Jan 212013
 

Jim C. Hines is a writer that’s been discussing sexism and the impossible-body-posing fetishism found on book covers. He’s been doing it mostly by personally duplicating book covers himself, posing and writing about how ridiculous and painful the postures are. You can check out his blog and see a bunch of his own crazy photo shoots.

As the discussion goes: Book sellers want skin and out-thrust bosoms and butts on their covers, so artists provide them by contorting their figures to crazy and impossible extremes. There’s also a tendency to wear ridiculous clothing, like all those nearly naked warrior women wearing metal bikinis in the snow. What does this say about us?

I became involved in the conversation when Jim proposed doing a group photo using science fiction authors to raise money for charity. If people donated enough he’d pull in some of the new big names in the science fiction field and do a group photo, reversing the genders. Well, the money came streaming in, three times what they expected was raised, and Jim contacted me to do the shoot at one of our local science fiction convention here in Michigan called ConFusion.

The models:

Within the fantasy and science fiction community these are all very well known folk. All are fun, generous, and active in the genre. All were also very willing to put themselves out there to raise money, join the discussion, and let everyone enjoy them stepping way out of their own comfort zones for a good cause.

Jim secretly sent us all the photo we’d be using. It was the cover art used for the Poul Anderson book “Young Flandry”, a James Bond styled action adventure in space novel. Jim gave everyone the option to say no way, but instead out came the cry, “Let’s do this!” Continue reading »

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Dec 142012
 

One of the unexpected issues we had after upgrading to smart phones was that we suddenly wanted WiFi Internet access everywhere in our house and property. With our laptops we had specific places we sat to use them, and the access was fine in those places, but with our smart phones we were up and wandering everywhere. Suddenly we were discovering all the dead zones in the house. For example, when I tried taking my phone to the backyard in the summer with Bluetooth speakers to play music, I found I had to stay within ten feet of the house to maintain access to the local WiFi network. We also found ourselves getting disconnecting upstairs and in the farther end of our living room. Sometimes it depended on which direction we faced. Since our phones have data limits we wanted to save the 4G data use for when we were away from home. It was time to change-up the WiFi.

I loaded up a WiFi signal detector app on the phone and wandered the house. Not only was the signal dropping far from the router, but in the living room our neighbor’s WiFi signal was actually significantly higher than ours. At the time, our router was located in a corner of the basement. That was where the cable company had installed the cable modem. To get better coverage of the entire house I decided to move the router to the very center of the house on the main floor.

It just so happened that the center of our house is a hall closet. I had our entertainment system in this closet with long wires connecting it to the TV and speakers in the living room. I put it there because when I was a kid we pulled the channel knob off the TV (yes, it was long enough ago that we had knobs) and dropped paper clips inside, shorting the TV out. I’ve watched little kids try to put all kinds of objects into CD and DVD players. When our daughter, Coral, was born I moved our entire entertainment system to a top shelf in the hall closet to keep it out of her reach. Being eight years old now, I actually want her to be able to reach the Blu-ray drive on her own.

Central-Wifi

So, I moved the receiver and media PC to a cabinet in the living room, and moved the router into the closet. This did the trick. We now had WiFi coverage all through the house.

Of course, I couldn’t just stop there. My neighbor’s router was still stronger than ours in the living room! Looking online, I found they now had higher-powered and faster routers. I upgraded. My laptop can now connect at nearly Gigabit wired speeds. I walked our property from the street to the back fence: we have an excellent signal everywhere on our property. We’ve been using it for a few weeks now, and we don’t even think about WiFi access anymore because it’s always connected no matter where we are at home.

Next summer I suspect we’ll enjoy sitting outside in the yard with our networked music or radio streaming, checking mail, and posting to Facebook. We won’t have to limit ourselves to ten feet from the house. Having access to streaming radio and music will also make it much more enjoyable when I finally get around to cleaning out and repairing our old garage. It really needs it. Luckily it’s winter right now, so I won’t think about that chore any further.

