Friday, December 30, 2011

2012 Predictions

I returned to blogging this year after a pretty long hiatus, and decided to go with a clean slate. As I look back at 2011, I have to say that I didn't realize how much I missed posting to the blogosphere until I got back into the grove of doing it. As much as I love writing, I absolutely enjoy reading everyone else's stuff. You all are just a hoot. So I thank you, not just for reading, but for writing posts that make me laugh, think, get angry, and get to know you a little bit.

Now I will shift gears and look forward. As I gaze into my crystal ball, here is what I see for 2012:

The iPhone 5. Not only will it speak and answer your questions (from the mundane to the vital), but it will actually make decisions for you. The new iPhone 5 won't even wait for you to ask. It'll just tell you what to do. And if you don't comply, you will lose all of your iTunes music and contacts.

Amazon. This juggernaut will dominate how we buy books, and we will be inching even closer to ebook sales making up 50% of ALL trade book purchases. The Big 6 will continue to fight back by pushing ebook prices up to protect its paper sales. But they will lose, as readers will turn to smaller presses and self-published works.

Facebook. The internet version of crack will continue to screw around with its platform until no one can make sense of anything, thus everyone will switch over to Google Plus.

Ebooks. The quality of self-published books will continue to improve, and readers will be more willing to take chances on these brave pioneers. Although there will still be a lot of crap out there. Right now, I will put 60% of self pubbed stuff in the "crappy" category. In 2012, half of self-published books will be on equal footing with NY Times bestsellers.

Netflix. This company with the most stupid CEO in the universe will survive. Somehow. How much longer beyond 2012 is a crap-shoot. They keep making people angry, and that's not a way to run a business. I mean, I can only watch Troll Hunter so many times.

Justin Bieber. He will completely overhaul his image, starting with the hair. He don a big mohawk, followed by all kinds of tattoos, wearing leather with spikes on it, and singing a new kind of heavy-metal/grunge fusion. And a new doll will come out to help perpetuate this new image.

A&E. They will come out with a new show titled: Beyond Ice Road Hoggers and Hoarders That Pick Storage Pawn Parking Intervention Wars. And it will be a big hit! The Discovery Channel will fight back with Surviving the American Dirty Logging Chopper Guns vs Wild Mythbusters.

Young Adult Paranormal Romance. This genre will continue to evolve and solidify, but readers will tire of vampires, werewolves, fall angels, and demons. We will see more dystopia - more edgy stuff that will be sure to challenge young readers more.

Young Adult Readers. Oh, and with Kindles getting so cheap and in the hands of younger people, young adults will actually read more young adult literature than full grown adults. Meanwhile, adults will still venture into the YA world, hoping to relive the drama of their youth.

Dr. Oz. He will be the new Oprah. Dr. Phil, meanwhile, will challenge him to a battle in the Octagon with Suze Orman as referee.

The Apocalypse. Mayan Calender be damned! The end of the world will not come on December 21, 2012. December 22 will come and go, and Black Friday will still be dominated by the Early Birds with no sign of the End Times. Life will go on.

Just ask Justin Bieber...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

It's The Holiday Season...

So whoop-de-do, and hickory dock...

Lots going on, and I'm going to shut it down for the next week or so. I'm not disappearing totally, as I hope you will find my goofy comments on your blogs in the next several days. But there's so much on my plate that I just won't have time to think of anything witty to say on here.

My day job is stressing me out, as I just learned that they want to relocate me. Very far away. And not anywhere exotic. (Sigh). So I have some pretty heavy decisions to make.

I just received my copy of my signed publishing contract for The Dragonfly Warrior, and I still can't believe it's happening. I've been a "hack" for over fifteen years now, and it took a lot of rejection, frustration, and hard work to get to this point, so thank you for all of your support and encouragement.

Finally, my thanks go out to all of you who wished me a happy birthday. I am getting old. Literally standing on the very precipice of my 30s. One gentle gale away from being pushed over that hill and onto another decade. Kinda sucks. But not really.

I will be back to post just before the New Year, so Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you, my wonderful blog friends.

Oh, and enjoy this fun little video of a very creative way to dispose of those old Christmas trees.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Songs We Love To Screw Up

One of the greatest joys in life is listening to what people think some misheard song lyrics are. Growing up, I KNOW I completely ruined songs with what I thought I heard. For example, when The Clash came out with "Rock the Casbah," I was 9 years old and I thought in the chorus, he was singing:

Put your weenie on the side yea. Rock the Casbah, rock the Casbah.

But the proper lyric was: Sharia don't like it. Rock the Casbah, rock the Casbah.

This is what's called a mondegreen.

So in the spirit of Christmas, I give you a bunch of holiday songs either I personally have misheard or maybe was in the presence of someone butchering a song using the wrong lyrics to these treasured classics.

Winter Wonderland. Later on, we're perspire. As we dream by the fire...

Deck The Halls. Deck the halls with Buddy Holly, fa la la la la la la...

Strike the heart, enjoy the florist...fa la la la la la la...

Noel. Noel, noel. Noel, noel. Barney's the king of Israel

Carol of the Bells: Gaily they ring, white people sing, songs of good cheer, Christmas is here...

The Christmas Song: Jeff's nuts roasting on an open fire. Hot sauce dripping from your nose...

Faliz Navidad: Pa-leaze Mommy's dead. Pa-leaze Mommy's dead.

