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.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Salvation - Peter Hamilton

Structured a bit like Hyperion with a group of travellers heading towards a McGuffin and telling their stories along the way. In Hyperion the connecting thread is the Shrike the travellers eventually encounter, and that’s about all (as far as I can remember). I didn’t think I would like this book because I’ve often found stories told within a story irritating and irrelevant to the main plot. Page fillers. Here, however, there are multiple connections between stories and the destination of these characters. At no point in any of them did I think, oh get on with it, but then they’re liberally sprinkled with boosted mercs, weird aliens, agents and double agents, nasty weapons and advanced technology. The main advanced technology here is that of the entangled portals used for transport around Earth and beyond. Mr Hamilton obviously had some fun thinking about the implications of that. Lots of interconnected, one might say entangled threads, steadily weaving together towards a revelation, and a thoroughly enjoyable read I polished off in a day and a half. There’s more to come too, and I’m looking forward to the next books. 



Thursday, September 06, 2018

Fasting Again

Here’s a Facebook post from Tuesday:

Noting that, despite the weight training two to three times a week and the walks of twenty or so miles in total each week, my waistline has been getting no smaller, I've decided to fast. Since my last fast over a year ago I've tried on numerous occasions and failed at the finish line, gobbling down loads of food in the evening. Yesterday I finally succeeded and intend to continue today. I want to do something like the 5/2 diet. That strategy for a man is to eat 600kcals two days a week. My way is to take in my only calories on two consecutive days through the milk in my tea. I want to get into ketosis fast, and to continue limiting my eating on the five other days. If I do fail a complete fast on those two days, I'll limit that failure to the aforesaid 600kcals. Fed up with this spare tyre!

My last fast was more than over a year ago. It was back in February of 2017. Here are a couple of my posts from that time: Burning Muscle and One Week Fast. Rereading those now I’ve made a few corrections, but still probably haven’t got it right. I still believe muscle wasting does not occur on the level claimed by some who want to sell their snake oil, but wouldn’t be surprised if some does on the basis of my logic there: to keep the most essential organ functioning, the brain.

Thursday 6th September:

Monday was hard, but I seem to have reclaimed that earlier mindset. It’s difficult to ascertain why. I take a lot of supplements and decided, as is my want, that there is too much bullshit out there on the subject, and that I would quit them. This caused a return of some anxiety, so I started them again, telling myself I would give them up as they ran out then see how I feel. My aim then would be (if I felt rough, tired or whatever) to take a more scientific approach: trying one at a time to see its effect. In the midst of these considerations I read about supplements, tiredness and anxiety and remembered something. I used to take B vitamins for mood, the most essential one being B12, of which my brother (so similar genetic makeup) suffered a deficiency. I started taking it and quickly felt an increase in energy. Placebo effect? Maybe, but I carried on.

Another thing might be that I am in a much better state mentally. My private life has vastly improved, I’ve written to (almost) completion the Rise of the Jain trilogy and have been belting along with the next book, called Jack Four (thus far), while it has also been well over four years since the death of my wife, Caroline. At a bereavement group I was told that on average it takes about five years to get back to anywhere near normal. What is cause and what is effect is debateable, and will remain so. Life has no easy answers.     

Tuesday was not so difficult but, wary of my previous failures I kept a rigid mental grip on myself. I really wanted to get through the day, and especially the evening, without turning into a glutton. I did take in calories in the form of milk in tea and coffee, three small glasses of creamy milk in which to mix a lipophilic supplement and other supplements. The total would have been at most about two hundred calories each day. On Monday I hit the gym for 45 minutes, then on Wednesday I carried on with gym again and then no food throughout the day, then a 7 mile walk in the evening followed by food. The fast was effectively 3 days and the salad I ate was about 700kcals.

Difficult to ascertain weight loss since there is a huge water loss involved which despite drinking a lot, it doesn’t come up to normal when one is pissing like a race horse. I was averaging about 188lbs before and went down to 182.6lbs at one point. However, my deficit was about 2,000 + 1,500 + 2,000 = 5,500 and we are told that fat is about 3,000kcals a pound, which works out at, miserably, under 3lbs. Since I don’t feel particularly hungry today, haven’t eaten anything and it is now near midday, I intend to fast through till bedtime. 

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

The Spatterjay Trilogy on Audible UK

A little while ago some complained to me that this trilogy was not available on Audible in the UK. Bella Pagan investigated this and now tells me Audible's licence for it had expired. Macmillan has now bought their audible file and the trilogy will be reappearing in all the usual places on 29th November this year.

The Medicis to Borgia

I do like historical dramas because I often learn something I never knew before, either watching the thing itself or because it piqued my interest and I do a bit of research. But, as ever, only if they are done well. I was interested in this because my first editor, Peter Lavery, loves Italy, and had talked about its history on occasion. So I had great hopes for the Medicis.

The first couple of episodes I enjoyed, but thereafter the whole thing began to fall apart. Cosimo De Medici was an interesting character who moved into power in Florence with much Machiavellian manoeuvring. He thereafter caused (or assisted) a bit of a renaissance there by funding arts, artists and rebuilding. He ruthlessly acquired power and wealth and then used it to a good end, besides feathering his own bed, of course. He expanded the Medici Bank all across Europe. But here, after the first few episodes, there wasn’t much about this. 

It seemed, to the program makers, Cosimo De Medici was a man who spent most of his time staring at people with a mean-and-moody expression. He was a bit na├»ve and ineffectual and rose mostly by luck and happenstance. And, political correctness rearing its ugly head, the women around him were stronger and more manipulative than him. Yes, they might have been that way, but in reality the power they were allowed mainly concerned family life. The bad guy in this was also a silly cipher – cardboard. Meanwhile, this series having lost its way, far too much time was spent with people staring into each other’s eyes, while the music volume cranked up to try and make it all dramatic. 

Next looking for something else in a similar vein we started watching Borgia. The accent of Roderigo Borgia immediately put me off, especially when in contrast with Art Malik who spent much time talking at his shoulder. It was like, many many years ago, hearing John Wayne as a Roman soldier saying, ‘Truly this mayn was the son of Gaad’. Having watched and much enjoyed the 1981 BBC production The Borgias, I prepared myself to be disappointed. However, thus far, I haven’t been.

It’s a truth that if a drama has been on Netflix for a number of years and there is only one series, it’s probably crap. There’s only one series of The Medicis, but there are three of Borgia. I grew used to Roderigo’s out-of-place accent and was drawn into his ruthless pursuit of power, and idiot nepotism. The drama is played well with all the characters pulling their weight. I much enjoyed the portrayal of the cardinals' religious debates that often ended in fist-fights, and their manoeuvring for power and wealth. And I am learning something about the political structure of Italy with its city states back then, and the world. It can be horribly bloody at times – I am thinking of a man hung upside down and the introduction of a saw – but not unnecessarily so, and strikes me as sincere thus far. I hope it does not lose its way later on, since we are presently only watching series one.