Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Salt

Author's note: This will get religious. If you're not into that or not interested, there are some posts about the economy, relationships, society or my best friend that I'm proud of in the archives.

I like to cook. I mean, I really like to cook. It's one of my favorite things to do. The process of taking these ordinary plants and meats and turning them into something savory, flavorful, beautiful and delicious is like magic to me. I love cooking with a girl on a date and enjoying the fruits of our labors together. I enjoy cooking for large groups and seeing people's eyes light up as they see and smell the food I've worked on. I just like to cook.

My entrance into cooking started small: putting crushed red pepper and Italian seasonings on frozen pizzas, putting some cheese on a frozen burrito, making macaroni and cheese out of a box, and making cream of wheat and accidentally cooking it for 30 minutes instead of the recommended three. When I moved out of my parent’s house I started to experiment a little more. I remember one day, after Lindsey and I had broken up and I was having a hard week, Derald, a friend of mine who had recently married another friend of mine, invited me over one day for lunch. This was a little different because I had always hung out with Derald in groups and with other friends; we'd never hung out just the two of us.

I cannot make hamburgers.

Still, we got along and he's one of the friendliest guys I've known, so I accepted. When I got to his house he had ground hamburger in a bowl and was chopping onions and peppers. As he mixed all the ingredients together, throwing in various spices and Worcestershire sauce into the bowl with the hamburger, he asked me how things were going. He showed genuine concern for my situation. He also made me a great hamburger, one of the best I've ever had. I've still never figured out how to replicate it.

That was one of the first times it occurred to me what a difference spices can make in cooking. Normally I like hamburgers but I don't love them. They're always a little bland and thanks to the FDA going overboard with the "you must cook your meat completely through" message, everyone overcooks them till the meat is dry, flavorless and has the texture of cardboard. Derald didn't. He made me a moist, flavorful, wonderfully textured hamburger. It opened my eyes. The remainder of the lunch we just talked. When I left I was smiling.

Great for starters.

That was shortly after I had moved in with Jared after my freshman year of college. Jared had recently returned from serving a mission in Italy and so he naturally knew how to cook Italian food. I'm quite certain it's impossible to live in Italy for any real period of time and not learn how to cook Italian food. It must be something they teach you at customs. One thing Jared learned in Italy is that salt is awesome. Now, Jared liked salt before, so this simply increased his love of the rock. He put a lot of salt in the water when making pasta, explaining that that's how they do it in Italy, as well as putting salt on everything from tomatoes to chicken to sandwiches to just about anything he made. At the time I thought he used too much salt, but his food was always excellent. Jared was good at cooking, but a lot of what he knew he learned from Derald. A lot of the basics I know I learned from Jared. Lee taught me a lot of cooking skills, too, but we largely learned together. When I would cook with Jared I learned a lot. The most important thing Jared taught me is to use salt.

For a long time I never used salt in my cooking. I used pepper, but not salt. I don't really like the taste of salt. It's...salty. But watching Jared cook, his food was rarely salty, despite all the salt he threw into it. After I'd been living with Jared for a little while, Will introduced me to a show on the Food Network called "Good Eats." I'd watched the

My guilty pleasure in HS.

Food Network before, but nothing much beyond Iron Chef, which was a staple on high school speech trips. (Most high school kids would search for porn or something of a similar nature when given a hotel room with cable; my friends and I searched for Iron Chef.) As I started to watch Good Eats with Will, I became enthralled with it. Here was a show that focuses on the science of cooking. It was like my two great loves merging together to form something greater than the parts. (Station... anyone?) I quickly searched the internet and found as many episodes of Good Eats as I could find. I think they were on season 8 at the time. I spent the next two weeks watching every episode as many times as I could. Alton Brown became my new idol. If it were socially acceptable I'm quite certain I'd build shrines to him. I love the man beyond words.

If you've ever seen the show - or any show on the Food Network - you'll notice that they put salt in or on everything. From salads to seafood to beef to pasta to soup to chili to dessert: salt gets used. I would always see them take a big pinch of salt and sprinkle it over the food. Emeril tosses it in the air and whatever lands on the food is what he puts in. Rachel Ray simply sprinkles it on. Alton Brown uses kosher salt and uses his hands to apply it, usually liberally. If you ever make the food yourself, you'll learn that it's never salty. It's just good. This came as a bit of a conundrum to me and it took me awhile to understand it. Italian seasoning makes things taste Italian, crushed red pepper/cayenne pepper makes things spicy, cumin makes things taste like cumin, pepper makes things taste like pepper, garlic makes things taste like garlic; why wouldn't salt makes things taste like salt?

The key to quality cooking.

Watching Good Eats I learned why. It turns out that salt is unique in that it pulls out moisture from food. From this it often pulls out flavor, as well. Similarly, salt activates our own salivary glands and allows us to better taste food. Salt doesn't make things salty; it makes things taste more like they should. Salt on sautéed potatoes makes them taste more like potatoes, salt on beef makes it taste more like beef, salt on pasta makes it taste more like pasta, and salt in cake makes it taste more like cake. This is one of the single most important things you can learn as a chef: salt makes things more flavorful, it doesn't make them taste like salt.

It's a very unique trait. I can't really think of anything else - any other food - that magnifies other flavors like salt does. Many flavors and spices compliment one another, but that's not the same. Salt is unique in this trait and it's because of it that we're able to do so much with food and create so many wonderful meals. Without salt, food and cooking wouldn't be what it is. The world would be bland. It would be flavorless without salt.