Oh Come All Ye Faithful: Sing choir of angels, sing on eggs on stations

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: Rudolph with your nose so bright, won't you buy my slave tonight?

* * * *

What do the follow people have in common: Alyssa Milano, Jake Gyllenhaal, Criss Angel, and me? We all share the same birthday - December 19th.

Man, I am getting old...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bah Humbug Blahg Fest

Christmas is a time of joy and happiness. Where we hold high the ideals, and hope for a better world. Unfortunately, there's a lot of garbage that gets in the way. So in the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge, I give you my twelve Christmas annoyances:

1) Early Bird Specials. First of all, I hate early birds all year-long. At garage sales for example, these early vultures stalk the neighborhood, trying to get stuff cheaper than a quarter. During the holidays, it's much worse. Why would stores deliberately want to entice these cranky shoppers so early in the morning?

2) Giftcards. Nothing says "Hey, I really don't care to think too hard about you" like a stupid giftcard. Personally, I'd rather receive a hand-written note. Something even a little more personal. One year, I got two giftcards to Starbucks. And I don't drink coffee!

3) Bing Crosby. Okay, normally I like the guy. But I HATE his version of White Christmas. It's overplayed on the radio, I hate his crooning runs (reminds me of an old Bugs Bunny cartoon), and whistling gets on my nerves. The only whistling I can stand is from "Walk Like an Egyptian." I will say that Bing and David Bowe's "Little Drummer Boy" is both creepy and very good.

4) Atheists. I'm still trying to figure out how you can believe in nothing. Isn't believing in nothing still believing in something? Atheists are angry all year-long, but Christmas seems to bring out the hate. Leave the Christmas lights alone, don't protest having a tree in the classroom, and just go on believing in nothing over there in the corner and let the rest of us sheep have our fun.

5) Spoiled brats. I once went to a Christmas get together, and my family was actually the only group not part of the hosts' extended family. So when they decided to open presents, it was a two-hour depression-filled show of watching all of these kids get mountains of expensive gifts. All the while, me and my brother and sister are just sitting there in awe. I felt like crap. And I'm sure my parents felt like crap. But the people opening all of their gifts looked like they were having a good time.

6) Nutcrackers. First of all, I hate the word nutcracker. Second of all, these stupid things don't really crack nuts. They disintegrate in my hands. Probably made in China.

7) LED Christmas lights. These things do not give off the warm glow of Christmas. More like a harsh blast of electric radiation. They might last longer, and be more efficient, but the strange hue these lights emit make your house look radioactive or like a long lost ship from the planet Krypton.

8) Lexus Commercials. First of all, the people in these commercials are beautiful. Secondly, they are young. Thirdly, it's obscene to think that people actually do this shit in real life. Dealerships can even provide you with a big-ass red bow to go on top of your luxury vehicle gift, you materialistic good-looking yuppie bastard.

9) The Must Haves. Why don't people realize that they are being controlled by advertisers. Growing up, I watched news footage of grown mothers beating the crap out of each other for a Cabbage Patch Doll. Then it was Tickle Me Elmo, Furby, Zhu Zhu pets. Look at #5 on my list. Parents out there, don't give in to the hype! Stay strong. Don't be a drone.

10) The War on Christmas. Look, there's no WAR on Christmas. Just calm down people. There happens to be a bunch of other holidays going on this time of year. Yes, Christmas is Christmas - the king of holidays here. And yes, there is a little of that political correctness going on. But let's not be sensitive pricks like the atheists. If anybody has a right to be angry, it's the pagans. We Christians just ripped the solstice from right under their feet 1500 years ago.

11) The Post Office. I think ebay has killed any morale you might find within a postal office. On top of that, dump Christmas gift shipping and long lines, and you've got yourself the perfect storm for at least one huge outburst from some grumpy person on either side of the counter. That's why I now go to the drug store for stamps.

12) People who complain about Christmas.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My Blahg Fest Bloggity-Doo

At the stroke of midnight, I will be Scrooge-o-licious and give you my top 12 Things I Hate About Christmas.

For more about this Blahg Fest, go to Grumpy Bulldog's Blog

Monday, December 12, 2011

Science Fiction Becomes Science FACT

Science fiction is not merely fantasy, made up of the dreams of an imaginative author. Even dreams can have a basis rooted in reality. And sometimes, maybe science is actually inspired by the works of speculative authors. For example, H.G. Wells is one of my all-time favorite authors, and he dreamed up quite a bit of fantastical technological wonders in many of his works.

He wrote about men landing on the moon, a giant bomb that killed using radiation, and he imagined giant machines coming to invade our Earth, shooting lasers at us - long before lasers were invented. Indeed, many things Wells wrote about has come to pass.

So I give you just a handful of the many wondrous science fiction technologies that have now become a reality:

Drones. You're hearing quite a bit about drones doing all kinds of survailance and actually firing weapons upon unsuspecting enemies in the Middle East. Unfortunately, Iran recently admitted that it had captured one of our drones and is reverse-engineering it. But drones have been in science fiction for some time now. I remember Frank Herbert's Dune books containing killer drones. I remember the 1980s Flash Gordon movie there was a drone zipping around and shooting people. And of course, with the AI takeover of Skynet, you had drones flying around dispatching terminators all over the place and wiping mankind off the face of the Earth.

