Vacation Part 5 – Sickness and the Giant’s Causeway

When we got back to our hotel room we collapsed for the night and slept. We slept the sleep of the dead. Between our bodies still adjusting to European time and what we would soon learn was illness, the day’s tour proved utterly exhausting and our beds infinitely comforting.

When the alarm went off the next morning Katie and I had a half-mumbled conversation where we unanimously agreed to keep sleeping and reschedule the tour for the next day. So for a few hours more the city of Dublin passed us by while we slept. It was only as we awoke that we discovered that our bodies had been at war during the night, that a vicious flu of sorts had laid siege and broken through our defenses. While my flu was bad, it was Katie’s which proved far worse.

Bless Katie’s heart, she spent the vast majority of our time in Ireland, in the hotel resting. All of Tuesday was spent resting. We stayed in bed, watching TV and playing on our tablets or computers. Between my travel supply of Sudafed and rolls of toilet paper, we battled our stuffy noses.

Eventually the the day was over and the sun had set, we curled up and passed out again. During the day I had called the tour company and gotten our tour rescheduled for the next day, hoping we would feel healthy enough to take it.

Even though I was stuffy, I didn’t really feel sick. I didn’t have the aches, I wasn’t exhausted – so, when the time came to wake up for the tour, I did and determined I felt good enough to go. Reluctantly, I woke Katie up to see how she was. I knew what the answer would be, but I didn’t want to risk being wrong and have her feel up to the tour and miss it. As expected, she didn’t feel well, so she opted to rest. She was also extremely forceful in telling me that if I felt up to, I must take the tour and take lots of pictures to share with her.

So I got up and got dressed, and again caught a cab. This time the cabbie was quite talkative and charged me roughly half what the other guy did (thus confirming my suspicion we had been taken advantage of the first morning.)

During the ride he asked where I was going and I told him that I was going to see the Giant’s Causeway. To which he told me how he had grown up in Dublin and had never been to Northern Ireland.

mirelandNow, I need to admit something. Before this trip I had a very very scant understanding of the issues between Ireland and Northern Ireland. All I knew was that there was the IRA in the 80s. As far as I knew up to a week ago, the island of Ireland was entirely the same country. That is not true. Northern Ireland is technically part of the UK, they don’t use the Euro, they use the Pound Sterling. The political tension has eased a great deal in the recent decades but it’s clear that it’s an issue not too different from the old feelings which still pop up about the “South” versus America during our civil war.

So, the cabbie pulls up to the Tourism office and again I’m early. This time though I’m so early there is literally no one else there. The cabbie is clearly questioning whether I’m in the right place, but I insist I am as I pay him.

The truth is, I really considered climbing back into the cab and going back to the hotel. I’m tired, it’s cold, my nose is dripping, and as the minutes tick by with me sitting by myself on the stone steps I begin to worry. Did the tour company forget to tell me the pick up location had changed? Was the person on the phone wrong to tell me I was okay to come, was there actually no tour today?

I did my best to control my anxiety as I waited. And for that I was rewarded as eventually people began showing up. Soon enough the bus pulled up and I hopped on board, finding a window seat and promptly passing out. Again we had a long day’s drive ahead of us as we crossed more of Ireland, this time heading north.

Unlike Mike, Robbie was a man in his fifties and he was still fairly new to the tour bus driver business having done it for less than a year. He didn’t have the personality of Mike, instead opting for a more down-to-earth approach with a fairly constant patter of facts during the tour. After a gas station stop for breakfast (well, for me I stocked up on tissues, OJ, and a few snacks) we headed into Northern Ireland. The driver, Robbie, did a good job of setting the stage and explaining some of the political background to it all.

Our next stop was a small fishing village on the northern coast. Here we were again just stretching our legs, but the stop was next to a nice little marina for a half-dozen boats as well as a pier. Since it was still early I got a few nice shots and this one is another of my favorites.

From there we loaded up and our driver gave us the bad news. Part of today’s tour was supposed to be a rope bridge which had existed (and been updated) for hundreds of years to connect an island to Ireland. Unfortunately due to the day’s windy conditions it was closed so we weren’t going to be able to stop there. This time we stopped for lunch before the tour’s main attraction, lunch was again a fairly simple affair. We stopped at a restaurant which has to be almost wholly supported by tour groups, they had wifi and the food was good.

Next up, the main attraction: The Giant’s Causeway.


There’s a legend about the Giant’s Causeway as being the battleground between an Irish giant “Fionn mac Cumhaill.” He was also known as Finn MacCool, and he built the causeway as a place to battle a Scottish giant named Benandonner. When Benandonner came ashore, Finn ran and hid with his wife, having her dress him in baby clothes. Benandonner came looking for him and he saw a giant in baby clothes and exclaimed “If that’s the baby, I’m not waiting to meet the father!” He ran off, destroying the causeway so that Finn could not easily pursue him.

Standing among the stones, I don’t find this story hard to believe.

