Thursday, March 30, 2006

Darksaber Review

by Kevin J. Anderson

Review By: Neil Richard

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Ugh. I’m starting to get tired of these low grade books being churned out of the Imperial Publishing plants. It’s almost like the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew. Somewhere in a dark corner of a New York office building is a team of five writers working together to pump out book after book. I think the only difference between Star Wars and the Hardy Boys is the Stratemeyer Syndicate didn’t allow the workers to put their names on the books.

I guess the Imperials are nice guys after all.

With Darksaber, things continue to look bleak for the New Republic. Daala is still alive and continues to gather power from the remnants of the Empire. With Pellaeon’s help, she mounts an attack on the Jedi academy on Yavin IV. Dorsk 81 sacrifices himself to save the academy by using the Force to “shove” the Star Destroyers to the edge of the system. The New Republic shows up to get in the final blows against what’s left.

As usual, the good guys win, bad guys loose, and nobody of import gets hurt (with the exception of Dorsk 81, who I thought was cool because he had a number in his name). Outside of that, the biggest thing that grabbed my attention was the Death Star.

Actually the Death Star’s history. We see what looks like a Death Star in central sections of the Droid Control Ships in Episode I. Episode II gives us a hologram of the soon to be constructed Death Star I. The Death Star I gets destroyed in Episode IV and the Death Star II gets destroyed in Episode VI. The Death Star III (smaller and more compact) is destroyed after that. Then we have the Hutts stealing the plans for the Death Star and creating the Death Star IV (code named Darksaber because of its lightsaber-like shape).

Ugh. Another copy/paste book under my belt. I can only hope the next one is better.

The review is also available in Word and PDF.
© 2006 Productions

Apologies for boring the reader

For those of you who read this blog (all two of you), I’m sure these posts about my exercise habits are a trifle boring.  Apologies.  For me, it’s a re-enforcement of why I’m doing this.  Simply to lose weight and look better.  I’ve always been self-conscious and wearing pants with a 38 inch waist don’t help.  So, these posts help me remember why I’m doing this and also help keep me focused.

One side note, I took a quick peek at the scales today (I shouldn’t have, but I did).  I weighed in at an unofficial 220 pounds.  5 pounds lighter than my last official weigh-in.

  • 3 minutes @ 6.0 – Warm-up on the treadmill

  • Calf raises – 3 sets of 15 reps (140, 140, 140)

  • Chest press – 3 sets of 20 reps (50, 50, 50)

  • Bicep curl – 3 sets of 5 reps (50, 50, 50)

  • Lat pull down – 3 sets of 10 reps (100, 80, 80)

  • Leg extension – 3 sets of 10 reps (100,100,100)

  • Tricep pushdown – 3 sets of 10 reps (40, 40, 40)

  • 2 minutes @ 7.0 – Cool-down on the treadmill

  • 3 minutes @ 2.5 – Cool-down on the treadmill

  • Stretch

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

I'm back again and again and again

Once again, my bad luck has been conspiring against me to keep me from going to the gym.  I know, I should make exercise a priority and I shouldn’t let anything come between me and being healthy.  Well, sometimes other things are more important.

So today I, once again, went back to the gym for what felt like the first time in forever.  I did feel good about working out, so I’m hoping the continued use will eventually become a habit.

  • 3 minutes @ 6.0 – Warm-up on the treadmill

  • Lat pull down – 3 sets of 10 reps (100, 100, 100)

  • Calf raises – 3 sets of 20 reps (140, 140, 140)

  • Bicep curl – 3 sets of 10 reps (30, 30, 30)

  • Leg extension – 3 sets of 10 reps (100,100,100)

  • Tricep pushdown – 3 sets of 10 reps (50, 50, 50)

  • Chest press – 3 sets of 10 reps (100, 100, 100)

  • 10 minutes @ 3.0 – Cool-down on the treadmill

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Wolf And Iron Review

Wolf And Iron
by Gordon R. Dickson

Review By: Neil Richard

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

The years of waiting are over. I’ve found my own McGuffin. Wolf And Iron is at last in my hands and on my book shelf.

What a waste.

I feel great that I’ve finally found this book. I first (and last) read it some years ago and enjoyed it. Apparently my memories have been altered or my reading preferences have changed greatly. This time, it wasn’t so enjoyable. How bad? After years of searching for this book, it took me months to read it.

The basic story centers around a post-Collapse America and one man’s journey to find his brother and escape the evils roaming the lands. The Collapse is never really fleshed-out enough to describe, but it’s an obvious breakdown of the social, economic, and technological world. What results is the banding of people in local areas to become protective of their own and cautious (or combative) towards outsiders.

Enter the nerdy, social scientist who is in one of these little towns studying people. After being chased out of town by the locals, he heads across country to find his brother’s ranch, some hundreds of miles away. Along the way he meets with some bad townies, picks up a wolf as a traveling partner, and meets up with a nice traveling salesman (and his daughter). He falls in love with the daughter before heading out on his own again to find his brother’s ranch. Along the way he becomes more attached to Wolf (his traveling companion’s very original name) and is even attacked by a bear. After the bear attack he mends up well enough to hole up in a makeshift cave.

While out hunting, he finds Merry (the salesman’s daughter) barely alive after traveling on foot for weeks after being attacked. Merry and the nerd (Jeebee) hole up for winter in the cave and make it their home. A baby, Paul, arrives later in good health. And we finish with another bear attack (this one Jeebee won), more blacksmithing, and the eventual decision to not search for the ranch anymore.

