Wednesday, May 27, 2009


"We're constantly creating our world by naming, categorizing, applying value judgments to things." -not quite a quote from Foley Ah Doo, but as close as I can remember.
(I posted this back in 2005. Give yourself 10 bonus points if you know what Foley Ah Doo is. Otherwise, lose your next turn, and then we'll tell you it's a play by Ram.)

This is a phenomenon in cooking. Well, in the world in general, but it's easiest to explain in cooking. What if I told you I made a great dish: it's this thing with beans, peppers, avocados, cheese, rice, tomatoes, onions, in a tortilla? You'd probably think you're eating something that's pretty, and then forget it. What if I told you I made Jim Smith's Original Burrito (from the original Jim Smith recipe, winner of the best burrito in Texas contest)? You'd notice it more while you're eating it, think it's great, and remember it. Maybe even next time you'd say "hey Dan, can you make those Jim Smith Burritos?" Maybe it'd be a thing you remember about my cooking style: "he makes good burritos."

It's the same dish, but I gave it a name! All of a sudden it's memorable. Similarly with the internet: do you think Twitter would have caught on if it were called "Quick short message broadcasting service"? Or like in nature. You could be in a place that's pretty, but then you leave and it was just another place. Or you could be in Yosemite National Park, and all of a sudden it's a thing, and you've been there, and you're raving to your friends about all the amazing trees and mountains. Names make things.

I guess what I'm saying is not really revolutionary. Here's another point I'm trying to get at: you can remember things with names sometimes and not others. I mean, remember this list:
Pink Floyd, a grapefruit, citations at the end of an academic paper, STALAGMITES, gumby!
and then remember this list:
G, P, N, R, Z

Done? Now, say I tell you the second thing in each list is the best, and the fourth is the second-best. You'll probably have an easier time remembering that "a grapefruit" and "STALAGMITES" are good than "P" and "R". The list of "things" is heterogenous, the list of letters is homogenous. It's easier to differentiate among the "things."

(okay, disclaimer: I'm basing this on no actual science at all. I'm really mostly saying this stuff because it's a hypothesis of mine and I'd like to see some data backing it up.)

So this means that if there are restaurants in your neighborhood called "John's", "Barry's", "George's", and "Bill's", your new restaurant would be instantly memorable if you called it "How To Cook A Wolf". Or rather, if you were a restaurant critic, it'd be easier to remember a lot of different things about different places if they were all named way different things than if they were named similar things.

I'd love to find the best structures to represent things in our minds. I wonder if there's a memory trick involving mapping similar things to a very dissimilar space. Like if the restaurants are all called John's, Barry's, etc... what if I tried to remember them as like John's, Buried Alive, George Washington's Restaurant of Liberty, and Duckbills? Memory tricks memory tricks.

I'm too tired to think about this more unifiedly.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Wow, read this. It seems very appropriate.

I mean, not for me. I am thankful that I don't particularly have to doublethink to enjoy my job. I do, a little bit, sometimes. Like "we shouldn't be doing things like this" and also "really all I'm doing is making the company money" but those are both kinda false and I only feel that way when I'm particularly whiny. My work is kind of tangible, for being such an over-the-wire skill. But our economy is going more and more this way. I kind of hope we don't get too detached from doing anything ourselves. The world is getting a little too specialized, and it's like that because it's a little too big.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

I postpone the Mr. T's Birthday Letter to this weekend

I had a date with Tom Robbins tonight.

Something else interesting: I organized all the areas in my life that I want to make sure I'm making progress in. Of course it's a work in progress. But here's what it looks like now, no real order, with subgoals preceded by a - and notes about them or how to accomplish them by a ---.