The stones seem otherworldly, formed by some alien or supernatural force, appearing as if they were formed on purpose into the hexagonal columns. The weather as I was there began to turn so I made the most of my time, snapping photos and hiking a bit past the main area to try and get some other shots. After getting as far as I dared I made my way back and sure enough as soon as I neared the bus pick-up the rains began sprinkling. I let the brief shower blow over and I huddled next to a rock formation to find this unique tradition: coins in the cracks.

After re-boarding the bus there was only one more notable stop on our day’s tour and that is the capital of Northern Ireland: Belfast. I didn’t honestly see much of Belfast. I was tired and I wanted to ensure that I didn’t get lost in the foreign city so I hung close to the drop-off spot and snapped only a few photos of the capital before finding a coffee shop with wifi and hot chocolate to pass the time. I relaxed in the shop and enjoyed my warm drink as I surfed the web and posted on social media.


Eventually the time came to return to the bus, and at that point I was exhausted and yet completely fulfilled. I had seen two life-goal destinations on this trip and it was time to turn my focus to work. I spent the bus ride home staring out the window and enjoying the landscape as we rolled back to Dublin from Belfast.

This final post in the series is long overdue. For whatever reason I lost momentum in my posts and this one languished as a draft. Ireland was a wonderful trip, and is a country I will eagerly look forward to visiting again and again.

Beating Bowser

Nintendo’s NES was originally released in the US in 1985, four days shy of my second birthday. It was the first move by Nintendo to move from the arcade into the home. Almost 62 million units were sold worldwide before it was eventually discontinued, but not before it had an impact on my life.

I can remember video games at home before Nintendo. The parents would code games into our personal computer, but at the time I was too young to fully appreciate them. I can vaguely remember watching my brothers play King’s Quest and a specific scene where there was gold under a bridge, but that’s it. The NES was the first gaming system that I really got to play.

It was 1990, after we moved to Orlando, that we finally got it. It was a brisk Florida night, probably January. We drove to Wal-Mart and went in as a family. I remember us rolling the Nintendo box out to the van and I held the box in my lap the whole ride home. I was ecstatic. We got the NES with Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt, and man I could not wait to get into it.

It was a family game system, I clearly remember both my mom and my dad playing with us. We’d gather in the family room in front of the TV and we would take turns and pass the remote, or we would have boys play Mario and girls play Luigi.

On level 3-1, the first above ground dark level, there is a place where you can bounce a turtle shell off the steps repeatedly before taking the flag. The way Mario games work is that if you chain events together the points awarded continue to increase until it begins awarding extra lives. So if you repeatedly bounce a turtle shell against a wall such that you can keep jumping on it without hitting the ground you could gain a very large number of lives.

Super Mario Brothers 3-1

My dad excelled at the timing needed to rack the lives up. Even if I was playing the game by myself, when I got to that point I would pause and go run and get dad and ask him to come get the extra lives for me.

As I grew bored with Mario my dad issued a challenge: $100 if I could beat Mario twice back-to-back. And I can say that doing it is perhaps my greatest video game success of all time. I don’t think I’ve ever come close to that level of satisfying when it comes to beating video games.

See, when you first beat Super Mario Brothers it loops you back to the beginning but this time all the goombas are replaced by the beetles. In the first Mario the power-up was fire, which killed all the bad guys except the beetles. This was a brilliantly simple way for them to make Mario more difficult for the second run. So I had to beat the game without using warp tunnels to skip any levels. I did it of course, otherwise it wouldn’t be part of this story. As far as I can recall I used that money to buy more NES games, including Super Mario Brothers 3.

Super Mario Brothers 3 was the video game which I can easily say was the most impactful on me as a kid. It was mainly just me playing, sure my mom and my sister might play, but my dad sort of waned in terms of his interest.

This week I connected our original NES to our 55″ tv and proceeded to lose myself in the nostalgia of playing Super Mario Brothers 3 again. The NES is actually my wife’s and not mine, and is in perfect working order.

The first game I put in was Super Mario Brothers 3. As I played it, I kept laughing out of joy as things I had forgotten about came flooding back to me. But even more often than that I found myself simply automatically going towards hidden areas or secret power ups. It was as if I was at the fairground standing in front of the Zoltar machine wishing to return to my childhood. I sat cross-legged on the floor far too close to the TV and enjoyed the world of Mario.

Super Mario Brothers 1 required players to always move forward, never backward off frame. This let players know that the important thing was exploration and continuing down the rails of the game experience. Super Mario Brothers 3 rocked my world because it not only allowed me to go backwards on levels (and sometimes required me to) but the ability to navigate a map and choose which level I wanted to play. Sure it was still a limited pool of options but at the time it felt like a completely open world for me to explore.

As I played again, I found myself doing things without thinking. Ducking bad guys and jumping traps without thinking, pure muscle memory from twenty years ago. I played Super Mario Brothers during my formative years, the time when ‘my brain was a sponge’ and I have, in the annals of my mind, locked away hundreds if not thousands of facts and tricks to the game.

Meanwhile I can barely remember what I ate for dinner three nights ago.

