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Out of Excuses

This was an essay I submitted to Writing Excuses -a wonderful podcast for writers. It was a chance to win a spot on a cruise and I thought I’d try my luck. Well, no luck but a worthy person did win. I found it in a backup folder and figured I’d share. It is from 2015.
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It has been said that a life without dreams is hardly worth living – but what about dreams without life? What is written of those who feel the nascent sparks of possibility – who shepherd tiny lights through the dark forests of their childhood – and then find themselves aged and holding only ash?

I considered not writing this essay. I am not certain that I am unique – or rather that my uniqueness is more extraordinary or noteworthy than that of any who journey through mortality. There are undoubtedly others whose needs and talents exceed my own. If I knew their stories personally or saw their youth and the possibilities of their lives laid before them, I might withdraw; not from cowardice or lack of ambition, but because I understand the pain of a life that is peppered with failure. Almost, but never quite reaching the brass ring.

I write this essay, in spite of my uncertainty, because I have nothing to lose. The evening of my life finds me, in many ways, a failure. I do not say this to garner sympathy. It is a simple statistical fact. Attempts versus achievements. Yet the ash in my hand holds a tiny nugget, barely felt as I rub it between my thumb and forefinger. What lies within it?

Perhaps it would be best if I prettied up my personal story, sold you on salient positive details and then carefully held them close to the lens to make them appear more prominent than they are. I cannot. It seems wrong to be so ashamed of a weakness that you have to carefully plaster over it, or to wax and polish a strength to make it seem more than what it is. Inevitably life exposes all things to the unpitying light of Truth. Time spent building gilded towers and elaborate facades has always seemed like wasted effort to me. It is one answering machine speaking to another. Words without substance.

What would I bring to the group? Social awkwardness. A personality that is perhaps a bit wooden and withdrawn around large gatherings of people. An inward bent. A tendency to look too deeply at things.

I am also sincere. A good listener. Careful to avoid hurting people’s feelings. Gentle, funny and friendly as I become more comfortable. I think creatively within the box, burrowing down through hidden layers, illuminating dark corners and often finding the unexpected. I bring a profound – and even desperate – desire to share whatever this insignificant speck, balanced on my fingertip, may contain. It represents any talent I may have and the last bit of my stubborn hope.

I lack the financial resources to attend the conference. I also cannot justify placing my personal aspirations before my family’s need – yet I believe the conference would be of great benefit in propelling me forward; a key to the door, of a possibility, that I have only peeked through the keyhole of. If I am able to go to the conference it will be because you saw something worthwhile in my writing. I hope that you do.

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GIGO & Your Brain

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I’m not sure if it was binge-watching season 4 of Stranger Things but I found myself thinking about the craziness of the world again and decided to pen a few more words.

I am convinced that we are victims of our own brains.

This is something I touched on here in an earlier post. We spend our lives gathering data, learning about the world, learning from other people, and building a model of reality. This unique view of reality becomes the lens we use to see the world. We are not reacting to the world so much as reacting to the model of the world we have in our heads.  I’ve heard this described as the ‘predictive brain.’

Your view through that lens may be accurate or distorted. It can guide you to do worthwhile work and help you to lead a happy life or drag you down a rabbit hole of conspiracy theories, fear, and rage. For the most part, the system has worked well for ‘normal’ people. And by normal, I mean people whose view of reality is good enough to be able to allow them to function in the world.

I’m not a neuroscientist or a psychologist so this is just my sense of things. But when I look at what is going on in the world it fits. Our brains have evolved over considerable time to function as they do. They help us to make sense of the world. To establish order. We make assumptions as to how the world works and when something violates those assumptions, we feel threatened and disoriented. Our understanding of the world may be shaken or even shattered. At this point, our brains may shift into a problem-solving or crisis mode as we try to find our footing or fend off a real or imagined threat.

There is more to unpack here but getting back to why I think we are victims of our own brains.

