Delightfully surprised by “Stealth Fitness!”

I hesitate to post product reviews (you KNOW how hard it is for me to realize when I’m boring people with my weird interests!), but when I think something is really worth sharing, I like to mention products executed well.

FTR, I am unaffiliated with this company, nor get any reward or incentive for this review. I just like to share things that work for me.

I took a flier on this one: The Stealth Core Trainer, by Stealth Body Fitness, LLC.
Their pitch was: “Game your core.”

So, the obvious concept is: You’re doing planks, but playing games while introducing rotation/stabilization of the platform your forearms rest on. So, like planks, only more engaging.

It was as if their marketing was aimed right at the intersection of my enthusiasms for gaming and fitness! (And that’s a dangerous sign for any business because anything that seems pitched perfectly at me almost guarantees relegation to niche success, if any!)

I was skeptical, but am delighted to have been proved wrong.

Like many, I get SO bored doing planks that, being as undisciplined as I am, I all too often end up skipping them in my functional-training workouts.This has really changed that. I’ve been doing three planking sessions a day, lately! 😬

I think of this device as “the poor man’s ‘Icaros Home’ experience.” (Here’s an example of the “Icaros Home” VR (virtual reality) fitness experience):

The Stealth core trainer is a LOT less expensive! 😁

At any rate, this Stealth Fitness trainer is insidiously effective. I don’t know how else to say it: I’m freakin’ having fun. …doing core workouts. Who’da thunk it?!

Even the two free games on the Stealth Fitness app that complement this fitness device are sufficient to keep you “gaming your core.” But I like to support ventures like this, so I had no problem with the annual subscription that grants many more games. And for those that don’t want to go that direction, I’ve heard that almost any game that requires you to move your phone to maneuver your character around a screen can work.

As an added bonus, this device has attracted a robust Facebook Stealth Fitness group, which is nice for asking questions, participating in challenges (also supported by the app), and just sharing your successes.

5 Surprising Things You Didn’t Expect in 2021…

I write my Friday Forecasts about as consistently as I do anything (not very) and publish them even less so. But this week a Thursday dollop aimlessness coincided with an ebb in introversion and a few provocative headlines. The resulting stew pushed my prophetic tendencies past escape velocity and into public orbit. So now I get to dare you to go on record yourself and shout me down if you think these are a swing and a miss. Am I wrong? Am I even serious? Tell me why and raise my hopes (or not). Change my mind in the comments. Or better yet, pen a prediction or two of your own! I work at keeping my worldview flexible if not totally rubberized so here is a rare chance for you to change a life!

(This post is brought to you by Green Day, who popped up in my playlist while I wrote. I’m calling it…)

Wake Me Up When September Ends (…in 2021). Forecasting New Normals.

Preface:
(this is where Wayne and Garth do their hand-wavy thing to take you back in time (from the future)):

It was back in August 2020 that headlines began including phrases like, “First cases of COVID-19 reinfection verified…” and CDC statements that, “Coronavirus antibodies could give ‘short-term immunity…’” began arising. Such headlines soon coincided with rapidly accumulating clinical studies finding that COVID-19 immunity had a short half-life (3-6 mos.), along with CDC assurances that their recommendations (unlike so much other 20th– and 21st-century science) were only ever driven by data, never politics….

A year later, in September 2021, here is our landscape:

Prediction 1: VaaS (Vaccines as a Service) A New, Big-Pharma, Direct-to-Consumer Business Model.

More people are getting flu shots, because multiple studies have shown the flu vaccine has been shown to reduce COVID infection severity). By late 2021, about 60% of the population routinely gets an annual flu shot (up from 45% in 2019). Many who don’t (yet) trust the COVID-19 vaccine, which first became available in December 2020 and was widely available from multiple venders by February or March 2021, have now begun to at least get a flu shot. A large section of the population continues to disbelieve in the safety or efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine, in many cases because they trust random strangers on the internet for medical advice more than they do their primary care physician.

The COVID-19 vaccines, now offered by in least four variants, have one thing in common: They require semi-annual boosters to maintain immunity. As it turns out, the billions invested by the big Pharmaceutical companies have resulted in a vaccine against this stubbornly ever-present virus that unfortunately requires a semi-annual booster …meaning two shots a year for the foreseeable future. You first get your primary vaccination, which is administered anywhere you can get a flu shot; then you get semi-annual boosters, which can be self-administered at home. The boosters are available via subscription service and are mailed directly from the manufacturer, which saves you 30% versus getting them from a pharmacy or doctor’s office (and the subscription includes free delivery!).

40% of the population still distrusts the COVID-19 vaccine (because, you know, Facebook and misinformation, etc). This guarantees there will continue to be endless COVID infections (and deaths) throughout the world, ensuring ongoing, perennial sales for the Pharmaceutical companies selling their vaccines. Weirdly, legislators seem uninterested in changing this situation.

Prediction 2: The Growth of Poducation (The Decentralization of Primary Schooling).

The ongoing, low-grade (but still occasionally media-hyped) threat of COVID-19 has resulted in Federal and state mandates that public and private schools require students to be vaccinated prior to (and throughout!) the school year. Only a few mid-western states have refused compliance. This has driven an unending chain of (thus-far unsuccessful) lawsuits and protests from those who’ve decided the vaccine is more dangerous than the disease (despite an absence of more than one or two reported instances of the vaccine causing a problem). The new laws have spawned an explosion in home-schooling, with most of that now being done in small “pods” of students where families or small community groups have organized to share the educational load.

An unfortunately-named (but astoundingly successful!) “Port-a-Poddies.com” Montana-based startup has become the first post-COVID educational unicorn (with a $2.5B valuation as of 3rd quarter, 2021) by becoming the “Uber of Homeschooling.” It decentralizes education by matching pods of students with qualified (mostly young, or vaccinated) instructors willing to work in a maskless environment, thus freeing parents who either don’t approve of public schooling, want more personal instruction for their children, or don’t want to vaccinate their kids, to embrace their anti-vaxxer beliefs and still get their kids an education.

