Friday, January 30, 2009

A Quick Little Q&A Meme

Captain Hook over at Hook's Happenings posted this little meme, and I promised her I'd answer the 5 questions here. So here goes:

1) Who is the favorite person in your family?
That would be my grandmother. After my mother died, she quit her job and dreams of becoming an R.N. to take us in and raise us. Learning about all the heartache and hardships she's been through growing up, it truly made me realize than my own horrible childhood was like a Disneyland ride compared to hers. She's my inspiration and source of all my strength in this world.

2) If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you pick?
Of course, everyone knows I'm going to say Vermont. Preferably the northwest portion in either Addison or Chittenden counties -- the Lake Champlain region. I went to school there for four years, and it truly is the ideal place to live for me. Sparsely populated (at least, compared to NYC), filled with nature's beauty and the majestic Green Mountains, and the people there are pretty low key. Great place for peace and quiet and to write. Not to mention raising a family. I miss it there.

3) If you could meet anyone, who would it be and why?
Okay, this might sound completely reactionary to current events, but I don't care. I want to meet Pres. Barack Obama. I don't think he's the second coming of Christ like some people do, but I do believe he represents all of America. Yes, even the redneck, racist parts. Though maybe not so much. Still, he symbolizes the promise of this country that all true patriots believe in: and that is, that no matter who you are, your background or religion, if you uphold the principles of this nation, then you are qualified to be its leader. Pres. Obama might not be able to turn water into wine (or red ink into greenbacks, as it may be), but he's the first president I actually *believe* in. Not even Clinton garnered such respect from me.

4) You get a free round-trip ticket to anywhere in the world, where would you go?
So easy: Mongolia! I don't know why, but I'm drawn to this place. I just want to spend three weeks there bouncing across the nomadic steppes and meeting all the people and witnessing all the rugged beauty of that land that I can. I would also use the opportunity to slip into China while I'm in that neck of the woods, and fulfill two dream journeys at once! Of course, China's a whole separate vacation in itself. One I would need to spend a lot more than just 3 weeks to adequately explore.

5) Have you ever dreamt your own death? How did you die, if so?
For some reason, it is impossible for me to die in my dreams. I've been in many precarious scenarios where I *almost* die, but like a Hollywood movie something always happens at the last second to save my ass. Usually, I suddenly remember that I can fly and then leap into air and leave the bad guys behind! :) I've had a sword bounce off my neck like rubber when someone tried to decapitate me once, and bullets deflect off my chest like Superman. I think the thought of my own death is something my mind refuses to process. How's that for wish fulfillment?

Well, that was interesting. Good questions! If anyone else wants to tackle them, post the answers in the comments section of this entry, or a link to your own blog's update.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sometimes, Life Slaps You In The Face With A Fistful Of Kismet

Well, well, things have certainly turned interesting.

As many of you know, I took the plunge over 2 years ago to seriously go after my dream of becoming a published SF writer. I knew back then that the road would be long, treacherous, and full of tears. I didn't expect to become "good" at it overnight, and knew that it would take me many years of rejections and failed drafts before the day would come when I could start making sales that count.

Well, today is not exactly that day . . . but it's a damn good day for me nonetheless! I've been waiting for the right time to bring it up, but since we're almost in the month of February, I figure now's a good a time as any to mention the news.

No, I didn't publish a novel. Baby steps, people. Baby steps. But I did make my very first sale of a short story! It happened last year, actually, back in April. I sold the short story "Enemy of My Enemy" to Afterburn SF, an e-zine publishing "high octane" sci-fi, fantasy, and horror stories. Due to a serious backlog of submissions at the time, I was told that I had just made it before the doors were closed on new submissions for the year. And that, because of the surplus, my story would not appear until almost a year later.

Feb. 27th will be the day it appears online. I remember the heady feeling at the time almost a year ago. I was so giddy I didn't know what to do with myself. But I made a promise to myself: that I would spend the next year writing even more stories and not letting the year 2009 be a solitary affair for published works.

And so, fast-forward to this morning. Paul Hughes over at Silverthought e-mailed me to say that another one of my stories, "Khan Tengri," was accepted for publication on ST's online site for next month. Talk about a wake up call in the morning! I was floored, and instantly wrote back saying that I would be thrilled to have the story appear in his publication. Silverthought is an excellent quality Speculative Fiction e-zine, with a pretty active forum community to boot. I couldn't be happier to have my piece appear there!

But how ironic is that? Two stories that I wrote back to back 2 years ago and only started submitting 10 months ago, would not only get purchased by two separate publications, but appear in the same month no less! Sometimes I can't believe my fortune.

So, looks like I was able to keep my promise after all. And don't think I'm sitting on my laurels soaking it all up. Nosiree! I'm just as determined to write even more now and publish more tales in the coming year. I have a few promising stories making the rounds as we speak. So, we shall see.

I will of course keep everyone updated on this site with links to the stories when they appear next month. In the meantime I'm going to continue what I've been doing: writing as many short stories as I can churn out, and trying to improve with each one. I still have a LONG ways to go, and so much more to learn.

Special thanks to all my crit group friends at Spec Fiction Fledglings, who workshopped both stories for me and gave me the valuable feedback to make them better. Couldn't have done it without ya'll!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Because A Historic Day . . .

. . . Deserves historic coverage.

Check out David Bergman's blog for a truly awesome (and cool) technological achievement. He covered the inauguration last Tuesday and took a gob-smacking HURGE panoramic photo of the crowd and invited attendees. The view was generated using a Canon G10 along with a Gigapan robotic imager to create a 2GB TIF file at a resolution of 1,474 megapixels! That's the very definition of EPIC, folks.

Seriously, you've got too see this to believe it. Click on the link above and scroll down a little. You can zoom in on the image to impressive detail, or use your mouse to pan from side to side and take in the crowds.

Have fun, and see how close you can zoom. Zooming in on Obama giving his address is a snapshot frozen in time. It gave me major goosebumps!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Irradiated Mess

Just started playing Fallout 3 last night. I've mentioned it here before. It's a cool, post-apocalyptic dystopia RPG taking place two hundred years after a major nuclear war between the United States and China.

To read about my progress through the game, keep checking my "Now Playing" sidebar further down this page on the right. I'll be updating it periodically.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Dark Time In My Life . . . (PART 5)

Welcome to the conclusion of my 5-part piece on how I got diagnosed with Type II diabetes (along with a host of other health problems) and fought my way out.

If you're coming to this for the first time, please take the time to start from the beginning of the saga and follow the link at the end of each segment to get back.

Click here to start from the beginning.

By the time June 2005 rolled around, I had noticed drastic results in my new workout and diet routines. I had dropped a total of 40 lbs and weighed only 190 lbs. I looked slimmer, felt very energetic, and had a positive outlook on life. And the best part was replacing my entire wardrobe. Not because I like to shop (I'd rather play Russian roulette than shop), but because nothing is a better indicator of loosing a lot of weight than having your old jeans slip right off your waist and drop to your ankles. I even had to replace all my belts and underwear, too! While this meant a nasty bite taken out of my wallet, I was happy nonetheless.

By the time our Vegas wedding rolled around in early July, I had dropped an additional 10 lbs! This was significant because my original goal back in January had been to hit 185 -- and here I was at a svelte 180 lbs instead! I had not only met my strict expectations, but surpassed them! Combined with a major life-changing event about to take place at this time, I was on Cloud 9! I was actually excited to be getting married, because I had turned over a new leaf in my life and it was only fitting that this should happen right before making another major life-altering commitment: holy matrimony.

The wedding went without a hitch. If you take a look at our wedding photos, you'll notice that I am extremely pale. Like vampire, living in a coffin, pale! Yes, I am half Caucasian, but even I'm not supposed to be *this* WHITE. The reason for it, actually, was the diabetes medication, Metformin, which actually makes your skin paler and very sensitive to sunlight. Luckily for me our wedding was in Las Vegas. Between that and our 2-week honeymoon in Hawaii, I would soon get my color back . . . and then some! :)

After I came back from our Honeymoon, I decided that even 180 lbs was not enough. I wanted to do the impossible and drop down to 170 -- a weight I had not been since freshman year in college! I had one month to go before I went in for major blood work to see how well I was doing on all 3 fronts. Plenty of time.