We live in a time when we are flooded by data. There are facts, alternate facts, information, and disinformation. We are exposed to charismatic and manipulative personalities whose views may appeal to us in ways we don’t understand, so much so that we adopt their views into our own models. Companies, political groups, lobbyists, and other powerful entities may hire psychologists who understand the way our brains work so that they can move us in a desired direction. Governments have long understood the power of ‘spin’ and use it to deflect blame, to hide the truth, sugar coat or demonize ideas. Hostile foreign governments are actively engaged in disinformation campaigns designed to mislead or to use the rifts in our societies to weaken us.

Our brains are absorbing all this data and trying to make sense of it. There is an old concept in computer programming known as GIGO – garbage in, garbage out. Our brain is a computer and, in this context, GIGO tells us that no matter how good you are at processing data, and how magnificent a model of reality you think you have, if the data is flawed, the output will be flawed.

There are a few things we can do to safeguard our minds and root out or correct errors.  The first step is the hardest and that is accepting the possibility that we are not necessarily right about everything. Then we need to reduce the barrage of data we are exposed to by limiting the amount of news and social media we consume.

Next, take a fresh look at your sources of information – are you blindly accepting information as true because it matches what you already believe (confirmation bias)? Or because you have been convinced that you are in imminent danger and some ‘evil’ group or individual is attempting to destroy your world (fear bias)? What is the basis of this belief? Do you have proof or is it hearsay, gossip, or a conspiracy theory popularized on a forum?

Don’t put anything into your brain unless you can verify it isn’t garbage. If in doubt, set it aside. Ask critical questions such as how likely it is that users on a forum or your friend Joe, discovered some massive government conspiracy by reading posts on that forum? Do the people making the assertion have an agenda? What is it about the statement that leads you to believe it is true? How valid is your reasoning?

Try to find a quiet place and let go of all the noise and chaos. Ponder, pray, meditate, play calming music. Take a walk in a beautiful natural setting. Do whatever you can to get to a place in your own mind where you aren’t driven by fear, or manipulation or your own biases.

Listen to people you disagree with. Try to understand where they are coming from. Ask questions without judgment. Be respectful. Consider the things you believe to be true, especially the ones that burden you, or anger you or cause you to be afraid.

No matter how clear the water in a river is, it can be difficult to see the bottom when the surface is agitated. Finding a quiet space in the midst of a chaotic world allows clarity. So go ahead, step down from Defcon 1 and take a breath. Go outside and enjoy the beauty of the world. Spend time with the family. Watch a funny movie.

 

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Foods for Freshwater Aquarium Fish

I have had aquariums of one sort or another most of my life. There is something about that encapsulated ecosystem with plants, fish, shrimp and other critters swimming, tunneling or crawling about that captivates me.

I currently have a 75 gallon aquarium with a variety of critters and figured I’d share some of my favorite fish foods. This post includes Amazon affiliate links.

Repashy

I have some fish that are grazers, biofilm eaters and bottom feeders that often get neglected in the aquarium. These include Otocinclus, Pygmy Corydoras, and Stiphodon Gobies like the beautiful Blue Neon Goby. I decided to try Repashy Gel Foods to supplement these fishes diets and find them to be exceptional. I keep mine in the refrigerator and when needed mix a little powder with hot water in a small heat proof dish. Once it is form I cut a suitable sized chunk and drop it in. The food can also be poured on a piece of driftwood or other aquarium safe surface and once dry put it in the aquarium. The fish love it and all my picky eaters are plump and healthy.

Tip: For firmer gel use less water. If the gel is a little softer than I like I can firm it up two ways. I put it in a sandwich bag in the refrigerator, on a paper towel. This wicks off some of the water and firms it up in a few hours. I have also put my heat proof dish in the oven on the lowest setting and set a timer. After an hour or so I end up with an extra firm disk (round dish) that the fish can pick at for a day or so.

Here are a few of my favorite Repashy items:

Repashy Soilent Green – great for grazers and fish that like plant matter, algae and biofilm. My Otocinclus and Stiphodon Gobies love this, but everyone including the Gouramis, Cardinal Tetras, Pencil Fish, Endlers, shrimp and dwarf crayfish will munch it too.

