cupcakes and other fads

25 Aug

Someone enlighten me about the obsession with cupcakes. Among all the fads that I’ve witnessed growing up and they were strange (furbies, chia pets, need I say more?) this love for cupcakes is beyond me. It is to the point it actually kind of annoys me. What’s wrong with regular cake, I ask when people say they have cupcake cravings.

Yet, there are people so passionate about them they are quitting their day jobs and starting cupcakeries. Think Georgetown Cupcake and Crumbs. The public loves them and their business shows. Cupcake shops are as ubiquitous as burger joints these days and that is a huge feat. While carnivores salivate at the thought of a fresh piece of meat on the grill, people with a sweet tooth will line up for hours just for a bite of cake.

A sugar high is one thing, but other sweets besides a cupcake can achieve that. Cupcakes are hardly sophisticated based on my amateur baking skills. You achieve a level of smoothness to the cream and master moistness in the cake, but it seems hardly complicated. I’m no pastry chef, but I don’t think my palate is unrefined. Cupcakes are sugar on sugar just in different textures to put it bluntly. How are cupcakes any more special when in fact just less varied than cake?

I get the love for other foods like chocolate, wine and charcuterie, which are all wonderfully complex and sciences of their own. What is so lacking in a perfectly good cake that they need to miniaturize it? I hope the reason is more to it than individual servings. And I hope it’s not just hype for hype’s sake.

Where I live, people will line upwards of an hour for cupcakes. If you want to think of time better spent with that hour, let me assist you while I reason you out of that cupcake line. In one hour, you can actually cook a whole meal. In an hour you can fly from DC to Boston. In an hour you can put in good exercise or practice a hobby.

There are very few things I will line up hours for and they include lining up for Black Friday or lining up for the next Iphone. Even in the busiest hours of the Apple store if someone were to wait an hour to get service, people will leave. What compels someone to wait so long to get a simple sugar fix? Apparently a cupcake is worth it and that is what boggles my mind.

Home

17 Aug

Whenever I visit my hometown, which isn’t often, I go back feeling things will be the same. It’s not always the case, but I wish it to be that way. There’s maybe more good in having a constant in life than hunting for that next best thing. That is the thought that nudges me home. Despite the fact people and places change, home is very close to being a constant in life and comfort.

Last weekend I stayed in the house I grew up in. Small things I never really noticed as a child suddenly pop up and remind me I’m back. The wooden floors creak no matter how carefully or slowly I move across the hallway to my old bedroom. My twin mattress still firm after so many years, is smaller than I remembered as my feet hang over the edge. The colors of the bedsheets are noticeably faded, but today, my bed is neatly made.

There’s nothing quite like the smell of home either. The interesting combination of smells from the kitchen: sweat, cooking oil residue and medicine cabinets. It’s slightly acrid but not overwhelmingly so. An occasional breeze passes through the open windows to help remove the stale air.

Nothing really special stands out in my house– no beautiful mantelpiece or family heirloom on display. It is still distinctively home somehow.

My thoughts are interrupted when my mom comes to brag about the new windows she recently has installed and assures me that she’ll save money on the next electricity bill. She then proceeds to ask me for help with her new Ipad. I act equally impressed and amused by her. No matter how many improvements and changes they make, my parents are still the same.

It’s nice. I leave my guard down. I put my plans on hold. I eat and sleep well and don’t really think about tomorrow yet. For now I’m enjoying my brief respite.

Moment of silence

7 Aug

I wake up to my phone alarm first thing in the morning, stumble out of bed not just to hit the snooze button. I check my inbox immediately and find comfort in new email. New notifications and mentions on my Facebook and Twitter feed give me a momentary rush in the morning which could very well be my caffeine buzz. I ignore my body’s yearn to go back to sleep. I’d rather be checking what I missed in my sojourn in dreamland.

Sound familiar?

The addiction to being online is transforming into the new norm. For me, at least, I need to make a conscious effort to log off. One morning I purposely turned off the radio during my commute. Breaking that morning ritual was not exactly demanding, but it took some convincing of myself to try it once.

Why did I bother? I was turning into a news addict, maybe not a drug addict, but an addict nonetheless. I felt a sense of withdrawal when I didn’t check the news or Facebook for more than an hour. When I tried to focus on work completely, I struggled. I had to listen or watch the news in the background while I worked on the computer or talked to someone. I multi-tasked to no end. I thrust myself into that situation willingly however. Only a bigger distraction could grab my attention. The rest would be forgotten and get lost in the noise.

I realized the distractions and chatter became deafening. It silenced my own thoughts.

That drive in silence felt oddly inspiring. There was an absence of something more than sound – an absence of immaterial things. What used to be a fear of awkward silences became instant gratification from a brief moment of introspection. That morning I practiced my internal monologue and it’s not as laughable as it sounds. I was reacquainting myself with my thoughts and feelings. Instead of reading someone’s rant online or getting flooded by the news, my life was simple again as it should be.

Revisiting Google Plus

4 Aug

A month has passed and G+ has integrated nicely into my life. In the few days I started using it, G+ felt like an exclusive club where we got to hang out with some of the tech bigwigs. People like Myspace founder Tom Anderson and VC/entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki were suddenly reinstating their influence and making a lot of noise – mostly good noise. They loved it and everybody loved it too and shared their devotion to G+ and prided themselves as G+ users.

Having been on G+ for a month now, the growing G+ community took me by the most surprise. I didn’t expect to find the majority of users to be programmers, engineers and nerds like myself who were also into technology. That’s a huge reason why I stayed on G+ and love about it. I’m biased however.

