Pistachio Binge

Alright, that was stupid. I just came back from a long day of work and class; it was 9pm; and there was no food in the house except for a plastic bucket-like thing filled with pistachios. I think it’s easy to see where this is going. Yeah, I just ate about 5 pounds of pistachios in one sitting. I tell ya, it’s breaking apart the shells that gets me. Since you have to work a little to get to that tasty center, it all seems like a healthy cycle of toil and reward, toil and reward.

Not helping; Ugh, I think I’m going to be sick. Cancel all my appointments!

(What do you mean I don’t have any?)

Ha ha.. i was just jokeing…. i actually did some work and here we are. The ultimate paper shredder reviews by portablecnerd are up! Check them out!

Cuil, and its Lukewarm Debut

Someone had forwarded me a link today to a new search engine called cuil.com. This new search engine was developed by three ex-Google senior engineers and claims to offer a new more updated approach for scouring the web. Apart from my initial frustration with the name which I struggled to pronounce phonetically—quill? queal? swill?—I was even more loath and blushed to discover that the correct pronunciation is in fact “cool”: as in, “cool.”com. This really bothered me. What people are not getting nowadays is that originality runs out after the first implementation. The whole spell-something-wrong-but-pronounce-it-different thing is completely old hat (much like that phrase). When “flickr” came out with their domain name back in 2004, it was interesting and different. The same goes for, “del.icio.us,” even “scribd.” So initially, Cuil.com already started at “1.0” for me before I even went to the site. And no offense to engineers (since I am one myself) but I have this feeling (call it a hunch) that it was most certainly one of the engineers who came up with that last season name; either that, or it was this guy.

But, taking aside the crappy name, I talked myself into a calm of openmindedness (which was tough) and attempted to honestly appraise this new search engine on its own functional merits. When I first went to the site, it was exactly as I would of expected it. One simple textbox and an Ajax-powered search “suggest,” that as you start typing will predict what you are going to say by querying other popular results. The suggest engine certainly needs some work, though, this is again not exactly a novel idea: this was something that Google had first developed—to better effect—and that you could use if you so elect. I don’t know about you, but I love Google’s “I’m feeling Lucky” button and use it as often as I remember it’s there. It’s a great way to save a click during quick web searches and more often than not will land you in the place you had hoped to be. Cuil, to my dismay, did not have one. In addition, I use Google all the time to convert things for me. You know, pounds to feet, inches to currency, George Bushisms to English, and Cuil can not currently do this (seemingly easy thing). It can perform basic math, but anything beyond that, it assumes you were looking for a website: I typed in “31 inches in feet” in both Google and Cuil, and only Google gave me what I expected.

When you finally do click the blue search button to perform your query, unlike most search engines that display your result in an easy-to-read horizontal manner that is sorted according to rank, Cuil will instead take the liberty of showing you all your results in a nice confusing all-in-your-face manner, along with some pictures that don’t always align with the results. Call me old fashioned, but there was something off-putting about the results I got back. I don’t like too many things on a screen, and I like to read like I’m reading a book, straight down. And when I’m comfortable with the process, and feel like I’ve mastered it to my own satisfaction, I don’t want to have to readjust to a new format. This is perhaps why Google has kept up its classic look. It might also be the reason that electronic books like Kindle don’t fly off a shelf, or why we don’t use metal sporks at dinner table.

On a positive note, I will admit that the color scheme and overall interface looked rather clean and pretty. But, I’m not sure I want “pretty” in a search engine. I want fast results. I want utility. It should be like a Jeep, not a Mini Cooper. I was a bit hurt that my own website wasn’t indexed on cuil, despite their claim on the about page that states “Cuil searches more pages on the Web than anyone else.” All I could helping saying in my head was, “Really, is that so?”

