one fell swoop.

I wish this scene had been animated by the time I wrote that essay for my other blog, for it would have made a much better example. It illustrates how nonsensical attempts at calm and respectful peace negotiations are when your enemy isn't open to reason, and how quickly and more rationally the problem is solved when your opponent leaves you no other option. 

I forgot who said this or what the exact words were, but to paraphrase a saying: If the notion that violence begets more violence were true, then we'd (Americans) still be fighting the Japanese and the Middle East would be peaceful. The opposite is true, and Americans are going to keep dying in our present wars until that is fully understood.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Chocolate Review: Green & Black's 55% Maya Gold

Green & Black's 55% Maya Gold is another one of those chocolates that makes me glad I'm loosening my review standards a little bit, because otherwise delectable treats like these would be absent from my sensual life. I but picked it up randomly while purchasing a slew of G&B's products, so what luck. It especially intrigues me since it's one of the most central products in G&B's lineup, for it was created in the company's early years using as inspiration a spiced chocolate drink from Belize. It also earned the first Fair Trade designation in the United Kingdom, meaning they pay cacao farmers above average prices for their crops in order to keep them in the cacao farming business. You can read more here.

The packaging is secretive as to the nature of the spices involved in the recipe, so I took it as a fun challenge to try and identify the traits. In the aroma I pick up bitter orange and spices like cardamon and ginger, maybe nutmeg, and overall it smells like the warm spice reminiscent of gingerbread. Flavor-wise I got a mix of bitter orange zest and the succulent sweetness of the fruit flesh, intermingled with peppery tones without the heat and tangy, lemony citrus notes at the finish. The tasting notes on G&B's site mentions the inclusion of nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla, and while I could get nutmeg in the aroma, I didn't really get it in the flavor, and detected none of the cinnamon and vanilla. The mouthfeel is great, as seems to be the case with most of G&B's products, as the bar is very thick and soft, and melts quickly into a smooth liquid.  The appearance could be worked on a little bit, however, as the bar looks dusty, has no shine, and has too soft a snap.

Strangely enough, I didn't like the chocolate the first time I ate half of it, but when I came back to it a few days later I found I took a liking to it. A really, really, good liking it. Perhaps it's a flavor you need to get used to. It goes to show you that a hesitancy in trying new foods could lead you to exclude potential values. 

This impresses me as an adult confection in not being overly sweet and having complex facets to stimulate one's tasting intelligence. The next time I get a bar I'm certainly going to work and see if I can identify yet more of its facets to heighten my attention and awareness. I definitely recommend this chocolate, and can see how it's become a signature for G&B's.

Weekly Summary # 32

A heavily imbalanced week. For whatever reason, I ran into some delays that kept me off track with my blog, so in addition with constructing two posts for Modern Paleo (yet to be published) I spent the majority of my week trying to catch up with my writing, thus pushing out other goals and fatiguing me quite a bit. No regrets, however, for what had to be done had to be done.

The best thing I learned this week is how important it is to keep useful practices habitual, even if it isn't necessary to maintain them habitually for their full benefits. Since I haven't found the need to do thought records every day as detailed in Mind Over Mood I haven't been doing them lately, and that in effect has led to me virtually falling out with the practice. Consequently, I've been very moody early in the weekly period and had trouble resolving my conflicts. I decided then that I would do a thought record in my introspection journal on a routine basis whether I like it or not, and have since experienced an uplift in my being. I might not have anything useful to introspect on everyday . . . but I don't want to fall out of my habit like I did and experience those negative results again. So once I identify such an immensely useful practice as this, I'm going to discipline myself to keep regular in it somehow; with all that I have on my to-do lists, I tend to opt out of doing anything that isn't on my daily goals agenda.

The list:

1.) Construct an outline and rough draft of that one article I neglected: Done, and I got it published too. Originally I wanted to make this much longer and more detailed, but since the series is far from over I thought it didn't quite justify that treatment yet.

2.) Look up nearby colleges and clubs: Not enough time.

3.) Look up art museum: Not enough time.

4.) Read 100 pages of Schulz and Peanuts: Didn't quite make it. It was mostly pushed out by writing, and the negative side-effect of all that effort is that I've been mentally fatigued. However, my reading so far has been giving me insights perhaps worth writing about.

5.) Read the introductions and afterwords of the Peanuts comics I've rented in conjunction with the above biography: Eh, I got the introduction of the first and skipped the afterword, concentrating instead on the interview with Charlies Schulz, and have only gotten to the introduction of the second. As an adult I do find that I'm appreciating the comics more than I did in my childhood.

6.) Assess what kind of music device I want to save up for: Ran out of time.

* * * * *

My work with writing isn't done yet, for ideally I'd like to be several days ahead to give me more time to spare in the day for other activities and be more relaxed in my writing pace, but I should catch up soon. Lately I've been thinking that this blog may be going too far off track its original intention of being dedicated to self-improvement and my life in general, which I also take as a sign I've been relaxing too lazy with a stagnant character lately. I'm thinking about some ventures I ought to take on -- and I've got some ideas, given some happenings and surprise insights -- and am overall thinking about redesigning this blog so that I can publish more varied content and be able to direct my readers to the proper sections, such as through multiple RSS feeds. That'd be a long-term self-improvement venture given the knowledge I'd need to obtain, but I'm thinking about it.

Anyhow, it's possible that I may start my country club job soon, which is very, very good, so this week I'm mainly concerned with catching up with my writing and reading, and getting back on track with my self-improvement.

1.) Look up nearby clubs and colleges

2.) Look up art museum

3.) Read to page 100 of Schulz biography

4.)Assess what kind of music device I want to save up for

5.) Read to page 50 of Crash Proof: I haven't forgotten about our economic problems. It no longer scares or disturbs me to think about it, and I should get to thinking how I'm going to prepare myself for it.

6.) Finish second set of Charlie Brown comics

7.) Write rough draft, at least, on how I became an Objectivist and atheist: Inspired by other people's testimony, I've been thinking about doing this for the past two weeks.

8.) Write an article for Modern Paleo

9.) Write an article about possible ongoing speech problem: I had a surprising insight about my speaking habits this weekly period, which may make for another self-improvement venture.

These past two weeks I've been complaining of feeling as if I'm neglecting something I should be doing, and I think I figured out what it is: self-improving. I can be content with the routine I maintaining now, but I don't feel my true and most happy self unless I know I'm optimizing myself as a person. There's only one life to get it right.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Good Political Themes of *One Piece*

In becoming an adult I've found that my enjoyment of certain cartoons has taken on a new pleasure, where I enjoy them now with an intelligent and thoughtful eye rather than the mindless, empty staring I used to do as a kid. Now when watching such shows I continually think about its merits and the effort that went into it, and am impressed when I identify traits of good aesthetics. Thanks to the power of power of Hulu I have been rediscovering and restarting some shows I began watching in my youth but fell out of, and of particular interest lately is the Japanese anime One Piece. Like with Dragon Ball Z I've started to notice philosophical elements that have escaped me before, and appreciate it more as a result.