Jurassic Park. Okay, well not quite yet - but according to recent scientific articles, scientists are close to being able to take the DNA preserved in permafrost of the long-extinct Woolly Mammoth, and through the power of cloning, actually create a living specimen. It's a little freaky, but it sounds so cool. Pushing aside any of the moral implications, could you imagine going to the zoo and watching a real Woolly Mammoth walking about?

Hoverboard. It's become an iconic science fiction film scene. In the movie Back to the Future II, Marty McFly  jumps onto one of these beauties and somehow gets away from a pissed off Griff (Biff's cyborg grandson). I remember when the director, Robert Zemickis, said that hoverboards were in fact REAL, but were deemed too dangerous for kids. But reality is just around the corner. Although the hoverboard is not ready for mass marketing, a French artist created a working hoverboard!

Cyborgs. For me, the first real cyborg I ever saw was Darth Vader. Part man, part machine. Science fiction is full of them, especially comic books. There's even a comic book hero named - Cyborg! But you think cyborg technology is only in sci-fi? Wrong! Scientists have developing all kinds of human interface/mechanical parts to help amputees. The US military, in fact, has several prototypes of robotic exoskeletons that soldiers can wear that will enhance their abilities. Mech Wars anyone??? But the one example of cyborg technology that is just amazing is the one developed at MIT to help the blind see again.

Time Machine. To me, this is the Holy Grail of science fiction technology. How many TV shows, books, and movies have employed the use of time travel? Quantum Leap is one of my all time favorites, along with Doctor Who. Christopher Reeve might have been able to travel back in time just by thinking about it (there's a word for that, and it's schizophrenia). But a Russian scientist claims to have built a REAL time machine!

Although everyone knows you can buy one on ebay:

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Paranormal Frenzy

I spent two hours at a local Barnes & Noble the other day, and of course I ventured over to the Science Fiction/Fantasy section. And I noticed that the Paranormal Young Adult Romance section was sitting right up next to it. Granted, it had been a long time since I had gone into a big book store. But what struck me was the amount of books in that genre. The second thing that caught my attention was that a vast majority of them were marketed to females.

But just on the other side of the book display was the regular Young Adult stuff, and even that area was pretty full of more paranormal books. Now I'm not going to tackle teen paranormal romance right now, as that deserves it's own post. But I did want to talk about the popularity of everything paranormal.

As you probably know, paranormal is hot right now. But why?

Stories dealing with the paranormal is nothing new. X-Files, Stephen King, all the super hero movies, The Twilight Zone, The Ghost Whisperer, any of M. Night Shamalamalammading-dong's movies...dealing with things that go bump in the night is nothing new. Authors have been writing about vampires, ghosts, werewolves, UFOs, people with powers, etc. since forever.

The big shift is that the paranormal theme is hot among teens. Growing up, I read Goosebumps. Those in their upper teens/20s grew up with Harry Potter. And of course, the book that really propelled Paranormal YA Romance, Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Series and the billions of copycats that have followed it, has put paranormal subject matter up front and center.

This world is just full of all kinds of tragedy. On September 11th, America had lost its "innocence" like no one had ever seen since the attack at Pearl Harbor. Our country has been in an economic tailspin going back to 2007. Mom and/or Dad has lost their job. Houses foreclosed on, forcing families to vacate homes and move to a new town. In the information age, eyes and ears are everywhere - so we know about more murders, beatings, and heroes that have fallen and let us down. All in the blink of an eye.

We live in a very uncertain and oftentimes cruel world.

The paranormal strikes a deep-rooted nerve within many of us in our thirst to understand the unknown. To try to make sense of the senseless. Geez, adolescence is already such a difficult and trying time when young adults are trying to figure out who they are, who their friends are, what the world is like, and what their future holds. For a teen, the world is one big uncertainty where bad things can happen to good people. And that's scary as hell.

In many of these books, the protagonist has powers and is able to use those powers to save the day. Often, that main character is an outcast or was quite ordinary until the powers manifest themselves during puberty or something. Or maybe the protagonist falls in love with someone with powers. The common denominator here is that you have teens coming to terms with maybe being different, or dealing with change and the unknown, and in the end coming out ok. Maybe even end up being a hero. Or being loved. Or being accepted. Or at the very least, understanding a little bit more about life and learning about some of the things that we, in fact, can control. The unknown isn't so scary.

Stories dealing with the paranormal is not only appealing, but it's therapeutic. Reading these books might give teens a sense of  empowerment, maybe help them gain a little more insight into this crazy mysterious world.

And that is quite normal.

*I took a lot of adolescent psychology in college, and then I was a high school English teacher for five years. On top of that I coached sports. I even coached the girls tennis team where the truth of female adolescent behavior and attitude slapped me across the face. Hard.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Earth-Shattering News

Two quick things:

1) NASA is confirming the discovery of another planet nearly identical to ours. Earth 2.0. The only problem is that it's 600 million light years away (3,521,828,160,000,000 miles).

2) I have been offered a contract to publish my current WIP, The Dragonfly Warrior. More details to follow!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Ray Bradbury Wants the Kindle (to be on) Fire

Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 is a classic. One of the pioneering books in the dystopian genres, up there along with Brave New World and 1984. When I read it in high school, it showed me what thoughtful and powerful science fiction could be.

Since it's publication in 1953, it has sold more than ten million copies. It's an eye-opening science fiction novel that has proven to be so incredibly prophetic. The story of a future society controlled by the state where reading and books are banned (and burned) is not really about censorship, or how important the printed word is. In fact, it brings to light the very definition of what a book really is.

