Must-Read: The New Yorker on “The Man Who Broke the Music Business” & DJ Taiga in the aftermath

The-new-yorker-logoToday, the New Yorker published an intriguing story recounting the rise of “the most sophisticated piracy operation in history” run by a group that called itself Rabid Neurosis or RNS. RNS leaked 22,000+ albums online — including every album ever put out by 50 Cent and Kanye West, according the story — until they were eventually raided by the FBI.

Turns out, I know someone who was part of this elite leadership in digital piracy. He helped DJ my wedding. Identified as the “ripping coordinator,” Simon (who I still think of as DJ Taiga) had access to promotional material as the music director of our college radio station, and was responsible for being the first to leak Ludacris’s “Back for the First Time” and Outkast’s “Stankonia.” It almost seems impressive and harmless, a fun modern-day organized crime tale, until you realize Simon was no longer a kid, but an Ivy League graduate building a future, when FBI agents came knocking and he faced the threat of jail time.

But the story doesn’t end with the fall of RNS. Sure, the New Yorker’s story does. But what I find especially amazing is how Simon’s story continues. In the death of RNS and the death of his pride, DJ Taiga found love, forgiveness, peace, and new life. Sometimes at the strange intersection of the cliche, nonsensical, stupefying, and glorious, God works in remarkably weird, unexpected ways. I am in awe.

Below are Simon’s words, originally posted on Facebook and re-posted here with his permission. And here is the New Yorker story. You just gotta read both of them.

Yes, the Simon Tai in this article refers to me. Being in this elite group called RNS was something I had built my identity on (albeit secret for the most part) in my late teens/early 20s. It didn’t matter that I was breaking the law & hurting companies and individuals in the process.

Although what I did seems “cool” (and I certainly thought so at the time), there was nothing cool about the FBI coming to my door & the possibility of a felony charge on my record and jail time hanging over my head for the better part of 2 years, not to mention spending 50k in lawyer fees.

I have done many things in life that I’m not proud of (including this), but through God’s grace He used this ordeal to bring me into His Kingdom. If you’re going to read the super long New Yorker article, read the following as well. This is a short testimony I gave during a Redeemer Presbyterian Church of NYC Easter service back in 2009 while the case was still going on. ‪#‎truth‬

“Good evening, my name is Simon Tai. Let me start my story with a little background information. I grew up in a Muslim household, but was exposed to Christianity and Buddhism as a young man. In college I took classes on Buddhism and even went to church a few times. I enjoyed the positive message the sermons conveyed, but didn’t connect with the people and thought that Christians were hypocritical and judgmental. So instead, I told myself to try to be a good person and figured that karma would take its course. That allowed me to focus on my career, material wealth, girls, and things of that nature.

Around the time I turned 25, I started to think about the meaning of life. I had been working for a few years developing my career. I had dated girls and been in relationships. Yet something was missing in my life. I wasn’t happy. I would get depressed sometimes, but I wasn’t sure why. I bought material things to cheer myself up, but the relief was only temporary. I started yearning for spiritual development, but didn’t have much direction and didn’t really care for organized religions. I just remembered thinking that there was a higher being out there and wanted to develop some sort of spirituality. But nothing really came out of these vague spiritual yearnings and I continued to live as I did before.

In August of 2007, I met Monica through some mutual friends. I was interested in her, but didn’t think it would work out when I found out she was Christian. So I decided not to worry about what she thought of me and used this opportunity to try to disprove Christianity to her. I admit that I was perhaps a bit obnoxious. (She later told me the same.) But in the debates that we had, she responded in such a way that not only showed her strong beliefs in Christianity and the gospel, but also a refreshing humility and honesty. It was not something that I expected. She was nothing like the stereotype of a “hardcore” Christian that I had in my head.

One telling conversation we had was about the idea of Hell. I asked her what her definition of Hell was. Thinking that she would only speak of fire and brimstones, I was taken aback when she replied “It’s a place without God and a place without God is a place without anything good”. She began to break down my stereotypes of Christianity one by one, and it made me realize that I had no idea what the gospel truly was. Looking back now, God was starting to soften my heart.

From that point, I began to crave more knowledge. I read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and the words spoke to me. Monica also pointed me to Redeemer’s website, and from there, I downloaded and listened to quite a few sermons. The idea of the gospel, Jesus, and inside out living made a lot of sense. A few weeks later, I attended my first Redeemer service.