The story is about a young pirate named Luffy and his crew on a journey to pursue their dreams, his being the finding of a legendary treasure that will make him king of the pirates. Along the way they fight other pirates doing evil to other people and in the pursuit of the same treasure, and, most significantly, battle an evil worldwide government that is after them solely because they oppose its corrupt ways, not because they committed any actual acts of evil. A major attribute of the series is a mystical class of food called devil fruits that grant its consumer a special trait, such as making their body made of sand or enabling them to slow down time, and constitutes a fatal weakness in characters by rendering the user unable to swim in ocean water, as the god of the sea disapproved of these power modifications and cursed devil fruit users consequently. Luffy himself is made of rubber after eating the gum-gum fruit, and he has various devil fruit users in his crew, such as a reindeer who ate the human-human fruit to gain a human mind and a skeleton who regained life by eating the revive-revive fruit.

I like this show for primarily two reasons. The first is that the main cast of characters is portrayed as phenomenal in their areas of expertise, such as the ship cook being a master of all cuisines and the musician being able to play any instrument. It's a little cartoonish how talented everyone is in this regard, but it places a positive value on human ability, best since all the characters are self-made and worked to develop their talents. Everyone is so competent in their skills that the ship only needs one of every type of crew member, from sniper to doctor, though the musician happens to be a secondary swordsman. The show is very political, so it's possible they may represent a blossoming business with a growing team of talent, all working towards the same profitable end point. They're only pirates in name only, as they don't rob or murder people, but rather fight injustice where they see it and earn their wealth.

My favorite attribute of the show is its anti-statist premise, as it shows the World Government as cruel, unjust, and an aggressor to its constituents, condoning official corruption, participating in slavery, executing prisoners on whim, and labeling good people unjustly as criminal evil-doers. They even have established relationships with certain pirates they deem as warlords, for in exchange of cooperating with the government in certain ways they turn a blind eye to their crimes, even murder. Despite all the men in clean white and blue uniforms, they're obviously supposed to represent evil, gang ridden dictatorships. Luffy got a bounty on his head just because he opposed a corrupt official who cooperated with a gang and allowed them to control a town in exchange for a portion of their loot. Other crew members got their bounties for opposing the government in the similar ways, and Luffy's crew is the only pirate crew sought by the government on the grounds that they oppose the World Government morally.

They don't just stop at government themes either, for they attack in general anything that constitutes dictatorial authority, whether it be a rogue gang controlling a town or a pirate killing his own crew. The story even touched on religious themes by having Luffy's crew travel to an island in the sky and fight a dictator who was calling himself God, who had the power of a kind of omniscient and the ability to control lightning as per his devil fruit power.

There are some minor vices, however. For one, it's possible that in the long-run the show may endorse anarchy rather than a properly limited government that protects its citizens, but it's still unclear at this point where it's going to go. Secondly, on aesthetic grounds, it tends to lack a lot of drama since the characters are sharply cartoon-like, which makes it hard to get emotionally involved, but it's still enjoyable on an adult level given the mature content and philosophical themes. At worst, they're just way too protective of good characters, as good characters will often survive the most devastating blows. A man, for instance, once experienced a bomb explode at point-blank range, and yet he was able to walk home the next day as if he only had minor burns. It hard to feel sympathy or fear for the characters' well-being given the expectation that everyone will survive any damage no matter what.

But all in all, it's a good series, one I'm glad to have rediscovered and reincorporated into my life as a value along with Dragon Ball Z Kai. A lot of episodes are available on Hulu, but not the entirety of the series, though perhaps they're working to incoporate every episode. I strongly suggest watching the original Japanese language version with English subtitles, as the English dub has terrible and uninteresting voicing. The Japanese care more about anime than Americans do, so they take more care in their work than American companies do in trying to market here in the U.S.

Don't miss out.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

When the Environment Destroys Itself?

The Day the Volcano Erupted - A Halloween Horror Story
A question recently occurred to me about the nature of environmentalism, and while I know that it inherently points out the illogic in their philosophical system I still wonder if this question has actually been addressed before. Now we know that environmentalism holds that it is wrong for man to alter nature to suit his needs, such as burning fuel or felling a forest, since this would constitute destruction of the environment. However, how do environmentalists view the phenomenon of the environment destroying, well, itself?

For instance, volcanoes spew smoke and pollute the air, don't they? Environmentalists get mad when men pollute the air, so why not volcanoes too? Surely that kills birds. And what about natural oil reserves leaking from the ocean floor into the water and polluting it? Man need do nothing for that to occur, and surely that kills oceanic life. And heck, how about how celestial bodies treat each other? What if the sun goes supernova in a few billion years and destroys earth, eradicating everything we currently call the environment? Are people waging protests on how the sun may be violating earth's rights? And let us not forget that wild animals kill other wild animals, that it's possible for one species to drive another out of existence without man's help.

The environment, in one form or another, hurts itself and can be made inhospitable to life. Man has the mental powers and technology to improve things so that life flourishes, so that environmentalists concentrate so much on preventing man from doing this reveals a dishonest intention.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Sympathize with Me: Only You Feel Your Emotions

Magnetic Fields - 14In my article Don't Be a Baby I discussed constructive ways to complain about one's problems and argued that complaining in the wrong way constitutes whining that will undermine, even destroy your relationships, which can be a very painful thing if you desire someone to help you with your troubles. Recently I've noticed another irrational trait related to this that can also undermine one's relationships, namely the assumption that other people can experience your emotions as well with some kind of sixth sense.

Made explicit this is obviously a false belief. We know other people can't feel our emotions. But the irrational thing is that many can often mistakenly adopt this belief in the heat of intense emotion without acknowledging it, leading to irrational practices and nonconstructive results. Emotions are very real things, and when they become intense it can almost feel as if they're saturating the surrounding atmosphere itself, making it "feel" like other people can sense it too. In times of negative emotion this can lead to very troublesome and destructive practices.

I've noticed, for instance, that when some people become angry they act in a fashion as if they were trying to pulsate that emotion in a beam and invoke fear and misery at whoever provokes their wrath, as manifested in silent glares and hysterically angry facial expressions. And in other instances I've noticed miserable people do all they can to put their pain on display and mope as visibly as possible, perhaps hoping to emit a magnetism that will attract the sympathy they so desire. These practices of course have never led to the desired end-result: People quaking in fear or rushing in to sooth wounds. Instead it leads to an erosion of relationships, people desiring to avoid these people or ignore their negative periods when they arise, or decay the substance of any association that continues with these habits intact long-term.

I single out instances of negative emotions particularly since I've noticed this is when the assumption is most prevalent. When we feel bad, we obviously want other people to know about it and react, and given how real intense emotions feel to us it can be easy to assume it feels real to other people as well. But this is not the case. People do not have a sixth sense for other people's emotions. All they can observe is the behavior that manifests as a result of those emotions, whether it be glares and dirty looks or silence and long faces. Depending on how you act consistently and how these people relate to you will determine how they respond to you, and most likely they won't be able to treat you in the way you desire if you don't vocalize your desires and instead resort to hoping everyone will just "know" somehow. Worse yet, if you consistently act this way when experiencing negative emotions then you'll undermine your associations by pushing people away and giving them a reason to avoid you when you act like this. In Don't Be a Baby I pointed out that the pains and troubles of life are not what constitutes happiness, and so the same applies here since people will want to ignore you in order to pursue their own comfort better.

