Soylent: The Final Update

It’s been quite awhile since I updated on my Soylent experiment. Since last we spoke, they seem to have finally worked out the kinks in the product, since some of the more annoying aspects of it stopped being a problem for me (*cough* gas *cough*). No subsequent versions have felt as filling and fully satisfying as the original formula for me, though; and long-time users on the forums say the same. Every subsequent version has seemed more refined and easier to digest, but more like a traditional protein shake in terms of satiety. I never again got the feeling that I had fully eaten and wasn’t remotely interested in more food, like I did with 1.0. So that was disappointing.

Then, in February, I joined a half-marathon training program. I know, I have said I have no interest in running with a group! And I stand by that. But this group seemed really manageable — you only run together for your long runs. And I needed some accountability in my running, and a reason to get out of the house at least once a week.

And as I increased my weekly mileage, I got really really hungry, and also really interested in food. And I wanted, like, all different types of food. (Which I guess is how you normal people feel all the time! I understand you now! Or, kind of, because I still don’t want it badly enough to cook or do much more than drive down to the burrito stand.)

Soylent wasn’t filling me up at all anymore, and while I probably could have just increased my consumption, I have no desire to choke down more than one pitcher of the stuff per day. If I have to drink that much Soylent to keep fueled, it’s just too much Soylent.

So I canceled my subscription, and now I’m back to eating a lot of takeout, bagged salads, and frozen dinners from Trader Joe’s.

I will probably incorporate Soylent into my diet again next winter when I’m less active. Right after I quit, they finally released a version that incorporates the oil into the dry mix, so you don’t even have to screw around with the annoying little oil bottles anymore, which is a big plus.

I think Soylent is a particularly great temporary option for people who are sedentary, or too busy to eat properly, or too depressed to feed themselves. And maybe in future, they’ll come out with different formulas that account for activity level. But for now, I’m chewing again.

Wow. Interested in food, running with other people — who the fuck even am I these days? I think I’m delirious from increased sunlight.

Budapest

A year ago, I took a trip to Budapest for a conference and a work meetup, and I forgot to ever blog about it! So let’s lump this one under better late than never.

One of my colleagues, Jeremy, lives in Budapest, so he showed us a very good time. We stayed in some apartments in downtown Pest and walked almost everywhere we had to go. I loved the architecture surrounding us. Here was a street just around the corner from us — note how the building facades curve along with the street:

For the first couple of days we were there, we were busy attending an all-day conference, so we didn’t look around much, but we did have quite a few amazing meals. My favorite dish was some sort of Hungarian pork speciality described as pork from a pig with long white hair. It was fatty and smoky and delicious, so if you’re ever in Hungary and there’s some sort of hairy pig on the menu, get it.

On the final night of the conference, we all stopped by the after party and had some shots of pálinka. Then we went to a nearby ruin pub. The ruin pubs are a fairly recent (last 20 years or so) trend in Budapest. They came about because the city has a great many abandoned, condemned buildings that are too expensive to tear down and replace. At some point, some enterprising hipster lugged a bunch of mismatched furniture into one and set up a bar, and it was wildly popular, and the ruin pubs have been a thing ever since. They’re very cool — old stone courtyards and arcades, winding stairways and crumbling archways all thronging with people and jammed with salvaged school desks and couches, modern light fixtures, and bars and food stalls. Here are a couple of crappy pictures from the one we went to:

These don’t really capture the labyrinthine feel of the ruin pubs, though — the buildings are huge, many of them former tenements.

The day after the conference, Jeremy took us on a walk across the Széchenyi Chain Bridge to the Buda Castle complex, which is on a hill looking over the city. From there, we walked through a little village of shops near there to Matthias Church, with its decoratively tiled roof. Then, we walked along the river in Buda for a good way, until we were just across from the spiky Gothic parliament building, and then hopped on the subway back to Pest.

In the afternoon, we took a tour. Our tour guide was a cute, skinny college girl with a mop of curly black hair. She showed us around a bunch of ruined buildings and explained the history of downtown architecture, and how some buildings were being repurposed (such as into ruin pubs) and others demolished, and still others could not be demolished for various complicated reasons and so had turned into squats in the middle of otherwise very upwardly aspirant neighborhoods.

