Saturday, April 30, 2011

North Indian Food

The best North Indian restaurant I know anywhere right now is a little joint in Danbury CT

Kabab Grill
35 White St

My posting about it on Chowhound

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"Yo, Jim, Do You Know Any Places to Eat in Provo?"

It took me a decade to hit upon a strategy for getting off of people's mailing lists without pissing them off. Unfortunately, I lost three close friends before managing to figure out how to do it (as I wrote at the time, "Hell hath no fury like a friend's limericks scorned").

Now if I could only figure out a way to gently, kindly refer friends to Chowhound when they need food tips.

No matter how I phrase it, they feel shunted off. They think I'm being stand-offish, even though I tale pains to explain that the whole point of Chowhound was to offer better information than any one expert (like me) could possibly provide. I'm not condemning them to second-rate treatment. My advice is the second-rate treatment!

An old friend insists I am indeed being stand-offish. Lawyers help out friends with legal issues, period. It's part of friendship, and I oughtn't be so selfish. But what about a lawyer who's created a huge public service all-purpose legal guidance system vastly more current and extensive than any one lawyer? Is it really cold-hearted of him to urge friends to make use of his warm-hearted creation?

Sunday, April 24, 2011


I once worked as a deliverer. It was strange to observe how, driving to work, I'd be subject to all the stresses and annoyances of traffic, but, once I had my cargo and was doing my job, I felt a tremendous calm detachment. It was a complete shift of perspective; being "on the clock" put traffic jams, aggressive drivers, and all the rest of it in a drastically different light.

There are two sorts of bus drivers and taxi drivers: those at wit's end over all the idiots on the road, and those who view it all calmly, like jet fighters or video gamers, simply doing their relaxed best to efficiently negotiate what obviously can't be changed. Have you ever found yourself pulled over at a bus stop when a bus arrives, and been honked at? If you'd looked through your rear view mirror, you'd have seen a face that's either apoplectic with rage or else utterly impassive. The former's destined for early death - if he's lucky, that is, because his life is hell.

I recently moved. And I pitched in my share of the lifting alongside the professionals. I'd previously observed that grunts and grimaces never help, and had been working in the gym to stanch that wasted energy while lifting weights. But the movers I'd hired were like zen masters. Their faces remained perfectly serene as they hoisted my stuff - even heavy stuff that challenged them. Calm as I thought I was, the house echoed with my grunts alone. Of course I was grunting! I was carrying heavy stuff! That's just got to be unpleasant!

I've never hung out with ice fisherman, but I'd imagine they don't incessantly complain about the cold or focus on their chattering teeth. At least not the sane ones.

It all has to do with how firm one's preferences are. In other words, how you'd like things to be, versus acceptance of how they actually are. The universe is a machine devised to rub the wrong way against preferences, regardless of how we try to insulate ourselves. And life is about endlessly rediscovering this - ala Groundhog Day - until we finally think to try a more sane and grown-up approach.

My GPS is sanest of all. "Recalculating!" she exclaims, with cheerful equanimity, even when her most insistent demands have been ignored.

Further Reading:
An Adult View on Preference
The Monks and the Coffee
The Deeper Implications of Holiday Blues
Labeling and Post-Processing
Ballasting Happiness
The Key to Happiness is Rolling With It
"So That Happened"
"Now" is Happening Earlier Than We (Literally) Think

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

iPhone Tracker

Super cool! And hyper-terrifying! It's scari-cool-ific!

Track everywhere you've ever been with your iPhone. Just download iPhone Tracker, launch, and it sucks the info from the iPhone backup data on your computer (obviously, you need to run the application on the same computer you back up your phone to).

Read the FAQ to see why it's terrifying.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Andromeda Galaxy and You

The Andromeda Galaxy is viewable via the naked eye as a small blurry splotch. I'd always assumed that it appears tiny because it's millions of light years away.

Aw, contraire!

The Andromeda Galaxy is huge, even in our own Earthly sky. In fact, it occupies more sky real estate than the moon - several times more! We only see the galaxy's center, because the rest is too faint to view with the eye. Not too small...just too faint!

Want to see how much of our sky the Andromeda Galaxy actually occupies?
Here's a time lapse, comparing it to the moon. Woah!!

By the way, we may one day collide with the Andromeda Galaxy. But
don't sweat it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

"The Best That Never Was"

Even if you hate football, don't miss this week's rebroadcast of ESPN's "The Best That Never Was", part of their outstanding "30 for 30" series (or, for $13, buy the DVD...or, for $5, watch on iTunes).

