April 2017

2 May 2017

I hate ads. At least bad ads–spammy popups, billboards, unwanted phone calls–but I have soft spot for podcast-style commercials. Brief and solicited by the host, they’re actually credible and targeted to me. This blog isn’t sponsored, but here are some endorsements:

 

In my final days of 23, I submitted DNA to 23-and-Me. In fewer than the advertised 6-8 weeks, I learned I’m of 99.8% European descent, lactose-intolerant, blue-eyed, and not a carrier of major disease. At least nothing the tests caught. I highly recommend the service. As the company continues to flesh out their genetic research, more information will be available to patrons of the site. The more contributors, the better the results–so give your body to genetics. To science!

 

I’m not into clothes–I hate shopping and feel more comfortable naked. But I believe every man should have a good suit, myself included. For the past six years, I’ve attended formal events in the mismatched sport-coat and slacks from my high school prom. The pants were getting worn and the coat a bit tight in the shoulders. It was time for an upgrade. Rather than drag myself to a crappy department store and buy a crappy suit, I used Indochino. Applying the discount code from my favorite podcast, I got a custom wool suit for quite a bargain. Charcoal with adjustable sleeves, custom stitching, and an embroidered interior; perfect for any occasion and many moons. All without leaving my door.

 

Jealous of birds? I’ve been there. Bored by planes? Me too. Enjoy dangerous sports with legal ambiguity and unending thrill? Who doesn’t? I’ve wanted to hang glide for many years, and this month I indulged in that dream. After a short drive to Milpitas on weekend mornings, I spent several hours learning the basics of constructing and flying a hang glider. East Bay Hang Gliding offers in-depth lessons on a beautiful California hillside.

 

It was a good month. Now onto May.

 

Soylent Nectar Isn’t People

10 April 2017

Last week, I drank Soylent and ate nothing else.

Monday through Friday–breakfast, lunch, and dinner–all Soylent. Five bottles of 400 calories and all your daily nutrition.

Now this isn’t to be confused with the 1973 film Soylent Green, in which an overpopulated America begins grinding up people to sell meal replacement tablets. These pills were projected to exist in 2022. We’re but five years and a bottle away.

Soylent currently comes in powder and liquid form and has a few flavors–Original (chalky Cheerios), Cacao (chalky Cocoa Pebbles), Nectar (chalky Fruit Loops), and Coffiest (I can only assume chalky coffee; didn’t have it). Nutrition bars are in development, but no pills are on the market…yet. This isn’t a supplement like Muscle Milk or Pediasure, but a full meal replacement. Not only does it cut the time of meal prep, but Soylent is 100% vegan (so no human parts, to my knowledge) and has all the vitamins and minerals you need. It’s convenient, affordable, and tastes okay. It’s the sustenance of utopia.

But I’m not joining the cult. For now.

After a week of drinking liquified chalk, I gained a new appreciation for food. I now enjoy the variety of taste and texture and the act of chewing. My initial thoughts for trying Soylent was to improve efficiency and gain more free-time. Instead of slaving away in my kitchen to prepare meals, I could chug a Soylent and do more interesting things. But I didn’t find this to be the case. I often felt unfulfilled. I wasn’t hungry, but I craved food. Smell became more apparent. The neighbors’ daily cooking spices tickled my nose and aroused my palette. Distractions appeared everywhere as I longed for an opportunity to relax and turn off my mind. The time I used to complete tasks expanded to fit the new time I had gained–without improving quality or satisfaction. Ergo, upon consuming my last bottle of Soylent Friday afternoon, I indulged in a steak dinner and spent the weekend cooking meals for the week to come.

And this meal prep wasn’t tedious. It was quite enjoyable. Pre-Soylent, I was annoyed by the practicality of it–I needed to eat and this was the most affordable means to doing so. Post-Soylent, this was a choice. Whereas volunteering is more fun than work, cooking and eating food became more fun when it wasn’t required. I am by no means a foodie, but I am human and eating is beneficial to me. Socially, it’s nice to share a lunch. Personally, dinner is a mechanism to unwind from the day. The process of preparing a meal and consuming it helps refocus me and actually makes me more productive.

