Call Me Badass

The other day I looked in the mirror after I had been driving. I was still wearing my hat and shades, and I had to laugh. With my too-long-untrimmed beard I looked like, well, not me.

Yeah, not so much a mild-mannered geek as a stereotype from from central casting to be in the background for a scene in a “rough” bar. (Which, in fact, I was once paid to be.)

There are other shots in the batch that don’t make it obvious I was using shoot-through umbrellas (you can see them pretty clearly in the glasses), but I chose these based on different treatments of the light, and for my expressions. It’s a slow process when you have to stop and go behind the camera to see how a shot worked, then getting back in front and duplicating your head angle but altered just a smidge. So getting the reflections under control never really happened.

By the way, the background for those shots is a sneak peek at the shoot I’ll be doing with Harlean (who is a fiction) this afternoon. A shaky phone-camera look behind the scenes:

The set for today's shoot.

The set for today’s shoot.

Health by the Numbers

You’ve probably heard by now that weight is an important factor in overall health. For the first time in the history of multi-celled animals on this planet, too much weight actually kills a lot of folks. Until a century ago, fat saved a lot more lives than it took.

Here are some weight-related measures of a person’s health:

  • weight
  • Body Mass Index (BMI)
  • waist-to-height ratio
  • serum aminotransferase

Amino-what-what-what? I’ll get to that shortly. Let’s look at the others, first.

Weight as a simple number of pounds does a poor job indicating health. One human may weigh 200 pounds and be far healthier than another person of the same weight. BMI is a fairly complex formula that tries to create a reasonable scale relating weight to height. My BMI is currently a bit on the high side, but not by much.

The problem is, height isn’t the only variable when it comes to figuring out how heavy is too heavy. BMI assumes a certain shape of person, and I suspect it’s based on a weight distribution more typical of females. Skinny-leg men with big bellies can fool themselves with BMI because the weight is not distributed evenly over their bodies. It’s concentrated in the gut, which is far more harmful than fat on the thighs.

So for me, a more meaningful measure is the ratio of my height to my circumference. It’s a simple measure, and in my case, the news there isn’t so good.

My advice to people assessing their weight as a component of their overall health: Choose the system that gives you the worst news. That’s probably the number you need to address.

Much different is the last measure in the list above, and it’s more important to me personally than it’s likely to be for you. The amount of aspartate aminotransferase and alanine aminotransferase in one’s blood is related to fat on the liver. That is, of the sixty extra pounds I was carrying last March, it was the few ounces of that fat in my liver that were harming me the most. I could lose only those little fat bubbles and be far healthier, even at the same weight.

So last March my numbers were:

  • Weight: 198 lbs. (or thereabouts – didn’t have the good scale yet)
  • BMI: 30 (borderline obese; normal is < 25)
  • Waist-to-height: about 0.68 (didn’t measure at the start, but this is very not good)
  • aspartate aminotransferase: 290 (normal is < 40) (!)

So if raw weight is such a flimsy indicator of health, why do we hear so much about weight everywhere we turn? The answer: It’s really easy to measure. So I use the least meaningful measure of health to set my goals. A pound a week. (Pound 172 took substantially longer. I hated that pound. Week after week I cursed that damn pound.)

Today my numbers are:

  • Weight: 170 lbs.
  • BMI: 25.8 – getting close!
  • Waist-to-height: 0.62 – ok, not so close. Can’t hide from this one.
  • aspartate aminotransferase: normal!

You see that last one? That, my friends, is weight-loss success. I still have some work to do, but dang if that’s not validation. An important part of my 50th birthday present to myself.

Also, when I hug my sweetie, I feel closer to her. Probably because I am closer to her. And her arms go all the way around me, with extra for squeezin’.

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Oh, Shit

While I put the finishing touches on a truly fascinating blog episode, a pep band is setting up directly behind me. There is a sousaphone, trumpets, drums, and all the rest. Even Cheerleaders. Who are we? “Spartans!”

And now they’re playing.

All Timelines Lead to Rome

Dale Cozort is an interesting guy. He’s a hard-working writer, and he’s a friend of mine. Among the Kansas Bunch, Dale’s the guy who gets things done.

At summer camp in Kansas this year, during the book signing event, I picked up Dale’s latest work and gave it to him to sign. We chatted a bit and he hesitated over the page, and wrote his name. No personal message, no ready quip. (In contrast, Kevin Anderson wrote “faster than light!” in my copy of Tau Ceti, a generic message in what turned out to be a generic story.) Dale hesitated and just wrote his name in functional cursive. It made me laugh. That’s Dale.

I am biased in favor of Mr. Cozort, but I will never say I liked something I didn’t, just because the writer is my pal. If I didn’t like it, I’d just say nothing. I liked All Timelines Lead to Rome.

I’ve seen early drafts of some of his other stories and they’re problematic, as are the early drafts of every story. Seeing those drafts colors my expectations, even as people who read my drafts form their own conclusions. But Dale’s a hard-working writer, and an intelligent man, and he’s not afraid of a rewrite. Even if he doesn’t agree with a particular criticism, he will use his defense of it to improve the story. What comes out in the end is a solid tale.