Given how strong some emotions can be it can be very hard, but you've got to work to always practice your best judgment no matter how strong any urges rise from your emotions. You've got to think objectively and be explicit about your concerns and desires with others when appropriate, otherwise you'll just stoop in your negative emotions as people are forced to either guess what ails you or ignore you until you get over it.

I admit I myself have been guilty of acting in such a fashion, and during a working shift I've realized how much it was undermining my lovability goals. People aren't going to value me if they think certain negative emotions are simply a part of my nature by default, and nothing will be worked out if I keep silent about it. Only I feel my emotions, and it's my obligation to deal with them accordingly in order to be constructive.

The most significant exercise of this fallacy that I've noticed is a particular schoolmate who practically destroyed his network of friends by hoping the display of his misery would bring him the companionship he yearned for. In trying his best to extrude an aura of sadness and depression he temporarily succeeded in garnering some sympathy, but without addressing the root cause he eventually repelled most everyone away and brought upon himself the very aloneness he was trying to remedy. He never made clear his desires, so people were left to guess, and without addressing root causes of his emotional problems they eventually gave up when they realized he was dragging them down with him as well.

People can be a great help in trying to work out certain problems, but the most important steps and efforts must be made on our own, such as identifying the root of our problems, initiating the important parts of the solution, and verbalizing how we'd like our friends to help. As Benjamin Franklin said, I believe, "He who does not counsel himself cannot be counsel'd."

Monday, May 23, 2011

Misconceptions about Hearing-Impairments: My Pet Peeve

I know this has hardly been mentioned before, but for my entire life I've had a bad hearing-impairment, moderate in my right ear and severe in my left. I hate it. It really gets in the way of me living my life as smoothly as I'd like to, no matter how long I live with it. It's frequently difficult to hear people in certain settings, like when dishes are clattering on the counter at my restaurant job, and has even led to me developing me a speech impediment which I was made fun of severely for as a child. More irritating yet, my impairment is sensorineural, which means the ear nerve connected to my brain is damaged, so modern technology has no remedy for my situation as of yet. I really want to buy  high-end hearing-aids in the future, but for now they're super expensive and out of my budget, even with medical insurance coverage, so unfortunately it'll have to be a long-term goal.

For the hell of it I thought I'd clear up a couple misconceptions about the nature of hearing-impairments that I've seen people make quite often, as it has made for some embarrassing and even infuriating confrontations. Namely, I'd like to address something about the nature of hearing-impairments themselves and hearing-aid technology.

First off, having a hearing-impairment does not necessarily mean that a person hears less in a balanced, fixed amount. It's more sophisticated than that. More often than not, people with impairments have more or less trouble hearing portions of the pitch spectrum, so it's not like we hear less as if you've turned down the volume on the television; rather, it's like you've turned down, or even eliminated certain pitches from sounds. As precise as the nature of the impairment can be, one person could be deaf only to severely high pitches still within the range of human hearing and function as if their hearing was fine, and another may have trouble with such a wide variation of points in the pitch spectrum that they may have incredible difficulty listening to and verbalizing spoken language.

It can be incredibly sophisticated, right down the point where the person has difficulty with only certain words or even parts of words. I myself can hear the /th/ and /s/ phonetic sounds, but it's impossible for me to comprehend any difference between them, so words like "sink" and "think" sound exactly the same. I can only distinguish them by the context of the sentence they're used in.

This means that such as thing as simply speaking louder is not often likely to help things. The only way for a person with a pitch-specific impairment to hear better is for them to have those specific troubled pitches emphasized, so if you magnify your voice it's likely to help the situation little, if any, or make it worse if you change your pitches by speaking louder. I myself am largely deaf on the high end of the spectrum and have intense difficulty with high pitches on the edge of my capacity, so speaking louder only helps at a distance; mostly, I just need a person to enunciate. Many people may have hearing-damage to the extent that their comprehension to the entire spectrum is compromised, so in that scenario louder speaking would help, but I don't think it's that common, at least when considering the entire population of people with hearing difficulties.

Secondly, this as a corollary means that either one of two types of hearing-aids will help a hearing-impaired person, and contrary to popular conception it isn't the most common type of hearing-aid, the one that simply magnifies all sounds. If a person has difficulty with only a certain part of the pitch spectrum, then a hearing-aid that magnifies all sounds will be useless. Useless. So please, don't suggest to such a person to run right out and get that without considering the specifics: At best it's ignorant and rude, and at worst it'll cause that person to waste a lot of money. I, in fact, had that kind of hearing-aid throughout most of my childhood, and it worked jack squat. I wore it only because I had to. Because my hearing-impairment resides on the high-end, that means a "regular" hearing-aid is going to magnify the sounds I can already hear at normal levels, so it'll hurt my ears and negate any effect of high pitch magnification. I hated that transition in the morning, when I first put my devices in and had to adjust to how damn loud everything was. Wind whistled like a hurricane, paper crinkled like sheet metal, and even just the plain atmosphere sounded like flowing water. It was almost overwhelming, and it didn't help me hear an iota. I stopped wearing my hearing-aids in my mid-teens when someone asked me why I always took them out during conversations, which pointed out to me that I recognized they didn't improve the functioning of my life. The weeks that immediately followed my quitting that device people noticed how much easier it was for me to hear, ironically.

For people like me, with a pitch specific impairment, a different, much more expensive device is needed: digital hearing-aids. Last time I received an estimate I was told they range from two to six thousand dollars, though are probably cheaper now, and have the high virtue of being able to magnify certain pitches while leaving others static, meaning I could have the high pitches emphasized while the low ones are untouched. That's what I want and need, but cannot afford right now. Most of the hearing-impaired population probably can't afford it, so don't insult us by asking us to pop in a conventional device when it likely may not suit our needs. It was positively useless for me.

I wanted to clear up these misconceptions because I've been annoyed in the past when people spoke loudly to me upon hearing about my impairment, and infuriated when told to go get a hearing-aid. You should ask how you can accommodate each specific individual who has made explicit they have such problems instead of resorting to the concrete-bound remedies given rise to by the misconceptions above. In dealing with me, the best thing to do is to stay on my right-hand side and speak clearly, repeating when necessary. Nothing more, nothing less.

Are any of my readers hearing-impaired? If so, do you have any pet peeves you'd like to air yourself?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Music: The Bird and the Bee's Polite Dance Song

I confess that The Bird and the Bee is my guilty pleasure. I like listening to them when I'm in sentimental or contemplative moods; Inara George's sweet voice is just the ticket to fit the bill. However far I've come in developing my musical tastes, however, I find I still harbor the trait of wanting to listen to one song over and over again on end, so I still need to work on making myself more open to perusing other artists rather than establishing a routine.

I really, really detest the video they did for this. In comparison to Love Letter to Japan this is much more nihilistic and second-handed (considering the borrowing of aesthetic elements from Napoleon Dynamite), almost as if they're making fun of themselves. I've noticed this trend in some of their other videos too. I think this is a legitimately good song, so I'm put off that they would make a shot at themselves like this. Listen without watching the video, since it detracts from the music.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Mysterious Character Traits?

Have you ever noticed a character trait that has persisted in your being for a very long time, and yet cannot identify when, where, and how you came to develop it? Usually I can identify certain facets of my personality by referencing periods in my life where I adopted new behavior-driving ideas and was influenced by certain experiences, but lately I've noticed there are some traits which seem to have always been integrated within me, but I can't figure out how I came to develop them.