Overall, when you consider everything else that Google has to offer, it is clear that to compete against such a behemoth would require you to compete on many other fronts aside from the search engine: I’m thinking, Gmail, Reader, blogspot, Maps, Documents, YouTube, et al. But since all these things which are already top-quality products are tightly woven into there flagship product, the Search Engine, it would certainly require more than just pretty colors and a different presentation to outdo them, or even to get enough people to switch over. No, it would require something a lot cuiler.

(see also: A counter-argument by friend and roommate Andrew.)

Snake Oil Salesman of the Modern Era

I was reminded this evening of a particular day at work in a job I once had. It was myself and two of my colleagues (all programmers) on the phone with two other guys, two other “programmers” (only this time with quotes). It took years for me to fully realize this, but there are people in life, especially in the corporate world, that can offer no useful products or services, apart from a real dexterous skill at the art of talking. While myself and my two other colleagues gathered these vendors together for a little chat to discuss some major design flaws in the product they delivered, the receiving party seemed to deftly avoid and turn on its head everything being said; they somehow turned an hour conversation into an hour signifying nothing: a brilliant art, a legerdemain of the mouth, a slight of tongue.

It started off innocently enough. There was a bland comment about weather, or more precisely, a comparison of the temperature of where we were, to where they were (a mere 200 miles away in Maryland, nothing to reign in National Geographic about). Then a bad, often sexist, joke is dropped. You might fake laugh because, at the time, it seems only the polite thing to do. And then, just like that, they have you. In a drunken haze of innuendo and frivolity, you hang up the phone, satiated, and bemused. Moments later you realize that in one whole hour, nothing had really been accomplished, and that that phone call just cost you 200$. The snake oil salesman of today wears a stripped J Crew tie, carries a laptop, and is glued to his cell phone—but is no less insidious, and no less unctuous. They distract their prey with flashy graphics, complex diagrams, and woo you with fanciful unrealistic promises. And before you know it, they are on your payroll permanently, a fixture on your budget. You may have first thought you were purchasing a temporary piece of plastic PVC piping from Island Plastics to fix a leaky system, but in the end, they are that costly plumber with the low hanging size 42 jeans, but who decides to move into your home.

What you never realize is that this plumber knows just as much about plumbing as you — that is, nothing at all. But, he sells his ignorance much better, and towards a more lucrative—more invidious—profit.

How to Cut a Mango

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You may have thought I was talking metaphorically. However, I am not. Cutting a mango is a serious art, that involves some very deft skill. There are even mango martial art dojos out there that explore this ancient technique, in a mind-body spiritual context, and combine it together in self defense. It is of course, similar to Tai Chi, but the Chi’s been replaced by a mango. Don’t believe me? Look it up in Wikipedia for yourself (in a few weeks or so–assuming they don’t take it down). Anyway, I unlock some of this mystery below in a few easy steps:

With your favorite samurai sword or kitchen knife cut the Mango; but do not slice down the center; slice it slightly off.

If you did it correctly, it should look like this:

Cut again, the larger half, like so:

Trim away the the large seed portion

repeat in like fashion (clearly, I don’t know what’s going in this picture)

Voila! Final cutting board should look like this. Doesn’t it look delicious? Now, you might imagine that the seed slip is the least favorite piece, but you would be wrong! It is the most coveted (at least by Sri Lankans).

And usually, Dad runs off with it unabashedly, as you can see here.

Review: “We The Living,” by Ayn Rand

Review: “We The Living,” Ayn Rand (Book 34 of 100)

WE THE LIVING is a great and interesting novel—though to be frank, I wouldn’t necessarily place it on the all-time top 100 book list. My suspicion is that it landed on this list much the same way that 12 Charles de Lint novels did, or 4 L. Ron Hubbards: in a word, “obsession.” There is such a cult-following surrounding the works of Ayn Rand that label anything she’s ever produced as worthy of unquestioned acclaim. Admittedly, I have immensely enjoyed a few of her other works, particularly “The Fountainhead,” a book I read in High School—though not for any class.

