Monday, November 17, 2014

Second to One

Most of my life I've been the eternal bridesmaid. I'm good, sometimes great, but theres always been someone ahead of me. In contests, I win second place. In sporting events, I'm competitive, and near the top. In relationships, I'm a great guy; almost the best.

This puts me in an awkward position. I'm always near the top. This can be viewed in two ways (this IS Pessimistic Optimism, after all). The awesome part is that I'm always in the running. I'm competitive and near greatness. The pessimistic part is that I'm rarely the one. I can smell the top, but his feet smell stinky.

This has been the fuel of my pessimistic side. I know even though I do my best, someone or something is going to eek through just a tiny bit better. In sports, they're going to rally to that extra point. In contests, I'm up against the prodigy. In relationships I'm the next best guy (and to add insult to injury, I'm the second choice, then the first choice falls through, so then I'm the first choice by default... then I suddenly become the second choice again after a few months).

The optimistic side of me sees this as a good thing. Hey, I'm not the first choice, but I'm not the last choice either. It's nice to be good enough to be in the top ten constantly, even if I never win. After all, the second place team still gets to the Super Bowl, right? I see a pattern of "twos", so that must be my lucky number.

Number two can either mean second in command, or taking a crap. It all depends on your perspective.

I'm not sure I'm comfortable with being in second place, or the second choice. It's nice to know that when the first place fails, I'm the next in line, but there's a certain confidence in being number one. You have the advantage of being in control of the situation. You're not waiting for someone to screw up so you can take the lead.

I wonder sometimes if it's something I'm doing that keeps me as a
perpetual runner-up. Maybe I'm not aggressive enough. Maybe I'm too aggressive. Maybe I'm too nice. Maybe I'm not nice enough. I'm not sure, but it makes it hard to have comfort and stability in life knowing you're good enough; unless something, or someone better comes along. Part of it makes me want to  say "screw it all" and stop trying, but part of me uses it to keep the drive going.  Will it be enough to be number one someday? Time will tell. I'm the meantime, I'm pretty good at horseshoes, and I'm in the military, so hand grenades come into play.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Same ol Same ol

Complacency is probably the biggest downfall of mankind. It allows the underdog to take over the champion. From David and Goliath to the Denver Broncos' last Super Bowl, becoming complacent causes you to lose your edge, your drive, and eventually your respect.

Life is so easy to become complacent. There is so much going on every day that the thought of putting it on cruise control is overwhelming. Much like Ron Burgundy discovered in Anchorman 2, cruise control is useful in maintaining speed, but not so much when the road curves.

I've discovered that you need to always remain on edge to guard against complacency. If you become complacent in your job, you get passed over for people who innovate. You get complacent with your children, you'll eventually discover they've move beyond your boundaries. If you get complacent with your wife, you become boring and her eyes begin to wander towards someone with more drive and ambition.

Fortunately the cure for complacency isn't difficult to attain. Treat every day like it's the last. Do your job as if you could get fired at any time. Expect the unexpected from your children. Remind yourself you have to impress your wife every day or else you'll lose her.

You can't let your guard down in this day and age. There's always someone looking to take your spot. Always someone trying to be better. Always someone trying to impress your girl. Keep that edge or else you'll just be one of the crowd.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Running on Empty

This Labor Day weekend, my girlfriend decided on an impromptu visit to some of her family in Nevada. Between being stuck on the islands of Guam and Hawaii for 10 years, and two 3300+ mile driving adventures to Alaska and back again, 7 hour road trips are nothing to me.

We hopped in the Explorer and headed out. I made sure I filled up the tank before we left and used a gas finder app to determine the cheapest place to get gas was Fernley, NV, a small town about halfway to our destination. I stopped and filled up on gas (and Cinnabon aroma). Based on my mileage, I figured I’d be able to get by on that tank until we returned on our way back home.