In my case, I've realized lately how much of my being emphasizes the proper use of manners in order to conduct my relationships respectfully, but I have no recollection of where I learned them or else decided to adopt them by my own judgment. It's like I've always been this way, yet I know that's not true; there must've been some point in my personality development where I began structuring these habits.

A particular elder once gloated how they were the one that taught me my polite ways, but I know that's not true since their usage of manners is insincere and for appearance only, whereas I'm sincere and am aware of the various outcomes that could result of my treatment. A child can absorb their elders' characteristics very thoroughly, not only adopting the physical appearance of the practice, but also the ideas and psychological workings that give rise to them to begin with. If I had adopted my manners from the practices of my elders, then I too would have adopted them for appearance sake, but I didn't.

To clarify what I mean by sincere, I mean that the manners are employed in an honest fashion in order to treat a person respectfully, and most importantly it's also recognized that manners may not always get you what you ask for and that you should continue your respectful behaviors in alternative outcomes. As a classic example, take asking someone for the use or consumption of their property, such as tasting their food. The respectful way to ask, though not necessarily in this concrete form, goes something like "May I have some of [such and such]," and it's up to the person to decide how he'll respond. More often than not the person with the food will say yes and offer some, but it's also possible that he may decline and prefer to consume it all himself. Given that it is his property it is entirely within his rights to do so. Someone with truly sincere manners will recognize that a person may respond in this alternative way, and will continue maintaining their polite behavior in face of this experience.

A person who's insincere and employs manners as a matter of appearance, however, will not anticipate the decline as an actual alternative and will start acting rudely after the experience. To them, they expect the answer to automatically be yes and don't know how to respond to this other answer. It's probable that in these scenarios this kind of person will drop their facade and lets their true rudeness show. I've once been in such a position where a person asked to taste my food and I preferred to eat it all. I declined politely and thanked them for their respectful inquiry, but they became completely confused and immediately resorted to intimidation and trying to induce guilt. To them, manners are just a matter of decoration: They expect their use to get them unfailingly what they want. Since insincere manners are in actuality rude, they might as well have come up to me and said "Gimme that!" or else directly taken the food. The person who gloated of teaching me manners uses them in this dishonest fashion, but I've never used them that way. So just how did I become this way?

Have you had a similar experience too, where you identified a personality trait you have no idea how it became part of you?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Chocolate Review: World Market's 99% Cacao

One of the greatest pleasures about my relocation has been the discovery of a close by Cost Plus World Market, which has an incredibly interesting array of food items from all over the world. They even have a great selection of various chocolates, including their own line. When I saw the 99% cacao variety I wanted it immediately, as I've been wanting to try a 99% chocolate for a very long time now. I've always been on the search for Lindt's 99% variety, but it's been impossible to find so far, so World Market has made me very excited. I couldn't wait to get it in my tasting queue.

It's a good question why one would stop at 99% cacao and not just go full out 100%, but the sliver of sweetness is enough to round off the bitterness and perhaps create a better texture by preventing crystallization. Baking bars, largely, are not manufactured with the intention for them to be eaten pure that way, even though people do, so they're usually very hard and dry texturally, making 99% bars a better choice given different manufacturing practices, such as a greater ratio of fat to solids for a better melt.

For World Market, the bitterness dominates almost the entirety of the flavor profile and has a fruity finish, though nothing I'd consider similar to currants as stated in the tasting notes. The currants do exist subtly within the aroma, however, along with a mild theme of chocolate. Its mouthfeel is okay since it is somewhat lumpy, but it still is pleasurably soft and slow melting.

The aesthetics kind of perplex me. What are they going for with the packaging? It's unoffensive and alright to the eyes, but it makes me perceive it as something that would sit on a warehouse shelf, especially since the product number is listed right on the front. The bar itself satisfies but merely the basics of desirable aesthetics, having a healthy shine and strong snap, and on each square division the World Market brand is printed in a straight-lined font. For what it's worth, it all seems acceptable.

This was a let-down to be honest, as I had quite hyped up in my mind what a 99% bar would taste like. World Market's isn't very complex at all, and the bitterness is slightly unpleasant. Nonetheless, the mouthfeel is definitely much better than that of actual baking chocolate, and its bitterness is a quality I'd still like to pair with a nut butter. Best of all, it's very affordable, clocking in at $1.99 at my store. It's not impressive, but would probably taste great with other things, such as fruit, so I offer my recommendation for this being a good chocolate to pair with other things, but recommend looking elsewhere if you want something to eat on its own.

Weekly Summary # 31

This week I noticed I feel very attached to my sensory enrichment experiment, as I felt a very strong craving to go out and be stimulated by new things: A walk through the flowers, new parts of the neighborhood, new stores, and so on. It really does feel good to feed the senses in such a fashion. Could this be why some people like traveling? I hope to continue adding to my repertoire of possible locations to read and walk about in. I should revisit that one nature park in Plano soon, and find an art museum.

Most surprisingly, my loneliness has lost its bite. I still feel a discontent with how my life is conducted right now, but for whatever reason it seems my craving for companionship has calmed down slightly, perhaps through my increased listening of music and other satisfying things. Such will at least stem the pain while I work to do something about it.

From now on I think I ought to work to make these summaries shorter, placing the bulk of the writing on the lists. Given how disparage all the topics are in this post they probably don't attract the readers looking for something specific, so I need to work on making things short and sweet. Quickly then to the list:

1.) Construct an outline for a special piece: Still working on it. At first I had a second thought and went ahead writing the piece thinking I didn't need an outline, but it ended up becoming a garbage draft, so I need to do more thinking about it.

2.) Write an article about the full benefits of my sensory enrichment experiment: Done.

3.) Write an article about that major identification I made about self-improvement: Done.

4.) Construct a blog post for Modern Paleo: Done. It'll probably publish next week, as a moderator is in charge of all submitted material there.

5.) Look up nearby philosophy or culinary clubs; nearby colleges: Neglected.

6.) Finish skimming Alinea: Kind of. The blasted library due date snuck up on me, so I breezed through the images and have added it to my list of books to buy. It's definitely the one of the most interesting cookbooks I've ever seen in my life.

7.) Study up on how to effectively find and use images in articles: Done. And as you can see, I've started incorporating them. I need to learn more about legally using commercial images, however, as right now I'm only using images explicitly available for creative commons purposes.

8.) Finish skimming The Zwilling J. A. Henckels Complete Book of Knife Skills: I decided against it since the library version is so different than the one I saw in the bookstore.

* * * * *

I still have yet to hear from my other employer, so I'm kind of in limbo there. Aside from quelling my loneliness, I also desire to get myself back into culinary training. Mm . . . patience. In the meanwhile I could work on bringing my productivity back up to more efficient levels and whatnot, as I feel I've been goofing around too much lately. My aims for this week are:

1.) Construct outline and rough draft of that one article I neglected

2.) Look up nearby colleges and clubs

3.) Look up art museum: That ought to be a fantastic place for sensory stimulation, no?

4.) Read 100 pages of Schulz and Peanuts: I've been thinking of the comic strip Peanuts on and off for quite some months, so my curiosity has driven me to this book. Is the strip really as good as popularly acclaimed? I strive to find out. I know I still have 100 Voices yet to be finished, but I don't think I'll be able to do so before its due date this week, and so will have to rent it again.