To me, the message is clear: what is important is the power of words. The power of the emotions words evoke in you. Words express and contain the human experience. In the novel, the government destroys books, so a band of rebels memorize the them word-for-word. The bound paper might be up in flames, but as long as the words remain in their minds - that's something no one can take away. Memorizing the books is how they preserve the survival of their culture.

That's why it's amazing to me that his great work in just now going to be available in ebook format, despite the author's previous protests.

A couple of years ago, Yahoo! asked Bradbury if they could put one of his books online. His response: "To hell with you and to hell with the internet." In fact, he once told the NY Times that ebooks "smell like burned fuel."

So I went to my Kindle and sniffed. I disagree. Ebooks smell like gummy bears.

Anyhoo, but Bradbury finally gave in when he renewed his contract with Simon & Schuster, and part of that deal included making all of his works available in ebook format.

I find Bradbury's protests very ironic. First of all, I had no idea that the man was still alive! Apparently he is. Secondly, it's funny how the man that wrote a novel that tells us the written word transcends mere paper and pen is so vehemently against ebooks.

It's obvious that the man hates all technology. His book also attacks television and other media, saying that they are a distraction. Just last year, he told the LA Times: “We have too many cellphones. We’ve got too many Internets. We have got to get rid of those machines. We have too many machines now.”

But with ebook readers, no need to burn books. Just hit DELETE.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Why Does Grandma Smell Like Toast?

This is one of my favorite posts - originally posted in 2005 on my old blog, The Phoenix - Where Science is Stranger Than Fiction. I'm not being lazy, but just waxing nostalgic. Enjoy!

Warning: The following post is a little if you're faint of heart or you are eating, you might want to skip this. I know you sickos will keep reading, of course...

On July 2, 1951, Mary Reeser brought Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC) to the forefront of scientific investigation. Her death is so bizarre, it really defies logical explanation. Ms. Reeser had said goodnight to her visiting son and was last seen sitting in her easy chair of her modest St. Petersburg, FL apartment. Her neighbor, Ms. Carpenter was awakened by smoke, and traced it to Mary Reeser's door - which was scolding hot.

What firefighters and police found was immensely gruesome and incomprehensible. Mary's 170 pound body was nothing more than 10 pounds of ashes, her skull that had shrunk to the size of an orange, and her left foot completely intact. The room showed signs of heat damage - plastic was melted on switches and outlet covers, melted wax from her candles, and her chair was severely damaged. But that was it no widespread fire damage at all. Dr. Korgman of the University of Pennsylvania that performed the pathology exam was baffled. He said it would take temperatures of more than 3000 degrees to do destroy a body so...especially the bones.

With that much heat generated, the entire apartment - the entire building - should've gone up in flames. It's a classic case of SHC. So what happened? Is SHC real?

There are several theories out there:

1)Alcoholism...probably perpetuated by Charles Dickens in one of his novels where a drunk spontaneously combusts. They did an experiment where they saturated human flesh and tried to light it. Sounds like a Beavis and Butthead episode to me. The flesh didn't burn much.

2)Divine intervention...this was popular in the 17th century, particularly in the less-education population. I guess the thinking was you look at your cousin in the wrong way and God will turn you into crispy toast for having such lewd thoughts.

3)Build up of static electricity...ok, I tried this in the 5th grade. The library had thick lush carpet. I dragged my feet on it for almost 20 minutes straight and shocked the hell out of Todd Weber. He screamed like a girl and told on me...but he didn't shoot up in flames.

4)The "Wick Effect"...this is the most widely accepted scientific explanation. In 1999, the BBC TV show QED showed how SHC was really not such a mystery. They believed that body fat could indeed burn for a long time. So they did what any British scientist would do - they burned a pig! They took a pig, wrapped it up in a blanket (ha), put some petrol on it, put the pig in a room, and lit 'er up! The result? Tasty bacon on English muffins with tea in the morning.

5)Build up of methane gas...this theory was made popular by the renowned investigative TV show South Park. Here's an excerpt from one of their episodes where Kenny apparently spontaneously combusts:

Mayor: All right, people. Scientist Marsh and I have been working very hard on the problem of spontaneous combustion, and we have finally come up with a solution. Mr. Marsh?

Randy: The little boy combusted because he had a new girlfriend. It wasn't the girl that caused him to combust, it was the fact that Kenny did not want to pass gas in front of her. The methane gathers here in the bowel area where it causes pressure. Normally a person would expel this byproduct in the form of a pleasant fart. Should the gas not be expelled, the methane can build up and then ignite, leading to... disaster. Kenny combusted because he held his farts in for too long.

Townsfolk: You mean, all we have to do is fart and we won't explode?

Randy: Exactly. [after a while, a fart is heard, then more farts follow as the townsfolk release their gases]

Mayor: So, from this day forward, everyone in South Park will be required to fart on a regular basis to insure that nobody else spontaneously explodes.

So please, take spontaneous combustion prevention measures at regular intervals and whenever you deem neccessary.

Monday, November 28, 2011

My Favorite Sword Fight Scenes EVER

I'm an action movie junkie. If there's bullets, blood, and car chases, I'm so there. But my favorite kind of action movie always included a sword fight scene. I find sword fights much more artistic and personal. It's eye to eye, character vs character. Some sword fights are just absolutely brutal (Braveheart), some are gorgeous like ballet (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), and others include some fun comedy (Pirates of the Caribbean).