Cooking has taught me a lot of things about life. When I was beginning, I tried to make sure every step along the way it tasted good. I thought that if you've got a 6 step meal and at step 3 it doesn't taste good then there's no way it could taste good at step 6. I assumed each step would build on the preceding one, making it better than the step before. That's not true. There are times in cooking when the food isn't that flavorful. When you're only halfway through a meal, the food probably isn't that good. But that's ok. When you get done, when all the parts have come together, that's when the flavor, the texture, the look, the smell, and the beauty of the food comes out. Life is like that, too. We always seem to want each step of our lives to be better than the last, or each day to get better; we don't always realize that the parts that aren't tasty or delicious are there because the end result of all our experiences will be worth it.

This brings me back to spice. As I said, when I started cooking I didn't use salt. I didn't want my food salty and so I just didn't use it. Because of this, I had to spice up my food other ways, usually with very liberal usage of crushed red pepper, basil, oregano,

Use lightly when cooking.

garlic powder, onion powder, and black pepper. For any experienced chef, you'd notice that each of those spices is quite powerful, and combing all of them in liberal dosages will indeed make any dish flavorful. Of course, it will also make any dish taste like a combination of those flavors: you could cover Styrofoam in those spices and it'd be tasty. I realized that I wasn't really cooking, I was just making various foods taste like the same thing; masking the foods own flavors with others. Every meal was the same, and though it was flavorful, there was no variety. It wasn't until I discovered the actual power salt has over food and flavor that I started to experience the foods themselves and experience the pleasure and sensations they offer.

My life has been like that in the past. I've had spices in my life; things that have made life more interesting. But as time has moved on, I've realized that all these things are doing is masking my own life. I haven't been experiencing or improving my own life. Spices can add to a meal, but they shouldn't be the only flavor you taste. The food should be tasted as well, and in order to do that, you need salt. My own life has been covered in materialistic spices. I've been trying to cover up a lack of flavor with things to make it more enjoyable. Yet all I'm doing is prolonging the same thing I've endured for I don't even know how long. The only thing in life that compares to salt, the only thing in life that can make us more flavorful and make our lives more alive is the Gospel.

I often hear people speak of religious people being stifled and hindered in experiencing life. Truth be told, I often agree. There are a lot of religions out there and while I think some have some right ideas, so many are missing key points. If I were to crush up Styrofoam or plastic so that it looked like salt and cooked with it, it wouldn't have the same effect as salt and would probably make the food taste quite awful. In this same manner, unless you have the

Bringing the Gospel to the world.

true Gospel - the power of the Priesthood gifted by the laying on of hands, the guidance of having a prophet on the Earth today, the security and strength of having the Holy Spirit with you - you won't be enhancing your own life. I don't mean to be saying that other religions can't help people or do good things because they obviously can, but every time I hear someone express a grievance or show disdain for religion and they explain why, all I can think is that my faith doesn't have that hole. There is so much knowledge within this faith and within this church I cannot express it, and I myself am a kindergartener compared to many others in what I know of it. I hear people speak of religions not having any proof, or see people point to wars and travesties and crimes throughout history that have been caused by religion, saying that that is why they don't trust religious leaders, I agree. Many corrupt religious leaders and consequently corrupt religions are responsible, or at least acted as catalysts, for many harsh and inhumane acts in history. If I didn't have this Gospel in my life - if I didn't know that Joseph Smith was a prophet who translated the Book of Mormon and gave it to the world at the cost of his own life, that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet on this Earth today and that revelation and guidance comes to us today just as it did to Moses - I wouldn't trust religious leaders, either.

In the New Testament, the phrase "salt of the Earth" is used and referenced in Christ's Sermon on the Mount. Salt has a long history in the Bible, being used as a purifying agent and that is often the reference it's taken in: "you are the salt of the Earth" meaning "you're the purity on the Earth" when talking with the poor and humble, compared to the arrogance and hypocritical actions of the Pharisees and religious leaders of the day. Today I use the term to express how the Gospel amplifies lives. It doesn't mask our lives like materialistic spices, nor does it turn everything into the Gospel and make it all taste the same; it elevates us and makes lives more enjoyable. It brings out our natural flavors, makes us better and more beautiful.

When cooking, you need a certain knowledge and faith to know what salt will do to a meal. A lot of beginning cooks won't use it enough because they're afraid of making the food salty. Professional chefs use it liberally and throw it on everything. With my faith, I'm still at the beginning stage. I don't have enough faith in the Gospel to trust that it will make my life better in every possible way; I keep thinking it'll just make my life more religious. Those who have had this faith and experienced the results are more liberal with the Gospel, using it often and constantly increasing the quality of their lives with it.

I don't say this enough because, in all honesty, I don't think it'd be well received very often. A lot of the people I interact with aren't religious and many view religion as a weakness, a willing ignorance, a source of corruption, or all the above. I do believe the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is true. I don't always know it and there are times I wonder of its validity,

He gave his life for this truth.

but whenever I think about the Book of Mormon, I realize that nothing anyone could ever do would change the truth inside that book. It is simply not possible that Joseph Smith just wrote it himself. Anyone who claims that just shows that they've never read it themselves. The continuity, the accuracy, and the spirit within that book are all unparalleled in this world. No other religious, historical or scientific text comes close to holding the same truth, and yes, I include the Bible in that. I believe in the Bible as well, but it's been altered and has its own flaws due to translations, word-of-mouth adaptations and various altercations throughout time. It's not all true and I fully understand why people have quarrels with it. But the Gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints doesn't rest in the Bible or even in the Book of Mormon;

The First Presidency.

it rests on the living prophet on the Earth today and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. I don't blame anyone for being cautious of religious leaders or unwilling to trust anyone with the faith that people usually put in them. Truth be told there are times when I falter myself; but every time I hear the Apostles or the Prophet speak, all those doubts roll away and I know they are inspired and guided by the Lord. I can walk away from hearing them speak knowing the answers to my questions and my own fears comforted, even though they didn't say a thing about what I was wondering. The Spirit is so strong with them that it touches us when we hear their words and it salts our

Add salt to your life.

lives, letting us know the answers we need to know, helping us when we need help, and enhancing our lives in every possible way.