5.) Read the introductions and afterwords of the Peanuts comics I've rented in conjunction with the above biography

6.) Assess what kind of music device I want to save up for: Dish washing is all muscle work, leaving my mind pretty idle. I think I could do well to enhance my performance it my mind weren't pacing around so much trying to find some way to satisfy itself. Come the last minute crunch I could really pump myself up with some intense compositions, so I want to get a device of some kind in order to help enhance my performance and efficiency.

7.) Edit layout of blog: Annoying, but something that should be done. I want to fix how the archives look on the side, so nothing major. I still want to overhaul this whole place, however. Don't think I've forgotten my news years' resolution regarding this.

I said last week that I had some kind of sensation that there's something I should be doing that I'm not and couldn't figure out what it is. I still haven't. Hopefully this week will bring more insight. I suspect I simply want to get into my second job: It's prep work for a country club, so I'm excited.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Why I Don't Like Socializing in Groups

One topic I've been considering as of late regarding my lovability goals and pursuit of valuable relationships is what I consider to be my preferred situations for socialization, and in thinking about that I've realized again how much I dislike groups. Can it really be considered beneficial to friendships to socialize in such a manner?
Nos vemos en el bar

The thing that strikes me the most are those images on social networking sites where people will post endless photos of themselves with countless people, many time in very intimate poses such as hugging or kissing each other, to indicate how close they are as friends. Yet, evidence suggests they don't see these people that often to have developed such a strong intimacy, as shown by consistent comments from various people on how long it's been since they've seen a particular person. Just how much do these people know each other as individuals outside of a group-setting? And in groups, why do they display such physical intimacy despite not having cultivated a true appreciation for each person as an individual? To me, it seems more like the person is inserting themselves in a group for the sake of being in a group rather than appreciating the group as a gathering of distinct individuals.

What irks me the most is how it seems that in such group settings everyone is concentrating very weakly on everyone and everything, so in the end they're not really socializing with anyone in particular, but rather anyone in general. The majority of my experiences have shown it's very easy to fuse with the environment in that setting by not talking or getting involved: Everyone's so caught up with what's happening in "general" that they hardly notice anything unique about a particular person. It's not about cultivating friendships, but rather being in a collective atmosphere. Most of all, it disturbs me how often people don't act like themselves in group settings, where they'll be one kind of person when dealt with privately and another person in front of others. I've seen people who are often calm in disposition in private often get hysterical, loud, and hyper in more populated settings, a direct contradiction to their usual behavior.

I am not saying, however, that it's inherently irrational to socialize in groups; rather, that too often it's done for irrational reasons and in irrational ways. For example, take the majority of how college kids conduct parties and whatnot. For me, it would be more ideal to socialize in a group after having gotten to know as many of the people as individuals as possible, or else be aware of how individual everyone is when being exposed to them during that time. Don't relax your focus, appeal to the whole group indiscriminately, and then allow yourself to forget everyone afterwards. It's nonsensical to me to think that someone would show great affection in kissing someone for a photograph, but then hold them at arm's length beyond that scenario. Moreover, these kinds of people I often see frequently change the groups they associate with, each new batch of photos showing a whole new smorgasbord of strangers.

I'm not sure if I'd ever truly enjoy group socialization in a rational sense, however. Even with intimate friends I've never much enjoyed being in groups of more than three. It's not shyness; it's just that I don't like asserting my personality to that great a number of people at a time, so I often stay quiet even if discomfort is entirely absent. Then again, perhaps I might change after pursuing valuable relationships more successfully. We'll see.

Anyhow, this is why I don't like groups. I much prefer getting to know someone more intimately and privately.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

My Sensory Enrichment Experiment

I've noted that last week I performed a sensory enrichment experiment to see what kind of impact it would have on my mind and well-being. Up until now I've only briefly commented on it, so I'd like to elaborate more on what I did and why.
In Vitro, 2010 + text
The thing that sparked my interest in performing such an experiment is noticing how difficult it was getting to be trying to read in my room all the time. I haven't restarted my formal self-education yet, but I am feeding my mind with reading, frequently visiting my library and all. At the beginning I tried reading by laying on my floor, sitting on the edge of the bed, and so forth, but eventually I got so fidgety that my mental processes were really being interfered with. A discontent with my environment was growing; I kept looking out the window with the sense that I should be out there for some reason. In a way I guess you could say I was going stir crazy: All this reading was often keeping me in one place for a longer time than preferred. I read an article on Mark's Daily Apple on how enriching one's environment can improve health and then remembered an older piece he wrote about studying in different environments to enhance learning (which I can't find), so I thought to experiment with doing my reading in different locations to see if they would eliminate my fidgety-ness and overall discontent with my environment.

It's a simple experiment. Just take a book or some books to a location I haven't read in before and do some reading, like on the front porch, in the park, or at the bookstore. It's all just a matter of going to different locations. To my surprise, it not only eliminated that fidgety-ness, it also enhanced my concentration on my reading and helped me more easily keep my mind on matters. I did find myself frequently interrupting my reading to look around at my surroundings and people, but these distractions weren't enough to actually break my concentration, so getting right back to it was very smooth, as if I never broke my train of thought. Most significantly and unexpectedly, it enhanced my well-being and simply made me feel better and more content.

Colorful Crazy Daisies (1)Given the surprise contentment that came along with the results, I thought I'd vary my experiment a little bit by applying it to my walks by taking different routes to this one park I visit often. The different routes may have changed the length of my walks considerably, but the point was to expose myself to new stimuli, not test the efficiency of routes. To my pleasure that also enhanced my well-being and contentment, relaxing me more, and has made me a better navigator. The success of both these experiments will make me adopt them as long-term practices. I haven't been discontent with my environment since using this methodology, and still have quite a ways to go in applying it given the different locations and routes I have yet to try out.

I wish I would have thought of this experiment sooner, as fidgeting was a huge problem when I was living in Michigan. I studied incredibly often then, but only in about three different fixed areas, mainly two. I knew my efforts were important, but towards the window I kept glancing with a longing for new stimuli, something different environmentally. I probably struggled a lot more than was necessary because of that.

It's hard to say why this works, but from a biological perspective I think it just have to do with how our brains respond to sensory stimulation. Humans, being conceptual beings, cannot enjoy the process of shutting off their mind entirely; unless resting from previous exertion, to do so is depressing. Even people who don't value their mind and actively choose not to think still strive to mentally distract themselves with something, no matter how petty. Following this line, it must be exciting to the sensory apparatuses to take in and process new bits of information, such as unfamiliar smells and new sights. The new data, being new of course, hasn't been exposed to you before, so your brain has to process it in a different, more stimulating way than it does familiar stuff. Old data, such as routine spots visited and things seen, have already been exposed to and found their place in your brain, so while your apparatuses still process it, it doesn't process it in as stimulating a fashion given its familiarity and secured spot in your memory. Have you ever smelled a delicious aroma and noticed how it wanes off? It may have little to do with whether the scent is actually dissipating: Your brain has just processed it to the point that you can literally no longer smell it, even if it's still there. Same thing with routine sights: You become less and less interested in their details as they become more and more familiar, such as the cubicle you might work in everyday.