How did it happen—my reading that novel? (What’s that? You didn’t ask? Pardon the rhetorical, it serves as a segue for my sharing.) Maybe 10 years ago, in a physics class, a girl named Jessica had said something to a group of people that I happened to overhear. She and a few of her dorky friends that were all in the same “AP English” class were commiserating together—and out loud of course. To be sure, they were a tedious pretentious posse of privileged, pretty girls: sometimes obsequious, sometimes sycophantic, but always hard to ignore. Jessica, the more gregarious alpha-prig of the group had dropped the mention of this novel to my ears for the first time, “The Fountainhead.” Of course, this wasn’t nearly enough persuasion to pick up the strange book for myself, but I remember to this day something she had said soon after that motivated me toward it. What she said was that her older sister had read the book before, and had claimed, “It changed her life.” What an assertion! My interest was immediately piqued. How a fiction novel can change someone’s life, this I had to see for myself. I immediately purloined a copy and dug right in.

After reading, “The Fountainhead,” I actually had to admit it: I think the book did change my life. It is a silly story, with frankly a dull plot, and often very unrealistic dialogue and circumstances, however, there is something laced within the pulp that may adjust your view on certain things. What those certain things are, I haven’t the slightest idea—which I realize is very unhelpful. But, that book, for certain, I really do recommend. Although, I suspect that that same profound effect the book had on me then, was probably augmented by my having still been in High School. Whether it would have a similar affect now—assuming I had never read it—I cannot say for certain, but I’m very willing to doubt it.

Having said that, and now realizing that I’ve said very little about my topic book, “We The Living,” I hope I’ve at least set the background to the extratextual associations surrounding the works of Ayn Rand in many lives, as well as my own, and also in large part to why her books are so sanctimoniously revered—regardless of their literary merit.

“We The Living” was Ayn Rand’s first novel, and like her later works, contains a layer on top of the narrative—best described only as spiritual—that is less substantial and often unrealistic—or perhaps, just Russian. The characters bleed emotion, and are incredibly complex. They engage in philosophical transcendental musings and acts that truly take place nowhere aside from the closed sphere of printed matter. One thing for certain, the book does offer an excellent first-person glimpse into the specifics of communist Russia during the 1920s. You can hear the shouts at the picket rallies, the windy dogmatic speeches bellowing in repetitive ideology to a receptive, though desperately starving, and utterly impoverished proletariat. But, and more closer-to-home, you can see what it’s like to not have a ration card, and try in earnest to support an ailing family. To see your wife cough-out blood and die on a bed, after being refused at a hospital for less-than-perfect party alliances. It is often, a very sad story. If I say more, I would risk ruining it for any that might want to read it.

To describe in brief the general plot, it is about a woman,– a young girl at first–Kira Argnovask-too-long-to-remember, as she grows up in an environment that is completely changing, mostly, if not all, for the worse. But instead of becoming consumed by the exerternalities outside of her control, and falling-in, capitulating, she does what she can to keep her sense of self from being conquered.

As you can see, it is hard for me to describe this book without wading into the metaphysical. In short, I will say that I enjoyed “We The Living.” It wasn’t as fast moving as some other books that I’ve read, and as such, was a bit harder to get into. However, the novel is incredibly complex—one can probably develop an entire course around the book. And I’m sure, I haven’t given this book nearly the credit it deserves. It would probably take me a few more gray hairs, and years under my eyes, and certainly a few more readings, to begin to approach that. But, if you are looking for something deep; if Anna Karenina is your favorite novel; if you have Ayn Rand posters in your bedroom, and an “I’m with Ayn” bumper-sticker on your ’87 Bug, then this book is certainly for you.

iPod Touch. tap…tap…tap

Alright, I caved. I bought a new iPod touch. Now I’m sitting next to my laptop (but I’m not on my laptop), tethered by a stylish white USB cable, and tapping away at a 2 inch keyboard with my right index figure and writing a post. I imagine I most look something like Sloth from the Goonies over here, straining over this tiny dainty device, trying with marginal sucess at limiting my large simian, awkward fingers, from not mashing more than one key at once. It may take me 8 minutes or so to tap-out a complete sentence, but I will have to admit, I feel rather suave and 2.0 doing it. I just need a pair of black frame glasses, a cup of starbucks nonfat soy milk latte, and a black ribbed crew shirt to make the transformation official.