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Oct 012012
 

Here’s a great recipe for those trying to reduce their carb load, yet who still want desert-like goodies to snack on. I brought the chocolate chip variation to a party the other week and they were gobbled up.

NOTE 1: Using butter or Earth Balance will give more of an old-school buttery flavor, while coconut oil will add a coconut overtone and a slightly harder texture. All three are good, just different, so use what you prefer or need for your diet. Coconut oil should always be used by those following a primal diet, but people not familiar with coconut oil may prefer the other options.

NOTE 2: There are two reasons to choose between maple syrup or agave syrup. First, there’s your taste preference. Second, and more importantly to me, there’s the glycemic-index. Agave is low-glycemic and considered better for diabetic conditions, while maple syrup has less fructose and is better for fructose malabsorption conditions. I use maple syrup.

NOTE 3: With only walnuts you’ll have a very mildly sweetened scone and the walnuts will add a nice variety in the taste and texture.  Adding Chocolate chunks/chips makes these into something more like a chocolate chip cookie. I’ll  switch between the two, sometimes using half and half depending on if I want more of a dessert or a snack. I personally find a full cup of chocolate chunks/chips way too sweet for my taste, so I rarely go over 1/2 cup if only I’m eating them.

Almond Flour Scones

2 1/2 cups almond flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/3 cup coconut oil, softened butter, or Earth Balance
1/8 cup maple syrup or agave syrup
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
Up to 1 cup walnuts or dark chocolate chunks/chips, or a mix of both

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix all ingredients except for walnuts or chocolate until smooth. Stir in walnuts or chocolate. Form 10-12 scones on cookie sheet.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until slightly browned.

Almond Flour Chocolate Cookie

Add 1/2 cup cocoa powder and an additional 1/8 cup of syrup to the above recipe to transform it into a chocolate cookie. The sugar load is a bit high for me, but I wanted to include this variation for those looking for a way to twist the recipe further into dessert territory.

Alternate Sweetener Substitution

I don’t tolerate many artificial sweeteners,but if you need to totally cut out all sugar you can adapt the recipe by substituting half of the butter/oil with grape seed oil and using 4 packets of any alternate sweetener like Sweet ‘n Low or Stevia instead of the syrup.

 

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Sep 122012
 

We just upgraded our phones to Android Smart Phones. It’s like having another computer to setup! We finally settled on the apps we like, and life seems easier, especially now that I’m no longer constantly messing with the device.

Last week I was at the world science fiction convention. Instead of my laptop, I only brought the phone. Doing this was an experiment. Would I miss the bigger screen and keyboard? I didn’t! Only having the phone was great. What really impressed me was being able to load, process, and post photos from my big honking DSLR camera on this small device. It was so fast and easy. I’ll post about my photography setup another day.

For now, here are my favorite general apps yet so far:

Swiftkey 3
I now consider this a mandatory keyboard replacement for touch devices. I switched to it right away, while my wife continued to use the default keyboard. After a few weeks I convinced her to try it. Took, oh, about a minute for her to be totally won over. It’s one of those word suggesting keyboards. As you type it tries to guess what word you want and displays it’s best three guesses. Touch the word and it’s inserted with a space. The phone’s default keyboard had this feature as well, but the logic behind the word suggestions is leaps ahead with SwiftKey. It effectively samples and learns your words choices and makes better guesses. I discovered you can also enter words without apostrophes and it’ll suggest it with the apostrophe, thus avoiding that extra step of accessing shifted characters. It also recognizes when you backspace to a word and suggests different forms of the word, like adding “ed” or “ing”. This keyboard makes typing longer text messages on a tiny touch keyboard a reasonable task. Yet so far, I was only caught once by it accidentally inserting the wrong word, and that was because I didn’t realize at first that the best thing to do is always touch a suggested word instead of pressing the space bar, as the space bar inserts the center suggestion, which is not always what you want. After a few days it all started feeling natural, the software had learned my style, and no more wrong word picks. Highly recommended.