At one stop, she led us through the courtyard of an apartment building to an unassuming-looking stone wall at the rear of the property. The wall was adorned with a small remembrance plaque to victims of the Holocaust, and had a little shrine below it. Our guide explained that this wall was one of the few stretches of the Jewish ghetto wall that had survived the siege. But then it was accidentally torn down anyway by some builders who were modernizing and didn’t realize the wall was anything special. When the locals pointed it out, they rebuilt the wall to look kind of like the old one and that’s what we were actually viewing.

Here’s the wall, along with a clear example of old apartments and new complexes coexisting on the same block:

We ended the tour at a pub. Jeremy had been talking about a surprise all day, but he wouldn’t tell us what it was, although he did say, disturbingly, that he hoped none of us were afraid of confined spaces. We had a drink at the bar, and he explained that the surprise was that we would be locked into a room and would have one hour to get out.

As alarming as that sounded, it turned out to be a locked room game that is becoming really popular in a number of places and was one of the most tremendously fun group activities I have ever done — if you live in a place where there is one, go immediately! The rooms are full of all kinds of knick knacks and furniture, and you have to look for clues and solve puzzles to find keys that unlock further clues. It’s difficult to describe, but the games are really elaborately constructed, and you have to go through them at a very frenetic pace to get out in an hour.

We divided into two teams of five, and then we each did one of the rooms, and then swapped. Our first room was called the mirror room, and we did not solve it. We didn’t even come close. We got stuck really early on, and couldn’t figure out how to use one of the hints we were given. The second one was an Alice In Wonderland themed room, and that one we managed to solve.

The next couple of days were work days, but we did use our lunch break one day to climb to the top of St. Stephen’s Basilica and enjoy the view of the city, and of course, we walked around a bunch.

In the evening, we went for a nighttime dinner cruise on the Danube, tables and a bar in a floating glass dome of a boat. There was a live singer who sang Judy Collins-type hits in English.

Next morning, we all walked over to the Dohány Street Synagogue, and then took the subway over to Gellért Hill, which we climbed and looked at the most Soviet sculpture ever made, the Liberty Statue, which is one of the few statues that weren’t demolished after the revolution.

Then we walked back down, and over to the Great Market Hall, which was bustling and multi-level and enclosed, full of stalls selling embroidered dolls and cloths and emptied painted eggshells and mystery boxes. There was also a long line of food stalls and after much fighting, my coworker and I managed to secure a giant wheel of fried dough piled with sour cream, cucumbers, pepperoni, olives, peppers, onions, and cheese. It was delicious. We hunched over a free bit of table to eat it, meanwhile using our elbows to defend our spot from encroaching families.

By the afternoon, I was pretty zonked, and I almost begged off going to the baths, but I’m glad I didn’t. Jeremy took us to the Széchenyi Thermal Bath in the middle of City Park. The baths are in a long, ornate building and are packed with every possible example of humanity: fat old fellows absorbed in a game of chess on a built-in board (Jeremy: “they get really mad if someone tries to take their spot”), gangs of tourists from various European countries, families with young children and surly teens in tow, young couples who needed to get a room. There are pools in a large center courtyard out in the open air, and then there is the building of spas of varying temperatures, freezing to boiling and everything in between. Inside, the ceilings are high and arched, and there is lots of Grecian-type statuary — cherubs look down over the bathers. The spas themselves are from a spring, so they’re not treated and they have a fungal, sulphury smell.

This was the perfect thing to do at the end of a busy week, and a fitting finale to our trip. Budapest wasn’t really on my radar as far as places to visit, but I really loved it, and I’d like to go back and explore a bit more.

(Some more pictures from Budapest here.)

American Worries In 2015

Woman: I worry that I don’t fully own my own body under the law, and that I could be imprisoned for miscarrying.

Person of color: I worry that I can legally be shot dead by a police officer despite not having committed any crime.

Man: I worry that I have to start thinking before I speak, because a bunch of people might make fun of me on Twitter if I say something racist or sexist.

Poem

As I’ve mentioned before, every year my company has a grand meetup and we are all required to give a 4 minute-long flash talk on a topic of our choosing. In the past, I’ve spoken on rabbits and the underrated art of lying. This year, I read a poem:


 
Watching this now makes me realize I actually really miss performing.