More literally speaking, I actually did purchase the 2.0 software upgrade which enables the installing of little 3rd party apps. I got the WordPress one (which is one of the few free ones) and so far it’s working great!

Well, Sloth is starting to get a little ancy doing all this finger taping, so I’m just going to turn in, for now.

Update: 100 Book New Year’s Resolution (goal)

We’re almost two-thirds of the way through the year 2008, and it’s about that time to look back at how well we’ve kept up with our New Year’s resolutions. I only made one this year: to read the top 100 books from the Modern Library’s Reader’s List. So far, I’m not doing as well as I hoped. But all is not lost, at least not yet. I’ve got about 34 books down with 66 more to go. Two books I’m dreading are “Ulysses” and “Gravity’s Rainbow,” which are lying on my bookshelf and seemingly weighing it down.

I will admit that I’ve made some modifications to the original list. A keen observer had noticed–and wrote a comment–that the list was excessively biased to a few authors, particularly L Ron Hubbard (founder of Scientology as you know) and Charles de Lint, an author of whom I’ve never in my life have heard of before. Since there were about a dozen novels by Lint on the list, I replaced a few of them with some of Jane Austen’s works. L. Ron Hubbard books on the other hand have been completely expunged and replaced by others works including Gilman’s “Herland,” Octavia Butler’s “Patternmaster,” and Zamyatin’s dystopian novel “We.” I haven’t quite completed my “modifications.” More Lint books are sure to get the axe soon, and be replaced by some suggested Latin American titles, that is, once I’ve acquired them.

I’m also taking another suggestion, and I’m going to start writing brief reviews on each book as I finish (something I wish I had thought of doing sooner).

Well, I hope your doing better at your own New Year’s Resolutions. Or maybe your one of the smart ones that didn’t make one at all!

A Misogynist Woman

My friend Anja (I’m just going to use her name and hope she doesn’t mind) said something that kind of threw me off-balance the other day. She began by relating how “surprised she is that there isn’t more general misogyny in the world.” Apparently, she has this sort of antipathy towards her own sex, a hatred towards women, which I don’t quite fully understand yet. I suppose she can get away with making such an assertion, because, well, she’s a girl. To this, she started to elaborate some, and I was bit shocked at what she said. The general assertion she was making wasn’t by itself groundbreaking, or pertaining to thoughts I hadn’t perhaps on occasion entertained myself, but it was the fact that it was being said out-loud, on Westminster Street, with the occasional finger literally pointing at passersby as walking hypotheticals that made me blush. — And if the melanin in my skin didn’t abscond manifestations of all shades of “blush,” the world might have seen it as well.

Thus, she began her little treatise, speaking out-loud unabashedly, inviting some very nasty looks and head-turns. We continued to walk together down the highly trafficked street, like Morpheus speaking to a Neo in a simulated Matrixed world. Apparently Anja is a bit old-fashioned, and is quite critical of how her sex has evolved within the last couple of decades. To her, she claims women have digressed into something she is ashamed to call her own. They are (or so she claims) the “lowest denominator of a Russian nested doll,” the matroyoshka, suggesting a stripping off of every last bit of modest decency, with nothing remaining but a tiny little caricature of assumed worth. I listened, impressed by her imagery and eloquence (though a little wary of the blanket generalizations), and it wasn’t long before she pointed to a 35 year-old plastic Corporate Barbie, smoking outside, wearing shapely office-attire, low-cut reveling top, a gray tight skirt-short, with heels comically high, to which she branched into a new [paragraph] on the “working-woman.”