But this isn’t to say that Soylent failed. On the contrary: Soylent fulfilled all of my nutritional needs and kept me full. It proved that a pure liquid diet is feasible for me. Does that mean I’ll live entirely off Soylent in the future? Maybe. Will I in the foreseeable future? No. I’m not busy nor evolved enough to completely abandon traditional meals.

Soylent certainly has a place for contemporary breakfast or backup meals. It’s the new, healthy fast food and could honestly improve the health of many people worldwide–provide supplements to those lacking and cut the reliance on food to those consuming in excess. It has the potential to solve world food crises and may very well be the meal of the future. But until society changes to a food-less culture, Soylent may stay an interest of efficiency-obsessed Millennials. We’re too young to get the reference.

March 2017

1 April 2017

March was boring. Relative to the last few months, I did little of interest to anyone other than me.

 

This month allowed me to acclimate to my new work and get situated at my new residence. I did some spring cleaning in multiple regards–environmentally via Craigslist sales and Goodwill donations, mentally via cutting back personal projects , physically via dental and optometric exams, professionally via resume cleanup, digitally via server consolidation, and spiritually via bad habit kicking. Isn’t that exciting?

 

I had acquired the bulk of my living room furniture for $9 when living in Schenectady. I’ve travelled with it since, but with my now slightly smaller apartment, I was better off without it. The same went for a pile of old t-shirts and a microwave. Moving apartments a lot generates a deal of excess. Some units have microwaves, some don’t. Some have balconies and others dryers. As such, each move leaves you with excess in some things and a shortage in others. One of these current shortages was a living room rug. After a beloved trip to Ikea, I stand behind the Dude: It really tied the room together.

 

This March was the Lenten season, so I was inspired to kick bad habits and hold a series of personal retrospectives. The result: A realization that I waste an inordinate amount of time on personal projects that yield more headache than value. I’m now trying to divert that energy into cultivating better holistic health. I scheduled my annual appointments to get new contact lenses and an inspiration to floss. So far, I’ve been consistent enough for my gums to stop bleeding. Small wins. I also cleaned up my digital life. Rather than spending $30/month on highly customizable virtual servers to host my blogs, I switched to HostGator for a 3-year shared contract at a quarter of the price. Did I mention this post was sponsored?

 

But it wasn’t a wholly boring month. On the weekend, I explored the surrounding landscape. From wandering about Mount Diablo–the ~4000 ft mountain that overlooked San Ramon–to the hills of Las Trampas, I can now say that the idyllic rolling green hills are just as majestic to the touch. It’s a beautiful area that inspires me from the inside out.

 

February 2017

7 March 2017

February began in Schenectady for a weeklong work event. After spending time with peers, I got to ski on my first non-Michigan mountain. So, my first mountain. After New York, I flew back to my apartment in New Orleans and moved out my remaining possessions in the morning. It was good to leave. As much as appreciated the character of New Orleans, living next to Canal and Bourbon Street wasn’t a good fit for me. Too much vomit on the sidewalks, music in the streets, and crowds. If I live in the area again, I’ll keep some distance from tourist territory.

 

I spent the day driving through Louisiana toward Shreveport. I stopped at Driskill Mountain as dusk fell and capped my 24th highpoint. The relative elevation and surrounding hardwood forest impressed me. After leaving, I drove through Texas and slept at rest area outside of Dallas. It was the first time I slept in my truck in almost two years, so it was a much-needed night. In the morning, I continued across Texas, marveling at the unexpected scenery–a hillside littered in nothing but truck beds and the coexistence of oil wells, wind turbines, and beef cattle. I entered New Mexico, stopped at a curio shop along Route 66, and bought a horsehair hoodie. That night, I wimped out, got a hotel, ate at Denny’s, and soaked in the hot tub.

