Saturday, May 27, 2006

Three highlights of today, each of which made me think

I will go from the not-so-good to the really good.

1. Mulch. My dad got 5 cubic yards of mulch delivered today, as he does every year. Well, okay, last year he got 10. Have you seen a cubic yard of anything recently? That is a large measurement. Anyway, it takes a lot of time to spread 5 cubic yards of mulch. Like most yard work, spreading mulch annoys me. It's particularly irksome because it's so cosmetic (and otherwise pointless). It's all about the Very Green Lawn (or in this case, the Very Brown Mulch Beds in the Very Green Yard). He could just not do it one year, and the plants would be fine.

So, okay, whatever, he has his interests. If he wants to go all out for his Very Green Lawn, that's fine. But the problem is, he drags us along with it. We can argue about the reasons behind it, but then the mulch people deliver the mulch, and, well, there is a Huge Pile of Dirt in our driveway, and we've got to move it sooner or later. So either we help or we feel guilty.

Ultimately, though, the net result? I do about 2 hours of yard work. Hell, that's good for me. So, as the rest of this post will continue to drive home, I have no right (nor desire) to complain.

2. Ultimate Fighting Championship. My friend Kemal invited me over today, because there was a big UFC fight on TV. Apparently this guy Royce Gracie, a previous champion, came out of retirement to fight Matt Hughes, the up-and-coming all-star. Now, when I heard about this professional fighting thing, what did I think? Well, first, pro wrestling, which is ridiculous. Then, pro boxing, which I've never seen, but I know it involves Don King and a lot of punches. Then, well, Ultimate Fighting Championship- is this one of these extreme cage-match sort of competitions where people break limbs and gouge eyes?

In my mind, it's unlike, and more respectable than, any of the above. There are a few rules: no eye gouging, there are a few places you can't hit, but other than that, it's pretty much fair game. The match ends after one fighter is knocked out, one fighter surrenders by "tapping out", the ref ends the match, or three 5-minute rounds have passed. So there's some punching and kicking, and there's some wrestling ("grappling"). There's a lot of technique to it- the champs have to know lots of different fighting styles- jiu-jitsu, submission wrestling, etc.- in order to win. Yeah, they have to be strong too.

There was a remarkable lack of trash-talking, scantily clad women, and people getting hit with folding chairs. I mean, these elements showed up, (except the folding chairs) but that's to be expected, I guess, given the fact that it's the ultimate display of machismo, right? A lot of the fighters were very cool about the whole thing- they helped each other up, even hugged each other after a good fight. Yeah, some of them drew blood, but ultimately, it was a sporting contest, not a bitter fight between rivals, and certainly not a scripted melodrama.

Oh yeah, and Matt Hughes demolished Royce Gracie. Some of the other fights (they had about 8 fights, Hughes-Gracie was the "main event") were much better contests.

3. Chez Francois. Yeah, that's the name of the restaurant my family and I went to tonight. Yeah, it was as extravagant as it sounds. The reason started off as a belated Mother's Day event for my mom, but then sort of morphed into a celebration of my birthday. That is pretty clever: there's no way I'd let us go to a place that indulgent for my birthday.

The food? It was so good. I couldn't tell you off the top of my head how many courses there were. Let me count through them:

1. A little asparagus soup, topped with a red pepper soup, served in what looked like a double shot glass with a tiny spoon. I mean, it looked like a green and red layered shot. Compliments of the chef. Big points for presentation, and it was a neat little pre-meal.

2. Appetizers: we shared some lobster bisque (with a very airy puffed pastry on the top) and some shrimp in kataife phyllo (looks like shredded wheat) served with a pineapple and raisin (maybe?) chutney. The bisque was particularly great (the pastry was a nice touch); the shrimp, particularly interesting. Next time I go to a Greek store, remind me to get some of this Kataife stuff. It's neat.

3. Salad: Man, I almost forgot this, and it was really good. Hmm. What were the greens? I don't remember. Some fancy greens. With onions, bacon, and hard-boiled egg crumbled on top and a "champagne vinaigrette" dressing. Points for the dressing. Also some french bread, with honey butter. The bread was unremarkable, but the butter was very good.

