Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Das Unheimliche

Two weeks after my last blog post, I had this weird experience that definitely qualifies as "unheimlich".

I woke up around 7 am on a week day and for some strange reason, I started thinking about the novel Moby Dick. I thought I had never read it and that it would be a good idea to read it in the near future.

I got up a few minutes later and went to my computer in order to check my emails... It so happened that I had received a notification from Twitter stating that @herman_melville had just started following my Twitter updates during the night!

This lead me to experience what Freud called "Das Unheimliche" which could be translated in English by uncanny or un-home-ly! This feeling was particularly exacerbated in light of my previous blog post on the topic of neoconsciousness!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Neoconsciousness Through Technological Advances

Cellular devices have evolved at an incredible speed in the past fifteen years. We have come from a world in which owning a cellular phone was a distinctive social achievement proof to a place where cellular phones are ubiquitous and as common as key chains.
The mass availability of these devices has changed the way we see and use them.
At the dawn of the cell phone era, the lucky owners of such coveted devices would justify their purchase by the need to be reachable at all times for they would be or see themselves as very important people. In this regard, cell phones would nourish their owner's narcissistic needs and stand for some sort of phallic prosthesis. Laying a cell phone on a restaurant table would act as a beacon of power and wealth.
As cell phones became more affordable, their mass adoption lead to the decline of their phallic prosthesis function. They, however, contributed to the creation of a new sense: the sense of connectivity that every new user would experience after carrying such a device in their pocket on a day-to-day basis. At that time, cellular devices became counter phobic objects, relieving their owner's fear of not being able to call for help in case of an emergency and enabling them to feel freer in their social interactions at the same time.
The Web 2.0 revolution introduced a much greater but less apparent paradigm shift. Social media are evolving at an ever increasing pace and they are consistently creating new connections, mimicking in that respect the constant rearrangement of neuronal connections present in our brains. When the internet became widespread, many visionaries described the web as a neuronal network and fantasized about the possible advent of its own potential consciousness.
Are we ever to witness the creation of such an event, whether you call it an anomaly or as Bergson would put it “the essential function of the universe, which is a machine for the making of gods” in the sense that we could consider ourselves the creators of this “artificial”’ consciousness? If so, it is more likely to be thanks to the increasing speed at which social media users create new links between one another as these connections share so many common characteristics with our own brain synapses.
Let’s have a look at “Twitter”. Its success might be related to its appeal on many different levels: narcissistic, voyeuristic, introspective, fashionistic etc… It is more importantly the vessel to a wealth of social interactions whether they be passive or active. When you pull up Twitter’s home page, you experience a feeling that Freud once called “Das Unheimliche” (a disturbing strangeness) as you are beholding the world, yet it is not the same world as the one you have been used to see before your eyes.
What is most striking when attempting to extract the quintessential aspect of Twitter is the way it allows users to connect to one another. You can indeed choose to “follow” people which will enable you to read whatever they are posting and people can in return choose to follow you back. You have in this concept the exact neuronal paradigm representation.
Basic neurobiology describes what happens in a synapse between two neurons: the terminal (axonic) end of a neuron transmits a signal through a gap (synapse) to the postsynaptic dendritic end of a second neuron. This is very similar to the way one can follow another Twitter user and become the recipient of their messages. The similarity doesn’t stop here. As we are indeed capable of replying to one user’s Twitter updates, this is absolutely similar to what neurobiologists call retrograde neurotransmission where the dendritic end of a neuron transmits a signal back to the axonic end of the original neuron, thus replying to its message.
One less known neurotransmission mechanism is called “volume neurotransmission” where a neuron can release a specific neurotransmitter outside of a synapse. This neurochemical will be able reach the dendritic end of many neighboring neurons, thus allowing for message transduction on a larger scale. This last example is very close to the way one Twitter user can “spread” their updates to a number of followers without necessarily following them back in return.
Humans are seen as social animals as most of us share the inherent will to create new connections to one another. Those unable to do so usually suffer great anxieties and are seen as sick by the majority. Now that we have come to a time when so many of us carry social interaction devices 24/7, we keep creating new connections at the literal speed of light. It is, therefore, inevitable that these connections change the very fabric of our world. The main question that still needs to be addressed is: will this change lead to the advent of an artificial consciousness that will co-exist with us Humans or will it change our own individual consciousness and perception of the world on an idiosyncratic scale?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Does God Have Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

I haven't been able to stop thinking about it for a few weeks now but I can't seem to understand why in so many religions, God is seen as someone who must be worhsipped and feared.

How is it possible that such an almighty being as God would need the narcissistic reassurance of being worshipped?

