Archive for September, 2009

Vacation Day: Mini-Reviews – Burger Joints

This is a post that’s really for the San Diego natives out there. I have a bunch of other mini-review posts planned out into the future which will be less location-centric, but this is not one of them.

These are my favorite burger joints in San Diego. Delicious, all of them. I’m sure I’m forgetting at least one place…

Tioli’s Crazy Burger – Any place where you can get a venison burger that is topped with a poached red wine pear, mushrooms, bacon, a dab of real whipped cream and plum jelly is going to be alright with me. Crazy Burger manages to combine solid burgers with fancy toppings and avoid being pretentious at the same time. It’s about as hole-in-the-wall burger place as you can get, and then you see a menu with ostrich, bison, venison, alligator, kangaroo (!) and good old fashioned beef burgers with some of the tastiest topping combos I’ve ever seen. I mean, come on. The Nacho Burger basically has a giant tater tot patty on it. Everyone knows the tots cannot be stopped.

Hodad’s – For a thorough review, check out my man Eric’s blog post on the restaurant. My quick review is just going to be that Hodad’s is another joint that just feels like the kind of place you go to hang out at. You feel like you could become a regular and be buddies with the staff. It is a problem that it’s so popular and so small all at once, but if you just want a burger that massive and messy and accompanied by a pretty killer shake, Hodad’s is the place. The bacon on the bacon burgers is pretty unique, too. They create some sort of crazy weave of bacon. I don’t know. You just need to try it.

Hash House A-Go-Go – Hash House is legendary. They dish out portions at a price point that is simply astounding to me. $15 at Hash House will get you, if you are not a big eater, a meal so large your leftovers will span two more meals. You think I’m exaggerating, but the benedict I got there the over day came out on a plate with about an 18′ diameter. The plate was full… and the food was stacked about six inches up in the center. Look at the scale onthese plates against the waiter. Hash House only has a couple burgers, but they make up for a small selection in sheer scope. The burgers are stuffed burgers… which in this case means you get a couple of patties with basically a small meal in between them. Like, a full serving of mashed potatoes.

Gordon Biersch Brewery – Biersch is the most standard on this list, I think. It’s a chain, but it’s still pretty delicious. Biersch burgers are just good, solid, juicy burgers. Their Märzen BBQ sauce is pretty excellent. And as Biersch is a brewery, you will be able to get some pretty solid beers to accompany your giant burger. The Märzen beer is good, but if you can make it out in the winter for their Winterbock, you are really in for a treat.

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Baby Steps

I must delay new fiction again. A pretty rigorous schedule at work and much time with friends of late have cut my writing time drastically. So, rather than half-assing or posting unfinished work for you, I have decided that you get nothing.

What I am going to talk about (though this is really almost all I talk about in one form or another) is habits. We’ve all got them and despite the negative connotation some habits are quite good. Having a habit of washing dishes all the time. Or of leaving happy notes for friends, etc.

Whatever to those. We’re not here to discuss them. I want to talk about the bad habits. Smoking, goofing off at work, eating poorly.

Everyone always assumes the best way to break a habit is cold turkey. Or at least that’s the method most people start put trying. Cold turkey most likely won’t work, or you didn’t have a very ingrained habit to start. If your brain can immediately just go “Right, that’s done now” then you didn’t have a habit so much as something you just kept doing over and over. It was a conscious choice on your part and not something I would call a true habit. After all, isn’t a habit a nice pseudonym for an addiction?

Cold turkey seems to me more like something habit-abusers do so they can say they tried k owing full well that it will never work in a million years. It’s cheating. Or foolish. Either way it’s not optimal.

The way to go is in pieces. Slowly, over time. That’s how you got the habit, right? You kept doing it over and over and finally your brain just said “Yeah, let’s keep that going, we know that routine”. Why would you try any other method to reverse the process? Think of it this way, you’re not actually breaking a habit. You’re forming another, opposite habit. You used to bite your nails, and now it’s not that you may just stop biting them for a moment in time and call it a day, you need to get in the habit of not biting your nails.

This is not an easy process, so it is best to ease into it. Take the long term view. It will take days, weeks, months to wean yourself from a bad habit and turn it into a good one. It should also take baby steps to get you there. Leaps and bounds will likely startle you, or make it easier for you to feel discouraged and more likely to convince yourself you “deserve” some form of relapse to you habit. The brain’s power to rationalize is pretty epic.

An example: I’ve developed some bad eating habits. College did this to me. And considering I’m now a good six years out of college, I think it’s safe to say these are habits I’ve had fairly well ingrained in my life. Now that I’m trying to lifehack my way to being more awesome, I figured it was time to think about phase 2: getting back into shape (phase 1 was writing more and that’s now underway and gathering steam).

I’m not going to go from one day loving pulled pork sandwiches to the next day rocking a tofu-only diet. That would be madness. In fact, I’ve already figured out a bunch of food things that I’m not going to shy away from at all. I’ve decided that I don’t really have a problem with what I eat, but how I eat. So, looking at my problem in this way, I’m able to come up with a few things I can do to improve my eating methodology. Thusly:

– Don’t drink sodas.
– Don’t eat late.
– Don’t finish gigantic meals because you can.
– Don’t order more than you need to get the tastiness.
– Explore the green parts of the menu more.

These are five things that I believe if I improve upon, I’ll be on the road to better eating. They’re the seeds of a good habit. Once I’ve planted them, they’ll make great handholds for taking things farther if I decide I need to.

