Sunday, July 31, 2011

Music: *Funeral March of a Marionette*

Most all of you have probably already heard this theme. It's one of those pieces that becomes so famous that it gets absorbed seamlessly into the culture, and you can go many years hearing it an endless amount of times without ever knowing or hearing its title. But it's unmistakable: It's the Alfred Hitchcock theme. I wanted to tease you by withholding the information to force you to find out through the music itself, but the video uploader has ruined my plan with Hitchcock's photo.

In truth, I'm not much inspired by this piece, but it nonetheless becomes noteworthy in how it gets stuck in my consciousness. I've been enjoying Hitchcock's television shows as of late, and at periods in my day I sometimes get a tinge of pleasure when this theme randomly sneaks into the audio of my mind. It's devious, yet gentle. I associate it with army marches and parades, rather than death.

It's not saying much given my lack of thinking on directors, but I've been amazed by how masterful Hitchcock is. I've come across Alfred Hitchcock Presents on Hulu and have become instantly attached to it, becoming motivated to seek out his whole line of works, excepting maybe his silent films, as I couldn't bear to finish The Farmer's Wife. I'd link you to the Hulu location that hosts his television show, but they're taking the series down promptly tomrow, so I won't borother constructing a link so soon to expire. At the very least, I give a hearty endorsement to Strangers on a Train.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

More on My Food Photography

As mentioned in my weekly summary, I finally managed to purchase a camera, which will soon satisfy part of my new year's resolution to practice food photography. I'm pleased by the writing skills I've developed in writing my chocolate reviews, but I've always thought it a severe disadvantage that I haven't been able to post photos of the products. Furthermore, the lack of photos actually hold back the writing itself, as I absurdly have to resort to word descriptions where pictures would be better, and am prevented from using ideal wording by not being able to commentate on a graphical presentation. There's all sorts of other obstacles too, such as awkwardly commenting on the packaging when the linked product either has a different picture or no picture at all. As such, it's high time that I arrive at this point.

The camera is still shipping, but I do at least anticipate being able to use it by next Friday's review, hopefully. Aside from the photos I post on here, I'll also begin establishing a Flickr photostream, where I'll likely maintain a greater variety of photos of a product than presented in the article alone. You'll get links when the time comes.

Of course, my first few weeks might be pretty awkward. I have no experience with photography and have never handled a camera of this caliber. (I'll note the camera type in my About My Chocolate Reviews page when I start using it.) I've been unfruitful in finding a good educational source on photography, particularly for food. The only one on food that I could find assumed entirely a thorough knowledge of photography and instead concentrated on preparing the food. For now, I'm going for trial and error. I'm going to shoot the product atop a white satin pillow case for contrast and adjust my lighting with my OTT-Lite lamp. It might not be the best of practices, but we'll have to wait and see. Besides, I'm not in the sturdiest of finances right now, so I'll work my way up.

Additionally, I'm also considering rereviewing some chocolates I've done in the past. I want to do this not only because the photography ought to enhance them greatly, but also because I want to correct some amateurish mistakes I made in my early days when I wasn't all that skilled in both my tasting and review writing. Some chocolates, I think, are worth revisiting given more trained abilities.

I'm not sure if I'll post any other kind of photography, but I might. For now, my concentration is entirely on my chocolate reviews, though I plan on branching out to photographing my meal preparations as well, once I get to more serious culinary practice.

I'm glad to have reached this point. For a while I was afraid I might never be able to afford to go through with this new year's resolution, but good luck and a good price has helped me see it through. Better still, I've managed to restore my stocks of review fodder, so now I have several months worth of material to keep things steady, whereas I was just down to my last two bars a week ago.

My start may be sloppy, but I'm looking forward to getting to it. Hopefully you find that it makes my chocolate reviews more worthwhile than ever before.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Chocolate Review: Ghirardelli's 60% Espresso Escape

It always bothers me as a connoisseur to see a chocolate taken off the store shelf permanently. Some of the best chocolates I've ever been introduced to were often nearing the end of their store presence, and within a week or two my cravings for them could no longer be satisfied. It's dissatisfying since they often aren't replaced by anything finer, making the selection become yet more run-of-the-mill. Are fine chocolate tastes rare? Or are consumers not being adventurous enough to go out and try these great things? I never forgave that one Walmart for introducing me to New Tree chocolates, especially after it made me attached to that lovely ginger bar and took it away within the month. It seems that my local Target is victimizing its own worthwhile chocolates, as I picked up Ghirardelli's 60% cacao Espresso Escape bar in the clearance bin, now vanished.

I don't drink coffee. In fact, I dedicate myself almost solely to water, excepting fruit smoothies and coconut juice as rare treats, though I like raw milk too. But coffee is dandy in chocolate, and that's just where I like it. How could I neglect this given the euphoric experience I had with Green & Black's own 67% espresso?

Overall, it's plenty satisfying. The cardboard sleeve has an excellent eye-catching design and color scheme, and from a technical advertising perspective I am appreciative of their economical usage and variety of information, with precisely separated sections on the back and no wasted space. Beyond the lovely silver foil -- I'm always so tempted to collect it, perhaps make a giant ball like Pee Wee Herman's foil ball -- appears an expertly designed bar with a wonderful, full-textured Ghirardelli emblem on each square, a great aesthetic touch. It's glossy, though not shiny, and has a quiet, crisp snap. The aroma comes out with a trio of chocolate, coffee, and maybe a hint of nuts. Seizing upon the eating, the flavor complex consisted of powered dairy -- though not texturally -- sugar, coffee, and a chocolately tone permeating the background throughout. In contradiction to the tasting notes, I did not sense any sort of spiciness or cherry-like fruitiness. The chocolate melts goodly, but unevenly and with lumps.

To my fortune I do not seem sensitive to caffeine, for even the consumption of this entire bar did not put me on a high or set me up for a crash, so maybe I have a helpful immunity in sampling a great quantity of coffee things. All in all, I'm pleased, but just cannot say it's superior to Green & Black's, and I nearly cannot list any advantage the competitor has except that the flavors are just higher quality and more intense. That, and I just like the better, more gooey and smooth mouthfeel that the thicker bars G&B's provide. Nutritionally, the lower cacao content of the Ghirardelli bar may be more preferable to those sensitive to caffeine, as the lower content might mean less caffeine, though it doesn't escape me that the G&B's bar contains cocoa instead of cacao, which makes things more difficult to judge.

In the end, I have to say it was pleasurable, but it just doesn't seem to match the quality of G&B's. I'd recommend this if it's all you have access to or can include in your budget, or if you have nutritional reasons for consuming it (e.g. possibly lower caffeine, different nature of cacao from cocoa), but otherwise my coffee chocolate preference lies with Green & Black's.

Weekly Summary # 41

My lazy weekend turned out to be a short of vacation week, though with not total laziness. I didn't get to many of my goals, but something good happened which changed my endeavors and shifted my actions, so I am not disappointed. Among other things, I managed to finally order a digital camera, so very soon I'll be able to start practicing food photography and include pictures with my chocolate reviews. Beyond that, even when not directing myself towards my goals I learned a helpful deal about what helps me perform optimally and be my best in spirit, so now I know better how to moderate certain things and conduct myself so as to avoid any pitfalls. Also, I've been getting back into my Sherlock Holmes books, which, while they may not be the object of my reading goals, is a good boost to my reading habits. I'm satisfied in the end.

The list:

1.) Study menu from work: Glanced over it. I had fun looking up some of the terms, but I still need to look into it more deeply. My object is to gain a better understanding of my restaurant's culinary profile and of the food world in general, not remember the items photographically, so I'll need to exert myself again this weekly period.

2.) Perform at least five conceptual exercises per day: Sloppily. Some days I missed, some days I didn't do the required five, and some days I didn't think them through thoroughly. I do want to make this a permanent habit, regardless. I've been reminded how much fun and insightful it can actually be to conduct vocabulary exercises like this: It makes me feel more certain and intelligent a man. Again, my primary problem is not having an efficient and non-hindersome system for documenting words to perform exercises for, as this is what annoys me most and causes me to slack with this practice. For example, when having established a deep concentration in my reading I don't want to be interrupted to write a word down. But again, I'll just have to deal with it and try.

