The Agony and the Ecstasy

The Agony and the Ecstasy was my favorite dish at a stylish Japanese restaurant on the Upper West Side during the ‘90’s and has stayed with me since that time as a short hand description for living. As a dish, it was tarted up with wasabi and overpriced Tokyo style curry poured onto rice, but as a metaphor, is aptly descriptive of my life as a constant outsider. What curry and wasabi agony that was offered by the dish was paired well with the moderately ecstatic Asian sweet potato humming nicely with some carrots, interposed by the mediating beef, its fat and broth filling out the dish. It was a particularly nasty looking green which gave it the look of Star Trek food, the kind that would give Scotty and McCoy fits when offered by alien dignitaries.

One of the habits that I have is that if I like a particular dish at a restaurant, I get stuck on it and will only order that same dish over and over again. The corollary to this rule is that after about two years, I stop going. Two years is about when I get tired of it. As I had mentioned in prior posts, the half life of human desire is about six months. In two years, whatever passion I had for the dish drops by four half lives or over 90%. Without a meaningful change in the dish, the natural refractoriness of my dopamine receptors kicks in –refractoriness refers to a nerves inability to give off the same intensity of signals if used again and again. The dish, once ambrosia becomes sawdust.

I am ecstatic when reveling in the new. I like the new car smell on the latest gadgets as they come out of their box, and figuring out the essence of a new surgical procedure has that same allure. New people, new surroundings, new foods –this is what gets me going. Of course, life wouldn’t be what it is without the agonies, and I engage these with the conviction that no matter how overwhelming the circumstances, brain chemistry dictates that the intensity of feelings on the agony side of things will wane too. All bleeding stops eventually, we say in the OR. So it is that life change takes about two years to settle into a steady state. A new job, a new relationship, fresh grief – any life change takes about 2 years to reach a digestible state. It took Tiger Woods two years to win again after all.

Which makes you think about marriages and how they survive romantic love. The old coffee machine that we got on our wedding day lived with us for the past 17 years. It was a Krups combination drip brew and cappuccino maker. My wife, Jennifer, says it was a metaphor for our marriage. At the start, we kept a variety of beans to grind fresh for every pot, occasionally making espresso and cappuccino, but eventually, we settled on cans of Melita Classic, which we found to be a superior ready to brew grind. At about year 7, I broke the pot, but Jen found a replacement. Two years ago, the heating element broke, but Jen managed to find a source for spare parts and she performed the necessary surgery on it to repair it. It was this year she realized that our coffee was not as good as it used to be after she tried the coffee that came out of our friends very expensive European coffee maker, and it was it some sadness we are saying goodbye to the old machine –the new one arrived from Amazon. It’s letting go of the past, accepting change, and anticipating the new that is both agonizing yet full of hope. Marriages, by definition, are rife with moments of agony and ecstasy, but when faced together with your partner, they become surmountable.

If I am to escape the fate of the old coffee maker, I have to actively engage, fearlessly renew, and aggressively freshen. Sophomore slumps are the result of passivity and laziness of the mind. Looking back on seventeen years of marriage, I can see that at some point, I was a drip coffee maker, once shiny and new, but now I am a fully automatic, self cleaning espresso machine, slightly used, but perfectly serviceable. Ciao.

20111213-204151.jpg

Grandparents Explain Their Journey

My grandparents in 1981 describe their origins. I was 14 when I filmed this. The whole thing is in Korean, sorry no subtitles in English. It is a two hour retelling of my grandfather’s life story meant to be told to his future generations -which now thirty years later is us. He was born to a family whose fortunes fell in the twilight of the Yi dynasty, becoming more desperate after Japanese occupation, but through unimaginable effort, was able to parlay people skills and intelligence into prosperity for a time, but losing everything again, including his mother, when the Korean war forced our family out of our native Gaesong. It’s not an uncommon story from the 20th century, but one that is resonant and inspiring to me. My grandmother who passed away in 1992 speaks up about 40 minutes into the story which is mostly my grandfather’s. The videotape that it was on was Betamax which I had converted in Korea in the late 90’s -my cousin had it done for me. It was not cheap, because by then, it was a dead Sony format. The VHS copy stayed with me through all my moves and I finally digitized it in 2008 and parked it on mobileme, but most of my cousins couldn’t get it to run for some reason even with quicktime. The recent move to iCloud forced me to move it back and now it lives on wordpress.