Everything that I had heard and read I could logically agree with, but I still couldn’t give myself over to Christ. The idea of living for someone else was foreign to me and I wasn’t sure if I could ever do it. I wanted to take the leap of faith, but my selfishness and pride were in the way. Chatting with a few of my Christian friends, I realized that most of their testimonies involved a dramatic and/or traumatic life changing event. I wanted to believe so badly that I even thought to myself at one point, ‘why couldn’t that happen to me?’ I struggled with that for weeks, and then on December 20th of that year, it happened.

I had just woken up that day when I got a knock on the door. I opened it and facing me were 2 FBI agents that wanted to interrogate me about some questionable activities that had been a part of my life years back when I was in college. I had finally gotten the traumatic life changing event that I was “wishing” for. I was scared, helpless, and felt like I had hit rock bottom. That day I gave myself to Christ. It brought me the strength, hope, and calmness that I needed but was never able to get on my own.

To say the least, I have been through the most difficult time of my life in this past year and an half. I am facing a possible indictment, felony on my record, and in the worst case scenario jail time. I have spent $25,000 and counting on legal fees, most of which I had to borrow and am still paying off. And worst of all, I continue to live with this uncertainty hanging over my head.

But Christ has been with me through these trials and tribulations. And Christ has been with Monica, my now fiancée, as she has been by my side through these tough times. I am so thankful that I have found Christ and have been accepted into his community. Although I am in the worst financial and social state ever, I have never felt freer, more loved, and joyful in my life. Thank you.”

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scenes from assateague island: wild ponies, endless rain

down east on the coast, where maryland meets virgina, just on the other side of the bridge from the mainland, you might be treated to the sight of wandering wild horses right away if you are lucky.

road to assateague island

every year, we plan a camping trip to this beach to commune with nature, pitch a tent on the sand where we can fall asleep hearing the waves, and do fun things like scream when the seagulls attack and try to scare the horses away to stop them from stealing hamburger buns off our picnic table.

this year, we went in the middle of an obnoxious rainstorm.

for two out of our three days, the rain came and went, off and on, with little breaks here and there. just enough to be annoying and drench the firewood, but not enough to send us packing.

still, it was beautiful.

i was glad to be reminded of the expanse and wonder of the ocean.

assateague beach

 

so were the kids.

assateague beach

 

thankfully this time, we didn’t have to fight any horses away from our cooler and my daughter didn’t almost get trampled by misty of chincoteague. there weren’t as many ponies that usually roam the campgrounds, actually. we hung out with just a few of them nearby.

assateague ponies

 

there was fire. the best part of camping is the fire and the mess of s’mores and dough boys.

campfire

 

on our last morning, we awoke to a gorgeous sunrise. actually, we missed the actual start of the sunrise and couldn’t see the sun, but did catch God’s fingers coming through the clouds.

with the lullaby of the waves and the joy of finally catching a blue sky and sunlight, it was a wonderful time of comfort and peace amidst the wet sleeping bags, sandy shoes, cold rain, and smoking logs that wouldn’t catch fire.

can’t wait to go back again.

assateague island beach sunrise

 

that time i cried at baltimore comic con

a few weeks ago, we found ourselves in the middle of a comic con for the first time ever, upon the insistence of our 10 year old daughter. i had no idea how she even knew there was a comic con nearby (turns out there was a tv commercial) and i didn’t really know what was involved. but i was excited about a few things, namely:

little asian sweatshop maryland hair flower
maryland flag flower pin courtesy of the little asian sweatshop
  • major people-watching prospects. awkwardly gawking at the elaborate costumed people at the renaissance festival was so much fun, imagine how awesome the cosplayers at comic con would be!
  • another excuse to get my toddler son in his seriously overpriced spiderman halloween costume.
  • seeing my friend fenny werk werk werk her little asian sweatshop booth. how many of you can say you have a friend who is a comic con regular and creator of handmade awesome interesting things?

what i definitely did not expect was:

  • encountering stuff that would make me so emotionally moved that i would have a mini-breakdown in the middle of artists’ alley.
  • finding a cute and clever comic cookbook of korean banchan side dishes.

but that’s basically what happened. it was cray.

we only hung around for a few hours and spent the whole time checking out booths, talking with people about their work, admiring the most detailed cosplayers (the glittery gold fire princess was amazeballs!), and buying a few cool things like an independently produced kids’ book about the overproliferation of cats in halloween costumes and prints of snake eyes from g.i. joe, the pokemon eevee, and the dog from okami den.