Sure enough, by the time I went in to see my doc, I was tipping the scale at 168 lbs!!! It was incredible. I was so proud of myself, you wouldn't believe! But I had no idea just how good the news was about to become.

First a recap of all my numbers and what they *should* be for an average healthy person.

Normal person:

Blood sugar (after 8 hour fast): below 90.
A1c: below 7.5, or below 6.5 if you are a diabetic.
BP: below 120/80
Total cholesterol: under 150.
LDL: under 100.
Triglycerides: under 120

These are normal numbers. My numbers when I first walked in to the doctor's office back in Jan. 2000 were:

Blood sugar: 270
A1c: 11.5
BP: 145/90
Total cholesterol: 202
LDL: 169
Triglycerides: 130

After changing my lifestyle and dropping a full 60 lbs, I got the following results back at my six month blood-work check out:

Blood sugar: 82
A1c: 5.2
BP: 109/68
Total cholesterol: 123
LDL: 69
Triglycerides: 50

I mean, HOLY HELLS! That's a drastic difference. My doc was flabbergasted, but it wasn't like he had to double check or anything. I had been going in for periodic blood work every six weeks leading up to this. My charts were showing a steady, but measurable, decline. He had adjusted the medications accordingly throughout this time, and still I continued to drop until I not only reached normal levels, but I far SURPASSED them! I was healthier than most health nuts!

My doctor said I was a miracle patient. That it looked like I was more than just managing my diabetes, but that I might have actually cured myself of it! He told me he was going to take me completely off my meds since I was obviously doing fine. He cautioned me that my numbers would probably not be as good the next time, tho.

Nope, he was wrong. You see, after getting this good news I didn't slack off or anything. I continued working out and dieting exactly the way I had been doing all along. You see, it wasn't enough that I was now off the meds -- I wanted to STAY off them. My blood results six months later were actually *better* than the last time.

My doc was beaming. He told me somehow I proved him wrong and that it looks like my health issues were completely lifestyle and weight related, and not genetic like he had originally thought. I refrained from saying: "I told you so!" :)

But the end results of this year long struggle had some far reaching implications on my life. I felt like I'd been tested, and that I'd met the challenge head on and conquered all the odds. It was a heady feeling, to put it mildly. I sat back and thought to myself: wow, if I could do all this, what else might I be able to do? It had always seem like an impossible dream to get myself in great shape and to stick to healthy eating. Yet I had done just that. What other dreams could I achieve with this new found spirit of determination?

In 2006 I decided that if I could be so stubborn as to turn my health completely around, then maybe I could tackle the biggest dream of them all: to become a professional science-fiction writer!

I'm still working on that dream, obviously. It's an ongoing process, but I'm not daunted. I feel as if I can do anything I set my mind to now. And that kind of attitude goes a long way.

It's my 4-year anniversary since getting the terrible news. I've been having blood work done twice a year since dropping off the meds, and I am happy to say my numbers are still just as impressive, if not more-so actually, than they were in the middle of 2005. I still weigh 170 and still have amazing energy. My workouts are more intense, to the point where I now do 150 pushups, 300 situps, bench 200 lbs (the highest my bench will go), and curl 100 lbs. I run 5 miles 3 days a week, and 6 - 7 miles on Sundays.

I do not give up. Ever. Fear keeps me going. I will never let the diabetes come back.

I'm still with the same doctor, and he continues to shake his head whenever he sees me. He constantly tells me I'm an inspiration to his other patients, and that he wishes I was his last patient of every day, so that he could go home with good news. :)

So there you have it. The story of how I changed my life around forever. I'm a much different person now than I was in 2004. Not just physically, but mentally as well. I have a toughness that I always suspected was there, but never fully realized until now.

Just for some perspective (and self torture), I've decided to release some pictures of my progress. The "heavy" pics of me have never been seen by the public before. Even my friends have not seen them, although they certainly remember what I looked like back then:

Lisa and I on Thanksgiving, 2004. I can't even bear to look at this pic.

This was taken Christmas day, 2004. I'm 230 lbs here. By now I had an inkling something was wrong with me. I wouldn't get the news until 12 days later, tho.

April 2005, my Aunt's wedding. I was 205 lbs here. Good, but not good enough for me.

July 2005, our honeymoon in Hawaii. I'm 180 lbs here -- and wearing a terrible shirt! So terrible that it forced the camera lens into soft focus! :)

September 2005. I'd just received the great news and taken off all meds. I'm 168 lbs here.

Recent photo of me. I'm 170 lbs and feeling great!

Thanks for following me on this journey. This is my first time writing out the entire ordeal, and I feel a lot better for it. Hope you enjoyed!

A Dark Time In My Life . . . (PART 4)

If you need to catch up, check out the earlier sections of this long story:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

So, as I was saying at the end of Part 3, it was time for me to meet the challenge of my life. To eat extremely healthy, and to exercise regularly. My ultimate goal was to drop down to 185 lbs by the time of our wedding 6 months later. But first, I set a more reachable goal of 205 lbs -- just 25 lbs from where I currently was in early 2005. Once I made it to that point, I would re-evaluate my routine and diet, and adjust accordingly to make the long haul down to 185.

In the beginning, it was very tough going. Somehow over the 7 - 8 years since college, I had atrophied considerably. The first time I got on my treadmill, I could only run for 3 minutes straight before feeling like I was going to pass out. It was such a disappointment for me. But I was stubborn. Mainly fear was driving me at this point. I knew that unlike failed attempts in the past, this time I COULD NOT give up. Because giving up meant a life dependent on medication and doctor's visits. I could not abide the thought of being on meds. It was against everything I believed in.

So, I stuck with it. I forced myself to stay on the treadmill no matter what. When I couldn't run, I walked really, really fast. I lived by the calorie burner counter on the machine. When the speed-walking became too much, I lowered the speed a little, but increased the incline. Every now and then I would break out into another 3-minute run before slowing down again. Rinse and repeat. I did this for 2o mins in a typical session, burning somewhere around 175 to 230 calories. I knew that was not enough. I had to keep working on my stamina to increase my run time.

Meanwhile, on the muscle training portion of my routine, I was running into problems. I tried to do some pushups and collapsed after just 5. I could only bench press 115 lbs, and curl only 50 lbs combined. But I didn't give up. I knew that if I just kept at it, doing a circuit of three 15-rep segments per exercise, I would eventually get stronger. Soon, after a week of this, I was doing 20 pushups with no problem, benching 130 lbs, and curling 60 lbs combined.

On the treadmill, I had increased my run segments to 5 minutes a pop, switching to speed-walking and incline in-between. I kept this up for 25 minutes, burning somewhere around 300 calories per session. Things were looking good. The workouts were killing me, but I found myself retreating into a familiar mentality that had served me well in high school and college. I called it: The Warrior Zone.

Basically, it works by me psyching myself up. By telling myself that I'm a warrior and that I can fight through the pain. Pain is nothing to me. Fear is nothing to me. The world is nothing to me. The only thing that matters is me and this workout. The workout will not defeat me. I am better than this workout. I am better than this disease.

This was my mantra.

I know it sounds psycho writing it down now, but honestly it really helped me a lot. I was able to endure through all the monstrous pain I was in and just keep going. Failure was NOT an option anymore.

So, things were looking good after the first week. I was sticking to my diet (the easiest part, actually) and my workouts, while killers, were going smoothly and without interruption. I found myself looking forward so much to Fridays, my rest day. I also refused to look at the scale until at least three weeks into my new lifestyle. I knew I would not see results right away, and so I didn't want to be discouraged. I knew that going by the scale would lead to madness, so I didn't look at it until it was absolutely necessary.

