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Reflections of a Workout Newbie: Part 1, Possibly, of 1

21 Jan

The other day, I received my first text message from my mother. She hardly uses her cellphone, so it was like a milestone, and I quickly opened the message to see exactly what this milestone marked.

“Dear Paulina, Please exercise OK. Love, Mom.”

It was as unexciting a choice for a first message as Thomas Edison’s “Mary had a little lamb” on the phonograph. But both she and Thomas Edison share something in common, here: both likely had these words quickly spring to mind as a result of repeated past utterances.


This morning, I went to the gym for the first time in — suffice it to say that the last time I went, there were no WikiLeaks, iPhones did not exist, and Bush was still president. So I entered wide-eyed, experienced embarrassing difficulty getting past the card-activated turnstile, and set off for the treadmill.

People around me were either reading texts, listening to music, or watching television. Having forgot a book, an iPod, and my glasses, I set my eyes on the treadmill’s red dot matrix display.

Duration: 30 minutes
Incline: 0
Speed: [omitted]

My eyes were anxiously fixed on the countdown clock, which I felt was more like a bomb timer which marked the steady pace to the point at which my legs would detonate. I don’t know what else hands-free, non-TV watchers do. Occasionally, my eyes would dart toward another category, “Calories burned.” At first, that was a fun display to watch. Two calories, that’s like burning off a tic tac. Four, okay, two tic tacs. And so on it went, until I realized I didn’t know of any other edible items between 1 and 60 calories.

The rest of the time passed quickly, in between recounting to myself the last chapter I’d read last night, and doing mental math problems of percentages of my completed workout. Then I cooled down, waved goodbye to the Saline People I had just met, and exited — high on endorphins, and full of wonder at how many more times this can actually go on.

Life Without a Computer: It Really is as Horrible as it Sounds

7 Dec

On Wednesday, the day before one of my final papers was due, my computer charger started sparking and smoking. I used Amazon’s one-click purchasing to buy a new charger, and later found out that is en route to Los Angeles instead of Berkeley.

It’s been hard dealing with this new unplugged reality, since my computer was both my entertainment and productive console.

There’s one development that I have mixed but mostly positive feelings about, and that’s my newest purchase: a transistor radio. I buckled yesterday and confessed to the RadioShack cashier that I was going absolutely bonkers without some source of activity in my room. After laughing at me, she rang me up — at $14.99, it was the cheapest radio in the store.

I’m listening to the news a lot now, but the frequency is a little shaky in my house; I have to shuffle around and wave my radio in the air for it to land on Public Radio International. Sometimes, despite my best efforts, the channel will be interspersed with neighboring ones. For example, today’s report on Julian Assange was punctuated by the — que saaaaaaaa — beautiful sounds of — borrrriiii — mariachi music.

Food: San Francisco Bans Most Happy Meals

3 Nov

San Francisco McDonald’s now serving sad meals (sorry, couldn’t help myself). Again from the Los Angeles Times, apparently the paper with its finger on the irregular pulse of our nation’s favorite grease joint:

San Francisco’s board of supervisors has voted, by a veto-proof margin, to ban most of McDonald’s Happy Meals as they are now served in the restaurants.

The measure will make San Francisco the first major city in the country to forbid restaurants from offering a free toy with meals that contain more than set levels of calories, sugar and fat.

The ordinance would also require restaurants to provide fruits and vegetables with all meals for children that come with toys.

Life After Facebook: Quitting You is So Hard to Do

30 Oct

I quit Facebook at 11:12 PM yesterday. Rejoined at 6:46 PM today, quit 2 minutes later at 6:48 PM. Logged in again at 9:29 PM, deactivated at 9:33 PM.

The Internet without Facebook is a lot like a Las Vegas without casinos, i.e., a desert wasteland. Today, I’ve read New York Times articles on cancer cells, how to prepare braised short ribs, a woman’s touching post on how it felt to lose her father, among other pieces. I’ve also played three past “This American Life” podcasts today: #317 Unconditional Love, #389 Frenemies, #359 Life After Death.

I’d like to think that I’ve flexed my brain muscle more as a result, or at least that this was a better use of time than browsing Facebook, but the truth is I’m only scrambling for some divertissements. Something — anything! This is really as sad as it sounds. Recovering crack addicts probably feel similarly, as if they understand everything they’re engaging in as “not doing crack,” and thereby unconsciously still defining things in terms of what they don’t have.