I'm a good chef and I have the knowledge to use salt liberally when cooking to make my meals better. I'm trying to have the faith to use the Gospel liberally to make my life better.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Economic bailout

From Nov, 1993 to today

From msnbc.com:

"We're all worried about losing our jobs," Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., declared in an impassioned speech in support of the bill before the vote. "Most of us say, 'I want this thing to pass, but I want you to vote for it — not me.' "


I'm not an economist. I don't know the true magnitude of this crisis. I don't understand the international or long term ramifications of Wall Street falling. I am not qualified to make comments or say whether this proposed bailout is a good idea or not. I'm just not qualified. Neither is 99% of the United States population.

Yet this is America! If there's one thing America has, it's a public who's willing to voice their opinion about things they know little to nothing about. CNN's iReport is full of people claiming that the "American taxpayer" shouldn't have to pay for a "few mortgage companies' bad decisions" and that if they fall it was their own fault. The American public has opinions on everything and they're going to make sure you hear them.

Don't forget: this is the same public who wanted to invade Iraq because they had WMD's and were responsible for 9/11.


Just because the public wants something doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. I believe we should leave this to the economists and the experts. The average American - while opinionated on every subject from stem cell research to foreign policy - is not educated enough to know what's best for our nation. Some people are educated in some areas, but very few have the background to look at situation like this current crisis, fully comprehend the implications and the consequences of it, and devise any sort of solution. Economists have said that nothing like this has happened before: there are no precedents to look at or models to go off of. The public wanting or supporting something doesn't make it the right thing to do.

For that matter, look at how many people were afraid the LHC would destroy the world. People rarely know anything about what they're voicing their opinions about.

If the bailout is rejected by congress for legitimate reasons, I accept that. If it fails simply because it might make some politicians unpopular, that's just pathetic.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Admission

The results of ignorance.

Four years ago I made a mistake. I've never spoken about it. Whenever it came up I would either lie or change the subject. I was uninformed. I was naive. I was impulsive and I was stupid.

I voted for George W. Bush in the 2004 election.

I remember watching one of the debates between Kerry and Bush thinking that George W. Bush gave a very strong impression. He looked honest. He looked sincere. Kerry looked cold and indifferent, almost detached. I remember seeing it thinking I liked Bush's approach and when the time came I voted for him.

I was ignorant of the issues. I didn't know the policies of the candidates. I was uninformed of any real politics and only knew what glimpses I saw in the media of the Iraq War; I never gave any real thought to any of it. I was an uninformed voter and I screwed up something bad. I hold some solace in saying that my beloved Minnesota, the state I was then registered in and voted in, did go to Kerry. Even though I voted for Bush, I didn't effect the outcome of the election.

Until 2006 I didn't care for politics. In high school I was actually quite vocal about my apathy for politics. I'm sure almost all of my friends could tell different stories of times when politics would come up and I would respond with a very clear and concise "I. Don't. Care."

I'm fairly certain this reaction is in part from my father. While he was never anti-politics in the sense that I was in high school, he always portrayed a certain disdain for politicians. As a child it's impossible to be raised and not reflect that attitudes of your parents on things you are uninformed about. This reflection of my parents contributes to my support for George H. W. Bush in the 1992 presidential election. In 2000 I was in high school and my apathy was in full swing; I couldn't have cared less who my parents were voting for.

In 2004, as I've admitted, I voted for Bush because I liked how he portrayed himself during the debate I saw. I didn't really pay attention to the issues or know anything about foreign policy. I was the worst kind of voter.

In 2006, while not a presidential election, I turned around. By then the Iraq War had been going on for 3 years and I had followed the news enough to have formed an opinion. I educated myself on the candidates and with the help of some friends found good news sources and objective questionnaires asking me my feelings on the issues and making recommendations of who to vote for. I voted that year and during the rest of the day I sat in MSUM's student cafe eagerly watching the election results. I actually stood up on my chair and cheered when the Democrats won both the house and the senate. Honestly; I did.

Even Elmo likes him!

Tonight I watched the presidential debate between Obama and McCain and following analysis provided on CNN by Anderson Cooper 360. I like Anderson Cooper. He's educated; went to college at Yale and interned at the CIA. He's a good reporter and relatively fair, even if most of CNN swings left. Their analysis was very good and I felt quite honest: the debate wasn't won by either candidate and indeed was actually a very close match. This does not mean the effects of the debate will be even, however. On AC360, David Gergen repeatedly pointed out that while this debate was pretty much a draw and that isn't what McCain needed. McCain is behind in the polls. Tonight the debate was on foreign policy (2/3 of the debate, that is) and that's the area McCain is often seen as an expert in. Obama held his own and even at times outperformed McCain on this topic. This was the subject of subjects that McCain could out-debate Obama in and he didn't. He didn't lose, but he didn't win. From here on the debates will cover topics that Obama has a rather clear lead in in the polls.

McCain needed a win; he got a draw.