Super Mario Brothers 3 - 1-2

Last night though I can clearly remember it. After playing on Friday and then leaving the Nintendo on overnight I sat down and beat Super Mario Brothers 3 on my first play through. I think it took roughly four hours of play. I beat every airship, though I had two warp whistles I didn’t use a single one. I kept maybe half a dozen levels unbeaten since I could bypass them, and then on level 8 I put to use the clouds and skipped several of the levels. Oh, and I got 30 extra lives on level 1-2.

Beating Bowser on Super Mario Brothers 3 is a theoretically simple task: You have to use Bowser’s size against himself. Every time he lands you want him to land on the bricks such that he breaks a level of them. The area you face him on is three rows deep, so you need him to land in the same area three times. When he does, he falls through and tumbles to his death. It’s easy enough once you understand how it’s done, but definitely still requires twitch timing. And I did it in the first go.

When this screen came up I had a gut wrenching moment of panic trying to remember if indeed this was just another castle, but thankfully it wasn’t. And I was left to enjoy the end of this epic love story.

Super Mario Brothers 3 Win Screen

This screen is literally the end of the game. There’s no denouement sort of wrap up, or epilogue. In today’s world where usually there is a story of richly animated wrap-up, this brief finale made me laugh out loud. The NES is my time machine, transporting me back to my childhood, and reminding me just how amazing many video games of that era were are.

Thanks to my brother Adam and my sister Charlotte for their assistance and proofreading this post.

Iron Horse

Yesterday was my second hike of the year. I took advantage of a glorious blue skied day here and met up with two friends to explore a new trail. Well, new to me. The Iron Horse Trail is a fairly flat path that used to be a railroad track, it runs east-west across Washington and used to be part of a rail line which ran all the way to Chicago. When I heard this was what we were going to hike I wasn’t sure what to expect. I think I expected it to be more ‘Stand By Me
‘ with actual rails and rail ties. In fact it had all been cleared out and left a nice broad, flat, walking path.

I met up with Ben and his friend Joe. Together we walked 4.5 miles out before turning around, it was an easy walk on almost entirely flat terrain but it was still a nice long walk round trip. When they had looked up the trail they had thought there was an impressive bridge we’d come to, but it wasn’t there. At least, not in the amount we walked. That’s alright, this was a nice way to burn calories and enjoy time away from Facebook, Twitter, and life.

I honestly don’t know the last time I walked nine miles. Today I still feel it. My calves, my knees, and even my hip flexors are tender.

The walk was the first amount of exercise I’ve had in the last few weeks. February ended up being a month of treading water. I badly wanted to continue exercising and working out but I couldn’t bring myself to do it, I wasn’t motivated, I was fighting inertia. I always found an excuse. Thankfully, I haven’t suffered any major setbacks or backslides in terms of weight. I was able to simply tread water and see only minimal weight change.

This period of inactivity is only partially frustrating for the loss of progress on my weight loss, it’s also troubling as my first-ever 5k is fast approaching (as in this coming weekend) and I just know I’m going to suffer for these past few weeks. Today I am recovering from yesterday’s excursion but tomorrow I will be on the treadmill and preparing for that race.


This isn’t the first extended period of treading water for me. Last year there were roughly two months worth of time that I wasn’t actively moving forward. So I’ve been through this before. These happen to everyone. For anyone working on their own weight loss it’s vital they understand that these are just temporary pauses in the march towards progress. It takes an iron will to push through these times, but it is easily doable.

In some ways, yesterday’s wilderness stroll being on the ‘iron horse’ trail feels fitting. I love the term ‘iron horse;’ it’s such an anachronism of a phrase in today’s world. The steam engine, while still critical for much of the world, is completely outmoded in modern America.

The thing is, as outdated as it is, that name is perfect.

Through the lens of the Victorian era 1800s it perfectly describes a train. A world where horses were the peak of transportation technology were now faced with this new marvel – an iron, man-made, steam-powered, behemoth which could do more than had ever been done before. They played witness to the birth of the steam engine and the railroad. Rails spread across the world, in America it played pawn to the great rail barons — making men richer than Croesus and sending others to the end of the bottle.

Today we are still fascinated by trains. They’re a very real and very understandable representation of physical power. These forty or fifty foot long engines at the head of hundreds of feet of train. Those are iron horses, rolling in and out of the biggest cities in the world: New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Chicago.


At the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry

I took a trip to Chicago when I was younger. My first ‘real’ trip after college. I traveled on my own. I stayed in a hostel and explored Chicago for a week. I saw the sites, checked out the museums, the architecture. I wanted to see a Cubs game but didn’t get to. Whenever I travel my dad had a list of suggestions of things for me to do or see. Chief among his suggestions for Chicago was the Museum of Science and Industry. He recalled going and seeing the train they had on display there.

That trip was a fantastic experience, in fact I was in Lincoln Park when I got a call that was a job offer for my first programming job. It’s interesting but I was on my way to that museum when that call arrived. After getting the good news I went to the Museum and I saw it for myself. From their expansive model train rig to engine #999.