3.) Research/contemplate ways to constantly try new recipes, techniques, and meal plans: Totally forgot. At the very least, my taking culinary matters more seriously has been making me thoughtful as a cook, causing me to get my mind more into my meals and get more out of the process. For instance, I recently learned that adding salt has been what's making my sauteed mushrooms leak that horrible gray water, and now I feel foolish for having done it for so many months when a little research and a thought could have corrected me. More thinking must be done, nonetheless.

4.) Read three chapters of The Chocolate Tree: Nope! Shoved out for Sherlock Holmes.

5.) Research how to create RSS feed for chocolate reviews only: Neglected.

6.) Do Mental Calvinball during every working shift: I tried doing it for part of my shift last Saturday, but I was surprised to find how much my mind rebelled and held back my efforts. Just as I began counting I felt a tremendous urge to think about other matters, making me utterly distracted, and the counting itself slowed me down obscenely, something that didn't happen the first time I tried the technique. I had to give it up because it was making me too inefficient and uncomfortable. I wonder in what way I may have changed that makes this technique so unpalatable now, whereas I performed with it just fine before.

But truth be told, I think I've discovered my poor work ethic to be rooted in other difficulties, which I think I have identified and can now remedy. I'll try those and abandon this. However, Mental Calvinball still exists in my practices, for I use my stopwatch religiously to time myself during certain tasks.

* * * * *

I anticipate that I'll start being able to include photos with my chocolate reviews by next week's contribution, but I'm not sure if it'll arrive on time. Hopefully I'll be able to publish on time as usual, but if not, I may delay the review or push it back a week altogether. I'll do my best to respond to however things may roll.

Since I've drop the ball utterly on my last goals in favor of other things, I guess I should try again, eh?

1.) Study menu from work: My goal is to be able to understand every concept.

2.) Perform at least five conceptual exercises per day

3.) Research/contemplate ways to constantly try new recipes, techniques, and meal plans

4.) Read The Chocolate Tree, The Science of Chocolate, and other book from library: I don't have any definite goals since I want to leave myself flexible for the arrival of the camera -- I've got to read the instructions, tinker with it, and play with it, you know? It'll make the review process longer, but more worthwhile. I hope I can become respectable enough that companies actually view me as worthwhile to send samples to. That I'd consider a major accomplishment.

5.) Research how to create RSS feed for chocolate reviews only: Given the mix of content of this blog, I want to find some way to cater directly to those who only want my chocolate writings and reviews.

That's it for now. Here's to striving for a productive week.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Things Worth Living For and Harmful Beliefs

Let's talk about the economic collapse again . . . oh don't click away, it's about more good stuff I promise. As disturbing as it might be, it looks like we may have finally reached the tipping point with the debt limit. I'm not so sure that anything significant, political or economically, will actually happen on August 2nd given that apparently the debt ceiling limit was once predicted to be hit on May 15th, but still: It's probably coming soon. A few days, weeks, or maybe even a scant few months, but I sense it'll hardly be delayed beyond half a year. The U.S. must default since we're not actually engaged in paying back the loans with actual produced value, so hopefully it can be gotten over with as soon as possible rather than trying to delay it with some kind of ceiling increase, because delaying matters will only make things worse.

Even though I'm optimistic about the culture in the long-run -- that most of us have a good future to look forward to in our lifetimes -- I do confess that even I get depressed about the short-term. Even with good evidence of something to look forward to, the pain we have to anticipate and experience yet is still discomforting. On my side, I thought I had more time to prepare . . . to establish and protect my savings by converting to another currency, and to get a backup supply of food for emergencies, but it seems that it may not be so, so I'll have to rely on my abilities to respond to matters. Sometimes I get so distraught I break from my usual pursuits and concentrate on art and values to soothe my soul, such as heroic television and chocolate. But lately I think I've figured out two strategies that may not only assist with bearing the bad times, but in also establishing a stronger moral endurance to persist through disaster in the longer term, so as to maintain resolve to fight for, earn, and achieve a good future.

The temporary measure I've thought of in treating short-term disappointment, aside from engaging in immediate values such as favored fiction, is to write out a list of things worth living for. It's like counting your blessings, only instead of concentrating on what you have, though that isn't a bad idea either, it's about concentrating on the good things that compose life, are achievable (even if not presently), and are worth waiting for if bad times are to arrive before gaining them. It's easy to think that sometimes when you lose values that you've lost everything and that nothing else is worth pursuing, so I'd suggest getting a piece (or several) of paper and writing down almost every single thing, literally, that you can think of that you enjoy in life, whether it be high things such as a satisfying career or published articles in prestigious publications, or minor things like pomegranate-blueberry jam on waffles and sleeping well. By listing out every single thing you enjoy about life it helps keep in memory and remind that there is a great wealth of things that compose and nurture a fulfilling life, and that the loss of even a great many things still leaves plenty leftover, in our present times, to spiritually fuel us. Beyond that, it can also help steel resolve by showing what wealth is *possible* in life and worth fighting for. In my distressed moments I try to remember every little pleasure I have, and in combination I feel a gush of enthusiasm to live and work, and am once again burning with resolve for activism. I haven't written my own list yet, but have plans to. The essence to the comfort, I think, is in the writing, so write a fresh list every time you need the method rather than consulting an old one, and write as much as you possibly can.

The second, more long-term solution I've thought of is to identify and address false or erroneous beliefs that underlie your sense of life, or the theme of your constant emotions. I've noticed in my own situation that I've adopted some mistaken beliefs that has rendered me more sensitive to the nature of our cultural and economic problems, and has been harming my resolve to continue being a capitalist advocate. For example -- though this is a small one -- I've been assuming that some values might be destroyed and never ever obtainable again, and it has been given me bad urges to hedonistically enjoy myself now in anticipation of reduced happiness in the future. For instance, sooner or later I want to read the original Dragon Ball Z comic books since I enjoy the show so much, but I recognize that in a poor economy I may not only not be able to afford it, it may also be taken off shelves and put out of print, and perhaps be unobtainable for some years. That would be disappointing, but my wordless assumption has made me believe that it'll somehow be destroyed and never seen again, which I see now as foolish. If I have judged the situation objectively and we do have a good future to behold, then things like that are likely to come back, for would they burn the manuscript? Even Aristotle's works survived the worst of times, the dark ages. The same goes for other things, like video games and movies, foods, and so on. They'll just go away for awhile, and be worth waiting for.

As such, I think it'll be important to long-term health to identify and address beliefs that may have been formed and are hindering you about our upcoming economic problems. For that, I recommend Mind Over Mood. It not only provides a helpful guide to dealing with difficult emotions in the moment, but also to identify the beliefs that underlie a constant emotion. I myself am beginning to feel better after identifying the particular beliefs that provoke my anxiety and nip my motivation at times, and am becoming a stronger, calmer, and more patience person even as times worsen.

To date I maintain the same exact optimism I explicated two years ago about the state of the culture. Victory hasn't been sealed yet, but there's chance of it, so aside from keeping up the good fight I think it's important to make an effort to steel ourselves against the rough times -- which may last over a decade -- in the transition there.

Keep living.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Nuclear Energy: A Great Loss and Worthwhile Pursuit

Thanks to energy activist Alex Epstein, the issues affecting energy production have become a side interest of mine. In truth, Mr. Epstein has become my favorite Ayn Rand Institute fellow given the immense interest I've had in his articles, and his most recent one on the safety of nuclear power is no exception. It's utterly shocking to hear that Japan's nuclear death toll post-tsunami was zero, and my shock is intensified by the fact that, for some bizarre reason, people are pointing to the tsunami disaster as "proof" of nuclear energy's danger. Based on what? 

My interest in energy is driven by my desire to own my own restaurant someday, actually. Energy, of course, plays a huge role in the industry. We need electricity to power the microwaves, natural gas for the oven, and so on. Can you imagine how much the energy costs affect the food pricing? And that, of course, affects how many patrons we serve and how much we sell to feed them. The worst time to work, in my opinion, is during those slow times in which we have almost no one eating; it's the meal rushes that I live for. It's agitating to think that such great energy alternatives as nuclear energy are ostracized and prosecuted, which leads to a lower energy supply and higher prices, and therefore higher restaurant costs and prices . . . and less patrons. I dream of a future where even the fanciest restaurants are cheap and almost always packed, and I'd like to be the head of one. That people like environmentalists interfere is annoying indeed.

