Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Rubik's Cube & Writing

Buy One

It's hard to believe I have been blogging about the Rubik's Cube and writing for over two years.  Especially since I never thought it would last much beyond my "10 Ways Writing is Like the Rubik's Cube" post.

This blog began mostly out of curiosity.  Just how far could I stretch it?  Could I continue to make new connections between something so technical and something else so abstract?

I'm happy to say, yes.  The ideas continue to come.  This is part of the creative process and I love it.  Making connections that were not there before.  Uncovering personal truths by challenging myself and pushing the limits.

I feel like I have accomplished my goals here.  But being the kind of person who enjoys pain and thrives on challenges, I must set new goals.  Truthfully, I'm not sure exactly where those new, lofty goals lie.  And thus, I will be taking a hiatus from my blog for a few months while I figure it out.

Honestly, I never thought I would have any visitors to the blog -- let alone followers.  Thank you.  I am grateful to all of you and your wonderful comments.  I look forward to reengaging with you all very soon!

I also never thought I would write a novel in 30 days or be able to solve the Rubik's Cube blindfolded.  But none of that would have been possible without the discipline of blogging and encouragement from the writing community.  I hope you will be encouraged to set new and higher goals for yourself, too.

Thank you for your support.  See you soon!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

13 Examples of Evidence for Evolution

13 Examples of Evidence for Evolution

1. The independent arrival of useful traits.  For example, the wing in insects, birds, and bats.  Or, the complex eyeball in humans and squids.

2. The human appendix, tail bone, wisdom teeth, goose bumps, and male nipples.

3. Vestigial organs in others.  Whales have 'leftover' hind leg bones. The eyeballs of the blind cave fish, Astyanax mexicanus, and penguins' wings are other examples.

4. Fossil evidence.

5. Drug-resistant Tuberculosis.

6. Pesticide-resistant insects.

7. Dog breeding.  (The Great Dane, the Chihuahua, and the Dingo.)

8. The Flounder and other flat fish. The eyeball on the "bottom" travels to the "top" of its head.

9. Flu vaccinations. Every year.

10. Modern transitional examples. From the eye spots of flatworms to the primitive eye of the nautilus.

11. Nylon eating bacteria.

12. A peacock's ridiculous tail.

13. DNA.  No, you are not a monkey, but you do share genes with a pea plant.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Am I Missing Something?

I'm still fascinated by the Rubik's Cube even though it's been around now for more than 30 years.  It's such a complete and unique puzzle.  And it's satisfying to the very end.

But what if you didn't realize a piece was missing until the very end?

Wouldn't you feel just a little cheated?

Well, I had similar feelings after finishing the book, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs.  I don't normally write book reviews, but this is such a unique and interesting book that I feel compelled to share my thoughts.

The story is told by 16 year old, Jacob Portman, but is also told through a series of strange, vintage photographs interspersed throughout the book.  On their own, the pictures are quite interesting and fun to flip through.  The cover art picture, featuring a levitating girl, and the book's title were enough to hook me.  Overall, it's an intriguing book and I recommend it.

I read the Kindle version, so I probably did not get the full experience had I read the print version, but for me, the screen display of the pictures was sufficient.  If you're really into the visual experience, then I suggest buying or loaning the print book.

The narrative story can stand on its own without the benefit of the photographs.  But the pictures really do enhance the overall experience of the story.  It's a fun and quirky book.


The story revolves around the murder of Jacob's grandfather and the adventure Jacob embarks on to learn the truth about his grandfather's strange childhood.  But the story is really more fantasy than murder mystery.  It may be dark at times, but it's also not scary, so your tweens won't have nightmares reading it.

Jacob is just like any teen and doesn't fit in anywhere.  Nobody quite understands him except for his quirky grandfather -- who just may be losing his mind.  They have a special bond and his grandfather always tells Jacob fanciful tales about the children he lived with at an orphanage in England before World War II.

Jacob is older now and is no longer convinced by the poorly altered old photographs that "prove" that these children had supernatural talents.  Jacob assumes the children were special because, like his grandfather, they were Jewish refugees of the war.  Thus, Jacob is saddened by his grandfather's dementia and increased paranoia of the "monsters" from his past.

It is not until Jacob's grandfather is brutally killed by a strange looking animal that Jacob begins to wonder if those fanciful stories may somehow be true.  Jacob is called to adventure by his grandfather's cryptic dying words and seeks out the old orphanage.

His family assumes Jacob is losing his mind out of guilt for not being able to save his grandfather's life.  With the encouragement of his psychiatrist, Jacob visits Wales to find answers.