Coffee Shop Overhears

Ocassionally, I work outside the house. Typically, this is at a local coworking space, which is very quiet and kind of corporate, and I work there with my coworker. But this week, we decided to mix it up and work at a coffee shop.

Like most places in Albuquerque, this coffee shop is adjacent to a garage. I’ve lived here for nearly two years now, and I have yet to learn my way around because I don’t leave the house much, but no matter where I go, I usually find that it ends up being next to a garage with no customers and a bunch of dudes sitting out in front of it. There are approximately 2000 of these garages in the greater ABQ area; ours is predominately a garage-based economy.

The coffee shop itself was owned and staffed by a bunch of old hippies, mostly veterans, and the clientele was also about 90% staff. There were plenty of tables and outlets and the wifi held out great, and I had a really amazing cappuccino and half of a terrible breakfast burrito.

But what really made the experience was the overheard conversation between the various staff members. For most of the day, two old dudes sat around and loudly expounded on matters of government surveillance and national security. It was pretty impossible to follow but it all started with a discussion of a movie about a sniper that is apparently out right now.

After a long, spirited debate about whether or not this man was a hero, they moved onto the purpose of art.

“I mean, you see all these people lined up to see this film,” said old hippie number one. “And they look miserable! They don’t look happy! I mean, I go to see a movie to be entertained, you know? Or, or inspired. Not to…not to make myself miserable.”

“Mmm,” agreed old hippie number two.

“I don’t go to…to…, and who’s seeing this film? Who’s seeing it?”

“Not me.”

“Not you and me! We’re not seeing it. You know, it’s these people…and they don’t look happy. That’s not a good time for them, seeing that.”

When next I tuned back in, they were discussing ISIS.

“And what if they decide to come across the border, you know, here in New Mexico?” said hippie number two.

“Why?”

“Well, they could just–”

“—Have you seen that border? Have you been down there recently?”

“Well, I’m just saying–”

“They can’t get across that border. That’s the last place on earth they could ever get — nobody can even — that border, let me tell you about–”

“–I’m just saying, I think Albuquerque is prime target, for, you know, for ISIS.”

“Why?”

“Well. It’s a major metropolitan area near a border.”

“What? What the hell would ISIS possibly want to do in Albuquerque? What’s here?”

“…Los Alamos?”

When next I tuned in, they were deep into analysis of the lyrics of a certain Taylor Swift song.

“I have to say,” said hippie two. “I have a crush on her. I’ve never had a crush on a female…like, a female vocalist before, but.”

“Now, what are you talking about?” said hippie one, very indignantly. “What about Chrissie Hynde?”

“Oh, yeah,” said hippie two.

They contemplated that in mutual silence for some time.

“Anyway,” said hippie two. “It’ll be a sad day when that Taylor Swift gets married.”

“Yeah, that’s what’ll put her out of reach for you.”

“Mmmm,” agreed hippie two, pensively. “And I’m happily married,” he added.

Around this time, a lady with a combined air of management and long-term drug abuse came in and started bustling around and giving various burrito-based directives. She also queued up a documentary on hip-hop to play very loudly on an overhead projector.

“You ladies bothered by the language in this?” she asked us. “It’s about hip hop.”

“No, not at all,” we lied politely, as a pair of undoubtedly very talented fellows screamed at each other that they were nobody’s bitch and could fuck any bitch they put a mind to.

Having made sure the burrito situation was well in hand, this woman joined the two hippies and was soon deep into a discussion of her family dynamic.

“Because,” she said, sounding just a bit choked up. “My mother is the only one who ever validated me, you know? She’s the only one. And my sister, now my sister has been practicing witchery since she was 8 years old. And I don’t think that’s right, and I have objected to it, and the only one who took my objections seriously was my mother! My mother. Now, my sister, and then recently, she began to practice witchcraft in my bedroom! She did it in my bedroom! When she knows how I feel about it! And everyone else was, had no idea how deep she had gotten into it, but I’d told them. And the only one who validated me was my mother.”

This conversation eventually moved onto other things, but after a while, the lady felt moved to call her mother and tell her that she so appreciated her support.

“You were the only one, ma,” she explained. “The only one who validated me. Oh, that’s what they say, but she’s been practicing witchery since she was eight. Yes, she has, ma. Yes.”

Around this time, we sadly had to pack up and leave, but I’m not sure when I last had a more interesting work day. I think I might work at coffee shops more often.