While the premise of the story is quite interesting, the overall action was quite drawn out and slow making it hard to keep interest. I was often reminded of Robinson Crusoe and how long the book was compared to how few interesting passages there were. I was often distracted (and sometimes disgusted) at how slow the book was. The forward (by a university professor) to the book did provide some light on a possible reason for this. Dickson apparently wrote this as a short story before spending time doing research and making it a novel. According to the professor, Dickson’s research on wolf behavior was quite intense and his depictions of wolves were very realistic. That, I don’t doubt.

But now I doubt my reasons for enjoying this book the first time. Jeebee’s travels across the country had some very interesting moments and very realistic hardships. But I think a lot was hardly touched that should have been (like how to make a shelter in the wilderness and where to use the bathroom). The interaction between Wolf and Jeebee was quite emotional at times (both positive and negative emotions) and I got a good feel for their relationship.

I’m sorry to say I was disappointed in this book after all these years of waiting. I think I built up my expectations a little too much and maybe didn’t remember everything I should have about the first reading.

In the end, it was great to find this book again and read it. While it took some time to finish it, I still enjoyed it (to a point). I think it would have better served the reader if the story was kept a short story instead of a novel. By cutting the boring stuff, it could have fit as a comfortable novella, maybe even making a great addition to an anthology on wolves.

The review is also available in Word and PDF.
© 2006 Productions

Friday, March 24, 2006

Uncle Irv

So instead of writing my usual TGIF email, I’m sending this out to explain where I was earlier this week.

Irving Edward Lester
February 13, 1949 – March 19, 2006

I’ve been putting off writing this because I’m afraid of the emotions it will bring to the surface. Just call me a chicken.

Uncle Irv passed Sunday morning from a short but intense battle with cancer. It had spread through his torso and into his brain and left a lot of people wondering why. He was such a great man. And to me, he was a great uncle.

The reasons behind this article are numerous. For me, I’m trying to cope and heal with the loses. For Irv, I want to show him that I can still tell a story that gives people goose bumps. Yes, goose bumps. That’s the last memory I have of him being alive. My Dad and I were visiting Grandma Dorothy (Irv’s mother) in California for some reason. I was in college at the time and remember telling him about the school shooting they had down the road from us (this was when school shootings were something of an oddity). I told him how I remember hearing the sirens at night going down the road and not realizing what they were for. The next morning I heard a student shot and killed a teacher and wounded another student before killing himself. Uncle Irv said something to the effect of “Wow, now that was a good story. See? It gave me goose bumps.”

I have several other memories of Irv when he was alive of course. The many family reunions, Christmas parties, and Lester Olympics when I was a kid are always going to be with me. He was always great at coming up with silly and wacky games for the Lester Olympics. He never hesitated when it came to dressing in crazy clothes (probably because some of them were his). And when you sat down to talk to him (even as a child), he cared about what you said and treated you like somebody important.

Uncle Irv was my “hippie” uncle. That’s how I always tried to explain him to others. He had long hair, a beard, and often wore flip flops or sandals. Tie-dye shirts were common as were cut-off shorts. With a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other, he came across as this deeply caring man. And he was.

During his memorial services, I learned even more about him. Since I lived in Virginia and he lived in Chicago or California, we didn’t visit much. So hearing how others saw him was enlightening. I learned he loved art. I learned he taught for over 20 years. I even learned he taught English as a Second Language. I knew he was a teacher, but never knew he taught outside of high school. And I never knew he taught for so long. Hearing (via my mother) that his ESL students could speak nearly perfect English shows to me that he was a good teacher. Seeing his students at the memorial crying showed me he was a great teacher.

After finding out that Uncle Irv was sick, my Mom asked if I wanted to go out and see him before he passed (whenever that may be, they were still unsure then). Over the following weeks, I continually said no. I didn’t want to see my uncle die. I wanted to remember him as he was. Happy, alive, and shaking his shaggy, dark-brown hair. After hearing about his passing, I was glad I didn’t go see him. And I was glad (as morbid as it may sound) that he passed quickly and didn’t suffer very much. I know that was also important to his family (that he didn’t suffer).

I had been preparing myself for his death for several weeks, but it still came as a shock. Sunday morning, I was making some toast for breakfast when Mom called. We had been talking about every day or so for the last week, so I wasn’t too surprised when she called. She asked if she woke me up, and after hearing I was already awake, told me that Irv had died. Despite all the mental preparations, I could barely keep it together long enough to talk to her. I told her Dad was probably awake and to call him regardless. She said a lot of my cousins didn’t know yet because she was one of the first ones there. She said she felt better after seeing him lying in bed and looking at peace. After I hung up, I hugged Yvonne (my wife) and cried. I was happy to have somebody there to lean on.

The next day Dad and I drove to Chicago (a 16 hour trip) getting in at about 8 at night. We decided not to fly due to the short notice and high cost. The trip out was fine, nothing too exciting. Once at Downers Grove, we stopped at Uncle Phil and Aunt Laurie’s house (where we stayed the next two nights). After saying hello to everyone (Mom was staying there too), we were “expected” at Uncle Gary and Aunt Shelley’s house for pie. After the short trip there (about 2 blocks), we said hello to Danielle (Irv’s daughter) and Uncle Dan and Aunt Gail. Then we stepped in to visit with Grandma Dorothy for a little bit. She looked so much older and so much more frail than the last time I saw her (about 2 years ago). But Dad and I had a good visit. She was still as smart and sharp as ever. After eating some pie and looking at some old pictures, we went back to Phil and Laurie’s to crash.