I really enjoyed the prose of the book and thought it flowed well.  There is a passage where all these years later, Jacob walks into his grandfather's dilapidated orphanage expecting some ancient crime scene, "...but all I found were rooms that had become more outside than inside."  There is a nice visual style to the writing and the main story elements flowed naturally.  Although the story line weaves its way through unusual hoops, it's easy to suspend disbelief and just go with the story.

Of course the book is peppered with the strange photographs, too.  I appreciate the challenge it must have been for the author to brilliantly spin a truly unique story around the dozens of photographs.  This was like a writing prompt on steroids.  Just take an album of weird and random photographs and make a story out of it.  I love this about the book.  I love even more that it's a good story and not just that he incorporated all of the photographs.

The story was well written for a debut novel and had great promise.  I found myself guessing about what might happen in the next chapter and then the next.  However, the piece that I was left missing was the ending.  I was disappointed in the ending because there was no satisfying resolution.

I'll admit the question of Jacob's grandfather's death was solved -- so technically that's a resolution -- but that's not enough given all of the build up of the story's main adventure.  Too many unresolved and unanswered questions remain and then the story simply fades to black.  It's rumored that a sequel is in the works, but not everybody wants to go to the next book to see how things play out.  I certainly don't.

Just like the Rubik's Cube missing a corner piece, I felt the last pages were missing from this book.  I wanted more -- not from a sequel -- but from this book.  On the one hand, I usually feel if you don't have a sufficient ending, then you don't really have a complete story.  However, this book is so fascinating, unique, and interesting in its premise and how it's executed, that I still recommend reading it.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

13 Suckier Things About Travel

You caught me.  I say I love to travel.

But what I really mean is I like to be in different and strange places.  Nobody really likes to travel these days.
And if you're forced to endure the ordeal that business travel has become I pity you.

This post is dedicated to you.  Let's commiserate!

13 Crappy Things About Travel That Have Only Gotten Worse in Recent Years

1. Airport security.  The illusion of safety.  Now we have body scanners.  If body scanners are intended to detect items not picked up by metal detectors, and vice versa, why doesn't the TSA march us through both?

2. No free meals.  Remember when you'd get a free sandwich for coast-to-coast flights?

3. Airline baggage fees.  Every airline now charges for checked bags depending on your status.

4. Overhead bins.  The overhead bins for carryon luggage are smaller and crammed fuller than ever before.

5. Packing.  You are now forced to allocate your toiletries into Petri dish-sized containers.

6. Standby.  Have a change of plans?  Want to get home before that terrible storm rolls through?  Unless you have earned a mid- to high-tier status, you will now be charged a hefty fee (~$75) to standby for an earlier.

7. Mileage status.  Your travel miles earn you fewer perks.

8. Mileage status (again).  Should you lapse in status for one year, the next year you're deported to the end of the line.  Hello, boarding group 11 and 12!

9. Delays.  The airlines will try to sell you the idea they have improved on-time performance.  Just look at our shiny new statistics.  What they don't tell you is they measure their performance by an inflated "travel time" not actual flight time.  They don't even need to burn extra fuel to make up the time in the air.  The extra padding ensures an "on-time" arrival for most flights with a late departure.

10. Common courtesy.  Passenger courtesy has declined significantly.  People push and shove to board so they can pack their sprawling belongings into the overhead bins.  These also happen to be the same folks eager to slam down into full recline without checking for a laptop or sore knees pressed into their seatback.

11. Flight options.  Fewer and fuller flights mean you have fewer alternatives when they cancel your original flight for "mechanical" reasons.  Don't fret!  You may receive a discounted, $99 hotel voucher to the dirty airport hotel room of your choice.

12. Hotel pillows.  I'm pretty sure the only reason the pillows in the hotels are worse than in years past is because they are the same pillows.  Does anyone like feather pillows?

13. Toilet paper (yes, I went there).  Any time your toilet tissue crinkles, you know you're in for an uncomfortable stay.  To make matters worse, this rough (cheap) toilet paper somehow has been designed to ensure frugality and rips off into individual squares.

Do you think traveling has gotten better or worse in recent years?

Thank you CubaGallery on Flicker for the great photo!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Yuvi's Zalkow's Fear & Failure Experiment

Today's post is dedicated to author, Yuvi Zalkow, whose work I first read in the literary magazine Glimmer Train.

I immediately loved reading his quirky voice and was delighted when I rediscovered him through his wonderful blog and hilarious Failed Writer videos.