But of course nuclear power isn't the answer to everything. I doubt anything will ever replace natural gas in cooking. Fire-top stoves are just more practical: You can judge the temperature easily by eye (i.e. by the height of the flame) and make instantaneous fine-tune adjustments, virtues I don't think are possessed as greatly by other cooking means, such as coil or magnetic stoves. Aside from cheap electricity, it'd also be great to have cheap natural gas to help drive restaurant costs yet even further down.

Hopefully public opinion can be changed for the better, for we have an immense amount to lose in wealth and technological advancements if practical forms of energy continue to be opposed and have their costs driven up. I'd hate to have an empty restaurant just because my lighting bill is too high. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Lazy, Idle Days

Oh what a bad boy I've been. I'm behind on my weekly goals, but I decided to take a miniature vacation you see. Keep in mind my weekly goals are not my only set of activities, for I have a full-time job too. After noticing how run down I felt after my 10+ hour shift on Saturday I decided to engage in some restoration, which has involved being the laziest human in the household for the past two days. I surfed the internet, watched a movie, had a Sherlock Holmes marathon, took a super long walk, laid about and contemplated . . . and enjoyed every moment. The lazy spell continued for a second day, as I was seized by an urge to restart my Sherlock Holmes books and spent the better part of the day reading A Study in Scarlet. Now restored I am back in action . . . but I am depriving you of the entertainment you seek here, right? Well, I won't let you go empty handed.

I've really been getting back into Sherlock Holmes lately. I have a free Hulu Plus trial going right now so I could finish my old favorite series Monk, but I haven't been able to get back into it given my immense attachment to the 1950's Sherlock Holmes television series. As great as Monk is, I'm much more responsive to stronger heroes right now, leaving me unable to resist Holmes' charm and limitless intelligence. Aside from his heroism, I simply cannot get over my admiration of how the character's whole life is dedicated to establishing the deepest and most precise body of knowledge and intellectual power possible to his ability, and at the same time he avoids becoming an awkward armchair intellectual, able to go out in the world and help people with sincere humanity, and outmaneuver criminals in tactic, wit, and even muscle. I've certainly reduced the amount of time I have to partake in Monk before my trial ends, but I have no regrets.

Well, I do have one regret: I plowed through the television episodes so quickly that I have now seen the entire series, and haven't a further adventure to entertain me except for the books it's driven me back to. I've had a hard time finding good information on the series -- it's slightly obscure -- but it's disappointing that it's only 39 half-hour episodes long, and wasn't picked up beyond the first season. I don't know why, but what a tragedy. Still, I have to admit that there's literally only one or two episodes I didn't like, making for a series of almost pristine value. I can't recommend it enough, so I hope in substitute of more substantial writing by me I can trade you off with my favorite episode:

Monday, July 25, 2011

Analyzing Recipes?

Remember how a short while ago I attempted to read cookbooks in order to foster my culinary education? If you also recall, I gave up because I found recipes to simply be too boring to read off one at a time, particularly since I don't have the resources to actually try them out as I'd like to. Well, I think I may have figured out a solution.

My "scribble book" has been helping out greatly with my reading, which is, again, the practice where I take rough notes during reading without intending to revisit them, just to nurture a more active mind. In my trials I've found that sometimes even just a couple sentences is sufficient to set off an iron concentration and train of thought that makes writing unnecessary, even distracting on its own. It sets the wheels of concentration in motion if you will. So now I've thought: Why not try that for cookbooks? Instead of just sitting down and reading books recipe by recipe, which sounds exciting as reading an encyclopedia straight through, why don't I make an effort to challenge myself by writing why I think certain steps are performed in such a fashion and not others, and how they can be improved? That turns a passive reading process into a mentally stimulating one, almost making me imagine myself as a scientist at a theoretical stove. Given my financial tightness abstract learning is just about all I can engage in at cheap expense, and with only one life to live I'd like to foster the greatest culinary knowledge possible.

I'm very intrigued with utilizing my scribble book in this realm, but am afraid it will have to wait nonetheless. I have The Chocolate Tree and The Science of Chocolate to get through first, and think that Culinary Artistry may be waiting for me at the library. Once the time comes I'll certainly set the appropriate goals and document my trial.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Music: Cold Play's *Clocks*

I haven't partaken in much of Cold Play's works, but this song was one of my favorites during my late teenage years. The lyrics strike me as odd: They're very pondering and full of longing, but the instrumentals give off a giddy atmosphere. In my most content moods I've found this song to be the perfect accompaniment, making me daydream of cold spring air, refreshing water, beautiful crystal, and attractive women out on a gorgeous day. A weird mix of images, but songs tend to invoke pictures of objects, situations, and people for me in isolation, often without uniting for a integrated whole.

The great barrier to my enjoying music is that my hearing-impairment often leaves me unable to comprehend the lyrics, so I often like songs even if I can't understand a word, and have even been slightly shy at finding embarrassing lyrics to a song I really like, so I tend to prefer instrumentals more than anything. But whatever the case, enjoyable music is enjoyable music: Enrich your life.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Dragon Ball Z as it Parallels to America

Sometimes when I write what I consider to be a really good article I never truly stop thinking about it, even years later after I've published it. My best and most careful writing is in veins of thoughts I revisit on a regular basis. Why I Like Dragon Ball Z is one of those articles. After having published it I continued making more philosophical identifications about this series, which has continually increased my admiration for it. For instance, I've realized that every major villain in the series has extreme self-esteem issues. Frieza pursues immortality because he's afraid someone will best his great strength and kill him; Cell actually attempts suicide when he gets hopeless about his abilities; Majin Buu wails and screams like a child whenever he has difficulty beating someone. I could go on and construct a large list if I sat down to do it.

Succinctly, the reason why I like the series so much is because it presents heroes that are actually worth admiring and displays the good as immensely more powerful than evil. There may be lots of mysticism involved, but this view of the nature of good and evil is enough to hook me as it has. What I've recently realized is that the three separate parts of the series actually deal with different relationships between good and evil, and furthermore those relationships actually parallel with America's own happenings quite uniquely, and gives a good metaphor as to where America is right now culturally. Of course, as I cite those parallels I'll explain the series for those lacking in background information.

The first part of the series deals with the heroes fighting a powerful alien from space, a dictator and leader of an army. Here the relationship of the two sides of ethics is that of strength; that is, how strong each is in comparison to the other. The reason why the heroes had a hard time defeating the alien, Frieza, is simply because they weren't as strong as him, allowing him to kill and commit genocide with little challenge. However, after becoming morally outraged at the murder of his best friend, the main hero, Goku, unlocks a state of hidden strength called super Saiyan mode, which made him so powerful that Frieza was about as strong as a child to him thereafter. Any further obstacle and challenge from there was imposed by Goku himself. He could have easily killed Frieza within moments of achieving that state, but through innocent error he believed in the notion of mercy and that Frieza could redeem himself, so he chose to stay on a planet about to explode because he wanted to punish and shame Frieza.

I'm not very sharp on history, but this makes me think of the American Revolution. During the time in which the yet-to-be-established United States was trying to break from monarchy, it had the philosophical premises to challenge its suffocating dictatorship, so it was only a matter of physical might to gain independence. It was probably a tough battle, just like the Goku's against Frieza, but eventually we triumphed and developed ourselves into the most powerful nation in the world, the political equivalent of a super Saiyan. Now physically the U.S. is virtually undefeatable: If we waged all-out war on another dictatorship like Iran, they'd be annihilated like Frieza was by the super Saiyan hero.

