Monday, October 15, 2018

Destination Universe! A E Van Vogt

I haven’t been disappointed until now on rereading Van Vogt. Here is a collection of short stories published in 1953 which, it usually being the case, were probably written in a previous decade. They weren’t hugely dated in terms of mores, but the technology (where described) was risible to modern sensibilities and in two separate stories we had humans walking about on Venus and Mars without any necessity for suits. I guess these would have been no biggie if it weren’t for other problems. The stories did not feel solid and coherent, in a couple of cases they meandered until the writer produced an ending out of his hat. That being said, some of them were enjoyable, I just suspect the publisher pulled together some sub-par offerings to bulk out the collection. 

Fasting Update 5

It’s a fact that when you exercise, the positive changes that happen to your body – increased muscle, fitness, lung capacity etc – do not occur during that process. They occur afterwards during sleep, resting and through eating the right foods. This too, it seems, is the way things work for fasting. Yes, when you fast your glycogen gets depleted, you dump water and your body start to eat its fat. You do see your weight drop. Autophagy and (later) apoptosis occur. However, these are only part of the process – the body stripping out the damaged and the useless, burning up excess fuel – and to complete it fasting must be complemented with ‘feasting’ and sleep. 

I’ve noticed my weight going down a lot during fasting then coming up again during refeeding, but every time my weight has been steadily declining overall. This is all good, but I noticed that where the fat was disappearing I had loose skin and that the weight returned to the same place. Then real changes occurred with sleep that was unusual for me: for example snoozing for an hour during the day, then flaking out for nine hours in the night. This has happened a few times during refeeding and, each time, I found that my weight had stabilized at a lower level, fat had melted away and my skin had tightened up.

Now for some negative effects: The worst day of fasting each week is always the first. I feel tired and often cold. I reckon it’s because on that day I’m making the changeover from the calories I’d been eating to fat burning again. This doesn’t particularly slow down a gym session in the morning or stop me writing during the day. I don’t feel particularly hungry either, probably because, having done this for so many weeks, I’ve accepted on some unconscious level that I am simply not going to eat on that day. On the following day the cold and lethargy go away and I don’t feel hungry then either. The hunger only returns when I actually start eating again.     

Another noticeable negative effect has been an increase in anxiety. This would probably not be a problem if you are not prone to it, but I have been for a number of years now. It’s been said, wrongly, that your body will slow down and go into starvation mode whereby it tries to burn less and hang onto more. During dieting, and perhaps towards the end of a lengthy fast for someone not carrying piles of fat, this may be the case. However, during intermittent fasting the body does not get the chance to do this. The metabolism actually speeds up by dint of adrenaline and cortisol. And this of course can lead to increased anxiety. 

Oddly, I have only experienced this in a way I rarely experienced while suffering from it long term. I don’t consciously notice it as I go about my daily routines, but do when I relax. Then I get a burning sensation mostly in my arms, but also elsewhere. My understanding of this is that it is the end of anxiety. The body fights for its own preservation by drawing the blood in around the major organs, when you finally relax, the blood returns to your extremities and hence this sensation. There are other effects too of this process, but they are not so bad that I am tempted to give up – the weight loss and other positive effects far outweigh them. 

Monday, October 01, 2018

Fasting Update 4

I’m into my fifth week of fasting for two days a week and eating sensibly on the other days. It is getting easier and easier to do. After an initial big loss of weight I’m now averaging 2lbs a week. I’ve kept going to the gym so there has been no muscle loss (in fact my gym sessions have increased in number and length). It is noticeable how, on refeeding, my muscles expand again. This brings home to me that the scare stories about you burning up your own muscle and piling on the weight after fasting probably relate to glycogen storage. Every gram of that stuff is stored using 3 to 5 grams of water so of course that weight will go up and down.

Nice this weekend to have to punch some more holes in my belts. Nice also to put on clothing that has been shaming me from inside the wardrobe for some time. My energy, mental acuity, libido and self-esteem are all up, while my negativity has dropped through the floor. As far as autophagy is concerned I don’t know – the aforesaid are probably a result of that. It will be interesting to see what other changes occur as I get down to my target weight, which is some weeks away yet. I’m still aiming for the upper end of my BMI.