It's hard to refer to Yuvi as a "failed" writer since his debut novel was released earlier this week.  But that hasn't done much to ease his mind.

Even in the midst of his book launch  the very definition of success for most writers  he discusses his fears.  As a way to commiserate with other writers about fear, he started the Fear & Failure Experiment.  I'm showing support for Yuvi by sharing some of my own fears. 

In the past, I have talked about failure and quitting, (Go Ahead, Quit! It's Not Taboo) but this time I'm going to talk about my fear of failure not just quitting outright.  For me, fear of failure is a terrifying issue.  And as usual, I will discuss this in two parts.

A Puzzling Fear
You probably know by now, but I have a puzzling reputation to uphold.  It didn't take me long to conquer the major Rubik's puzzles without much difficulty.  But not long ago, I decided to discard the safety nets and find a new challenge that would put my reputation on the line.

I sent away for a Crazy 3x3 Cube (pictured above).  Now this puzzle is not stocked at your local Toys "R" Us.  It looks like the result of an apple corer and a Rubik's Cube getting into a fight.  Undeterred, I thought, "How hard could this be?  It just has a few more pieces in the centers than a normal Rubik's Cube."

It turns out those tiny pie-shaped pieces brought me to the brink of insanity.

I bought this puzzle when it was first released so I didn't have the luxury of cheating with YouTube tutorials.  I was on my own.  My plan was to very carefully experiment with different tricks and techniques I had learned from the other Rubik's puzzles.  Starting with a solved Crazy 3x3 Cube I thought I could simply determine which techniques I could adapt.  But before I gathered any meaningful data points, the entire puzzle was scrambled beyond belief.  I had inadvertently jumped into the unknown.

It took the entire first night just to get it to the state pictured above.  It may have appeared to be nearly solved, but there were still 24 pieces out of place.  It was past midnight, I had no plan, and I had to work the next day.

For the record, I did not give a second thought to the cube until well after 5pm that following day.  However, a cursory glance through my internet history at lunch just might have shown a frantic search for a video tutorial to solve these tiny pie-shaped pieces.  It was torture.

When I finally got my hands back on this crazy cube I had a primal urge to determine how the pie-shaped pieces moved about the cube.  I felt like Newton and would invent Calculus if need be.

I spent the evening scribbling notes and trying to chart positions.  It was a terrible and cruel shell game.  Pieces moved, but I could not decipher the patterns.  That's it!  I told my wife.  I cannot figure this one out.  This is the hardest puzzle I have ever tried to solve.  I cannot do it.  It's over.

I went to bed defeated.  I had failed.  Was I even worthy of calling myself a puzzler?

On the third evening, I reluctantly picked up the crazy cube.  There was one sequence of moves I rarely used on the normal Rubik's Cube.  I gave it a try.  For some reason, something clicked in my brain and I realized that there might be a way to isolate a pair, or three, or four pieces at a time.  If the pie-shaped pieces could be isolated, they could be swapped with others.  I scribbled more notes and eventually made progress.

It was painful, but before midnight on that third night I solved the Crazy 3x3 Cube.

Writing Fear of Failure
There is no such happy ending with my writing.  I'm still paralyzed by the fear of failing.

For the past several years I have been "working on my craft".  I have told myself that I'm not ready to publish yet because I have more groundwork to lay.  That's not true.

Yes, I will always work on my craft and continue to evolve as a writer until I die.  But that's not the reason why I haven't seriously submitted my work for publication yet.

It's fear.

It's the same fear Yuvi has reading in public.  It's the same fear I had my first day of Kindergarten.  What if no matter how hard I try they don't like me?

What if after years of writing and learning to write I never get anything published?  What if my main character is unsympathetic?  What if my critical plot twist doesn't convince the editor?  What if my voice simply isn't compelling?  What if my first novel isn't commercially viable?  What if my writing is derided at epic levels like EL James'?  What if my ending is predictable?

I don't know how to get over my fears of failing as a writer.  Sometimes I feel like I'm defeated before I have even started.  Like that second night with the Crazy 3x3 Cube.  Maybe I don't have that it factor. 

I'm inspired by people like Yuvi who persisted and journeyed on through over 600 rejections.  But he's special.  He has found his voice.  He has found success.  He is a writer.  He is an author now.

I'd love to open my 601st response letter and finally find success.  But I need to get over my fear of failure because the first 600 submission letters aren't going to mail themselves.

What about you?  How do you deal with fear and failure?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Puzzling Mind Clip Show

Sometimes it's nice to reminisce and be reminded of funny, exciting, or profound moments from the past.
Television studios use clip shows to do thi although the practice has become rare.