In the third part of the series -- I'm saving the second part analysis for a little later -- the main villain was a mystical genie name Majin Buu who was a demented monster who destroyed and killed for its own sake. It's weird of think of it this way, but Buu was never really much of a threat to the heroes. Instead, it's the heroes' own intellectual errors that allowed him to *actually* develop into a threat, whereas proper thinking early on could have stopped him before he did anything considerably bad. Here the relationship changed into that of the good doubting the potency of true evil, believing itself to be so strong as to not be concerned about it. Buu was pure evil and devastatingly strong, and the heroes were right in believing themselves strong enough to handle him without a sweat, but through their intellectual errors they allowed him to become dangerous. Goku could have defeated Buu when he first confronted him, but he held back his strength and eventually abandoned the battle since he wanted the other heroes to have a shot at him. This lead to Buu eventually splitting into good and evil halves, and the evil half absorbing the good (magically) to make himself even stronger than the original. Goku's son, Gohan, had his own inner strength unlocked and was able to flick around this new Buu as punishment for all his crimes, but since he abstained from immediately destroying him Buu absorbed three other heroes which allowed him to best Gohan's strength and gain the upper hand again. Goku tried to solve the problem by attempting to fuse with his son, but Buu got weaker since two of the heroes he absorbed weakened him within a half hour. (They were fused, and the fusion wore off.) Goku then decided not to fuse, again viewing Buu as a null threat . . . which allowed him to absorb Gohan and become even stronger. Ridiculous, isn't it? Well, Goku then managed to fuse with another hero, Vegeta, to become a fused being call Vegeto, which allowed him to once again flick this Super Buu around like a piece of lint. Rather than dispatching him -- yep, again -- he decided to be absorbed by the monster to rescue his absorbed friends, which caused the fusion to be nullified. Vegeta then decides to destroy the earring which they need to fuse, thereby preventing them from fusing ever again. After rescuing their friends they pull out an essential person -- the good Buu first absorbed -- which causes Super Buu to retrogress back into his original and most dangerous form, Kid Buu. Kid Buu blows up the planet and forced the heroes into hiding. Once again they're given the means to fuse and effortlessly defeat Buu, but they destroy the earrings again, thereby artificially boosting the difficulty of the situation and making it so they only defeat Buu by the skin of their teeth.

If they had just taken things more seriously, then Goku could have stopped Buu at their first confrontation, but continuous overconfidence and amusement in the situation held everyone back from taking the right steps. They had all the strength and power they needed right from the beginning: They just didn't take the situation seriously enough to employ it, which is what led to things getting so bad, right up to the human race becoming nearly extinct and earth getting exploded.

In parallel to America, I view this as the insidious process by which bad philosophy took over the culture after the United States was born. Most Americans, I think, doubted the power of evil to the point that they didn't take bad ideas seriously or at least didn't really believe their logical conclusions, such as how even minor government involvement in the economy can lead to the acceptance of statist principles, making a full-blown dictatorship possible down the road. Evil is weak for sure, but it can't be ignored or brushed aside if it's to be defeated. I think this is what Americans did out of naivete, which led to bad ideas making more headway into the philosophical soul of the nation and bringing us to today's point of near dictatorship and economic collapse. If every bad idea were taken on with full intellectual force, then maybe we'd be a dozen times better off and in a fully free society. Soul-wise, America has super Saiyan strength, as mentioned in the Frieza section, but it wasn't used to its fullest extent against evil as it could have been, whether at war or in the minds of men, and now we're in this totally unavoidable and unnecessary crisis.

The second part of the series I think is most relevant to how America is today. In this part, an android reminiscent of a parasitical insect absorbs people and two other powerful androids (by the means of his tail, not magic) in order to reach his most "perfect" form; that is, of the most powerful and nearly indestructible being in the universe. He's the ultimate Peter Keating in that he's trying to pursue "greatness" by genetically stealing other people's strength, abilities, knowledge, and techniques without cultivating them on his own, and his aim beyond that is to kill everything he views as lesser than him. The heroes, like with Frieza, were enormously weaker than the villain at start, but with special training they once again achieved more than enough strength to render him a nearly null threat. But unlike with Buu, the main obstacle was not that they didn't take him seriously; rather, there were moral obstacles towards defeating him. At this point Gohan was the one to defeat the android, but he thought that using his full strength would lead to him losing control and destroying all that he valued. In battle he could have defeated the android rather promptly, but his moral conflict led to him taking a near pacifist-like stance. In response the android taunted and teased him, and even tried torturing him psychologically by producing smaller androids to try and kill Gohan's friends and family. It wasn't until Gohan gained moral strength and self-confidence that he used his full power, and in doing so he beat the android like a puny thug and killed him by incinerating him into ashes. The android became so distraught at one point that he tried to commit suicide by turning into a bomb.

I view this as the state of America today, and the parallels are uncanny. Politically and morally we have all the strength we need in order to triumph. We could heal our economic problems very quickly, though with lots of discomfort, if we recognized the morality and power of real capitalism (not mixed economies), and started employing it. Our foreign enemies wouldn't be a problem since our most dangerous ones happen to be the most dilapidated in structure from the nationwide poverty statism causes, so if we used the full strength of our army things would be taken control of in a hurry.  And if we recognized proper and objective law, and started enforcing it rigorously and meticulously, then criminals would plummet in number and be castrated in their abilities. Intellectually, we have everything we need to start employing this within our lifetime, except for one thing: A proper code of morality and moral confidence in it. America could succeed and be great once more . . . but Americans are stuck in intellectual conflicts that leave them desiring one end, such as economic progress and foreign safety, while at the same time they're holding onto a morality which prevents that from being achieved, such as altruism and foreign appeasement. Gohan was not entirely consistent in his refusal to fight that android: He recognized that it needed to be defeated, but he was morally resistant to employing the proper means of achieving that. It's the same with America too: We know what ends we want and what means will get us there, but have moral resistance against actually putting those means into action.

The parallel is uncanny on multiple levels. Gohan is metaphorical in that his super Saiyan strength is representative of America's power and greatness, and his internal conflicts match that of America's contradicting ethical premises. The android can be considered a representation of -- who else? -- Barack Obama! They're both second-handed: The android is trying to hinge his greatness on stolen abilities and strength, while Obama is obsessively concerned with how people perceive him and is viewed as great only because other people have touted him as such, not because he has authentic accomplishments. (For instance, I've read he sat on the board as an editor for a Harvard paper, but never actually made a contribution. Also, I've read that during his time in Senate he was very politically inactive, instead known for only documenting that he attended the meetings.) To elaborate, even their attitudes match: The android was smug and cocky in his behavior during his destruction, the same that has been observed of Obama's temperament during significant political periods, such as the passing of Obamacare.

Like the super Saiyan Gohan did with the android, we have all the strength and knowledge we need to repudiate Obama's statist nature, vote him out in 2012, and start getting on the right track, but those moral hangups are stopping us. It's uncertain whether or when we'll triumph, and right now we at least have the satisfaction that essential issues are being brought into discussion and argued about, rather than having the nation go down the statist path without protest. And who knows, maybe once the tide turns -- once we reach that tipping point in philosophical change -- we'll flourish as dramatically as the super Saiyan strength overwhelms any evil power. Perhaps once enough Americans are on the good side of philosophy changes will be made dramatically and rapidly, rendering the statists impotent in action and arguments. It's taken statists and collectivists about two hundred years to bring us philosophically and materialistically where we are today; with full moral endorsement and confidence we can perhaps undo most of their work in two decades. Will we do it? I don't know, but I'm hopeful and optimistic, though know the battle yet still needs to be fought. Given the battle over the debt right now that tipping point may be coming in a few short months, I speculate.

Revisiting the third part of the series, we also can learn that even if good triumphs over evil our work still isn't done. As Thomas Jefferson said, "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." After winning we'd have to keep propounding our philosophical ideas and challenging bad ones, lest they make headway and eventually take over again. A quote by Ayn Rand: "The uncontested absurdities of today are the accepted slogans of tomorrow."

Here's to hoping the super Saiyan strength of the nation shines through in time.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Chocolate Review: Equal Exchange's 80%

Equal Exchange's 80% Panama dark chocolate was amongst those I picked while paralyzed in Whole Foods' humongous chocolate section in Dallas. It took me nearly a half hour to decide what to pick, but the very simple and dominant blue wrapper of Equal Exchange stuck out to me, eventually persevering in my sight long enough to come home with me. This company is seemingly more keen on promoting its fair trade practices than some other participants I've seen, such as Endangered Species. This bar also happens to be soy-free in its ingredients and list of possible trace elements, so those meticulously trying to avoid soy should appreciate that.

The wrapper protecting the bar weirds me out. Instead of a foil, the bar is enclosed entirely in some kind of white plastic that feels like slippery paper. Against the norm certainly, but I guess it's practical for protecting it against foreign flavors and scents. At least it's not like the foils that come with New Tree's large bars, for I can't open one of those without breaking it.