In short, to Anja, the full-time woman-professional that strives to be at par with her male contemporaries, filing reports, attending meetings, firing people, is a digression. This is of course ironic since Anja is herself a professional, though she will rub this nuance off as unimportant, — not germane to the issue, — and to me, frankly confusing. She takes umbrage not at the women who needs to work to support herself and her family, but the independent woman, the woman that needs “only herself, a one-bedroom apartment, a man-hating cat, a good wine-bottle opener, and a sufficient enough quantity of ice-cream in the freezer to last through one complete disk of Sex and the City.” I nervously laughed through most of this: it seemed to be almost borderline “hate,” which the Christian side of me tends to abjure like the plague. How can anyone be against “woman’s rights” when it seems so fundamental to the equality of existence. There is no way I could be in support of anything like inequality for women, or support any suggestion towards disenfranchisement — just seems too unethical. But to hear this from a girl, no less, and girl that is being so vocal and passionate about her ethos, which seemed long-thought and pressurized in her head to finally erupt into such a mountain of vitriol, was too much for my meek and humble self to quietly bare — in a public venue no less.

I couched my objections for the time, (I mean, where to start?) and then begged first for a little more elaboration. According to Anja, you cannot find a women in the current time — or a least one worth commitment: your only recourse is to turn to fiction. To her, the model of true feminine grace and modesty are sealed forever in centuries past: the 18th, the 19th, century. The heroines of Jane Austen’s pen: Elinor Dashwood, Lizzy Bennet, Emma Woodhouse, Catherine Morland, and Anne Eliot. Women today, she claims, have stained that sacred veil of purity that was once their most precious garment. Holding the self-low, in terms of virginity and feminine modesty, have turned Sarah Jessica Parker into the modern day heroine, and “what kind of life is that really?” she questioned: women in their mid-to-late thirties, unmarried, going out and glorifying their own promiscuity in the name of female independence; it is a “rebellion against natural gender roles that have sustained human life for 200,000 years.” This is when she took an angry and rather vocally harsh turn towards homosexuality, particularly against what she called “post-” lesbianism, which I should mention is quite dangerous to do in the middle of Providence and all — but again, she’s a girl. While she doesn’t take aim at homosexuals in general, she objects to the winked approval of lesbianism, and the high-esteem it has attained as a highly sexualized, and desirable practice. This, she claims, the curtain-approval and sealing of homosexuality as a purely normal and natural occurrence, that needs to be embraced and open as such, has attracted many otherwise straight women to lesbianism purely as a surrogate to men — who are now unneeded as the gender divide collapses.

“What has equality brought us,” she asks, rhetorically. “Voting, equitable wages” was my immediate response. To my disbelief, she actually attacked “voting” as something that has only perpetuated the problem: “Hillary Clinton” was her one-name response to it — which I found a bit weak and unconvincing. I mean, really, how is Hillary Clinton and her large pool of her supporters really perpetuating this new kind of implosive feminism? Anja claims that women have given up too much in exchange for too little: a pawning of their gentle femininity, to gain an illusory promise, that has yet to realized. The chivalry of the past, lasting fulfilling marriages, and a life of motherhood has been traded in for an insatiable appetite for power and independence that gives birth to bastard children, and second-divorces. The once prized domestic skills of the woman cast off like chains of bondage, when in truth, they were the pillars of a noble home. Anja suggests that men look at her, and other women, cheaply: grouping all women into the homogeneous batter of stereotype; that instead of seeing a life-long companion, and a mother, they see a 3-month fling, and a night of off-the-books fun.

After all this, I didn’t really quite know where to stand, or how to respond. Her plea was doleful, her face in mourning, and the arguments at times were convincing. I hope she’s wrong.