The next day (and the day of the service), Phil, Dad, Mom, and I went to Northside High School where Irv taught for many years. They had the flags at half mast (and at Southside where he also taught). We took some pictures then headed to eat some breakfast. I tried the spinach and feta cheese omelet. Not as good as Dan’s at Old Town, but it was okay.

We went back to the house to get ready for the service that afternoon. I wrote a little, worked on my taxes, and watched an episode of MacGyver. Then we all headed to the services at Toon Funeral Home in downtown Downers Grove. I met Wendy for the first time (his current wife) and saw Eric (his son). From 2:00 to 3:00 there was family viewing (they had an open casket) and from 3:00 to 8:00 was public viewing. The services started at 7:00 and probably lasted until 8:30. I saw a lot of people I knew and didn’t know. Some of both were family and family friends. Probably the most exciting people to talk to while I was there (and afterward) were Henri (my cousin Cinda’s husband), Paula (one of Irv’s previous wives), and Jackie (Grandpa Ted’s daughter – Grandpa Ted was married to Grandma Dorothy).

Eric and a friend, Bob Cox, played guitar during the service (just two songs). My uncles, aunts, cousins, and many of Irv’s friends and students spoke about their many memories of Irv. The two with the most impact on me where Cinda’s story about how Irv gave her a “special” hairbrush that would work on her long and curly “Lester” hair (which was just like his hair) and the story (which was more like poetry) from Irv’s friend, Jim Brask, about their many road trips and concerts over the years.

For those that went, I’m sure many wondered who I was and why I was just standing in the little waiting area outside the room with Irv. Well, I have this thing about seeing dead bodies, especially those I know. I’m not scared of them (I’ve even moved a few back when I was a security guard in the hospital). They don’t give me nightmares. Nothing like that. I just want to remember them as they were when they were alive. Back when my other grandmother passed away (my Dad’s mother, Bertha), everyone was going into the room to see her in the casket. My Uncle Randy was about to take me in, when my Dad stopped him and asked me if I wanted to go see her. He said he wasn’t because he wanted to remember her the way she was, alive and happy. I’ve stuck to that ever since. I’ve made my wife mad (at her uncle’s funeral). I’ve gotten odd looks (at Irv’s funeral). But that’s how I cope with death.

During the wake (but not during the services), Dad and I went down the street to take a break. We had a quick bite to eat at Berto’s (a great little Italian shop to eat at) and hit the toy store and book store. We got to see a commuter train (Metra to you locals) go by (that’s big for us tourists). After the services, we (most of the people at least) went down the street to the local Irish bar and had some dinner (and many had a few drinks in Irv’s name). The food was good and the atmosphere was great. Mom didn’t enjoy the guy doing useless trivia, but it didn’t bother me. The time for being sad was over, it was time to be happy. It was time to celebrate life again. After eating and visiting, we headed back to catch some sleep before heading out the next day.

It was a long trip, but well worth it. I got to see many relatives I hadn’t in some time. And I got to spend some time with Mom and Dad.

But for me, the saddest part was Irv’s funeral.

It was saying good-bye to Grandma.

As we were getting ready to leave the funeral home, Cinda, Uncle Gary, and others were helping to dress Grandma for the cold to get her back home. I gave her a (very gentle) hug and kiss and said something about being glad to see her again. I was getting ready to tell her I’d try to write more letters when she said “No matter what happens, I’ll always love you.”

I couldn’t take it anymore. I gave her another kiss, barely got out an “I love you too,” and had to walk off crying. I just said good-bye to my Grandmother for what would likely be the last time.

That was the saddest part of my trip.

The happiest part of the trip? Actually thinking about what I want for my services when I die. I know, quite morbid, but seeing your uncle die from cancer makes you think about your own mortality. Your Mom, Dad, Grandmother, In-Laws, they’re all getting older. So why not think about how you want to go out. So that’s my goal sometime in the near future. Think about, talk about, and start planning my own death. Well, not my death, my funeral.

Apologies for any spelling or relationship errors.
© 2006 Productions

Champions Of The Force Review

Champions Of The Force (Jedi Academy Trilogy #3)
by Kevin J. Anderson

Review By: Neil Richard

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Mon Mothma has been cured. Leia has become the Chief of State for the New Republic. The Sun Crusher followed the Death Star III into one of the black holes around the Maw. Lando will be taking over the Kessel spice mines for the Smuggler’s Alliance. The Vors rebuilt their Cathedral of the Winds. Ackbar was proven innocent. The attempted kidnapping of Anakin Solo was thwarted. Kyp returned to the light side. Qwi Xux lost her memory.

Yet again, things are all nice and tidy in the Star Wars galaxy. All is right with the universe.

As usual, the last book is the one that closes all the loops. So the storyline and action scenes were all nicely put together and moved along nicely.

But everything was so predictable. Yes, I’ve read this book before, but even after the years since I’ve read it and stepping back and looking at all the books I’ve read, the hero almost always wins and none of the good guys get hurt (too seriously). That’s why I enjoy something different. It’s a change of pace and a change of scenery.

Not so with these classic Star Wars reads.

