Goals for 2013

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Jan 142013

Rather than resolutions, which strike me as unrealistically rigid, I opted instead to set a few goals to strive for in 2013. Here’s that list, for those curious.

  • Write (at least) two books. This is the biggest and most ambitious of the goals. Seeing as how it took three years to get Ashes done, shooting for writing two books in a single year is an enormous leap. I set an aggressive timetable for the New Book and my success at adhering to that timetable will go a long way toward the success or failure of this goal.
  • Get to and stay at 170 pounds. Holiday fooding is not kind to one’s experiences with the scale. While I haven’t breached 190, I came damn close. My objective is to get to and stay at 170, which is slightly more lean than my exact “optimal” weight.
  • Do 20 consecutive pull-ups. I can currently do somewhere between six and ten, so I don’t anticipate this will actually take much doing.
  • Complete my Ambassador model and complete at least one more model. I’ve been working on the Ambassador model since August 2012, which has included a great deal of re-learning of skills that atrophied while not in use when working as a tech artist in the game industry. A lot of that time went into doing and re-doing the same thing over and over, which while frustrating also ended up informative. It’s my hope that, like writing Ashes, the stumbling blocks and pitfalls of this “first” experience will result in a substantially faster second one.
  • Learn to play (at least) two songs reasonably well on the guitar. I haven’t picked up my guitar in months and that’s a tragedy. Two songs strikes me as a small-scope, attainable goal.

These are my personal goals, as opposed to larger goals that involve other people/family things. I think they’re all attainable, so long as I keep my eye on the ball.

What do you think? What are your goals?

Aug 152012

Down six pounds so far.

Ate pizza for lunch at work today, and felt over-full after one slice, and stuffed after two. I used to comfortably eat three to four slices without a problem.

As (should be) usual, I spent the train ride this morning working on the book. However, I made no forward progress in word count. That’s not to say I didn’t make major progress, though. Let me ‘splain.

Right now, I have the book broken into three separate documents. One is the manuscript proper, and it’s from there that I’m taking my word counts that I’m posting on the novel progress page. Another is my “story treatment,” which I wrote to kick off this draft of the story and sort out the plot holes and pacing issues in the second draft.1 The third one is where I’ve been working for the last couple of days: the editing room.

The editing room, or the cut doc, contains everything I sliced out of draft two that didn’t (yet) get re-integrated or re-written for draft three. The bulk of it comprises the middle and end thirds of the book. As I progress through this draft, I’m pulling things out of the cut doc and putting them back into the manuscript, modifying or re-writing as-needed. Anything that doesn’t fit–be it through changed plot, story flow, tone, or pacing–gets highlighted in red with a note about why it was cut. Anything that does fit, but hasn’t been reincorporated yet gets highlighted in blue with a note about where it should go, or why it’s important or worth keeping.

It wasn’t until Monday that I decided to take a proactive approach to the cut doc, rather than the reactive one I was taking. Before, I was going through the story, picking pieces out of it chronologically, and putting them in the new draft. But because of the major retooling in the second half of the book, chronology has gone right out the window and certain major events that happened in draft two never occur in draft three. That means a lot of stuff goes away, and a lot of other stuff that’s still good and worth using needs to be retooled so that it can come back.

All this is a long-winded way of saying that I’ve been applying pretty colors to a document instead of making forward word-count progress. But it’s all for a purpose: organizing the content I mean to preserve, and identifying the content I need to generate anew. I’ve still got a fair amount of material to go through, but once I’ve finished, I should be able to make very rapid forward progress on completing this last major draft of the book. From there, it’ll need a verbiage pass and cover art, and then it’s live.

  1. Based on how incredibly useful this has been, and how many authors swear by them, I plan to outline far more on the future than I did with this one, which was not at all. []
Aug 132012

Let’s talk about weight loss for a bit.

Ever since I first learned of the Hacker Diet, I’ve been a proponent of the idea that calories in < calories out = weight loss. It makes intuitive sense. Your body is a giant furnace, requiring fuel. You provide it that fuel in the form of food, which it burns if it needs and stores if it does not. It doesn't matter what you eat; if you aren't providing your body with as many calories as you're burning, you lose body mass. Straight-forward, clean, simple. But what if it's wrong? I recently encountered Why We Get Fat (and What To Do About It) by Gary Taubes. I started reading it Sunday morning, while attempting to recover from a rather unpleasant wine-induced hangover. I hardly put it down until I finished it. In less than 300 pages, Taubes not only completely shredded this basic idea that I thought unassailable, but presented a nigh-unassailable case of his own for the identify of the real culprit behind the worldwide obesity epidemic.

It all comes down to carbs.

Taubes is a journalist, not a doctor, a nutritionist, or a professional scientist. He’s not a formally trained expert on these matters. He is someone who takes the scientific method to heart and is no stranger to investigation and research. Rather than accept what major institutions like the FDA, AMA, and so on proffer as “common sense,” he decided to actually delve into the scientific literature surrounding weight loss, obesity, and so on.