After a fun filled couple of days where I shredded my palms in an unfortunate motor bike incident (another day… another day) we headed back. We were good on gas and had plenty of Starbucks, so I whizzed by several towns. We stopped at a McDonalds in Lovelock, NV for a potty break and I contemplated getting gas. I looked at my app, and Fernley was still 10 cents cheaper, and right down the road. Well, kinda.

Back in the day, before all the on-board computers and electronic displays calculated up to the second vehicle statuses, there were analog fuel gauges. One of the things many of us discovered (either willingly, or not) exactly how far you could go when the needle was on “E”. This was more of an art than a science. With analog gauges, you couldn’t tell exactly how above or below “E” the needle actually was. Sure there was the “hey dummy, you’re almost out of gas” warning light, but even than was fairly arbitrary. When it came on, it still didn’t tell you how far you could go. The only real way to find out was to go until the car sputtered and you were walking down the highway, gas can in hand.

Cars today offer mileage estimators, and the majority of those will also tell you how many more miles you can drive before empty. This takes the guesswork (and fun, one could argue) out of how far you can go before the tank goes dry.

Now, I’ve always had a theory that automakers know that men like to drive the cars they manufacture, and men are idiots. So, the manufacturers secretly make the gas tanks a little bigger than the manual says and adjust the gauges so when it says empty, you still have about a gallon left. Keeping this in mind, let us return to the story.

We left the McDonalds, resisting the urge to grab an apple pie, and headed back on the interstate. While dreaming of all the wonderful things I planned to do with the $1.63 I saved by forgoing the gas in Lovelock, I noticed the green “miles to” sign. At the top of the list was “Fernley 57 miles”. I glanced at my display. “Miles to Empty: 58”.

Uh oh.

I told my girlfriend that it was a little further than I thought and maybe I should turn around and get a few gallons just in case. She agreed. This was the last ration thought I had for the next 57 miles.

Five miles down the road it became clear that there might not be anywhere to exit and turn around. There were a couple “Emergency Vehicles Only” gravel turnarounds, but last I checked, I wasn’t driving an ambulance. At the 45 miles to Fernley point, my car suddenly became thirstier and dropped to 40 miles to empty. Instead of a mile to spare, I now had a 5 mile deficit. About 20 miles down the road, there was an exit. Did I mention I’m male?

I ignored the exit, (ir)rationally thinking that turning around would use almost as much gas and proceeding down the road. This would not only deprive me of $1.63, it would also add 40 minutes to our journey (NOTE: Proving God has a sense of humor, traffic from Reno to Tahoe added 100 minutes to our journey). Comforted by the fact that my Explorer had closed the miles to empty gap by three, I pressed on. My Girlfriend and 20yr old daughter in the back didn’t say anything, bless them, but I could tell eyes were rolled when I wasn’t looking.

One of the reasons behind my decision to press on was believing that surely there must be a lone gas station in the middle of these two towns (NOTE: There are no lone gas stations between towns in Nevada). 20 miles out, my explorer resumed guzzling and the deficit grew to six. I dropped the speed to 65 to conserve gas. I even tried drafting behind a Semi, but they rudely insisted on going the speed limit.

10 miles out, I dropped down to 60 and cut off the A/C. If my gas gauge were a TV show, it would have been number one in ratings.

5 miles out, and my car was officially on empty. Time to put my theory to the test. We passed a sign, which cruelly mocked us. “Fernley next 3 exits”. Being very experienced in road trips, I knew when you see a sign like that, it really means “The only exit that has any stuff worth stopping for is the middle one”. After roughly 5 minutes of panic, I saw our salvation. We resisted the urge to cheer, because we weren’t quite at the gas station yet, and could stall at any time. As if someone in the universe was trying to make a point, a Semi slowly rolled to a stop ahead of us. There wasn’t a stop sign, just a yield, but the Semi stopped anyway despite there being no incoming traffic. If we ran out of gas, coasting wouldn’t be an option if the big rig didn’t move.

We coasted into the gas station and breathed a sigh of relief. It was pretty packed and I realized how fortunate we were to have an open pump. The bright side to all of this was that it was my girlfriend’s turn to pay.