Available in Word and PDF.
© 2006 Productions

I, Jedi Review

I, Jedi
by Michael A. Stackpole

Review By: Neil Richard

Rating: 2 out of 5

I can’t believe this book was actually published. The first half was a complete waste of time. It was a summary of Dark Apprentice and Champions Of The Force complete with the exact same scenes and dialog. Even my dad (who was sadly stuck in the car with me for 16 hours) asked if we should have listened to this first (meaning before Champions Of The Force).

The second half of the book was a little better in that it was original. But the space battles were weak and the characters were hard to relate to. I know Corran Horn, Mirax Terrik (his wife), and Booster Terrik (her father) are all strong characters, but I had a hard time getting to know them. Knowing more about the Horns and Booster would have been great.

I still can’t believe this book was published.

Available in Word and PDF.
© 2006 Productions

Dark Apprentice Review

Dark Apprentice (Jedi Academy Trilogy #2)
by Kevin J. Anderson

Review By: Neil Richard

Rating: 3 out of 5

This is a typical sandwich book in a trilogy. Sandwiched between the first book (with all the introductions) and the last book (with all the conclusions), this book does nothing more than set the stage using the characters introduced to play out the last act.

We start out with Ackbar and Leia crashing into and destroying the central building in the peaceful society of the Vors, not to mention killing hundreds of Vors in the process. Admiral Daala attacks the refugee settlement at Dantooine. Ackbar steps down in disgrace. Gantoris builds a lightsaber, attacks Luke, and later dies at the hands of a Sith Lord’s spirit. Kyp helps pilot the Sun Crusher into the heart of Yavin.

From there, all hell breaks loose. Daala attacks again, Kyp goes off the deep end (psychologically), and Luke decides to take a nap (Snow White style).

My bottom line? Like the first book in the series, it’s a decent read but lacks somewhat in the final execution. Sure, the plots are okay and the characters are good, but the action and settings all seem to be a bit recycled. There’s also some good introductions made (like Cilghal) of characters that will be making a stronger impact on the galaxy later. But overall, it’s just an average Star Wars book that does an average job of telling an average story. Don’t get too excited.

Available in Word and PDF.
© 2006 Productions

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

In Chicago for a few days

Just writing a quick note to say I’m in Chicago.  My Uncle Irv passed Sunday morning, so my Dad and I drove yesterday from King George to Downers Grove.  I’m still processing the fact that he’s not here anymore, so hopefully I’ll write more when I’ve had more time to think about it.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Divine Bovine

There is nothing quite as divine
As a grilled piece of bovine

Sure, there’s Mad Cow Disease to worry about.  But I really don’t care.  I watched an episode of Sea Quest-DSV (season 1) where beef was illegal.  Produce was even genetically engineered to be better for you.  And it made me think, why?  Beef is tasty.  Beef is good.

It tastes too damn good to make illegal.

So, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my little slice of heaven and I’d like to express my deepest thanks to the following people that made it happen:

  • The local rancher or farmer that raised the cow.

  • The local butcher that bought the cow for slaughter.

  • The local butcher’s employees for doing such a good job in carving it.

  • My dad for buying the side of beef and sharing a few steaks.

  • The near or distant workers involved in making my grill.

  • The local retailer that sold me the grill.

  • The (really) local campground guy for refilling my propane tank.

  • The near or distant producers of the seasoning used to enhance the flavor of the steak.

  • My wife for watching me eat my steak while she was too sick to eat a full serving of rice.

Happy trails fellow steak eaters.  May your steak be tender and your knife sharp.

Finally back to the weights

So it’s been a week since I’ve been in the gym.  I guess the good news is it wasn’t really my fault, the bad news is, Yvonne’s been sick all week.  So today is my first full day at work, which means I didn’t have to arrive late and leave early.  In other words, I got to come in early and work-out.  So after a nice 45 minute session this morning, I’m feeling like a wet noodle.  I’ve upgraded my note-taking to now include weights, times, and speeds.

  • 5 minutes @ 4.6 – Warm-up on the treadmill

  • Stretch

  • Chest press – 3 sets of 10 reps (80, 100, 80)

  • Leg extension – 3 sets of 10 reps (100,120,100)

  • Incline press – 3 sets of 10 reps (80,60,60)

  • Leg curl – 3 sets of 10 reps (60,40,40)

  • Shoulder press – 3 sets of 10 reps (40,40,40)

  • Calf raises – 3 sets of 10 reps (0,10,25)

  • Bicep curl – 3 sets of 10 reps (40,20,20)

  • Lat pull down – 3 sets of 10 reps (60,80,60)

  • Tricep pushdown – 3 sets of 10 reps (40,20,40)

  • 5 minutes @ 2.0 – Cool-down on the treadmill

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

My car actually fits in the shed

For those not in the know, I (and Yvonne with the Bank of Dad financing) have been working on a shed to hold the outdoor implements of destruction.  Well, it went from a nice little shed to fit the mower and shovels and quickly became something larger.  I can still remember drawing out (with marking paint) the original size of about 10’ x 12’ in the grass and driving the mower around to see how it fit.

It grew from there.  We’re now at a finished dimension of 14’ x 24’ with an 8’+ ceiling on the first floor and just over 6’ on the second floor.

Yeah, it grew a little bit.

So this past weekend, I did some more prep work for the epoxy coating (a la Lowe’s and Quickcrete) and decided to try the shed on for size with my car.  Keep in mind when we moved stuff from the house attic to the shed attic, Yvonne had a gleam in her eye.  I could already see her wheels turning about how to get her van in the shed.  Sorry honey, not going to happen.

So with the scrap lumber shakily tied to the rafters and side wall, I drove in.  Fits like a glove.  Too bad it’s not the car I really want in there.