I won't be surprised if over the next few days Obama gains a stronger lead in the polls. I hope he does. My political feelings are no longer apathetic nor hidden. I know the issues this time. I've done my research (have you?). I've looked at the candidates and know their positions. I won't make the same mistake I made in 2004. I encourage anyone who reads this to do their research, know the candidates, know their positions, and vote with an educated vote. Don't live with regret and shame like I did.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Manipulation

It happens everywhere.

It's perceived as malicious. It's associated with deceit and lies. It's viewed negatively. It's shunned by those who think they're honest. It's feared that it will be used against us. We're fed it daily by the news, by movies, by corporations, by governments, by friends and by family.

Manipulation makes the world go round. It allows society to function. It allows us to keep our friends. It allows us to get promotions at work. It can allow us to get out of consequences. It can create foreign policy and world leaders. It can turn a dictator into a champion of the people, turn a saint into a pariah or turn a friend into a lover.

The actual definition of manipulation doesn't aid it's negative perception. Merriam-Webster defines it as:
  1. to treat or operate with or as if with the hands or by mechanical means especially in a skillful manner
  2. a: to manage or utilize skillfully
    b: to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one's own advantage
  3. to change by artful or unfair means so as to serve one's purpose
Notice how definitions 2b and 3 both imply something sinister. The words "unfair" and "insidious" both send chills up the spines of someone who believes they are honest and true. Yet we all partake in this practice daily, if only on a subconscious level.

Think about it. Think about the number of times yesterday you weren't wholly truthful with someone. A small censor in how you act or speak to keep things civil; a false smile to greet someone you don't really like that much; someone acting depressed or sad so that you'll ask "what's wrong?" so that they can vent. All of these things are manipulation. We're changing our actions to get the desired results. It's not always devious or malicious; but it is a form of manipulation.

I'm not a fan of his.

In high school and college there would be numerous times when I'd be talking to a girl I found attractive and if she'd say something like "I love Dave Matthews!" I'd reply "yeah, he's pretty good." In reality I found his music and voice annoying beyond words but I didn't say that. I wouldn't tell her that I despised her favorite musician because that would be a one-way ticket to Nochanceofgettingadateville, population: me. Perhaps we mature this changes; we stop being the person we think others want us to be and start being who we are, either through increasing apathy about what they think of us or simply because it's just too much work to keep up the facade. I know I haven't told anyone I like Dave Matthews for awhile. Two years ago I did tell a girl I liked Britney Spears and went so far as to make a CD with a few of her songs to keep in my car for whenever I gave her a ride somewhere. I'm really not proud of that.

Everyone does it. As my previous example pointed out, manipulation is quite common when it comes to trying to attract the opposite sex. Girls do it as well as guys. I've seen girls tell guys they like playing video games or that they love attending sporting events; these are actions done to try and make the guy think she's going to be a better girlfriend than other girls and thus give her the advantage. I'm not saying girls inherently don't like playing video games or watching sports, but I've only met a handful who actually enjoy it as much as they claim. It's manipulation. They're saying what they think others want to hear to get what they want.

Think about how many times you've laughed at a joke that an attractive girl/guy has said when you really didn't find it that funny.

Going into a job interview is very much the same. For that matter I could say that a date is simply a job interview where both candidates are seeing if they fit the position and if they qualify for it, but that's a little cynical, even for

It's all manipulative.

me. Whenever I've gone into a job interview, I've tried to say and do whatever I could to give the impression that I am the best candidate for the position and that hiring me is the best choice. Is this true? I don't know. Maybe they got a bunch of crappy applications. Who knows. Still, I do everything I can to manipulate them into giving me what I want - a job. I'll wear my best suit, sit up straight, answer questions properly and refrain from saying anything objectionable. I'll most likely laugh at the interviewers jokes and agree with his opinions about the economy, the War in Iraq, and whether Twinkies or Ding Dongs are better snacks. Why? Because I want him to like me so that he'll hire me. In reality, I don't always wear my best suit, I don't always sit up, I say things that people find objectionable, I often make stuff up as I go along when it comes to problem solving, and I very rarely agree with anyone around here about the economy or the War in Iraq.

The Tinkies or Ding Dongs thing probably wasn't really a fair example: everyone knows Twinkies are better.

Over Christmas similar things will occur, only instead of applying for a job I'm dealing with my family. I'll watch what I say and think about my actions before I do them as to keep the peace. My immediate relatives aren't the familial equivalent of nitroglycerin, but relations can be volatile and unstable at times. I think at least once per Christmas season for the last seven years my mother, brother or both have broken

Christmas is kinda like this.

down crying. They're strained. There's a lot of pressure on my mother to make Christmas as wonderful as she possibly can for us; and she always outdoes herself and it always is as wonderful as any of us could imagine. But just as putting on a dinner party is stressful for the host, so is Christmas stressful for my mother. My brother has often burdened himself with the responsibility of not burdening my mother, which in turn simply makes things more volatile. The only thing harder than balancing a ball on your head is balancing two of them. However, each year we get through it. Christmas works each year with my family simply because we all manipulate one another; we all want to make it through with as few problems and conflicts as possible and so we watch what we say and we act as we feel we should to get the desired results. We make it through each year because we love each other and we're together and damn it that's what Christmas is all about.

I'm pretty sure most families function this way. There may be times when we let our unfiltered selves through and minor cataclysms occur, but more often than not we control our actions and manipulate one another to keep things civil.

I won't get started on national or international politics. I think it goes without saying that manipulation can occur on such massive scales by not reporting all facts or in extreme cases by making facts up.