Being able to bullet point things out like this is helpful, though. It allows me to apply metrics to something that might otherwise seem sort of esoteric. I can decide that for two weeks I want to focus on only drinking water… and when I don’t think about it anymore, I can move on. Or I can tell myself that when I go a restaurant anything that is a “double” kind of thing I avoid ordering (take the double-cheeseburger… same amount of flavor as a single-cheeseburger… same length of enjoyment time, too… you won’t take longer to eat it because it’s a double… all the extra meat becomes is more caloric intake… if you want to savor the flavor longer, order two single burgers). Or I can say that I need to eat one salad for every three times I go out to get a meal. Or I can say that all meals I order will be things I’ll immediately divide in half and take leftovers home.

Looking at a habit and breaking it into composite parts lets you tackle it on your terms. You don’t have to come to a full stop. You can look at things piece by piece and devise systems to get you where you want to go. You’re more likely to stick with it and more likely to enjoy the process.

Okay, speaking of forming good habits, I need to stick with my habit of getting as much sleeps as I can. I need it this week.

Oh and if the start of the this post is phrased oddly or full of typos, I write half of it on the iPhone via my WordPress app. I’ll correct it tomorrow if I can get a few minutes.

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Review: District 9

We live in a magical time. A time where one of the most popular films in the nation right now is not only science fiction, but is filled with subtitles. I’m practically giddy over here.

It was a depressing revelation for me in my days as a Blockbuster employee how many individuals would return movies with subtitles because “I don’t want to read” (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was the cause of rampant DVD-returns, as the desire to see a martial arts epic fought against the distaste for all them words on the screen). So, to see a film that is unique, entirely lacking any major stars and filled with subtitles to read succeeding at the box office is heart-warming.

Some background before we get rolling:

District 9 was actually birthed from a short film Neill Blomkamp made years ago on the web, Alive in Joburg. The film was largely a tech demonstration, showcasing how well computer graphics could be integrated with real-world environments. It has many of the trademarks of District 9: the shaky handicam look, the personal interviews to explain the action, the look of the alien tech, etc.

Peter Jackson, of Lord of the Rings fame, caught wind of Blomkamp’s project and liked the flavor enough that he had planned to have Blomkamp direct the Halo film that Jackson was slated to produce. After Halo was held up due to funding issues, Jackson and Blomkamp were in search of another project, and figured why not expand on Blomkamp’s world as presented in his short film.

Below, enjoy the video. After that, my review of District 9, spoilers and all.

And now, here be spoilers.

District 9 isn’t telling the most original story in the world, but it does so in a fresh fashion. Aliens have “landed” on Earth, settling their mothership over South Africa. The ship simply hovers over Johannesburg until humans manage to break inside it, finding aliens stashed away like refugees in a slave ship. With the world watching, the aliens are shepherded down into the city and cordoned off into what starts as an area for protection and ends up as a ghetto.

The aliens, it seems, are lacking their leadership. As they are an insectoid race, it’s apparent that without their leaders, they are an aimless species. Soon, the human population comes to realize that they have no idea what to do with these stranded aliens. They have several million aliens that are culturally and physically alien, are potentially dangerous, and are feared and unwanted by the majority populace of the area. So the aliens are cordoned off in their ghetto and essentially ignored.

The film is a fairly transparent look at racism and the practices of apartheid. The action of the film is spurred on by the South African government’s attempt to have the company in charge of alien affairs, Multi-National United (MNU – not coincidentally also the world’s leading arms manufacturer), evict the aliens from their current residences in District 9 to an even more remote and tightly controlled area, referred to by one character as a concentration camp.

The man placed in charge of this action, Wikus, manages to accidentally ingest some alien liquid which begins to transform him, slowly but surely, into an alien himself. The transformation very quickly costs him everything he holds dear, and he finds himself hunted and abused, much as the aliens he has been placed in charge of have been for so long. The message, communicated in this way, is very effective, but it’s not the kind of thing that would have carried this film to the level of popularity it has achieved. Not that I want to say that covering racism is old hat, but simply having your message be “racism is bad” is not exactly something that takes 120 minutes to hammer home.

The film also deals with the efforts of MNU to unlock the secrets of the alien’s weaponry, which can only be operated by entities with alien DNA. Wikus, as a man in the midst of transformation, becomes a valuable piece of bio-weaponry that MNU attempts to harvest. Wikus’ subsequent escape into District 9 makes him the target of a massive military manhunt.

And on the alien front, we have Christopher. Clearly an alien with a greater sense of motivation than his brethren, he has been collecting fuel for two decades in an attempt to pilot his small shuttle back to the mothership so that he can return to the homeworld. When he crosses paths with Wikus, we watch as Wikus must confront what the humans have been doing to these aliens. He is forced to weigh his own desire for salvation with the notion of freedom and rescue for this downtrodden race.

All together, the film is an engrossing experience. The world is gritty and realistic. The racism parable is effective and jarring as Sharlto Copley (Wikus) gives a manic and wholly believable performance. The effects are top-notch, the alien tech is very cool and the action is very tense. I had no idea what to expect throughout the movie. The style of storytelling didn’t lend itself to a typical Hollywood arc where even if you feel some trepidation, you’re still aware of what the ending must be. I was able to sit back and be honestly mystified and intrigued the entire time.

District 9 is part of a rare breed. We need to encourage it. Go and see it. We need more high concept, unique and intelligent action and science fiction films out there. I’m getting really tired of remakes.

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