All in all, I’ve learned a lot about sheds, building, concrete, and everything involved.  I’m glad I don’t build for a living, but I don’t appear to have that kind of common sense you find in good builders (thankfully I do have more common sense than the bad ones).

From the ground up it was quite an experience.  For those interested, you can find a bunch of photos here:

Keep in mind, they’re mixed in with a good number of other photos, so just look for the word shed in the descriptions.

For those interested in the current status of the shed, here’s the page (along with some shots of the gun range):

As for future plans, we’ll need gutters (both draining to the back yard a good 20’ or so), some sort of stepping area off the small door, the epoxy coating (as mentioned above), and moving everything in.  After that, we’ll look at wiring for electric (for the future, there’s no power out there now), insulation, drywall, and paint.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Dragons: Worlds Afire

Dragons: Worlds Afire will be featuring a novella by Bob Salvatore. Looks like my bookshelf will be getting a new addition.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Jedi Search Review

Jedi Search (Jedi Academy Trilogy #1)
by Kevin J. Anderson

Review By: Neil Richard

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Anderson continues the line of good “classic” Star Wars novels. After the fall of the Empire, the Rebellion, now trying to function as a valid government, gives Luke permission to start a Jedi Academy. During that process Han gets into trouble (big surprise there) while traveling to Kessel to broker a diplomatic deal. He ends up mining spice in a dark-as-dark-can-be tunnel next to Chewie and Kyp Durron (a kid with great Force potential).

After escaping Kessel, Han, Chewie, and Kip end up traveling to the Maw Installation, a top-secret Imperial research and development facility that’s been cut off since before the destruction of the first Death Star. Out of the frying pan and into the fire. After being “interviewed” by the Imperials, Han again escapes with the crew (plus an Imperial researcher) in an indestructible ship, the Sun Crusher.

About this time, Luke and Lando are getting out of Kessel with the bad guys hot on their tail. Not to worry, Luke sets up his academy on Yavin IV. Han and Leia (and Jacen and Jaina) are reunited. Chewie, Kip, and Lando also make the trip safely.

A decent plot line, but not too terribly exciting at times. Characters are pretty much the same old thing, the biggest addition being Kip and Qwi Xux (the Imperial researcher). Locations are also “classic” in their feel. Kessel is the stereo-typical mining complex with slaves. But the Maw is a neat idea. An Imperial facility just sitting there, completely hidden from everyone, including those running the Kessel mines.

All in all, not too bad of a book. Classic fights, space battles, and drama. But in the end, it’s the same old thing.

Available in Word and PDF.
© 2006 Productions

I couldn't resist linking this. Just too funny to pass up. Thanks to a co-worker, I had a good chuckle this Friday.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

From good to green

I had a good work-out this morning before work.  Then I made the mistake of eating left-over Chinese.  I don’t think the food is the problem, I think it’s the fact that I ate too much of it.  So now I’m feeling a little green around the gills.

  • 3 minutes – Warm-up on the treadmill

  • Stretch

  • 3 sets of 10 reps – Bicep curl

  • 3 sets of 10 reps – Lat pull down

  • 3 sets of 10 reps – Tricep pull down

  • 3 sets of 10 reps – Chest press

  • 3 sets of 10 reps – Incline press

  • 3 sets of 10 reps – Shoulder press

  • 3 sets of 10 reps – Leg extension

  • 15 minutes – Walking on the treadmill    

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Running on the treadmill

Posting this late as I almost forgot about it.

  • 3 minutes – Warm-up on the treadmill

  • Stretch

  • 15 minutes – Running on the treadmill (5 minutes walking)

  • 3 sets of 10 reps – Leg extension

  • Stretch

Tuesday, March 07, 2006



“What do you want with me?”
“I want nothing from you.  Only to kill you.”
“Then don't talk to me.  A professional would have killed me by now.”
“So you say, but dead men don't talk.”

He pulled the sword back above his head and prepared to bring it down in a killing blow.
But the target was right, a professional would have killed him by now.  Instead his vanity had gotten in his way and clouded his vision.
The target had hoped and planned for this.  He had been slowly reaching for his throwing knives while talking to his attacker.  He yanked the cover off his bag that had been lying next to him.  Reaching inside he found what he was looking for and withdrew them.  Flicking his wrists, he let two knives fly from his hands.  And right into his attacker's throat and left eye.
It all happened so fast that the would-be assassin never had enough time to let a look of surprise cross his face.  At least not until he was sinking to the ground.

After gathering his things and dousing the remaining embers of his campfire, the man retrieved his throwing knives.  Some assassin, he thought to himself.  But who am I to talk, I let him sneak up on my like a bear crashing through the underbrush.
With more self-berating thoughts, the man began walking down the trail in the early hours of the dawn.  Another day on the run, another day in the sun, he said to himself.  He never liked killing others.  Even in self-defense.  Even to save others.  But self-preservation was instilled in every animal from birth.  It was natural.  And despite this, the man probably wouldn't sleep tonight.  And if he did, his dreams would be filled with nightmares.