- master specific worldly cuisines
--- this will structure my cooking so that I am learning something definite.
--- Japanese or Indonesian first
--- make sure to cook dinner at home sun mon tue?
- make fine food
--- higher quality, smaller quantities?
--- this was spurred by Ram's friend Pat's ability/enthusiasm for the "5 dollar 50 dollar meal". I realized I always make food that would cost $10 in a restaurant. It'd be great to be able to make food that would cost $50.
- always be able to make something good, given any ingredients I happen to have around
--- this will come with structured learning
- develop my own recipes
--- so when someone asks me "what do you like to cook?" I'll have an answer

Food advocacy
- organize my theory of food
--- to do on a project day
- make it available online
--- another project day, future?
- help other people learn to cook
--- this is a long-term goal. this is also what my youtube cooking show idea was about.

Exploring Seattle
- get to know all the neighborhoods (or at least all the interesting ones)
--- along with bike rides?
- be an awesome tour guide
--- this will happen, as long as I make sure to get out often.

- get as good with Dutch as Spanish
--- 30 minutes, 3 days a week. "Language or meditation."
--- why Dutch? Because I've got the biggest jump on it.
- pick up a new language every few yrs
--- this will happen if I keep up.

- go places with a purpose, many times each year.
--- this year (india and japan) has been a pretty good start. it'll be important to keep that up.
--- burningman, and then ...?
- ski at least 4x next year
--- make skiing friends, ask them.

- get good at making things happen
--- python, then what? make my own web app?
- regularly program for fun
--- I like programming! really, I do!

- suffer less
- enjoy life more
- develop a meditative habit
- make progress towards enlightenment
--- Wednesday talks will probably help, I should keep going to those

- keep in touch with everyone I want to
--- this is going well. technology helps a lot.
- make 8-10 great friends in my new life
--- this is the awkwardest goal, because it makes it sound like I'm just making friends to satisfy a goal. I mean, this is really the least arbitrary of most of my goals, because I need these people to really succeed and be happy. but it's not even just "I need friends", I mean, it's just what you do, right? you make friends! that's a thing that you do!
- make cool casual friends too

- keep making projects happen
- get in a creative group
--- project day monthly

- ride the STP
--- biweekly training rides, then weekly

End of list. You may have noticed me mentioning "project days". The idea would be, once a month, we all (who? anyone who wants to!) get together and you bring something you want to work on. We just hang out and each work on our own projects. At the end of the day, you display/demo what you have to show for the day. I also mentioned "languages or meditation". This is a plan I have. Every day except Sunday, work on languages or meditate for 30 minutes. Ideally alternate days.

So that's the plan, anyway, we'll see how it goes.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Mr. T's Birthday is in three days

Which means that if you'd like a detailed recap of the last year of my life, in three days I will be sending out my first annual (shut up) Mr. T's Birthday Letter. Email me and I'll put you on the mailing list.

I figure this email gives me a chance to reconnect with some of you. I tell you everything about my life, then you can say "I didn't know you like to ride bikes now" or something, and we can start up a conversation. Or even "I forgot you existed, but I like you. Hi!" Plus, if you've been kinda skimming but not really reading my blog (understandable... I talk a lot), this will be a nice summary.

Now I will continue to talk a lot.

I've had two very interesting visitors in a couple vivid dreams over the last couple days. First was an unknown girl; we were dancing, and very well. This was notable because I'm not known to dance well. Second was one of my high school theology teachers, Mr. Prokop. He was known for bluntness. I liked him. He was kind of a jerk, and he was very sure the Catholic church was always right, but he did also teach World Religions, maybe the only theology class I took that was worth it. In my dream he said "What's your religion of choice these days?" and I stammered something half-assed about "well I kinda like Buddhism but I'm not like an actual Buddhist but I kinda think they have some good ideas and ..." and he goes, all smugly, "Well, how's that going for you?"

