Remission: A Little At A Time

Bike laneIt’s been rough trying to get the weight back under control. Our household is three adults now, two going to school and one working strange hours along with drum corps. It often means eating fast food or at odd hours. Compounding that is a job change. I’ve had trouble looking for ways to manage my lunch hours in a new area.

But the one thing I can control is exercise. As long as the weather cooperates, I can run. Getting back up to running three miles a stretch has been a challenge. But I keep doing it.

What has helped is the annual trek up the Little Miami Trail. This year, I plan to go all the way to Springfield, nearly 80 miles from Downtown Cincinnati when all is said and done. By the time I finish, I will be starting my final year of college (Helluva thing to say in your forties). That opens up a day each weekend to running.

The real challenge will come during cold weather, as it always does. This past winter, which seemed to last into May, I ran in place, or rather ran around the basement. Rough, but it did its job. Running outside has been the real challenge. I have to deal with the fact that I’m aging as I do this. So recovery times and building up endurance are getting harder to improve. On the other hand, doing nothing will likely be fatal. While most of the men in my family make it to their mid-70’s, every generation seems to have one or two people who die in their fifties. I don’t want to be one of them. I don’t even want to go in my sixties, which my father did (ironically a couple of days before a scheduled procedure to implant a pacemaker.) I have to get into shape. That last half of my adult life is turning out so much better than the first half. I want to be able to enjoy it.

Friday Reviews: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies

William Golding

I often hear about this book, but never had a chance to read it until now. It’s not a happy book for sure. The basic premise: A group of schoolboys are the only survivors of a plane crash on a deserted island. One, Ralph, becomes “chief” by virtue of calling an assembly by blowing into a conch shell. Ralph believes their only chance at survival is to keep a fire going and keep it smokey so ships at sea can see it. Another boy, Jack, leader of a choir that had taken the same flight, wants to hunt pigs that live on the island. Jack soon forms a “tribe” around hunting and thinks Ralph’s rules for survival are silly. They all start as proper English schoolboys, but over time, the layers of civilization are stripped away until Jack’s hunters begin murdering boys almost ritually.

The novel is horrific for its depiction of how humans behave when they lose the rules and systems they’ve built. In some ways, it’s an allegory on corruption, how greed reduces people to savages. The novel left Stephen King to once comment in a novel of his that he feared for the crew of the naval cruiser that pick up the boys at the end. By the time it’s all over, at least three boys are dead, and none of them, not even the “littluns,” those under the age of 9, can claim any childhood innocence anymore.

Bike Butt

Man in suit riding a bike

CC Bubba

This past weekend was Week 5 of my annual trek up the Little Miami Bike Trail, and this weekend, I rode the section known as the Loveland Bike Trail. This week’s segment took me 14 miles to a railroad town gone to seed called Morrow. It’s a trip I’ve made many times before. However, last week, my aging bike seat came apart as I returned to my car from Loveland. I probably should have replaced it when I had the bike tuned up this spring. But it was so comfortable.

Anyway, as the Loveland Bike Trail is part of one of the longer segments of my annual ride, I dropped the bike off to have the seat replaced, picked it up midweek, and was ready to ride. Right?

Wrong. During last week’s ride, someone pointed out that I needed to raise my seat, so I took care of that when I got the bike home. Not even 100 yards into the ride and my seat slid down to the frame. My bad. I’m not really handy with tools. One trip to the hardware store later, and I was on my way with my seat up where it was supposed to be.

Only the bike shop did not do their part of the job properly. Half a mile up the trail, and the seat had rocked back. Fortunately, I had my crescent wrench with me. That worked for raising and lowering the seat, so it should work for tightening the seat itself into place.

Loveland Bike TrailWell, no. No it wouldn’t. I had the nut tightened on the seat as hard it would go. About 10 miles up the trail, the seat had my nuts tightened. I later told Nita she no longer had to worry about me getting her pregnant. (She was not amused.) So what should have been a 2 hour ride became three because I had to periodically stop and adjust the angle of my seat.

I made the round trip – 26 miles in all. However, my ass felt like I’d sat on a metal bar for three hours. In Loveland, I headed over to Paxton’s for lunch and a beer. Along the way, I passed the bike rental place. The sign listed repairs. I went in and asked.

“We stopped doing repairs last season because we don’t have time to spend on it.” The bike rental place was always crowded.

“Oh,” I said. “I just need the seat tightened.”

“Really?” said the girl behind the counter, clearly younger than my stepson, who graduated high school two years earlier. “That’s two wrenches. Is the bike with you?”

Ten minutes later, the bike was comfortable and ready for another ride.

Too bad the bike shop didn’t get it right the first time (They usually do.) Sunday morning as I type this, even the recliner is giving me saddle sores.

Friday Reviews: Unlocked by John Scalzi

Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome

John Scalzi

This short novella is a preview of Scalzi’s new novel, Lock In, about a plague in our near future. The story is told through interviews with government officials, reporters, scientists, and business people who were involved in fighting a mysterious, rapidly mutating disease called Haden’s Syndrome, named for the First Lady of the United States who becomes its most famous victim. It begins like any other disease in recent memory, such as SARS or the swine flu. Our interconnected world sends a mysterious flu-like bug around the world in days, which takes out a huge swath of the population. And like SARS and the various flu viruses that get away from doctors, many recover. Only it has a second “meningitis” stage, where victims relapse, this time with stiff necks and back and severe headaches. While fewer people who survive stage one reach stage two, the mortality rate is higher. If victims survive this stage, a third, more terrifying stage awaits some of the survivors: Lock in. (Hence the name of the upcoming novel.)