Clip shows are not always a Best Of show.  They can also be a convenient way to bring audiences up to speed on things they may have missed in past episodes.

Sometimes history is worth repeating.

Today, I'm bringing you my blog clip show.  Here are 13 posts compiled from the archives.

Please don't be shy and feel free to leave a comment anywhere.  I love to hear from you.

10 Ways Writing is Like the Rubik's Cube
Are You Afraid of Process?
13 Reasons Why You're Not Published
Do You Need a Deadline?
Don't Do What You're Told!
It's the Journey, Not the Destination
Story Structure and the Rubik's Cube
Go Ahead, Quit! It's Not Taboo.
The Rubik's Cube and The Great Gatsby
Short Stories? Like, Gag Me With a Spoon!
The Trick to Writing  Revealed
Billions of Free Story Idea At Your Fingertips!
13 Popular Novels Gone Dirty

And if you haven't checked out my latest Rubik's Cube writing post you're in for a treat.  This one really does require audience participation:  The Rubik's Cube Writing Promptetition.  If you're a writer, then you should share something with the world.

Thank you for stopping by!

Thanks to Cyaniona on Flickr for the great photo!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Rubik's Cube Writing Promptetition

Practice makes perfect.  Sometimes you just need help getting started.

Speedcubers perfect their ability to solve the Rubik's Cube by being flexible and adapting to different scrambled states for each solve.

In competition, participants are given a scrambled cube that has been turned at least 25 times.  This ensures that everyone is presented with a fair starting point.

Even if every competitor were presented with the exact same starting point, let's say:
L'  R  F2  D2  L'  D  F  B'  L  F'  U'  D2  F  R'  U'  L'  B2  D2  L'  D'  U2  F'  L  D2  L
you would get wildly different results.  For example, this particular scramble may produce the World Record solve of 5.66 seconds or the embarrassing 39 seconds with my lethargic hands.

(Nerd alert: The code above simply defines the sequence of turns to perform on the cube to mix it up.  L for left face clockwise, R for right face clockwise, etc.)

In any case, there are websites that generate these random scrambles that give you a starting point for any particular solve attempt.  It's a nice way to get an apples-to-apples comparison for timed competitions.

Now when we write, we don't always have a convenient starting point.  So today, I am giving you a writing prompt.  It's always fun to see the variety of different things writers come up with when given the exact same prompt.

Your goal is to write a story, a scene, a description anything really based on the following prompt.  Post your results in the comments below.  Please try to keep it to approximately 100 words.

Start your piece with the following sentence:

With the marching band eager to storm the field, she fumbled with the Rubik's Cube trying to shield her nakedness from the stadium lights.

The Rubik's Cube Promptetition emphasizes challenging yourself rather than besting others.  Also, this is not a timed event – unless you want it to be.  And although this is not judged officially, you just might win praise from me or other participants.
Have fun and Go!

Thanks to Argonone on Flickr for the picture!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

13 Popular Novels Gone Dirty

You Have Been Warned!

For some reason 50 Shades of Grey gets a lot of attention in the media these days.  It's not like erotic novels are something new.

In fact, I'm pretty sure E.L. James was inspired by these other well-known novels before the censors got to work.

Me?  I just like how these long-lost titles sound.  But then again I snicker when I hear the word, masticate.

 13 Popular Novels Gone Dirty
  1. The Son Also Rises
  2. A Tail and Two Titties
  3. The Great Gasping
  4. The Girl with the Dragon Taboo
  5. The Mount of Monte Cristo
  6. The Adventures of Sure Cock Holmes
  7. The Bi-Curious Case of Benjamin Butt-Man
  8. On Her Majesty's Secret Servicing
  9. The Lord of the Cock Rings
  10. Brave Nude Girl
  11. Alice Tugged
  12. A Midsummer's Night Ream
  13. Harry Potter and the Gobbler Gets Tired
Actual titles we have to live with:
1. The Sun Also Rises, 2. A Tale of Two Cities, 3. The Great Gatsby, 4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, 5. The Count of Monte Cristo, 6. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, 7. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 8. On Her Majesty's Secret Service (James Bond), 9. The Lord of the Rings, 10. Brave New World, 11. Atlas Shrugged, 12. A Midsummer's Night Dream, 13. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 

And a bonus: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Bone

Did I miss any?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Don't Hate 50 Shades of Grey

Perhaps you've heard the hype surrounding the recent phenomenon.  Maybe you can't understand why it's so popular.
  • Some say the quality is poor.
  • Others point to its awkwardness.
  • And is it really so original?
I'm talking about the Square-1 of course.