Besides that, people were also adding thoughtful dialogue, sharing new content and making new connections. It felt authentic, closer to a real life discussion than what I experienced on Twitter or Facebook. I felt more confident knowing people were actually adding me to their circles because they found me interesting. There was also little to no spam. That was a huge +1!

As I started using G+ more, I drew boundaries when sharing. Posting became more of a conscious effort and I became aware of my audience. I don’t sync my updates among all social platforms. I use each for specific purposes and feel like each has different effects in amplifying thoughts and ideas.

When I share a post on Facebook, I get responses from a core group of friends. I still tweet, but half the time it’s sorting through spambots and obsessing about your follower count. I still find Twitter trumps G+ on the news front however. With G+, it tries to be both, however it stands out by encouraging people to participate in a discussion with friends and strangers. That is probably the most amazing part.

Now the funny part about G+ is that the people don’t get tired of singing its praises. Somehow discussing G+ with other diehard users convinces themselves how great it is. Outsiders AND insiders hear the fanaticism over G+ and current users have dissected G+ more than the Google engineers who developed it! Bottom line: People really want to preserve this interactive community.

I am a believer in it too and actively using it. I’m still unsure whether I’ll leave Facebook altogether or if G+ will be interesting enough months from now to keep me engaged. I am observing my own social media behavior evolve as I spend more time on it. G+ does increase the social aspect of social media and that is a very good thing. While Facebook remains the lazy way of interacting with friends and Twitter focuses on popularity and online clout, G+ focuses on community. To my surprise, G+ is filling in the social media hole that I felt was missing in other platforms.

Missed opportunities

31 Jul

I like chance encounters and the like. It’s exciting and unexpected, and somehow it happens almost naturally. It starts with a simple ‘Yes’ and an open attitude. The figurative domino knocks over and sets off a cascade of dominoes that fall beyond your control. The initial step of being present, allowing things to happen regardless of the outcome is freeing for an analytical, logical person like myself.

The thought reminds me of my college commencement where our speaker, Bill Cosby addressed us newly minted graduates to show up for things. Showing up is half the effort he said. My bright eyed self wondered what he meant to ‘show up.’ His statement didn’t go well with the rest of my overachieving class. I shrugged off the advice that being present could guarantee anything, let alone success. A few years later, I finally understood that he meant it differently and less literally. How often have you thought about foregoing meetings or events, but after deciding to show up, you’re glad you went?

My mom shares the anecdote of her first meeting with my dad and how it was completely by chance. My dad was going on a double date with my mom’s roommate at the time but her roommate fell sick and my mom ended up taking her place. It’s funny as much as we like to predict what happens next, it never quite turns out that way. Guess who’s thanking my mom now?

Showing up signals priorities in life, but also a way to open up new opportunities – job opportunities, new friends, the list goes on. I hardly say no to invitations and so far it’s served me well. When I waver between putting myself out there or going about my own routine, I challenge myself to do the former. I can always go back to my routine the next day.

30 days

24 Jul

A lot can happen in a month. You stay abroad for a month and it completely changes your worldview. You commit to running for the first time and run your first 8k and have been running since. True stories from my life.

I was watching a TED Talk the other day where the speaker was encouraging the audience to commit to something for 30 days. It could be anything you’ve always wanted to do, but have put off like a exploring a new hobby or breaking a bad habit. Somehow in that span of 30 days, a real transformation takes place. You start building that mental muscle called persistence.

Often when I start anything new, there’s a steep learning curve that I have to overcome. The hobby you liked starts to feel like work, and the habit you’re badly trying to break is looking more like a personality flaw. I start to weigh the cost of time spent. Am I going to meet my goal? Is it worth it?

That question creeps up all the time and that self-doubt has stopped me from pursuing many things.

30 days is a great trial period, a challenge for you to figure out whether this habit of yours can be corrected. It’s a great experiment to find out the difference between a hobby and a passion.

If you have a lot of ideas and projects cooking in your head, what’s a month spent working on them intently when you will probably start them at some point, but with less vigor and focus?

Worst case scenario, you can finally say you did done it. Liking it might be another story.

A matter of opinion

18 Jul

People are opinionated as much as they are demanding sometimes and it shows on pages like Yelp and Amazon. I frequent these pages to get a second opinion, and I end up combing through the reviews to find a negative comment that will tempt me to change my mind.

Just recently I had to buy something trivial as a cutting board and somehow it transformed into a hunt for THE best cutting board. My search became increasingly involved and I learned more than I wanted to about the differences between bamboo and natural wood boards. I ended up returning a few cutting boards that I disliked and started to wonder the credibility of reviewers who raved about the less-than stellar products.

Most people make informed decisions before they purchase something. In my case above I overly obsessed the process but I don’t think it strays far from say, my next door neighbor’s decision making skills. We want the best and if we get something that’s close to it, we have to tell people about it. If we hate it, we have to vent, too.

With Facebook’s ‘Like’ and Google’s +1 button, your friends’ preferences show up on sites and can potentially influence you. Does a friend’s opinion weigh more than the general consensus? I personally try to weigh everybody’s opinion equally, friend or not. (Maybe I trust strangers more than I realize?)

I try not to take reviews on Yelp and Amazon to heart. I might be picky in areas that others aren’t and vice versa. People including myself are just too particular. Our reactions are fleeting, variable and emotionally driven that I just have to try it and decide for myself.