I think perhaps the other thing about trains that draws people to them is this: they appear to be indestructible. They’re not built with an expiration date. The boiler gets as hot as the sun and yet it is built to be a furnace on wheels. The wheels aren’t rubber, they don’t get pierced and go flat – they churn thousands of miles. Sure things break and they need to be repaired but the engine will go on.

The thing is, this is an illusion. They must be treated and cared for, protected from the elements. They cannot simply stand against the elements.

I find that our bodies are the opposite. Where a train’s daily routine is to do endless work with little apparent strain, our bodies are most happy at rest. Where a train appears to last forever, ours appear wilting and prone to flabbiness.

In one way they are the same: If you work to maintain them, they both appear to last forever.

No Jolt January

I remember as a kid helping dad with his computer work for clients. We were the Geek Squad before Best Buy launched them as their tech support squad. I did all sorts of stuff, from building computers, to updating software, to even helping him pull networking cable. One of my favorite places for us to go do work was for a PR agency in Orlando which kept a fully stocked fridge of sodas. We had permission to raid their fridge when we were there working after hours.

Soda was just a drink to me for much of my life, almost the same as water, milk and juice. It was omnipresent at home, at school, and at work. College was when it reached a new level for me. I kept a 24 pack of Dr. Pepper next to my desk for easy access and endless drinking. I didn’t even refrigerate them, I’d just drink them warm because, well, caffeine. And also because Dr. Pepper is delicious warm (it was originally a hot drink.)

caffeineCaffeine is a powerful drug, and a crutch for many computer people. When plugged into a world which is always awake and there’s always a new door to go through, it’s very hard to find the strength to walk away and crawl into bed. So we end up clicking just one more link, or playing one more level, or chatting with one more person. And then in the morning we turn to our friendly copiously available friend: caffeine.

Well I had had enough of that, so for all of January I committed to a 30-day challenge that I called ‘No Jolt January’ devoted to purging my caffeine and soda addiction. Now, as I explained in my initial Facebook post: the goal wasn’t to avoid all caffeine – it was to avoid all soda which, since I don’t drink coffee, would dramatically cut my caffeine intake.

Now, last year I was not a ‘bad’ caffeine addict when compared to where I used to be. I had kept it to just a few diet sodas a day, but even as a limited intake it is very bad for you. Consider replacing that diet soda with just a glass of water, neither has calories, but water is just better for you: it hydrates better and doesn’t have any of the extra crap the soda does.

During my first programming gig we followed the simple methodology: “Caffeine is good. More caffeine is better.” We went out to lunch everyday and on the way back from lunch we always stopped by a convenience store. Everyday. And everyday I got a Red Bull or some other energy drink. Sometimes two. Because that was what was done.

This caffeine consumption continued, especially while I was hustling on ManaNation / GatheringMagic. I’d be up until 2 or 3 in the morning finishing an episode or editing articles before crashing for a few hours and getting up for my day job. When I went to work for CoolStuffinc, the office was right next to a 7/11 and I was quick to get an energy drink and doughnut in the morning, thus continuing the trend and addiction.

Caffeine is an addiction. You come to rely on it even when you get a good night’s sleep. And because there aren’t deaths tied to the caffeine addiction, it continues rampant and unchecked.

So, even though I had weaned back in the past year, I still had an addiction and I wanted to break those shackles. So… No Jolt January was born.

31 days without a drop of soda. The only caffeine I had was on three occasions where I had a cup of caffeinated tea. My caffeine headaches faded in just five days and after that it was simply a matter of determination. Even though I had passed through the worst of it, the years of advertising still embedded themselves in my head and I continually had urges to get a soda. I’d walk by a soda machine and think how good a Dr. Pepper would taste. At restaurants I would open my mouth to order a soda and then have to stop myself to ask for water. It was a constant battle.

I also added to this month that I would cut out juice. Why? Juice is healthy right? Well, sort of. It’s better than soda but worse than water. The majority of what you get from fruit is in the fiber and the chewy bits you get from eating the actual fruit. Also, most mass produced juice has extra additives, vitamins and sometimes sugar. So you have to make sure the juice is just juice. So, I largely cut juice out to ensure that I would drink just that much more water.

Well, over the course of January I lost a net result of 10 lbs, going from 285 down to 275. Part of that was obviously my working out and running, but its also the biggest amount of weight lost over 30 days during my march towards becoming a healthy Patrick. I attribute some of that success to No Jolt January.

So what now?

I don’t plan to drink soda again, I might have one on special occasions but I don’t need soda to function. So it is a treat for special occasions. For February I begin a new 30 day challenge: “Flexibility February,” which will be largely focused around yoga and just generally working to be more… bendy.

This post’s cover photo comes from Flickr photographer: Roadsidepictures.

A Year’s Worth of Exercise

A year ago I weighed 352 lbs and decided to change my life. A year ago I had been “trying” to lose weight for several months only to be continually derailed. Derailed or sabotaged. A year ago I didn’t know how hard this was going to be. A year ago I didn’t know how good “this” felt.

Here is my journey over the past year, sharing how I shed and lost my weight thus far.