It's about Marcus Dupree, considered by some the greatest football player who ever lived. As you watch clips of him sailing past high school and college opponents, you'll realize he wasn't just great; he was wailing on pure shakti. He displays a level of grace beyond mere talent, and it's because he considered himself to be doing it all for his crippled little brother. It was an expression of love, and that's like rocket fuel. (It even had the power to heal and unite one of America's most notoriously racist towns, where Dupree grew up.)

But there were bad decisions and bad advisors, and the usual noxious money/fame cyclone of college sports, and, in the end, Dupree crashed before he could enjoy the triumphant career that seemed his destiny. He's now a truck driver, just barely getting by.

One interpretation would be that this is a tragic tale of lost potential. But that would be a wrong interpretation. Dupree's perspective on his own life - which is all that counts! - is very different. No bitterness whatsoever; just clarity and love - clearly stemming from the very same shakti (which the filmmaker, who applied a supremely nuanced touch, shares).

It's seriously inspiring. Please don't miss it. And afterwards, read this illuminating interview with Dupree.

Advaita: You Are Not a Body

According to Advaita (similar terms: Vedanta, Nondualism), we exist in a dream state, cripplingly laden with baggage we can't remember self-loading, doomed to feel that something's always missing because we've fallen into a delusional pattern of pretending we're separate human bodies. Happiness requires waking up.

This may seem fringey and woo-woo, but, after a mere few thousand years, the notion's lately been building mainstream attention. Even Tom Shadyac, director of such profound gems as "Ace Ventura, Pet Detective", has
a new movie out making a watered-down yet highly entertaining case for basically the same thing.

So, in case you want to bone up...

Advaita 101: courtesy of comedian Bill Hicks

Advaita 201: courtesy of Sailor Bob

Advaita 301: courtesy of Nisargadatta Maharaj

However...unless you've got some meditation under your belt (to "loosen you up", or, in mystic-speak, "ripen" you),
none of this will do you much good. So here's a recommended meditation system (admirably stripped-down and non-religious). Here's the same system explained more tersely, but for free.

The Sermon on the Mount According to Vedanta (an interpretation which makes a helluva lot more sense than any Christian commentary I've seen).

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Disregard Exhaustion

When you are doing something strenuous and find yourself at the point of utter exhaustion, convinced you'll do yourself harm if you don't immediately stop and rest, you actually still have tons and tons of reserve energy left. The body's warning actually cuts in way before you actually run out of juice.

I didn't realize that before I heard a highly entertaining and surprising Radio Lab program called
"Limits of the Body", which profiles normal, non-athletic people racing across the continent on bikes, hardly sleeping. I can't think of any single broadcast program that has more dramatically changed my outlook.

For example, last week I spent hours sprinting up and down sand dunes with a large, heavy sousaphone (we were shooting a music video). That was after dancing two miles down city streets with the same sousaphone. Afterwards, I walked back to my car, which wasn't where I thought I'd parked it, and circled a mile of city streets trying to locate it. Realizing it had been towed (and lacking proper ID), I took the train home and walked a mile to my house.

After the first hour of that, I was totally ready to quit. But I didn't, and, eleven hours later, I was unimaginably sore and whimpering softly. But I survived, no problem. And, apparently, I had miles and miles left in me, so long as I was willing to ignore my body's overly vigilant warning signals.

This is stuff athletes and adventurers know from experience. But it's quite an important lesson for us slightly more sedentary types. Please listen; you'll be glad you did!

As a bonus, I've collected links to all the web pages and DVDs recommended in the broadcast plus the listener comments on that same page:

Web site: Race Across America

Film website: Bicycle Dreams--The True Story of the Race Across America

Web site: The masochism angle

Amazon: June Havoc's autobiography, including tales of extreme dance marathons in the 1930's.

Amazon: "Big River Man", a film about a guy who swam the entire Amazon

Web site: 24 Hour Solo Mountain Bike Racers, who race 200 miles, climbing 30,000 feet, without a rest.

Web site: The Texas Water Safari - a 260 mile canoe/kayak race with a 100 hour time limit ("even though one feels TOTALLY spent, the body still finds a way to continue and finish")

TED video: Ken Kamler's TED talk on a terrible Mt. Everest disaster "where many people died, but one particular individual could very well have been featured in this Radiolab."