 

The next day, I kept trucking through Arizona. The curvy and pothole-ridden roads that wound through the snowy, coniferous mountains of Flagstaff threw me off guard. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought I was in Montana. As the sun was setting, I crossed the Colorado River to California. Interestingly, there was an agricultural border patrol. Thankfully, they permitted my palm trees and bamboo plants. The trip would have been for naught otherwise. That evening, I slept in another rest area near Bakersfield. It was incredibly windy. I could feel it against the truck as I lied down. The dull white noise relaxed me.

 

On the fourth day, I finished my 2,200 mile journey to San Ramon. On the final stretch of the trip, I enjoyed the rolling green hills–finally relieved from the seven-year drought–and the countless wind turbines they hosted. I moved into my apartment and re-acquainted myself with the Bay Area–from the bag-less grocery shopping to the self-absorbed residents. In the remaining days of the month, I settled into my new home and new job. My truck, having now earned the name “Old Faithful,” received a well-deserved break as I incorporated biking into my daily commute and default mode of transportation. With a recreational trail behind my apartment and work and a BART station no more than 5 miles away, I can reach most anywhere I need via bike. This is great physically, economically, and environmentally and something I’d like to keep up wherever I live in the future.

 

The stark contrast between New Orleans and the Bay Area is something to note. New Orleans–despite being dirty, chaotic, and rampant with questionable infrastructure–had rich culture, enjoyment, and friendly people. It was very human. The Bay Area is the opposite. It is clean, efficient, and orderly. While there is plenty to do and enjoy, the people are not as friendly–more self-important and terse in interactions–and there is little culture or identity. I will enjoy living in the land of the robots, but I will miss the humanness of New Orleans.

 

Louisiana

10 February 2017

I was moving from New Orleans, Louisiana to San Ramon, California. After a week of forced social activity, the four-day solo road trip was heavenly. En route, I decided to cap Louisiana’s highpoint. I had lived in the state for six months, but had not yet made the drive from New Orleans.

 

As far as elevation goes, Louisiana was flat. Much of the southern part of the state was at or below sea level. I was half-expecting the highpoint to be a pile of rocks on the edge of a swamp. I was pleasantly mistaken (although there was still a pile of rocks at the summit). In the northwest corner of the state, Mount Driskill was a somewhat prominent peak with visible surface relief. I arrived to the cemetery parking lot around 17:30–just before sunset–and surprisingly found a trail to the summit. I had expected to hop out of the car, snap a picture, and keep trucking.

 

After I took the mile-long trail to the peak and photographed myself, darkness had fallen. The hardwood forest covering the mountain was quite lovely–the trees tall and straight, quite unlike the gnarly swamp trees I had become accustomed to. Critters scurried through the fallen leaves and brush around me, invisible to the eye but clear to the ear. It was both calming and eerie. Natural environments like this typically relax me, but something about this situation made me uneasy. Whenever I left my truck in sparsely populated areas, I always had the unsettling feeling that something would be waiting for me when I got back. So I hastened my stride and began running. The unfamiliar ground seemed to lash out with hidden roots. The invisible critters grew claws and fangs in my imagination. Hair bristled on the back of my neck, as if triggered by watching eyes. As I emerged from the forest, my worries were justified. I saw a red truck running next to mine. My first thought was police, followed by annoyance. My second thought was vandals/thieves, followed by anger. My third thought was murderers, followed by fear. By the time I burst out of the trees, I hadn’t thought the third. As I ran across the cemetery, the truck reversed and peeled out to the road. I heard the sound of a woman screaming “Stop! Help!” Then the third thought entered my mind. I couldn’t see through the windows of the truck, but the screams continued as it sped down the road. Panicked, I fumbled for my keys and unlocked my truck. I didn’t want to get involved, but I couldn’t turn a blind eye. Igniting the engine and reversing, I headed down the road after the red truck.