Bonus prediction: The Supreme Court has agreed to rule on legislation requiring Federal, State, and local governments to redirect the public funds allocated per child for schooling (~$12,100 per enrolled child, on average across the country) to whomever is actually educating the child. If not overturned, this threatens to take billions of dollars from local school districts and give it directly to the child’s parents (or pod).

Opponents mockingly call this legislation “The Porta-a-Poddie Relief Act.” Forecasts are that a predominantly conservative Supreme Court will rule in favor of the Act, something that is driving incredible valuation leaps in Porta-a-Poddies.com stock. Unknown is whether a favorable ruling by the Supreme Court will result in families who are “poducating” their children receiving a merely a tax credit or direct monthly government checks. Either way, adversaries of The Act (from administrators to the teacher’s union) have claimed that having “the funds follow the child” will be catastrophic to the public-school system, given the mass migration away from public schooling. Schools have already begun cutting deeply into their administration and other non-teacher payroll expenses.

Prediction 3: Fleeing the Petri Dish – an Urbanite Diaspora.

Even the availability of COVID-19 vaccines has failed to slow the migration of people away from the high-density urban environments that have become recurring COVID hotspots. The events of 2020 and 2021 have reversed the multi-decade trend of population movement from rural to urban areas. Neither tax incentives nor threatened penalties have slowed the business and worker exodus from many major downtown areas. Residential and commercial property values in and around major cities continues to plummet, with office and residential inventories at record high levels on the west and east coasts.

Led by tech and finance companies, and other knowledge workers whose employers realized early in 2020 that they no longer needed expensive office space for many employees, the depopulation of mobile demographics from cities has created a cascade of economic implosions. Downtown environments that remained veritable ghost towns even after COVID lockdowns eased in 2020 crushed the last life of those few service businesses that survived Spring and Summer of 2020. The Fall and Winter COVID surges put a final nail into many of those coffins. Then lay-offs from shrinking or closing 2nd-tier “support” businesses and service industries fueled the second major diaspora. City governments facing huge budget deficits “furloughing” even union-protected public sector workers (most of whom seem to recognize that their jobs aren’t coming back anytime soon, if ever) created what is forecast to be a third migration wave away from urban areas.

Huge forces (and lots of money) are being thrown at the problem as people struggle to resurrect dying city centers, but whether that will work, how that will happen, and whom they will attract back remains to be seen. Not surprisingly, crime is up across the board in those cities as police presence decreases. If there are bright sides, it’s that suburbs and even rural areas are benefitting from an unexpected economic and population surges (although that’s not without its own problems). Also, commute time is WAY down (for those few that still commute).

Prediction 4: Domestic Tourism is WAY up!

The closure of many foreign countries’ borders (including Mexico and Canada) to anyone from the US who cannot demonstrate proof of COVID vaccination has collapsed some sectors of the tourism industry while creating several entirely new domestic tourism segments. Cooperatives branding themselves as “Playcation” networks are establishing themselves in remote areas around the country and offering a wide (and wild!) range of “geo-focused” experiences. Taking advantage of cheap land throughout rural America (a la Walt Disney, circa 1965), numerous domestic and international mega-conglomerates (and several of the billionaires who own large tracts of Montana!) continue to roll-out rapidly constructed facsimiles of international destinations that in many ways are surprisingly authentic (especially if you’ve never been there!). As one example, the recently opened “PARIS!” theme park is widely renowned to be incredible, complete with snooty Parisian waiters in overly crowded restaurants who refuse to admit they speak English (signed COVID liability release waiver required). The views of the (augmented reality) “Arc de Triomphe” and “Eiffel Tower” are reputed to be extraordinary. Other Playcation hotspots include activity-focused attractions designed to excite (or exhaust) you (or your kids) for 1-3 day stays. And you can always rest up on the train to the next experience, because…

Many of these Playcation resorts are or will soon be joined by the rapidly growing network of “Casino Trains” that are driving a resurrection in the American railroad and, more importantly for vacationers, allow gambling while traversing interstate rail (due to an obscure 19th century railroad law). These casino trains take vacationers from one Playcation resort to the next in incredible, connected, comfort, allowing families to hit any number of Playcation hotspots that they want without having to fly or drive (which is important, because flying on the two airlines that still allow unvaccinated customers is expensive!).

It won’t surprise you that these Playcation destinations are drawing the service industry workers who’ve left the cities for the greener pastures (literally!) of rural America. Many find that they’re enjoying a heightened standard of living, even though many are now living in what is essentially…

Prediction 5: The Re-emergence of the “Company Town.”

Company owned towns are rapidly becoming (more of) a thing, again. Created first by Google and Apple, but now springing up everywhere, especially around Playcation hotspots (and constructed by the Playcation conglomerate), “Company towns” like those once common in coal-mining country back in the late 1800’s are back en vogue. The first (modern) company towns were created by large tech companies who found out quickly that while working from home created productivity opportunities while cutting expenses, many employees actually *missed* the socialization with their co-workers (and found they didn’t necessarily have a lot in common with their new suburban or rural neighbors). Enter the Company Town – a fully contained urban eco-system (often even with a small commuter airport) dropped into a rural, wooded, otherwise remote area, or in some cases, large abandoned shopping malls purchased for pennies on the dollar and renovated to offer luxury condos and complete town squares, night clubs, and other amenities! Company employees living in such “towns” (often gated off from any surrounding, non-company population) gain access to affordable housing (rent paid to their employer, of course), gourmet grocery stores (groceries paid for simply via payroll deduction!), convenient full-service banking (at the First Bank of Google, for example in one Google town), and various, constantly refreshing entertainment options (cover-charge, alcohol, and other expenses conveniently deducted from your salary!). Many of these company towns are functioning models of the long-awaited cashless society. (Rumor has it that the ONLY way one will be able to pay for ANYTHING in the first Apple company town (currently under rapid construction) is via Apple Pay. No cash, Visa, MasterCard, or American Express accepted!)