I think I feel better because I actively sought out new sensory data that was more stimulating to process, and in that processing I became more content, relaxed, focused, and so on. Previously my walks were virtually mindless -- I could have done them with my eyes closed -- but now I'm more alert since I'm constantly switching things up: Going to the park one way and coming home another. This may also be helping to correct my sleep troubles as well, since I've noticed I've been getting mentally tired more often, relaxing more deeply in bed, and waking up feeling legitimately rested. This is going without those orange safety glasses (to filter out serotonin-producing blue light) and regular bedtimes as well. If you're having sleep difficulties, you might want to consider a similar experiment.

So to finish: This sensory enrichment experiment has bestowed benefits that really surprised me in their ability to enhance my well-being. I'll definitely be working to establish this as a permanent life-long habit.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Feeling is Believing

I've been thinking about Mind Over Mood ever since I've read it, and have kept applying its methodology consistently in my written introspection. To my pleasure it has been resulting in positive mental health benefits, including making a habit of objective evaluations, coping with stress, controlling my behavior during intense emotions, and more, so I wish I would have gotten my hands on it a lot sooner. It's probably one of these best resources of our time on how to properly introspect, a skill that is horrifically deficient in our world. Most importantly, I've noticed that some of the its identifications of introspection gave me an epiphany on the means to my self-improvement, and could considerably change my efforts.

As you might know, since I've moved to Texas I've been rather lonely. My friends from my last restaurant are still in Michigan, and my craving for companionship has been for those similar in spirit to me, not just any old physical body. I've been running into some obstacles in meeting that need, such as my night-based job preventing me from attending an Objectivist Society club, so these past weeks I've been largely contemplating what I can do with my resources. What I haven't realized is that part of my venture in seeking valuable friendships was actually implicitly a self-improvement venture, and Mind Over Mood has helped me realize how.

The most important thing I've gained from reading the book is the knowledge that one's mental make-up is not solely a matter of one's thinking; in addition, one's behavior, environment, and social dealings also contribute elements to one's character, and while benefits can be distributed amongst the whole by making changes to a few isolated realms, ultimately the entire context needs to be taken in consideration in order to obtain optimal emotional health. For instance, I could have the best thinking habits, behavior, and have an enriching environment, but if I were a small kid getting beaten up after school everyday I'd still probably wouldn't be able to obtain full happiness, despite my rationality in the other areas. Likewise, I could be surrounded by perfect people, but still be unhappy given irrational behavior or flawed thinking habits. The whole has to be integrated. This explains to me why I often went nowhere in my introspection: I thought it was purely a matter of thinking habits, so I neglected the other realms, such as my social and general environment, thus holding myself back.

Aside from trying to add more value to my life, I think my desire to quench my loneliness is so that I myself can become a better person through dealing with better people. Noted many times before on this blog is that I'm often concerned with my lack of boldness and resistance to openness with other people, which I view as incompatible with my ideal self. Here I think the problem is that while I'm being rational in the introspection and general environment realm, I haven't taken proper steps to make for a gainful social environment, and that consequently is affecting my performance in the behavioral realm.

My difficult past with certain people is well-documented around here, so I'll leave that as a given. As such, I think the fact that I've dealt with so many difficult people throughout my life, and worse yet couldn't voluntarily get away from them for some time, has made me adopt some rather bad emotional premises about the nature of people despite my contrary intellectual conclusions. I know the risk for irrational, out of proportion hostility is unlikely in the dealings I'm engaging in today, but since I've dealt with people who so often got hysterical and upset at unpredictable things I tend to freeze up on sharing the content of my character since I "feel" everyone is somehow an emotional bomb waiting to go off. The things that have upset people in the past and caused strife were absurd and unpredictable, such as someone blowing up at being asked why they thought the sun faded colors, so on almost all points of discussion I tend to desire to keep to myself, making me quieter and more reserved a person than I'd prefer to be.

Concisely, the subconscious premises I experience emotionally differ from that of my intellectual and consciously held conclusions because my actual concrete experiences differ than that of my true beliefs. I've been persuaded by logic and reason to adopt a certain view of ideal people, but in actual reality I've been dealing with people who are markedly irrational, immoral, and even evil, so my emotions have been strongly influenced by the actual experiences I had and have.

So while I think it's ideal of myself to be philosophically open with others, I'm hesitant in practice since my experiences were those with people who became irrationally unhinged at such topics. In these matters I haven't be unreasonable or rude in the least: I was once threatened to be kicked out of person's house because my opinion didn't align with theirs on a pot roast, and scolded sharply when I stated I didn't like potatoes that much. These are just minor matters: philosophical and personal discussions have resulted in much more intense irrationality.

I want to be a bolder and more expressive person, so to self-improve in this area I think my search for companionship should head towards people who value open ideology and civil discussion, and defend their principles openly (like many Objectivists I know). Ideal people, in whatever degree, do exist and I intellectually believe in them, but I don't think I can derive the full emotional impact of that belief until I have the concrete experiences to base it upon, meaning I need to actually meet and deal with those people. The experiences you have will certainly not determine what kind of person you'll ultimately become, but they are a heavy influence that can determine at least some things, like how you emotionally respond to certain things and situations. I believe in being bold, but my character has developed into something quiet and reserved because that was the optimal way to deal with the irrational people I was forced to deal with for years and couldn't get away from, so it'll take some new, better experiences to uproot traits that are essentially defense mechanisms for dealing with irrational people.

My big mistake in my self-improvement ventures before is that I thought I could alter my character entirely though the will and practice of introspection alone, but now I see that it's slightly more complex than that. There are other areas that influence one's mental contents, so by neglecting those areas and concentrating entirely on my thoughts I have been stagnating in my growth.

And now that I think about it, the kinds of person I've been in the past seem to prove the importance of experience. The ideal time I have in my memory is when I was so philosophically open and conversational with other people, and I see now that that was during a time I spent a good deal of time with friends who enjoyed such conversations, conducted them civilly (including disagreements), and never resorted to hostility. When I transitioned to the current self I am dissatisfied with I was then at a point in my life where I was primarily dealing with irrational and emotionally unstable people, so my character changed in order to cope with what was a significantly unreasonable atmosphere. Even the wrong opinion on a pair of shoes, no matter how proper the manners in speaking them, were a potential cause of strife, so for the past years I've had to keep the majority of my thoughts to myself.

In summary, then, I think my pursuit of companionship is not only to fulfill a psychological need, but to also help me change as a person by being exposed to healthier and happier social environments. I can't feel, so to speak, the existence of rational and ideal people until I actually meet them and start dealing with them on a regular basis, so if I'm to move forward with my character improvement I should work to gain those friends.

To sum the argument up, introspection plays a huge role in one's character formation, but it isn't definitive. There are other, external factors to take into account, and neglecting them can lead to stagnation or even retrogression. The whole context must be considered. In order to fully feel the brevity of a healthier belief, then one should and must pursue concrete evidence and experiences that confirm that belief(s), otherwise one's conclusions and emotional responses won't fully align.

On a side-note, I think my desire for companionship shows I've finally established the confidence of my lovability. (I have been pursuing lovability goals here and there, but they're so scattered I don't think I could link to any one post.) I'll say it out loud: I think I deserve to be loved for the person I am. I've been long in the pursuit of virtue, so having done well to obtain it makes to yearn for my justice. Ah, but I'll have to wait longer. This point has also been making me angrier in conjunction, as I'm aware of some people who appreciate me and yet keep silent and distant in their treatment, making my loneliness even stronger knowing all the potential values there are.