Unwrapped, the smell is very fruity and earthy, and the flavor profile starts with a satisfying hit of sweet cacao, lasting up until the middle where it begins to quiet down to a fruity finish and ends with a very earthy chocolate aftertaste. It's crunchy and takes a while to melt, but at least it melts. The surface has a streaky shine, but is cleanly formed without notable defects like shatters or smudges, and has a perfect snap.

It's not very unique when considering the whole range of offerings, but perfectly satisfying for a chocolate fix, worthy of being ranked with the likes of Lindt's 90%, Green & Black's 85%, and all that. If I came across it again I'd absolutely consider purchasing and eating it again. Definitely recommend.

Weekly Summary # 40

A very good week. I managed to either complete or tackle all my goals, and have gotten a significant amount done, though have been considerably down due to financial concerns. I'm doing well to identify other goals for self-improvement and what else I'd like to achieve, so things have been fruitful introspectively as well. Correcting my sleep habits has also been a massive help, as I had no days where I felt too tired to do anything.

The list:

1.) Read The Chocolate Tree and The Objective Standard: I got through one chapter of the former and finished the latter to my satisfaction, all while using the "scribble-book" and "everything I know" method. I feel richer and more content. The chocolate history book is a rather mixed read, bouncing from being engaging and dry, but I think it's worthwhile to stick to til end.

2.) Practice tossing pizza with wash cloth, for three half-hour sessions: Done. I think I've just about mastered the simple toss and catch, but keep messing up the passing from hand to hand. I think on that last I'll just have to pick up a piece of dough and see how it differs from a thin cloth. I ought to keep practicing, but now I'd rather wait until I get some real dough in my hands so that the physics will be proper for real-life. A wet wash cloth can only simulate dough so far.

3.) Brainstorm list of traits for ideal self:. Started thinking about it, at least. In the end I think it might be silly to just sit and write a concrete-bound list of ideal traits. Instead -- as I've already have -- I should concentrate on adhering to ideal principles and allow those to be my guide to establishing ideal behaviors and practices as I come across situations and am forced to think.

4.) Research ways to play DVDs on computer: Tried and toyed around, and gave up again. I'm tired of this problem. I can get my programs to at least load the DVD up, but then the audio and video plays in a choppy fashion, and the amount of reading to do for potential solutions just makes me want to give up. Perhaps I'll revisit it later on, but the frustration itself has actually quelled any desire to want to play DVDs on my computer.

5.) Optimize computer and browser: Done to satisfaction. I found neat little tricks such as pipelining Firefox, making the start menu respond faster, and so on.

* * * * *

Aside from doing well to attack my goals, I've also found that taking a more serious approach to cooking has enlivened my practices again and made me more of the process, leading to me being more thoughtful and even discovering problems with past practices. As such, I feel more and more eager to enhance my study efforts, and this intriguing article on how intense concentration changes the brain steels my resolution even more. This week I'd like to continue working on making myself into a more serious and voracious reader, increasing both the amount of reading I do and the benefit I derive.

1.) Study menu from work: I feel foolish for having not done so before. If I am to be serious about my work, then I need a more intricate knowledge of what foods I participate in the creation of, even though I'm quite removed from the process (given I'm a dish washer).

2.) Perform at least five conceptual exercises per day: It's hard to link to any one post where I describe this process since it's been edited various times, so I'll summarize it as philosophical vocabulary exercises, where I take to not only learn a word, but to ground its meaning in reality, establish conceptual chains, and nurture certainty. I know I vowed to make it a permanent practice in the past before. The reason why I keep slipping is because it's such a darn nuisance to document words to perform exercises for, though the exercises themselves aren't annoying. If I found a faster way to hurry up and document words for later reference then it'd be an easier habit to maintain, but for now I guess I'll just have to be disciplined. This goal will especially help in understanding my restaurant's menu.

3.) Research/contemplate ways to constantly try new recipes, techniques, and meal plans: Part of my efforts to hone my cooking skills. I still need to find a good way to keep myself trying new recipes, techniques, and whatnot on a regular basis. I've already made small resolutions such as referencing my knife book each time I get my big knives out, but more thinking is needed.

4.) Read three chapters of The Chocolate Tree

5.) Research how to create RSS feed for chocolate reviews only: I've often wondered if there's a way to create an RSS feed solely for my chocolate reviews. I'm nowhere near satisfied with the views they get.

6.) Do Mental Calvinball during every working shift: It's time to bring back the counting game for dishes, I think. I've been sorely disappointed in my efforts at work lately. I keep up with strict consistency my use of a stopwatch, but I haven't used the counting method in several months. It's time to bring it back to see what benefits I can wring out of it.

* * * * *

I have to confess that as a blog author I've been feeling rather impotent lately. It seems that I've been putting out more and more mediocre pieces, though have no thoughts on how to improve my writing habits at the moment. And to tell the truth I'm not all that worried about it, as my concentration is where it matters: On pursuing my dreams.

Well, time to get back to it.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Strange Woman Problem

I realized lately that I have a rather weird problem with women, strange in that it's about how they perceive me rather than how I feel around them. In short, my difficulty is . . . I'm way too comfortable with them! Why is this a problem? Well, it makes cultivating friendships for friendship's sake a lot more difficult since many seem to think I view them as a romantic prospect due to my ease and comfort, I think.

I grew up around virtually nothing but women. I never met my father and my grandfather died while I was still somewhat young, so my particular section of the family made it so I was in contact with women incredibly more often than with men. It was not a rarity that I'd attend a gathering and be the only male there. This environmental influence has probably made it so I treat women with super casual ease, rather than as if they were the mysterious "other sex."

It surprises me how often some people will assume I'm dating a girl just by the way I speak to her, and for the past several months that's been a very frequent question at work. Gosh, it seems like it's impossible to speak one-on-one with a female without being asked if I'm in romantic relations with her. Are men today so sheltered from women?

One thing I have to wonder is if there's some aspect of my behavior that I could alter in order to avoid the confusion, or if I'm acting reasonably and the misinterpretation lies solely in their incorrect perception. Sure I'd like to cultivate a romantic relationship, but first I'd like to tend to my friendships, including that with women. It complicates matters when my only intention is to be a friend to someone and I observe from their behavior a development of a crush. I'm vain certainly, but I don't much respond to that kind of attention, though am not resistant to it.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

On Riffing People

It surprises me to see that oftentimes people are blind to how they might be undermining their trustworthiness by engaging in petty behavior. Take, for case point, the instance of riffing a person out of their sight on some nonessential attribute of theirs, such as how they laugh, their weight, the sound of their voice, and so on. People have more than once come to me with the intention of establishing camaraderie by speaking of a known associate or nearby person in a joking and insulting way, but I feel repulsed. If they're so petty as to riff on so insignificant of attributes of a person's character, then what assurance do I have that I'm not being treated the same way when I'm out of sight? Not to neglect that it's indecent behavior, of course.

The act is made dishonest by witnessing these same people then conduct respectful relations with the person they previously riffed behind them. Such respectfulness is only a facade, for their true natures are hidden until that said person goes away once again. If only they knew.

When witnessing these petty people I am always perpetually skeptical of their trustworthiness. Needless to say, I conduct very hesitant and pretty shallow relations with these people.

After witnessing such actions I've made explicit to myself my own set of rules as to when I will and will not speak about another person. If I have virtues in mind, then I won't fear to praise them, even if they're in earshot. Vices, on the other hand, are a more specific matter. If it's a gross habit such as their picking their nose in my sight with a tissue, then I'll either address the matter with them or leave it be. If it's of concern such as their habits in the workplace, then I'll either address it to them or their superiors. If it's of intense concern like theft or the likes, then I won't be afraid to raise a ruckus. It is only when I have zero respect for them as a person that I feel free to riff someone, otherwise I try to do as little talking about other people as possible, to make my conduct with associates totally honest, even in their absence.

Always be aware that your actions that are seen are inevitably going to encourage people to draw conclusions on how you act when you aren't seen. If you take a person aside to needlessly riff another, then that person will have pretty good grounds of suspecting you doing the same to them, don't they?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

More Passion for Cooking

Recently I've had a rather disturbing revelation. I was just tossing around my cloth in the air, practicing my pizza throw as I said in my weekly summary, when suddenly I noticed the time and desired a break. This came as very disturbing to me. A break? After less than half an hour of practice? It then dawned on me that not enough of my life is dedicated to my career, at least not in time dedication. I haven't been reading enough, thinking about cooking enough, trying new things enough, tasting enough, and so on. For far too long I've been content leading one life at work, practicing my chocolate connoisseurship at home, and leaving my time for everything else up for grabs. If I have a passion for my field, then where's is it?