That’s probably enough for now, don’t you think? For the one or two of you still reading: I hope you enjoyed my Friday Forecast for the work week ending  8/28/20. This has been another of the episodic cases of bloggarrhea that I call missives (because calling bundles of predictions hittives sounds presumptuous). Hope you had fun.

It’ll be interesting to see what the future holds dumps on us!

One Small Win (Breakfast Edition)

Fixing our fast food breakfasts with “Deb’s Delicious Quinoa & Compote.” Quick. Easy. Healthier.

Our Three Goals:

2018-06-08 07.43.10
Quinoa and peach compote, with tree nuts. And black coffee (because that’s healthy, too!)

  1. Substitute a quick, healthier breakfast for our current go-to of fast food or microwave, highly-processed junk food (pre-packaged, high carb, preservative-filled, high-sugar, non-nutritive, “convenience” food).
  2. Support the ongoing process of weaning ourselves away from an undeniable sugar addiction — one of the greatest long-term health risks we embrace.
  3. Nudge ourselves toward more consistently eating for tomorrow, rather than eating for “right now.”

 

For busy people, eating — especially breakfast — too easily becomes a grab-and-go, on-the-fly activity optimizing short-term convenience over current and future health.

But we all know that eating should be mindful, not mindless. Like anything else when it comes to caring for ourselves, the diet we choose in this decade directly affect how we’ll look and feel in the next one. The habit we want to form is one that shifts our focus from eating crap because it’s convenient toward eating healthy because we’ve made it just as convenient. That’ll help lay our foundation for a happier, healthier future.

With this breakfast choice, we address the sabotaging attraction of fast food or quick, microwavable breakfasts for an alternative that’s just as fast (if not faster!), and much healthier (while still being tasty!).

Because when you eat better, you feckin’ feel better. Seriously!

The number one key toward sustaining healthy eating is to add just enough organization to your life to make healthier choices convenient. In the case of this breakfast, that can be accomplished with a little as 30 minutes of prep time on a weekend. That will allow you to eat healthily all week long!

What We’ll Need

  • Two, 2-quart saucepans (or just one, if you want to make the two components below serially instead of at the same time).
  • One cup of quinoa (available in the “grains” section of your grocery store, usually in the same area as rice).
  • Two 1-lb bags of frozen, sliced peaches (you can slice your own, but our goal here is speed and ease, right?).
  • Stevia (I like the Truvia brand) brown-sugar blend (this mixes natural, low-cal Stevia sweetener with a little bit of brown sugar, which reduces the sugar you’re eating (yeah, there’s still some sugar in this recipe, but we’re going for healthier, not militant! …and, over time, you may find you’re fine with cutting this ingredient out altogether, and just going to with Stevia).
  • Cinnamon
  • Vanilla Extract (organic is ideal, but any extract will do)
  • (Optional) Some walut halves (or chopped walnuts). If you like another tree nut, you can grab some of those, too. What I like to do is add (or make) a trail mix blend that has a high ratio of tree nuts (walnuts, almonds, pecans, etc) to dried fruit.

2018-06-08-07-33-26.jpg

Your Weekend Prep

Step 1. Start your compote bubbling!

  1. Dump the peaches into your saucepan.
  2. Add in about a half-cup of water.
  3. Add in about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the Stevia brown sugar blend (you can use up to 1/2 cup if you’ve been a sugar addict and still need your food really sweet for it to be tasty; over time, eating more healthily will retrain your palate so you don’t need everything to be sweet, salty, or fatty to enjoy it).
  4. Add in about 2 tsps of cinnamon (vary to suit your preference)
  5. Add in about 1 tsp of vanilla extract.
  6. Stir. Bring to a boil, then cover and let simmer for a bit (15-30 minutes, whatever). Chanting the “Double, double, toil and trouble” verse from Hamlet will make you sound more educated, here. Or maybe a little crazy. Either is good, right?

Step 2. Cook the Quinoa.

(Note — if you’ve never eaten quinoa and want to ease into its flavor (which can be a little nutty at first), you can also mix the compote into oatmeal instead of using quinoa. Quick-cook, steel-cut oatmeal cooks in the microwave in about 2 1/2 minutes, so it’s pretty convenient, too. Then, perhaps over time, graduate to 1/2 oatmeal and 1/2 quinoa. Then finally to just quinoa, which is better for you in many ways than oatmeal (lower glycemic index, more protein, more fiber, etc). Or, hell, just do this breakfast using oatmeal every now and then for a change of pace! Variety is the spice of life, right? Okay, back to the quinoa, though:

  1. Dump 1 cup of quinoa into your saucepan (note that some brands of quinoa recommend rinsing it first. If that’s the case rinse your cup of quinoa in a strainer, then dump it into your saucepan).
  2. Add in 2 cups of water (like cooking rice, Quinoa just takes a 1:2 quinoa:water ratio).
  3. Optionally, add in a pat of healthy butter from grass-fed cattle (e.g., Kerry Irish Butter).
  4. Bring to a boil, cover, lower to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes.

Step 3.

Allow your quinoa and compote to cool. Then stick each separately into tupperware containers.  That’s it. You’re prepped and ready to eat healthy all week long!

Your Weekday Rush-Around-And-Out-The-Door Breakfast

Grab a bowl. Toss in about a 1/3 to 1/2 cup or so of your pre-prepped quinoa. Add in about the same amount of your peach compote (vary the ratio to suit your preference). Add in your optional nuts and/or trail mix — these give this bowl o’ goodness a more varied, interesting mix of textures, which I really like. Heat the whole thing in the microwave for about 90 seconds to 2 minutes. Voila! You have a healthy breakfast that’s a helluva lot better for you than the pre-packaged crap being sold throughout most of your breakfast store’s frozen breakfast section. And it’s just as fast to prep on a weekday when you’re rushing around before work.

If you’re feeling froggy, add in some fresh blueberries. And/or strawberries. Get creative.