Haden’s syndrome locks its victims into their bodies. They are conscious, but unable to speak, unable to react, able only to respond in an MRI chamber where technicians can tell if they are responding yes or no.

The fight against this plague, which actually reverses population growth for a time, is described as a “moon shot.” The rich and powerful give everything because, as those interviewed point out, everyone is impacted. Scalzi illustrates what humans seem to do best: When the race’s back is against the wall, we seem to perform at our finest.

Down With Bowker

ISBNIndie authors and small press publishers, how much is a single ISBN number? In the US, it’s $125. 10 are $250 or $25 a piece. If you want one for only a dollar, you have to spend $1000 for 1000 ISBNs.

Do you have a spare grand lying around? $250 is a little less than my car payment. $125 is not quite so bad, but it’s a 500% markup over a block of ten and 12,500% on 1000. Tell me how this is not a scam.

Most independent authors I know don’t have that kind of cash lying around. Or if they do, it’s a tough thing to convince a spouse that this is worth a mortgage payment to buy 1000 ISBNs. There are free options, of course, but then your publisher is not you or your imprint. It’s Smashwords. Or Lightning Source. Or Amazon. Or CreateSpace. See a pattern? Hope so, because this just keeps going.

We’re told time and again we need an ISBN to sell books if we self-publish. This is true. It’s a unique identifier that retailers and libraries use to tell one book from another. So if two authors named John Smith write books called The Greatest Story Evah, different genres, different covers, different text, you can still tell them apart. However, most indie authors need only a handful, and it’s a lot easier to convince Amazon-phobic bookstores to stock your paperback if the ISBN tells them an imprint or an author published it than Amazon or one of its subsidiaries. It’s wonderful that Amazon and Smashwords and Barnes & Noble offer the free option. But really, let’s look at the pricing structure.

It’s a scam, pure and simple. If I work in a business where it’s considered more professional to own the identifier, why should I buy $1000 worth of numbers, most of which I’ll never use? Moreover, how can Bowker justify $125?

“Well, if you own it, you’ll likely make that back.”

There’s no guarantee. Granted, these days, I could easily find $250 to buy 10 ISBNs. You go explain that to my wife when the numbers don’t support that expense. But let’s say I can do this. Let’s say I’ve convinced Nita that spending about $500 – That’s probably a handful of utility bills each month, but by no means all of them – is a good investment, that we don’t need to move it to savings or retirement, that we really didn’t want to take that vacation anyway.

And $125 for a single? Where is the justification for that. I understand volume pricing. I totally get that. But how do you justify $125 vs. $25 or even $1.

I have a handful of suggestions:

  • Since self-pubishing and small press are now the norm, not the exception, Bowker should lower its price. Yes, it’s a business that needs to make a profit. So sell single ISBN’s for $50, pairs of ISBNs for $75. That’s an ebook and a print edition. Very doable on all but the tightest budgets.
  • Allow groups of authors, small publishers, or even writers groups to buy ISBNs en masse. 10 people or more can afford $1000 for that $1 ISBN than 1 person.
  • Take away Bowker’s monopoly. This is an antitrust issue. Internet domain names are no longer under one registrar. Why should ISBN’s.
  • Take away Bowker’s authority altogether. In Canada, ISBNs are free. Why? It’s the same system, an international format governed by treaty. So why is it $125 in Detroit and free in Windsor, two cities separated solely by a river? Make this a function of the Copyright Office.

The current system is outdated, restrictive, and predatory. Time for it to go.

Remission: Making It A Couple Thing

Jogging couple

CC 2009 Ed Yourdon

This summer, I had to restart my running program. I started walking up to two miles, but running? I needed a kick in the butt.

Fortunately, my wife is always willing to kick me in the butt. She saw me mapping out a mile run on the mapmyrun.com web site and asked if I was planning to do that eventually.

“Um…”

The next night. “Hey, honey. Let’s take a run together.”

Um…

We ran. I did a full mile. Nita ran about almost half a mile, walked a couple of blocks, and finished the run. We were both winded. Yes, I, the guy who said he wants to run the Flying Pig Marathon in a couple of years, was winded after running a mile.

But it’s easier to build up this time. We start at the same time, stretching together and taking off together. Nita’s endurance is building up. So is mine. Eventually, I’ll have to run a separate route as I get up to 2, 3, 4 miles and more. But working together, we’ve been able to push each other to get farther. Nita now runs in the park on days where I’m not running or I’m away in the evening. I’ve added my annual trek up the various segments of the Little Miami Trail to my routine.

The changes are slow and incremental, but we don’t want rapid weight loss. Rapid loss bring rapid gain, a sort of whiplash effect. I suspect that my fast drop from 310 pounds to 280 a few years ago also may have triggered Type II diabetes. So slower weight loss gives the body and the metabolism to adjust. Plus, when you lose slowly, your skin has time to reshape itself so you don’t have massive amounts of skin hanging off you when you hit your target weight.

Even when we don’t run at the same time, this gets more doable with a partner.