4. The Main Course: Wow, what did I get? Okay, it was a special, so I can't find it on their menu, but here goes:
Barramundi (a fish, originally from Australia. Supposedly, it's like sea bass. Pronounced "Bear Monday.") with a crispy coating (... not the official description), served over thinly sliced onions and (some special kind of) mashed potatoes, with whole fingerling potatoes and asparagus on the side. Man, that was tasty! The fish was mild enough for people (like my dad) who don't like fishy fish, but the coating was interesting. I have to learn to cook asparagus like the fancy restaurants do. I think the secret is a lot of olive oil.

My dad got Filet de Boeuf au Stilton- "Center cut filet mignon, grille, topped with Stilton Blue cheese, garnished with a cheese crisp and a potato gallette with a ruby port wine sauce." I had a bite, and man, I think that was even better. Very rich, though, very heavy. But the super-tender steak with the creamy cheese- man.

My mom and sister split Suprême de Volaille aux Noisettes et aux Crustacés- "A roasted French breast of chicken, served with Maine lobster, cold water shrimp, and a hazelnut sweet potato mousseline, sauced with a mushroom and apple Frangelico cream sauce." Also great, but I feel like if you get chicken at this place, you're missing out. I don't think I quite appreciate lobster yet- well, I've had it about twice in my life, and each time just a bite or two.

I really enjoyed this main course. I was the last one done, and not even because I was mopping up remains from everyone else (Although I wasn't too proud to steal my dad's asparagus. He didn't want his asparagus?!). I'm proud of that. Eating slowly, actually savoring it- I'm not used to it yet, but I'm getting there.

5. Dessert- wait, there's more! We split chocolate cheesecake and ... dang... some other thing that I can't find on their online menu, because the dessert menu's not online. It was a chocolate molten cake ("It's sort of like a flourless cake. Although he did use flour."- Joan, our ever-gracious waitress), with freshly made vanilla bean ice cream. Oh yeah, and it looked like this.

As for the beverages, well, they offered us a selection of two different brands of bottled water, or tap water. A "water selection" ! Ridiculous. A fine wine list, I'm sure; I would have ordered a glass, because it's the kind of thing I should get used to doing. Plus, I like it. But when they asked me, I was caught off guard, having just told them I was 20 when they asked whose birthday it was. I enjoyed an Irish coffee with dessert though- a bit ironic at a French restaurant, maybe, but I wanted to get in one little bit of Feeling Like An Adult Although I Guess I'm Not Yet For One More Year.

They did have a "cheese selection" with dessert too, if you're into that sort of thing. The full extent of this place's extravagance can be found here.

So, enough about what food I ate. It was a birthday celebration! Also one of the most pleasant evenings I've had for just a while. My parents gave me some cool gifts, notably money to attend cooking courses here and there at Pittsburgh places and a (apparently very famous) cookbook called "the Joy of Cooking." It was also nice when I realized that this is an occasion to celebrate, and that my family wanted to celebrate, so I shouldn't do what I normally do at restaurants when I'm not paying: order one of the less expensive things to eat, and nothing to drink. They wanted me to get whatever I wanted, so shoot, I did. I think a great thing in life is the ability to recognize when someone wants to be generous, and to give them that opportunity.

But more than the gifts or the extravagant food, it was nice to be together with the family again. Any more description I could give is probably trite, because you know what I mean, (I hope) so I won't keep talking, using my hammerful wordly powers* to describe this feeling of being together with the family. I love, and will miss, them.

*What I mean is that my command of language is like a hammer, whereas a skilled writer has a precision screwdriver. Yeah, it gets the job done, but it's not usually eloquent. Except there. I think "hammerful wordly powers" is one of the most eloquent phrases I've used in a while. So I'll end this post on a high note.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Categorizing sports

I was in the shower, you know, down time for the ol' noggin, so I decided to create more of my world by naming, categorizing, applying value judgments to things. In this case, sports. For example, soccer and hockey are really the same game- you're trying to get the ball (or puck) down the field and put it in the goal. So soccer and hockey go in the same category.

At first I was amazed at how few categories there are. Then I was amazed at how many. Without further ado, here are the categories as I have decided them:

Football-type: Soccer, Hockey, Ultimate Frisbee, Football, Basketball, Rugby, Lacrosse, Water Polo, Team Handball, Tlachtli
Clearly the most popular category.