Once again I must thoroughly recommend Mind Over Mood. Introspection is a very necessary skill that every person needs to practice, and this so far is the best resource I've ever perused on the subject. I've been aware of the importance of introspection for years now, and still this book has helped me make major identifications I haven't been able to on my own. Pursuing valuable people is a self-improvement venture in both making me live a more full live and become a better person. As I do successfully nurture these relationships, I'll be sure to cite what changes I have undergone.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Heart Attack Grill

Interesting! I've heard from Yahoo! News that Heart Attack Grill is going to open up a location in Dallas, my county. I'm interested in going, admittedly. Yes, it's still unhealthy when considering the whole nutritional context, but from the Paleo perspective it'd still be a more palatable dietary cheat than most given the emphasis on fat, not sugar, though this is an oversimplification given the different kinds of fats. Still, I think even partially hydrogenated lard is better than canola or soybean oil as frying grease. Regardless, I'm pretty strict with my Paleo nutritional regiment and other acceptable foods (e.g. butter) and cheat almost solely with chocolate, so I think I'll definitely visit this place at some point in the future. I can't even remember the last time I had a piece of bread, so I think it'd be okay to have a breaded burger after this long.

Though, I am bothered by the prospect of protests against this restaurant. Yes, I support free speech and all, but still am annoyed that such people are concerned with the restaurant in such a fashion, and while rights are being respected, I think it's a display of nanny-like behavior to object in such a way. These people may be voicing their judgment of the health matters at stake, but why can't they just explain their views and rest easy that it's an entirely voluntary institution?

I see people eat terrible foods almost everyday. Alcohol, wheat, prepackaged meals, low-fat selections . . . and none of it bothers me. I nutritionally object to such foods and abstain from them, but it doesn't irk me at all to see other people eat that way, except for maybe children. I'll explain the reasoning behind my dietary choices and feel fine at respectful disagreements, and won't be bothered by a person's continued dietary destruction. I'm an adult, and these people are adults: They're old enough to make their own choices without being nagged at, and I respect that enough that it doesn't bother me to see someone make bad choices so long as it isn't infringing on me. I might offer my input to the person on what I perceive to be a better course, but largely I live my own life and let other people live theirs. Even if, in a Paleo diet dominated world, someone defiantly opened up a sugary bakery called "The Insulin Spike Cafe" I wouldn't be bothered: Make your own decisions, for the consequences are yours alone.

This protest is evidence that there still exists a mentality where people just can't leave alone certain lifestyle choices they find disagreeable, even though it doesn't infringe on their rights and isn't destructive culturally (e.g. spreading evil ideas). They see someone making a choice they perceive as bad and HAVE to say something about it, even if it amounts to nagging in the end. This is not only annoying, but also ineffective and impotent as a method of changing people's minds and the culture at large. People with signs and slogans don't change the world; civil arguments and well-constructed thoughts do. (And by "civil" I'm being very broad here, focusing on mannerisms. An argument can be vicious and evasive, but in a certain way I could still consider it civil. A book, for instance, doesn't have the ability to conduct violence, raise its voice, or slam its fists on the table.)

So while, yes, the people eating at this restaurant may be making a destructive choice by drinking the sugary shakes or eating the wheat burger buns, I think society should allow them to make that choice without sneering or thumbing their nose. These are people with the capability of thinking for themselves: Let them employ that capacity.  I'm entirely polite and civil when witnessing someone eat pasta, and expect the same when I eat my food.

Then again, a cultural change is needed before people can tend to themselves like this. We live in an age where people believe it is their duty to promote the common good of their fellow man as a matter of moral obligation, which at the rights respecting level can result in a constant urge on someone's part to keep pestering someone on how "wrong" they're acting. I've had people obsess over my dietary choices before. It didn't make me change my choices; it made me lose respect for that person and avoid them so I could make my dietary decisions without irritation.

To close with Eric Hoffer: "A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people's business."

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Music: Daedelus' Fair Weather Friends

Ah, I love the cheery jump-around-and-be-happy vibe of this music, though confess I can't comprehend the lyrics. Blasted hearing-impairment. The video itself is quite interesting too, even. One of the barriers to my posting music videos is that so many times I see the video itself is atrocious and actually detracting from the music. I discover most things through Pandora, so it's an unpleasant contrast. I wish I could black out the video sometimes and just have the audio stream.

I've done well to cultivate my musical tastes, first starting with a very lazy approach, not even remembering songs and artists, to now having several favorite artists. It seems at this point I benefit from music the most when I'm experiencing intense emotion or an immense desire to contemplate. I don't enjoy having pieces play in the background all the time, or trying to listen when I'm engaging in another intellectual activity such as writing.

To date, I'd say my favorite artists are: Thievery Corporation (contemplative), The Bird and the Bee (soothing and sentimental), Metric (energetic and sexy), and Scatman John (happy). To date, my favorite song is still Danse Macabre.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Habits Only Accessible Automatically?

Here's a strange phenomenon that confuses me: Have you ever had an ability, habit, or the likes that could only be accessed subconsciously, making it impossible to consciously control?

For instance, at one point I managed to type my e-mail password purely by muscle memory, and I sustained that habit for several weeks, if not months. One day I wondered what my password was in explicit terms, and to my surprise I couldn't figure it out no matter how long I thought, and there was no written documentation of it. That was actually enough to erase my muscle memory habit, so I couldn't access my e-mail for several days, maybe weeks.

Another example would be my speaking habits. When I speak to other people in person everything is absolutely fine, pacing and all. However, when I try to leave a message on the phone or read aloud to myself then I take on an artificial tone, can't control my breathing correctly (often trying to say everything in one breath), might speak too fast or too slow, and so on. Yet, when I pay attention to my speech when talking to people everything seems and feels natural, so I only run into these oddities if I'm by myself.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with integrating a habit so deeply that it becomes subconsciously embedded, but my worry is in how I can't seem to reverse the process and bring things into my conscious awareness. I typed my e-mail password flawlessly before, but lost all record of it in my being when I thought about it, and my speaking goes all wonky anytime I'm not talking to a live person.

This reminds me of those cartoons where a character would be able to pull off amazing feats they couldn't while awake, like the popular scenario of a sleepwalker wandering into a construction zone and pulling off acrobatic feats amongst the steel beams and wires, and upon waking they start to lose balance and freak out.

Has there been any formal research on this? Has anyone else had any similar experiences in this realm?

Weekly Summary # 30

A day late, but here we are; next week I'll be sure to realign matters and post the next edition on Friday, unless there's another crash of course.

Anyhow, this has been a mixed week. Intense contemplation during last week made me very desirous of rest on my "weekend" (Sunday and Monday) after work, so I enjoyed indulging in reading at the park and watching a marathon of One Piece on Hulu. Overall, the most significant happening has been with my sensory enrichment experiment. Not only have I been doing my reading in various different locations, I've also been taking different walking routes to the park I go to, which has resulted in some surprising stimulation and thoughts about my character. In short, the experiment has proven to demonstrate a beneficial practice to me, and I'll comment on it briefly in this summary and dedicate an article to it next week.