I guess I should follow most my blog post’s theme and follow this with something meaningful; tying this story into a life lesson. Even though my fuel gauge read empty, my car still eeked out another 5 miles. When you feel like you’re running on empty, just remember that all is not lost. There’s a little reserve in all of us that can get us to the next gas station to refill and regroup.

Oh, and men are idiots.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Thy Plate Overfloweth

I love food. When I go to a restaurant I suffer from “the paradox of choice” (go ahead, Google it) because I usually want half the items on the menu (Why do I take my Girlfriend out to eat? I want to sample her food). This is why buffets are a godsend to me. Idon’t have to choose. I can have it all. I load up with a little bit of everything and return to my seat with a plate overflowing with calorie-laden goodness. Unfortunately, despite being full,I’m rarely as satisfied as I would be if I ate a tasty single-item meal. Why aren’t I satisfied? I ate everything I wanted, but Ididn’t take the time to enjoy each item before beginning the next.

I’ve been slacking horribly on both my blog writing and pre-professional writing (sounds better than “amateur”). I guess not so much slacking. Slacking would be me having free time and choosing to do nothing instead of writing. I’ve just been busy because I’d over-filled my plate.

Just like the way I approach buffets, I tend to fill my life up with a lot of activity. I have many interests and I juggle multiple things simultaneously. Instead of enjoying the peace and relief when one project is finished, I seek out one, or two, more things to fill that space. While this keeps me busy, it also expends very finite financial, physical, and mental resources, leaving little room for the unexpected and creates stress.

I recently resumed college classes. I was considering retiring from the Air Force and took a Transition Assistance class, whichwas supposed to prepare me for life after the military. The primary thing I got out of it was that I wasn’t as ready as I thought I was, so one of my first priorities was being better prepared, and finishing my Communications degree was high on that list. 
Eagar to get started, I signed up for two online classes at the University of Maryland University College (“The FightingRedundants”!!) not thinking about the time I needed to dedicate to them. Anyone who has taken an on-line course knows they are fast paced due to most being on a compressed schedule. I was deployed the last time I took online courses. I figured it was easy then, so I could do it now. Thing is, when you’re deployed, there are very little distractions. No family, your food is provided, and entertainment is at a minimum.

This time I was not deployed, learning a new job, family, plus a pretty full social life. I found myself using a lot of my remaining free time (that I used to devote to personal writing) to all my assignmentsmost of which involved a lot of writing. The real endurance test was last week when both courses had their final projects due, and I had to do an investigative report for work. Yes, I was writing, which is something I truly enjoy doing (even when it’s work), but it’s not as satisfying in random bits instead of a single project.

Doing these courses was like having a second job, and my mistake was trying to keep doing everything else I wanted to. Sure, it all worked out in the end. I finished my two classes and managed to do everything else I wanted, but the quality of it all suffered.  Just because there is room on the plate, it doesn’t have to be filled with more food.

I’m trying to not fill my plate so full anymore. I’m taking two classes again this semester, but I’m not doing them at the same time (one of the benefits of online classes is there are usually multiple class sessions per semester). I’m trimming my social calendar and getting the kids more involved. I’m also working on organizational skills so I can make better use of my time.

I’m also learning I need to keep some empty spaces on the plate. One of the best things my Girlfriend is teaching me (inadvertently at times…) is that it’s okay to just do nothing. I’m one of those that sits down and immediately thinks of all the productive things I could/should be doing instead of sitting down. I used to hate naps because of the time they wasted. Now I nap, and I love it. The other day I was just lying on my bed staring at the ceiling, blissfully doing nothing.

There are many things you could draw from this post: Life moves pretty fast. Stop and smell the roses. Buffets are awesome. I prefer to empathize that life should be quality over quantity. You can get a whole lot of little things accomplished, or a few big things. More often than not, it’s the big accomplishments that are far more satisfying.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Music Piracy(?)

