Saturday, September 17, 2016

Tofu, PS4-VR, tiny hands, channeling Stones, Japanese groceries, & what Russian fashion bloggers read.

Yesterday was errand day, so I trooped bravely into the late summer sauna with Birkenstocks not yet broken in, but still performing reasonably well. It was me, coming out of my summer hibernation in this viciously summered climate that had a hard time. I had wanted to get up into the area of Burnet Road where my errands are, knock a few out of the way, but by the time I reached Teriyaki Madness, eight tenths of a mile into my hike, I needed to stop for some conditioned air, even though it was only another tenth of a mile to my first planned stop. I'd eaten here before, and it was basically good, but I ate too much, and based on that, I got the bowl and not the plate, and I got tofu instead of chicken. And, for the culinary fun in it, I got long skinny slurpy noodles. I left feeling quite content—it was a good lunch, and I had a sense of conquest because now I knew the way to eat here for me.

The day had begun as usual—people used to begin their day with the newspapers, and I begin with the phone, which I really use more as a tablet than a phone. Ah, the phone, let's dispose of that: I'm extremely adverse to it. Unless you are a child of my parents or have made an appointment beforehand by email, I'm most likely not going to answer. Furthermore, woe to the unknown caller foolish enough not to leave voice mail explaining their cause, for that sort of rudeness consigns that telephonic soul to the blacklist circle of cell phone hell. Even callers who dare to leave a message miserably fail the test of eloquence set before them and soon find themselves consigned to the same flames as their silent brethren. If I seem cruel, it's because a few weeks ago I fell prey to some browser trick promising me a thousand-dollar Walmart gift certificate if only I would give them a few bits of information, but this leads into an infinite looping interrogation designed to drive the would-be claimant away before the pale shadow of a prize is finally revealed. By now my phone is almost silenced to normal again because I expect I've survived the half-life of the frenzy resulting from my na├»ve foolishness, and if anyone is still bothering to call, I don't know about it because of the blacklist. (The app I use to blacklist callers and tentatively to identify callers as potential spammers is called CallApp, which actually comprises two apps: Call App and Caller ID & Block.)

So at present I'm using the cramped but relatively generous 5.5" diagonal screen of my Note 4 as a pad to access the Internet. For a while I had a small tablet, which was much less cramped, for my morning news, and I'm thinking about getting another. At least I don't have one of those tiny screens that the Apple iPhones have—their unspoken user requirements rise straight from a line of E.E. Cummings:

nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands
—E.E. Cummings. "somewhere i have never traveled,gladly beyond"
Here are some of the things I found this morning.

So what does a Russian fashion blogger (if Google's translator is to be believed) read while waiting for a plane? The Russian edition of Story, a venerable publisher of quality short stories featuring on this issue's cover, Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Sherlock Holmes in the BBC's latest rendering of the super-sleuth, Sherlock. Holmes's creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, produced an ouvre rich in stories, so Cumberbatch's handsome mug merits a view on the fiction magazine's cover despite his Hollywood-quality good looks—his appearance suggests the potential to be the next Bond, though I don't think the series feels the hurry to make a change just yet.

Mick Jagger, or, more likely, someone from the Stones PR staff authorized to Tweet in Jagger's name, asked for a suggestion for a song for "The Desert Tour," which I think means the deserty stretch of the current ongoing North American tour in October at Indio, California, and Las Vegas, Nevada. Asking for requests is a popular social network tactic to engage audience by giving them the illusion of empowerment—imagine, "Wow, the Stones played my request!" But fine, I like the Rolling Stones and still believe they are the world's greatest rock and roll band, so I'm willing to suspend all disbelief and play along. A quick consultation of Google found what seems to be the only Stones song mentioning the desert, so I quoted back the appropriate line along with the title, "Emotional Rescue." That elegant little reply got a handful of likes, including one from the Rolling Stones Twitter account (though I replied to Jagger's account). I was pleased by whoever nodded behind the name. Jagger, Keith Richards, and Ron Wood all have personal accounts—I couldn't find one for Charlie Watts, unfortunately. Wood's account is the most active with tweets that appear to be from the guitarist­—he and his wife recently had twins, the arrival of which he announced by retweeting this congratulatory message from Rod Steward; he likes dogs; he likes to send funny selfies, like one of him jumping off a high gnarly stump (?); standing in a store in front of a spectrum of cups and tea pots; or enjoying a coffee at a coffeehouse in a way that reminds us that even a rock-and-roll star is, on the bottom line, a bloke just like the rest of us—which is a cool thing about Wood: he's just a tad more egalitarian in his tweeting than the rest of them. Of course his account also contains the requisite Stones news, but then we need to know that too.