Manipulation isn't a terrible thing. If we were all completely honest with one another life would perhaps be simpler. Of course, it only takes one manipulative person to throw a wrench into that utopia. Instead we've formed a society based around manipulation, around doing what we must to get what we want. As everyone does this it cancels out; two wrongs do not make a right, but if both people are liars they can hardly accuse the other of foul play without calling themselves out. Manipulating those around me is countered by their manipulation of me. I don't mean this is a terrible thing or malicious - I don't mean this in a negative context. It's just an observation. Manipulation is all around us and in us. We may even go so far as to convince ourselves that we do in fact like a certain band or television show so that we believe we're being honest. We manipulate ourselves to appease our wants and wishes.

Perhaps this will make people notice it more in their lives. Perhaps this will make people think I'm a cynical jerk. This isn't a thought

The game of life.

Not to be confused with this.

I just recently had nor something I've just recently come up with. I've always questioned and wondered why people do what they do; what their motivation is for certain words or actions. From my own observations I've found that most people are more self-serving than they'd ever care to admit. Not all, but most. From how we address one another to how we handle our finances: we do what we do to get the results we want. If you know someone's motivation or what they want you can quite easily predict their actions. Just like in Chess, where the motivation is well known (checkmate your opponent), we think steps ahead in our lives, figuring out what each other will do based on our own choices. The better we are at predicting what the other will do, the more we're able to manipulate them and get what we want.

The difficulty is in figuring out what people want.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Failure

Since I instituted my 'update schedule' a few weeks back, I've missed two days. One I was on vacation and traveling, so I can justify that one. Yesterday, I just forgot.

I had the topic, the ideas I wanted to cover, the anecdotes to write, all of it was in my head and ready to be written. Then I spent yesterday looking up stocks online and chatting with people about whether or not junior

This building is full of morons.

high/high school kids are morons or not. The conclusion was that they are. I include myself in that by saying that at the time I thought I was mature and not the typical high school student. Truth is I was, I was just the typical advanced high school student, which comes with an inflated ego, loathing for classmates based on stereotypes and first impressions, and general carelessness. It persisted through a good part of college, too. I'm getting better. I acknowledge it now. They say that's the first step.

Last night my eyes started to fog over while playing Rock Band. This may sound serious, but it's just caused by a complete lack of blinking.

It's their fault.

Normally for the two-three minute songs it's no big deal. For "Won't Get Fooled Again" by the Who it creates a bit of a problem. Not blinking for 8:32 tends to cause your eyes a number of issues, one of which is severe pain. I figure it's exacerbated by my contacts so this morning I remove them and don my new chic glasses. While driving to the gas station (only $3.67 a gallon!) I notice I'm still having trouble reading the road signs as they pass. More disturbing still is I can't make my eyes feel like they are in fact focused on anything. They feel like they're just looking leisurely, unable to focus or look clearly at anything. This isn't a bad-eyesight-you-need-glasses issue; it's something else.

When I get to work the problem hasn't gotten better. I look in the mirror and my left eye looks irritated, my right eye looks as bloodshot as if it just took a haymaker. Those I chat with daily recommend I go see a doctor. I'm not ignoring this advice, but I know that it will probably take a few days to see the doctor anyways and since the symptom is less than 12 hours old I don't think it's that serious yet.

Cause: lack of sleep?

I know eyes are nothing to take chances with, but I like to live dangerously. A search for "redness/bloodshot eyes + itchy eyes + blurry vision" on WebMD provides some very plausible causes, the first of which is sleep deprivation. I've been getting about 5 hours of sleep a night recently, which while not uncommon for me is far from common. The second most likely cause is allergies. I'm allergic to various things, the extent of which is unknown to me. My mother seems to be allergic to just about everything while my father seems immune to the forces of nature; the sexual reproductive system humans employ dictates I'm somewhere in between. Hence, allergies is a likely candidate. Utah is a very dry climate, with lots of dust and particles in the air and I haven't washed my sheets for a few weeks. That's probably not helping.

My new love.

My monitor refused to turn on this morning as well. My new, 24" 1080p widescreen goddess of a monitor. This isn't the first time it's happened. During the day it operates at peak efficiency with brilliant color and I can power it on and off all day long. If it's powered off for an extended period of time however, such as when I sleep, it doesn't like to come back on. I still haven't been able to figure out why exactly. The problem is remedied easily enough, usually by reseating the power cable. This morning it took more than that; I had to power down my system and actually reset the switch on the surge protector. I'm hoping this is simply a power cable issue and am going to try replacing it when I get home. If that still fails, well, maybe I just won't turn off my monitor; putting it to sleep doesn't trigger this, so I'll just do that from now on perhaps.

For those wondering, the post that was going to appear yesterday was on manipulation. I'll post it tomorrow probably.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Saturday, Sept 20th, 2008

My 'to do' list for today:
  • clean my room
  • get an oil change for my car
  • get food and make arrangements for a meal tomorrow feeding 50+ college students
  • find computer parts and insure compatibility
  • remove hornets nest from backyard
  • put 2nd couch on cinder blocks to provide theatre seating for movie nights
  • go through my wardrobe and remove articles of clothing that a) do not look good, b) do not fit, c) are worn out or d) are just never worn.
  • read 'Sandman' by Neil Gaiman
I'm about halfway through the list.

Wish me luck.

'Green Fields of France,' Dropkick Murphys

I love this song.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Don't let me down in November, America



I'm so happy right now.

Bio-doesn't-work-Shock

BioShock.

Last summer 2k Games released a game called BioShock. It was a remarkable hit, scoring numerous perfect 10 reviews. In gaming, those are rare; a 9.5 or 9.6 on most rating sites is considered incredible, 8's mean the game is worth buy, and 7's usually mean it's at least fun to play for awhile. BioShock received over 30 perfect reviews. That says something.