P.S. I like to alternate this meal occasionally with a breakfast of fried eggs over a piece of whole-grain toast; or occasionally scrambled eggs, onto which I put some salsa. To either of these I like to add 1/4 or 1/2 of an avocado on the side, sometimes with a couple marinated artichoke heart quarters. Sprinkle it all with a little salt and pepper and go to town! Yum!

Hope you enjoy your evolving, healthier bod!

 

Elite: Dangerous Community Screenshots

For more than two decades, MMOG developers have known that completely open-ended games without strict community guard rails guiding and limiting behavior and player interactions bring out both the best and worst in people. More often than not the veil of anonymity that some choose to hide behind while online reveals an unfortunate lack of character. In such environments, one bad apple can degrade the enjoyment of many others.

Rings and SRV large

As a result, given the massive expense associated with creating online games, very few game developers will risk letting the players interact as they will within that virtual space. But Frontier Development did with their game, “Elite: Dangerous” (“E:D”).

The reward for giving players complete freedom to spend their time as they will is that such lack of constraints enables people to surprise and delight you with their inventiveness, their creativity, and the communities they create. In E:D’s full scale recreation of our 400-billion star galaxy, many people spend their time exploring distant worlds and sharing the magnificent views they’ve found there.

Elite Dangerous Screenshot 2017.11.17 - 2048x1024

Flying around our solar system in virtual reality, and then the myriad worlds within several hundred light years of our sun, Sol, has provided me with uncounted breathtaking views. The level of immersion is incredible.

But I’m just an amateur in-game “photographer.” Thousands of E:D community members are both farther ranging and more talented at capturing their in-game experiences. So I wanted to share some of the experiences they’ve had, captured through the windows of their cockpit or via the in-game camera.

All of these images are taken from within the game as it exists today. If you were inclined, you could outfit a spacecraft, visit these locations, see these sights, dock at these space stations, perhaps fly with some of these pilots.

r66Usn6

In an update due this spring, Frontier has promised that these environments will gain more fidelity, more beauty! That’s something to look forward to. Until then, I hope you enjoy this brief taste and that it stirs whatever latent Walter Mitty you have within. Did you dream of being an astronaut, or exploring the vastness of space, being the first to cast eyes on the startling beauty of far worlds? I still do.

With a little searching via Google or Youtube, you can find thousands more of these screenshots. I use them as fuel for the imagination during the cold winter days and long nights here on Earth. …when I’m not flying around the galaxy myself, of course.

The “Thargoid Threat” is Fake News!

Dateline: The Galactic Enquirer. January 4th, 3304. Agricola’s Ascent, Pleiades Sector DL-Y d65.

Elite Dangerous Screenshot 2017.11.27 - 07.49.30.48
[This picture was not taken anywhere near Agricola’s Ascent. But it was taken by the author and he let us at the Galactic Enquirer use it royalty free, so there’s that…]
Galactic Enquirer sources have revealed that the “Thargoid Threat” is a manufactured one, created in a cooperative effort by the embattled executives at Lakon Spaceways and the cash-strapped Alliance.

The Agricola’s Ascent orbital is crowded these days. One can’t walk anywhere without bumping into packs of feral billionaires who have flocked to the Pleiades region pursuing the latest topPercenter and Trustafarian pastime: “Hunting Thargoids.” Hundreds, perhaps thousands of these nouveau riche thrill seekers have left humanity’s boring bubble hoping to join the “elite” club of those who’ve successfully ambushed one of the peaceful alien space flowers in hopes of securing its heart for their trophy case.

Agricola’s Ascent’s corridors and brandy lounges are filled with the swaggering machismo and raucous flamboyance these billionaires flaunt like a million-credit cloak. Ask them why they’re here and to their credit some will honestly reply it’s strictly for the thrill of the kill. But eight times out of ten the response will be some variant of “To save humanity from the growing xeno threat.” Those respondents are convinced their mission is truly that noble, that the reason they’re willing to sacrifice their billion-credit ships (if not their lives) is this “defense of humanity.”

But The Galactic Enquirer has uncovered highly placed sources that suggest the threat to humanity is a manufactured one. That makes many of these Dudley Do-Rights unfortunate sheeple, herded by a heretofore unimaginable galaxy-wide conspiracy.

Investigators at the Galactic Enquirer have sifted through thousands of pages of documents provided by the shadowy hackers famous for populating the GalactiLeaks Galnet site. Our intrepid journalists have uncovered secret emails documenting the manufacture of an interstellar, possibly criminal manipulation of public sentiment. And the conspirators? None other than officials at the highest levels of the Alliance, working in conjunction with Lakon Spaceways! Together they’ve seeded a campaign through the media channels of hundreds of worlds that goes far beyond the normal underhanded but legal persuasion techniques employed by common, high-value marketing campaigns.

Like with most crimes, all investigation takes is following the money.

Hundreds of the GalactiLeaks documents reveal increasingly frantic correspondence over the last eighteen months between Lakon Spaceways product development, financial, and marketing departments. These documents reveal C-level panic throughout Lakon’s highest executives. From the documents, it’s clear that early leaks citing underwhelming flight performance figures for Lakon’s massively hyped new Type-10 “Defender” resulted in an almost total evaporation of military demand for the heavy ship. Coming at a time when rumors of major market share lost to both Faulcon DeLacy and Core Dynamics for the fourth straight quarter shook investor confidence, the leaks triggered a catastrophic plunge in Lakon’s stock value. Lakon executives needed a miracle.

According to documents we discovered, company executives responded to their company’s Edsel moment by manufacturing a threat so serious, so existential, that the galaxy would become desperate for an answer. Enter the Alliance, whose own influence has steadily waned from its recent peak in 3300. As the major power driving Lakon to produce the Type-10 Defender before canceling half their contracts last year, the cash-strapped Alliance needed to cooperate with Lakon to avoid ruinous lawsuits.