My grandfather is still alive at 101 (based on his birthdate given in the video), but according to our family’s reckoning, he is 107, although this may be the relic of a fiction given to the Japanese Imperial Army to avoid being drafted. His memories are a link to a forgotten and lost Korea that was poor economically but rich culturally.

Zombie Gunship -a review, and an explanation of why Zombie things relax me

Zombies are definitely putting their stamp on the zeitgeist. Until recently, vampires were all the rage, but they were never my cup of tea. While vampires are about forbidden seduction -think Don Draper and your mom (didn’t know he was a vampire, did you?). The thing that people don’t get about Zombie movies and fiction is that the Zombies aren’t really the center of the action. This was illustrated in one of the finest Zombie movies to date, The Road (didn’t know it was a Zombie movie, did you?). Zombies are the Gom Jabbar of a Humanity Test (didn’t think I’d reference Dune, did you?). Like a round of golf, a person’s response to a Zombie apocalypse is all about character.

Zombie Gunship is an iOS game that puts you in an orbiting AC130 airplane equipped with mini guns, and two different kinds of cannons. In it, you are the gunnery captain whose task is to obliterate zombies marching on the entrance to a bunker complex. It’s night time, and the battle field is lit up in infrared. Uninfected humans light up the screen bright white, while the walking dead Zombies are a cold black heat sink on IR HUD. Your job is to kill the zombies, keep them from breaching the bunker entrance, but allow the humans through.
The Zombies, when not attacking the bunker, munch on the humans. The problem is that you are allowed to kill only 3 humans inadvertently before it game over -the commander orders you out of the airspace. It’s a simple game with no other characters or maps (a common complaint in the reviews) to mess things up. You gain credits for zombie kills and for each human who make it into the bunker, and you use these to upgrade the weaponry. You can also buy credits through the game (slick) so you can max out the specs on your three gun types (don’t ask me how much I’ve spent).
On an iPhone, the game is a portable addiction like a bag of jelly bellies. On the iPad, it’s engrossing and all consuming, like a really big bag of jelly bellies, and it is the way to play this game. The hook is this. You score better when you ignore the humans and just kill zombies, but then you see the poor blokes getting attacked by the zombies, albeit in tiny ant-sized distance on the infrared. You then are compelled to rescue them with a well gauged barrage from the mini gun, or a carefully distanced blast from the 40mm auto cannon. If you successfully kill the zombie and free the human, you get some points, and praise from the commander. You feel good about yourself in fact. In fact, you end up caring for the poor people running in the night for the shelter of the bunker and may get sidetracked into playing hero. Unfortunately, in this game, and as in all good Zombie movies, playing empathetic hero is not the best way to win at this game. The most efficient at clearing the approaches of zombies without killing yet not rescuing humans do best. There is no punishment for letting Zombie nature take its course.
A recent NYT article (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/07/books/review/the-state-of-zombie-literature-an-autopsy.html) pontificated about the Zombie phenomena, tying its popularity to the uncertainties of our times. I would add that Zombies have been with us before Romero created them as the basic fear of being consumed by anything that is not us -whether it is a great white shark, a Tyrannosaur, or an illegal immigrant.
Despite the fearsome images and terrifying drama of good Zombie films and literature, I find them a compelling and a great way to unwind and relax. A Zombie apocalypse, it turns out, does not necessarily favor the strongest or best armed. Rather, aside from a bit of luck, you need your wits. A Zombie armageddon is fair and meritocratic. A level playing field. And who doesn’t like that?

update: iPad’s cost/benefit bar set high by Hackintosh netbooks

Addendum: 3/30/2011 -as I await the arrival of my iPad 2, I can now look back at this post and chuckle. In the year since this post, netbooks have tanked as over 15million iPads were sold. While hackintoshing is fun for a while, the stress of upgrading the OS is not, and I sold the netbook, sans OSX. The Macbook Air covers the gaps left by iPad, and in fact, it is fairly rare for me to need a laptop when I have internet access via my iPhone or iPad. The iPad2 will be the 3G version on AT&T -I chose it because I want the flexibility of buying a local provider’s SIM card when I’m abroad. The thing is this -I don’t think that Apple will want to launch iPhone 5 this year, even though most contracts for iPhone cycle around the summer. It’s like giving gifts to a girlfriend -the timing has to be right and given too frequently, you beg for contempt.