The Work

“Do or do not, there is no try.”

The workouts began simply, I walked on the treadmill. Not a casual stroll though, I cranked it up to a fast walk (up to 4mph) which quickly had me sweating, and I did that for 30-45 minutes. I did this nearly every night for the first few weeks. Every evening after work or morning after getting up on the weekend I would head to the apartment complex gym and use the treadmill. I found that I really enjoyed walking on the treadmill and reading e-books, so that was my way of passing the time. Simply walking fast attained much of the results you see here. Well, walking fast and eating less crap (but not zero crap.) I’ll talk about food later.

Along with walking one of the things I was most excited about in Seattle was going hiking. I don’t have complete tracking but I did a fair bit of day hiking around Seattle and logged over 40 miles of hikes for the year.

When Summer arrived in Seattle, the weather turned gorgeous and I decided to take advantage of my short commute to work (just over 2 miles) and bike to work. Biking was nice, the ride to work was easy with a large downhill to give me lots of momentum to start, and only one uphill segment for an overpass near the office. The ride home was the bear because of the giant hill and it took a few weeks before I was capable of biking up it. With biking though I laid off the walking, so progress slowed.

Then in September I went to the gym to see how far I could run, I expected to get to a half mile and stop, but then I reached the distance and kept going. I hit 0.75 miles and kept going. Then I hit a mile and hit stop out of shock. As I said in the post ‘Learning to Run‘ – as far as I know, I never ran a full mile before, ever. That was a big milestone for me, but it also was such an accomplishment that I let my foot off the gas and despite attaining a new level, saw a backslide.

This led me to set the goal for November to do my “RuMiDaMo” where I ran a mile for everyday of the month. I felt it was fitting since November was already a month of challenges such as NaNoWriMo and Movember. That was an awesome challenge and really felt like a new level.

After that month of daily runs I discovered I had upped my ability to running a full two miles. But with that came a concern about pushing too hard, so I slacked off a bit and took to running roughly three times a week, but without it being everyday I missed more runs and again felt my progress slow.

And that’s where I am, in a year I went from walking 2-3 miles to being able to run 2 miles.

The Food

“One should eat to live, not live to eat.”

For this first year, I made strides to simply “eat better.” I cut way back on non-diet sodas, at least cutting those calories if not all the other crap. Largely I set my diet around the following two anchors:

Breakfast was a smoothie. Its contents varied a bit, but the core of it was a banana and strawberry smoothie. Eventually I came to the final concoction which I’m quite happy with. The final recipe is: Spinach, Strawberry, Banana, dry oatmeal, and whey protein with milk. The whey protein helps it hold me through the morning.

I also relied on a morning snack of almonds, I keep in the desk at work. Almonds are potentially high calorie so you have to manage the quantity you eat, but they are also very good for you.

For lunch I relied on a noodle bowl. This is one of those “the devil you know” sort of things. This lunch is “fine” in terms of healthiness, but it accomplished some very important things:

  1. Be quick to prepare
  2. Be cheap
  3. Be tasty
  4. Hold me through the afternoon

The noodle bowl was a store bought (from Trader Joe’s initially, though we’ve since found it at Fred Meyers) under the brand Annie Chun’s Teriyaki bowl. Basically an upscale ramen bowl. To that I add broccoli and chicken.

Dinner was the shared meal with my wife, so it was much more fluid. We ate whatever we wanted (within reason). Pizza, meat loaf, sometimes chili, or we would go out and eat sushi etc.

And through out all of that I still battled with my sweet tooth and my penchant for gorging. In many ways it is an addiction for me. Hand me a giant bucket of popcorn and a movie and I’ll do my best to plow through it. Giant bag of Starburst? Yep. Basket of snacks for a two hour meeting? I better sit as far from it as possible. Doughnuts? NOM.

I would say my success was largely accomplished despite my food habits. Sure I made strides to improve it, but I would say I still have a fair ways to go.

The Result

“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”

So here we are, it’s time to show the cards. I present to you, a side by side of change.


A few notes:

  1. Sorry for the watermark but it’s necessary as I learned. Websites, fitness sites, and spam sites, love gobbling up the side by side progress photos and not giving credit or presenting them as evidence for whatever they’re selling. I had a side by side I shared earlier this year posted to MSN without credit to me (or others in the list).
  2. The right photo is actually a few days ago, and a few pounds heavier but I don’t think you’d see a 2 lb. difference. It was also taken after a two mile run so pardon the horrible look on my face.

Now for the nitty-gritty. I weighed myself 86 times over this past year. Allowing me to share this chart of progress with you all.




Some stats:

  • Total weight lost so far – 67.8 lbs
  • Average weight lost per day – 0.19lbs (1.33 lbs / week)
  • Best month – January 2012, lost 17 lbs
  • Worst month – October, due to a work trip that complete derailed my progress

You’ll see that there are numerous points on this chart which go up and not down. This was not a simple downward journey, many times I’d misstep and pay for it on the scale. The thing to understand is that fitness is a war that’s only over once you declare it over, until that day it’s just a series of battles. And you can lose an infinite number of battles so long as you keep trying you can still win the war. As you’ll see, despite the numerous jumps in weight, I won this year’s war. Just keep on working and fighting.