In every instance, calorie control resulted in only modest results, and never showed long-term sustainability. In other words, there is no science to back up this seemingly obvious idea. This came as a huge shock to me, as someone who finds the idea of taking anything on faith to be repugnant. I want facts and data and rigorous testing before I accept something as true.

Taubes spent most of the book smashing apart the calorie control argument, and he did it in such a way that was both engaging to read and eye-opening. I don’t want to get into all of the details of it here; you really should read the book if you’re interested in examining the body of evidence he brings forward. Suffice it to say, it was convincing.

Instead, he points the finger at carbohydrates and the villification of dietary fat. Much like Atkins, he champions a diet of unrestricted protein and fat consumption, with minimal carbs. Why? Because carbohydrates spike your body’s insulin levels. So what? Carbs are the first target for digestion, before fat and protein. For every carb you eat, the fat or protein going with it is stashed away for later. This is how we evolved; it’s how things are supposed to work. Carbs are easy energy; this is common knowledge. The insulin spike, throwing off the entire digestive pattern, is the kicker. And what is the entire Western diet based on? Carbs.

But carbs are “heart healthy!” A diet of protein and fat is going to lead to cholesterol build-up and heart disease! Again, this is mostly bullshit, stemming from bad science. A diet devoid of carbs, but rich in meat and fat actually results in an increase in HDL (“good” cholesterol) and LDL (“bad” cholesterol), and a decrease in triglycerides (also bad dudes). Further, it offers a reduction in blood pressure. What’s more, the question of LDL isn’t as cut-and-dried as “good” vs. “bad.” LDL actually comes in various sizes, and it turns out that the protein-and-fat diet enlarges your LDLs, which actually makes them less likely to create the plaque that can cause arterial blockages. You know what makes them smaller and denser, more likely to cause blockage? Yep, carbs. As it turns out the protein-and-fat diets make you more heart healthy than reducing either. And this isn’t limited to certain types of protein-and-fat foods. It’s universal. Eggs, bacon, all of it — it’s actually good for you. It’s the bread, flour, sugar that’s killing you.

“But calorie control does work!” Hell, I touted this line, and I thought it was working for me! Turns out, this is confusing the matter. Controlling calories almost universally includes cutting back on carbs, along with cutting back on everything else. Fewer carbs in the system means less insulin imbalance, means less material stored as fat. So what’s the deal with the insulin spike? Insulin’s whole point is to regulate your blood sugar level. Carbs, especially simple sugars, spike your blood sugar level. The body flushes with insulin to get rid of them so you don’t die. It can’t deal with digesting and using protein and fat for energy while it’s got to deal with carbs.

Everything about Taubes’s arguments slot neatly into our modern problem of obesity, including the attendant rise in diabetes. I said to my wife while reading the book, “This thing is like Christmas.” Taubes even goes so far as to compare the calorie control mentality as somewhat religious, since it plays on the idea that sloth and gluttony are the only reason people get fat. If they could only control themselves, they wouldn’t be obese. It’s a very Christian view of things; no wonder it’s caught on with such fervor. And here I was, swept up in it. I’m ashamed.

It is a question of control, of course. You’ve got to excise carbs, and that’s not easy. Sugar, especially, is little different from cocaine in its addictive response. I want a big bowl of pasta, some cookies, a milkshake. Why? Because my brain’s reward centers trigger when I eat these things. They’re delicious. They’re also screwing me over. Bacon’s delicious too, as are scrambled eggs (or any eggs). They aren’t trying to kill me.

There’s some saving grace for carbohydrates, in the form of complex carbs. I don’t have the list on hand, but there a number of vegetables such that are rich in carbs, but they’re “complex” carbs. They’re harder to break down, have less of an impact on your system, and have an overall lower “glycemic index” (read: they make your blood sugar spike a lot less, which means you need less insulin flushing through you).

It’s not a perfect solution, though. Insulin secretion and reaction to carbs is also partly genetic. Fat parents give birth to fat babies, and what a mother eats influences the genetic disposition of a child toward accumulating weight. Even if you get your insulin issues under control, it doesn’t mean you’re free and clear; it just lets you re-normalize. Staying completely away from carbs (or near enough; Atkins is the most stringent, limiting the initial stages to less than 20g per day; a single hamburger bun is about 25g) will continue to result in fat loss. Your body will burn the stored fat it has, and now go after the easy carbs floating around while storing the other stuff. Introducing carbs back in may result in a return to fat accumulation. It depends on your genetics, and there’s basically nothing you can do about it. That’s the shitty part, but it also handily explains why some people are effortlessly thin, while others struggle non-stop, even with this knowledge. I suspect I’m probably somewhere in the middle of the two extremes.

So, I’m on the no-carb bandwagon now, and off the calorie control one. We’ll see how it works. If, six months from now, I’m in terrible shape, heavier than ever, low on energy, with spiked blood pressure, we’ll know this was horseshit, at least for my biochemistry. If, on the other hand, I’m leaner than I’ve ever been (I was a huge carb consumer, especially before Cody got on me about controlling me eating habits) and feeling amazing in six months…well, that says all it needs to.