Shush!
This app is also mandatory for me. With my old phone I was always putting it in vibrate mode for meetings or shows, and then forgetting I’d shushed it. It would often vibrate unheard in another room until I remembered to turn the ringer back on. Shush automatically allows quickly and easily setting a time period that the phone should remain in quiet mode. Go into an hour long meeting, set it to one hour. Go to the movies, set it for two hours or so. It’s easy to use, as it automatically pops up the Shush time selection screen whenever you use the volume rocker to set the volume to zero. Highly recommended.

Juice Defender Ultimate
One more mandatory app for me. One problem with smart phones is they can be battery hogs. This app allows setting schedules for power hungry connections and syncing, and setting times of the day to automatically enter a sleeping quiet mode. It helps control screen brightness, and generally just helps make the battery last longer. Work very well, though some apps still can drain the battery in less than a day if you spend way too many hours with your eyes glued to the screen. It also handles automatically switching to your regularly used Wi-Fi connections based on learned GPS locations, thus avoiding overuse of the 4G or 3G data links without constantly having to choose a Wi-Fi connection. Highly recommended.

ES File Explorer
I’m a computer guy. I like full access and control of my system drives. This file explorer gives me that. It makes it easy to open, copy, move, and rename files between various storage locations. It gives me fast access to the main drive, the external card, plugged-in devices, LAN drives (like my networked Synology Raid), FTP servers, etc.. A Favorites feature makes it easy to jump to often used folders. I can now easily use the phone to manage files without having to connect the phone to a computer first.

Evernote
Evernote is an easy to use list and note taker that keeps notes, photos, recorded notes, and attachments in cloud storage. It’s interface is good because it’s made for small screens and allows easy sharing. There are also lots of plug-ins available for browsers. Good way to maintain notes and to-do lists.

CalenGoo
This is the calender program I settled on. The main reason I chose it was how well it synced multiple Google Calenders. It allows me to quickly toggle which of many calenders are shown on the phones calender, both those you can modify and those you can’t. This allows me to sync my wife’s schedule, my daughter’s schedule (my wife and I both maintain this one together), and my schedule, along with overlaying a holiday calender, 5 day weather calender, and birthday/events calender. With a single press I can toggle between just my schedule and everyone’s schedule together. It’s not as graphically pretty as some calender apps, but I actually like that because it uses every pixel for data, and that gives you more detail when looking at a month calender on a small phone screen. Now that we have a single calender with everyone’s schedules on it there should be fewer surprises, like those late school meetings my wife would forget to tell me about.

MailDroid
I’ve been using personal email servers for a long time and have multiple e-mail addresses. I also like to download all my e-mails for searching and archiving rather than trusting them on a cloud service like Gmail. So, while my wife just uses the built-in GMail client, I decided on MailDroid. It just works more like a good old mail client. It also allows archiving e-mails into your own folders, and flagging emails, including as spam. The feature that probably won me over was how it handled advanced email viewing: it automatically downloads only the text, but turn the phone to landscape and press one icon and it displays the email full screen with all graphics and formatting. Makes for very easy reading on a phone. This is not a program I think everyone will love. GMail users will likely want to stick to the GMail client, and others may prefer a simpler programs with a prettier interface, but it does what I need very well.

MX Player Pro
Plays back many video file formats and includes multiprocessor support. Just a good video player.

Find Me Gluten Free
A program to find restaurants that can handle gluten-free diets. Easier to use than the Yelp interface.

Out of Milk
My wife and I use this to update the grocery list. We maintain one list and update it whenever we think of something that should be added. You can cross items off with a swipe as you pick them up, and it includes a barcode scanner. A simple one purpose tool without being overly complex.

Smart Tools
These are a set of tools including a Flashlight, Compass, Level, Ruler, Protractor, Sound Meter, Vibrometer, Distance Measuring Tool.

TouchPad
A remote control program for Windows, which I can use to control the computer connected to our TV. Includes additional menus for media playback and web browsing. Gives me some access to the living room’s media computer when the mini-wireless keyboard is missing.