 

 

 

Repashy Community Plus – is a great food for omnivorous fish and inverts of all types. I alternate feedings with the Soilent Green. Sometimes I mix them, or create two batches at the same time and quickly pour them into one dish for a swirl of two kinds of food.

 

 

 

There are many more varieties available at the Repashy Store which I highly recommend. There are also food for reptiles and salamanders which are more meaty or insect heavy and might be suitable for certain types of fish. Be sure to let me know if you try any of these awesome foods.

Freeze-Dried Foods

Freeze-dried foods can fit a niche when you don’t have access to live foods, or frozen. I generally alternate them with flake, tablet, gel and frozen foods to offer some balance and avoid bloat. Which types of dry critters you use will vary by the type of fish you have but here are a few currently on my shelf.

Hikari Bio-Pure Freeze Dried Blood Worms – Blood worms are actually the aquatic larval phase of one or more types of insects, most commonly the midge fly. Fish love them fresh, freeze-dried or frozen – though I find the frozen tend to ‘bleed out’ as the freezing process breaks the cell walls. They should not be used alone as they do not provide a complete diet.

 

 

Tip: I sometimes soak freeze-dried foods in a container first and then pour them in to make sure the guys on the bottom get some. You can add vitamins like Vitachem to the water you are going to soak them in. When I have had sick fish and didn’t want to dose the whole tank I have soaked them in ‘garlic water’ – water I let sit in the refrigerator with a smashed clove of garlic. You can use Garlic Guard instead. The food is essentially a sponge so you can experiment with adding other things to the soak water like spirulina algae and color enhancers and then feed these powered-up foods to your fish.

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The Battle Nobody Wins

people arguing
Image Credit: Wallpaper Cave

If you think what I’m about to say is about you, it isn’t. I am speaking in general terms about the craziness in the world as I see it. We live in a time where posting an opinion on social media easily draws the ire of people who have become increasingly hostile over real and imagined offenses. Often the real offenses are magnified so much that something that should have been a conversation seeking a solution instead attracts swarms of e-warriors ready to do battle to the death. Nothing but total humiliation and destruction of our opponent will satisfy us. It feels like we are in a video game where people vie to score points against the cartoonish figures we create and label. We are good and right, and they are evil and wrong. Listening to people is too much work; instead we create our boxes and trim the people we disagree with until they fit in the box we have already prepared our arguments against. That’s what I hear when people say “the left” and “the right” and of course those who aren’t ‘left enough” or “right enough” are traitors.

When you don’t listen you don’t have to think. You make the people who disagree with your view fit in the box, then take your collection of rocks off the shelf and cast them at the enemy.

This seems like madness to me.

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How We Think


Despite what we think, we don’t usually react to the world around us. The ‘real world’. We react to the unique model of the world we have in our heads. Our experiences help build that model, as do any ideas and dogmas we adopt. We program our brains and then our brains react to events through that programming. This is the reason why people of different political persuasions can look at the same world and see it so differently, and why some believe in wild conspiracy theories that cannot withstand careful examination. We are, each of us, a world unto ourselves. There are some benefits to thinking as we do. We can process things faster without having to minutely analyze each bit of information in realtime. But it is critically important that we take care to evaluate ideas, especially those that appeal to our emotions, before accepting them, and if others have ideas which conflict with our own, we should listen and evaluate them to determine if we need to update our model.

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Healthy Foods, Cancer & Immunity Boosting

cancer foods

cancer awareness ribbonAbout this post: I have recently been diagnosed with cancer and have just begun the process of it all. Still scheduling scans, hormone therapy, radiation and trying to prepare my wife as best I can in case things don’t go well. This page is me thinking out loud and trying to improve my odds. Cancer is nothing to mess around with. It is a leading cause of death that accounted for 1 in 6 deaths worldwide in 2020. This post does not offer miracle cures. Many of the items listed here have been studied in a lab but not on humans. I am trying them because they are readily available and used every day as food or for their purported health benefits. I figure that unless I abuse them I have nothing to lose. I am listing them here as a starting point for your own research but if you are sick consult with your doctor.