The Square-1 is a twisty puzzle.  I like twisty puzzles.

When solved, The Square-1 ends up as a six-sided colored cube.  Yep, I'm a cuber, keep going.

The Square-1 offers a unique challenge and it changes shapes when it's scrambled.  Again, sounds like something right up my alley.

Yet, I don't particularly like this puzzle.  But I don't hate it either.

The Square-1 is sliced through the middle on a diagonal axis that makes it rather different to solve than other puzzles like the Rubik's Cube.
I could appreciate what the Square-1 set out to do as a puzzle.  You turn faces.  You attempt to move pieces around the puzzle.  And you try to match all of the colors on each side.  

For me, it was a bit more painful to solve, but it had me intrigued.  I was hooked.  The Square-1 had that something to keep me at it until I was done with it.

And that was why I didn't set my Square-1 ablaze after I discovered it's not so much like the Rubik's Cube after all.

Let's move on to the recent phenomenon, 50 Shades of Grey, and see if there's something to appreciate in it, too.

Love it or hate it, this novel by E.L. James has become wildly popular.

I'm not going to jump on the bandwagon and write a scathing (or praising) review of the book.  I really just want to point out there may be a lesson we can all glean from its popularity.

Sure the grammar may be awkward and the dialogue trying.  And there are already scores of blogs and websites dedicated to bashing the book.  But none of that academic stuff really matters.  It's not the writing style.  It's not the subject matter.

There must be something else between the covers that connects with so many people.


One of the biggest reasons for the popularity of this novel is character identification.

When you identify with characters in a story it's easier to suspend disbelief.  It's easier to ignore minor author annoyances.  You really just want to find out what happens to the characters.  Am I saying everybody who loved the book is into Sadomasochism?  No.  To identify with a character is not the same as imitating the character.

But what woman hasn't felt undesirable at some point and think she's not beautiful?  It can create a longing to feel desired and told you're beautiful.

Could this craving in Anastasia, the main character, be one of the things readers connect so deeply with?
And of course Christian Grey is a layered character in the novel -- it's called 50 Shades of Grey after all.  He's controlling, but he wants to be accepted too.  People can identify with these basic character struggles even if they do not share all of their specific traits or feelings.

I really think the lesson here is the character identification in 50 Shades of Grey is what strikes a chord that resonates so deeply with a lot of people.

Why do you think it's so popular?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

13 Things I Did In San Francisco Last Week

A Redwood crashed through our intended bridge.
I just got back from a trip to San Francisco.  Apparently the Bay Area didn't get the memo on the heat wave!  It was 50 degrees cooler on the Fourth than it was in Chicago.

This is true whether Mark Twain said it or not, "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco."

Other than the blustery weather, it was an action-packed and beautiful trip.

Here are 13 Things I Did in San Francisco Last Week:

1. Took a fortune cookie factory tour in Chinatown and ate piping hot fortune cookies.

2. Hiked through the Muir Woods Redwoods forest on an alternate trail because a behemoth had fallen and smashed through the bridge on the main hiking trail.  My quads cursed me for taking the steeper detour.

3. Shivered watching the Fourth of July fireworks over the Golden Gate Bridge.

4. Got sunburned on the tops of my hands on a cloudy day that barely climbed above 60 degrees.

5. Rode a bike across the Golden Gate Bridge  hence the sunburn.

6. Ate lunch and drank wine in Napa Valley after touring the Jelly Belly factory.  After enduring a questionable jazz rendition of Roxanne I wished I was back at the Jelly Belly factory instead.

7. Found free parking for dinner in San Francisco.

8. Watched buffalo (bison) graze in the city's Golden Gate Park.

9. Drove for hours and hours through the winding expanse of Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

10. Drove down Lombard Street and up Twin Peaks.

11. Saw dolphins at Fort Point  at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge.

12. Ate wonderful cassoulet with a nice Bordeaux.  The last time I ate this dish was almost five years ago in Toulouse, France.  Oh, and I also had fantastic Chinese (obviously), Korean, and Indian food.

13. Witnessed illegal firework transactions on the streets of Chinatown.  (This did not occur in the vicinity of Grant and Washington streets.)

Have you been to San Francisco or the Bay Area?  What was your favorite part?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Rubik's Cube and The Great Gatsby

Practice makes perfect, but versatility spawns greatness.

I became a serious cuber when I finally accepted the truth of this statement.

No single method of solving the Rubik's Cube  no matter how perfect  will give you insight to truly master the cube.