Somewhere after the first week, however, I came across an obstacle. Shin splints. This was a blinding, awful pain that would shoot up my shin bones on each leg every time I started a run. The pain would go away after 5 minutes of forced running, but then after the session was over it would come back with a vengeance and leave me in horrible pain for the rest of the night and all of the next day. I bought new sneakers, and started binding my legs during runs. But it only got worse. Finally I had to just sideline myself for 3 full weeks to recover. I applied heat compresses and ace bandages liberally throughout those 3 weeks, slowly strengthening my legs back to form.

In the meanwhile I continued eating all the healthy stuff I outlined in Part 3 of this tale, and working with weights. By the third week, I was doing 30 pushups, 60 situps, benching 150, and curling 70. I didn't notice any major differences yet in my body, except a hardness to my arms. But when I weighed myself on the scale, I had gone from 230 lbs to 219 lbs!!! I was stoked! 11 pounds might not seem like much, but I was more happy that there was at least some evidence of my efforts paying off. That my routines were working! With my legs back in order, this only made me redouble my resolve to loose even more weight.

To make sure I would not repeat the shin splints, I took things slow on the treadmill this time. And I developed specialized stretches to strengthen my calf and support muscles around the shins. This helped dramatically.

Before long, I was running 10 minutes straight, then 15. I had increased my session time to 30 minutes, and was burning around 450 calories at each go. The weight continued to pour off at roughly 2.5 lbs each week. And each new week I would tweak both forms of my workout just slightly. Adding more weights in the weight room, and increasing the speed and incline on my treadmill just a tad. I also started counting calories, discovering that I was eating only 1,600 a day. Simply by the fact that I was eating many smaller meals throughout the day now, I can't say that I really experienced any terrible hunger. I allowed myself a "cheat" day every now and then -- usually my off day on Friday, but every other week -- in which I would eat whatever bad habit food I had been missing and secretly craving. Chinese food, pizza, etc. I had cut out fast food completely, though. I rarely ever cheated with that type of food.

It just so happens my Aunt was getting married the same year as Lisa and I. Her wedding was in April, while ours was in July. By the time of her wedding, I was 3 months into my new lifestyle. And I had reached my first goal -- I had dropped 25 lbs, and now weighed 205.

I felt great! You can't believe how happy this made me. And yet, I was not satisfied. I said to myself: okay, then this was not a fluke. You CAN loose the weight after all. In that case, let's try for 185 by July now. Whereas this number seemed impossible at the beginning of the year, it now was very attainable. I had my doubts, though. I hadn't been below the 200 lb mark since 2000.

But I set to work, increasing both routines yet again. By now I was doing 60 pushups, 100 situps, benching 160, and curling 80. I was also running 3 miles straight through, on a slight incline, and at a speed of roughly 1 mile every 8.5 minutes. I was burning 580 calories a go on the treadmill.

I was sailing. With the onset of Spring, my spirits were looking up. My doc was very happy with my progress, and shocked by how far my blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure levels had dropped. He halved my medications in June and told me that I might eventually come off it all together. I walked out of the doc's office that morning in a daze.

I was doing it!

Somehow, despite the darkest hour of my despair, I was turning things around and taking control of my destiny. The news from the doc only made me that more determined to see this through. I continued motivating myself and making sure through hell or high water to ALWAYS commit to my workouts and diet, despite how tired I might be on a particular day after work. I allowed no excuses and never missed a day unless due to a family emergency or something equally important. But at least 98% of the time, I stuck to the 6 days a week workouts, burning roughly 580 to 850 calories per day.

There was a light at the end of that tunnel after all, and as I neared the time of my own wedding, I now knew that I would make it.

Little did I know just how well I would actually do . . .


A Dark Time In My Life . . . (PART 3)

And so the saga continues. If you need a refresher, please refer to Part 1 and Part 2 before reading on.

All caught up? Good.

So where was I? Oh yeah, that's right . . . before I could get myself into shape, I had some bad habits to break.

First and foremost, I had to figure out my time management. I've mentioned once before on this blog that I'm NOT a morning person. I cannot do anything in the morning but barely get up, shower, and head to work. I would never, EVER, wake up an hour earlier to exercise when I can sleep. So this left me with only the time I have when I come home from work, but before dinner. Roughly 6 to 7:30. Say an hour of actual exercise, since the other half would be taken up doing stretches and warmup/warmdown.

You see I was on my own here, but I wasn't completely clueless. There had been a time when I was in excellent shape. Although it had been 8 years, my body still knew what it had to do.

I started on a basic schedule of jogging on the treadmill 6 days a week, and doing free weights and calisthenics 3 days a week. I allowed myself one free day of NO workouts (typically, Friday). Where the two routines overlapped, I would do 30 mins of one, and 30 mins of the other. Usually weights before treadmill, as jogging left me way too exhausted to do anything afterwards but pass out on the couch and cry.

Next, I changed my diet. I cut out ALL sodas, juices, iced teas, and other harmful (read: high caloric) beverages. Instead, I drank nothing but water -- 3 liters a day, to be precise. Because I didn't want to loose calcium or Vitamin D, I switched to skim milk instead of my usual whole or 2%. Eventually I allowed myself 8 ounces of diet Pepsi with dinner because drinking so much water--and especially at dinner--was just too depressing after a while. I needed at least SOME kind of zip, jeez!

I stopped eating: white bread, pasta, most cereals, and pretty much any other harmful carbohydrate I could think of. Wherever I could I brought the low-sugar, low-sodium, and low-fat versions of the products I normally ate. When no such alternative existed, I simply eliminated it completely from my cupboards.

I switched to whole grain everything. Whole grain bread, cereals, brown rice, fiber-rich crackers like Triscuit, and so forth. I also started eating oatmeal for breakfast EVERY. SINGLE. MORNING. Whether it was 10 below or 90 degrees outdoors, I didn't care. Oatmeal was my way of life as far as I was concerned. I started eating breakfast in general, in fact. Something I used to never do before this traumatic health scare.

I learned a valuable lesson: eating breakfast is perhaps the most important thing you can do in this world to make yourself healthy and loose weight. The trick is to eat sensible breakfasts. My typical breakfast during this time period (and indeed, it still is to this day, 4 years later) was simply: one small bowl of oatmeal, and two egg whites on whole wheat toast. And water. That's it. For a between meal snack, either fresh fruit or almonds, if not both (at separate times, of course).

For lunch, I had a home made sandwich made with whole wheat bread and low-fat/low-sodium turkey or ham. Plus an apple. I made it a choice to ALWAYS eat at least one apple a day. Red Delicious variety (my favorite).

For dinner, I always made a variation of the following dish: half cup of brown rice, two big servings of leafy green vegetables (favorite being spinach), and a very small portion of grilled chicken breast. Sometimes I would substitute the chicken with a fresh turkey patty, or with salmon. Basically something low fat but full of protein.

In between these meals, I would eat LOTS of fruit. I mean, A LOT. My greatest discovery was freshly cut pineapple. Lisa brought some home one day, and it was like my body SANG to me when I ate some. Something inside me told me: Hey, dude -- EAT MORE OF THIS THING! Stat!!!! :)

And so I did. I eat lots of different fruit now, but to this day fresh pineapple is my absolute favorite. I love it to death! I could not live without it. And you know what? Secretly I think it helped a lot with my diabetes. I'm serious. I honestly think now that pineapple saved my life. I don't know the science behind it, but my body reacts so strongly to it that I can literally feel myself getting healthy each time I eat a cup of cut pineapple, or better yet the slices off the whole fruit itself. I should write a book about its curative properties!

Now, it's important to know that I did not come by all this over night. A lot of trial and error went into developing my own special diet to suit my personal tastes and preferences, while maintaining the new health guidelines I had to stick to for a diabetic diet. Since I also had to worry about cholesterol and blood pressure, this was triply difficult. You can't imagine just how hard it is to change so drastically at almost a drop of a hat.

It was a trying time for me, but I was so motivated. I mean, really motivated. It was like someone lit a fire under my ass. I was determined not to be a victim and just let life take me out of the running.

Armed with all of the above in place, I was ready to take back control of my life and not be a victim to bad health.

I was ready to make the commitment. And oh what a glorious battle it would become . . .