there were a million bazillion indie artists offering drawings of superheroes and popular comic characters or cartoon network characters (3598723 versions of groot, 87987983745 versions of spiderman and 235987 versions of finn and jake, for example). there were also a ton of artists offering on-the-spot commissions, lots of awkward eye-contact-avoiding artists who had a weird-slash-ineffective way of attracting sales (more on that from fenny here), and a handful of folks with — frankly — some creepy shiite.

but despite the proliferation of captain america drawings and batmen and rocket raccoons, i was drawn most to artists offering original works, or twists on popular characters, with distinct styles of their own. for whatever reason, i often found these people to be women. i’d be curious to know how their sales were compared to the folks who just copied existing characters, but i can only hope they were rewarded for their originality.

banchan comic book and drawn thru comic

one of those artists was robin ha, who came up with this “banchan in two pages” comic cookbook with recipes and drawings of several popular korean side dishes. i heart this concept so much. i’ve been wanting to do an infographic recipe on this blog for quite some time and haven’t gotten around to it, but a RECIPE COMIC! OF KOREAN FOOD! — how brilliant is that?? i was so excited to stumble upon robin and her booklet of recipes. the recipes are simple to do at home, sprinkled with a little education and a little humor, and i just love how everything is drawn out. you can even find more recipes on her banchan recipe blog. i just used her seaweed salad recipe with some minor alterations. and check out this seafood scallion pancake recipe. awesome.

seafood scallion pancake recipe comic
then there was the author whose work brought on unexpected and highly embarrassing tears of i don’t know what. sadness? funnyness? recognition? we first stepped up to laura lee’s table and a short comic book about life with tupperware caught my eye. it was random, but even with a skim i could see it was amusing and entertaining in a self-depracating-isn’t-this-crazy-yet-real-and-funny kind of way.

she has two graphic novels that looked like they would speak well to teenaged girls (and maybe that’s why i liked her too since im basically a 14-year-old stuck in an adult life), but the thing that caught my attention the most was a collection of artwork in a mini book that she said was more of a personal side project of illustrations and thoughts that she put together while feeling her way through an existential crisis and depression called “drawn thru: drawing through depression.” as i flipped through the pieces in this little booklet, i swear someone started cutting onions near me… there were a couple of drawings that just struck me, (if you know a piece of my backstory i guess that explains why) and i knew i had to buy that book. (and it was only $5. what a steal!)

in particular, this page is where the room started to look blurry. what the what? i can’t explain it. damn those onions!

drawn thru comic book page
The caption on this page says: We should acknowledge and befriend those ghosts in our lives that are so BIG they will haunt us forever. I know I’d rather lead them in a conga line than feel eternally chased.

so as she continued to explain the concept of the book (in a very lighthearted and smiling manner i should add, even though you might think “drawing through depression” means heavy subjects) i wanted to say “wow, this really speaks to me” but instead i had to wipe my eyes and be like OKTHXBAI. my husband was so alarmed that he started to shoulder hug/rub my arm and i was so embarrassed i had to say DOGGAMIT STOP IM TOTALLY OK OMGTHISISSOEMBARRASSING.

but i do love this book so, and again, i think the approach is brilliant. i also am planning to cut this page out to stick to my office corkboard. and this is also why i’m feeling inspired to draw it out, although not quite as beautifully, from my own experiences and thoughts.

drawn thru comic page about stress

so to sum it all up in a one-sentence review, i would say that baltimore comic con was like a fun bowl of beautiful onions. with kochujang. i think that makes sense.

now, quick:

draw it out

last weekend the whole fam went to comic con. it was surprisingly fun, complete with picking up cool prints of original artwork with ninjas (my son) and pokemon and animals (my daughter), fist bumps with random cosplay warriors and shrieks of crazy from the little asian sweatshop booth where i also picked up an awesome maryland flag hair flower.

anyway, comic con deserves a whole separate post and i shall work that out later, but the reason why i mention it now is because interacting with all these craft makers and drawers and artlovers inspired me to take more creative approaches to procrastination. so i’ve decided to spin my thoughts and dread and laughs into pretty little things.

i’d like to take my life and draw it out. design it out. meme it out.