Believe it or not, there are scores of methods for solving the Rubik's Cube.  Some are optimized for speed, others for ease of learning, and yet others to use the fewest possible moves.

It wasn't until I learned a method to solve the Rubik's Cube blindfolded, that I understood things on a more profound level.

Solving the cube sighted is rather reckless.  While you focus on one portion of the cube, you don't really care what happens to the majority of the other pieces.  And you have the freedom to 'wing it' and decide what to do next after each move.

But solving the Rubik's Cube blindfolded is a huge departure.  You are constrained in what you can do because you must keep track of the original position of every piece.  You must take great care to move each piece into its correct location.  This requires meticulous planning.

Many of the lessons I learned from my blindsolving method could be applied to my normal, sighted method.

What about writing lessons?

I'm willing to bet F. Scott Fitzgerald achieved his greatness because of similar lessons he learned along the way.

His first two novels were significantly character-driven and somewhat lengthy.  A stark contrast to his masterpiece, The Great Gatsby.  But if you look at what was happening in his life prior to that you'll see some of his versatility coming through.

He had been struggling financially and began writing short stories to make ends meet.  He later wrote a play called The Vegetable.  Each of these experiences heavily influenced what would become The Great Gatsby.

He no doubt applied some of the lessons he learned writing short stories.  And this produced the concise novel we have come to love.  But also, you can see the influence of having written a structured play.  The Great Gatsby is a very plot-driven novel.

So, if you write novels, try writing short stories.  If you need help writing dialogue, try writing a play.  If you write romance, try writing an action thriller.

There are countless techniques and methods for writing.  Each one has something special to make you a more versatile writer.  And don't worry if any one particular piece doesn't work  just remember Fitzgerald's The Vegetable was a commercial failure.  But it led to his most recognized achievement.

What unexpected writing lessons have you discovered?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Burning Through 13 Books

I have been burning through books lately.  

Since I'm not yet up to speed on GoodReads, I'll use this post to share 13 books I've read recently.

I just reached the end of this one earlier this evening so I'll kick things off here:

1. No Shelter (Holly Lin) by Robert Swartwood

Very solid thriller with a well developed female protagonist.  The pacing in Part II was too slow and I felt a bit impatient waiting for more to develop.  Fortunately the chapters are short and read quickly.  Once through her 'daily life' section, there was a bigger payoff.

Over all it was well written and definitely a page-turner.  If you like over-the-top, kick ass female characters, then Holly Lin is for you.
Good for a debut novel.  Recommended.

2. Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk

I like Chuck, but this was like a bad porno script  and not in a funny, ironic way.  
Not recommended.

3. Sloppy Seconds: The Tucker Max Leftovers by Tucker Max

I'm almost embarrassed to admit to reading this, but it was free.  I saw it was from the I Hope They Sell Beer in Hell guy and thought I'd see what all the hoopla was a few years back since I never read that.  This one was mildly entertaining.  Somewhat humorous.  Certainly obnoxious and juvenile.  I think the "fratire" moniker for the genre is dead on.
Not recommended (unless you are a pubescent boy).

4. Kitchen Confidential:  Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain

I like the guy's travel show.  He's full of snark and loves to drink.  Who knew he could write?  This is a great book and very interesting.  This is how to write memoir.
Highly Recommended.

5. The Abysmal Brute by Jack London

Inspiring story about boxing and corruption.

6. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

It won the Pulitzer Prize for a reason.  It's short.  It's great.  Perfect before the trip to Cuba.
Highly Recommended.

7. Coding Isis by Davis Roys

Pretty good techno-thriller.  The story was pretty solid and fast paced, but there were some minor distractions.  Mainly the fact that all of the characters use British colloquialisms, especially since it's set in Washington D.C.  Otherwise, well-written.
Decent debut.  Recommended.

8. The Lion, the Lamb, the Hunted by Andrew E. Kaufman

I loved this book.  It's a psychological thriller.  Patrick, the main character is easy to identify with and very likable  even though the story opens at his mother's funeral and he's basically spitting on her grave.  Hooked.  You've got to read more.

You get two parallel stories with Patrick investigating a toddler's murder and the back story of him being abused by his mother.  It's multi-layered and it works wonderfully.  Great twists and turns that are surprising in the best possible way.

This ranks as the best book I have read so far this year.
Highly, Highly Recommended!

9. Baby Shark by Robert Fate

Decent revenge thriller.  The premise is unique.  A strong female protagonist seeking revenge for the murder of her pool hustler father.  It's set in the 50s, although at times I was having to force myself to suspend disbelief.