A further note here on that ‘refeeding’. I have not noticed any tendency at all to want to gorge myself. I can be very hungry and eat (and thoroughly enjoy) a lot of food, but no more than I ate when not fasting and, over a day, usually less – when I count up the calories in a day they’re still below my BMR. This last may be because my body has adjusted to fewer calories for efficiency, but still, I’m not putting it all back on. It is also the case, because I’m in the groove of this, that I want to avoid carbs and think more carefully about what I eat. It would be ridiculous to go to this effort and then throw it all away.

This is well worth doing. It takes practise of course, and one must accept any failures and just carry on.

Fury - Henry Kuttner

This is a really old one. First published in Astounding Science fiction in 1947 one would expect it to be full of anachronisms, dated mores and all sorts of silliness. It does have old sfnal idea of Venus being a planet occupied by a massive hostile jungle, but this can be found in SF books published 20 or more years later and I wonder if here might be the first time it was used. The human race, having destroyed Earth in a nuclear war, is now resident in ‘keeps’ under the Venusian seas. It is sinking into decay under the overly cautious rule of immortals and needs someone to pull it out of that. Enter Sam Reed . . . I enjoyed this very much and didn’t find much in the way of the stuff that has made me wince in other SF books. As for Venus being a jungle planet it was easy enough to forget the reality.

Recommended, even though this is 71 years old. 

Friday, September 28, 2018

The Warship

Here's the US cover of The Warship - book two of Rise of the Jain.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Alien Way - Gordon R Dickson

It can be difficult reading old SF because not only do you have to achieve the usual suspension of disbelief required for reading it, but you have to suspend disbelief that arises from the science and mores of the time in which it was written. Here we have the old attitude to women, the pipe-smoking hero, wire telephones and other electronics you can immediately visualize as consisting of wires, transistors and capacitors, while research is conducted with books and paperwork. Contrasted with that is a technology that can link a human mind to an alien one light years distant, and it’s jarring. Where Dickson did well here is in visualizing the difference between the ways the aliens and the humans think. But even this was, unfortunately, buried in the New Wave ‘soft science’ psychobabble that was fashionable in SF of the time. Annoying too were the aliens themselves. They were bears and, despite their different society and ways of thinking, that jarred too. However, I did enjoy this because it was well written and engaging. Also, like other SF books written many years ago, it does give one an insight into the mores of that time, and the science, to contrast with how things are now and shine a light on how our world had changed.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Limitless - Netflix Series

I watched the first season of this all the way through. It was enjoyable so I give it that. However, I couldn’t help but feel that the whole thing was dumbed down. It rapidly transformed into the usual ‘bright guy helps the police’. It would often begin to explore stuff that was deeper and more interesting then, all of a sudden, go into fast reverse. It also made huge efforts to be ‘less serious’ and displayed the super-brained main character as a bit of an idiot. It occasionally brought in some up-to-date science, like optogenics, and an ‘immortal’ mouse, but then rapidly backed away from exploring these in any depth. The realities of withdrawal and side-effects were looked at, then later on the subject of withdrawal was kind of dropped where convenient. It was as if, all the way through, some executive in charge was saying, ‘No, don’t go there – the audience of this show is thick.’

Fasting Update 3

I’m rapidly turning into a fasting bore. I get these enthusiasms and tend to learn as much as I can about the subject in hand. Thus far, over three weeks, I’ve fasted for a total of 7 days while eating less than I supposedly require for my BMR in between times. And when I say fasting I mean no solid food at all. There is confusion about this what with restricting calories being called fasting – basically promulgated by diet salesmen to create the illusion that by following a certain diet you are 'fasting', when you're not.

The day before yesterday I went for an 8 mile walk with my girlfriend and felt light and energetic. This should be no surprise because I’ve lost a weight equivalent to 4 to 5 bags of sugar. Carry that weight in a bumbag around your waist and see how you feel. But of course the weight is not all, because the fat is living tissue your heart needs to pump blood around. Fasting is good.

Various people offering their cautions ‘oh my god you’re not eating, you’ll die’ I’ve ignored while learning the realities. I now know that muscle wasting and starvation mode are bullshit, but I’ve talked about that before. The people for whom fasting would be a problem in the UK are those who are struggling to eat. Most don’t. Those with health problems otherwise should be cautious, but it would probably do them good. Type 2 diabetics would certainly benefit from it, since it seems this malady is curable with fasting.