This has given me immense motivation to hurry and solve this problem, lest I perpetuate the deviation. If not fixed, then I am ultimately betraying myself, as after all my great aim in life is to realize my total and maximum potential. I can't do that if my greater concern is to settle down for the night with Sherlock Holmes on Hulu than I am with my culinary reading, can I? Geez, where has my head been?

For the most part, I really need to step it up with my culinary studies (i.e. reading) and take a more serious approach to my cooking. I didn't mention my restaurant job because I'm quite satisfied with the steady stream of self-improvement goals I keep thinking up there, leaving me never stagnant in my abilities, though I do have something study-wise in mind. There may be more areas, but it is these where I think the most essential changes need to be made.

For reading, it's simple: More time dedication, more effort! While I've been doing well to get back on track this week, I'm still far from restoring myself as a voracious reader as I was in my greater youth. For pete's sake I have in my ownership the great Cookwise and haven't even finished it, and have taken no where near full advantage of my copies of Good Eats: The Early Years and Good Eats 2: The Middle Years. And yet, I pine for more selections from the library? In addition to working my way through more chocolate books, I've got to give more attention to my own bookshelf once and a while.

I'm not sure what exactly to do about my cooking endeavors beyond a few vague specifics in mind. You might remember that I've had severe recipe frustrations in the past, not knowing of any good system for storing them or cycling them for my reference. Beyond that my finances are incredibly tight, as I'm living paycheck to paycheck at the present, so saying I have a tight budget isn't justice enough. Searching out a new ingredient or food each week might be worthwhile, but it's still hard to say how much my budget will allow of that. Plus, I rent a room, so my access to cooking utensils is somewhat restrained by the limited space, my selection, permissions, and my unfamiliarity with certain things. At the very least I could be doing much better to be more thoughtful in my cooking by actually thinking about what I'm doing rather than just focusing on sustenance. Furthermore, I could be doing better to cycle the ingredients that I know are well within my budget rather than depending on routine. There are some other limitations to my efforts, but I'd rather not mention them right now. More thinking needs to be done in this specific realm.

So concretely for now my determination is to up my efforts in my culinary reading and studying, and to be more intelligent in my cooking endeavors, such as my reading my knife book to see if there's a new cut I could practice on an ingredient. For work my study idea is to study the menu so that I have a more intricate knowledge of the culinary profile of my own employing restaurant, which is something I've been stupidly neglecting and forgetting.

I'm glad I've had this revelation. It may have been disturbing, but it was a needed kick in the pants. I feel my passion growing for my work once more. Hopefully now I can keep myself on track this time without unthinkingly wondering off.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Habitual Appearances and Vibram Five Fingers

Recently I've heard that the army has actually banned its soldiers from wearing Vibram Five Fingers during training. They don't mention the brand name, but they do mention they're banning shoes with individual toes, so it's only logical to deduce they're speaking of VFFs since they're the only manufacturer that makes shoes like that. It's a good foreign policy decision I guess, but on a personal level I think it's silly. VFFs only look weird when you're not used to their sight or think negatively of them; beyond that, they look normal, I think.

Ultimately I think this is just a matter of certain emotional evaluations being invoked by how habitually used we are to observing things a certain way. By an overwhelming majority, most shoes contain a toe box, and most all of us have almost always and only seen shoes in this style. As such, we've adapted our perceptions accordingly and become comfortable with things being that way. Here comes the unconventional VFFs and suddenly you think those shoes look weird. Why? Because they violate the trend; they're unordinary.

Another example I can think of to clarify this emotional facet is how we perceive waking up in the morning. Have you ever heard someone who usually has a consistent wake up time complain of waking earlier than usual? Say, they usually wake up at nine AM but woke up at seven AM one morning. What exactly is wrong with waking up earlier than usual if you feel rested? Nothing. Do people ever actually need to sleep to a certain time beyond gaining restfulness? No. Then why might a person want to sleep to a certain later time instead of waking when rested? Because they've become accustomed to waking up at that certain time, and in being accustomed they've adapted their emotional expectations so that they actually desire to wake up at the time. If you wake up early and feel rested then you ought to be thankful you have more waking hours to do stuff, not be irritated that it's a whole two hours before the alarm and then lie there until it goes off.

Admittedly, it took me several months to even consider purchasing VFFs. The first time I saw them I thought they were ridiculous, but repeated viewings eventually made me feel comfortable enough to purchase a pair for the gym. I was thoroughly shy in public, but after seeing how amazing they felt I took to wearing them much more often, eventually everywhere in public. Now I'm so accustomed to their sight that I noticed not the least thing odd about them. In fact, now I think it's weird to look at people exercising in conventional shoes, because now I can't remember what it's like to work out without having precise access to my toes, like when doing a squat. Simply put, after being exposed over and over again to VFFs, even if just my own, I've gotten to the point where I feel entirely casual in them, don't anticipate people looking at me (and surprisingly, few do), and find nothing "off" about them. If people at large, including those in the army, took this exposure approach then the "weirdness" would go away, the same for all things unconventional.

It's a pity such a good brand of shoes got the ban like that. Oh well, at least there are other near-barefooting options.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Music: Thievery Corporation's *Shadow of Ourselves*

This one is pretty similar to the theme of Angela, I now realize. Thievery Corporation is one of my top favorite artists. They classify themselves as a sort of acid jazz band I think, with heavy emphasis on tranquil melodies. If anything, this is probably one of the best bands to space out to. So smooth, so soft, so gentle, so quiet . . .

Of course, it does occur to me to contemplate whether this band is actually anti-America given their title and some questionable song titles, such as "Amerimacka." I haven't heard any objectionable stances by this band though, so I say enjoy the fact they produce music as their primary and most important pursuit. I don't own any music right now, but I think I might undertake to grab up a few of their records in the future.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Cartoon Food Cravings?

A weird question that popped into my head recently after assessing some memories. You know how food advertising and photography can often invoke cravings and desires for certain foods? Well, the strange thing with me is these things not only have a null effect on me, I also seem to be more responsive to artistic (e.g. paintings, drawings) and animated portrayals of food, and I don't understand why.

For instance, one time I was playing a video game where in order to collect a certain item you had to bring an orange to a chimpanzee, and when you collect that orange it speaks to you. Instead of a voice over, however, the orange's "voice" consisted of wet squishing noises, a noise an orange would make. This drove my cravings mad, and I found myself on an orange kick for a while then on.

Just about any food item applies to this realm, from sweets to vegetables to meat. This is very odd to me: How can my cravings be stimulated by something I saw in a video game or cartoon, but largely be unaffected by food photography and advertising?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Chocolate Review: Divine's 70% Mint

Time for another foray with my favorite class of herbs, mint. As you might know, mint chocolate is positively one of my favorite foods period, and in assessing companies I am always naturally tempted to select their mint offering. At my nearest World Market I got my hands on Divine's 70% mint dark chocolate. Admittedly I am not particularly enthused by this company, but mint is mint.

The thing that strikes me as odd is that they didn't advertise, at least on my package, that they added crystallized, minted sugar for a more crispy texture, as that seems it would be an important facet to note about the bar. I was surprised to come across the snowflake-like bits in the gradient after wondering what the crunch was all about. But anyhow, the bar is only mildly minty with an unpleasant bitter grassy theme, with the chocolate being virtually undetectable. The grassy notes are not at all tasty like New Tree's, making me feel as if I had eaten some from the yard. The bar smells of mint and grass, and looks dusty, smeared, and even has scratches on the back, though snaps with a sturdy sound. The melt is just okay, as it seems to be predominantly crunchy with some crystal-like crisp from the sugar clumps.

I deplore those angled lines used as the decoration. Why bother if so little effort is to be exerted? At least I really enjoyed the gold wrapper: It reminds me so much of wealth, money, and the good things in life. The cloth-like texture almost makes me want to keep it.