The Future

“Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.”

My goal for 2012 was to lose 75 lbs, I think my goal for 2013 is to lose a total of 40lbs, but I’ll actually lose more as I add muscle.

I’ve been tracking my body fat percentage for much of last year making use of a handheld device which measures it. It’s far from perfect and those results are far less interesting given that I haven’t tracked it for all of 2012. I’ll be tracking it continuously for 2013 and hope to really see marked change on it for next year.

One thing lacking from this past year was weight training. I did a little but nothing major and never set down to make it a core element of my workout. I will begin adding it to the workouts for 2013. I’m also going to begin doing road races, though only casually. I had hoped to do them in 2012 but obviously did not. My first road 5k is the St. Pat’s Dash here in Seattle. I’m also eyeing the Run For Your Lives race up here in August and possibly a Mud Run. I’m eager to resume hiking once the weather cooperates and hopefully do some overnight trips with some friends! Along with that I’d love to start doing other stuff like rock wall climbing and maybe adding a martial art to the list (there’s a Krav Maga studio near the house.)

Eating-wise I am eager to turn it up to the next level. I think the smoothie breakfast is good though I may refine it some more. My main focus is to experiment and research other lunch meals that are healthier. I’m setting a 30 day challenge for January where I drink nothing but water (or milk with morning smoothie.) Water can be by itself or as tea, but I’ll cut out all sodas completely for 30 days. Should be interesting.

The Thanks

This progress wouldn’t have been possible without my support team. At the heart of that team is my wife who has been supportive the whole way even going so far to be the pushy coach to make sure I hit my goals and didn’t miss workouts.

Along with her though are two very important people, my younger sister Charlotte and my brother Adam. With them as major motivators who also spent this year exercising and sharing our progress with each other they are the main driver behind my continued success and indeed for getting this ball rolling.

Also all of my Facebook friends and Twitter followers who cheered me on and joined me in this journey as I’ve posted about it.

Thanks to you all, I’m eager to update you all again down the road! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off for a run.

How Jayne Saved My Christmas

This past weekend the Science channel held a Firefly marathon they called ‘Browncoats Unite’ which included an hour long interview with the cast and crew, now ten years since the show aired. This gave fans of the show a glimpse back and the interviewed cast members to reveal some of the deeper stories and inner workings of their beloved characters. My wonderful wife spotted this special roughly three months ago and marked it on the calendar to ensure she recorded it for me because she knew how much I love Firefly.

Firefly, for me, holds a very special place in my heart. Among the copious Sci-Fi shows and books in my life, as well as the SyFy series, Firefly is on a rung all its own. Is it the perfect show? No. But it is one of the universes I especially enjoy exploring.

I was among the many fans introduced to the show after it was already cancelled. My friends Sam and Tolena introduced me to it. I recall that I was dubious of it based on the premise but after they showed me the first episode I was hooked and asked to borrow their DVDs. It’s worth noting that Sam and Tolena also introduced me to a few other great TV shows such as Coupling (The BBC version) and Wonderfalls.

I cut my Sci-Fi teeth on Heinlein and Herbert but I also grew up a die-hard fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I would race home after school and plant myself in front of the TV, enduring the Rosie O’Donnell show which led into TNG at 4pm. Then for an hour I would lose myself in the adventures of the Enterprise, Jean-Luc Picard, Q and of course Data. (By the way, if you don’t follow @TNG_S8, you really should. It’s excellent.) And then, the show was gone, 4pm was another show, Sliders I think. I never really fell in love with Voyager or Enterprise, so there were years where I turned back to books and movies for my Sci-fi fix. My love for space opera was unseated by cyberpunk and The Matrix. But I still held a deep passion for space operas with their starships, their crews, and the adventures they could go on. Firefly struck all of these chords and provided me with a show I was really missing at the time.

I think it was during a phone call I mentioned the show to my dad, saying I thought he would really love it. I guess he made a note of it and picked up the DVDs at Best Buy or something at the time. Maybe I ordered them for him as a birthday gift, I’m not sure. In any case, he watched it with mom, and they both fell in love with it too.

Now, one of the episodes of Firefly, episode 12 is titled “The Message.” This episode, of all of the show’s short series of episodes, is especially important to me. In this episode Jayne, the tough burly warrior of the ship, receives a gift from his mother. It’s a knit cap and a letter from ‘Ma Cobb,’ his mom. The hat isn’t exactly the definition of high fashion, it’s yellow, orange and red and as he puts it on there are pieces of hay sticking out of it. He wears it through the end of the episode, so happy with this gift from his mom.

I asked mom to make one of the hats. The hats have become one of the show’s signature pieces of regalia for fans at conventions, wearing the hat makes you immediately identifiable to other fans as sure as a lightsaber or a Starfleet comm badge.

I got my hat from mom just a few weeks later and proudly wore it around the campus as the winter weather settled in overhead.

