A little positivity goes a long way

Today was an interesting one that I probably won’t forget for a while. Sure, I will likely forget all the details, but the point of the day will remain in my head for a long time to come. Why? Simply put, it made me think about the power of positivity (which is not generally a topic that consumes much of my thought cycles).

I started out the day in the same way that I start out almost every other day—with a run. I had decided that I was going to go for a 15 km run instead of the typical 10 or 12, but that’s really irrelevant. Within the first few minutes, I passed an older woman (probably in her mid-to-late sixties), and I said “good morning.” She responded with “what a beautiful smile! You make sure to give that gift to everyone today.” I was really taken back by her comment because it was rather uncommon in this day and age.

Her comment stuck with me for the rest of the run, and I thought about the power that it had. It cost her absolutely nothing to say those refreshing, kind words, and yet, the impact was huge! Not only did it make me feel good, but it had other positive qualities as well. It made me more consciously consider my interactions with so-called “strangers.” I can’t control any aspect of their lives, and I wouldn’t want to do so. However, a simple wave to them, or a “good morning” may make them feel a little more interconnected with humanity.

Not all that long after, I went to get a cup of coffee from a corner shop. The clerk asked if that would be all, and I said it was. He said “Have a good day.” I didn’t have to pay for it because apparently it was National Coffee Day. Interesting. The more interesting part, though, was when I was leaving the store. I held the door for a man, and he said “You, sir, are a gentleman and a scholar,” to which I responded “well, at least one of those.” He said “aren’t you going to tell me which one?” I said “nope, that takes the fun out of it.”

That brief interaction wasn’t anything special at all… or was it? Again, it embodied the interconnectedness of humanity. We didn’t know each other at all, but yet we were able to carry on a short conversation, understand one another’s humour, and, in our own ways, thank each other. He thanked me for a small gesture of politeness, and I thanked him for acknowledging it. All too often those types of gestures go without as much as a “thank you.” All too often, these types of gestures get neglected and never even happen.

What’s my point here? Positivity is infectious and in a great way! Whenever you’re thinking that the things you do and say don’t matter, think again. Just treating the people with whom you come in contact many, many times each day with a little respect can positively change the course of their day. A smile, saying hello, casually asking them how they’re doing, holding a door, helping someone pick up something that they’ve dropped, or any other positive interaction should be pursued (even if it is a little inconvenient for you). Don’t underestimate the power of positivity, and you may just help someone feel better. What’s more important than that? That’s not a rhetorical question; the answer is “nothing.”


Best Indian food in Saint Louis, MO – Peshwa Indian Restaurant

I am no stranger to Indian food, as it is among my favourite types of cuisine (along with Thai and Vietnamese). Having been back in the Saint Louis area for two years now, I have tried many different Indian restaurants, but have been disappointed for one reason or another (price, variety of regional dishes, a lack of distinct flavour profiles, et cetera). Please don’t misunderstand me; there are some good, and even some great Indian places in and around Saint Louis, but they have all somehow fallen a bit short. For instance, here are some such places:

  • India’s Rasoi – great, but expensive, and no buffet
  • Haveli – pretty good buffet, but lacking some variety
  • India’s Kitchen – decent buffet, but inconsistent; nothing stands out
  • Copper Chimney – pretty good, but not all that many options
  • Saffron – decent buffet, but again, not all that many regional options

That list is in no way exhaustive, but I think that the theme will be evident—they’re good, but not “stop you in your tracks” good. Having lived in some regions of the country that have a plethora of exceptional Indian restaurants, I was constantly on a mission to find The Best Indian Restaurant in Saint Louis! My search has yielded a winner: Peshwa Indian Restaurant.

I went with my dearest friend and fellow foodie, Debbie, very shortly after owner and executive Shweta Marathe opened the doors to her wonderful new eatery. As of the time of this blog, we have been back six times in just a few short weeks! Why go back so often (other than the obvious reason of the food is incredible)? Variety. Peshwa constantly has new dishes on the buffet, all stemming from the myriad regions of India. Ms. Marathe brings her unique take on these dishes, and spices them up (pun intended) with influences from her native region outside Pune, which is near the Western coast of India (southeast of Mumbai).

Vada with tamarind Chutney
(Click to enlarge)

This most recent time, we started with some Vada with Tamarind chutney. Vada are these wonderful little doughnut-like delicacies from South India, and are typically made from Urad dal and gram flour. I can’t say if these ones were made primarily with dal or lentils, but they were delicious. As with many dishes (not just from India), the sauces make or break them. The tamarind chutney at Peshwa is the best that I’ve ever had. It has the sweetness (from the dates) that I’ve come to love but haven’t found at other places.