I'm currently taking a class for my Communications degree about today's media. The question was basically if we thought music piracy was unethical or if it was good for music. My answer wound up kind of long, but it turned into a pretty good blog post.

Hit album, or gateway drug?
I'm a little hypocritical on this one. It is unethical, but I don't think it's a bad thing.

Here's my history on music piracy. I absolutely love music. I always have. I remember discovering a bunch of my Dad's 45s and listening to them over and over on my Fisher Price record player (yes, I'm old...). The first album I purchased was Michael Jackson's Thriller (on vinyl, btw), and I was one of
the first in my neighborhood to get it because it was hard to find at the time. I tried to buy music whenever I could (Cassettes, Records, 45s, cassingles, and eventually CDs) but I usually lacked the funds, so I would wait for American
Top 40 each week and record my favorite songs right off the radio. I honestly never gave it a second thought, but it was technically music piracy.

It was easier leave the Mafia than this club

When I had a bit more disposable income, I joined one of those music clubs (12 cassettes for a penny!) and expanded my library. Eventually I discovered MP3s in their infancy and discovered I could download songs from FTP servers. This was huge for me and again, it never occurred to me that it was piracy. I viewed it as someone letting me listen to their music collection and taking a copy of the ones I liked. I discovered so many new artists and songs. 

Eventually I downloaded Napster like everyone else, and my music
collection grew and grew (which was quite an accomplishment over a 56k
dial-up). I began to hear the rumblings about downloading songs off Napster
being illegal and pirating music became a household word. I wasn't too
ethically bothered by it. My justification was that the majority of songs I
downloaded were either already available for free on the radio, or songs I
realistically would never buy anyway. Napster was eventually shut down and I
turned to some of the alternates, but then Apple introduced iTunes.


I had tried a couple legitimate on-line music services, but hated the copy protection or proprietary formats that crippled each song. Although iTunes had copy protection, it was still light years ahead of the alternatives. iTune's primary appeal to me was the guaranteed quality of the songs. Most songs on illegal sites back then were either poor or incomplete copies. You had to download the whole song before listening to it so you'd wind up downloading multiple copies of the same song in an attempt to find one of decent quality. iTunes fixed that by working directly with the music companies and providing professionally created digital music files.

 About this time, I was becoming more serious about my writing, working on
a novel and eventually screenwriting. While learning about the business side
of it, I realized that in order to make money on it, I'd have to have people
either buy my books, or pay to see my movies. It didn't take long to make
the connection to other media, including music. While musicians make a lot
of their money off things other than their albums (live shows, etc), they
won't continue to create music if they aren't selling albums. Now I look at
purchasing music as a "vote" to the artist that I like what they're doing
and I hope they'll continue to do it. I could easily still download or
listen to it for free, but very few artists can afford to keep releasing
music without a paying audience.

Today, I purchase nearly all of my music and subscribe to iTunes match
which basically legalizes all of my previous downloads for a yearly fee of
$25. If I download anything from a file sharing site it either isn't
available on iTunes or Amazon, or is a bootleg recording, which again, isn't
available. I don't look down on anyone who still downloads their stuff for
free, but I personally don't do it anymore, especially since I can afford

One important note was during all my "piracy" years I STILL BOUGHT MUSIC.
I think the current model of free, ad supported streaming (Pandora, Spotify)
coupled with legitimate downloads (iTunes, Amazon) is basically the new
model we'll see in the future. Music on the radio is essentially an
advertisement for the artist's album. If you like the song, you'll buy the
album or go to the concert. Pirated music is no different. I discovered so
many new artists, and subsequently bought songs, albums, and attended
concerts of the artists I liked.

For the most part, piracy is good for the entertainment industry. You think Microsoft would be so dominant if all of their copies of Windows or Office were legitimate, or Sony would have established the first Playstation if the games weren't so easy to copy? Nope. Today's recorded music is a loss leader for more lucrative Live performances or music licenses for movies and

Sunday, March 23, 2014

21 Day Fix

My girlfriend has been a longtime fan of Shakeology; a nutritional smoothie, and decided to become a Beachbody Coach. She did this to help others, but more importantly, did it for the discount. Apparently another perk is finding out about new exercise and dieting programs offered by Beach Body. The latest is 21 Day Fix. She told me about it and asked if I wanted to participate. I said yes because she is fairly in shape, and I am more of an almost fairly in shape, and need to catch up with her.