For people who believe one should never let a good crisis go to waste, the sudden return of Thargoids was a godsend for Lakon. Although big, beautiful, and not hostile unless threatened or attacked, the lumbering space leviathans’ utter alien-ness made them the perfect foil for Lakon executives desperate to create a new market for their heavily armed and armored, 2250-ton, 500MM* Cr recycled space barge. [* Weight and value figures common for a Defender minimally outfitted for Thargoid hunting. –Ed.]

In the words of one Lakon Executive, from one of the discovered interoffice memos, “We need to make those weird-looking space daisies evil and threatening. There’s no other way we’ll unload all these flying pigs- er, “Defenders” [poop emoji] the damned Alliance decided not to buy! Ha! Coming up with a campaign to make floating daffodils reek of evil — that oughta keep those marketing weasels in PR busy for the holidays!”

But the Lakon PR folks seem to have done the impossible. They’ve painted the Thargoid presence as a looming menace to our civilization. Despite resembling nothing so much as a giant flower and possessing a nature that seems nothing if not benignly inquisitive toward anything man-made, the Thargoids’ very otherness works against them. They’re so alien to us that even their sentience (and thus any possible guilt at even being able to form the hostile intentions accorded to them by Lakon Spaceway’s guerilla marketing) is still very much in question. What is known is that they’ve never initiated an attack on a human ship without that ship either firing first or at the very least aggressively infringing on the Thargoid’s immediate space.

But you don’t have to take this reporter at face value, gentle readers. Use your Randomius-given powers of logic. Ask yourself: If these aliens really posed an existential threat to humanity – or even to humans that didn’t provoke them first – would the Alliance, in conjunction with the Pilots Federation and other major powers, only award a measly two million credits as a Thargoid bounty? That’s a mere 2M credits for a kill, when defeating one involves the following hurdles and risks:

  1. Pilots must foot the bill to buy and/or outfit a ship (ideally the Defender, of course!) that costs at least 500-million credits and be willing to risk the associated 25-million credit insurance deductible if they lose the ship in combat. (And note, the Thargoid hunting builds that improve one’s chances run closer to 750M or even a cool 1B credits!)
  2. Pilots must foot the bill in hiring and paying a ship-launched fighter operator, without whom that pilot’s chances of survival, let alone victory, became low indeed – and pilots must do this understanding that even if they themselves make it to an escape pod, their hirelings will DIE if the pilot fails and loses his ship to the Thargoid;
  3. Pilots go into their hunting knowing that even if they succeed – which most will not do at first, if ever – their ship restock and repair will almost certainly cost almost half-a-million credits (and that’s for a solo fight against the weakest of the Thargoids!).

If you’re doing the math, you’re realizing that hunting one of these dangers to humanity virtually requires a multi-billionaire to put a billion in assets (and his life) on the line, and then offers him a net profit of …about a million credits. It’s a laughable amount in a galactic economy that provides entrepreneurial pilots with profits that are literally fifty times that (or more), in the same amount of time, with a lot less investment, simply for ferrying passengers to remote starports (with little or no risk).

Your realization, gentle citizens, must be: That doesn’t add up! And Lakon’s marketing slogan, developed to rally humanity’s xeno hunters (and, coincidentally, sell lots of Type-10 Defenders!) waives all that financial consideration with a simple slogan: “You don’t do it for the money; you do it for humanity.”

There’s only one solution to this puzzle: Lakon Spaceways has convinced thousands of pilots to conduct genocide against the first and only alien megafauna we’ve ever encountered, for the sole reason of selling a ship that would otherwise be a market flop.

This must not go unanswered! Humanity is better than that!

[Submitted to the Jan 6th edition of the Galactic Enquirer by Cmdr Talion Camisade]

The Importance of Taking Leaps of Faith

I love this commencement address by Peter Dinklage to Bennington College’s class of 2012 (link goes to a Facebook page):

Peter Dinklage: The Importance of Taking a Leap of Faith

I watched this today and it made me realize that in almost every major (professional) change I’ve made during my adult life, and certainly all those I look back on as positive inflection points, I chose *against* common wisdom, *against* the advice, the counsel, of those advocating a safer, more conventional path. I chose for novelty, for adventure; I chose for passion, and I chose to be contrary. And, yup, chance plays a role, and holy crap it was hard, exhausting, stressful work for long stretches of my life. But I think that incredible man has a point! #FailForward #DoItAgain

 

The Sun and The Wind …and Ideological Conflict

The events in Charlottesville, VA, over the weekend beginning August 11th, which included the death of one woman and the injury of dozens of others were tragic. My heart goes out to the family, the friends, and the community to which the slain woman, Heather Heyer, belonged, and to all those injured when a homicidal white supremacist drove his car into a crowd.

My hope is that James Fields, allegedly the man behind the wheel, will be found guilty and sentenced to death — a sentence that gets carried out in Virginia faster than any other state.

I no longer live in Charlottesville, though I did once. As a result, I’ve a great many contributors to my social news feeds from that wonderful city. All are saddened; most are broadcasting anger.

As a beginning Stoic, I ask: What do we want to accomplish? How best will we get there?

Many of those affected by that weekend’s events are clamoring for censure, some for the removal of freedoms that underlie our society. As an American, I understand their hurt, their rage, but believe that it’s not just the wrong answer, but a counter-productive one. It won’t solve the problem, it would exacerbate it and cause greater ones. (Full disclosure, I believe that to be true for most “solutions” that seek to apply the power of The State to force constraint, control, or the limit of freedoms, upon The People.)

Ramez Naam, a born Egyptian who rose to prominence in the US as a Partner and Director of Program Management at Microsoft, an award-winning author, a patent-holding entrepreneur, futurist, and technologist, posted this on his blog today:

Don’t let the terrorists win.

We said that a lot after 9/11, and have for the last 16 years. As air travel became absurdly cumbersome, as civil liberties were eroded, as people were arbitrarily blacklisted or detained without room for appeal – we said the terrorists were winning, causing us to undermine the underpinnings of our own society, to crack down on the freedoms that are central to the principles of the United States.