Race-type: Track, Cross Country, Cycling, Downhill Skiing, Speed Skating, any other kind of race
The idea is to cover a lot of ground, either through a course or just straight, as quickly as possible. Sometimes hardly even a sport, like track: it's difficult, but come on, running as fast as you can? It's not very original.

Tennis-type: Tennis, Badminton, Table Tennis, Racquetball, Squash, Handball, Volleyball
These all have the objective of making the ball land twice (or once) on your opponent's side. Racquetballish games differ only in that both sides are in the same court.

Gymnastics-type: Gymnastics, Figure Skating, and a lot of the "extreme sports" like half-pipe snowboarding and skateboarding
These are a bit different in that the winner is determined by a judge (or panel of judges)

Baseball-type: Baseball, Softball (if that's a different game than baseball, which I'd argue that it's not), Cricket
Why so low on the list? Really, they don't make sense. Hit a ball and run around bases? Who the hell came up with that?

Fighting-type: Boxing, Wrestling, Fencing
Again, simple. But we have to classify these somehow. Mano a mano games in which the object was once to kill the opponent.

Golf-type: Golf, Bowling, Curling, any kind of target shooting
Well, these are obviously pretty different, but the objective in all of them is to do something difficult that requires precision over and over again. Also, your opponent can't really affect your score at all.

Any I missed?

It should be noted that sports don't necessarily fall into one category, although most do. For example, the Best Sport, freestyle mogul skiing, is race-type and gymnastics-type, because speed and judges' points both matter.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

You can take the kid away from the video games...

but you can't take the video games out of the kid. Something like that. This week, I've realized why it's fantastic that I haven't bought any video games for years now. If I did, I would become woefully unproductive for a while (as I have been this week). They're like breakfast cereal: fine in small doses, but I am unable to consume either in small doses. But at least I know that, which is why I don't (usually) buy cereal or video games anymore.

I just cooked for 11 people and it turned out perfectly! Granted, the menu was uninspired (chicken, burgers, corn, fruit, salad, bread) but the timing was impeccable, if I do say so myself, and everything turned out well. It was all done at the same time! The chicken was particularly tasty. And, well, timing is at least 50 percent of cooking. My uncle (who is a great cook) says he might* be able to show me how to cook a rack of lamb this weekend... sweet!

*Might, because both his real mom and his foster mom are dying this week. I think that's who they are. Both really nice old ladies, especially his foster mom. She's incredible- I only met her a few times, but she was this old black woman, the nicest person ever. I guess she became like the social hub of her nursing home even. Everyone knew her, everyone liked her. His real mom (I think that's who the other one is) was also really nice, I guess, but I knew her even less. Anyway, they're both very at peace with the world right now, which is a topic for a much longer and heavier post, but it is also very good. It sounds like they're both ready. Which is pretty incredible. Offer them your well wishes as they cross on into that Greatest Adventure of All, death and/or afterlife.

On lighter topics: I got a blender, too! I, uh, picked it out. And bought it. My grandma (who is not the best at getting around to places) said, after I mentioned I wanted a blender, "How about if you go pick out a blender. And then you can just buy it. We can pay you for it later. Do you want me to give you the money now? Or later. Either way." So I did. I make her sound very insensitive, and that's not fair. They're sweet. Just sometimes a little out of touch with reality.

I've been spending some time with them both these last couple weeks, which is good. They are very nice people. Again, sometimes a little crazy (for example, my grandma wants my dad to re-stain her deck. He built her this deck like 2 years ago. It was a herculean effort. Restaining it would be equally ambitious. And unnecessary.). But as grandkids, we don't have to deal with all the pecadilloes- to them, we're golden! They love us to death, right? So it's nice to be able to spend some time with them- playing golf with my grandpa, going to lunch with my grandma, etc.