Argh! I said something weak, again, like "it's okay, I guess", but I should have said "It's fine. What did you want to hear, that I was lost because I didn't have a crucified Jesus Christ on a rosary around my neck? Listen, I'm doing pretty well, and having issues too, but that's because that's the way the world works. I'm not sure of anything because the world isn't so black and white, and the more you see things in black and white, the more goddamn destructive you become. And no, the truth isn't objective. Or, it is, but it sure doesn't include a Jesus rising from the dead and ascending into the sky. I've trivially got more reason to believe against resurrection than you have to believe in it. But you don't hear me smugging at you about it, do you? No, because I realize that everyone's climbing the same hill, and all their routes will get them there exactly as fast as yours."

So! That's how my dreams have been going. Speaking of things in black and white, I think my environmental footprint in the last couple years has doubled, and here's why: I read "State of Fear" by Michael Crichton. It's a book about how we shouldn't believe all that the media tells us because they just try to fill us with fear all the time. (hello, swine flu!) However, it uses as an example global warming, and the story is about how global warming isn't actually happening.

I questioned this for a while, and then came back to the side of believing in global warming. First of all, it's not like the experts are split 50/50... it's like 90/10. (source: I don't know. Go ahead, prove me wrong.) Second, even if global warming isn't happening, we are screwing up the environment in a lot of other ways, so we should do whatever we can to stop it. Third, I read another book by a global warming denier who took the position of "yeah, it's happening, but it won't really be so bad", which was not encouraging. Fourth, "State of Fear" is a novel. Fifth... argh! Pascal's wager! Believing in it, acting, and being wrong is much better than not acting and being wrong. (That's weak, I know. I'll just take the first 4 arguments then.)

Anyway, so I mentioned this book in passing to my dad a couple years ago. Since then, he's taken up the global-warming-denier banner, slagged environmentalism any chance he gets, made fun of everyone who happens to admit he/she might not hate Al Gore, and started listening to books like this. (side note: oh my gourd.) Dad, if you're reading this, the point I liked in "State of Fear" was that the media/government/etc has become a fear machine, not that global warming doesn't exist!

So! As a pro-environmentalist dude, my total track record for positive environmentalism in this world is -1. Le sigh.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Nap, a jlan, a canal: Japan

First of all, pictures are up!

Holy cow they took our temperatures with a camera. That was my first impression of japan, and it happened before we even got off the plane. Okay, swine flu blah blah, they have to take our temperatures before we get off, so I'm picturing little disposable thermometers. Nope. They came around with this thing that was for sure a camera, pointed it at us, and moved along. Ladies and G, the future.

My second impression, after a vending machine experience: this green tea tastes like tea. You can't find sweetened Liptonesque junk if you try. I was stoked! The next day I discovered that you can also buy said green tea hot in a bottle. Fantastic.

Food in Japan: is great. I can't figure out how it all comes together- I mean, sushi is a thing, and so are soba, udon, and ramen, and so is this izakaya tapas-like thing, and so is just eating a big eel, and then there's okonomiyaki and monjayaki, and etc. I guess it's just that I'm actually getting the full breadth of it. I mean, I used to think Indian food was just curry and naan, but then, there's really a lot of diverse kinds of dishes there too. Japanese food is a huge category!

I think I like it more than most, though. First, it's healthy (hey, longest life expectancy in the world; can't be too far wrong...). Lots of seaweed, seafood, miso, and other things that we generally think are healthy. The flavors are pretty unique- not as distinctive as India, say, but it just kinda tastes clean. And finally and maybe most importantly, they seem to care a lot about it. I mean, you can see that in sushi; it's food-as-art, or art-as-food, or something. Quantities are sometimes small, but quality is usually high. I'm all about that.