A Dark Time In My Life . . . (PART 2)

(Continued from PART 1)

Things went from bad to worse in a jiffy. The following week I got the results back from my A1c test. For someone healthy, a normal A1c range is between 4.0 and 7.5. Anything higher is hyperglycemia; anything lower, hypoglycemia.

My doctor called me and told me that my number came in at 11.5!!!

"You have diabetes," he said, just like that. My heart basically skipped a beat. I was devastated. But it got better -- I also had unusually high cholesterol, too. He said I had the trifecta -- a disorder known as Metabolic Syndrome, where one disorder (usually diabetes) goes hand in hand with two others . . . high blood pressure and bad cholesterol.

He wanted to see me in person and discuss medications. He also wanted me to see a nutritionist. I never felt so low (and scared) in my life.

The next day I went in and he told me the whole news. I had Type II diabetes, and that while some people could manage to get it under control, very few actually get rid of it completely. He told me that I probably had the genes for it, and in which case I would have it for life. I told him that no one in my family had Type II diabetes, except a really old Uncle on my father's side. And he only got it at the onset of old age. Still, my doctor didn't want to hear it and just assumed that everything was genetic. I tried to tell him I didn't think so, but eventually I just gave up. He was the doctor after all.

He also told me my bad cholesterol was genetic. That someone my age shouldn't be producing as much cholesterol as I was just from bad eating habits alone. Cholesterol is broken down into 3 components:

LDL -- also known as "bad" cholesterol.
HDL -- also known as "good" cholesterol.
Triglycerides -- a fatty substance extremely bad for your heart.

Add these all up using a particular formula (I know it by heart now) and you get a patient's "total" cholesterol. The total is what most people, and some doctors, go by, but really it is the LDL number that is most important. Normal total cholesterol is below 150.

My total was 202.

Normal LDL is below 100. Mine was 169. You get the picture?

So, basically, I was fucked!

My doctor told me that he was going to prescribe me Metformin for the Type II diabetes. I would have to take 2 pills every morning, and prick my finger to check my blood glucose level at least twice a day (morning and night). I would keep a log of my numbers to show him each time I went in for a visit. This was my definition of pure hell.

As for the cholesterol and the high blood pressure: he gave me some medication for the blood pressure, but said that he wanted to hold off on cholesterol-lowering drugs to see how well it went down on its own with diet and exercise. Cholesterol drugs, it turns out, have some very nasty side-effects, most dangerously liver damage. He was a good doctor in that he didn't want to just arbitrarily hook me up with meds just to make money. He actually had my well-being in mind.

Did I mention I've since grown to love this man? It bears mentioning now, in case I come across as some ingrate. :)

But anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. Because, ultimately, my road to salvation would come almost completely at my own hands.

So, oh yeah, I was going to have to start a workout routine to loose the weight, in addition to dieting. Two things I did NOT want to hear! I'd been beating myself up for years after college to do just that, but to no avail. Work was too stressful and tiring for me to do anything but drag myself home and zone out on the couch.

But first things first, the doc wanted me to see the nutritional nurse who would hand me literature on how to eat a diabetic diet. After which, I would have to find a nutritionist and really map out a diet plan.

The literature was a bust. I hated it. None of the food appealed to me because I just didn't have access to most of it in the little rinky-dink bullshit ghetto supermarket in my neighborhood. The whole of the Bronx, I would soon find out, has this weird anti-health kick going on. Despite having the highest concentration of diabetics and heart disease sufferers, it has almost no healthy food selections in the supermarket. No low sugar choices, and very few low-fat and low-sodium ones.

So, I decided to do what always worked best for me: do everything on my own! I owned a treadmill at home. We bought it five years earlier back when I thought it would motivate me to jog. Instead it collected dust for those years, just one big hunk of wasted money. I also had a room full of free weights and a pneumatic workout bench (also collecting dust).

I knew it was going to kick my ass and that I would most likely give up, but I thought I'd try it my way and see what I could do on my own. I was 230 lbs, and I thought it would be nice to eventually get down to 185 lbs like I was in college. I had been an extremely skinny kid all throughout childhood and the first 3 years of college. I only bulked up to 185 my senior year there, and even that was a nice weight to be.

But to be realistic, I set the bar a little lower first. I thought, if I could at least get down to 205 lbs, that would be awesome. Also, since my wedding was in six months, I figured that would give me time to look trim when I walked down the aisle.

I was about to endure the greatest challenge of my life. If I knew at that moment just how difficult it was going to be, I never would have made it. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

What I also didn't know was that the experience would change me forever, and that there was indeed a bright light at the end of this dark tunnel.

But first I had to break some truly bad habits . . .


Friday, January 23, 2009

Movie Review: Chandni Chowk to China

Last month I wrote in this entry about the zany Bollywood meets Chinese Kung-fu flick, Chandni Chowk to China. It's an Indian directed film with Chinese action sensibilities, a sort of East meets farther East story; a combination that works more often than not. Check out the trailer below:

Lisa and I went to see it tonight after work. The theater was one we'd never been to before on 3rd Ave. and 11th st. It was a small, no-frills Loews cineplex, but passable. It just so happened to be the only theater in the city showing this film, though, so we didn't have much of a choice.

The film stars actor Akshay Kumar, a real-life kung-fu martial artist turned actor in India. It also stars my new crush in life, relative newcomer Deepika Padukone, an Indian supermodel turned actress. I would love to see more movies with her in them, you bet! :)

The movie is about a lowly street vendor's son, Sidhu (Kumar), eking out a living on the side-streets of Chandni Chowk, a district in Delhi. He has an infatuation for a local commercial talent actress, Sakhi (Padukone), but bungles his first attempt to win her affection when their paths cross for the first time.

Enter in some poor, beat-up villagers from China who travel all the way to India after believing that Sidhu is the reincarnation of their local Tang dynasty folk hero, Liu Sheng. The villagers enlist Sidhu's help to come back to China and rescue their village from the nefarious hands of criminal mafia boss, Hojo (Gordon Liu). With his prospects back home less than stellar, Sidhu decides to play along with the absurd notion and agrees to return with the villagers on the hopes of garnering adulation and attention from the locals there.

This is a typical, light-hearted Bollywood film (and lord knows I've seen my fair share of these by now). What this means is that it is fairly comedic and not to be taken too seriously. It's full of silly gags and prank humor that many Western audiences would fine downright amateurish. I must admit, it was the least appealing aspect of the film for me, but I'm kind of used to it now. The film also borrows heavily from action chop-socky films like Kill Bill and Kung-Fu Hustle, particulary the latter.

It's obvious the film was directed by an Indian director (Nikhil Advani), in that the China portions of the film are extremely one note-ish and full of stereotypes -- in much the same way Hollywood films bastardizes Chinese culture. All the Chinese are great kung-fu practitioners, and if they're not lowly peasants still wearing 15-century clothing (for some reason), then they're cookie-cutter Triad wannabes dressed in black kung-fu suits.

But, you know what? This is a comedy. You kinda have to forgive it its faults and just sit back and enjoy this. And enjoy it I did, despite the two and a half hour running time (quite breezy by typical Bollywood standards). The story is remarkably fleshed out for a comedy, and has genuine drama thrown in during lengthy, sometimes surprising, scenes that come out of nowhere. But I loved it!

Akshay Kumar is brilliant as the bumbling idiot, Sidhu. His comedic timing and delivery is excellent, but even better are his dramatic scenes. And in the final third of the film, his transformation into genuine kung-fu master is particularly well-done. It was obvious for me to tell that he's a martial artist in real life. Although not quite as up to par as the Chinese masters in this film, he certainly holds his own nicely. The action scenes were genuinely well choreographed. I had a lot fun watching them.

Deepika Padukone, too, was delightful playing double duty as both the sexy love interest and also the seductive bad girl (you have to see the movie to see how this happens). Truly, her presence in this film was magical, and I'm not just saying this because of my crush!

The supporting cast were great as well. It was a little weird hearing Hindi mixed with Mandarin -- and judging from the Chinese portions at least, I have to say the subtitles writers were on crack. If the Mandarin translation is any indicator, I fear for how badly they mangled the Hindi portions. Someone who does actually speak it can correct me if I'm wrong. But, blah, so what? I loved this movie. It has some faults--including a really slow and boring middle section--but the overall experience was well worth the price of admission.

