An NYC Brooklyn Birthday

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Nom Wah Tea Parlor

To celebrate turning the ripe old age of 22, my girlfriend Jen planned a surprise action packed NYC Brooklyn birthday celebration for the both of us this past Saturday. The day itself was fantastic, and was made all the better since I had plenty of opportunities to act as a camera whore with my new Canon. Jen was happy to oblige my taking pictures of everything – partially from guilt, I’m sure, of asking me to ‘endure’ as her occasional photographer for her blog.

Nom Wah Tea ParlorThe day started off with a visit to one of our favorite Dim Sum places in Chinatown, Nom Wah Tea Parlor – the first Dim Sum restaurant in NYC, since 1920. Usually we make the mistake of over-ordering by several magnitudes, so we ate light this time: only beef rice rolls, turnip cake, and shrimp dumplings. It was still too much for us…

View of manhattan

The next stop was a hike across the Brooklyn Bridge. I haven’t walked the bridge since I was much younger, so I barely remembered how amazing the views of Manhattan were. Once in Brooklyn, Jen led the way to a small bay where there was free kayaking in the East River – what?! Dual kayaking has long been on our joint bucket list which we’ve been attempting to work our way through before I head to Turkey in September. I even managed to slightly tan while on the river, although it didn’t last much longer than two days…

Brooklyn Kayaking

After kayaking, the two of us walked over to the Housing Works thrift store in Brooklyn Heights, all the while admiring the neighborhood. Housing Works is especially cool since it is staffed by HIV positive people and is dedicated to raising awareness about, and fighting, AIDs. It also had some great items, all for super cheap.

Dinner came next at Tutt Cafe, a very chill Middle Eastern cafe. The food was good, but somehow neither of us was particularly hungry. The pita was fresh baked, though, and was definitely some of the most delicious bread I’ve ever eaten.

Terminator Two Judgement Play

After dinner, we then headed to downtown Manhattan for the grand finale. Jen had played the final portion of the night extremely close to her chest, so I was beyond surprised – maybe more like dumbfounded – when I realized our last stop was an off-off-Broadway Play; Terminator Two: Judgement Play. The show was hysterical, and the role of the terminator was cast with a volunteer from the crowd. Although my Arnold impersonation is no good, I wish I had had the courage to at least try out… Oh well. You can’t have it all, I suppose.

The Ten Most Entertaining Trilogies

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With the recent release of Christopher Nolan’s third installment in the Batman Trilogy, all I see online or hear from friends are discussions about what film trilogies are best. There are obviously multiple ways to judge ‘what’s best’ ranging from artistic talent and writing to pure entertainment value. Although I know these top ten lists have been done to death, I hope no one will mind my two cents. So, without further ado, my list of the ten most entertaining trilogies (presented in no particular order).
1. The Vengeance Trilogy

Most entertaining trilogies
No other series of movies has had as profound effect upon me as The Vengeance Trilogy by Chan-Wook Park. The most famous movie in this series is the second installment, Oldboy, which I have already written about here. Unlike most trilogies that are sequentially related, these films are instead only linked by the theme of revenge and its consequences. All three of these films – Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance – are works of pure art. Although some might find them a little slow moving, and they can be confusing on first watch – imagine an artful Korean version of Quentin Tarantino at his prime – I have never had movies draw so much out of me: laughter, tears, hope, camaraderie with those I’m watching, cringing, and then ultimately despair; because, at the end, all you will end up feeling after watching these films is soul crushing sadness and the relief that none of the characters in any of the movies was you.

2. Star Wars

Most entertaining trilogies
This entry is almost a throwaway. I love Star Wars. I grew up watching it – and, I admit, reading fan fiction novels – and in terms of pure time spent, I do not think I have ever loved something as long as I have loved these movies. Although the acting is not the best, and the effects pale now compared to the likes of Avatar, there is something about Star Wars that cannot be beaten: maybe it is the dynamic scenes – think Mos Eisley Cantina – where the characters, even though they are obviously the focus, are still just part of a living, breathing, radiant environment; maybe it is how all the effects in the movies, made in a time before computer effects, seem almost more realistic and possible because of this; maybe it is because of Han Solo and Boba Fett; or, maybe, even though I don’t know a single person who likes Luke Skywalker, it is the plot that makes Star Wars so epic. Joseph Campbell  once referred to Star Wars as the modern equivalent of Greek myths due to its mixture of grandeur and minutiae – on the one hand the galactic clash between the forces of darkness and the forces of light; on the other hand, the protagonist’s search for justice for his murdered father. Epic.