Candy Aspirin

Oh man, if this is what my back feels like at 25, I can’t imagine what it will feel like at 75! Yesterday morning, I woke up in agony grasping my back and making geezer-like guttural squawks of pain—to no one in particular. However, the pain was slight enough to allow me to momentarily hustle with nimble alacrity to my computer where I subsequently emailed myself out of work. And once that submit button depressed, the smile and effusions of steady dopamine that had suddenly lifted my spirits from that successful call-out-sick feeling, was all divested, transmogrified back into sharp-shooting pain.

The next several minutes was spent trying to open the ibuprofen container, and which, after having succeeded, I quickly swallowed, chased with nothing but desperate swallow noises and some fist pounding to the chest. Then, after several hours, the miracle happened. The pain mollified away from those awful pinching sensations, into a quiet and steady annoyance—nothing more. This I could live with; this I could rightly go to work with (I didn’t of course).

I praised the efficacy of the ibuprofen! Wonder drug! How you mitigate all out fears and dumb our nerves into subjection. But then, it hit me. How do I know it was really the ibuprofen, and not just, the natural healing effects of, well, time? And then, seeing how I had all day to do nothing but ponder, I then extrapolated my curiosity into all medicine. For how many years have we displaced credit to our bodies natural healing propensity, and instead in genuflected wonder, worshiped the capsule? I wonder if the pain in my back would have alleviated just the same had I taken a white mint tic-tac. They say (as in the “royal they”) that placebos, inactive sugar pills, have in many instances proved to have the same effect as actual medicine. It is the act of fooling our minds to believe in our own chemical-cocktail and innovation to prompt healing. Fascinating! It’s like we want to go out of the way with to avoid giving credit to the miraculous regenerative capacity of our body. Even Chicken-soup is implicated!

It suppose it’s just easier to believe in what we can understand, our own concoctions, than something we can’t: life, the enigmatic body.

Okay, Nobody Cares Anymore

(This is the last despondent political post of the year, I promise.)

Is it me, or has this been the longest presidential campaign season ever? What’s worse, it’s just the primaries! We’re only preparing for the real thing. It’s primer! The heavy white ugly gelatinous stuff you cover you house with before you paint. Sandpapering the deck before you stain it. Gesso! It’s all tedium.

If any good thing can be said about this primary season, it is that it has served to disillusion me to the whole process—like Dorothy unveiling “The Wizard”. The process is broken. The American Pride-O-meter is starting to look like our automobile’s fuel gauge. Families can’t talk about American foreign policy without wanting to beat each other up; the presidency has never been spoken-of before with so much ridicule. We all have strong positions on specific matters, but none of it really leaves dinning room chatter, or blog posts—none of it is actually implemented. We can talk till we’re blue in the face about how stupid the Iraq war is, but, we’re still going to be in Iraq. I’m not an advocate for despondency—nor can that ever be a cure. But like any real problem, the first step—before any treatment can be prescribed–is admitting one has a problem.

The first problem is, of course, the media. The parade that has become the presidential primary campaign is nothing short of nauseating. It’s float after float, in a short repetitious route of the same few people. Hilliary, then Obama, then Hillary again, oh no, it’s that loony McCain, appearing on the cover of Time as some newfound hero. Then you read the article, and discover that you’ve discovered nothing new. We are guilted into being “informed” people, chasing an illusory high of current events—which is perhaps one of the most brilliant and subtle commercial techniques of all time. News is a product. We often equate reading a magazine, or the daily newspaper as something akin to eating our daily vegetables, or getting our daily dose of fiber. But really, this does not deserve a pat on the back. The more we consume it, the more we are hurting the process. It is a gossip triangle we can only get caught in — ultimately offering nothing of true value, other than consuming our time, and grasping our subliminal attention to the Ford Wrangler on the top of Mount Green-Room separating the 4-page story of Obama and his lifelong suspicious church-affair with Reverend Wright.

The news manufactures news. Don’t you ever find it suspicious that every day the daily newspaper is exactly the same size? That every week, Time magazine has a new “fascinating” cover article. I don’t know about you, but sometimes, an empty inbox is a happy inbox. It tells me: “nothing to see down here, best just go enjoy your life.”