I'm definitely buying this on DVD! I would recommend this to you all, but I doubt it's playing anywhere in this country outside of the NYC area. I could be wrong. Check your local listings.

Rating: 7/10

A Dark Time In My Life . . . (PART 1)

On one of the many message boards I visit, I was just asked today about a particular event that happened to me 4 years ago. This event would change my life forever, in a positive way. But at the time I thought it was the end of my life. I was going to write this on the anniversary of this event a couple of weeks back, and then I nixed the idea. But since I seemed to have been asked about this by two different people on two different message boards within the span of 24 hours, I'm taking it as a cue to get the story out now for the whole world to read.

So, here it goes (warning, this will be LONG!):

4 years ago around Christmas time, Lisa was in grad school. Due to something completely the professor's fault and totally f'd up, she ended up failing a class that by all rights she had passed. She was getting her masters in nursing to become a Nurse Practitioner, a course of study that requires stringent grading criteria. At this particular university, you were not allowed to fail more than one class. When this happened, it was extremely stressful for us both. Mostly due to all the time and money we had already poured into her graduate education, but also just at the thought of failure for something that was not her fault.

This put me in a LOT of stress, because we had gone seriously into debt over this and, to top it off, we were planning for our wedding in 7 months.

Sometime over my habitual 2-week holiday break at the end of 2004, I started feeling really bad. Depressed even. I thought it was because of all the stress. But I was thirsty all the time, and started drinking massive quantities of iced tea. I thought it was because the heat in our apartment was too high (which it was). I started going to the bathroom a lot, too. But I didn't think anything of it since I was drinking so much fluids.

I started to know something was off, however, when we went to see Meet The Parents at the movies and I ended up ordering the large soda for us both. We *never* get the large soda. Within 45 mins, I'd drunk the whole thing. I felt so parched, and the soda felt like heaven entering my body. Yet it was like I could not get enough. I was still so damned THIRSTY!

I went to the bathroom, then got a free refill of the soda. 15 minutes later, I needed to go to the bathroom again. When I came back, I was so worried something was wrong with me. I watched the remainder of the movie, then immediately needed to go to the bathroom AGAIN when it was over.

That was it, something was definitely wrong. Later that night, while in bed, I noticed that I could not feel an area on the tip of my right big toe. I played and played at it, but nothing I did could bring any feeling to it. It was literally a dead patch of toe. I knew this had to do with the nerve endings in my toe. That freaked me out like you wouldn't believe! I laid in bed the entire night, so worried that I broke out into a cold sweat the ran like a river down my back and drenched my clothes. I was having a mild panic attack!

The next day I really felt like crap. I was thirstier than ever, and I was pissing every 30 to 45 minutes. Problem was, it was New Year's eve. My best friend, Tarrell, was visiting from Florida and staying on my couch, and I could not muster up the energy to be entertaining. It wasn't that I was lethargic, but that I was depressed. I was depressed over this issue with Lisa's grad school, and the thought of organizing a wedding, and most importantly with the thought of something being wrong with my health. As everyone who knew me could attest, I NEVER got sick. I didn't get colds, fevers, or anything. I'd been this way since forever. So to have a serious medical issue was very distressing to me.

Everyone I knew told me it was diabetes. Lisa was an RN at the time, so she knew best. My grandmother had also been a nurse, and it was her first diagnosis as well. I was SO scared!

The next day, despite it being a holiday, I went to the doctor's office. No one was there save for the secretary. She told me that the only time available was two days later, unless I had an emergency and then I should go to the emergency room in another building. Stupidly, I said it wasn't an emergency. So, for the two days following, I was in a state of panic suffering attacks every night. I pretty much left Tarrell to his own devices in my living room while I slept all day long in a state of acute depression.

Finally, the day of my appointment came. I was seeing a new doctor who I'd never seen. Before I could see him, the nurse took all my vitals to make up a patient history. This included a "finger stick" to test by blood-sugar level at that given moment.

Then I went in to see the doctor.

I told him my troubles, and he nodded and listened. Then he weighed me (again), and took my blood pressure (again). I was in worse shape than I thought! I weighed 230 lbs, and my blood pressure was 145 over 90. Normal should be around 120/80.

Worse yet was the results of my finger stick. Normal blood sugar level is supposed to be below 100. Preferably under 90 if you are fasting, but above 60.

My blood sugar level was 270!!!

The doctor was not happy. He told me that I very likely had Type II diabetes, but that more tests would need to be run in order to confirm this. In particular, he wanted to run a test called an A1c, which basically tests the amount of sugar that has been in your hemoglobin for the past 3 months. He told me that this was the most accurate test because it showed what your average blood-glucose levels have been in that time. He wanted me to get the tests done that day, and then he would call me the following week with the results (I came to him on a Friday, you see).

I never told him about the numbness in my big toe, because I was too afraid of what that would mean (amputation). I don't know why I kept this a secret, but I did. I think at the time I was just too overwhelmed by all the bad news that I didn't want to add to it. Stupid, I know.

In the meantime, my doctor told me I seriously needed to lose weight and get my blood pressure under control. I was on the border for having hypertension. Basically, I was in bad shape, and would need to drastically alter my lifestyle and diet.

I headed to the lab with a heavy heart (literally, it seems). I was so scared about what all this meant, and angry for having let myself get so bad. The only hope I had was that the test would come back negative, and that my high blood sugar was just a temporary thing and the result of stress. Which *does* happen, according to my doctor.

But little did I know the darkest days were soon to come . . .


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Finished My Latest Story . . .

I took a little break in December from writing to polish over some older stories (and play some Prince of Persia). But by the time the New Year rolled around, I was itching to get back in the saddle.

It still took me a while to get started, tho, because I had work I needed to take home, but finally this past weekend I was able to start a sci-fi thriller I had been playing around with for a few months. The concept required some researching of indigenous cultures around the world, preferably those that had been around for more than 20,000 years, like the Australian Aborigines. I didn't want to use them, however, as that angle has already been done to death. Similarly, I didn't want to go with a culture in Africa for the same reason.

So, I eventually landed on the mostly "undiscovered" island of New Guinea. It's one of the last places on Earth with people who can trace their lineage back to over 40,000 years ago! I mean, CHRIST!!! That's a long time! Some of the tribes in the highlands have only seen outsiders for the first time as recently as 1970. Technologically-wise, they were still living in the neolithic!

I think that's simply amazing. With such a setting, it was easy to let my mind wander and take the glimmer of an idea and really expand it to something exciting. After doing some more research, I was able to narrow the location to the western portion of the island -- which is really a province of Indonesia called "Papua." This is not to be confused with the eastern half of the island, an autonomous nation all on its own called "Papua New Guinea." Yeah, try figuring that one out. It sure took me a while. :)

I'm pretty proud of the story I crafted. It took me 4 days to write it, and came in at just under 6,500 words. Despite the low-tech setting, it really is a sci-fi tale through and through. I won't give anything away, but if you know me, there's some pretty freaky goings-on in here! I was particular taken aback by how well the research supported the premise of the story, however. I hadn't planned on it to work out so well, just one of those lucky coincidences we writers wish for in these instances. But as it turns out, the high-concept sci-fictional idea I had cooked up was actually supported pretty neatly by the local native folklore and spiritual beliefs. Wow!

The story is tentatively titled "Prison Moon" for now. I often change the title once I get through the polishing stage, but even though this is still the rough draft I think I might keep this one. We'll see. I'm happy I've been able to cut my average word count down, with this latest story being my most economical to date. I've written shorter stories, but never like this. Slowly but surely my word efficiency is improving. I'm able to "show" more while writing less and less. It's amazing how much story I was able to cram into these 6.5k words. I'm so thrilled!

Anyway, I've already worked out an outline for my next story. Typically I try to write at least one new short story per month. Sometimes I write two. I want to crack open some Fallout 3 on the Xbox 360 this weekend, but since I already have a rough idea of how this next story is going, I may just take a quick few days out of my gaming schedule to write it out for the end of the month.