Other appetisers that we’ve had in the past are Idli, which are typically eaten as a dense breakfast food accompanied by a coconut chutney. When I was discussing with Shweta how much I enjoyed these cakes made from Urad dal, I mentioned coconut chutney. She educated me and let me know that they are also eaten with Sambar. I tried them that way, and it was a completely different experience! At the same time, she was back in the kitchen whipping up some coconut chutney (now THAT’S service)!

Chicken Tikka Masala, Vegetable Korma, Naan, and rice
(Click to enlarge)

For entrées, Peshwa offers far too many to list, including some wonderful vegetarian and vegan dishes. The first few times that we went, one of the primary chicken offerings was Butter Chicken, which is great, but not my favourite. That being said, this was outstanding (not overly oily, like it has been at some other places). After talking with Shweta, she agreed to make Chicken Tikka Masala for me at some point (since it is one of my absolute favourites). I used to think that India’s Rasoi had the best in the area, but it has been surpassed in my opinion. At Peshwa, there is not as much sauce, but what is there is infinitely flavourful. The pieces of chicken are so tender that one doesn’t need a knife at all.

Typically, Vegetable Korma is enjoyable, but not something that jumps off the buffet line onto my plate as readily as some other choices. At Peshwa, though, I believe that it is one of the absolute best dishes available. It is creamy and has a flavour profile that is both subtle and complex.

Many other main dishes are available on the buffet as well. You can find staples like Tandoori Chicken, various styles of Biryani, Vindaloo, as well as some lesser-known dishes and even Indian Chinese dishes, which are really something special!

My own mixture of Pineapple Sheera and Kheer rice pudding
(Click to enlarge)

Now, after indulging in those wonderfully complex and sometimes spice-filled entrées, one wants (or even needs) some desserts to cool down the palette. At Peshwa, there are usually two or three desserts available, and they’re constantly being rotated out for different ones. One of the recent times that we went, I was excited to see that two of my favourites (Pineapple Sheera, and Kheer) were both available at the same time. One thing that I love to do, (even though it’s not very traditional), is to mix the two together. I really enjoy the juxtaposition of the warm Sheera and the cool Kheer, as well as the combination of two different textures. Now, Kheer comes in many different varieties, and I have had two of them at Pesha. This particular day, it was the Kheer that is more like a rice pudding with shaved almonds. One previous time, another outstanding dessert was on the menu: Gulab Jamun, which can be found most often in Western India.

I would be amiss if I neglected to mention one special dessert that I’ve only found at Peshwa—the Mango Mastani. This refreshing flavour explosion is native to Pune and surrounding areas, and is made from mango (duh), cold whole milk, sugar, ice cubes, and mango kulfi. It is basically like a mango shake / float with a big scoop of mango kulfi (ice cream-like) in it. Nothing can prepare you for the immense flavour of this outstanding dessert. The only problem that you will have (if you’re like me) is leaving room for it at the end of an otherwise excellent meal.

If you’ve stuck with me throughout this entire review, you’ll easily know that I think VERY highly of Peshwa. Not only has every dish I’ve had there been incredible, but the service is great as well. Deb and I keep joking that one day we’ll find a dish that Shweta and her staff don’t do well, but we’ve yet to find it. If I had to come up with a fault of the restaurant, I would have to be nitpicky to an extreme. Doing so, though, I would say that it would be nice to have some more ice in the water, but I understand this is a typically Western idea.

Do yourself a huge favour, and check out Peshwa Indian Restaurant at:
10633 Page Avenue (click for directions)
Suite B
Saint Louis, MO 63132

As of this writing, they are open from 11:30 until 20:30 (8:30 PM) every day but Tuesday.

Cheers, and happy eating!

|:| Zach |:|

FLAC compression level comparison

So, I’m in the process of ripping all my music to FLAC since I am getting a completely new audio system in my home. With the high-end pre-amp, amplifiers, DACs, and floorstanding speakers in place, my full music collection (currently ripped in OGG) will no longer be of sufficient quality. Re-ripping a really large collection is a cumbersome task, so I wanted to make sure that I chose wisely with regard to the FLAC options that are available (particular concerning compression).