Mom, being the enterprising sort she was, realized that if I wanted one then other nerds on the web probably wanted one. And indeed there were a number of people selling Jayne hats. So she began making them and selling them online.

Both of my parents have an entrepreneurial streak. For much of my life Mom wrote a newsletter about organization called “The Get Organized! News”. Dad ran a computer business, “sep Computers.” We were Geek Squad before there was Geek Squad.

So, mom’s foray into the hat business wasn’t altogether unsurprising but it turned into a very important thing because this was around the time that dad’s computer business was sputtering, competitors were impeding and consumers were getting smart enough that he was getting squeezed out. So mom, over the course of I think four months, sold over 100 of these hats. With each hat she hand wrote the letter from Ma Cobb, and included pieces of hay stuck in the hat. Those hat sales ended up making Christmas possible that year, otherwise the budgets would have been too tight and it would have meant an especially lean year for us.

I have two versions of the hat. The first one she ever made, as well as an updated one that she made after refining her technique and the yarn colors she used.

At one point, I had hoped to give one of my two hats to Adam Baldwin, a token of thanks for the part he played in all of this. I know it’s silly, he’s an actor and this is a character he played. He has no idea who I am or who my family is. But for the next few years our paths never crossed. He didn’t come to Dragon*Con, and I didn’t go to any other cons he would be at. It seemed important to me to let him know my story in all of the Firefly fandom. That time has passed though, now I have just one hat the other lost over the years, and I treasure this hat a great deal.

That’s how it was for me and my family. Firefly came into our lives and enriched it with the characters, but also for one winter, financially as my mom became Ma Cobb to 100 lucky people. Now that mom is gone, I treasure so many things I got from her, but this is perhaps one of my favorites.

Some Vacation Reading

As a kid growing up in Florida, the idea of a beach vacation lost some of its enticing allure. It meant, heat, sand, salty stickiness, and more often than not – sunburns. So, the idea of a beach vacation is still something of a mystery to me. One thing I can easily comprehend is the idea of seeing friends, family, and spending some quality time with myself and a good book.

A vacation is something I haven’t done in a while.

It was 2007, when I founded ManaNation, it was around that time that I took my last real vacation. Since then I’ve never had a proper vacation. Running a website, especially as a largely one-man operation, required sacrifices. For four years that sacrifice was sleep and the inability to fully unplug, ever. I always had to be connected and running the website, or shut the site down for X days.

In 2009, Katie and I took a trip to Puerto Rico. Which we took because it conveniently tied into the Pro Tour, during which I wrote, edited video, and spent some time with my wife. Not a real vacation.

We traveled to Seattle in March of 2010. I took a day to visit Wizards, and we then spent a lot of time doing our own stuff and seeing Seattle. But during that time I spent every night posting articles and running the site.

Up until December of last year any trip we took required me to have internet access to run the website and be ready to respond to any news breaking about Magic as well as publishing and overseeing the site.

Now that I work for Wizards itself, the emergency needs of the site are low, and I am able to take a vacation. A real vacation.

Starting this Friday I’ll be leaving on our first trip back to Florida since we moved to Seattle in December of last year. During that time I’ll be endeavoring to turn off my email notifications and generally unplug.

After a wonderful discussion on Facebook, I’ve built up quite the reading list for the trip. I’m currently working on Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard, but once that is done I’ll be diving into some of these books:

Steven Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa series – Following Gordianus the Finder, this historical fiction in ancient Rome is a series I’ve partially read over the years, and I hope to explore some more of these books. I love ancient Rome and love being transported to that time in Saylor’s books.

Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files – These are a series of books I never really got into, following a witch detective in the modern day. I watched the SciFi TV series but haven’t yet dove into the books. Hopefully I’ll take to them as I expect.

Stephen R. Lawhead’s King Raven trilogy. Suggested to me by my friend Stephen, it sounds like it is a more historic, historic fiction of Robin Hood. So hopefully I’ll enjoy that series as well.

Don Winslow’s Savages and the new prequel Kings of Cool are both on my reading list. I haven’t read either of these books so I’m looking forward to diving into them.

David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, a book that’s been on my reading list for a while but something I just hadn’t dove into. To call a popular meme to mind, “One does not simply read David Foster Wallace!”

Additionally on the list are books from Jasper Fforde, Cory Doctorow, Iain M. Banks, and more.

Now it’s important to realize I don’t expect to get through all of these books. I do expect to have a handful of starts and stops and most likely books which don’t strike my fancy, so I will be able to try and explore new options.

As for the nonfiction books I’ll be reading, the list is a bit shorter.

George Dyson’s Turing Cathedral is a book I’m super intimidated but also super excited to get into. This one could very well swallow me whole and chew me up over the course of the vacation.

Willpower by Roy Baumeister is a book about willpower and how to recapture it. I expect it to be interesting and informational if not somewhat info-tainment, we’ll see!

A Majority of Scoundrels by Don Berry examines the history of America’s fur trade in the country’s formative years.