So he walked for most of the morning before stopping for food.  It wasn't quite midday, but his stomach was growling.  He picked a few berries that he knew weren't deadly and sat down to eat on a rock in the shade.  The weather wasn't overly hot but the humidity added another twenty degrees to the heat.  There was a slight breeze that helped him cool off as he ate his dried meat and gooey berries.  He listened to the birds speak and to the leaves rustling in the breeze.  It was closing on mid-summer and he still had some ways to go.  But he was heading north, where the breeze was cooler and the humidity not as high.
After finishing his meal, he did a quick inventory of his pack and made sure everything was in its place.  With that, he ended his break and began hiking down the trail again.  He kept an eye open for a stream for the heat would only get worse before the day was over.  He didn't want to stray too far from the trail but figured he would find a source for water before he got too thirsty.
It wasn't until shortly after midday that he found a small creek bed.  It had some water slowly moving through it so he felt safe enough drinking from it.  After drinking enough water he filled his canteen.  He was quickly on his way again, for he didn't know how long it would be before other assassins would find his trail and start the hunt again.  He had dispatched with four so far.  And, by his reckoning, he was nearing the half way point of his trip.  Luckily for his conscience, he had only found the need to kill three of them including the one from this morning.  The second one that had found him in his first week on the run was stupid enough to turn his back.  Not wanting anymore bloodshed than necessary, he had knocked him over the head with the knot on his walking stick.  He was still alive when he left him tied to a tree trunk along the trail.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully for him.  With the coming of night, he chose a camp sight well off the trail.  There would be no campfires for some time now.  Dropping his pack, he leaned his walking stick up against a thick tree and began to make his bed.  He had packed a light sleeping bag, but needed some branches and leaves to insulate him from the cold and hard ground.  After gathering the required bedding he laid out his sleeping bag and set all of his weapons close enough that he could reach them in an instant.  His bed made, he scouted the area with his walking stick and made sure he knew the way back to the trail.  He didn't want to get lost at night if he was forced to run again.  He set a few snares and alarms that would awake him if anyone came into the area even though he doubted he would sleep very much, if at all.  His bed made and his traps set, he crawled into a nook in a tree and looked at the stars for some time.  It had been awhile since he had looked skyward.  And every time he felt the pull of the heavens.  He had always wanted to travel to those distant stars he saw.  But he knew he never would.  Every now and again it would bear down on him and a tear would roll down his cheek.
But he never gave up hope.
The next day passed rather quickly and it felt good to have no intruders during the night.  Be they assassins or animals.  And over the next few days he thought he was making good time to his next destination.  He didn't know exactly what to do when he got there but he knew he would think of something.  He always thought of something.  Sometimes I take longer than I should, but I always think of something.  With these thoughts in his mind, along with so many others, he put one well worn boot in front of the other.
And so he traveled for many days.  Those days quickly turned into a week.  Then another.  It wasn't until his fourth week on the trail that he noticed the change in the weather.  He new he was getting nearer to his destination.

His pace had increased over the past couple of days.  He knew he was close.  He tried to restrain himself from just running the rest of the way.  The trail took him closer and closer to the city.  Then one night, while searching the area and setting his traps, he saw the many lights of campfires in the distance.  He wasn't sure how he would gain entry into the city, even though it wasn't much of a city anymore.  The buildings still stood several stories above the ground.  A few of the bridges still crossed the rivers that met in the middle of the city.  He remembered that some time ago he had actually been in several of those buildings.  He even knew people that had worked in them.  But all that came to an end all too soon.  Now the city lay in ruins.  It looked better than others he had seen, or heard about.  But it was still worse than what it once was.  Even then it was dirty, but nothing like the filth he could see now.  Even from such a great distance.
He woke early and packed his things.  He wanted to make sure he left no trace of his campsite.  He didn't want anyone to know he was in the area and he didn't know if the city had organized guards like others had.  After patrolling the area one last time, he set off towards the city.  He went much slower today than the days before.  He didn't want to make his presence known until he absolutely had too.  Even then he wasn't sure if he could or not.  He pushed all of these thoughts into the back of his mind and recalled the basic layout of the city and the areas around it.  Luckily for him he wanted to get into the neighborhoods that once stood around the southern parts of the city.  He wouldn't have to cross through the city or go around.  Slowly picking his course through the trees, he kept a watchful eye on the surrounding area.  If he encountered a patrol he would be questioned.  Then arrested.  Then executed.  The times had changed.  He could still remember being able to enter the city without anyone even looking at him as though he were out of place.  Now he worried.
He hadn't found any patrols in the area.  He hadn't even found any signs of them operating in the city.  Gradually he felt safe enough to travel more in the open.  He kept to the back roads to take him around the larger groups of people and to try to get his bearings.  He had entered this area many times from many directions but he always had a hard time navigating in the area.