At the time was eager to play it. It was released for the PC and Xbox 360. I do not own a 360 which leaves the PC. I do own a PC. However, my PC had not had an upgrade for 2 years and BioShock required more out the system than almost any other game to date. It was designed with a certain graphics technology called Shader 3.0; my video card only supported Shader 2.0. I couldn't play the game; it would simply load a black screen.

Shortly after it's release (i.e. two days) a fan rewrote part of the code in BioShock to make it compatible with Shader 2.0 cards. This was pretty big news since when 2k Games was asked about this, they claimed that it wasn't possible for BioShock to be compatible with the older technology. They were quite wrong. The modification didn't work perfectly: not all textures loaded properly, lights didn't bloom or create real-time shadows, almost none of the high-end effects worked. But, the game played. Even without all the frivolities and special visuals, the game still looked quite good.

The game is beautiful, but creepy.

I downloaded this patch and after about 2-3 hours of messing with settings on my PC, updating drivers for my video and sound cards and various other changes to my system, BioShock ran. Yes, it took about 6-7 minutes to load and the visuals would occasional crap out entirely, but it ran. I played through what I figured was about half the game, I'm not really sure, but it was a decent portion of it. While the technical issues caused me some grief, the game was amazing. It really did revolutionize what a first-person shooter is and how they can be played and had a great story to boot. The story is basically one giant flip-of-the-bird to Ayn Rand and her objectivist philosophy. I find that pretty funny.

Last week I finally cracked and purchased a new video card for my computer. It arrived on Tuesday. I installed it as soon as I got home from work and hooked up my new monitor; I almost cried it was so beautiful.

Big Daddy's are mean.

With this new video card, I can now play BioShock. I can play BioShock with all the effects. I can play BioShock as it is meant to be played. I can experience the game that was hailed as a god amongst games! I go to Best Buy as soon as I have some free time and pick it up. When I get home that night, I install it.

The install takes forever. Seriously. It takes over 30 minutes to install the game. After that it doesn't accept my authentication key. Then it doesn't recognize the game disc as the real disc and insists I must have pirated the game. By this time it has been an hour and I'm kind of upset. I know BioShock is supposed to have a state-of-the-art digital rights management system, but the pirated version I had a year ago didn't give me this much trouble.
(I didn't want to pay for a game if it couldn't run on my system; don't judge me.)

4:3 (red) v. 16:9 difference.

Finally I get the game installed. I figure since there's a patch out for it that adds some new features as well as fixes some really, really stupid mistakes (such as the widescreen mode actually shows less than the fullscreen resolutions) I'll download it and patch it up first. When I download and run the patch, it immediately generates and error log and started prompting me with "cannot find file" messages. I'm quite perplexed. I legitimately purchased this game. I just installed it. The game was installed where the patch verified it was. Yet every file it tried to patch failed saying that it couldn't find the necessary files and as such couldn't patch them. Then it prompts me with "patch installed successfully!" and closes.

You heard right. Not a single file was able to install properly, but the patch still thinks it installed successfully. If you ask me, not getting even one of the 20+ files that are supposed to be changed done correctly does not qualify as successful installation.

Fine. The game doesn't want to get patched, that's fine. I still have the game on my PC and can still play version 1.0. It'll have some flaws, but it'll run.

I load it up.

It doesn't run.

It opens with a crash. Literally.

I load it up again. This time it gets to the menu and my speakers start crackling. This was a highly reported issue with BioShock initially; it demands more from sound cards than most people have and as such creates a lot of distortion, stuttering and crackling. It sounds like crap. I spend some time getting new drivers and now it sounds a little better, but for the most part still sounds like crap. Whatever. I have an old sound card, I'm not surprised. The menu screen looks beautiful and that's what I care about.

I click "new game." Immediately a "loading" screen pops up and the status bar starts moving. During the loading screen the images are changing, quotes are fading in and out, everything goes smoothly. Then it stops. The images stop changing, the quotes stop fading in and out, the status bar stops moving. This is not unlike what it did a year ago when I was playing through the game on my old video card. I assumed that because my new shiney video card has twice as much RAM and significantly more firepower it wouldn't take forever to load. I was wrong. Turns out the loading time is related to the fact that I only have 1GB of RAM. Well, that'll be fixed in the coming weeks, but for now it kinda sucks.

I start my stopwatch to see how long it'll hang on the loading screen. The watch hits one minute. Two minutes. Three. Four. At five minutes and about 26 seconds the screen flickers a little and goes black, then fades slowly into the opening animation. Well, 5:26 isn't that long to wait for a loading screen...right?

The entrance to Rapture.

Rapture: underwater utopia.

Watching the opening animation, I learn that this game looks gorgeous. It's beautiful. I get through the intro and start to enter Rapture, an underwater city based on entirely on Ayn Rand's objectivism: each person gets only what he or she earns, no more, no less. The intro to Rapture states, "Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his own brow? No, says the man in Washington, it belongs to the poor. No, says the man in the Vatican, it belongs to God. No, says the man in Moscow, it belongs to everyone. I rejected those answers. Instead, I chose something different. I chose the impossible. I chose Rapture." While I'm sitting at my computer, staring at this illustrious game on my new beast of a monitor that fills my field of vision with vibrant color, I'm quite happy.