MDScan & CamCard
MDScan is an easy way to take photos of documents and have them stored as a single PDF file. It does a good job of very quickly straightening and cleaning up pages to make them readable. CamCard is a similar program except specifically for business cards. I like these, but the phone is too new to tell how often I’ll ultimately use them.

And here are some more apps now on the phone:

  • Amazon Kindle
  • Amazon Mobile (for buying stuff or price lookups)
  • Dolphin Browser (a better phone browser than the default)
  • Dropbox
  • EJay (LiveJournal App, for checking the blogs of the last holdouts)
  • Facebook
  • Foursquare
  • Goodreads
  • Google Maps
  • Google Sky Map
  • Google Voice (we mostly use it for free texting when needed)
  • Groupon
  • IMDd
  • LivingSocial
  • NetFlix
  • Pandora
  • Recipes
  • QR Droid & RedLaser
  • Skype (works very well on my phone, but a data and power hog)
  • TuneIn Radio Pro
  • Twitter
  • WordPress
  • Yelp


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Aug 012012
 

Due to the rise in diabetes in the USA, for decades there has been a big marketing push to get people to use zero-calorie and low-glycemic sweeteners. I previously posted about health issues I connected to a zero-calorie sweetener, and noted that I also did better on a low-carb diet. Now I’m going to explain the simple science behind why certain sweeteners, including no-cal-sweeteners and even natural low-glycemic sweeteners like agave and honey, or even just the natural sugars in wheat, apples, and onions can cause major health issues for some people.

I only learned about all of this in 2011 when a podiatrist mentioned a study that found a connection between gout and fructose. I started researching the topic, and the information I found surprised me.

It turns out that around 30% of the population of Western countries and Africa have a condition known as Fructose Malabsorption. Asia has lower numbers, but it’s still around 10%. That’s a lot of people with a condition most of us have probably never heard of. Continue reading »

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Jul 252012
 

Ugh. One month after discovering Truvia had been wrecking my gut, I ate over someone’s house only to be gifted with food poisoning. That night everyone except my daughter Coral became ill. Two days later I was informed that the humus we’d eaten had been tainted. For a change I was glad that Coral hadn’t eaten her vegetables.

After that mild food poisoning, half the time I ate anything I would get bad indigestion, followed by intense stomach pains, followed by everything being flushed out of my system from my stomach on down. This was happening a few times a week, and I had a lot of intense stomach pains and indigestion in-between the really bad bouts.

Everything I read said food poisoning should clear up on its own in one to four weeks. I waited. Six weeks later I was still suffering. So much for my summer plans of fun and productivity.

Continue reading »

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Jun 112012
 

In 2008 I started having bouts of fatigue and brain fog. The brain fog became so bad that I stopped reading and writing. I simply couldn’t maintain my thoughts from paragraph to paragraph. Sometimes I’d feel better for a while, but it never lasted.

The fatigue increased over the years, along with body aches and back pains. After a few years of this I started getting full-on dizzy spells. A few times on work gigs I felt so groggy and out-of-it I feared my clients would think I was stoned.

From the start I thought it was digestive. At the same time the brain fog started the Lactase enzyme pills I took to avoid headaches when I consumed uncultured dairy stopped working. My digestion had become very sluggish. I would often get a sharp stabbing pain just under my right ribs.

I went to the doctor and explained that it felt like I had the flu without the fever, or like I was intoxicated.  At my request, he sent me to a gastroenterologist. The man knocked me out and did the old tube inspections from above and below and declared it was not a digestive issue. Move on boy. Stop bothering me with your imagined digestive problems. I looked at the surface of your emptied guts and it all looks fine to me, so your symptoms must be in your mind. By the way, there’s no such thing as food intolerance. There’s no such thing as gluten intolerance., that’s all just mass hysteria, including all the science behind it. Lactose intolerance can’t cause headaches, so that’s also psychosomatic. Stomach aches, the sluggish digestion, the fatigue and headaches? All psychosomatic.