Now, I see friends calling for cracking down on freedom of speech, for restricting the First Amendment, taking away its protections from speech they (and I) consider loathsome. I even see friends advocating for physical violence against people because of their speech.

That, my friends, is letting the terrorists win.

I loathe the ideology of white supremacy. But to let fear or anger at it undermine our notions of civil liberties or civil society… that would be letting the terrorists win.

We’re bigger than that. We’re stronger than that. Don’t let the terrorists win.

In all the footage I’ve seen of those rally’s, without exception, “counter-protesters” are broadcasting hate, vitriol, and disgust at assemblies of white supremacists and neo-nazi’s, who are themselves there to trumpet their irrational hatreds and disgust toward anything “other.”

It’s an emotional, understandable reaction for even rational, tolerant humans, as deeply wired into us as our core values. Emotional responses often come from deeper places, stemming from shared heritage, cultural identity, or our own experiences with justice or lack thereof.

But nowhere among the thinking, the tolerant, does there seem to have been consideration of the question: What do we want to accomplish?

Because, sure as shit, answering hatred with hatred has never worked worth a damn. We know that! In fact, we as a civilization know pretty fucking well at this point that anger, loathing, denials — even the threat of (or actual!) violence — has never done a damn thing to knock a fundamentalist movement from its ideological perch.

When you apply force that will not be sufficient to break a belief, you only strengthen it. Knowing that, why would we choose to strengthen the voices of racists for them? You don’t kill ideologies by denouncing them any more than you do by making martyrs.

Denunciation didn’t work against the original Nazi’s. It doesn’t work with Islamic fundamentalists like Isis. And it won’t work with any other form of dogmatic, institutionalized, hatred like that paraded by supremacists. The most it can do is drive such movements underground where they fester like a cancer until achieving metastasis. Then there’s really hell to pay.

Answering hatred and intolerance with hatred and intolerance is like deciding it’s smart to put out a fire with gasoline. When you see someone doing that, you have to ask, “What exactly are you expecting to accomplish?”

Martin Luther King knew that. He knew that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Mahatma Gandhi knew that. He knew “You must be the change you wish to see in the world. The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Most importantly, he knew that “Anger is the enemy of non-violence and pride is a monster that swallows it up.”

Hell, even Aesop, the storyteller and slave in ancient Greece back around 600 BCE taught that lesson in his fable, “The Wind and the Sun.”

The Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveller coming down the road, and the Sun said: “I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveller to take off his cloak shall be regarded as the stronger. You begin.” So the Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the traveller. But the harder he blew the more closely did the traveller wrap his cloak round him, till at last the Wind had to give up in despair. Then the Sun came out and shone in all his glory upon the traveller, who soon found it too hot to walk with his cloak on and took it off.”

The moral, of course, is: “KINDNESS EFFECTS MORE THAN SEVERITY.

These great men knew that meeting hatred with hatred was counter-productive. And in that knowing, they accomplished the seeming impossible. Why have we forgotten that?

As citizens in a complex society, filled with partial information and misinformation, we should know that often the intuitive, emotional response is the wrong one, the least productive one. And the more complex or deep-rooted the problem, the more counter-intuitive the solution will often be.

It’s one of the reasons why societies ruled by demagogues or tyrants inevitably collapse.

What do we want to accomplish? How best will we get there?

Well, we know for damn sure that you cannot bully people away from an ideology. You cannot soften a mob’s will by flipping it the bird, shouting epithets, or throwing stones. So if you’re not willing to employ lethal force to “change” someone’s mind, the only rational response is to embrace an approach that will work over time. Be cool. Be measured. Be smart. Because peoples’ minds change slowly, when they change at all.

When a little kid throws a tantrum, the fastest way to suck the energy out of it is to deprive it of an audience. That’s why timeout is so effective.

At the same time, when you want to kill a fire, you don’t spray water at it’s top. You take away its source of fuel. You wet what hasn’t yet burned.

When your war is one of ideology, the only way to win is over time.

  1. You undermine its recruitment. You make the beliefs so ridiculous that the cult’s target recruited demographic does not want to be associated with it. In short, you starve the movement of fuel.
  2. You educate whom you can. You remain human, and caring. You contribute to the society you believe in. You stop fanning emotional fires by attempting to put them out with facts — they don’t work. You look through those trumpeting irrationality and vitriol. You give no voice to those who would tyrannize or terrorize others. And you bide while waiting for intolerance to die. In the meantime, give racism, hatred, NO audience. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Because mobs and fundamentalists are like two-year-olds. And you don’t raise a two-year-old into an adult by mirroring their own tactics back at them. That’s no more likely to accomplish anything meaningful than, well, showing up at a bigots’ rally about hatred with a bucketload of your own.

Much more effective, especially against adults, are leadership by example; gentle, consistent, persuasion; and pity. King knew it; Gandhi knew it; Marcus Aurelius knew it; and even the lowly Aesop knew it, more than 2500 years ago.

What would happen, I wonder, if counter-culture rallies proclaiming the embrace of ignorance, the spreading of barbarism or self-serving revisionism, went completely ignored? If nobody showed up? If nobody gave a damn that a bunch of crackpots chose to demonstrate their conviction that the world was flat, or (as in this current case) that others should be blamed for ones’ problems simply due to the color of their skin; their willingness to work smart or hard; or for their choice of beliefs?

What would happen if such rallies were completely ignored or, better, that those who witnessed such displays in passing, going about their peaceful, productive day, simply shook their heads, half-smiled with visible, sad pity, then went about their business?

What if no news broadcasters showed up to amplify delusional voices? Because people declaring sad, ludicrous beliefs are NOT NEWS?

If you cannot, will not, or should not, use force — especially deadly force — to change minds, you must use persuasion. You must find and use the leverages that are inherent in our being a social species to shape amoral or aberrant behaviors over time. You find the vulnerabilities, then apply pressure when and where it will be productive.