I love them all. Here's my little list of my favorite sword fight scenes of all time in no particular order:

"Without Green Destiny you are nothing!"
Shu Lien vs Jen. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. This sword fight scene has everything you'd ever want. Amazing acrobatics, lightning fast moves, and two gorgeous women (Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi). Jen has stolen the Green Sword of Destiny, an ancient and powerful blade. And she literally destroys every kind of weapon Shu Lien brings to the fight. When these two ladies clash in a battle for the sword, it's wuxia martial arts at its finest.

"Bitch, you don't have a future."
Beatrix Kiddo vs Elle Driver. Kill Bill vol 2. So many incredible sword fights to choose from in vol. 1 and 2. But I went with the grittiest of them all. The villain, Elle, is wearing a damn eye patch for goodnessakes! It gets downright catty in some parts, but you can just taste the hate between these two assassins. When Elle reveals that she's the one who killed their master, Beatrix goes absolutely postal. And in the end, she rips Elle's only good eye, leaving her completely blind in the trailer. Oh, and there's a freaking black mamba snack in there too.

"There are no pacts between lions and men."
Achilles vs Hector. Troy. Just to prove that I don't only love hot women kicking each other's ass, I give you Troy. Lots of beefcake here for the ladies: Brad Pitt and Eric Bana.  For the men - jaw-dropping ancient butt whoopin'. Achilles is pissed off that Hector has killed his cousin, and seeks revenge. It's Greek vs Troy, each nation's very best in a fight to the death. The speed and brutality that these two champions go at it is mind boggling. But in the end, we all know that Achilles wins and drags Hector's dead body all over the beach, which is the ultimate insult.

"What are you gonna do, bleed on me?"
King Arthur vs The Black Knight. Monty Python's The Quest for the Holy Grail. Okay, I'm not all about serious killing here. This scene is gory, sure. But it's so damn funny. The Black Knight doesn't allow King Arthur to pass, so they engage in old fashioned sword fighting. But The Black Knight refuses to yield, even after losing all his limbs. If you're in a crowded area and say, "Tis but a scratch," there's bound to be several people who will chuckle and know exactly what you're referencing.

"Get used to disappointments."
Dread Pirate Roberts vs Inigo Montoya. The Princess Bride. One of my favorite movies all time, and an equally wonderful book. This fight scene really comes to life on the big screen. It's got the action, suspense, a little light-heartedness, and pithy dialogue. In the beginning, the two masters are both fighting left-handed. And when Inigo switches to fighting right-handed, he begins to gain the upper hand. But then we learn that the Dread Pirate Roberts is also not left-handed, and the fighting concludes with Roberts knocking Inigo out.  Best lines of dialogue:

Inigo: I do not mean to pry, but you don't happen to have six fingers on your right hand?

Roberts: Do you always begin conversations this way?

Monday, November 21, 2011

What's Lurkin' in your Turken'

This is a post from 2005 on my now defunct Phoenix Blog - Where science is stranger than fiction. It's a perfect Thanksgiving post, and it's also nostalgic to look back and see stuff I wrote SIX years ago on my old blog. Enjoy!

The American Thanksgiving Tradition: gather family and friends, cook a giant turkey along with all the other wonderful dishes, eat until you can't eat no more, head over to the family room and turn on football, and finally fall into the abyss known as the 'turkey coma.'

It's really a wonderful tradition, and one I look forward to every year. Question is, is there really something in the turkey that makes giants fall? Is there some type of chemical compound in a turkey that makes Uncle Tony begin snoring and drooling on your couch? The media has been talking about this for years, but how much truth is in their hype?

There is an amino acid called tryptophan that's found in turkey. Tryptophan is a known sedative, and at one time was a common sleeping aid. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is needed for the body to create serotonin, melatonin, and niacin. Serotonin is a calming neurotrasmitter while melatonin is a hormone that induces sleep. Tryptophan was being used in pill form to treat insomnia, but there was a rash of contaminated tryptophan that caused serious illness and some deaths in patients.

So is it the tryptophan that makes everyone groggy after stuffing their faces? Probably not. Tryptophan isn't able to affect the brain inside a stomach full of other foods and protein. There isn't enough tryptophan in turkey to affect you whatsoever anyway.

It's really all the food you eat that makes you sleepy - the mashed potatoes, the stuffing, pie, sweet potatoes. Lots of carbs means you will certainly crash a few moments after dinner. The insulin effect from all those starchy carbohydrates will certain trigger sleepiness. Plus, alcohol will certainly lay you out for the count. 

Don't believe the hype about the tryptophan in turkey. Other foods containing tryptophan include chicken, pork, and cheese. When you consume large amounts of food, the blood rushes to your gut to aid digestion, and there's the insulin/sugar effect from eating all those carbs.

What can be done to avoid the 'turkey coma?' Who cares? Why avoid it? It's tradition. I say embrace your Thanksgiving induced nap. Enjoy it. Gathering around a table, shoving lots of good food down your throat, and then sleeping to the sounds of football is your God-given-right!

Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful that the human mind is capable of justifying the enormous consumption of food that will make you fat and lazy. Just remember that it's not the tryptophan in the turkey that triggers sleep. It's a combination of eating lots of carbohydrates and the all-too-familiar call from the kitchen that, "It's time to do the dishes."