21 Day Fix is an exercise and diet program from Beach Body (the demented psychos people who brought you P90X and Insanity). The concept is 21 days straight of 30 minute exercises and a nutrition plan based on colored containers corresponding with different food groups (red for protein, green for veggies, etc). I'll explain the exercise and nutrition plan, then finish up with my reaction to the 21 Day Fix. 

Exercise Fix:

The exercise portion consists of seven 30-minute workouts: Total body cardio, Upper body Fix, Lower body Fix, Pilates Fix, Cardio Fix, Dirty 30, and Yoga Fix. There is a bonus 10 min abs, but since I hate ab workouts, I refuse to acknowledge its existence. A few days into the routine, I noticed that there is a method to the madness regarding the order of the workouts. They smartly target different groups preventing over exertion and allowing rest (except abs… Autumn loves working out abs and every workout featured them at some point). The Pilates and Yoga days are designed for "active recovery", though I felt there was very little "recovery" during the Pilates (my abs! They burn!). There’s the token “less-in-shape-than-everyone-else-in-the-video” (Hi Kat!) to show you the easier versions of all the exercises. All of the workouts involve the whole body (did I mention abs?) and I never felt I was wasting my time on any of them.

The first day of workouts got off to a slow start. Determined to squeeze in all the workouts, we decided to get up a little early and workout in the morning before work. We started the DvD and I expected a boring, fairly easy workout. Yeah, I was wrong… The workouts are pretty intense (except Yoga) and I was sore following each one of them. Some involve weights and you’re supposed to have a light and heavy set. I started with just a medium set for all, but added a heavy set the last week of exercising and I felt it.

They really pack a punch in a limited amount of time, and even though I dislike exercise DvDs and would rather run, I’ll probably continue using at least the Total Body and Upper Body Fix ones to supplement my preferred cardio exercise; jogging.

Nutrition Fix:

While the Exercise Fix was easy to jump into, the nutrition portion took a lot of initial work and planning.

The 21 Day Fix nutrition portion uses color containers to measure your foods. Your calorie goals determine how many of each color you can eat in one day. You get one of each color with the kit. The general mantra is if you can fit it into the container, then you can eat it. (Our particular kit was missing the polka dot “doughnut” container, much to our disappointment.)

Green = Veggies
Purple = Fruit
Red= (lean) Protein
Yellow = Starches/Carbs
Blue = Cheese/Nuts
Orange = Seeds/Oil based dressings
Teaspoon = Cooking oils and peanut butter

Most diets eliminate a food group, and this one was no different. Very Low sodium/Fat, but, worst of all, was almost zero dairy. No cheese, no ranch, no creamer, no milkshakes. You were allowed to substitute a Yellow up to three times a week for treats, like a glass of milk, wine, or approved sweets. Finally, since Shakeology is intended to be part of this diet, you could substitute one shake for Red (plus purple is you mixed fruit in with it). Finally, you were supposed to avoid sugar substitutes like diet soda (guess what part I cheated on…).

It took a while to compile a first-week grocery list that included all the items we needed to eat, but eliminating the dairy that is normally a staple of our normal diet.