So, yeah, "Prison Moon" was a success (at least by my standards). Time will tell whether or not I can get someone to take the bait and actually pay me for it. :) I probably won't be sending it out until the middle of next month at the earliest. But I'll keep ya'll updated!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Some "Journalists" Are Just Itching For A Fight!

I used the word journalist in quotes because sometimes I have to wonder how these people have jobs. I mean, who fact-checks this stuff? Clearly this is a case of someone needing to meet a quota or something, because to think that he wasted time that could have been spent on more newsworthy items instead of this fluff, there has to be no other explanation.

Here's a link to the article in question, about the use of Barack Hussein Obama's name today. And here's an excerpt:

"An announcer welcomed Barack H. Obama to the Capitol's west steps. Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath of office to Barack Hussein Obama, who repeated his full name. And the ceremony ended with the Rev. Joseph Lowery's benediction for Barack Obama. The various names reflect the delicate approach that Obama's campaign took, when aides tried to de-emphasize the middle name that reminded many of deposed and executed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The campaign also battled unfounded rumors that Obama was secretly a Muslim."

Like, WTF? Were we watching the same inauguration? Because I watched it live from beginning to end, and I clearly heard them use former President George Walker Bush's full name, as well as VP Joe Biden's full name. In fact, quickly looking back at W's first inauguration, his full three names were evoked during the oath of office part as well. But on the announcement preceding the oath--when they introduce the people coming out onto the stage, they used just the middle initial when introducing the man. Exactly as was done today.

In other words, it's ALWAYS done like this. When announcing the arrival of the VP- and the President-Elect, their names and middle initials are used. When swearing in on the bible, the full three names are spoken. And when the media reports on the event, they use either format they choose for the moment, preferring for the most part to only use the first and last name.

That's all it is. Conspiracy's over, people. Go look elsewhere to start a fight. There's nothing to see here.


Monday, January 19, 2009

As If I Needed Another Reason . . .

IGN *finally* released the full list of their "Best Of" winners for games across all platforms for the year 2008. The grand finale of them all being the "Best Overall Game" of the year award, which went to Fallout 3.

Damn, like as if I needed yet one more reason to start this game -- and FAST!!!

As I mentioned here back in October, Fallout 3 was a game I immediately snatched up when it was released, but then realized I didn't have the time to play it until the new year. What with writerly duties and quick, fun little titles like Gears of War 2 and Prince of Persia taking up all my time, I figured it would be a while before I would jump into such a huge and time-consuming endeavor like Fallout 3.

But now I can no longer ignore its allure. I'm being sucked in to the post-apocalyptic world of Capitol Wasteland (a seriously bombed-out Washington D.C. area), and this time there will be nothing to stand in my way.

Well, except for this story I'm writing right now. But I'm almost done (so far it's quite good), and hopefully by this weekend I shall crank up the ol' Xbox 360 and *FINALLY* get my RPG goodness on! :)

I'll have to be quick, though, as all must come to a grinding stop when Resident Evil 5 comes out in March. I'm pretty sure I'll be barely at the halfway point with Fallout 3 by then, but here's to hoping I can get through RE5 really quick and then return to the apocalypse.

The way things are looking, I might be playing this game off and on for the better part of a year. AIEEEE!!!!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Such A Relief!

I was online in the early days of the Internet explosion (circa: 1994), back when it was called Mosaic and not even the World Wide Web yet. And almost from day one I was purchasing stuff I shouldn't be online. But ever since, I've had this nagging worry buried deep inside me that someone was secretly making do with my stolen identity or something.

So, today I finally put the paranoia to rest by actually getting one of these free credit report thingies that the government has mandated should be provided to everyone at least once every 12 months. I went to the official site here and plugged in the necessary info. The report is indeed free, allowing you to check with the top 3 credit sites: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian for the low-down on your credit history. You have to pay a small fee to get you FICO credit score if you want it. I did, so I paid the extra $7.

Anyway, I was so relieved to find out that my accounts are all in order. I have no outstanding warrants for my arrest, and the repo man won't be coming to take away my worldly possessions. Phew! I think I can sleep better at night now. :)

Even better, I found out my credit score is unbelievably good -- 809 out of a possible 850! Wow, better than I thought. But actually, I should have expected it since I've never had a late or missed payment in the 14 plus years I've generated credit and a taxable income. I'm very anal that way. I would go without food before I miss a payment (no joke).

This is all good news to know for whenever I eventually decide to get a car or a house and will need to negotiate loans (living in NYC city, you don't really need either). I'm glad I got around to doing it.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Odd Misconfusions

The new season of 24 kicked off over the weekend, with the first 4 episodes airing over the span of Sunday and Monday nights. Lisa and I were discussing how similar Janeane Garofalo's character is to a cherished regular from the previous seasons. And it came to my attention that I confuse two popular female names all the time. I mean like, constantly!

That got me to thinking about all the things that I get twisted in this mad, confusing world.

Here's a short list:

1) Zoe and Chloe. I don't know why, but I ALWAYS get this wrong. If someone is named Chloe, I call them Zoe. And vice-versa. It's very aggravating that no matter how hard I try I can't seem to get this straight.

2) January and July. It's not the name of the months I get turned around, but rather when they are in date form. So for instance, I can see: 7/1/09, and in my head it will translate as January 1, 2009. And the same is true of the reverse. Weird!

3) I mistake blue for purple ALL the time. This probably has more to do with some sort of mild color-blindness for deep blue, I suspect. I wear a watch with a deep, royal blue face that at certain times looks purple to me, but at other times clearly blue. It drives me nuts, especially since EVERYONE else sees it as blue only.

4) Cannot for the life of me tell the difference between a sweet potato or a yam. This might have to do with the fact that, in the U.S., what we call "yams" are in fact just the "soft" variety of a sweet potato. And what we commonly label as sweet potato here is the firmer version. Meanwhile real yams are often found in markets catering to international foods, particularly Afro-Caribbean and Asian markets. So maybe it's not me, but the U.S.D.A.'s fault for confusing us all! :)

5) Some actresses are too disturbingly similar for me to tell apart. And the bad thing is, I seem to be the only one. Ashley Judd and Charlize Theron used to be the worst for me, and it's only in recent years that I can finally tell the two apart. But before them was Angela Bassett and Lynn Whitfield. I'm constantly embarrassing myself bringing up the one actress when in fact I mean the other. Argh!!!

There's a few more oddities about me that fit here on this list, but I can't seem to remember them at the moment. Still, I know that while some of these may be unique to just me, I'm sure everyone has a list just like this somewhere.

So what confuses you?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Looks Like I'm Living To 150!

File this away in the interesting but useless news . . . but according to this article, researchers have discovered that the conscientious, disciplined types are more likely to live longer than impulsive, careless people.

Hmm, like "duh"!

I wonder if this means Virgos live longer on average than anyone else? :)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Secret Service Are No Joke

Is this not cool or what? I would say I want this ride, but then I saw the gas mileage and top speed and thought otherwise. Jeez, just think how heavy this car must be!

And LOL at Obama just lounging in the back like the PIMP daddy that he is. :)

(click here to enlarge the pic if the above does not work)

Friday, January 9, 2009

Another Quick Test From The iPhone

I'm just testing out another mobile blog editor from the road -- nothing to see here.

Oh hell, let me test out the photo attacher too. Here's a rare self pic, as well as some of my cubicle at work:

Hmm, the camera on this phone is pretty nifty. Takes better pictures than I thought!

Okay, I'm done playing with my toy. :)

Mmm, Suddenly I'm Hungry!

It's no secret that successful sci-fi writer John Scalzi loves his bacon. After all, we're talking about the man behind the now infamous Bacon Cat incident. And because he's such a fine connoisseur of the delicious breakfast meat, it's natural that he would post the following video up on his outrageously popular blog, Whatever.