A little background is that FLAC is the Free Lossless Audio Codec, which means that there is no loss of quality at all. So, regardless of the compression level that is chosen, FLAC will always decode into the exact uncompressed audio track (bit for bit). The difference between the compression levels, then, is the resulting file size. Along with that benefit (higher compression results in a smaller file size), though, comes the downside of longer times to encode. According to Wikipedia (which cites comparisons that don’t seem to directly mention decoding times), there shouldn’t be any noticeable effect on the decoding of the FLAC files based on the compression level used during encoding. The default FLAC compression level tends to be 5 for most applications.

All of that being said, I decided to do a small test (n=2) with two songs. I firstly ripped the two songs into uncompressed WAV files, and then encoded them into FLAC from the command line using the following code:

time flac $SONG.wav --compression-level-X -o flacX.flac

That showed me the time to encode, and I substituted the compression level number (between 0 [lowest compression] and 8 [highest compression]) for ‘X’. Before looking at the results, here’s some information about the system used and the information contained in the results tables:

System specs:
Intel Core i7-960 (Bloomfield) @ 3.20 GHZ (quad-core with Hyperthreading)
24 GiB RAM (DDR3-1600)
Gentoo Linux with kernel 3.12.11
FLAC 1.3.0

Table data:

  • Quality: The FLAC compression level used
  • Encode (sec): The time it took to encode the song
  • Size (MiB): The resulting FLAC file size (rounded to tenths of a Mebibyte)
  • Ratio (%): FLAC file size as a percentage of the original uncompressed WAV
  • Enc + (sec): The additional time required to encode as compared to FLAC 0 (in seconds)
  • Enc + (%): The additional time required to encode as compared to FLAC 0 (as a percentage of increase)

Below you will find information about the two songs used as tests, and the results (in sortable tables):

Song 1:
Artist: Dream Theater
Album: A Change of Seasons EP
Song: A Change of Seasons
Length: 23’08″ (1388 seconds)
Uncompressed WAV: 128 seconds to rip – 233.6 MiB resulting file size

Encode (sec)
Size (MiB)
Ratio (%)
Enc + (sec)
Enc + (%)
FLAC 03.531174.674.7%0.0000.00%
FLAC 13.721173.574.3%0.1905.38%
FLAC 24.658173.274.1%1.12731.92%
FLAC 35.255165.070.6%1.72448.82%
FLAC 46.584163.870.1%3.05386.46%
FLAC 59.112163.469.9%5.581158.06%
FLAC 69.130163.469.9%5.599158.57%
FLAC 719.475163.369.9%15.944451.54%
FLAC 828.846163.169.8%25.315660.30%

Song 2:
Artist: Libera
Album: New Dawn
Song: Air (Air on the G string by Bach)
Length: 3’43″ (223 seconds)
Uncompressed WAV: 23 seconds to rip – 37.6 MiB resulting file size

Encode (sec)
Size (MiB)
Ratio (%)
Enc + (sec)
Enc + (%)
FLAC 00.51620.253.8%0.0000.00%
FLAC 10.54119.652.2%0.0254.84%
FLAC 20.69919.652.2%0.18335.47%
FLAC 30.80619.150.8%0.29056.20%
FLAC 41.02218.649.3%0.50698.06%
FLAC 51.43118.549.3%0.915177.33%
FLAC 61.42918.549.3%0.913176.94%
FLAC 73.04918.549.1%2.533490.89%
FLAC 84.52418.449.0%4.008776.74%

From both tests, it seems like FLAC compression level 3 is the right trade-off between file size and additional encoding time. Now, are either that big of a deal by today’s standards (in both available storage capacity and processing power)? Probably not. I could rip everything in FLAC 0 and call it a day, since the difference between FLAC 0 and FLAC 3 seems to be about 0.5 MiB for every minute of music. However, my current collection is approximately 391 hours (or 23460 minutes). That means that I will save somewhere in the neighbourhood of 12 GiB for my entire collection. Is that space savings worth the roughly 50% more time to encode? Maybe or maybe not.

At this point, my entire collection of ~391 hours of music will consume around 177 GiB if ripped at FLAC 0, and around 165 GiB if ripped at FLAC 3. On a 2 TiB HDD, that doesn’t seem like a big deal, really.

So, ultimately, I will either rip at FLAC 0 and not worry about the additional space, or FLAC 3 if I think it will help. At the rate that storage prices are dropping, FLAC 0 would seem like the obvious answer, but for so very little of an increase in encoding time, FLAC 3 makes more sense.

What are your thoughts?