If God created us, wouldn't it be to give us freedom rather than have us spend our short lives in fear and with the necessity of worshipping our creator?

How could God be so weak as to need our reassurance ?

Disneyland Paris - New York Hotel

My wife, daughter and I went to Disneyland Paris last week-end. We did enjoy our stay and had great time there!

We got there at 1 am for our first, and obviously very short, night at the Holiday Inn Hotel at Disneyland Paris. We had booked a regular room, and probably thanks to my Priority Club Platinum status, were upgraded to a kids' suite which was rather big with a small separate room for our daughter. The buffet breakfast included in the rate was good and we must say that for less than 200 euros for the night, this was a pretty good deal.

After that breakfast, we checked out and drove 2 mins to reach the New York Hotel. We were stopped at the gate and asked if we had a reservation. As we said yes, the employee that had stopped us checked on a list and said "Oh, you have a suite. Put this card on your dashboard so that they will know when you get to the main entrance". We did but didn't feel anybody had noticed this rather huge card showing the hotel logo.

As it was 8 am, there was no wait to check in. We went to the main check-in area. They couldn't find our reservation but soon realized that this was due to the fact that we were staying in a suite and actually had to check in at the "Empire State Club". So we went there and were welcome by 2 gentlemen who proceeded with our personal check-in. Our room was not ready yet (we had to wait until 3 pm to check-in and check-out was at 11 am on our departure day).

We recevied our park tickets and VIP Fast Passes which allowed us to use the Fastpass lanes on a bunch of rides. The fastpass lane allows people to get to the ride in advance, register and get a time slow at which they can return in order to use the Fastpass lane. The great thing about the VIP Fastpasses (that only people staying in suites or at the Castle Club at the Disneyland Hotel receive) is that you don't have to register in advance and thus can use any fastpass lane whenever you want (from 11 am until 2 hours before the parks close) and as many times as you want. We really thought this was a great perk as it saved us a lot of time.

As for our room, I wouldn't say it was magnificent but it was quite decent and spacious. When we got there, we found a note from the general manager welcoming us, a picture frame, a gift for our daughter as well as half a bottle of champagne on ice.

This was nice! Breakfast for suite guests is served in the Empire State Club lounge and Disney characters come and go during breakfast hours which makes for a great and personal encounter with them for children!

We had also booked a lunch at the "Auberge de Cendrillon". It was great fun as our daughter had the opportunity to talk to Cinderella, Snow White & Sleeping Beauty. She even danced with them and was thrilled by the experience!

All in all a wonderful week-end and we can't wait to go back!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Restaurant R - Strasbourg (France)

This restraurant has been opened for more than 4 years but we hadn't eaten there for at least 2 years. We used to very much like it but did not feel we were treated right on our last visit there 2 years ago.

We, however, decided to give it another try yesterday evening!

This 2 floor restaurant used to seat guests dining there on the upper level but apparently they don't anymore as there are, now, dining tables on the ground level. We started our evening with a drink at the bar and I was disappointed with the bartender that, obviously, was clueless when I ordered a "Grey Goose Dry Martini without Vermouth, shaken, with olives". He started pouring Grey Goose Vodka in a shaker than proceeded to add Vermouth (I managed to stop him right before he was about to pour it in the shaker). He then asked me: "you don't want any Vermouth ?" I replied that was what I meant when I said "without Vermouth" when I ordered. I went on, talking to my wife, and realized too late he was pouring Gin in the shaker that already contained Grey Goose Vodka. I mentioned the fact that I did not want any Gin. He then, reluctantly, started over. He poured Grey Goose Vodka in a shaker, shook the mix, and poured everything in a regular (non-Martini) glass with the ice cubes. It took a lot of energy on my part to explain AGAIN what I was expecting. I, hopefully, managed to have my drink in the end!

As our last bad experience there 2 years ago involved dry Martinis, I can only come to the conclusion that nothing has changed! I, however, was not expecting them to have a proper trained bartended there so I decided to erase this unfortunate start from my memory!

So let's talk about dinner!

We ordered their 9-course Kaiseki dinner with a bottle of red wine that we really like (2004 "The Footbolt" Shiraz). The Maitre D' right away mentioned that he thought this wine would not go well with the food we had ordered. I insisted because my wife and I knew that wine and had no problem combining it to our order. We were, then, informed that they actually did not have any left! The Maitre D', however, brought us a bottle of Australian Shiraz that we liked.

Food was good. I would say that some dishes are not subtle enough but overall, we ate well.

The setting was beautiful. So we can say that we spent a nice evening.

We were disappointed to learn that they don't accept American Express cards though!