one upon a time many moons ago, i spent half my working hours as a designer — something i disliked at the time, but now appreciate because it helped to strengthen and refine the skills i had learned in one measly digital imaging class in college. it’s amazing how much that class has helped me in my work — as well as all my high school time spent fiddling with my own geocities site. i can’t pretend i’m some masterful arteest, but at least i know enough to not use rainbow gradient fills, squiggly zigzags, and over-abundant drop shadows and beveled edges like i discovered word art for the first time and am trying to remake the intro to saved by the bell.

so here’s my latest thought, based on all the ugly and mean and aching and pain i’ve seen recently.

be kind

 

this is just the second in what i’m now deeming a series of lifegraphics which started with this other one, made on a whim in response to reading malcolm gladwell’s david and goliath, which is all about how underdogs often end up winning when their “weaknesses” can work to their advantage. one section attempts to dismantle the prevailing wisdom that attending an elite college is best, because while the cream of the crop tend to do really well, the middling and straggling students tend to give up or aim lower because they compare themselves only to the peers in the same school. so the idea is that you’re better off if you’re the cream of the crop in an average college than if you’re a middling student at one of the best colleges. paraphrasing here, obviously.

and while there are many reasons that might still be valid for why a student should choose the best possible college they can get into, something about gladwell’s message struck a chord with my inner slacker. i love the idea that if it’s too much of a struggle as a small fish in a big pond, then just…

big fish small pond

…..and now i’ve officially just become like the annoying bands that have to preface each song with “i wrote this song because blah blah while i was on the toilet in the tour bus and it means blah blah blah” — i hate when bands do this. just play the song already. sorry.

my introduction to napa valley // things you should know when planning a napa wine tour // i love succulents

napa valley grapevines

a million bazillion ages ago, (last month), my husband and i went to napa valley, just the two of us. without kids.

it was beauteous and amazingwonderful, obviously.

every day, the weather was 80 degrees, sunny with 0 percent chance of rain.  we drank a crap ton of wine and ate a crap ton of delicious food. it was awesome.

sure there were a couple of blips, like feeling vomitty drunk to headachey hung over to perfectly fine in the span of two hours (i should be thankful two hours is abnormally quick and preferable to two days). and encountering a giant mutant spider in the bathroom our last morning there. still, overall, it was a smashing good time with my favorite person.

#takemeback

we did an organized wine tour through platypus, a company that specializes in small group tours to small wineries and provides cheese, lunch, water bottles and a comfortable ride all day for a fairly reasonable price of about $100 each.

we even got to peek into a barrel room and learn a few things about how grapes are grown and wines get made. and then we ended the tour with a group dance-a-long to jump on it. oh yes we did.

somehow, we squeezed in watching the world cup, discovering pliny the elder beer and checking out the napa visitors center for some advice and coupons. we also spent a day driving ourselves around to a couple more wineries, doing an overpriced olive oil tasting, and dining at the thomas keller restaurant ad hoc. amazeballs food. slow service.

one thing i didn’t realize until we arrived in the area was exactly how big napa valley is. napa is the name of the county, the valley, a vineyard district designation for grapes, AND a town. so if you are “going to napa,” you don’t necessarily need to stay in “napa” the town. in fact, if cash rules everything around you, cream get the money, dolla dolla bill yall, then you should stay in the town of yountville or in one of the luxe mountaintop resorts in the area. the town of napa mostly feels very suburban-anywhere-USA while st. helena feels very cute-historic, and yountville feels rich-well-groomed-and-food-centric. didn’t have time to check out calistoga and other points north. but considering how much research i did on wineries and eateries, i was surprised to not already know anything about how these towns were laid out and why i might want to check out one over the other.

unrelated, i was also pleasantly surprised to see so many pretty succulent arrangements everywhere we went. check out the model bakery (home of delicious english muffins) sign. major succulent envy.

so along those lines, here are six things i think you should know if you are ever planning a trip to napa:

  1. if you can, stay in yountville. if you can’t, at least eat in yountville. make dinner reservations as far ahead of time as you can, if you want to eat at a reasonable hour. because this town is centrally located in napa valley, it’s just a little easier to get to wineries and dinners without worrying about not making it in time.
  2. if you are driving through napa valley during trafficky times, especially the evening rush, drive the silverado trail. it’s much more beautiful and it’s much less congested than the main road, route 29. as the sun sets through the mountains and you pass acres and acres of vineyards… it’s gorgeous.
    wpid-20140701_191625.jpg
  3. check out the really small wineries. we loved the platypus tour’s emphasis on smaller wineries because you get a much better experience — focused attention and great stories often directly from the actual winemakers themselves, instead of disinterested boilerplate explanations from people who just pour.
  4. buy wine. i mean, this should be obvious, but the deal at most places is that you get charged a tasting fee, which is often waived if you buy a bottle or two. so why not pay a little more to get a bottle to take home? since we were flying across the country, we bought a cheap (<$10) wine shipping box w/ styrofoam inserts to pack up and check as luggage. our bottles arrived safe and unbroken.
  5. make reservations for smaller wineries’ tastings, special experiences and dinner, but just walk into the medium to bigger wineries for normal tastings. i noticed some wineries’ websites make it seem like walk-in tastings aren’t even an option, when they are actually the cheapest and easiest option available (*cough* caymus *cough*).
  6. watch out for those crazy big lurking spiders!

benessere

simple summer recipe: blueberry crostata // galette // freeform tart // lazy girl’s pie

blueberry crostata

 

last summer, i posted a quick visual ode to my blueberry crostata. it’s fairly straightforward, super seasonal, and so yummerz.

now, finally, i present to you the recipe!

blueberry crostata. or galette. or freeform tart.

part I: the crust

this recipe yields two discs of pie dough for two crusts. if you don’t feel like using the second, freeze it for later. this dough also works amazingly for a flaky buttery apple pie. (adapted from america’s test kitchen)

what you need: 

  • 2 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons vegetable shortening scooped or cut into smallish 1/2-inch pieces, and chilled if you happen to remember to refrigerate it (gasp – that’s right. this recipe uses crisco! trust the american test kitchen. it works. also, i never remember to chill it.)
  • 12 tablespoons (1.5 sticks) cold unsalted butter cut up into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 6-8 tablespoons ice water (literally just stick some ice in a cup of water & measure it out of there)

what you do, food processor method:
(alternatively, you can grate your cold butter like cheese, or you can use a pastry cutter, but a food processor makes this pretty foolproof)

process the flour, sugar, and salt in the food processor until combined. scatter the shortening pieces and process about 10 seconds until it looks like coarse damp sand. do the same with the butter pieces until you have coarse crumbs, again looking a little like damp crumbly sand (but with chunks–chunks are good).

transfer it all to a big bowl.

sprinkle 6 tablespoons of the ice water over the mixture and using a stiff rubber/silicone spatula, stir and press the dough together until it sticks together into a big clump. if it doesn’t stick together, add more ice water just a little bit (one tablespoon) at a time until it does. it should stick to itself but not be wet.

disc of pie crust doughdivide the dough into two even pieces and using your hands but working quickly, flatten each piece into a disc, like a big flat hockey puck, about the size of a hand (5 inches or so). if it looks like it’s dotted with pebbles of butter, you’re good.

using plastic wrap, tightly wrap each disc and refrigerate for 1 hour (or more, but you shouldn’t let it sit in the fridge forever, obviously). when you’re ready to use it, let it sit at room temp for a little bit so it becomes easily rollable. but don’t let it sit longer than 30 minutes or anywhere close to heat because it will only hurt your ability to roll it without sticking or coming apart. (that said, this last time, i totally left it out too long and i still used it anyway… it was just messier to handle and not as nice and flaky in the end.)

blueberries

part II: the blueberry filling

what you need:

  • 3 cups of blueberries (or any berries, really)
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp flour

what you do:

toss the berries, sugar, lemon juice and flour in a bowl. that’s it.

blueberries

uncooked tart

part III: make the delicious berry tart magic happen!

heat the oven to 400 degrees.

roll out your slightly softened pie crust until it is about 13 inches in diameter, dusting with flour as needed to keep it from sticking. i like to roll it out directly onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and leave it on the parchment for baking.

spoon your berry filling into a big pile in the center of the dough, leaving about 2 inches of space around the edges as a border so you can fold up the edges.

fold up the edges and pleat it together around the pile of fruit. (note: the picture above shows the tart just after folding up the edges. it was messy because i let the crust dough sit out too long and it got super soft and mushy. still, i am lazy and went ahead with it and it turned out ok, just not ideal.)

optional: brush the top crust with an egg wash (1 egg white lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon of water)

bake until the crust is golden brown and the fruit is bubbly, about 40 minutes.

let the tart cool before you try to cut it, and if possible, slide it off of the baking sheet and cool on a rack.

serve as-is or pair it with vanilla ice cream!