I guess many of us men have the 'turkey coma' on a daily basis.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Battle of the Insurance Commercials

I enjoy watching insurance commercials. Why? Because they involve two cutthroat worlds - insurance and advertising. Sometimes, I wonder just what the hell some advertisers were thinking when they created certain insurance commercials and campaigns And there's those that I love.

Here is a sample of some notables:

The Aflac Duck: This is one of the first ones I remember. The duck made his debut in 1999, with the squinty-eyed, growling comedian/actor Gilbert Gottfried. I know the insurance company says it's a duck, but really, it looks like a goose. Whatever. It's a clever campaign, as it includes the repetitive "Aflac...Aflac...Aflac..." quacking, a cute duck, and even celebrities. Gottfried was fired earlier this year when he Tweeted some jokes about the Japanese earthquake/tsunami catastrophe.

Gottfried gets on my nerves, but the duck was OK. Aflac's logo now even incorporates the mascot.

Flo: Personally, I find this hairspray and too much make-up wearing woman annoying as hell. Flo debuted in 2008 for Progressive. I really don't get these commercials, as they star Flo - an insurance "cashier" selling boxes of insurance. I would think this is not very good advertising. I mean, who wants insurance out of a damn box?

Although I'm not a fan, I will say the commercials that include the two insurance agents from a rival company are pretty funny. The one where one of them jumps behind bushes and the other ducks in the bed of a truck is good for a chuckle.

The Gecko: GEICO sounds like Gecko. So why not make the lizard your mascot? He made his first appearance around the same time as the duck back in 1999. Kelsey Grammer was the original voice of this reptile. Although many think he speaks with an Australian accent, it's actually a British-Cockney accent. The accent of the working class. I don't find the Gecko as annoying as the Aflac duck, and I love the commercial where he runs into the Taco Bell Chihuahua.

Pedro Cerrano: Okay, had to make the Major League reference here. You also might know this guy from TV shows The Unit or 24. To me, the guy will always be baseball bashing Pedro Cerrano. Sorry. These commercials were pretty boring in the beginning, starting in 2003. He always says, "That's where Allstate stands." or  "Are you in good hands?" Maybe it's his cool demeanor and baritone voice, but the man commands respect. And if you don't buy Allstate insurance, he just might beat you with a baseball bat.

Mayhem: This is probably my favorite, as I love watching shit blow up. Allstate probably decided to balance the good with some bad in 2010. And Mayhem is REALLY bad. In these commercials, a badass villain in a suit is Mayhem personified, and he represents various dangerous like a deer on the road or an angry GPS unit. The best, in my opinion, is when he represents a hot girl jogging. He's still wearing his suit, but also donning pink weights and a pink headband. A teenage boy is distracted and slams his car into a pole. Classic.

The Cavemen: These guys just won't go extinct! They were funny at first, when they made their first appearance in 2004, but overexposure made them tiring. The fact that they tried to make a TV show with these cavemen is pretty pathetic. They are still using the cavemen in their advertising, and in fact, the mayor of Homer, Alaska gave a caveman a key to the city while filming a commercial on the famous boat, The Time Bandit.

Maxwell: I really like this one. It's where they do their own version of the "This Little Piggy" nursery rhyme where one of the pigs cried "wee wee wee" all the way home. The pig's name was Maxwell, and he annoyed the hell out of the soccer mom that drove him home.

The Nationwide Guy: Nationwide Insurance calls this campaign the World's Greatest Spokesperson in the World. I'm not joking. We all first saw him during the Olympics last year. I want nothing more in this world than Mayhem and Pedro Cerrano to kick the shit outta this idiot. Does Nationwide really think this moron makes me want to buy their insurance? The guy is beyond irritating. Nationwide might be on my side, but I still hate their spokesman. I wish Flo would kick him in the nuts while the duck and gecko eat him alive. Go away. Now.

State Farm Singing: Why do advertisers believe people singing this stupid jingle about State Farm being a good neighbor and being there completely out of tune and defying the laws of reality makes you want to buy? Although I don't particularly like most of these commercials, I do find the one where the guy and his girlfriend are making wishes about their ideal versions of each other pretty funny.

Travelers Dog: Cute and endearing. Traveler's got it right when they showcased a cute dog trying to protect his most prized possession (a bone) while the song Trouble plays in the background. He even rides a bus to put his bone in a safety deposit box, only to cutely toss and turn that night. Finally, he keeps it in his cute dog bowl with the Traveler's umbrella. Memorable and sentimental. One of my favorites. Cute.

Snoopy: The one that started it all. MetLife employed Snoopy in 1985. Maybe I love these commercials because I'm such a huge PEANUTS fan. Or maybe it's because MetLife named their three airships Snoopy One, Snoopy Two, and Snoopy Three. In a recent advertising/marketing poll, Snoopy topped the list of most appealing product spokesperson/mascot, beating out the talking M&Ms and even Dos Equis beer spokesman, The Most Interesting Man in the World.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

How Oxymoronical!

One of my most favorite figures of speech has to be the oxymoron. Nevermind that the word "oxymoron" looks like some new buzz-speak for a junkie that sniffs too much bleach.

An oxymoron is a literary device where you take a couple words that contradict each other, smash 'em up together to somehow make sense. Got it? It's the power of the paradox, not to be confused with the power of the pair-of-ducks.