Dale loves to mash cultures together. I think he spends his idle time just pondering things like “what would a pre-columbian Apache think of Beethoven?” It’s what Dale does. (My own thought: what would Beethoven do with electric guitars?) This time, we have discovered that with an adequate application of energy, we can cross to an alternate Earth where the Romans are still in control after all this time. But two thousand years later, they still haven’t sailed across the Atlantic. Technological advancement has stopped over in Europe. In America, the Indians are entering the bronze age.

The reason the Romans have maintained their power yet have ceased any technological advancement is a fascinating one. Without the intervention of our timeline, I imagine Indians in Pennsylvania learning steel and kicking Europe’s ass.

There’s nothing like that in the book, but it’s a credit to Dale’s idea that one is tempted to spin new what-ifs against the original conceit. It’s fun that way.

And while Dale loves to mash cultures together, his main guy in this story is devoted to keeping them apart. He’s on a team to limit the harm done to both worlds by free interaction. An impossible job. Around him are people drooling over the oil fields in alternate Texas, coveting the real estate in the alternate Montana, and smuggling sweet (and potentially plague-bearing) artifacts from alternate Rome.

Perhaps the best idea in the story is the realization that what has caused alternate Rome to stagnate is contageous (in a social sense of the word, not a biological one). Once alternate Rome’s secret comes over to our world, technology might stagnate here, too. There are some really tricky ethical questions that come along for the ride. There’s a government cover-up, and at first I thought it was silly, and not a strength of the story. Even the current US Government wouldn’t blindly try to cover up something like this, right? Oh, wait, I take that back.

For all the good ideas, there are some rough edges to the book. Some gripes, intentionally left vague:

I just don’t buy the spunky cop/street gang thing. It just doesn’t make sense; gangs aren’t that patient. Too big an investment with no specific reward. The stretch would be easier to take if resulting events weren’t so central to the plot. And then there’s the personal history between two of the other characters that seems, well, convenient. And the resource-endowed member of that pair would probably have played things differently. Then there is a decision by the good guys that puts our hero in the right place, but it doesn’t hold up well under the spotlight, protect-both-worlds-wise.

None of those things stopped me from reading the story, and enjoying it. Sometimes you just have to turn off the damn spotlight.

To be honest, I didn’t expect to like this story as much as I did. (Sorry, Dale.) You see enough early versions by a writer and it colors your perception. But as I mentioned before Dale’s a hard worker, and we all start with crappy drafts. Best thing: the real strength of this tale is not any of the stuff I’ve mentioned so far. It’s the people. While I must be careful not to spoil things, not everyone is who they seem to be. Loyalty is the highest virtue and it shows up in surprising places. The crisis that foments the action comes from someone acting on the highest ideals.

And there are people with serious personal issues whom you like anyway. As a reader I found some of their bruises tougher to buy than others, but none of the main people is entirely whole. Everyone’s a little bit broken, and that makes a good story.

Generally I’m not hesitant to throw out spoilers, but this time I’m being coy, because I’d like you to read the story. I’m a little worried I’m overselling it; it’s not perfect, but I had a genuine good time reading this. Maybe you will too.

Note: if you use the above link to buy this book (or a Judith Leiber Nabila Crocodile Exotic Shoulder Bag), I get a kickback.

Open Letter to the Girl in the Green Subaru with the Sea Turtle Stickers on the Back Window

Just where do you think that cigarette butt you threw out your window is going to end up?

The Secret Ingredient is Disappointment

I’m a fortunate guy by any measure. One bit of proof: My sweetie packs my lunch for me most days. It’s a simple thing, but sometimes it’s the simple things that matter most. One part of the tradition: Each morning I get to pick out the treat for my dessert. The light of my life recently spotted promising-looking boxes of Mrs. Fields cookies on sale and (after checking that the calorie count wasn’t too outrageous) brought them home. Oh boy!

Cookies!

I was considerably less excited when I opened one of the boxes. Roughly 1/3 of the top was empty space. Eight cheerfully-wrapped cookies hunkered down in the depths of the packaging:

Cookies?

But even that was not the end of the cruel charade. I opened one of the packets and discovered… an even smaller cookie within. Less than half the height of the box!

Aww...

“New Look! Same great taste.” The box proclaims. I’m guessing ‘new look’ is a euphemism for ‘smaller’. The box could quite easily have held 20 cookies rather than eight, and they would have been safer from being bounced around during shipping. Shopkeepers hate this sort of shenanigan as well—they lose precious shelf space to inflated boxes. Walmart does not put up with this shit.

It does explain the reasonable number of calories per cookie, however.

Blog Week!

I’ve been bad about posting here lately, for a variety of reasons. It’s not that I haven’t been writing at all; I’ve got some things in the hopper waiting for finishing touches and I’ve got a few other things queued up in my head. So this week I’m taking a little slice out of my Nethack time (more on that later), perhaps making an exception in my weight-loss plan (more on that later, too), to bring out a bevy of fascinating bon mots to cheer your evenings, at the astounding rate of one episode per day!

I’ll be starting tonight, with a rant about Mrs. Fields’ cookies. You don’t have to thank me, it’s what I do.

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