I’ve now confirmed my earlier thoughts on keto sticks: they only tell you that you have one of three ketones in your urine, and only because you are not burning them up. Playing ‘my strip is more purple than yours’ is a mug’s game. They give an indication in the first few weeks while your body is trying to get a handle on what the hell is happening to it and until you become ‘fat adapted’, whereupon you’re burning up the ketones, so they won’t be in your urine.

But fasting doesn’t just shed the pounds. Besides reducing insulin resistance there’s that thing called autophagy. It’s a misty goal people aim for and I’ve now learned more about it. It is your cells chucking out or recycling stuff that isn’t working so well. It is something your body tends to be lax on when you’ve got a gut full of burger and chips. You need to go into ketosis and stay in it for a while for autophagy to get going. Protein, specifically one called leucine, knocks you out of autophagy. And it only takes a little. So if you do 5/2 eating 500 to 600Kcals you can lose weight, but forget about ketosis and autophagy. 5/2 is not fasting, it’s dieting. If you want those you have to eat no protein at all for a couple of days. Or perhaps you can take your calories from a cup of olive oil. I wouldn’t recommend it.

Now, at the end of week four of fasting I’ve run through and averaged my weights over that period. My average from the two weeks before I started was 189.8lbs. After four weeks the average is now 180.4lbs, so 9.4lbs lost. As noted before, I intend to continue this as a lifestyle – foregoing food for two days a week but, once down to a weight I want to maintain, increasing my eating on non-fasting days.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Writing Update

I’m repeating myself here but, quite some weeks back I took some text I’d extracted from one of my previous books and began to rewrite, with the intention of turning it into a short story. It’s now turning into a book for which the working title is Jack Four.

For a while now I’ve had the idea that I’ve been writing myself into a dead end. My fiction has been increasingly set in space with plenty of exploding spaceships while the characters, whenever they are human, are uber-human – they always have mental and physical abilities that are way out there. Meanwhile I’ve known that some of my best loved books have a large component set in planetary environments with weird alien ecologies, and contain character that, while not necessarily conventionally human, are more human.

In this book I decided to get away from former and get back to the latter. Jack is a clone whose only advantage is the knowledge of the person he was cloned from. He does not possess that person’s memories and is inexperienced. I also manipulated the story to stick him down in a hostile planetary environment and, to that end, let’s talk about monsters. People seem to like my monsters. So what do you reckon would happen if someone kept a zoo of such creatures in a space station and then, because that station was needed in a war (maybe a prador-human one) dumped all those creatures down on the surface of a planet?

I’m having a lot of fun with this and week after week have been hitting my writing target of 2,000 words a day five days a week. Jack Four has just passed 70,000 words (about halfway). I hope, when it’s done, you’ll have fun with it too!

Fasting Update 2

Okay, I’ve been doing some fasting over the last two weeks. Monday and Tuesday each week I ate bugger all, and on each Wednesday did not eat till the evening one week and the afternoon the next, so effectively 72 hours and 68. I also fasted on the Thursday of the first week and on the second ate late in the day. In between times I was eating less than my (supposed) base metabolic rate (BMR).

Here’s some stuff I’ve learned: It made no difference to my ability to exercise. Water loss could be lot and cause large variations in weight. Ketosis was variable but certainly kicked in more on the second week; ketosis is also not a good measure since it too varies with exercise or hydration. Drinking an electrolyte consisting of salts of sodium, potassium and magnesium certainly makes one feel better, it also kills hunger somewhat. At the end of this time my ‘fed’ weight was a minimum of 6lbs lower.

Over the weekend I ate plenty on the principle that my body needed materials to rebuild itself, also because constant dieting is not good for insulin resistance. I did eat nasty carbs (crumpets in the mornings) but that was about all. The rest of the food was veggies, salad and protein. I noticed over the weekend a delay in weight loss. On Saturday morning I was 182.6lbs yet, on Sunday morning after eating on Saturday, I was down to 181.6. On Sunday I ate a lot, finishing off in the evening with rather a lot of preserved sausage (I shouldn’t have) and this morning my weight was 184.4lbs.