Finally he found a sign laying in the ditch that had a number he remembered.  Trying to keep his pace slow and his head down, he continued straight.  Slowly, then more quickly, he recognized his surroundings.  The church at the bottom of the hill nearly took his breath away.  Memories flooded into his head and he lost his pace.  He nearly fell to his knees in tears but knew he had to continue.  I was married there!  Now it’s not even close to a house of God.  With blurry eyes, he kept walking.
He bore left before going up the hill.  He decided to approach from the rear to get a better feel of the circumstances surrounding the house he was looking for.  The squalor surrounding him made him ill.  More memories flashed through his mind but he quickly pushed them away.  He wanted to get there.  Near the top of the hill, he dashed into the woods between two houses.  At least they were houses at one time, he thought.  He stopped and listened for any signs of pursuit.  There was none, so he slowly continued up the last of the incline.  Reaching the top he removed the binoculars from his pack and peered through them to get an idea of what lay ahead of him.  Some of the houses still stood.  The worst were those that had been burned to the ground.  Some were half torn down.  And others were just boarded up.  A few were still being used though.  He scanned the area and finally found the house he was looking for.  He felt hope rise when he saw that it was still being used.
He moved down from the ridge so he wouldn't show against the light of the setting sun.  He hadn't realized how long it had taken him to get here.  Creeping down the hillside and across it, he came to the edge of the park.  Even now it doesn't look like a park, he thought.  He watched it closely until the sun went down.  After seeing that nobody used it or paid attention to it, he leaned up against a tree and waited until the night had swallowed up the last of the light.
After sitting in the dark for nearly two hours, he began his stealthy approach to the house.  He crept out into the playground, but kept to the edges of it.  He didn't want to be too far from cover if he was discovered.  He walked down the steps that led up to the playground, and came onto the end of the road.  He watched the houses that were on either side of him for any signs of activity.  It appeared everyone had gone to bed for the night.  Most people didn’t stay up past nightfall.  Candles were expensive and batteries were nearly impossible to find.  He slowly made his way to the corner of the road and again watched the houses in the immediate area for any activity.  Again there was none, so he turned right on the road and went quickly to the left side of it.  There were a few bushes there that he used for cover.  He eventually made his way to the front corner of the house.  He put his ear to the wall, but could hear nothing.  While watching from his perch on the hill, he could tell the house was being used but he did not see anyone leaving or entering the house.  Making his way around to the back of the house, he still saw no way he could enter without being heard.  All the windows had been boarded over with plywood and the doors as well.
Still not knowing what to do, he made a full circuit of the house looking for any weaknesses that he could use to his advantage.  There were none to be had.  He once again went to the front corner of the house and sat on his haunches behind the tall evergreen that grew there.  Suddenly, the ground began to make a noise under him.  He jumped back and nearly hit the side of the house.  Looking at the ground he had been sitting on seconds before, he began to see it move.  He pulled a knife from the sheath on his calf and grabbed a smaller one from another sheath on his bicep.  Let's see what these kitchen knives can do, he thought as he watched a small circle of ground slowly rotate.  So intent on watching the secret passage open, he didn't hear the person approaching him from behind.

“So what do we do with him?”
“Nothing at the moment.  The affects of the stun beam should wear off in a few hours.”
“Should we post a guard?”
“No.  This one is peaceful enough.  I have watched him for several standard months now.  He is cautious enough to avoid confrontations.  He will do no harm to others unless he is provoked.”

“Would it be okay if I watched over him anyway?”
“Yes, of course.  Someone should be here to explain things when he comes around.”
“How much should I tell him Master?”
“Answer his questions only.  Do not volunteer any information.  But if he asks, answer truthfully.”
“Yes Master.”
© 2006 Productions

It's almost a habit now

I came in early this morning to get some extra work-out time in.  Not sure if I actually spent more time in the gym or not, but I feel like I got more exercise.  Now if I could just limit how much I eat and keep it healthy, I’ll have the other half of the equation.

  • 2 minutes – Warm-up on the elliptical machine

  • Stretch

  • 3 sets of 10 reps – Tricep pushdown

  • 3 sets of 10 reps – Lat pull down

  • 3 sets of 10 reps – Bicep curl

  • 3 sets of 10 reps – Crunches

  • 3 sets of 10 reps – Cross-Crunches

  • 3 sets of 10 reps – Chest press

  • 7 minutes – Walking on the treadmill

  • Stretch

Monday, March 06, 2006

Another workout under my belt

Today’s workout is listed below.  My arms hurt over the weekend (mostly my biceps when I extended them).  Just need to keep plugging away.

  • 3 minutes – Warm-up on the elliptical machine

  • Stretch

  • 3 sets of 10 reps – Bicep curl

  • 3 sets of 10 reps – Lat pull down

  • 3 sets of 10 reps – Tricep pushdown

  • 5 sets of 10 reps – Chest press

  • 3 sets of 10 reps – Leg extension

  • 3 sets of 10 reps – Leg curl

On a side note, I weighed in under what I expected.  I was so surprised I not only weighed myself twice, I also put a dumbbell on the thing to make sure it wasn’t broken.  Turns out, I actually weigh 225 pounds.  Wow.  Now if I could only get that vacuum to work as an at-home lipo machine, I’d be set.

How much money does an author make?

According to many, not much.  I try to keep up with several authors (you being one Kurt) and Paul S. Kemp posted this quote from Elaine Cunningham.  Here are bits and pieces that stood out for me:

"Writing for a living -- more precisely, earning enough money as a writer to make a good living -- is quite rare."

"about 5% percent of writers earn enough from writing to make a living; of that 5%, about 5% of those earn enough to make a GOOD living."

"93 percent of ISBNs sold fewer than 1,000 units in 2004, according to Nielsen BookScan. These books accounted for only 13 percent of sales. On the other hand, 7 percent of ISBNs sold more than 1,000 units and made up the remaining 87 percent of sales."

"Obviously, those statistics are a blunt instrument, and make no distinctions between genres, fiction/non-fiction, small and large press, etc."

To preserve ownership, here's the source:

Quite eye-opening for me.  Even if the numbers are skewed (I have a large amount of distrust for statistics), it's still amazing how many books are out there and how few of them sell in large numbers.  And the more I think about it, the more it makes sense.  Every time I go to the local bookstore, I see the same authors over and over again.  All it takes is one book to make it big, but best of luck in getting that "one book" published, marketed, sold, and enjoyed by readers.