Many people like to embrace anger as their first response. It’s as natural as flight-or-fight in response to a perceived threat. But no one rational, no one who’s educated, no one who’s studied history’s errors and would avoid repeating them, jumps to anger as an answer when the questions they should be asking aren’t how do I feel right now, but:
What do we want to accomplish? And,
How best will we get there?

Obstacles are opportunities.

What happened in Charlottesville was tragic. And this is going to happen again, and again, there and elsewhere, if we as a society continue to take our responses from ideologues that are like carpenters whose only hammer is anger.

Home is where the heart …gets healthy again!

For me, it’s always great to get back home from a trip. We had a wonderful time …but of course, like people often do,  while touring Italy I allowed the excuses of “vacationing” and “environment” for a solid week of lazy exercise and detrimental dietary choices.

Unsurprisingly, Italian food, commonly served in 3- or 4-course meals, always with wine (and desert!)(at least on the group tour we took, where many of the meals were pre-ordered for us) created an easy +5lbs in 9 days. Because, “Hey, everyone else is ordering that way!” It’s ridiculous how easy it is for me to fall back into nom nom nomming foods that reinvigorate those American-bred, fattening, aging, sugar and wheat addictions! It’d be easy to shift blame to those childhood “clean your plate!” instructions, but let’s face it: If I claim sentience I also have to accept responsibility for the food I shovel into my pasta hole!

So I always feel that one of the best parts about coming home from a trip is resuming the healthy lifestyle that is too often the first casualty of world travel. That feeling made this recent post by Rohan Rajiv, whose blog I follow, resonate this morning (@4am, because of course my I’m still recovering from a week on European time!):

Your environment versus your willpower

You can find his post at: https://alearningaday.com/2017/07/18/your-environment-versus-your-willpower/.

Now I’m looking forward to a short run and a mindful breakfast!

Thunderstorms and Golden Doodles

We get awesome thunderstorms in the Midwest. I love them.

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Karly H., aged twelve’ish.

My dog? Not so much. As you can see here, during any stormy rumblings, she will only be found down in the basement, in my writing cave, hunkered under my desk.

Today, while Debbie and I were sitting at the table eating taco salads for lunch, looking over a backyard being inundated with needed rain (about thirty minutes before the adjacent picture was taken), Karly and I had the following exchange:

[Scene: Two humans are seated at a dinner table. Their faithful canine companion is curled beside the man’s chair, snoozing (and perhaps snoring) as only twelve-year-old dogs can do within 8 seconds of laying down, anywhere, anytime. Lightning flashes.]

Man: “Oooh, that’ll be a good one.”

[Thunder rocks the house. The dog sproings from sound sleep to stiff-legged alarm. She pivots toward the stairs leading down into the basement.]

Man: “Karly, it’s just a little Spring storm. Stay and watch with us.”

[The dog pauses, perhaps recognizing the word “stay” in her master’s speech. A command? Really? Now? Is he freakin’ kidding? She looks over her shoulder. “Hooman,” her eyes say with deep sincerity, “fifteen thousand years ago, when our kind first began living with your kind, there were two kinds of dogs. There were my kind — those smart enough to know full well that storms were dangerous and the only wise thing to do when the sky growls is *always* seek shelter below ground, where dens are supposed to be dug (for good reason!) — and there were the other kind of dog, those who left risk determinations in the hands of their supposedly smarter hoomans…

“As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one kind of dog left.

“Now, are you coming, or not?”]

[The dog exits, stage left.]

 

This weird new snake oil can extend your life!

Edit: This article was updated on Jan 25th, 2017, after an exploratory conference call with the Ambrosia, LLC, Founder. -KH

So, do you wanna live forever?

When I began writing my number one non-selling book, “Surrogate Threats,” I was motivated by the idea that advancements in medical science had put us near the cusp of consumer-accessible life extension. Even back in 2015, a growing number of very smart people were predicting near immortality within ten years. My contemplation of that possibility spawned the creation of a fictional antagonist named Ryk Marius who, obsessed with the desire to become immortal and unwilling to be constrained by regulatory brakes or cumbersome morality, developed a plausible plan for life extension using today’s (and, okay, a little bit of tomorrow’s) medical technology. As an entrepreneur, I had such great fun hashing out my antagonist’s business model and innovating through his logistics challenges, I ultimately put his company, Marius Technologies, online at Rejuvi.me.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to spending part of 2015 caught up in recurring fantasies about extracting the (mostly) legal aspects of Marius Technologies to create and fund an actual bio-tech venture. If I’d known then what I know now, I might just have done it!

The Tantalizing Business of Life Extension

My sticking points in 2015, other than a chickenshit reticence toward funding legally gray, outlandish, futurist ventures, were (1) that I didn’t think I’d be able collect quite enough funding to get my life-extension venture off the ground; and (2) that I’d have to move out of the country to get around the United States’ oppressive regulatory environment when it came to building businesses out of experimental bio-tech. Put another way, I’d pretty much have to become a full blown Bond villain to develop this world-changing therapy into a profitable business. So I was stymied.

What made it more frustrating was that I was pretty sure someone could actually pull my plan off, if those meddling kids (and, you know, the rest of the world) would just leave them (and me, and my imaginary investors) alone to do it!

I needed a way to advance the vision that the rest of the world wouldn’t consider insane, ethically dangerous, and/or shudderingly creepy. Aye, therein lay the rub!

I was stuck.

Then, a week ago, I was stunned to learn I could have worked within the current US regulatory system to offer experimental age rejuvenation services while collecting substantial revenues — even if the process ultimately didn’t work! After all, while Winston Churchill once said,

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm,”

Kevin Higgins adds, “…and, even better, with no loss of your own money!”

There WAS a way!

you-wanna-live-forever

why-yes-i-doThe inciting element in this week’s narrative was a blog post on the site Singularity Hub by Peter Diamandis titled, “Stem Cells Are Poised to Change Health and Medicine Forever.”