If you want to know what the iPhone5 will look like, I think you can see it in both the iPad2 and more importantly the iPod Touch 4G. iPhone5 will be similar to both with metal back and thinner. It will also feature a 4 to 4.5 inch screen. If it is to keep it’s battery life while getting skinny, it will have to get wider and taller. iPhone4 won’t be phased out but will become the cheap phone.

FROM LAST YEAR JANUARY -MARCH, 2010

The iPad launch yesterday was not up to the hype -you needed the device to have time travel capabilities for people to be satisfied. That said, the question for this first adopter among first adopters is, “Where does this fit in my man purse?”

I need portable internet access for many reasons -I write a lot and am working on several research projects as well as need to keep in touch with a vascular team -the iPhone (now disconnected from AT&T) still serves as my primary email device because the HTC TouchPro2 that I have from Verizon has a maddeningly inconsistent email app that jumps between HTC’s beautiful interface and the horrible, ugly Windows Mobile 6.5 bones underneath. Despite this, the TP2 has earned a semi-permanent place because of the $30 app called WalkingHotSpot which will turn the TP2 into a Wifi hotspot.

I have a maxed out dataplan and tethering plan through Verizon, so I am just using the data that I have already purchased, just not for a Windows laptop but also for my iPhone which I can now use again for my golf GPS apps.

The middle spot between a big laptop (my 15inch Macbook Pro) and the iphone is the need to have a bigger screen than my iphone especially for iTunes movies and content, but at the same time having a keyboard, with at least 5 hrs of battery life. The netbooks do fill this niche in terms of hardware very nicely, but the software just isn’t there. I have become very used to iLife and iWork -thinks look prettier and works nicer through these than anything in the Windows or Linux environment.

The solution came in the form of Hackintosh. The Dell Mini 10v is a netbook which seems to have been designed solely for Hackintoshing. Hackintosh is a non-Apple computer made to run Mac OS X. This technically is a breach of the software license, but I own the computer and I own the shrink wrapped software license for this Hackintosh.

With this, I have a portable internet solution that goes 5hrs on battery, and more with the additional battery, all for a total of $400 bucks for the hardware. If you choose to go this route, you should buy the OS license.

The instructions are here: link.

This works nicely for now, because Apple didn’t have something that effectively served my needs in this space. Now they have iPad. We won’t be able to get our hands on one for 59 days, 89 if you want the 3G/Wifi version. Maybe my netbook days are numbered.

I’ll tell you why. The trackpad, designed by Dell, is one of the worst pieces of industrial design ever created by humans. Dell, after I ordered the netbook, took my money but didn’t acknowledge I even ordered the netbook until I spent two hours on tech support. It was only through the graces of a very nice lady in India, that I eventually got a netbook 10 days later than promised. The next OS upgrade to 10.6.3 may break the netbook again, requiring another round of hacking, which I used to enjoy, but not so much anymore. The 10inch screen is adequate, but I know, compared to the OLED screen on iPad, it will be like night and day. I see that a lot of people are giving up their netbooks on eBay, and this is most likely because the hardware being, well, not Apple.

So I wait, with my proverbial tent pitched outside our local Apple store.

I F$#@ing Hate the Social Network, That’s Why You Have to Watch It

I fucking hate The Social Network. Not because it’s a bad movie -it’s very good and you should see it. The reason I hate it is it’s too good. During the entire first half hour, I felt like I was in one of my recurring stress dreams where I’m back at Harvard. In this dream, I am walking into Memorial Hall and sitting down with a stack of empty blue books, and I have three hours to answer questions that I know nothing about in a language that I cannot understand. < shudder >

Most of the first act was shot at Harvard, and the House dorms looked about the same as they did over twenty years ago.  What was more ingenious was the portrayal of undergraduate life there which was spot on. With those pictures rushed back the anxiety over social status, ethnicity, money, and the general envy and dismay towards all the Winklevosses who were there and above all of us. Hooray for Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin. They have changed the world.

Everyone who agrees, just poke me.