Here are some of my favorite oxymora of all time:

Living In the Past (Really? Have a time machine do you?)

Rap Artist (Ouch. I do like some rap, but only maybe a handful I would consider an artist)

Sight Unseen (Steve Wonder I'm sure is offended)

Act Naturally (Which would you have me do?)

Ladies Man (One of my favorite SNL skits, but not enough to make a whole movie with)

Lovers' Quarrel (Hurts so good)

Amicable Divorce (Similar to a lovers' quarrel?)

Congressional Action (Don't even get me started!)

Live Recording (Is it Memorex?)

Anarchy Rules (Sounds a lot like Occupy Wall Street)

Criminal Justice (If the glove don't fit...well the syringe just might)

Extra Virgin [Olive Oil] (Sprinkled for the very first time)

Freezer Burn (I once attempted to eat a Hot Pocket in this state. I was a poor college kid)

The Odds are Even (this is why I don't gamble)

And my favorite oxymoron EVER:

We're going back to the future!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

My Hero, Robert Cormier

No other author has influenced me as much as Robert Cormier.

Cormier was WAY ahead of his time. And although he is categorized as a Young Adult author, I've enjoyed his work as an adult.  But during the 70s and early 80s, he dared to write books that were very unconventional. This was when all those anti-drug novels were born. I mean, this was the age of the "After School Special" to teach kids a lesson.

However, Robert Cormier's books were completely different in a number of ways:

1) Although sometimes drugs and sex were in his books, they weren't the focus.
2) Adults were not always to be trusted.
3) There are no such things as 'happy endings.'

When I was a high school English teacher and going over one of his best books, After the First Death, our class had a debate about the ending. Cormier was ambiguous about the death of a main character - and we argued whether it was intentional or an accident. I had heard a rumor that Cormier had actually put his REAL phone number in one of his books, I Am the Cheese.

So I gave it a whirl one day. I called the number. And what would you know, Robert Cormier answered the damn telephone! We talked about the ending of his book, and I found out that my original suspicions were correct. And then we talked about writing. I told him that I wanted to be a writer. And he said:

"Well, Jason. Just keep writing. Tell your story. And hopefully good things will come."

Mr. Cormier passed away a year later.

Here are my Top 3 Favorite books (in no particular order) by Robert Cormier.  If you haven't read any of these, give them a try.

1) After the First Death. Talk about prophetic. This book proceeded September 11th by 22 years, and it deals with a terrorist attack on a bus load of children. The novel tells the story from three main characters' points of view, and it a big puzzle at first. But man, when you put the pieces together, it WILL BLOW YOUR MIND.
Best line: And she saw her doom in the masks.

2) The Chocolate War. This is the book that put Cormier on the map. This novel won so many damn awards, yet is consistently in the top 10 most banned books in America. Before there was School Ties or Dead Poets Society, there was The Chocolate War. It's the story of a young boy who dares to "disturb the universe." He's tormented by a teacher at his all-boys private school and by a notorious secret society called The Vigils. I got in hot water for teaching this book. But I taught it anyway.
Best line: Were teachers as corrupt as the villains you read about in books or saw in movies or television?

3) Fade. This is reported to be one of Stephen King's favorite novels. What if you had the power of invisibility? This book centers around a young man that discovers that he's inherited the power of the Fade, and he begins to see things he wishes he had never witnessed. This power soon becomes a burden when he discovers a nephew has this power too, and has been killing people. How the hell do you fight when you AND your opponent are both invisible???  Read this book and find out. Masterful.
Best Line: This is what the fade made me. A monster.

Cormier said that he loved to write about ordinary teenagers put into extraordinary situations. They don't have super powers, nor have vampire or werewolf buddies to help them out

And unfortunately, we all can't be superheroes.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Spooky Stories 3: A Skeptic's Experience

I've wanted to write about the B.E.K.s (Black Eyed Kid)s for a long time. Even going back to my old blog where I loved to share my stories of the paranormal - especially during my Spooky Stories Series in October. With my previous blog, I actually had a pretty massive following, and I asked my readers for their stories.

When the old blog went into hibernation, my URL was still active and I still got comments all time time, as I was still getting over 1000 hits a day with new new posts for a year! I received a VERY long comment, and I decided to keep a copy, but delete it from my blog.

Below is an excerpt of what "Kim" sent to me last year. 

* * * *

I am not insane, nor do I take drugs. I consider myself to be of sound mind. I'm a professional, working for a Fortune 1000 company in sales/marketing. I don't believe in ghosts, UFOs, or Bigfoot. Other than growing up Catholic, I'm not a big spiritual fanatic or anything.

My experience with [what] they call the Black Eyed Children still terrifies me today. To the point that if I'm alone in my house late at night, I turn on every single damn light I have. After my experience, I've worked hard to debunk what I saw and felt, but I just can't.

Let me tell you, what I went through was very real

I live in a nice neighborhood where the houses are a little spread out. I've always felt safe, and I have great neighbors. But last Spring, just after sunset, a loud banging on my door startled me from my cleaning. It was more banging than knocking, as if someone was in trouble. So I hurried to the door.

My stupid door didn't have a peephole at the time or those little windows on the sides of my front door. But I do have a pretty sturdy storm door. It's screened, but it has a sliding glass part that I can open and close. When I opened the door, the glass was down, and I could see that there was a young man on the other side of my screen.
"Can I help you?" I asked.