All in all, we might go back there but I doubt it will be very soon!

Code Bar - Strasbourg (France)

I've just realized that I hadn't mentioned this great bar on my blog!

This is a real cocktail bar with a very professional trained bartended!

A great place to have dry Martinis, Champagne, or perfect Mojitos!


GoH Restaurant - Sofitel Hotel - Strasbourg

This restaurant has been opened for a year. Its opening followed the end of the very much needed renovation that this Hotel has undergone.

I must say we were absolutely stunned with the setting.

The Sofitel Hotel in Strasbourg is really a great place. The contemporary design made us feel we were on vacation!

As we started our evening with drinks at their "Le Link" bar, we were, also, happily surprised to find there a trained bartender that fixed me a great Grey Groose Martini! A perfect start for a nice evening!

The food at the restaurant was very good! I had "Foie Gras" followed by a piece of lamb that was perfectly cooked!

They have a great selection of wines and carry foreign wines along with French wines.

Our friends and I shared a bottle of Monbazillac with our starters and we, then, ordered a bottle of 2004 "The FootBolt" Shiraz from Australia. Both wines were great and we were very pleased with our experience there!

We will go back!


Grand Hotel Gerardmer (France)

My wife, daughter and I, recently, spent a night at this property and we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food, the bar (and the presence of a trained bartender that knew how to make good Martinis)!

There is a "gastronomic" fine restaurant located in the hotel but didn't get a chance to eat there as we were attending a costumed party!

We, however, visited one of their suites and really liked its design!

If I had to mention one drawback, I would point out to the fact that they make it very hard for customers to pay with an American Express card.


Umami Restaurant - Strasbourg (France)

My wife and I went to this relatively new restaurant in Strasbourg a few weeks ago and we were absolutely delighted with our dinner. We chose the tasting menu that comes with 4 glasses of wines. The combination of the wines and the inventive food was a must-go experience!

We'll definitely go back!


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Dinner At White Room - Maison Blanche in Paris (France)

I recently went to White Room - Maison Blanche in Paris to have dinner.

I must say I was impressed with the place and the magnificent view of Paris it offers! The settings was definitely in accordance with my taste and the food excellent.

The only thing that they could improve is the olives they use for their dry Martinis!

After dinner on week-ends, the main restaurant is transformed into a night-club and I must say I had a blast there!

This place is a must-go if you're in Paris!

Au Crocodile Restaurant - Strasbourg (France)

My wife and I recently had the pleasure of having dinner at the 2-star Michelin Restaurant "Au Crocodile" in Strasbourg. This restaurant had formerly 3 stars but has had only 2 for a few years.

I called to book a table 2 days in advance for a friday evening and was happily suprised to learn that they still had an available table. I mentioned over the phone that we had a gift certificate for a dinner for 2 (drinks included).

When we got there, we were disappointed to see that our table was not in the main (& beautiful) room but rather in a more simple and small room.

There were mostly young people seating in this room with a menu on each table which cover stated the menu they had chosen. I thought it was not a very nice & discreet idea since we could read that the people sitting in the table next to ours were having the promotional menu for young people. Who needs to know what people sitting at a different table have ordered or what their budget is ?

Anyway, service was not really up to par with the place. At the end of dinner, as we were the only ones remaining on our side of the room, there was no one to wait on our table and we basically had to wait 5 minutes to order another bottle of water.

The staff was, however, very nice when available.

As for the food, I must say that I had heard many people complaining about this place in the past months. We, on the other hand, were absolutely amazed with what we ate and must say the food was excellent.

I would still say without a doubt that "L'Arnsbourg" (Baerenthal) restaurant is better than "Au Crocodile". But the latter is without a doubt the best restaurant in Strasbourg.

Note: For an updated review of this restaurant, click here.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

New Year On The Beach In Guaruja (SP), Brazil

That is how 2008 started for me!

Happy New Year to everyone and best wishes!

Atlantico Signature Restaurant At Casa Grande Hotel in Guaruja (SP), Brazil

My wife and I had a lovely dinner last week at the Atlantico Signature Restaurant in Guaruja.

I particularly liked my "Tournedo" with a "Ganache" of Foie Gras which was a nice variation of the classic Tournedo Rossini!
We also got to taste the Chandon sparkling wine produced in Brazil by Moet & Chandon. It, actually, is very good and close, in my opinion, to the Moet & Chandon Champagne produced in France.

I also had a Belvedere Martini at the Lobby bar of the hotel. I must say I was surprised to find this coveted Vodka in Guaruja!

The hotel staff was very nice and helpful.

Thumbs up to the Casa Grande Hotel!