Then it all goes black and becomes silent. Not black as in a power outage. Black as in my computer dies. It completely shuts off and won't turn back on. I had heard BioShock stresses systems pretty heavily and if they're overclocked (mine is) they don't work very well with it; I didn't expect this. After some fidgeting with the power supply I get it boot up and it gives the friendly beep after post to let me know that everything is ok and it still loves me. I decide not to push it anymore; it's late and I only got two hours of sleep the night before. If I'm not careful it would happen again. After Windows boots completely, I look around for a minute on various drives, make sure everything is still there, then go to bed. When I get off work today I get to try for round two and see if it'll work better this time. My plan is to uninstall the game completely, delete all traces of files (including my saved games from last summer) and settings, then set my computer back to stock settings, reinstall the game to it's default directory instead of one I specify, patch the game, then try it again.

In 3-4 hours I should be able to report whether or not my plan worked. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

EDIT: After about 2 hours of uninstalling/reinstalling files, ejecting/inserting the DVD to make it realize I don't have a burned copy of the disk, and adjusting a few settings (took down some of the light and shadow effects), it works.

I'm gonna play this a lot this weekend.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

If you've got it; flaunt it.

I drive a 2005 Hyundai Tiburon. It's not the GT or SE model, so it's only a 4-cylinder engine, but it's a manual and can still kick when I want it to.

The Lexus SC: sexy.

The speedometer goes to 180.

What this leads me to is that there are many people in the area where I live and work who have cars much nicer than mine. Case in point: today at lunch, a Lexus SC was in front of me at a stoplight, waiting to pull into a parking lot. For those of you who don't know, the SC is a very sexy coupe with a 288 hp V8 engine. However, the driver of this car decided to poke through the turn at about 7 mph. What this amounted to was me - the second car at the light - barely making it through and into the parking lot, where, again, the Lexus rolled along at the same 7 mph.

Now c'mon. If you own a Lexus, a BMW, a Porsche, et al, don't go leisurely rolling through lights or around parking lots. You have a vehicle designed and engineered by skilled professionals for power, speed, and aerodynamics; use it, for Heaven's sake!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A tranquil sea

I always choose a window seat when I'm flying. I said in the previous post how I look out the window while riding in the car. The same is true for flying. I enjoy watching the world pass by, thinking about life.

Most people I've talked with like window seats as long as it's not cloudy. They enjoy watching the mountains or lakes or rivers or cities as they pass. Personally, I prefer the clouds. Between the rolling, boiling cumulus clouds creating mountains of marshmallows in the sky to the overlay stratus clouds that wrap around the land like a blanket on a cold day. I'll take the clouds, thank you.

It's serene in the sky. Flying is peaceful. There are no wars, there are no car crashes, there are no buildings or buses or traffic jams. It's free. It's clear. The clouds go on for as far as the eye can see with nothing obstructing your view. A tranquil sea a mile above the land. No waves. No hurricanes. No man-made eyesores. Just nature in all her aesthetic glory.

I like clouds. They make me happy.

A tranquil sea, blanketing the land, protecting her.


P.S. My office is ridiculously cold today.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Do you ever truly say goodbye?

In Minnesota I saw some old friends. Some I hadn't seen in a few months, others, years.

I saw friends I didn't think I'd ever see again. I saw friends that I've missed dearly. I saw the life I left behind when I moved. I saw the life I would have had if I had done things differently. I saw a life I walked away from. I saw a life that walked away from me.

I often view life like this.

Traveling always makes me reflective. I don't think this is a unique trait. Watching out the window of a moving car or plane: buildings, fences, animals, barns, cars, planes, trees, people, lives. They all pass by. It's only natural we might become reflective on ourselves. This feeling is of course only magnified if you are in fact going back to touch your past. Your physically moving through space and time, moving to a place in history that is no longer there. You're in the same place - same buildings, same trees, same roads - but that's about it. Little else is the same.

I thought a lot about what home means. When I got off the plane in Minnesota, I didn't feel like I was home, but I felt like maybe I belonged there. As the week went on, the feeling started to fade. Admittedly, this is probably because I was imposing on Will and sleeping on his floor the entire time. It's remarkably hard to feel like you're home when you're sleeping on someone's floor and living out of a suitcase. Or sleeping on a couch and living out of boxes stacked behind it.

Coming back from the trip, I felt like I was going to the place where I lived, but I never once felt like I was going home. I suppose home is still in Moorhead. I suspect it will be for quite awhile. At least, until I find a more permanent place to live and a family of my own. Then maybe my concept of what's home will change. I hope it does.

You've got to go somewhere.

More than anything on this trip I thought about what saying goodbye means. When I left Moorhead 7 months ago I said goodbye to Doug and Lee and Marvia and Jared and my parents and many others. But it wasn't really a goodbye in any final sense. It was a "see you later" goodbye. I'm not sure that counts. I don't think it does.

I try to be careful with my words. Most often I choose the words I do for a reason. I've often prided myself on verbosity and my vernacular; Minnesota is known for quality linguistics. This also ties into what I feel is a matter of intelligence and ability to express oneself. If you think in pre-set phrases, in cliches, you can never explain what you wish to say with direct clarity. Of course any philosophy major would be quick to point out that language itself is an imperfect form of communication and that itself is a limitation to expression.

Where does it lead?

This is obvious in saying something as ubiquitous as "I love you." What exactly do I mean? Am I in love with you? Do I love you like a son or daughter? A mother or father? A spouse or lover? A grandparent, uncle or aunt? How about as a friend? A casual acquaintence that I say I love simply because I care about in a vague sense? I could go on. Language is imperfect; it should not be acceptable to have an imperfect ability to speak with an already imperfect concept. I believe this is partially why our actions and our behavior is such a powerful form of communication; while it is still imperfect since intent and ambition - the why of our behavior - is the most important aspect and acidicly the hardest to know.