I hit the gym early then came home prepared for another day’s fasting. I abruptly felt very tired and light headed and ended up having a snooze at 9.00AM. But then I didn’t sleep well the night before, getting just five hours. Even after I woke I still felt light headed and weak. I checked if I was in ketosis and found I wasn’t. A half litre of electrolyte and a cup of oxo gradually pulled me out of this. I did my 2,000 words.

I’m now interested to find out how much I’ll weigh tomorrow morning.           

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Fasting Update

I did some lengthy fasting last week then in the ensuing days and the weekend didn’t eat vast amounts. The most I had was on Sunday when I ate two crumpets with butter, marmite and peanut butter on them in the morning, a small portion of chips midway in a 13 mile walk early afternoon and then a salad in the evening. Total calories was probably about 1500Kcals which, with a BMR of 1700kcals and the walk ranging between 900 and 1300kcals, still left me with a hell of a deficit. And this week I fasted again on Monday and Tuesday, and will continue through till this evening – effectively 3 days since that salad on Sunday night.

I’m happy with the weight loss. Prior to the week before last I was averaging 188lbs – often straying up over 190. I weight myself in the morning before I’ve eaten or drunk anything and, obviously because of fasting, this morning I was dehydrated, but still I cracked the 180 barrier at 179.4lbs.

Noticeable this time has been ketosis. I bought some ketosis sticks to check on this and last week was disappointed with a reading (pale pink) that indicated a minimum ketone level in my urine of 0.5 to 1.5mmol/l. However, reading up on the subject I found that lots of things can affect this. Hydration dilutes those ketones while, if you exercise, you burn them. The ketones are fuel from your fat so finding them in your urine means unburnt fuel. Still, nice to have some indicator of how I’m doing beyond the weight drop. On Monday I was still getting the same reading. However, on Tuesday evening I started salivating and my pee smelt of fruit (which is an indicator). The reading today is now up to 3.0mmol/l+. Hydration is a factor, but still, I’m happy about that.

Now I have also checked back to when I last fasted the February before last. I notice that I dropped plenty of weight going from approx. 185 to 172, but apparently I didn’t record my weight thereafter for two months. I think I understand why. The fast had been an easy quick fix I felt I could do any time, so I didn’t bother about what I might be putting on. Turns out, two months later, I was nudging 190lbs. Thereafter I often felt very tired and subsequent attempts at fasting often failed. I now, having read a series of blogs on the subject, know why.

It’s all about the body conserving its energy. If you just diet (my fast was just a one-off so didn’t have the required effect) the body tries to hold onto its resources by burning less. This is why dieting has such a dismal success rate. A person will diet, the body resets, and then when they continue eating a lesser amount, because they are burning less they retain more. Also, because of that reset, they feel more tired and miserable eating a lesser amount – a recipe for failure. It is all about insulin and, if you are interested, you need to read through the blog linked on that subject. Conventional wisdom has it that it’s all about calories in, with calories out being secondary. I believed this too but now know it is more complicated than that. It’s about your body’s ability to burn calories. It is more about the calories out than the calories in. And insulin is the lighter.

So what to do? Apparently you need to fast, intermittently, for a longer period – maybe a month – to get your insulin down and reset your body to run how you want it to run. It’s stubborn, the body, and resists change. Read that blog - there are 27 posts.

To this end I intend to make intermittent fasting a habit. I will continue with it strongly until I am down to a suitable weight. I have always had a low regard for BMI calculations because, apparently, I need to be between 130 (9st 4lb) and 170 (12st 2lb). BMI is all very well until you start weight training, I felt. The idea of going midrange here at about 150 (11st 10lbs) seemed frankly ridiculous. Now I am not so sure. I remember, shortly after my wife died, getting down to that weight. Mentally I was a mess, but physically I was very good. I felt light, clothing fitted well, and, as I recollect, I was fit enough to do10 miles of gorge walking in the Cretan mountains followed by a swim of a mile. The method was effectively the same as I intend now, which is not eating much and exercising a lot, though the impetus behind it was not so good. I intend to aim for that region, but for better reasons.

However, I have been weight training and put on a lot of muscle, so, it seems feasible that my ideal weight should be somewhere in the upper range of my BMI. 12st seems like a good target. I’ll aim for that and see how it goes. In the end it comes down not so much to BMI or weight, but how much fat there is around my waist and, as I once noted long ago, whether or not I can tuck in a T-shirt and feel I don’t have to hold in my gut.