Swing 2011 v1.0

The winter is ebbing and spring’s arrival is a bird’s song chirping behind the grey fences of March. This is when my golf ambitions begin to rise, and I’m back in the golf hut for a another season’s preparation. My swing is much better than it was several years ago when I began this blog, but the real barrier to lowering my handicap was never ball striking, but rather the short grass and the grey matter. I’ve studied books on mind-spirit-action-golf, taken lessons from great masters of the game, and have electronically tracked and analyzed every aspect of my game. This year, I’m just going to go at it with just me, the sticks, and the tiny white ball. What’s promising about this approach -dumping several 15 footers for par over a weekend in a warmer part of our country a while back and managing my game for 2-3 strokes onto the green with twenty year old clubs that weren’t my own -my first round since last fall with no warmup or practice from the tips on an unfamiliar and challenging course I shot a 96 with three triple bogies. Just swing.

 

Lady Gaga is …Meadow Soprano!

I watched network television for the first time in years on Grammy night. In the lead up to the show, I caught the Anderson Cooper interview of Lady Gaga. I have been a big fan since her first album, and have always thought that her music was the thinking man’s pop music. Cooper notes in his interview that Gaga never looks the same twice, and it is true. Watching her music videos, not only her costumes change but her look changes, many times in the same video.

Gaga complained in the interview that photographers are always asking for her to show her real self. Without any irony, she points out she is sitting in lingerie with just eyeliner on for Cooper, and even here, it’s hard to see what she really looks like. She has perfected the mask of fame. What we really yearn for is a kind of candid Gaga photo of her sitting in a pink polo shirt and Bermudas drinking a gin and tonic with just some

minimal eye liner, natural lighting – something to connect her to our mundane self. She understands this and studiously avoids ever assuming she is off camera.

So we have to go to the source. Youtube only hints at her underlying self, and what comes out is a basically attractive young Italian-American woman (right) who went to private Catholic school and NYU.It is very hard to link this picture with the mostly nude pop superstar being interviewed by Cooper, but then a light went off.

In this season of golf senescence, I had taken to watching the whole of The Sopranos from Netflix, and the truth came to me. Gaga is Meadow Soprano (Jamie-Lynn Sigler, to left).  The face, the complexion, the eyes, all line up. It’s as if Meadow, instead of pursuing law, decided to go into performance art. Even more surprisingly, the internet rumor is that a young Stephanie Germanotta is has a cameo appearance as a high school girl watching Anthony, Jr., swimming in the 3rd Season episode, The Telltale Moozadell. 

Gaga takes these underlying bones and transforms herself with not only her masquerade and costume parade, but had some transformational moment where she decided she would no longer be just Stephanie Germanotta, NYU coed with a lot of fallback plans.

That was the question Cooper failed to ask.

 

Addendum:

I was watching the episode and found her -she is indeed in the scene as one of the girls on the bleacher smoking cigarettes and eating pizza while Anthony Jr., and a bunch of boys vandalize the school pool.

She enters the scene and it’s hard to tell if it really is Stephanie Germanotta, but as the camera pans away from her, you see Gaga revealed. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Operating on my Macbook Pro

Sent with Writer.
What to do with an out of warranty Macbook Pro

My Macbook Pro just ran out of its 3 year warranty. It has a dual core processor and runs well enough that it will be in use for many more years. I upgraded the ram to 4gB and despite its age, it runs the same processor as my current MacBook Air (MBA)-basically the same specs, only larger screen. Two things made it my home base computer rather than my portable machine.
The battery life is only 3 to 4 hours depending on the usage. Also, in 2007, the largest disk option was 160gB. On the MBA, the Flash memory based SSD imparts great speed and battery life because there are no moving parts. The only problem is that SSD’s still cost a lot of money -for a decent sized SSD of around 500gB, the cost runs over a thousand dollars. Knowing technology, that price will be half in a year and half still in two.

This means I need a stopgap. If I can keep the machine going another two years in useful condition, in two years, the laptop will in fact be faster still than it was when I bought it with better battery life.

That is where this bit of laptop surgery comes in. After shopping around on the internet, I came across this Western Digital laptop hard drive -500gB for $65! It arrived in a recyclable Amazon box. With instructions from the internet, I removed the screws from the laptop.

All the exterior screws on the Macbook Pro have a wax seal, and I suspect that something tips off the Apple techs when they open these cases that the warranty is voided. That is correct -opening the holy of holies will void your warranty. Too keep snoopers out, Apple has made it even more difficult to open their later uni-body laptops, starting with the screws which require proprietary screwdrivers -but even these are available on-line for the adventurous.