Objectively speaking, this has been a more productive Saturday than previous ones, and right after I finish this post, I’m going to continue my offline reading and do my best to finish a translation. However, there is yet the persistent urge for me to broadcast the mundane little things:

  • Berkeley sound bite at Cheeseboard, 1:05 PM: “Sarah keeps complaining about her knee surgery. I tell her, ‘Go watch Grey’s Anatomy. Now those patients have real problems. There was someone with no arms last time.'”
  • If I were still on Facebook, I would have “liked” Karl Pilkington by now.
  • … there was something else, but I’ve forgotten.

Those seem to have lost some relevance once typed out in a medium that’s not a feed. Anyway, cheers to the coming Day 2.

Lines from a Semi-Luddite: Ugh, Facebook

29 Oct

First, a word from Warring States philosopher Xun Zi.

Xun Zi states that rites “trim what is too long and extend what is too short.” Here, he is specifically referring to mourning periods — i.e., if the rite stipulates a two-year mourning period, someone who is in deep sorrow must learn to move on at the two-year mark, while someone who is relatively unaffected must at least try to process the event for two years.

I dislike Facebook for several reasons, but one of them is that they’ve turned social rites à la Xun Zi on their head by trimming what is too short and extending what is too long. That is, I’m not hanging out with cool friends nearly as much as I should, in part because I’m at my computer, learning wall feed minutiae of people I hardly know.

Second, Facebook introduced a new feature called “Friendship Pages” today. Mashable (via CNN) gives the breakdown:

Facebook is rolling out a new breed of Pages called Friendship Pages that pull together the public wall posts, comments, photos (based on tags) and events that two friends have in common.

The Friendship Pages feature was cooked up by Facebook software engineer Wayne Kao and then brought to life in an internal hackathon event.

The Pages are designed to the tell the story of two friends on Facebook through their shared activity.

Friends recalling how they met one another should happen in the context of a “remember when we … ?” back-and-forth. Not a “let’s click and see” type process. This new feature takes all the fun out of remembering the good ol’ days.

It’s also, erm, really creepy, considering you can chart not only your Facebook friendship with Friend A, but you can also track the friendship trajectory between Friend A and Friend B, given they are friends with each other.


Okay, I can barely bang out another sentence; I’m yawning right now. I have more proof of why I’m a curmudgeonly septuagenarian, but it’s past my bedtime and I have to go clean my dentures.

Lines from a Semi-Luddite: On Forgetting

29 Oct

Jeffrey Rosen wrote an NY Times Magazine cover story, “The Web Means the End of Forgetting,” in which he addressed the impact of the Web’s archival nature on our online — and offline — reputations. Given the Net’s inability to “forget” our every tweet, photo, and update, we are scrambling for mechanisms to deal with its social ramifications. Because, after all, sometimes there’s nothing we need so much as a blank slate. There is a value to forgetting.

There’s another dimension to this. For one, the Internet does not help us to remember so much as it helps us to retrieve. A brief example, using one of my favorite memories: I was wide awake in DC at 1 AM, and figured I would call home because of the forgiving 3 hour time difference. My dad and I began talking about poetry, whereupon he decided to recite some Tang dynasty poems to me. Just as I was falling asleep, floating downstream on images of boats ten thousand miles away, I bolted awake, realizing these poems that coursed from my father’s lips came forth so naturally — but not easily. The words he spoke that night were the same words he recited a short while before, which were reflected upon months prior, which were taught to him by his own father years earlier. With that sort of constancy, I get the impression that these poems are some of the strings that bind the length of my father’s years together.

It’s an understatement that my command of poetry pales in comparison. Case in point: I had to Google search a few phrases in that poem in order to provide the link above, since I never memorized it well. The whole process didn’t take that long — certainly, not as long as it would to commit such a short poem as that to memory. The boon of the Internet is quick retrieval, which is totally different from quick recall. Possessing a fast recall is the end product of a slow effort.

Precisely speaking, I should not say I forgot any of the lines from the Li Bai poem, because indeed I never truly remembered them. This is the other value to forgetting. It seems obvious, but you only forget what you remember. That said, I think it’s good that the human memory is limited, because it’s only under such conditions that I have to make an effort to prioritize and hold onto otherwise fleeting memories.

Facebook rolled out a new feature today that allows users to track the trajectory of their Facebook friendships. Surprise, surprise — this neo-Luddite finds this horrible, and will write on it soon. Although, as an interesting note: this very post was collecting dust as a draft since late-July.

8th Annual Spice of Life Festival

17 Oct

On my way home from church, I briefly stopped by the 8th Annual Spice of Life Festival, located in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto.

Two pictures below are of Paul’s Paella. In the first bite, I could distinctly taste the chorizo, bell peppers, and lemon. However, I thought the rice was too mushy.

The next two photos are of Carolyn Tillie‘s remarkable food jewelry.

I gave Carolyn some of my paella. In return, she gave me a small slice of her okonomiyaki.