Thank goodness for shows like this that show you how things are made. Sure, the knowledge will never save your life in a tough situation, or unlock the secrets of the universe or anything. But damn if it's not entertaining nonetheless. And come on, who did not get hungry for some juicy, nicely sizzled bacon right now? Okay, true, if you have a phobia of pork products, or perhaps meat in general, this probably didn't help matters any. But despite the gross factor of seeing skin ripped off slabs of meat, or use of the the shudder-inducing term "pork bellies" repeatedly, I have to admit I ran out and brought a pound of uncooked* bacon immediately after watching this yesterday.

*This video was cool and all, but seriously . . . who the hell buys pre-cooked bacon? That is just WRONG on so many levels. It violates some fundamental, basic tenet of baconess, I'm sure.

This Sickens Me

Thanks to advances in technology like camera phones with full video capabilities, it seems more and more the police forces of the world are unable to mask their dubious activities behind the blue wall of silence. Now don't get me wrong, I'm usually on the side of the police when it comes to disputed shootings and rough-handling of suspects while in custody. My way of thinking is this: you have no idea the pressures these people are under when constantly put in life-and-death scenarios. My natural cynicism allows me to instantly distrust any two-bit punk I see on the streets of NYC, so I can only imagine this is doubled for officers of the law.

However, that being said, sometimes the police do go way over the line of wrong. In NYC recently we had the case of the peacefully protesting cyclist in Times Square who was tackled off his ride for no reason at all by an oafish NYPD officer. Since the incident was completely caught on someone's cell phone camera, it was kinda hard for the police to deny that the officer was completely in the wrong here. Rather than the usual: "the suspect was antagonizing the officer" bull they usually try to pull. This is why sometimes YouTube is a good thing.

And now we have this. This is just plain disgusting. The family has every right to sue and get millions from the city. And this officer needs to see the inside of prison for like, life, if not worse.

I have no doubt in my mind that this young man was acting out and deserved to be cuffed and maybe spend some time in lockup overnight. From what I've been following, the guy was no saint like his family tries to paint him out to be. But this? Shot point blank execution style? WTF is this, Dodge City?

Come on, this is just plain injustice clear and simple. This is a tragedy! I'm so mad right now. No one -- and I mean NO ONE should ever be treated like this. I can only imagine what the excuse would have been if this was not caught on video by a bystander. Something like: "Oh, the suspect was acting unruly and waving what looked like a gun in our direction. We had no choice but to act to save our lives."

Hmm, where have I heard this excuse before? If only we had video phones back in the day of the Amadou Diallo shooting. Could you imagine the shit storm that would have caused if clear, undeniable footage had been obtained and released to the public? The Bronx would probably not be standing right now.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Book Review: Implied Spaces

Walter Jon Williams is one of the most amazing SF writers to never win a Hugo (he's been nominated 5 times!). He's written in countless different genres, each time delivering something that takes a popular sci-fi conceit of the day and turns it on its head. Implied Spaces, released last year, is no exception, this time tackling the ever popular singularity.

I was first introduced to WJW via his "Praxis" trilogy, perhaps the finest 3-part hard sci-fi space opera I've ever read. But he's far outdone himself with this novel. Admittedly, I haven't read much of his full-length novels, but plenty of his short works. The man's imagination simply knows no bounds!

In Implied Spaces, mankind has advanced to the point of functional immortality, backing up their consciousness on a regular basis and downloading into cloned bodies at the onset of disease, old age, or ultimately death. We've progressed to the point where the known universe has no hold over us, and much of mankind now lives in multiple created, or "pocket," universes accessed via man made wormholes. Everything is overseen by eleven planet-sized computer intelligences orbiting and harnessing our Sun for the energy to keep the multiverses operational.

Enter Aristide -- scientist, swordsman, and poet rolled into one like a ronin of old. He strolls the world of Midgarth at the start of the novel, scouring the medieval-themed artificial universe in study of "squinches," the accidental afterthoughts implied by the architectural designs of the pocket 'verses. Implied spaces are the "in-between" spots that hold designs together, as Aristide himself explains to a female acquaintance at one point. If you create mountains by the sea on a particular world, the implied space in this case is the stretch of desert that lies *between* the cliffs and the ocean. A stretch of land that was not specifically designed to be there, but which mathematically must exist in order for the created world to have coherence. By extension, squinches are the accidental fauna and flora that occupy these implied spaces. In Midgarth's example, the spiders and ants that have invaded the desert.

Such are the heady and high-concept ideas that are flung at you almost straight out the gate. The plot starts off as a tepid mid-Eastern fantasy adventure ala Arabian Nights, but it's not long before the reader realizes there is more to this Aristide and the weird, magical world we find him in. When the curtain is eventually withdrawn in chapter 3, it's to reveal a larger universe beyond; a universe that is the epitome of all the far-future sci-fi tropes you've ever read. The aforementioned immortality; giant matrioshka arrays; and even swarming armies of nanobots to make any self-respecting human think twice about starting trouble -- even if your soul *is* backed up on the solar system's hard drive.

I admit that it was difficult for me to wrap my brain around much of the hard science that bolsters the softer space-operish trappings of the plot. There is a lot of talk about wormhole physics, AI gestalts, and of course the aforementioned singularity -- the point in mankind's future where technological advances are no longer distinguishable from magic, and where human imagination is no longer restrained by the limits of our biology.

Implied Spaces has all this and more! At only 265 pages, it's a very brief novel, albeit dense with quantum mechanics and existential theory. Yet it wasn't long before I found myself thoroughly engrossed in the entertaining prose and witticisms proffered by the protagonist and his talking cat. Oh, did I not mention the talking cat? The feline that is really the real-world avatar of the vast computer intelligence, Endora? Silly me. But you see, that's the type of weird Walter Jon Williams traffics in when he writes a novel such as this.

Oh, and you don't even want me to get into the uber-cool wormhole-summoning broadsword Aristide calls "Tecmessa," which never leaves his side. With it he banishes his enemies to the sinfully boring netherworld he designed himself, which is more Roman Elysium in theme rather than Dante's Inferno. Trust me, you have to read the book to understand.

And read this you should. Oh, definitely. Implied Spaces was a delightful treat for me over my holiday break. And I daresay I learned a ton about just how far you can take a Big Idea in one's novel and truly have fun with it. Someday, I want to be just like Walter Jon Williams. In the meantime, I'll remain a loyal reader of his bizarre, but always entertaining, futures.

Rating: A

Doesn't Bug Me One Bit

I saw this on the morning news when I was getting ready for work. It was taken from this Newsday article here regarding the use of crushed beetle pigment to artificially color a range of popular food products from Ocean Spray grapefruit juice, to Yoplait and Dannon yogurts. The red pigment--made from dried, ground up beetle shells--is also used in an array of top lipsticks and other makeup products.

Apparently the cochineal beetle has been the secret ingredient in a LOT of colorful products since before the Spanish came to South America and discovered the natives cultivating the bug. It's been an important source of red coloring ever since.

Weird, huh? Check out the article to read more. Apparently the ingredient is commonly listed as "carmine" or "red dye E-120." Sometimes even as "cochineal," though few people even know that this is the name of a South American beetle. I did, but I rarely look at food ingredient labels anyway since I'm not allergic to anything. A few people are allergic to this, however, and so efforts have been underway for a decade now to try and get the FDA to have it removed, or at least provide a warning on the label.

I don't know, for some reason this doesn't bother me at all. I really could care less. So what? If you knew half the things that go into most of the other foods we eat, you'd starve to death if you'd let it get to you. Take a look at how your beef and chicken gets to the supermarket, and then come back and talk about a harmless little beetle. Let's get real.

As long as my Dannon strawberry yogurt (yum!) doesn't taste like actual bug juice, I'm happy pretending that the red I'm seeing is from the skins of fresh, ripened strawberries picked straight off the vine. :)

I Dream Of A Zombie Apocalypse

As those reading this blog already know, I'm fixated on end-of-the-world scenarios. Be they in book form, games, or movies -- I just can't get enough. Particularly if zombies or some other form of undead are involved (mutants? vampires? mutant vampire zombies?). I don't know what it is, but there's something about vast, trashed landscapes littered with shambling hordes of festering boogie men that just thrills me to no end.