Finally, after all that browsing on my phone, I was up, dressed, and out for my hike. After lunch I printed documents—I had sent them ahead to the UPS Store by email, and since it was only two pages to print, they let me have them without a charge, which I thought was very kind of them. I made a bank deposit. Then I mailed the documents. That was the heart, the mandatory part of my errands. After that I could enjoy myself, so I went to Walmart, mostly to cool off, partly to window shop. I know there is a stereotype out there of Walmart workers who are barely scraping by with minimum wage jobs and perhaps not much to say, but the young woman I spoke to in the electronics department was smart as a whip about technology, and she was able to make some suggestions about taking tablets on the road. She also referred me to the Sony person who was demonstrating the new Playstation Virtual Reality at the front of the store.
The woman from Sony had a short line of people waiting to try out her machine, the new Playstation VR, but it was worth the wait. My only big question was whether this would work with the PS4, but the answer was a firm yes: the PS4 is a necessity. The system also requires a Playstation camera, which is used by software that needs to "see" what the user is doing (like in exercise programs, for example). The VR itself comprises a goggle-like device that wraps around the eyes and head rather like Geordi La Forge's vision device in Star Trek the New Generation, and a pair of headphones, which wrap around I went on a virtual reality dive in a shark cage. I could look up and see the boat on the surface of the water above me. The water swarmed variously with jellyfish, tuna, and other denizens of the deep, but the king of this was a great white shark who vented his rage against my cage by ripping things away from it—first, a gas tank; then a light; and finally the bars itself until I was sitting in my cage with nothing between me and the shark. Fortunately he lost interest in me. I missed the sense of motion that one gets when, in special theaters, the seats (or the whole mini-theater) is gimbal mounted, but it was still a remarkable experience, and I was more than willing to forgive its shortcomings like slightly less resolution than I would like in the graphics. But the technology has created a big new space, and it will take a while for the software to fill it. We live in exciting times!
After that, I went to Tea Haus, which I always enjoy. A young woman working there was interested to learn about the imminent release of the Playstation VR. Unfortunately she had to work until 10 p.m., so she could neither go try out the demo nor go with me to a movie—Oliver Stone's Snowden—to which I asked her. She was smart, pretty, and shared several interests with me, but a lot younger and prettier than me, so it was a very long shot. But it's better to ask. That also gave her a chance to say, "Some other time," which she didn't, so now I'm not haunted by a missed opportunity.

I took a chance on the Capital Metro app, which has been dodgy for me, but worked today, thank goodness. This took me down to the Burnet Road HEB, which makes a lot easier walk home than where I spent most of the day. From HEB, Asahi, the Japanese grocery store, is also directly in my path. Since I don't get by there very often, I went inside and got some cool things, which I'll list below with a few comments, but I'm basically done except for two points:

  1. When I got home, I made biscuits and gravy. This was very easy since everything was basically ready-made: the biscuits just needed to be popped out of their tube and baked for 15 minutes. The turkey breakfast sausage needed to be cooked, but the gravy again was instant. I added the necessary water on top of the sausage and let it come to a boil for a while to make sure that it was well cooked, then I just added the gravy powder and stirred until the lumps went away. After that I split open biscuits, ladled sausage and gravy on top, and ate with comfort-food joy. It was so good.
  2. Usually when I eat, I put something on the television. If I'm I'm not actively watching something like Game of Thrones or Casual, an easy default so that I don't spend my time in endless show shopping is to watch Seinfeld, of which there is a supply of over a hundred episodes on Hulu (join me on Hulu and get two weeks free). And imagine: the four principals of the show were getting a million dollars per episode in the last season. (About that endless show shopping—if I'm not actively working my way through a program's seasons, I can spend whole evenings reading descriptions but never actually committing to a program.) But as I punched the button to watch the next episode of Seinfeld—Hulu keeps track for me—I caught a glimpse that there was a new season of Manhattan, the first season of which I had just finished streaming a couple of weeks ago, and with the usual mourning for a TV show, I resigned myself to waiting a year before I would see what happened next. But lo! Behold! There it is!

This is dried squid, which I love. I first ate it in Korea, and have been eating it ever since. A wonderful, tasty, and very healthy snack.

I suppose, from an American p.o.v., these too are an acquired taste. The tiny dried minnows make a great snack either straight or sprinkled on top fo rice.

People who are on carb diets should take note: the nutrition facts say that these rice cracker cylinders wrapped in small sheets of nori (dry roasted seaweed) have 120 calories in a one-cup serving, but none of the calories comes from fat. They're tasty too. This bag supposedly contains three servings (unless you're blogging) and costs two bucks.

This is a bigger bag of assorted snacks, and costs five bucks.

This is a small cup (about four ounces) of soup ingredients. I found no English on the packaging, so I don't know what it is, which is why I bought it. The cashier told me, but I forget what she said.

I love these instant noodle soups and buy a lot of them. I strive for variety. Lately I've been revisiting curry, and plan to cook some more, but in the meantime here's an instant curry-flavored soup.


For corn lovers everywhere, there are a few dried kernels that reconstitute during the cooking of the soup.

This is my second container of curry powder that I bought this week. I'm usually not so redundant, but I have a lot of respect for the S&B brand. Since curry is somewhat vaguely defined around its edges, I'm sure this powder will be significantly different than the other that I bought.