She also has the best sayings. The way she delivers them. She'll be unable to find the right words, so she'll just say whatever pops into her head. Tonight, she called me a ball of fire. "Dan, you're just a, ah, uh, ... a ball of fire!" Last weekend she called my dad a "brat from China." It's great.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Sports and Lawns

- Most things are arbitrary. Pro sports doubly so. How ridiculous is it to have an event in which a team represents your entire city, and you get all psyched up about it, then you feel great if they win and bad if they lose? Why do people cheer? If the team wins, good for them; if they lose, whatever. Your cheering won't change the outcome at all. Not to mention, have you been to a sporting event recently? It is the most Pavlovian thing in my usual experience:

"Fans! Get up on your feet and make some noise, because we've got some hot DiGiorno pizzas, and we're giving them out to the loudest fans!" I swear, they could give out loaves of bread. Heads of cabbage. Bananas. What better to easily stimulate people than tasty food?
"Turn your attention to center court, where you will now be entertained by this team of breakdancers!" Pander to me, please! I can't go a couple minutes without some lame throwaway entertainment!
"It's time for the Taco Bell ball toss!" I'm not even making this up... they throw these worthless little plastic balls into the crowd, and people scramble for them.
or the usual
"It's time to get loud!" "De-fense!" BOOM BOOM "De-fense!" BOOM BOOM... Make noise, because we tell you to! You have to support the home team!
At this last game I went to, they gave us towels, and they kept putting a sign on the scoreboard that said "Whirly-bird" which meant that you're supposed to wave the towel around. You know, like a Terrible Towel, except they're prompting you.

All I'm saying is, most of the typical brainwashy dystopias have this sort of event somewhere ingrained in their society, and it really helps with their mind control schemes... let's hope The Pro Sports People never use it for evil.

- Mowing the lawn is a little bit of an atrocity. "Let's shape nature to our own selfish desires." Those needs include pushing a gas-spewing motor across it every week in order to prevent any sort of organic growth pattern. And inventing another chore that a lot of people hate to do. And maybe some artificial fertilizers would help. The best is when you bag up and throw away the grass that you pick up.

I'm sorry, that last paragraph was very snide. I apologize for the sarcastic tone. My point is that it's kind of artificial to want a very green lawn. Oh dear, I'm becoming a hippie again. Good grief, I better stop writing now.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

"It's only minor Dickens"

My friend Erik was talking about his hoity-toity ivory-tower professor, who said that about David Copperfield, I think. It sounds like a spam subject line. Or maybe a bookstore in the entertainment complex*: Minor Dickens.

...or a life motto. (Look at that, a dramatic line-break/ellipsis!) A lot of things don't matter, yet we act like they do. For example, gas prices. None of us is going to be forced into poverty because of $3/gallon gas. (especially those of us who don't drive, but that's beside the point) Let me know if you are, and I'll come back and get a better example. But we'll just buy fewer things. (Great!)

Or this: my sister's choir director forced them all to go see this choral concert on Mother's Day, so some people got all pissy. First of all, the director shouldn't care. Second, students, if it's that big a deal, just tell the director why you can't go, and don't go. Third, get over it! So you wasted a couple hours at a concert. Big deal.

Erik put it pretty well: No single event in your life is going to have a huge impact, positive or negative. So you try to do the best you can at as many things as you can. And don't worry about it if something goes badly.

This is getting wordy and abstract, and I think I've made my point, so I'm done.

*I should really keep a list of what's in the Entertainment Complex. So far, I think we have:
Have Table (King Arthur themed; everyone sits at semicircular tables.)
Dick in a Round (a theatre in the round, only performs Richard II, Richard III, or one-man shows featuring an actor named Richard.)
Up (restaurant in a skyscraper, about halfway up. Brick walls inside the skyscraper walls, no windows to the outside. Bar and grille. Serves beer in frosted mugs.)
Wootrant (restaurant serving one dish each day. When that dish runs out, we start making something else. Gourmet food, cheap prices. See
What's In Store (a store. It sells whatever we want to sell. When people ask what it sells, the answer is "What's in store.")
Minor Dickens (bookstore. Details are still under review.)

Friday, May 12, 2006

This is interesting

Not because of it being Zacarias Moussaoui, but because of the dynamic that must have been in that room. ... "We all agree. Except one of us."

And what if you were that one guy? Would you sit quietly? Would you speak in favor of the death penalty? Because you know you better not let anyone know who you are. If the jurors knew, shoot, they could practically blackmail you. If the public knew, you'd probably get death threats and stuff.

And... scene!

And I'm done with another year. Halfway done with college. Possibly about 20% done with life as a student. Entering my third decade on this planet in exactly two weeks. Passing milestones without noticing.