Amazon: "Through Hell & High Water", documentary about rowing across the Atlantic (note: non-American DVD, requires a multi-region DVD player).

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Good Galactic News

Did you know that when galaxies collide, stars don't actually crash into each other, because they're so widely spaced?

For some reason, I find this incredibly comforting.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Labeling and Post-Processing

Last winter I wrote about how mood and perspective are at the mercy of mere mental concepts. A very pleasant evening spent watching a great DVD on a comfortable couch instantly changed its character when a concept ("Christmas Eve") suddenly popped up. A perfectly satisfying scene became dissatisfying, because the mind drew a comparison to a concept unrelated to what was actually happening in that moment.

If there's no concept, there's no problem! But label the moment, and, like magic! - pain and sadness arrive. We post-process with our minds, and live in that post-processing mental lag. At the moment things happen, there's no dissatisfaction; no pain.

I had a big taste of this several years ago, while walking home amid a sudden downpour. The crowd around around me scattered to find cover, but, oddly calm, I just kept walking. Megawatts of stress and wasted energy were expended all around me, all viewed with vague puzzlement, as if from the tranquil eye of a hurricane.

I was getting "wet", yes, but the requisite feeling of anxiety never quite caught up to me. I tried to kickstart it by repeating to myself "It's raining and I'm going to get wet!". But the words couldn't stir me. It was as random an observation as, say, "It's Thursday and I'm wearing socks!". The label my mind was affixing to this situation seemed plainly, cheaply, stuck-on. And so I kept walking. I was wet, and that was ok. Actually, it wasn't even "ok". I wasn't judging it either way. It was just what was happening, neither good nor bad.

My mind abandoned the idea of stirring up anxiety, and tried a different tactic: exuberance. "Hey, I'm walking through the rain without a care in the world!", it announced (obviously cribbing from Gene Kelly). If my mind couldn't judge the rain bad, it would judge it terrific. But that label, too, failed to move me. The rain just didn't seem judgeable...and so my mood didn't budge. I was neither stressed nor exuberant, and couldn't imagine why being wet should make me feel one way or another. Being wet just felt....wet!

A few weeks later, I missed an exit while driving, and discovered that the next one was 25 miles ahead. The same thing happened. I knew, intellectually, that I should be cursing and stressing, and even made some half-hearted exclamation of disgust - which sounded so lame that I couldn't help but giggle. The need to drive fifty extra miles was unquestionably surprising, but I couldn't find a way to convince myself it was "bad". The word would simply not apply, like a block that won't fit a given hole.

It reminded me of something I'd observed in the subway. When a train arrives, everyone on the platform freezes in heightened anticipation. They are living for doors to open so they can board. Every cell yearns for that magical, blessed moment when they can get on the train (or elevator...or get a green light...or reach the checkout clerk). Yet, looking around a few moments later, no one seems all that thrilled to be on the train (or elevator...or green light....or check out)! They're on to pressing with all their might for the next rather humdrum thing to happen. Much like dogs, come to think of it.

I once found myself on a subway platform near a Tibetan monk, in saffron robe. I watched him as the train arrived. Even he visibly strained forward, anticipating the opening of the gates of heaven in the form of that lousy, grimy subway door.

Back to my highway incident: really, what's so incredibly great about exit five? And what's so horrific about driving? If driving's so bad, why do we pine so strongly for green lights?

This isn't about patience. What's to be patient with? You must label something negatively before being patient with it! This is about staying ahead of the hailstorm of mental conceptualization where we label our moments. In the raw perceiving, before the concepts arrive ("It's Christmas Eve, and I ought to be surrounded by holiday cheer!"; "Getting wet is bad!"; "My joy and fulfillment lie at exit 12 - or the next N train!"), there's nothing to rattle your equanimity.

The trick, it seems, is to simply live through it all, warmly registering what happens (including the unexpected*) with attention diligently focused on the point of actual happening, rather than lagging a few instants behind amid the noisy, artificial mental post-processing - the labeling, worrying, brooding, remembering, comparing, and judging. We choose to lag mostly out of mere habit - a decision made long ago to respond to the world in certain ways.

* - Why do we always want things to go as expected? Is the status quo of our lives truly so richly marvelous?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Oaxacan Dinner

Check out this warm-hearted photo essay about learning to cook authentic Oaxacan food (including mole) in a magical kitchen in the town of Teotitlan del Valle (which I've previously reported on here and here).
The rest of the blog's well worth immersing in, as well.

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