"I'm looking for my dog. He's one of those hot dog dogs."

"A dachshund."

The boy just shrugged his shoulder.
It was dark, so I flipped the porch light on. It was the yellow porch light bulb that flickered on (the kind that's not supposed to attract bugs), so it wasn't too bright. The boy was a young teenager. Maybe 13 or 14. But it was bright enough for me to see that he was not right. 

He had dirty blond hair, his skin was normal. Not very [pale] nor tan. He wore regular clothes - a plain blue t-shirt and jeans. But it was his eyes that freaked me out. They were completely BLACK!!! No white at all. I don't know what the white of the eye is called, but I saw none. I stared at his eyes, wondering if the light play was doing something weird - playing tricks on me. But I know for sure his eyes were completely black edge to edge.

"I think he's in your backyard," he said.

I'm a dog person. In fact, I had a dachshund as a child. So it's not normal for me to not want to help a kid find his lost dog. But I was struck with such terror, like I was going to die. I couldn't stop staring at his eyes, and I felt like my heart was going to explode. 

I slammed the door on his face. Locked it. I kept the porch light on, and I ran to the kitchen to check on the sliding door that led to my fenced in yard. I don't know why, but I had the feeling that this kid had a whole army of black eyed children with him. It was locked, thank God. But I turned on the rear patio light and closed the large vertical blinds.

I immediately felt stupid. I had been irrational. I felt bad for the kid and I wondered if maybe I was having a panic attack. Work had been stressful, and I was really questioning my state of mind. But when I heard the knocking on the front door again, that same horror hit me again. And the boy just kept knocking!!!!

There was no way I was going to open that door. I turned on every light in the house and even grabbed a steak knife from the kitchen.

I picked up my cell phone and called my parents. I acted like everything was normal, just trying to keep talking and listening to my mom go on and on about stuff. I wasn't going to tell her I was afraid for my life because of a child with black eyes was at my door.

I wasn't really listening, and I kept waiting for more knocks to come from the front door. I just kept the fake conversation up, hoping I would get a grip. The boy's knocking stopped after several minutes, and I was on the phone with my mom for a good hour until I felt safe enough to hang up.

I never saw the boy again, and that was my one and only experience. My immediate neighbors never saw the child at all. I have no idea what these kids are, and it freaks me out to read the other stories online. But all I know is that they aren't normal. They are pure evil. I have nothing to base that conclusion on other than what I felt.

Thanks for reading my super long comment. 

I hope you enjoyed this fun spooky series. Happy Halloween everybody!


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Spooky Stories 2: The Marine and the Black Eyed Kids

I hope you enjoyed the first story of Brian Bethel's encounter with two Black Eyed Kids (B.E.K.)s, as it was the first verified documentation of such a story. Afterwards, the internet was flooded by people from all walks of life with stories about their own horrific tales of these "children." 

Here is a compelling account by a Marine who calls himself Reaper 3-1:

* * * *

I'm a Marine stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. I live in the infantry barracks off of River Road. I recently had a rather strange encounter with a pair of black-eyed kids.

I live on the third floor of the barracks that have open walkways on the outside and the rooms on the inside. This happened on a weekend back in November, 2009. It was a weekend, so almost every Marine was out, either home, drinking or sleeping; only a handful were left in the barracks awake. I'd stayed in that weekend because I was broke and had no money to go out.

I was watching a movie when I heard a knock at my door. Figuring it was my roommate who'd lost his key again, I went and opened it. Instead of a drunken roommate, I found two little kids standing on the walkway - only these kids freaked the hell out of me. I don't know what it was about them, but as a Marine we're always told to listen to that little voice in your head, because it just might save your life from an IED (improvised explosive device). Right then that voice was screaming at me to shut the door and lock it.


There was also the fact that these kids had absolutely pitch-black eyes. I mean no white or any other color to them whatsoever - just black. But I pushed those things aside and asked them what they were doing there so late. They responded by saying that it was really cold out and they wanted to come in and read. I was confused as hell, because I've never met a kid that wants to read. Also, there was no mention of any parents or anything else you'd expect a lost couple of kids to say.

I couldn't take my eyes of their pitch-black eyes; it was like they were sucking me in. I felt horrible and was suddenly frightened for my life, like I needed to immediately take cover. They just stared at me, with those goddam eyes.

I took a quick look up and down the walkway to see if any other Marines were out, but there was nobody in sight [sic]. I turned back to the kids who I noticed had taken a step forward toward me. I got the feeling like I was being hunted, like these kids where predators and out for their next meal or something. Instinct gave way to reason and I decided to listen to that voice and shut the door and locked it.

I heard soft constant knocking for the next five minutes before I heard my window rattle and then nothing. I went down to the officer on duty the next morning and asked him about it and he said he hadn't heard of or seen any kids in the area at all, and dismissed it saying that I'd probably had too much to drink last night.

Only I hadn't been drinking at all or anything like that that night. I don't know what or who those kids were, but I doubt any of the families here would let their kids wander around at night on a military base.

* * * *
Starting to see a pattern here? 

Why do these B.E.K.s always ask to come in? It seems they're not allowed to just trespass and barge in. Every witness also feels such a heavy feeling of dread and panic when they're face to face with a B.E.K. Why?

And what would happen if you let one in your home or car?