My primary physician retired soon after all this started. He handed his practice over to another doctor. After a year or so with the new guy, I decided his temperament just wasn’t a good match for me. I found myself another new primary physician. Over those years all three doctors said my blood tests showed I was healthy. All three stated that lactose intolerance didn’t cause headaches, so the headaches must have been tension headaches, even though I got them only when I ate dairy. I was frequently grilled about drug and alcohol use, and then ironically would be prescribed addictive narcotics as pain relievers. All three said I was perfectly healthy and my symptoms were psychosomatic.

With the new doctor I asked to see a different gastroenterologist. The moment I sat down with this new guy, without any real discussion, as he spent the entire time on the phone discussing another case, the doctor said I was fine and my symptoms were psychosomatic and to go home. Apparently there were notes in my medical record from the previous gastroenterologist, so I was on my own.

In the middle of December of 2011 things took a turn for the worse. I started having fairly non-stop intense headaches. The grogginess increased. The brain fog doubled. I felt jittery and anxious. It was my prior symptoms multiplied by ten. Luckily I was about to have a breakthrough. Continue reading »

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May 302012
 

A couple of years ago my triglyceride and cholesterol levels were borderline high. My primary physician wanted me on statins immediately! For the rest of my life! What?!

Examining the numbers, I found that both my HDL (good cholesterol) and LDL (bad cholesterol) were at normal levels, but my overall cholesterol (good and bad combined) was borderline. My triglycerides were approaching borderline high levels as well.

Because I don’t like taking unnecessary prescription drugs, and I’m a smart-ass, I decided to do research instead of taking his advice.

Everywhere I looked I read that to lower cholesterol and triglycerides you needed to decrease fat in your diet. Cut out all that butter and meat! I had done raw food diets in the past for short periods. I decided to see what my blood levels looked like on a raw food diet. No meat. No dairy. Lots of fruit and veggies. I ate salads, wraps, and juiced quite a bit. Nuts for protein. Dates and fruit  to sweeten deserts. I allowed myself some rice and rice-pasta on occasion. The end result? No change. I lost some weight, but my cholesterol and triglycerides were still high.

I decided it was time to look at the science. Continue reading »

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May 012012
 

A friend mentioned wanting to get more greens into their diet, so I thought I’d post a really fast, easy, and tasty way to cook up kale. Takes less than five minutes to make from start to finish. I’ve eaten this as breakfast or lunch, but it would also make a good side dish at dinner.

Use a skillet on a stove top set to medium heat. Grab some kale leaves. Rinse. Still wet, rip the leaves into bite sized pieces and toss into the still heating pan. Don’t shake off the water, as it helps steam the kale. Also, thick stems require more chewing, so you may optionally wish to leave them out. Kale cooks down quite a bit, so for one serving I fill the bottom of a 10″ iron skillet. This gives you one small bowl, like in the photo above.

Next pour about 1 tsp of flavored oil onto the bottom of the now hot pan. My favorites are chili oil or sesame oil. A mix of both works nicely as well. Try different flavored oils for variety. Swish the kale around the skillet to coat.

Add a tablespoon of cooking wine or water. I usually use a Chinese Fukien rice wine because I like how it mildly enhances the flavor. At this stage the liquid will further steam the kale, keep it from burning, and add a nice emerald color. Let it cook for a few minutes until it’s wilted and tender.

Toss in a handful of walnuts and stir.

Scoop into a bowl and enjoy.

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Mar 192012
 

I was using Philips Pronto remotes for over a decade. No more. My last one just died.

The Pronto was a really cool device when it first came out. From the beginning it included a fully programmable touch screen graphic interface and could replace a pile of remote controls with programmable automation. This was way before tablets and smart phones. You could build a glitzy interface and set one button to do multiple actions, like turn one the TV, turn on the receiver, switch inputs, turn on the DVD player, dim the lights, etc..

Due to all the competition from tablets, smart phones, and other cheap devices and apps, Philips stopped making the Pronto last year. There are now hundreds of automation options available. I started looking into what to use to replace the old Pronto, and quickly decided to take a totally different route.  I’d just code up my own.

Continue reading »

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