Disclaimer: In some cases supplements may interfere or be contraindicated based on medicines you are taking, the type of cancer or other factors. Natural chemicals are still chemicals. Taking massive doses of ‘natural’ items isn’t automatically safe. Do your research. Don’t go overboard and always consult with your doctor.

This page is under active development.

Item List

Each item has a link to the research article that caused me to add it to my list. You should do additional research. Some include affiliate links to the items on Amazon. You may be able to find these items at your local supermarket, ethnic market or other online site. I won’t starve if you don’t buy them from my links so don’t worry. Get them wherever it makes sense to you.

Spices, Herbs & Condiments

Fruits, Nuts & Flowers

  • Pomegranate
  • Blue Berries
  • Raspberries
  • Mora (Andean Blackberry)
  • Mamey (Pouteria sapota) [NIH]
  • Pineapple
  • Jamaica
  • Pecans
  • Walnuts
  • Almonds

Note: People with cancer might want to avoid peanuts out of an abundance of caution. This study indicates the possibility that a component of peanuts may facilitate the spread of cancer. More research is needed but I personally don’t want to take the risk while they sort it out.

Vegetables

Grains & Misc Items

Vitamins & Supplements

Definitions

  • Apoptosis – is the process of programmed cell death.[…] In adults, apoptosis is used to rid the body of cells that have been damaged beyond repair […] also plays a role in preventing cancer. [source]
  • Anthocyanins – are a class of water‐soluble flavonoids, which show a range of pharmacological effects, such as prevention of cardiovascular disease, obesity control and antitumour activity. Their potential antitumour effects are reported to be based on a wide variety of biological activities including antioxidant; anti‐inflammation; anti‐mutagenesis; induction of differentiation; inhibiting proliferation by modulating signal transduction pathways, inducing cell cycle arrest and stimulating apoptosis or autophagy of cancer cells; anti‐invasion; anti‐metastasis; reversing drug resistance of cancer cells and increasing their sensitivity to chemotherapy. [source]
  • Carotenoid – yellow, red, or orange substance found mostly in plants, including carrots, sweet potatoes, dark green leafy vegetables, and many fruits, grains, and oils. Some carotenoids are changed into vitamin A in the body and some are being studied in the prevention of cancer. A carotenoid is a type of antioxidant and a type of provitamin. [NIH],[source]

Recipes


Agua de Jamaica (modified)

This is a Mexican drink made from deep red hibiscus flowers. A little of the Jamaica flowers goes a long way so this is a fairly inexpensive drink – you can make gallons of this from one bag of Jamaica flowers. You can find alternative recipes on the internet this isn’t a set in stone recipe. My goal is to use some of our immunity boosting / cancer fighting ingredients so I modify it to include as many as possible.

Power-up tip: In Spanish Jamaica is pronounced ‘hah-my-kah’

Ingredients
4 quarts water
Raw honey
2-3 cups Jamaica flowers
2 or more cinnamon sticks – I also have used powder but buy a good brand for potency
Ginger – I mash several pieces
Allspice – I use a teaspoon or two of powder
Cloves – I use 3/4 teaspoon whole cloves or powder
Lemon
Orange (I have also tried apple slices or pineapple instead of orange all work)

Procedure

I use a covered pot and put in all the ingredients except for the honey, orange, apple and/or pineapple slices. I don’t boil the water just cook them on low heat for 45 minutes or so. I don’t want to risk excessive heat breaking down any of the ‘good stuff’ since my main purpose is not to make a refreshment but to load up my body with anti-cancer ammunition.

I usually do all of this before bed and let it sit all night, then strain it the next morning. By that time it looks like deep purple dye. Finally I add my apple, orange and/or pineapple slices and adjust with raw honey as needed.

Note: it’s best not to go overboard with the honey if you’ll be drinking this multiple times per day especially if you have diabetes or other health issues.

Then I fill a large insulated beverage container with ice and the magic purple potion and I try to drink a glass at least once per hour throughout my workday.