 

Unfortunately, I was too late. The tail-lights had disappeared. The road had diverged into several smaller roads, like a river breaking into a dozen tributaries. Almost every driveway I saw had a red truck parked in it. I heard no more screams and there was nothing left to chase. Stricken with guilt and helplessness, I turned around and headed to the border. Goodbye, Louisiana.

 

Mount Driskill. 535 ft / 163 m. 4 February 2017.

 

Louisiana

January 2017

9 February 2017

The first month of 2017 was dead. Deader than a doornail.

 

It started with the bang of a hundred amateur fireworks in New Orleans and ended quietly in Schenectady. January always seemed to move quick. Although short-lived, the month was amok with activity and change, as these were my final days working in Louisiana.

 

I finally visited the WWII Museum and learned how little I knew about the War. The establishment was impressive–architecturally staggering, historically rich, and crafted to elicit the immensity of events in the not-so-distant past. The displays walked you through countless stories and the theatre left you in awe. To say the least, my perspective on contemporary American life changed after the visit. As much as I hate prescribing “must do” activities, the WWII Museum is certainly a must do in New Orleans.

 

In my last month, I also made several trips across the river. One with family to eat at a restaurant. One alone to bike around. One to hand-deliver a t-shirt I sold on Etsy. And another with a friend. The last trip was the last ride of the night, and we got trapped in Algiers. The bridge was inaccessible to walkers, sadly, and we had to get a Uber.

 

When this same friend was visiting, we took a day trip to Biloxi, MS to swim in the Gulf. The water was surprisingly warm (for Michiganders), and seagulls and contraband littered the beach. We almost stepped on a syringe.

 

The tailgate of my truck had rusted beyond repair, so I buried it in a dumpster. It was oddly sad leaving it behind–felt as though I was abandoning a piece of me, like a severed arm. I imagine that if my arm was ever chopped off, I’d like to keep it. Seeing that it’s not a renewable resource, like hair or fingernails, it would be weird to throw it away forever. Nonetheless, the severed tailgate made reversing my truck easier.

 

A Year of Daily Videos

7 January 2017

I’ve completed my 2016 resolution: record a daily 2-second video. The result is a 12-minute movie that encapsulates my year one day at a time. Personally, it’s quite beneficial–the short clips elicit flashbulb memories of days and events that would otherwise be forgotten. This is especially true for mundane activities like driving, cleaning, and shaving.

 

This project was inspired by Cesar Kuriyama’s 1 Second Everyday, where he recorded a one-second video each day for several years. Watching these videos give a look into his life that photos or journal entries can’t quite capture. Building off Cesar’s idea, my creative contribution was adding an extra second to each video and releasing in monthly increments. Two-seconds allowed for a longer glimpse of each day and made for more elegant time-boxes–each month was a minute and the year twelve. Releasing monthly helped me keep up the discipline, as it broke a large project into more achievable chunks. Sharing the videos on Facebook and Twitter offered more opportunities for feedback and gratification, as it would spark conversations with friends and motivate me to keep filming. A few of my friends now film “minutes months” too.

 

Overall, 2016 was a good year to film. It started with a painting of God on the streets of Manhattan and ended in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Along the way, I moved from New York to South Carolina to Louisiana, started an independent press (Ugly Sapling), rode motorcycles, toured Europe, won NaNoWriMo, and learned to sleep on airplanes. Living in three very different places doing very different work and spending time with very different groups taught me that many things are very similar. For better or worse, this view has changed me. Here’s 2016 through my eyes:

 

 

 

So what’s next?

 

Besides filing 3 state tax returns (yay…), I’ll be running more experiments with Ugly Sapling, publishing a novel, and moving to California to finish my rotational program. There’s a lot I’m excited for in 2017. And I’m filming it all, with no intention of stopping.

 

Happy New Year!