And that’s it. Holy crap I’ve got a lot of reading ahead of me. Thank goodness for my Nook and the wonders of ebook technology.

Just like riding a…

Living close to work I’ve been thinking for months about the idea of biking to work during the cooperative months in Seattle (July to September.) So in June I began researching. What I needed was a ‘trek’ bike or a mountain bike. A trek bike is like a modified mountain bike geared towards a more urban setting. A few weeks ago I got sized at a bike shop, he said I needed a 59cm bike. But what I realized was that the seat was raised a fair bit on that bike, he let me test ride. So it was great to realize a 59cm bike would work for me, but also that I actually needed a bike even bigger.

So I set up a Craigslist search and checked it daily for a few weeks. What I ended up finding was a used 61cm mountain bike. I met the seller in the parking lot of a Home Depot and gave it a ride, it was in great condition. They had bought it for their 6’3″ daughter to use for getting around her college campus but she wasn’t into it so they were selling it to recoup some of the cost.

Now, I haven’t ridden a bike in over a decade. Almost two decades in truth. But, as they say, it’s just riding a bike. Once I got home I took a quick ride and it came back to me. But, one thing I’ve realized is that when I biked in Florida, gears on my bike were largely superfluous. Like, 100% superfluous. I used them thinking I was gaining a huge advantage on the mole hills I might bike over.

On bikes here in Seattle, gears are critical. So I’ve had to relearn to ride the bike and properly manage the gears, and in truth I’m still coming to grasp how they are used.

Today I took my first “sizable” ride, a test ride from the house to my office. I put sizable in quotation marks because it was a four mile ride, that’s all. Serious bikers will regularly put 20+ miles a day on their bike. My bike did good and my gear management was definitely improved from where it was just a few weeks ago.

The ride went well and I had no real issues except for one…

I confirmed today that even twenty years later, I am still unable to jump my bike’s front wheel up onto a four inch curb.

Here’s how I know:

Raw skin from a minor knee scrape. I took a fall and did a roll as I hit the ground but not before scraping my knee.

Biking is very fun and it’s a tragedy that so few people keep doing it once they get to be car-aged. I’m very much looking forward to returning to a world of biking frequently.

Two of my siblings, Adam and Jessica, are both avid bicyclers, using them to commute to work and run errands. But they both live in the South where the world is flatter (albeit frequently hotter.) Renton isn’t the most bike friendly part of town, but there are bike lanes and wide sidewalks.

In my seeking for bicycling knowledge, in case you are curious, let me drop some links for you:

  • – Your first stop resource, a veritable bible when it comes to biking in any form.
  • /r/bicycling – Reddit’s primary biking subreddit. Lots of good stuff here.
  • /r/bikewrench – A subreddit focused on bike repair and work. Great resource for when things break.
  • Seattle Bike Blog – If you’re in the Seattle area this blog is a great resource to follow.

What I’m Working On

Almost two months since my last blog post, so let’s take this time for a gentle review of what I’ve been up to. – My current side project is an outdoors, camping, hiking and backpacking website. It’s in a slow nascent growth stage as I write new content and build up material for it. I started the site so that I could have a side project to work on, using my experiences from working on /

All The Covers – As a much lighter side project on Tumblr I have ‘All the Covers.’ Twice or three times a week I post a look at the varied covers for books. It’s just a fun side project.

In addition to these digital projects I’ve finally, since moving to Seattle, begun making sizable progress on my weight. I’ve lost 35 lbs since Christmas of last year. I’ve still got a long way to go, but it’s really rewarding to see this much progress.

Four Things to Know About Seattle

As a recent transplant to Seattle, I feel like there might be some knowledge I can drop on future transplants.

1. The Department of Licensing, while overseeing both drivers licenses and car tags, does not handle both in a single office. You’ll have to go to two different offices.

I got my driver’s license approximately three weeks after arriving in Seattle, and only after digging online did I realize that they’re different offices. Also important is that after you get your new driver’s license you’ve got 30 days to get your tags changed. Before what? I don’t know. I just know that’s the window I was told.

2. If it snows more than flurries, the city shuts down and public transit is going to be hours delayed everyday.

Having just survived a snowpocalypse, I can personally attest to this. The city expects and lives with rain, but if it turns to ice then much of the city is helpless. I live two miles from my office and the weather made it unsafe for me to get to work. But the good news is that the snow doesn’t last.

3. Seattleites are good people, but they’re not the kindest of people.

The first night my wife and I were here in Seattle, we went to the place people have gathered for thousands of years: the marketplace. Or as we call it now: Wal-Mart. And at Wal-Mart we discovered that people here were blunt and not the same politeness which we were accustomed to in Florida. People moved us out of the way, cut us off, and generally gave us the cold shoulder.

4. Teriyaki shops are everywhere.

In Florida it was Mexican food, here in Seattle it must be part of the building code to require a teriyaki shop in every strip mall. Cheap, easy, quick and… everywhere. Literally. So far I’ve really enjoyed the teriyaki places I’ve tried, but there are also some amazing sushi restaurants to be had, so don’t be shy in trying them out!