And I'm left wondering: what does that says about me? :)

It's interesting, given that this fixation didn't really begin until I played the original Resident Evil game on the PlayStation back in 1998. Before then, I actually hated zombie fiction. Especially the old Living Dead movies. Zombies were always too silly to me, and those types of movies way boring. But with Resident Evil, the game actually made me fear for my life as I tried to blast my way through too-narrow zombie-infested halls and labs in my search for an escape route out of some old, scary mansion.

And while I would never *really* want to be in such a scenario in real life, the thrill was there nonetheless. When it really hit me bad was when I played the sequel a few months later. This time, the zombie infection had spread to the nearby metropolis, and now there were a hundred thousand zombies (and worse!) roaming the streets in search of fresh meat. The big city setting of RE2 really cut close to home seeing as I live in NYC. So naturally I found myself wondering what it would be like if I was one of the last people alive in a New York gone to the undead. What would I do? How would I escape?

Yeah, I'm a strange guy. What can I say?

Anyway, all this is just my roundabout way of bringing up that I saw Resident Evil: Degeneration last night on DVD. It's a CGI animated flick based on the games and *NOT* the live-action shit starring Mila Jovovich that has been mucking up movie screens for the past few years.

RE: Degeneration takes place chronologically after the RE3 and RE: Code Veronica games, but just before RE4. It reunites two of the main characters from RE2, which is considered by most old-time fans as the best RE game ever! Which it is.

The movie was highly entertaining, mostly because I got to revisit old friends from my past (so it seemed), but also because it brings back zombies into the RE consciousness again -- rather than the super-speedy, disturbingly lucid and intelligent "neo zombies" of the more recent games like RE4. No, the zombies in this movie are the classic slow-moving, gang-up-in-hordes creatures of old. And I loved every minute of it!

This isn't a movie for a newcomer or even a casual fan of the series to enjoy. There's a lot of innuendo and connections to the video game series as a whole, and only someone deeply immersed in the collective plotline can truly enjoy the quirks of the script. It's classic Resident Evil when seen through the lens of the video games.

To everyone else, however, it just seems like a shoddy, unintelligible B-grade animated. Which is sad. I mean, I can see why this movie would suck for anyone else, honestly. But ultimately I don't care. It satisfied my zombie apocalyptic needs, and that's all that matters.

I'm hoping I get to continue on this fix when I eventually delve into Fallout 3 for the Xbox 360, which promises to be drowning in all that apocalyptic goodness that I love so much. It's a game which I've already talked about here, but which is way too huge for me to begin until I'm properly ready (which should hopefully be the end of the month).

Until then, have fun in the apocalypse! I know I will . . .

Monday, January 5, 2009

I'm A No Man

Came home today and found a new Visa credit card waiting in the mail to replace my old one that's about to expire. This one particular bank is annoying because instead of letting me dial the sticker number and activate the replacement card automatically, I have to get booted over to a live representative somewhere in India (yes, I asked) and listen to him sell me on stuff I don't need.

Bank Representative: Oh Mr. Batista, it seems you've been with us for a very long time.
Me: Yeah, 14 years. Give or take a few months.
BR: For being such a loyal customer, Mr. Batista, we'd like to offer you a low fixed APR of 1.9% for the next 10 months.
Me: No.
BR: But you have a credit limit of $22,000. Wouldn't you like to apportion some of that amount at this new APR?
Me: No.
BR: Mr. Batista, you currently have no balance on your account. Is there a reason you're not using the card?
Me: No. I just keep it around for emergencies.
BR: Well, do you have a credit card with another bank?
Me: Yes.
BR: Excellent! Do you have a balance on that card you'd like to transfer over at this new APR?
Me: No. That card's clean too.
BR: Oh, I see. Well, we'd like to offer you a $16 bonus certificate if you'd just allow me to send you literature on a new protection plan in the case of accidental . . .
Me: No.
BR: But if the plan is not to your liking, you can cancel it at any time . . .
Me: No.
BR: And you'd get to keep the $16, Mr. Batista.
Me: No.
BR (dejected): Okay then, Mr. Batista. Is there anything else I can help you with today?
Me: No.
BR: Have a nice day.
Me: No . . . er, I mean -- you too.
[hang up phone]

I may not be the smartest bulb in the package when it comes to financial matters, but I do know that saying "no" to everything is a safe bet in life. I mean, I know that credit card companies don't do anything that's not to their benefit before yours, so whenever one of them offers me some grand scheme to "help" me, I know that I'm better off assuming that they want to slave me to some other debt-generating plan to make themselves richer. I mean, let's be real. They want to make money. And someone like me who pays off his balance every month is not good for business.

But there you go. That's my one philosophy in life when dealing with companies that offer a service: telephone, electric, Internet, banking, etc. When it comes to anything beyond the basic service I signed up for . . . just say NO!

And unlike the Jim Carrey movie, I won't one day turn into a Yes Man. No, no, no.

I Gotta Have It!

I don't know why I didn't think of this earlier, but I've lately bemoaned the lack of a quality 2009 calendar to put in my den, when for the past several weeks this magnificent creation has been in the offering from Dabel Brothers Publishing:

Why, it's the 2009 "A Song of Ice and Fire" Calendar!

For those of you not in the know, A Song of Ice and Fire is the banner title of the ongoing epic fantasy by George R. R. Martin. Many fans--this one included--considers the series the second best fantasy opus behind Lord of the Rings. It is not really like LotR in any way, but the scope and importance to the field of fantasy is similar. The artwork is provided by Michael Komarck, whom many fans know already from his previous art based on the books.

Anyway, if you're in the market for a very kewl 2009 calendar, and you like swords-n-chainmail type fantasy (not to be confused with swords-n-sorcery, the latter of which is not very prevalent in the ASoIaF world), then look no further. I immediately purchased this puppy on the quick from the site linked above. Amazon, for some odd reason, has it listed as sold out already.

And now I must wait impatiently for it to arrive in the mail (boo!)

Friday, January 2, 2009

Game Review: Prince of Persia

Well, just finished playing Ubisoft's 2008 reboot of the Prince of Persia franchise. As a long time fan of the series, I had gotten a bit burned on the "Sands of Time" trilogy previously released, and was looking forward to seeing which direction the game would go in now.

And boy was it worth the wait! I simply adore this game. The developer decided to go with a more artsy and minimalist approach this time around, and it pays off. You can check my "Now Playing" sidebar on this blog for more on how I feel about it.

The game itself is more firmly rooted in Persian mythology than the previous iterations, this time pitting you up against the force of Ahriman himself as you fight to keep his dark influence from spreading across the land. The "Prince" this time is not royalty, but a mere vagabond/adventurer/glory seeker who stumbles onto a magical kingdom while getting lost in a sandstorm. Pretty soon he runs into a fleeing princess and is dragged into a battle between warring gods. The girl, Elika, secures the unnamed adventurer's help, and this is where the game begins.

It quickly becomes apparent that Elika is more than just a pretty sidekick, however. Unlike similar characters in other games, the AI which propels the princess is pretty darn advanced. She truly is more a help rather than a hindrance as you use her powers and intelligence to cooperatively battle through each opponent and puzzle the game throws your way.

In fact, the main design of the game is based on the single principle of cooperation: be it scaling sheer cliff sides or battling a humongous mountain of ugly in the form of one of the elemental adversaries, you must constantly string along moves with the aid of Elika's magic and combat prowess, bouncing back and forth between each other as you surmount the obstacles placed in your path together. Really, it's quite beautiful to watch once you get a handle on the controls. Check out the two trailers below, which demonstrate exactly what I mean:

All in all, this was a quick and VERY FUN little game to kill time with over these two weeks off from work. The cell-shaded art style choice works so well here--like anime--way better than traditional CGI. Make no doubt about it, this is a gorgeous looking game! If you have the time and interest, I highly recommend this title.

RATING: 8.5/10

Panama Trip - Day 1: Here There Be Balboas!

In late May, 2017 I embarked on a trip of a lifetime. A trip to Panama's steamy tropical province, Bocas del Toro. Now, before 2017 ...