3. Lord of the Rings

Most entertaining trilogies
The Lord of the Rings is perhaps the single greatest film adaptation ever produced. Some complain of the films’ length and extreme detail – especially in the extended edition. For fans, there might never be enough LoTR. After all, this series, based on Tolkien’s work, covers one of the greatest mythic journeys in human literature – really, a modern odyssey. The films keep the epic scope of the books, while not losing any of the pure emotion and fellowship that occurs amongst the characters in the non-action scenes. Every character is also perfectly cast, and this trilogy – for better or worse – started the trend of making blockbusters over two hours long.

4. Evil Dead

Most entertaining trilogies
So there’s this guy, Ash ( played by Bruce Campbell), who just can’t get any luck. In the first film of the franchise, The Evil Dead, Ash and four friends travel to a remote cabin which is then attacked by demons. The second film in the franchise, Evil Dead II, is essentially a remake of the film, whereas the third film, Army of Darkness, is a horror-comedy focusing on Ash being hurled back into Medieval England where he must fend off… an army of darkness. All three films were directed by Sam Rami, and inspired a radical cult following, for good reason. They are horrific, hysterical, and all together masterful.

Continue reading The Ten Most Entertaining Trilogies

Where Productivity Dies

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Where Productivity DiesIt was late and I had been tossing around in bed fighting for sleep for almost an hour when the idea hit. It was a simple short story idea, but I liked it and grasped onto it with both hands. I felt myself working through every detail and contour of it, knowing exactly how the one real character would act, what he would do, how it would end. I was enthralled, and amazingly hopeful – I haven’t finished a short story in over a year. “I’ll write it all tomorrow,” I promised myself as I finally found sleep.

That was over a week ago. I still haven’t written a single word for that story. Sure, I’m still kicking it around – I’ve even written an outline for it, something I have never done before – but I just can’t bring myself to start. I’m scared for this story, for the character – I fear that it might all end up in the graveyard of ideas. It is already slowly passing into the area where productivity dies.

Sure, I have some legitimate reasons why this story hasn’t been started yet: I helped a friend move, I’m working on this blog, I was busy stressing trying to figure out my nine-month travel plans for when I head to Turkey in less than a month. Still, I’m sure I could find a way to at least start a story; maybe not. I am not entirely sure what the purpose of this post is.

At the very least, maybe I can hope it will galvanize me to at least start. A start is better than nothing. With a start, even if the story is never completed, I have something to eventually go back to. Who knows, if I actually write and finish this story, my creativity might just receive the resuscitation necessary to pull a Frankenstein in that graveyard of ideas. Already I have some ghosts of idea past starting to flit through my mind.

Guess it’s about time to address them, huh?

Organ Donor

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I was originally just going to post “Organ Donor” by Jeremy Messersmith as my Friday Refrain. I love everything about this song – it’s simple light sound, beautiful music video, and dark subject matter. Although, whenever I think of the phrase ‘organ donor,’ I always also end up thinking of the DJ Shadow song by the same name.

So, I obviously have to share both of these great songs with you. You’re so luck! A Friday Refrain double hitter. Enjoy!

Instagram My Life!

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Our live are all recorded online – essentially fully, to the smallest detail. Although a lot of this might be done against our will – or without our knowledge, such as the vast databases Google and Facebook have on us all – most of our online presence is just posted. It’s funny how my generation moans of our loss of privacy, and then turns around and Instagrams a picture or sends a Facebook update.

Instagram My Life
It’s a little upsetting how this is the best photo I’ve ever Instagramed…

Not that I’m any better, or my friends are any different. I just opened my Instagram app on my phone to find out that my friend, whose moving to LA, has now successfully made it to the Texan desert. I barely use Instagram, and even though I don’t participate in the “Instagram my life!” school of thought, someone could tell a lot about me from the pictures I’ve taken.