Well-written, but only average over all.  Penn of Penn & Teller highly recommends the book, but I'm pretty sure it's mainly because he's friends with the author.
Recommended if you like this genre or strong female MCs.

10. Pandemic by Jesse F. Bone

This is actually a short story, but I like the premise so much I included it here – also I read it on my Kindle, so that counts as an eBook, right?

This SciFi story was written in the 60s so it was a little difficult to read the dated prose.  Also, not terrific writing, but again the premise was really cool.  Read it and see why.

11. The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King

Stephen King doing young adult fantasy.  This was a reread and it reminded me why I liked this story so much.
Highly Recommended.

12. Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

I gave up halfway through.  I just couldn't do it.  I know it's supposed to be some sort of classic for fans of fantasy, but it's one of the few books I've given up on.
Don't Bother!

13. Touch by Elmore Leonard

If you're looking for the Elmore Leonard who writes gritty Crime Novels, then you're in the wrong place with this story.  I love those other novels, but Touch is by far my favorite Leonard novel so far.

This young stigmatic seems to perform miracles – or are those simply coincidences?  It doesn't matter.  Lots of people want to exploit him.  And it wouldn't be a Leonard novel without the wacky cast of characters including con men and outlandish priests.
Highly, Highly Recommended!

Any significant book you've read so far this year?

Thanks to Pcorreia on Flickr for the nice photograph!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

13 Single-Use Kitchen Gadgets

Protect Your Bananas Before It's Too Late!

13 Single-Use Kitchen Gadgets

  1. Banana Bunker
  2. Apple peeler
  3. Bread maker
  4. Cake stand
  5. Waffle maker
  6. Onion goggles
  7. French Fry slicer
  8. Lettuce knife - ordinary knifes cause browning
  9. Hamburger press
  10. Pasta dryer
  11. Orange peeler - I love this thing.
  12. Panini maker
  13. Bacon Wave (As Seen On TV)
And because I'm in a silly mood, here's a bonus item to help parents clean up in the kitchen (it's a baby mop):

Do you have a favorite kitchen gadget to share?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Old Habits Die Hard

I'm haunted by old habits.

It would be easier if I could start over with a clean slate.  But I'm tainted by the past.

Even if I find a better way to do something, I can't seem to break that old habit.

The Rubik's Cube
It's been a few years since I first learned a method to solve the Rubik's Cube.  I slogged away using one of the most inefficient, although straightforward methods for solving the cube.  But I've learned a great deal since then.

Like most things in life, it's not until after you've mastered the basics that you learn useful shortcuts.  But for me, I always gravitate back to the method I've been using since the beginning.  Although I have graduated to more advanced concepts that are clearly faster and more efficient, I inevitably revert to what I know.

My brain will pleads, "Just do, F, R, U', R', U', R, U, R', F'!"  But muscle memory kicks in, ignores that voice in my head, and my fingers just move according to the beginner's playbook.  It's something I cannot turn off.  It's something I'm too comfortable with.

When I'm in the zone, I just do what comes naturally, right or wrong.  It's a force of habit.

Writing Habits
The same goes for writing.

When I'm in the writing zone, it's really difficult to keep track of all of the tricks and techniques that make good writing great.  Or in my case, bad writing good.

One of my habits is writing scores of description and exposition with no real purpose in the scene.  Being enamored with the genius of your own prose is such a novice thing to do, but I can't help it.  Even if I know I should be thinking about things like conflict or establishing character, that beautiful prose wins out.

Perhaps you have a habit of using the same words over and over again.  Perhaps I'm guilty of it right now.  The truth is, it doesn't really matter while you're in the zone, as long as you apply all of the tips and tricks and lessons afterward, when you edit.

Your turn.  When you're in the writing zone, what bad habits are you haunted by? 

Thank you to Sudipto Sarkar on Flickr for the image!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

13 Foods I Can Live Without

How can you know pleasure if you've never experienced pain?

How can you know love if you've never experienced hate?

And how can you know what foods you'll never eat again if you've never delved into the bowels of American cuisine? (Yes, pun intended.)

Now don't get me wrong, this is not a list of foods I hate.  

I've eaten everything on this list.  I've enjoyed at least half of everything here at some point.

But those data points have been recorded.  I can move on with my life.  And if I never have to revisit any of these foods  or food-like substances  again, I will still lead a fulfilling life.

13 Foods I Can Live Without

1. Velveeta "Cheese" - Seriously, what's the molecular makeup of this stuff?  I'm pretty sure it's not organic.  Until some grad-student researcher concludes that it's a legitimate food item, I've had enough.  But...if Kraft decides to go with the 1960s style packaging seen above, I just might get back on the wagon.  Delicious!