Installing the hard drive was fairly straightforward once the dissection was complete -just like in a real operation! I booted up using my Snow Leopard DVD and partitioned the drive into a 400gB section for the Mac and a 100gB section for Windows 7. I’ve become a huge fan of Windows 7, and running it on Apple Hardware is not only ironic, but really great. Using Time Machine (you have to back up to a plugged in hard drive before starting all of this), all of my documents, settings, and applications were restored.

This $65 dollar hard drive gives me enough space to live in for the next two years. It is also a 7200rpm drive, meaning it’s faster than the original stock 5400rpm drive. The drive that I removed I’ll hold onto for now. I will probably slip it into an enclosure and use it as a portable drive for movies and tunes, but with over 300gB of free space on the Mac segment, I’ll be fine for a while.

This is the reason why I prefer Apple hardware. The all aluminum case is still stylish and despite what they tell you, for word processing, internet surfing, movie watching, and photo processing -you don’t need a quad-core processor that will burn your lap. Not to knock PC’s but I have not had an HP, Dell, or a Sony last more than 3 years without dying or getting miserably slow. Plus, in 1-2 years, SSD’s will be cheap enough that there will be no question this machine will be around for many years.

Sent from my iPad

Spam and Clam Chowder

image

With the recent blizzard, and G getting a snow day, I thought a chowder would work well in warming us up. Chowder developed in the kitchens of inns and fishing homes of New England and Maritime Canada, and represents a kind of kibbles and bits stew. In that tradition, along with the clams (canned US origin) I added some leftover mashed potato from Alba (a local muy excellent restaurant) and minced Spam in place of bacon. The result was all very comfortable, angioplasty optional.

Windows 7 on Macbook Air: Finally A Windows PC that I Like

From Evernote:

Windows 7 on Macbook Air: Finally A Windows PC that I Like

This grainy photo above shows my shiny new Macbook Air running (GASP) Windows 7. While this feature has been available via a utility called Boot Camp, I had always run Windows XP in virtualization, first in Parallels, and currently in the open-source (free) Virtualbox. That said, I wanted a faster option, particularly to see if this set up would run 3D CT analysis software well. My current home workstation, a Dell desktop replacement laptop, slows to a crawl when I run this software, but something told me it may run better with the flashdrive enabled Macbook Air.

Buying a shrinkwrap Windows 7 was not fun -an initial trip to Best (not) Buy revealed that they were happy to sell you an empty box, but after they took your money realized the whole store was empty of actual Windows 7 disks. I therefore went to Amazon and was happy to find Windows 7 Ultimate for 40 dollars off the Microsoft price. It arrived two days later and away I went…

To the Apple Store to buy a Superdrive. I tried various ways of creating a bootable USB flash disk, but after several hours, decided to take the plunge and purchase the MacBook Air Superdrive. The Boot Camp setup was a little annoying -you had to download Boot Camp drivers and burn a CD to load onto your Windows drive. You then had to partition the hard drive -I initially set aside 25 Gb but now find that I am running out of space as I load up with necesary software.

After a few days of fiddling, and running it in Windows, I have to say I am surprisingly pleased. Windows 7 is as beautiful as Windows XP is mofugly. It anticipates your needs and just works -for example, drivers for my network printer were automatically downloaded upon adding it to the printer list. This sort of ease of use used to be associated with Mac OS only, but Microsoft has finally bit the bullet and realized that the “for business” label was just an excuse for keeping things arcane and difficult. Getting XP to recognize a network printer is a Sisyphusian task. Windows 7 does it with elan.

Strangely enough, I am enjoying working on Windows 7. Sure -the fonts aren’t as good looking, but the OS is polished and refined. Frankly, I love it. The 3D CT software runs as well from my home as it does in the office on its server (a Dell Xeon PC which is monstrously huge). I am loading Office on it. During the late ’00’s, Microsoft seems to have gotten the message that their software was preferred by geeks, but generally despised by an increasing number of people. What always kept be away from Windows 7 was the terrible hardware available -I had miserable experience with Sony and Dell, and am dubious of any of the large PC makers. Boot Camp and Macbook Air changes all that.

Oh, the virus thing -Microsoft now offers a free download called Microsoft Security Essentials which does a decent job of policing the computer. Kudos to Microsoft and here’s to hoping much luck and fortune to that other iconic American company.