I leave disappointed. It's not all that minty, the grass is yucky, and the chocolate just isn't there. It seems to be a continuing problem with mint chocolates in that they're either not minty enough, have terrible additional attributes (like the rye taste in Theo's), or overwhelm the chocolate. To date I maintain the opinion that Endangered Species offers the best mint bar out there, with the mint being of just the right intensity, in perfect balance and harmony to a chocolate that can hold its own. In second place I would suggest New Tree's 73% mint, for while the mint is milder it does have a delicious grassy tone, and the green tea extract never fails to make my head feel all cool inside, my favorite aftereffect to a mint experience. This Divine bar just doesn't do well, so don't seek mint fulfillment here.

Weekly Summary # 39

It was a salvaged week, I'll say at the least. Things for the most part didn't go the way I'd liked, and my performance was overall subpar and lacking due to those sleep issues I mentioned, but still I managed to pull myself together enough to bring things to a satisfying enough conclusion. Those sleep issues must have a nutritional cause, as I went to bed on time and utilized my orange safety glasses, and still I suffered poor quality sleep despite adequate hours. Perhaps I ought to buy some nuts to satisfy my mineral requirements.

Anyhow, while I did attack my other goals regularly, I'm still very disappointed with the effort I put forth in my reading. I read but one section I had already started in The Chocolate Tree, and unfortunately I had to return The Science of Chocolate and Crash Proof before I got to them. For everything else, the list:

1.) Read The Science of Chocolate, The Chocolate Tree, Crash Proof, and spring issue of The Objective Standard: I got through a section of The Chocolate Tree, but failed to touch TOS and had to return Crash Proof and The Science of Chocolate. I'm partially satisfied, but more effort is needed. I've submitted a request for SOC again, but I think I'll let CP go for now since I don't have any money to do anything with right now. I'll worry more about economic protection once I actually have wealth to protect.

2.) Practice tossing pizza with clothes at home for three half-hour sessions: Only got in one session, but still had remarkable progress on my technique. My boss actually allowed me to take a wash cloth home from work -- the workplace ones being ideal for this type of practice -- and have gotten quite good at tossing and catching properly, but need to practice more on passing from hand to hand. Eventually I'd like to reach the point that I can spin the wash cloth on my hand. One of my coworkers does that everyday.

3.) Experiment with "scribble book" while reading: Yes, concurrently with the reading of The Chocolate Tree. Once again, this "scribble book" I speak of is just a notebook for me to write rough notes in, for which I have no intention of referencing: The intellectual assistance is in the writing itself. I need to work on my skill of what to write and how to write it, but I found it did help greatly in nurturing an engrossing concentration. I'll aim to utilize this technique every time I do reading for intellectual benefit. For books I mean; if I did it for everything I read online, my time would surely be swallowed up.

4.) Optimize computer: My layman familiarity with computer technology has prevented me from establishing concrete goals in this realm, but I got some considerable things done which have satisfied me. Mainly I want to make my computer faster, but I did other things too. For example, I installed Granola, stopped some startup programs to enhance booting, switched to a barebones graphic interface on my OS, created more ActiveWords, went on a massive uninstalling spree, and more. I'm pleased with myself for having gotten this much accomplished. However, there's some other things I can think to do, so I want to keep this up as a general, at-will project for the following week to see if even more improvements can be made.

5.) Research ways to play DVDs on computer: This glitching of my system still irritates me. For some odd reason my computer views DVDs files in its components, not as an integrated whole, so I can't play them. Thanks to this, a craving to watch my favorite movie, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, has gone unsatisfied. I pretty much just ran out of time for this.

6.) Brainstorm traits of ideal self: Forgot.

7.) Tell three people at work a good thing about my day each shift: I talked about this mid-week resolution earlier. It went stupendously well. While it may have been awkward to initiate such confrontations, it felt good to start my working shifts on such a good note, and to my surprise it did help greatly in making me feel more comfortable in sharing other aspects about myself, such as my chocolate connoisseurship, chocolate reviews, and Paleo diet. I intend to keep this as a regular practice. I failed to complete this goal by forgetting to tell a single person, but that's alright.

* * * * *

The best thing about this week is that, like last week, it has served well to demonstrate what a positive change I've made in my thinking habits. My anxiety and whatnot weren't as intense this week -- they're probably still present due to that sleep + nutrition issue -- but I did have some particularly bad moments. During those moments I never lost sight of my rational conclusions, kept recognizing that only my evaluation of the facts has changed, keep pushing forth with my responsibilities, and so on. In other words, unlike in the past, these negative emotions didn't get the better me, and my automatic response was keep an objective view on matters. I'm proud of the progress.

For this week I'd like to take another shot at putting more emphasis on my neglected reading, and to put more effort into improving my skills for work:

1.) Read The Chocolate Tree and The Objective Standard: I aim to read as much of the former book as possible and to finish my spring issue of the latter, utilizing the "scribble" book throughout.

2.) Practice tossing pizza with wash cloth, for three half-hour sessions

3.) Brainstorm list of traits for ideal self: I think concretizing my ideal traits would help in formulating specific goals to achieving them.

4.) Research ways to play DVDs on computer

5.) Optimize computer and browser: I'm writing this out as a general goal since there's multiple directions I could take, but I do at least have the specific goals of enhancing my boot-up time and making Firefox go faster. Maybe there will be others. We'll see.

This is it for now. Outside of my goals I've got to do some thinking about my career and pursue some solutions to my financial problems. I'll definitely be working on those sleep issues too, and hopefully will finally put myself in a state of mind to seize matters, but whatever happens: I'll push through.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Lessons Trice Learned

One thing I admit to be embarrassed, even guilty about are those incidents in which I learn a lesson but don't take to employing it until I learn it multiple more times. With integrity I think I ought to have to go through the experience only once to learn how to properly conduct myself, but I guess reality must demonstrate itself several times for it to sink it.

Namely, this week I've been learning how important it is for me to maintain a regular bedtime. As much as I'd like to stay up until 1 AM, I've been discovering what a negative impact such a practice has, a cost that far outweighs its hedonistic benefit. It's utterly impossible for me to sleep in, for once a certain time frame passes (about nine AM) my body won't let me sleep any longer, no matter how exhausted I am when I wake up. Consequently I've got to adapt my bedtime to adjust to my body-imposed wake-up time. I've kept a regular bedtime in the past, but all too slowly and soon do I make allowances that undoes the habit.

And what do I lose? It drastically undermines my mood for the entire day, for one. Intellectually I feel as if my powers have been reduce, I'm more sensitive to negative matters, it slows down my recovery from workouts, and more. A lack of good quality sleep may explain why my emotions have been so haywire last week as I mentioned in my weekly summary, and it may also explain why I've been so disappointed with my progress at the gym.

The most difficult thing is that this is a lesson I've learned before. Surely I have experienced all these consequences before, and surely I have resolved to impose a more uncompromising bedtime in response. I stick to my resolution . . . and then slip. Well, I didn't slip much this time, for I have been doing well to go to bed around 12:30 AM as I set myself to, but my main failure has been to recognize that that has been inadequate.

There are probably other examples in my life where this phenomenon applies, but in my sleep-deprived state (natch) I find it difficult to be able to recall any more. But how ever many times I experience the consequence of a lesson neglected to be used, there's always the chance to take the next day to right it. It's not a devastating failure after all, just something that can improve my life that I should use to improve my life. As such, I'll take to adjusting my habits again to go to bed by midnight at worst and to put on my orange safety glasses after 10 PM unless at work. (The safety glasses help promote melatonin production, a sleep hormone.)

I should know better, but there's always another day to improve and make things better.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Special Announcement about My Family Matters: Let's Not Talk of It

My more consistent readers may be aware of the family problems I mentioned a while ago. The treatment of them was actually my "Project" (uppercase P), which has resulted in me moving to Texas in order to avoid contact with them. I have never been better since undertaking that action, and have never regretted it. However, I've been having some difficulty these past weeks with certain persons engaging in trying to bring up the topic again, which has led to more stress on my part and even more excommunication. I mentioned a few months ago, in that Project post, that I'd like to drop the topic, but I guess I should post a reminder.

Unless you want to share with me a similar experience you had or are in, or if you need advice about something, I'd like for people to avoid talking to me about this issue. It's only been in recent weeks that I've been able to begin recovering from the stress and bad thinking habits I maintained during the difficulties, so when people bring up the issue I'm instantly agitated, angry, and overall shooken up.