2. Spam - Yes, I know this meat-like product is very popular in Hawaii.  But have you ever pan fried this stuff?  Your kitchen fills up with that blue burnout smoke of a drag race.  Forget about your arteries, what about your lungs?

3. Ground Bologna  - Is this really any better than Spam?  Or right, it's spreadable.

4. Powdered Milk - Trust me, this is not good on any cereal.

5. Hamburger Helper - Hey, I was a broke college student - and yes, this was way before Pink Slime was even a glimmer in the eye of the public consciousness.

6. Anything with Cream Cheese - Yes, this includes cheese cake.

7. Ham and Cheese Hot Pockets - Okay, think deli-meat and nacho cheese calzone, but made with puff pastry, not pizza dough.  And now Hot Pockets are made with 'real cheese whatever that means!

8. Grape-Nuts - An alleged 'health food' cereal.  It's really like pouring milk over a bowl of gravel  not very healthy for my teeth.

9. Foie Gras - This is a fattened duck liver and it's very popular in France.  I have eaten it in France.  It's supposed to be a delicacy.  PETA, you'll be happy to know I do not like it.

10. Those glistening mashed potatoes at the Lone Star Steakhouse in Jackson, Michigan - When you've managed to transform ordinary produce into something born out of a high school science fair, you've gone too far with the heavy cream and butter.

11. Cream of Mushroom Soup-based dishes - Really?  Do I even need to elaborate?

12. Lou Malnati's Pizza - This Chicago-style pizza is famous for having a layer of thick sausage spread across its entire diameter.  Yes, it's blasphemy for somebody writing from Chicago, but I can still do without it.

13. Chicken in a Biskit - Full disclosure:  These are actually delicious.  I loved these crackers throughout my college years.  But now I've got things like blood pressure and cholesterol to consider.  Imagine taking a buttery Ritz Cracker and dousing it with the seasoning packet from Chicken Ramen Noodles.  Delicious.  But also Heartburn City.  (By the way, I still do eat Ramen Noodles.)

What foods would you be happy to do without?

Thank you to Paul Malon on Flickr for reminding us how awesome the 60s were!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Go Ahead, Quit! It's Not Taboo.

Super Square-1
I admit it.  I gave up.

Now, defeat is not really my thing, but sometimes it's just better to tuck your tail between your legs and move on.

To be specific, I gave up on a puzzle.  Yeah, that's the one.

It's not that there was anything wrong with this particular puzzle.  In fact, based on my love for twisty puzzles, like the Rubik's Cube, there's every reason why I should have stuck with it.

But I couldn't.  This one simply wasn't right for me.

Perhaps it was because I could not adapt and apply the same techniques I was already familiar with.  I don't know, but it felt completely foreign to me.  So with scores of other puzzles under my belt, this one stands alone.  Unsolved.  Abandoned.

But why should I dwell on it?  Does it really diminish the value of the other cubes I have solved? Does it really diminish how I perceive myself as The Puzzling Mind?

Who cares?

Our society puts too much emphasis on 'winning' anyway.  Right, Charlie Sheen?

Sometimes 'winning' is just realizing when you've reached your limit.  Or realizing when you are not progressing any further.

Sometimes quitting is the right thing to do.  The smart thing to do.

Take this story I have been working on for six months.  It's been written, edited, and rewritten countless times.  I turn it over in my head and struggle with why it's not working.  I cannot seem to get it right.  I can't get this particular story  done.

Nothing feels right.

The voice doesn't sound like me.  The characters feel uneasy.  The story resolves itself, but not profoundly.  In short, it's a mess.  But something has me clinging to this failure.

Why can't I let it go?  Is it really so wrong to shelf a story?

Well, I'm going to do something taboo!  

I quit.

There, I said it.  I quit.  I'm going to quit this story.

And look, I'm still here!

Society may scorn me, but I don't need its approval, or its permission.  I quit, because if I stay hung up on this futile story, I will never move on to others.  I'm going to accept defeat with this piece and simply move on.  I'm going to learn from this.  This particular story isn't right for me.  And I'm not going to dwell on it.

This feels great!  What a relief!  Life is too short to worry about what people may think.  Get over it!  If you're a writer, write.  If you're a puzzler, solve puzzles.  Not everything is going to work.  Not everything is going to feel quite right.  That's part of the process.

I give you permission.  If it doesn't feel right, give up.  Quit.

Are you hung up on something for the wrong reasons?  Please share your experience in the comments.