Looking back, I notice I posted this in September:
Post title: I HAVE SIX PLANS
Post content:

1. Become a tour guide next semester, to show people what it's really like.

2. Go vegetarian for a week, just to try it.

3. Invite people over next week or next next week before a rehearsal and make a bunch of burritos.

4. Organize a ski trip over winter break.

5. Organize a cooking group to try new recipes and stuff.

6. Invest some money in a mutual fund or other high-yield investment.

Well, I did 3, 4, 5, and 6. I couldn't do 1, because the job's just not available. All they said was "look on Tartantrak," which I did a lot, with no luck. I'll have to talk to Alex DiClaudio- I think he's a tour guide, actually.

#2 is the month of June. June is vegetarian month! At least for me. I'll post more details on .vomit (or .events if that gets big) and you can join me if you want. The reason: when it comes down to it, it's hard to justify eating meat, especially the way we do now, and here's why:

If animals have feelings, then eating meat is clearly wrong, and we're torturing some huge percentage of the mammals on the earth. If they don't, well, then it comes down to efficiency. It's a lot less efficient to grow a field of grain and other foods, feed them to a cow, then kill the cow, than to just eat the grain and other food. Why don't people in developing countries eat much, if any, meat? I figure, to help limit my personal footprint on the earth, it wouldn't hurt to try eating no meat for a month.

Oh yeah, and you ever see those photos/videos of meat factories and industrial "farms"? Ayyy. EVEN IF those are just dumb animals who can't feel pain (may or may not be true...), I don't want to put something that's grown under those conditions into my body.

Side note: damn, when did I turn into such a hippie? Don't worry, I still shave!

Point is, I set out to do things, and I did them. Let me try again, but this time with goals, instead of plans:

1. Study abroad! Somewhere!

2. Be the best TA that Concepts of Math has seen since Matt Szudzik. Hell, be better! Be that one recitation that people actually go to, because it's interesting.

3. Rock a lot in the research over the summer.

4. Get into a sweet grad school. (And go there.)

5. Get back in better shape. My exercise routine has drifted off.

Note that these are much longer term goals, and I won't be able to post in a year and say that I've done all of them. Most of them, though!

And maybe I should tack on a #5 1/2. Enjoy summer a little bit. Relax a bit. Become more carefree. Because, when it comes down to it, most stuff doesn't matter.

I'm reading Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut now. It's great.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

I'm a TA!

I got the job as a TA, for 21-127, Concepts of Math. I got the 9:30 section... but if you're taking Concepts, for whatever reason, sign up for it despite the early morning. I'll make it worth it. Yeah! Rock!

Monday, May 08, 2006

I like Indian and Greek food a lot.

India Garden is very good. If you want to go to the lunch buffet there anytime this week, give me a call.

Or, if you'd rather try the Greek Food Fest this week, that's very good too. I got some sort of meatballs ("Souvakakia"? not Souvlaki, that's different), and Moussaka (which is GREAT) and something called "Green Beans and Zucchini Yhannia" maybe? Plus grape leaves. Mmm. Oh yeah, and then we went to the pastry table and said "I'd like one of everything." The winners were, in my opinion, some kind of cake that started with a K and had nutmeg in it, as well as "Kataife"?, which looked like Shredded Wheat with nuts in the middle and drenched in honey. Really great.

And I think I'd like Brazilian food a lot too. Anyone want to go to Green Forest? Or is that too much great food for a week?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Sometimes I'm a sap, but

I thought the board sleepover/Ritter's was a lot of fun. Something about having an unusual group of people and doing something unusual. Even if it is playing a game like "loaded questions" (which is fun, and I'll fight you if you disagree) and going to a diner at 4 AM, after we're all drained from Scotch on the Rocks and strike. Whatever. It was fun. (plus a chili omelet is pretty good)

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Someone gave me a great compliment tonight:

"You're a sophomore? I took you for a senior!"

However, this contributes to the problem of inward focus in social situations. Note to everyone: It's not about you! The more you focus on other people, the better off you are- you're more social, you're more enjoyable, you have more fun.

This is true only to a point. And it's arguable. But it's often great advice for those of us with big egos (myself included). Or those of us who think that we have small egos but then spend a lot of time talking about ourselves, be it in a braggadocious OR self-deprecating way.

But it was a nice compliment to get. Thanks.