Since I like to find out how things work (this is the guy who once took all his Transformers apart to see how they transformed), I compiled these handy-dandy charts:

1 Cup
1 Cup
.66 Cup
.5 Cup
.25 Cup
2 Tbsp.

Using SCIENCE! (ie, a measuring cup and water) I figured out the portion sizes of each container. This made it much easier to cook recipes and portion out the food since there were only one of each color in the kit. I did make the dyslexic mistake of thinking it was a Tablespoon instead of a teaspoon, but realized my mistake when I pulled out a tablespoon of peanut butter and thought “this is too good to be true”.
The intention of the containers/colors is to eliminate calorie counting. I personally like calorie counting and think it’s incredibly easy to keep track of nowadays with nutritional labels and the internet, but I was determined to stick to the 21 Day Fix plan as much as possible. Assuming I’d probably over-portion a bit, I chose the 1500-1800 range (through past diets I’ve found 1800 calories to be ideal for me). After finding myself incredibly hungry on a constant basis throughout the first 4-5 days, I kept track of my calories and found I was averaging far below 1500.
I compiled an ideal daily diet according to the 21 Day Fix booklet to see how accurate the calorie ranges were:
Ideal Daily Diet (1580 Cal)
Sweet Potatoes
Collard Greens
Grnd Turkey
Sunflower Seeds
Olive Oil
Brussels Sprouts

Eggs (2)






As you can see, even the ideal diet is still in the bottom of the 1500-1800 range. Even so, here was my average daily diet using my allotted colors:

My Week 1 Average Daily Diet (1280 Cal)
Banana (half)
Wild Rice
Banana (half)
Multi grain bread
Light dressing
Lettuce mixed
Cottage Cheese
Olive Oil

Lettuce mixed

Eggs (2)

Peanut Butter (2)






No wonder I was hungry. A 300 calorie difference, and 600 less than my goal. I helped alleviate this by adding a Red and Yellow.

I also found I had a tendency to “color hoard”, especially during workdays, and would have a large amount of colors left by dinnertime. This left me very hungry during the day, and made it feel like I was stuffing myself at night. I shifted some colors to earlier in the day, which helped, though I was still hungry more often than not.

My 21 Days:

I followed the 21 Day Fix as strictly as possible. I think I only had two meals where I consumed more than my allotment of cheese, and drank a bit more wine, plus a couple Guinness’s (hey, it was St Patty’s Day). Even on those days, I never went over my 1800 calorie goal (I kept track of my calories on days I knew I’d be cheating). I did every workout except for subbing two runs for a Cardio and Yoga, plus a Zombie/Mud run 5K for a Legs Fix. Other than feeling a bit sore, and complaining about too many ab focused exercises, I had little trouble finding motivation for doing my daily workout.

While nutritionally I ate better, I was very hungry the majority of the 21 Day Fix. Normally my diets consist of a calorie counting, low carb approach. Since the 21 Day Fix virtually eliminates dairy, this killed many of my go-to snacks, dressings, and sauces. My low carb (under 80 grams), higher fat, calorie counting (1800) diets left me far more satisfied and more energy. It’s probably not as nutritionally sound as the 21 Day Fix diet, but it’s far more satisfying and I can sustain it longer.

While I stuck to the whole 21 days, I noticed both my girlfriend and I weakened considerably the final 7 days and it took a lot of forced motivation and support to gut it out. We were tired of being deprived of our favorite foods and felt sleeping in was a better alternative to getting up early and working out (but we did still workout in the evening).


Overall I liked the concept of the 21 Day Fix. Since it was “only” 21 days, it was easier to push through it since we both knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel. The exercises were challenging but not overwhelming, and that was our favorite part of the program. The nutritional part was easy once we got the hang of it, but it’s not a lifestyle either of us would be able to, or want to, live with. We plan to do another round of the 21 Day Fix, but this time we’ll count calories instead of using the color system.


My Girlfriend didn’t lose any weight, but lost 5.5 combined inches overall (Hips, thighs, waist, etc).

I lost 8 lbs and 1.5 inches from my waist (I didn’t do full body measurements)
Even with the assumption that a few lbs were water retention due to the sinfully delicious “last meal” we ate prior to the diet, those are pretty decent results for 21 days. I feel more toned than when I started and am determined to continue dieting.

If nothing else, the 21 Day Fix is a perfect way to “boot camp” your fitness/diet and either lose a few lbs or inches, or get yourself on the right track for more weight-loss and/or a fitter/toner body.