Buried about three-quarters of the way into that article, in a section about the four main areas of stem cell therapies to watch, was a section on parabiosis. (For those not into linking away while reading, parabiosis was the term originally coined in the 1860’s (!) for linking the circulatory systems of two creatures, one young and one aged. The resulting blood sharing was found to literally, significantly, reverse the age of virtually all bodily tissues in the older creature. More recently, parabiosis is a term used to describe a process where blood (or plasma) from young donors is provided to elder recipients. The most energetic studies of parabiosis potential today in the US are being done at Stanford, where the treatments are being explored for their potential to stop (or reverse!) the progression of Alzheimer’s. Similar studies are being pursued at many other universities and research clinics elsewhere in the world.)

It’s really not science fiction that hordes of our most advanced researchers are beginning to view aging as a disease that can be cured.

It may turn out that Ponce de Leon’s long-sought “Fountain of Youth” was circulating through the arteries of the Utes* around him all the time!

This is the part where your inner mad scientist says, “Well, wait. If learned and aggressive clinical research doctors are securing valuable (and always scarce) funding to explore whether parabiosis rejuvenates aging, Alzheimer’s-riddled brains …and a full century of parabiotic experimentation with animals has created reams of peer-reviewed findings documenting the reversal of cellular age in virtually all bodily tissues …then maybe parabiosis has a strong chance of becoming at least one part of a multi-faceted strategy to cure people of aging!”

And your inner entrepreneur says, “Holy crap — that’s one of the Holy Grails of bio-tech!” (the other, of course, is to resolve once and for all whether a European Swallow might carry a coconut)(sorry, that was obligatory after a Holy Grail reference, but I digress)crazy-enough-to-work

Meet Dr. Jesse Karmazin, MD, Founder of Ambrosia, LLC, and your Conductor on this Entrepreneurial Train to Sci-Fi Town. Because what Dr. Karmazin has figured out, which I missed back in 2015, is (1) how to offer old (and perhaps wealthy, or desperate, or both) people access to the blood of youths via transfusions of plasma (a modern day, lower-risk take on actual parabiosis), while (2) operating under FDA regulations in the US, AND (3) get the applicants to pay the cost of the clinical trial! Genius!

Karmazin realized that as part of the Federal Drug Administration Amendments Act of 2007 (one of many regulatory evolutions that opened up and increased transparency around clinical trials), establishing a clinical trial has become much more accessible (read: cheaper). He also pieced together two additional key allowances that made Ambrosia’s study viable: (1) (some) patient-funded clinical trials now fall under less scrutiny than they used to, and (2) the FDA doesn’t require approval for processes that are well-established, standard treatments. As you might expect, common blood transfusions (and, especially, even less-risky plasma transfusions) fall under this category!

One valuable type is genius is the ability to solve Gordian Knots of bureaucratic red tape with Alexander-like clarity.

Having found a way through the regulatory maze that I thought would require going offshore, Karmazin next had to develop a capitalization scheme — never an easy prospect when your core enabling technology (blood or plasma transfusions) isn’t protectable via patent. Because without developing a barrier to competition, finding Angel Investors, let alone Venture Capital, is a low-probability moon shot!

Still, the financial prospects were persuasive: 600 participants at $8000 USD per enrollee …comes to a cool $4.8MM in potential revenue for this study! …if you can find that many applicants.

Advancing science while making money? That’s enough to make the Pet Shop Boys sit up and take notice!

And the costs? Here’s my personal speculative back of the napkin work: The wholesale prices for getting blood tested and bio-markers reported can be found for less than a couple hundred dollars (depending on the various markers being evaluated and the accuracy desired). [Update: this may cost significantly more, given the vast number of biomarkers being tracked in this study.] You’ll need that done at least twice. And the cost of an actual unit blood plasma? Only about $61, on average. (Maybe one might pay a little more for the special order, primo stuff — like the plasma of Utes). [Update: this article’s initial calculations were based on erroneous information found online. Dr. Karmazin’s study is for an initial infusion of seven (7) units of Ute plasma, not the ~3 units originally reported.] Add in some consumables here and there and that creates estimated testing and plasma variable costs of about $1000 for each study enrollee. But, then it gets harder; you have to have a place for the participants to go for initial testing and qualifications, to receive the transfusions, and for subsequent blood draws and foll0w-up. That requires staff and office space. And, as every entrepreneur knows, fixed costs can be a bitch for a small venture (it’s why we so often start them in a garage).

[Update: At about an hour per unit of infused plasma, the seven (7) hours of clinic “seat time,” which is spread over a two-day period, will have to be factored into the variable costs.]

Enter young Dr. Karmazin’s savvy choice of business partner, Dr. Craig Wright, a longtime luminary in the field, a board-certified physician with over 30 years experience in seeing patients and working in the biopharmaceutical industry, an innovator (he holds over 15 patents), and a man with one additional important contribution: He’s already come out of retirement to open and operate an infusion clinic in Monterey, CA! With one brilliant partnership, that smashes our fixed costs flat and flattens out many of the other logistical hurdles — opening and managing clinical office space, tapping into an existent business for insurance and regulatory compliance, hiring technicians, etc. And it’s a win for Dr. Wright — his clinic is (presumably) already operating in the black; this is yet another source of (high-margin) revenue that doesn’t increase his existing fixed costs.

Work your way through the creation of a clinical trial and register it on the FDA’s clinicaltrials.gov web site, pay the requisite fee, and Voila! You’re in business!

[Update: And there’s an additional business model strength. The shortness of the clinical trial (one month) introduces opportunities for participants to come back for multiple transfusions, enabling this clinical trial to perform financially more like a therapy. That’s beautiful. As an entrepreneur, being able to sell deeper into your market, tapping satisfied customers, is usually a more profitable course than having to acquire new customers for additional revenues (assuming your therapy works).]

So, who wants a chance to feel (and perhaps actually become) younger? As a bonus, you may help advance the science of longevity, of anti-aging.

Step right up. You pays yer money and you takes yer chances.

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* “Utes” – Youths