Let's look at it this way. Of all the people who have ever taken to confront me on this issue -- and sadly this is almost a precise measurement -- about 100% of them have come with me with very dishonest, impolite, and even uncivil intentions. Literally 100% of everyone have never inquired as to what my position or side of the story is, either relying totally on someone else's testimony (which is likely inaccurate), their own feelings, or without regard to facts at all. These last people are especially irksome, as they know nothing of the situation and yet somehow automatically know I'm "wrong." I've argued the same points consistently until I was blue in the face and have large essays available on the web as to what my stance is, and yet the most essential people that need to know this has attributed false views to me and distorted my points, ruining my relations with them and probably damaging my repudiation in my old networks.

It's been impossible to make any headway on anything. After listening to everyone's argument and confronting their points with thoroughness and disagreeing with intellectual honesty I've been called names, from inaccurate labels such as "stubborn" to the wildly uncivil "piece of shit." When I undertake to call them stubborn, which is an accurate label given how unjustifiably few acknowledge and know my intellectual stance, it is their inappropriate behavior that gets ignored and mine that gets poo-pooed as "name-calling." And the list goes on.

As a consequence, I simply don't trust people -- almost all people -- to be able to conduct constructive and polite conversations on this topic. Most everyone attacks my character, tries to publicly intimidate me, tries to shame me by being snide -- everything except be honest and polite. At this point, I just block people who bring up the issue. Largely, the only nice people who participated in this matter are those who purveyed my stance first before addressing me about it.

So this is why I ask: Please, don't talk to me about this issue. A lot of people are too short-sighted to see this, but the problems themselves span over twenty years, or the entirety of my life if you will. The offenders are being concrete bound by fuming about isolated incidents in these problems (such as when I moved), which are really climaxes in a long stream of incidents, not something separated from everything else. The last four or so years of conflict were only the height of all the problems, not some unique period. As far as I'm concerned, my life didn't really start until the age of 19, so I've got some catching up to do.

Your cooperation, unless your concerns follow the exceptions listed above (the need for advice, similar experiences, etc.), is immensely appreciated. Otherwise I'll just treat violations with instant blocking, whether it be in e-mail or on a networking site. After all these years, my tolerance is eroded. Living my life is more important.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The "Defriending" Plague

A most disturbing phenomenon I've witnessed these last several months is the quickness which people take to "defriending" people on sites like Facebook. It may be a small gesture, but it still symbolically indicates that a person is not only not willing to associate on Facebook, but is also repudiating a particular person in whole. When people block one another in order to avoid seeing them at all and close off communication, the rejection is even deeper. I recognize valid reasons for wanting to do this and have engaged in it myself, but after witnessing a few people I've valued do this to me, even if I only knew them online, I have become disappointed and disturbed.

People can add a very unique and rich value to life, one that is very complex given that people themselves are very complex. For happiness, it is much a benefit to have valuable people in your life and to nurture worthwhile relationships while avoiding and terminating bad ones. A very bad thing to do is to be too at ease with terminating relationships, for you could easily give up a deep value you might never be able to get back. One on hand you could do something that makes a relationship irreparable, and on another you could lose a person's willingness to acknowledge you and be an audience for your character, thereby preventing valuable relations that could happen or be repaired.

Given what's at stake, isn't it proper to address conflicts before resorting to terminating contact? Somehow or another, people I used to interact with on occasion, even if seldom, have taken to repudiating me in whole without notice or addressing issues. Maybe a certain political view I have or such has offended them, but I had no way of knowing since rejection was their first resort. Some people I used to deal with in person and others had writings I enjoyed, but now we're apparently on bad terms and separate, for whatever reason I do not know. It's possible there's an element of regret in their decision, as they might possibly still view my writings and networking profile as evident by their being on my generated list of friend suggestions. (Computer programming can't be anti-causal; I suspect that when someone interacts with my profile it might trigger their own profile to be suggested to me, or to appear in a top selection of another person's friends list.)

I'm concerned about this issue precisely because I myself had to resort to cutting a large portion of people out of my life out of necessity, which has been disappointing and hurtful to this day. Especially of concern is that I cut my best friend off from my life due to my past emotionalistic ways of treating people, which I've never stopped regretting due to the deepness of the bond we had. As a result I've done thorough thinking on how I ought to conduct my relationships and try to be as patient as possible in my dealings, only resorting to terminating contact once I identify they're ultimately detrimental to my values and that no resolution is possible, or at least that it's not worth working matters out. As such, it's disappointing when I see other people take such careless conduct in their own dealings.

Think before you defriend, or otherwise: farewell forever.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Being a Friend Repeatedly

I guess that article I posted about my life-guiding quotes was very timely, as I think rereading them has helped me realize why I'm feel discontent about my behavior regarding my lovability pursuits. As you might know, in order to cultivate more fulfilling relationships I've been working hodge-podge on nurturing a lovable self, which is mainly focused on obtaining my ideal self, where an ideal form of treating people is only a natural attribute. My reason is because I've had bad relationships with people in general throughout my life, so to better pursue my happiness I think I need to address some bad premises and habits adopted over the years.

The quote that made me realize where I'm going wrong is Aristotle's: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit." After citing that I realized that in various concrete forms I do have a clear picture in my mind as to what my ideal self would be like, and have been feeling shame and guilt in noticing that I've either been lazy in constructing goals or have been unjustifiably derailing myself from desirable habits, such as ignoring a hurt friend rather than inquiring about their well-being. In other words, repeatedly, I am not striving towards my ideals.

The thing that has been bothering me in particular is my lack of openness. Even with the coworkers I've known for months now I am considerably a tightly private person, uncomfortable with even sharing that I'm a chocolate connoisseur who writes reviews. In order to construct and strengthen bridges some amount of personal sharing is necessary, so my semi-reclusiveness has been making it so I can only maintain kite strings along the river bank.

My hesitancy is due to not only the age-old fear or being rejected or witnessing hostility (as I had in my youth, to unpredictable things), but also to the age-old fallacy of expecting things to just happen. In my failure to introspect and notice, I've just been waiting around being with people with the expectation that it will somehow strengthen our bond as time passes, much like how a wine only needs to sit around to age. I am more friendly with my coworkers than when I started, but there still tends to be a lot of tension due to my withholding so much of myself.

And it's silly, now that I think of it, to be afraid, for I have little to fear from the people I know. Besides -- and most importantly -- the fear quickly goes away as I force myself to action and expose myself to discomfort. It's like jumping into a cold lake: The anticipation might be terrible and the temperature shock rather frightening, but once your body temperature adjusts it's no challenge at all. By making myself more open during the first few instances, I'll quickly set myself along the path that it'll become my natural deposition, and I'll no longer feel such discomfort ever again. Out of the millions of steps I can take in this direction, it is only the first few that will be uncomfortable.

I have empirical evidence too. One way or another, religion came up at work one day. It wasn't a very deep conversation, but it somehow came to question as to what my religious beliefs were, and with only a touch of discomfort I admitted that I was an atheist. Throughout it remained a friendly confrontation that has affected none of my relationships at my workplace for the negative. Now everyone knows a personal religious belief of mine, that I believe gods don't exist, and have suffered none for it. It was uncomfortable to begin pronouncing the first words of those sentences, but once into the paragraph I was at total ease.

To help myself more open and less shy I think I need to create more situations like this, so I'm thinking about pursuing a rather weird goal: Every day I go into work, I must tell at least three people one good thing that has occurred to me recently. Yes, bizarre, but appreciative on multiple levels I think. For one, it brightens up the atmosphere by opening daily confrontations with a talk about values. Secondly, it helps avoid those monotonous, meaningless greetings people tend to say by rote and hardly notice when they say it. It freshens up conversations, brings values more strongly into play, and assists in bonding, all in one. Starting today, I'll resolve to complete this goal every working shift I do and report the results on my weekly summary.

But still, to aid in the construction of goals to instill other habits I should take a shot at writing down a list of traits I view as essential to my conception of an ideal self. I think I might have tried that before, but then again if I did I think the slip of paper would be out and visible, so maybe I didn't. I'll undertake to attempt such brainstorming this week and share the results once I think I have a succinct list formed.

It's satisfying to me to have figured out what was bothering me about my lovability pursuits, but this is only one step in many needed. It's a challenge I look forward to, nonetheless: Happiness is worth it.