This idea of documenting your entire life online is a little creepy (if not also beautiful); however, it also enabled Lucas Otero to make that stunning movie of an entire life cycle as documented through Instagram – overuse of color filters obviously included. Now I’m just a little offended he didn’t source any of the photos I took of my time in Turkey.

If you so desire, you can follow me on Instagram @dooster. I promise none of my photos are particularly worthwhile, and all the color filters are over done. 

Microchip Organs

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Lung Chip

Recently I heard an amazing interview on NPR with Donald Ingber, director of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. He discusses how bioengineers are currently developing microchips that function as working models of human organs on the miniature. Essentially, these are microchip organs, as explained in the video below – it is all a little beyond me.

The stated purpose of such technology is to better how new medicines interact with human organs. Eventually the research team hopes to create a fully functional model of the human body, completely through microchips; this technology will effectively end the need for animal testing – good news!

Organ Chips
Science! A version of the human lung (top) and the human gut (bottom).

In even better news, the testing of new medicines through these microchip organs will also yield exponentially more accurate results. Although rats and humans do share some key characteristics, often times potentially awful side effects do turn up when new medicines are tested on humans that were not present in lab animals. These chips will completely nix any chance of this happening.

 

More amazing still, these chips will lead to a drastic decrease in the cost of prescription drugs. A large part of drug cost is due to the insane amounts of money pharmaceuticals have to pump into drug research, with many of these drugs then failing in human trials for safety reasons. These chips will help to streamline the entire process.

I wonder how far we will see this technology run. Already, in a perhaps even more amazing display of scientific magic, we have examples of organs being grown or created in 3d printers. Is there a way we can see these two technologies intersect? Is it possible that, in the not too distant future, we may have organs being grown on a microchip scaffold for those who need transplants?

I don’t want to delve too deeply into sci-fi here, but could these two technologies also eventually lead to the creation of full cybernetic life? These possibilities remind me of the classic Philip K. Dick book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Except, whereas Dick’s book paints a grim post-apocalyptic future that deal with androids as slaves incapable of feeling empathy, this future tech instead makes me dream of a world in which no one will die waiting for organ transplants and pharmaceutical drugs can become affordable for all.

All images and videos belong to the Wyss Institute

Christmas in July

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I’ll admit, I’m a little late for a Christmas in July themed post… just like how this post is a little late to be included in the Friday Refrain.

Well, here it is anyway! Continuing the theme of stranger music you might not have necessarily heard otherwsie, I hope you love this gritty reboot of Santa Claus.

The 100 Plus Bucket List

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[quote style=”3″]“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain[/quote]

There is only so much time we all have in this world. Depending upon your mindset, the human capability to know our own death is either the cruelest joke ever played or the greatest blessing. Being an optimist, and a procrastinator, I instead view our final deadline as an incentive to take all we want from life. So, without further ado, is a list of 100+ things everyone should try to complete.

If you think I missed anything important, please don’t hesitate to leave it in the comments below!

1. Visit Mount Nemrut, Turkey

Mount Nemrut
The Hills Have Eyes III – Prehistoric

Mount Nemrut is an amazing series of burial tombs located in South East Turkey, from the 1st century BC. The tombs are best known for the giant stone heads littering the mountainside that once belonged to statues flanking the tombs.

2. Become Published
Being published is becoming easier and easier, thanks to a surge in self publishing and electronic publishing options, such as through Amazon. For the slightly less ambitious, there are multitudes of newspapers and websites looking for contributors. Time’s a wastin, let loose the writer within!

3. Live in Another Country
Embrace a challenge and move to a country you have always dreamed of going to. The experience of living somewhere radically different will both open your horizons, as well as helping you to appreciate the small things about your home country you may not have originally realized. Who knows, you may not ever want to leave your adopted home.

4. See the Aurora Borealis

Aurora Borealis Bucket List

The Aurora Borealis is a natural light show that takes place at far northern latitudes, caused by the collision of charged particles in the atmosphere – far out, dude! Depending upon how far north or south you go, the Aurora takes on different hues – greens and yellows further north, pinks and purples further south.