What I'm getting at is that I do not often simply say "goodbye." I might say "see you later" or "farewell" or even "bye" in passing. In our society there are no shortages of ways to express well-wishes towards anothers departure. "Goodbye" is one I don't use for a very fitting reason: there's a finality - a fatality, if you will - to it. Talk to you later, bon voyage, see ya, farewell, etc. all wish another well while at the same time being finite. Goodbye isn't. Goodbye carries with it a more powerful essence. It is the herald of the end. It means something is actually ending.

Goodbye.

Last week, I said goodbye to someone. I think largely that's what last week was for me: a goodbye. The person didn't die and my relationship with them didn't end...but it changed. Part of our relationship ended and it was something that I think had to be done in person. I wasn't expecting it. I didn't know that's why I was going to Minnesota. I didn't know what to think. I was saddened. It wasn't sudden; it was a very long time coming. It's only now that I faced it, literally. And I said goodbye.

On the trip home, sitting the Denver airport waiting for my flight to connect, I started to smile. I had said goodbye.

I said goodbye.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Vacation

I've been on vacation for the past few updates.

I get back home at 11pm on Saturday. So, next week I'll have stuff to write about and time to do it.

In the mean time, I'm gonna play Spore some more.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Spore

Spore

I picked up a copy of Spore yesterday.

I'm gonna go back to playing it now.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Apologies

I failed to update on Saturday and for that I apologize. I got into Minneapolis Friday night, then spent all day Saturday at the Renaissance Festival.

I should have more time on Tuesday to post something.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Projects

I've got a few projects I'm working on right now: getting new employees set up at work, trip to Minneapolis, getting my tech certifications, and a new website I want to start up.

Setting up the new employees isn't a problem, or at least it wouldn't be if the managers would actually tell me where they want them set up. The trip to Minneapolis starts tomorrow around noon; it would be later, but finding a ride to the airport proved more difficult than I anticipated and that was the only time I could find one. Getting my technical certifications will be a dull yet profitable task. In IT, certifications are like degrees - they don't really mean you know anything more, but they equate to more money. Lastly, the website.

A real man's restroom.

I've posted at various times about the office I work in and interactions with fellow employees. While I'm usually left alone in my office - and please do not misunderstand, that is not a complaint - when I leave it is not so. This office isn't large: just one open floor shaped like an L. The bathroom is around the corner from my office, no more than twenty paces. I can handle the occasional "hello" or "how's it going" during this walk. It is, after all, just greeting another human as you pass by while venturing from one location to another. However, once I have arrived at my destination - in this case, the lavatory - I request that conversation cease and casual greetings be kept to little more than a head nod.

It's the bathroom, for Heaven's sake! This is not a place of conversation. This is not a lounge nor a water cooler nor a living room. This is not a place to make new friends. This is not a place of business.

Well, not that type of business, anyway.

I understand that the ladies' room is a vastly different world. I accept that. As Steve, played by Jack Davenport on the British show 'Coupling,' said:



"We are men! Throughout history, we have always needed, in times of difficulty, to retreat to our caves. It so happens that in this modern age, our caves are fully plumbed. The toilet is, for us, the last bastion, the final refuge, the last few square feet of man-space left to us! Somewhere to sit, something to read, something to do, and who gives a damn about the smell? Because that, for us, is happiness. Because we are men. We are different. We have only one word for soap. We do not own candles. We have never seen anything of any value in a craft shop. We do not own magazines fill of pictures of celebrities with all their clothes on. When we have conversations, we actually take it in turns to talk! But we have not yet reached that level of earth-shattering boredom and inhuman despair that we would have a haircut recreationally. We don't know how to get excited about... really, really boring things, like ornaments, bath oil, the countryside, vases, small churches. I mean, we do not even know what, what in the name of God's ass is the purpose of pot-pourri! Looks like breakfast, smells like your auntie! Why do we need that? So please, in this strange and frightening world, allow us one last place to call our own. This toilet, this blessed pot, this... fortress of solitude. You girls, you may go to the bathroom in groups of two or more. Yet we do not pass comment. We do not make judgment. That is your choice. But we men will always walk the toilet mile... alone."

This led to me thinking of the rules of the men's room. Rules that all men should know. Rules that all men should follow. It then occurred to me that many aspects of our lives have rules to them, almost all of which are unspoken. It also occurred to me that, though writing rules for the men's room is far from unique, there are various events in life in which writing rules could be both useful and a source of great humor.

From this thought, I have started a new website detailing the rules of life's interactions. I'm open to contributing writers and suggestions as I don't have enough faith in my own knowledge nor creative skills to be able to update such a site regularly. If you're at all interested in writing and would like to know more, leave a comment, send me an e-mail, poke with a stick, do whatever you have to to get my attention and let me know.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Still editing

Still messing with the html/xml trying to find a nice look for this. The issue comes from having to incorporate the layout options that blogger has built into it while customizing everything else.

In the meantime, enjoy this: Journey, live in Chile, with their new lead singer Arnel Pineda performing "Wheel in the Sky."



I was going to link the "Don't Stop Believin'" performance because, lets face it, that song is awesome, but I think "Wheel in the Sky" turned out better during this performance. Plus it's a strong contender for best Journey song period.

EDIT: I like this current theme - just a slightly modified template provided by blogger - but it's too close to my brother's blog. I'm looking for some uniquely mine.

I'll continue to plug away at it. If anyone has any html experience or advice they wouldn't mind sharing, or knows about Dave McKean's art style and would like to create a page for me, I'd be grateful.