Notable things I ate:
- inari (those tofu skin things around a ball of rice)
- udon with lots of funny looking things that were probably all fish cakes in one form or another
- a terrible drink that this bar we went to just made up. They called it the "DOS", which was short for something that translates to basically "drink for assholes." It featured frozen pickled plums and gin. Actually, the first one was really good. The second one was a very bad idea.
- awesome sushi! and mostly nigiri; it seemed the thing to get, moreso than rolls. great squid, eel (of both kinds), a giant clam I think?, some things I don't know what they are, and the famous otoro, which really wasn't as transcendent to me as to some people, which is good because it's not great, generally, on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Sustainable Seafood list.
- monjayaki, a do-it-yourself grilled pancakey thing that I'm sure we messed up, but it was tasty anyway. Note to self: miso is great. start using it a lot.
- takoyaki, octopus balls!
- tayaki, an unrelated pancake-in-a-fish-shape that has a sweet red bean paste filling
- steamed buns in Yokohama Chinatown
- yuba, which is translated terribly unappetizingly as "soy milk skin" or "bean curd skin". ('s good though!)
- four kinds of ice cream from Ice Cream City. This includes sesame gelato, turkish tea ice cream (both of which were forgettable), edamame ice cream, and cheese ice cream (both of which were not). But really, any time I'm eating ice cream, I'm pretty happy.

If you're still reading, you're into long posts, so you might like this slapdash list of things I did that I'm really putting in here for my own sake so I don't forget them:
Saturday- izakaya in yokohama, bar in aobadai
Sunday- kamakura, government building, golden gai, karaoke, albert Nietzsche, tsukiji, sushi.

Wait a minute, hold up. This day was epic and requires further explanation. So we go to the Golden Gai, a district in Shinjuku (which is a part of Tokyo) that is full of tiny bars. It was mostly closed up, but we went into one that had about 8 seats and Ram struck up a conversation with the folks. Later, some other foreigners were looking in, and we waved them in too. A few silly conversations later ("you're from seattle? do you like rock music? do you like Fleet Foxes?"), and we all decide to go karaoke. At this point it's about midnight, and the trains in Japan stop running at midnight, and start again at 5. So if you're going out, you're out till 12 or till 5. So we were going big. (I couldn't possibly go home!)

Then at about 12:30 our newfound Australian friends bugged out. I do not know why. Lame. So we hang out with this Japanese guy whom we later named "Albert Nietzsche" because we couldn't remember his actual name, he looked like an Albert, and he liked Nietzsche. We are tired. We go to his house and take a nap. We wake up at 5 and go to the Tsukiji fish market. This was neat.

Back to the listing of things:
Monday/tuesday- staying out late and karaoking again (this time with people we actually knew), visiting some Shibuya staples like Tokyu Hands.
Tuesday- Yokohama Chinatown, trick art museum, Ram's friend's shop with a dysfunctional Tarot deck, and the very unique aquarium
Wednesday- Asakusa, Kappabashi-Dori (the cooking supplies street! I bought a knife!), conveyor sushi, the music supplies district and the bookstore district whose names I forget, and then Shimo-Kitazawa, a hip cool neighborhood that Ram and I like a lot.
Thursday- Hokane and Ice Cream City. A lot of trains this day.
Friday- Viking!

And finally, some funny things:

At one point before I got there, a guy came up to Ram and his friend Pat and greeted them by brandishing his fist and shouting (of course) "FIST!"

Ram taught me a drinking chant that you can say when someone's taking a shot. It translates kind of like this:
What have you got?
You've got it because you're not drinking.
(sound that's supposed to represent masturbating)
(sound that's supposed to represent masturbating)
(different sound that's supposed to represent masturbating)
Tea-bag-gu! (and then on the "gu" you drink the shot.)

My coworker Tyler has a t-shirt that has some funny pictures and says "Spartan Mother." I met a guy in Japan wearing the same t-shirt.

A step had a warning sign that said "be careful of a level difference." I found that particularly amusing. If I were playing Dungeons and Dragons, I'd put that as a warning on a dungeon.

After noticing a sign for "Bar April Fool", Ram and I were joking about what such a trick bar could be. He suggested "it's not a bar, it's a barber!" where you come in for a drink and leave with a haircut. Then we saw a sign for a place that said exactly that: "Bar-ber."

What an anticlimactic way to end this post. So it goes.