5. Camp Out at a Music Festival

Bonnaroo Lessons
This past June, I attended my first music festival at Bonnaroo. The experience was amazing! Never had I been around so many people, all expressing themselves so differently, yet so welcoming and friendly. Festivals actively encourage bringing out the best in everyone, and it shows! Besides, how could you not have a good time while seeing so much amazing music and art?

6. Take a Ferry Ride around the Bosphorous


The Bosphorous is the body of water that divides Istanbul – the only city on the planet to be located on two continents – in half. By riding the ferry, you can easily take in the beauty of an amazing skyline that has been developing for over two thousand years. Not to mention, the water itself is a constant beautiful turquoise.

7. Climb the Great Wall of China

Great Wall Bucket List
The Great Wall is known as being great for a reason – all branches included, it is over 13,000 miles long! How’s that for a feat of human engineering? The best segments of the wall for climbing are located around Beijing, and they meander along beautiful mountain views.

Continue reading The 100 Plus Bucket List

Am I Free or am I Tied Up?

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Miike Snow

Lately I’ve been listening to Miike Snow, a fantastic Swedish idie pop group, on almost constant repeat. Their fantastic blending of deep lyrics, beautiful vocals, and upbeat production never ceases to mesmerize me. I feel as if the lyrics to their single, Animal, perfectly encapsulates my week too… somehow.

Enjoy!

Great Food, Good Company, and Strong Alcohol

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In Northern China, it is customary to drink baijiu – extremely hard Chinese alcohol made from rice – as a sign of respect during banquets and other official functions. Unlike hard liquor in the West, though, this is not taken in shot form. Instead, you fill small glasses up which you then chug, after selecting a drinking buddy, screaming “gan bei!” – meaning, empty glass. To show you didn’t pussy foot around, you then hold the glass upside down showing that it is truly empty.

If it looks like gasoline, and tastes like gasoline, it’s probably baijiu.
Photo credit

Apparently in traditional settings, it is not uncommon for all guests at a banquet to have two glasses of baijiu at the start; you know, to really kick things off. After this, the rest of the night is spent eating from dozens of small dishes brought out while simultaneously toasting – and being toasted – by everyone else at the function. Whoever said Asians can’t drink has never met someone from Northern China.

drunken shrimp
Even the shrimp were drunk

Unfortunately – or maybe luckily – I did not attend any baijiu enhanced meals while I was in China, mostly we stuck to wine. I did, however, manage to partake in some delicacies. The most interesting of which was by far the “drunken shrimp” pictured above. The shrimp, like most Chinese banqueters, are placed alive into a pot full of baijiu and spices where they are left to sit and become progressively drunker. Once they cease struggling, you eat them alive. They taste like a sort of sweetly spicy alcoholic shrimp cocktail – delicious!

What I particularly enjoyed about Chinese dining was both the variety, as well as the order. The meal began with a schmorgesborg of various dishes and entrees – some sweet, some spicy, some alive and soaked in alcohol. Variety is the spice of life, after all. This sort of eating could be best compared to tapas.

drunken shrimp
A very drunken shrimp

After everyone is good and full from the appetizers – as well as nicely drunk – a main course is brought out. In my experiences, this is usually some sort of noodley soup, that goes down easily enough after having gorged yourself already during the past hour and a half. Of course, you make room – both out of politness and due to how amazingly tasty everything is anyway.

Personally, I love this style of eating – even though I am aware it is only reserved for special occassions. As a friend of my brother’s in China said: “Western dining can be so tiring with just one dish. At first you may think you love it, but after eating a whole plateful you’re not too sure anymore. With Chinese dining, you eat something, you don’t like it, you can move on.”

I like this mentality. After all, with enough great food, good company, and strong alcohol, how could you not have a great night?

Funk Blaster

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Funk Blaster

The idea of Friday Refrain is to quickly post a new song, encapsulating something interesting and different in brief. I shamelessly borrowed this idea from Poetic Parfait, and her great Tuesday Tunes.

So, without further ado, I introduce Funk Blaster, by Koan Sound! This EP is an amazing mix of funk, dubstep, and electronica without any one genre being too strong. While listening to it in my room, my mom walked in – who usually hates heavy music – and she started dancing along to it. It’s just that… interesting.

Check it out!

I never said this was worthwhile

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