Onto the list:

1.) Construct a list of locations available to read/study in and utilize a new location for each endeavor: I constructed that list and did utilize it, minus one occasion, and the results were surprisingly positive. I feel better and more satisfied, more stimulated, and more able to concentrate on my reading. I hardly expected this, but this methodology does in fact work in improving my concentration and well-being.

I originally wanted to try this because I noticed I became super fidgety trying to read in my room all the time, which was harming my thinking, productivity, ability to learn, and more. I remembered a post I read on Mark's Daily Apple on how studying in different environments can enrich one's learning (neither I nor Mark could find it unfortunately), and I particularly noticed that in my fidgeting I was constantly staring out the window, feeling as if I should be outside, so I made the connection and decided to mix up my reading locations. The fidgeting still continued to some extent in my being interested in the new environment I placed myself in, but still my intellect was benefited and I was able to get more absorbed into my reading. As a side experiment, I tried taking different walking routes to this one park I go to and found it had similar results. I'm definitely going to keep practicing this methodology in the future. I elaborate later in this weekly period what the benefits were.

2.) Read What Einstein Told His Cook 2: Yes, I did, but my rental from the library was due before I could finish it, so I've added it to my list of books to buy.

3.) Read Alinea: Forgot about it. I'll continue skimming it this week and reach a decision on whether or not I'd like to purchase it.

From what reading I have done, however, I have learned that, even as an aspiring culinary professional, I don't enjoy or benefit from reading cookbooks all that much. It's boring to go through recipe after recipe, forgoing a reading of theory and having no intention or means to recreate the recipe in the near future. I'd rather read a food science book, a spice history book; a book concentrated on one food, style, or cuisine; and so on. Reading recipe after recipe interests me very little, and through this boredom I'm learning more about what stimulates my culinary thoughts and what courses I should pursue. At the moment, I think I'd benefit much more from reading books on theory, such as sous vide cooking or different ways of handling protein, and in thinking creatively about a food or foods I'd do better to read recipes that contain or focus on them, rather than reading a bunch of different recipes with a bunch of different ingredients.

4.) Read The Zwilling J. A. Henckels Complete Book of Knife Skills: Forgot. I'll skim it this week, but my difficulty is that the one I've rented from the library is a very different edition than the one I saw in the bookstore (probably the one in the link also), the latter being why I decided to pick it up in the first place. I might do better to go back to that store and skim it there to reach a purchasing decision.

5.) Watch three unseen episodes of The Twilight Zone: Argh! I couldn't! To my dismay, my computer troubles persist in trying to play a DVD, where the audio becomes all choppy. I tried playing another movie and was surprised by this glitch, as I thought my software cleansing and other treatments had fixed the problems I experienced before. Apparently not, so I am still unable to play DVDs properly. I'm at a loss as how to get other programs to play DVDs as well, such as Quicktime and VLC, since I suspect the problem may be that Microsoft Media Center demands too much of the computer's resources, so I'm stuck for now.

* * * * *

Another thing I've learned this week is what more ideally constitute an ideal reading habit for my being. Out of paranoia of being without books I filled out a bunch of inter-library loan request sheets with the thought they might arrive way in the future at different times, but to my surprise they came fairly quickly and close together, so I ended up having nearly a dozen books at once, which was actually stressful. I felt pressured to try and plow through them before their due dates, many of them being non-renewable, which made me enjoy and derive less from their reading. Many have been returned, and what few I have left leaves me more at peace and interested. For my habits, I prefer to concentrate on as few books as possible, though have a few rented out at a time for variety, so I should place a strict limit on how many I'll allow myself to rent and request at one time, and content myself with my writing and other activities if I should run out.

This week I'd actually like to spend on rethinking and modifying my blogging habits, among other things. My urge to be an intellectual activist has been growing stronger and stronger, and part of that urge is how to write more effectively and attractively, and advertise for more readers. My activism has even been motivating to spontaneously promote my ideas in areas beyond the internet, such as asking for The Objective Standard at my nearest Barnes & Noble. Plus I think it's very likely I'm going to start my second job very soon, as they'd said they'll give me their definitive answer within the week, so I ought to be prepared. Otherwise, I can't think of any new self-improvement ventures other than maintaining my current habits and honing my current abilities, though I think I came across a major identification about the nature of self-improvement which will change my efforts significantly, which I'll write about later this period.

So here are my current plans:

1.) Construct an outline for a special piece: I've got another long article in my head, like my Dragon Ball Z one, which will probably take a brief while to complete.

2.) Write an article about the full benefits of my sensory enrichment experiment

3.) Write an article about that major identification I made about self-improvement

4.) Construct a blog post for Modern Paleo

5.) Look up nearby philosophy or culinary clubs; nearby colleges

6.) Finish skimming Alinea

7.) Study up on how to effectively find and use images in articles

8.) Finish skimming The Zwilling J. A. Henckels Complete Book of Knife Skills

That's it for now. I have this strange urge that tells me there's something else I should be doing, but I can't figure out what. Hopefully I'll figure that out this week.

Chocolate Review: Equal Exchange 67% Mint with Peppermint Pieces

[The Blogger crash took down my polished version of this review, so this reposting is simply a swapping of drafts.]

It's probably obvious that mint is one of my favorite flavors hands down, especially in chocolate. Done right, it can offer that wonderful experience of the brain feeling as if it were injected with a cooling gel, a perfect accompaniment to the refreshing and delicious nature of the herb class. I try to keep this style of chocolate on hand constantly, in piles if possible, and now it's time to assess more of what companies have to offer in this spectrum, the focus this time being on Equal Exchange's 67% dark mint with peppermint pieces.

Pleasing, but it has some vices holding it back. Each bite is thoroughly saturated with great mint intensity, dandy for my desires, but the balance too much favors the peppermint and leaves the cacao as something merely hinted at. The experience serves to add no additional complexity, only petering out the mint intensity as time passes and leaving the chocolate statically recessive, finishing with no other attribute. It's not at all crunchy as it promises to be; rather, it's entertainingly crispy given how fine the peppermint pieces are. The fineness of the bits also serves as a pleasant, rough contrast to the smooth melt, making for a two-dimension texture. The bar itself smells very sharply of mint, almost making the nose feel cold, though aroma-wise it reminds me more of spearmint than of peppermint.

The packaging is very well done with its simple color contrasts and tasteful minimalist decorations, but the confection itself looks lazy. It has but only lines going along the length on each square, which makes me wonder why they even bothered. Put the brand name on there or something; give us some eye candy. Otherwise, the bar has a strange blend of dull and shiny spots, but is at least cleanly manufactured and has a good snap.

Given how much I like mint the imbalance doesn't bother me that much, but Equal Exchange still doesn't seem to hold up to its competitors. Endangered Species' 72% mint has an equally pleasing mint experience, better balance, more intense chocolate, less sugar, and is probably cheaper. New Tree's 73% mint may be a little more expensive and harder to obtain, not to mention having a slightly less intense chocolate, but it has the complexity of bitter grassy notes and, most favorably, consistently delivers on that brain-cooling experience I mentioned above, probably due to the green tea extract. Equal Exchange's contribution is tasty, but I can't recommend it given its superior competitors; Endangered Species still tops the mint category in my book, so I still offer that as my top suggestion.