While I enjoy writing (despite how difficult it is for me), it's something I've never (realistically) thought of as a living.  Sure, I can dream about making it big.  Sure I idolize several authors.  But, when the real world comes knocking (via the mortgage payment or car bill), I realize how much I'd have to make to survive.  And even if my profit was the retail price of a basic paperback novel (even hardback for that matter), I'd have to sell hundreds of copies.  Something I don't see happening anytime soon.    

Friday, March 03, 2006

Rare TGIF Update

Yes, we are still alive.  Just a wee bit busy for me at work, so finding time to get these out is hard to do.
And since we're talking about work, we'll start with tax season.  So far, it's been a bit crazy.  We've been understaffed from December through last week (and still slightly understaffed now).  Added to this is an increase in calls, which results in a normal week of about 55 to 60 hours.  Not fun.  But the paychecks are nice.  Aside from work, I've been trying to relax by tinkering with my web site and blog.
Yvonne is doing well at work.  There's an issue with a co-worker that will hopefully get resolved shortly.  From the sounds of it, she's got a six pack, but no plastic thingy to hold it all together.  I've noticed a lot less stress this year with her move to another school and change in position.  Less homework to grade and fewer kids to work with plus a better management situation.
Elizabeth is doing well.  She's learning more and more words everyday and is doing better at saying words too.  Nothing close to what I'd call a sentence yet, but she's very good at letting you know what she wants.  I think the most amusing part (and probably the most dreadful for Yvonne) is that she's picking up my habits.  She'll push her cereal down to get it wet just like I do, she'll whisper when I do, etc.
In other news, Heather (the younger sister of a college friend) found a new place so she's moved out.  The shed passed it's final inspection last Friday and the basic landscaping should be finished today (grass will come later).  I've got most of the material needed to seal teh floor with an epoxy.  Once that's done (after I get a weekend off that's warm enough) we'll move everything in permanently.  Dad is doing as well as he can with the increased workload and high stress at work.  Mom is busy with her quilts and recently went to a show in Wisconsin and won an award.  Another of her quilts is also traveling the country on tour.  Grandma is doing so-so.  I get varying reports, but I think the overall opinion is that's she's just getting old.  And last night brought news of my Uncle Irv not doing well either.
Our future plans are a bit sketchy at the moment.  Right now I'm in a holding pattern at work (until April 17th).  After that, we should be able to finish the shed and get some work done outside in the yard.  Elizabeth will be turning 2 and Yvonne will be turning (....well....maybe I'd better not say....) this month.  We'll also be headed to the beach in July and attending Nicole's (Yvonne's sister) wedding in September.  Outside of that, nothing else has really been planned yet.
Hope everyone is having a great late winter/early spring.

The Last Command Review

The Last Command (Thrawn Trilogy #3)
by Timothy Zahn

Review By: Neil Richard

Rating: 4 out of 5

Zahn again does a great job in finishing the Thrawn Trilogy. He neatly ties up all the loose ends and solves all the mysteries that were being built up through the series. For me, the only reason it didn’t get a higher score was the simple fact it felt a little too much like the movies.

Let me explain. This book finishes with Luke battling a clone of himself, just as he fought Vader with catwalks and all. The clone came from his lost hand on Bespin. Presiding over the showdown was the mad and evil Jedi Master, Joruus C’Baoth. And like the Emperor, he was great at taunting them and released some serious evil vibes when he died. Add to this scene, Han making an attempt to rescue Luke, just like he did at the first Death Star.

But that’s where Zahn adds some spice. Mara Jade, who has been under the Emperor’s last command (like the title says) to kill Luke, gets to follow what her now-dead Master said. She kills Luke. The clone Luke, don’t worry, your precious blonde hunk is safe. Karrde, the best smuggler out there since Han and Lando, adds his wild hounds (called Vornskrs). Then there’s the cloning facility (which was oddly reminiscent of the prequel trilogy) and Lando running around having his usual bout of bad luck.

In the background (and hardly focused on) is the birth of the twins, Jacen and Jaina, who will become some of the strongest Jedi in quite some time. Winter, Leia’s assistant on Coruscant, also makes an appearance, but there’s little mention of her great memory. And of course there’s the slicer Ghent and the Noghri.

Which leads to my last spoiler. The Noghri kill Thrawn, but leave Pellaeon alive. At least it was artistic.

Available in Word and PDF.
© 2006 Productions

Guilty of playing hooky

Well I played hooky from the gym yesterday and I felt bad.  My work schedule didn’t allow my hour lunch and combine that with leaving early, it just wasn’t in the cards.  So, to ease my guilt pains, I went this morning.  Nothing too major as I’m still starting off slow and easy, but I put in a decent workout.  Hopefully I’ll be able to head back during lunch for some more pain and torture.

  • 5 minute warm-up

  • 3 sets of 10 reps thighs

  • 3 sets of 10 reps calves

  • 10 minute cool down on the treadmill

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Back to the Gym

So today was my first day in the gym for quite some time.  I feel much better now that I’ve gone (due to the increased activity, changed mentality, or second shower, I don’t know).  Being the wimp I am (and because I want to start easy), I didn’t do a whole lot today.

  • 5 minutes – warm-up on the elliptical machine

  • stretch

  • 15 minutes – riding the stationary bike

  • 2 sets x 20 reps – 15 pound dumbbell

As you can see, not a whole lot of physical activity.  But something is better than nothing.  My primary goal for the moment is to create the habit of going to the gym.  Then I’ll worry about losing weight and inches.