Resources

Clean Eating Kitchen – I spotted this great page by Carrie Forrest which includes a round-up of Cancer Fighting Smoothies which you might consider adding to your rotation.

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Well that’s a bummer…

It’s something we all know is coming but not usually when or how. Despite that we aren’t always ready for the words.

Today I found out I have prostate cancer. I recognized it was a possibility when my PSA numbers jumped from my previous routine test, and then the follow up test 4 weeks later showed the numbers jumped again.

I had a needle biopsy soon after and today got the call. “You’ve got cancer.”

The doctor explained the possible treatments and so far I’m leaning towards the radiation. I took some time at work, made a list of things that are supposed to have anti-cancer properties and placed an order on Amazon. I don’t expect a miracle cure but want to fortify my cells to resist Ukrainian style.

I’m not too scared right now but acutely aware off what this means. Time is running out. It is always running out but now I can hear the clock ticking.

My main concern is my wife. How will she handle it? We don’t have a bunch of money. We still rent and she won’t be able to afford the rent on her own. My term life insurance expires in two months so unless I die quick she won’t be getting anything from that avenue.

I need to live as long as I can, and I’ll burn the candle at both ends to set aside whatever I can for my family before I go.

I won’t pray for a miracle. My life is no more valuable than those Ukrainian children and their families who were senselessly killed this week -or of any other of my fellow humans who have gone before. We all walk this path from the moment we are born. I will pray for strength to endure. To last as long as I can for the sake of those I love. Hopefully I have enough time to do some good.

Of course I hope that my treatment works but I learned early that life is an uncertain road. It is rife with twists and turns and sudden drops but also with moments of surprising joy and light.

I hope you take that time to tell the people in your life that they matter. Love them while they are living. Tears of regret shed after they are gone serve no one but yourself.

That’s all for now. Let’s see how it goes.

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SCAPE – Southern California Aquatic Plant Enthusiasts

If you are in Southern California and are interested in aquascaping, aquatic plants, aquariums, tropical fish, paludariums, freshwater shrimp or anything else related to the aquarium hobby you might be interested in SCAPE – Southern California Aquatic Plant Enthusiasts.

The members are helpful to beginners and there are regular meetings and auctions which pre-pandemic sometimes attracted hundred(s) of people. There are video seminars and meetings. There are a lot of members who breed fish and shrimp and propogate plants including hard to find items. There are also members who culture live foods and you can sometimes buy or get a free starter culture of moina daphnia, cyclops, seed shrimp, vinegar eels and other fish yum yums.

Members trade, buy, sell -and occasionally even give away- plants, fish, shrimp and equipment at the shows, via the Tradewinds subforum or the Facebook group page. Some local fish stores give discounts to members and you can request a membership card at one of the meetings.

That is a quick run down of the highlights. One of the things I personally enjoy the most is that most of the members are friendly and generous. I’ve been a member for a few years now and have given away and received plenty of freebies, met lots of nice people at shows or when arranging a pickup of something I traded for and had a blast one year at a Christmas party. Sadly I missed a couple of the meets that included barbecue but scheduling conflicts prevailed. :/

Forum: https://scapeclub.org/forum/forum.php
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/socalaquaticplants

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Fluval Canister Filter

The Fluval 07 Series canister filters are arguably some of the best filters of their type on the market.

My Setup
I have two Fluval 307’s on my 75 gallon tank. Why? Well, for starters I like redundancy. I also wanted to experiment with different filter media – one of the filters uses mostly chemical and mechanical media with foam pads and activated charcoal plus resin mixes i.e. Chemi-Pure, Fluval Clearmax Phosphate Remover and Purigen. The other filter also has foam pads, but I put in more biological filter media like Seachem Matrix and Marineland Ceramic Filter Rings. As you can see I like to use a mix of products. 🙂

As far as the filters go they are very well designed. I hadn’t had a canister in several years and this one is definitely a step up. Once it is set up the media is easily replaced without having to disconnect the hoses. The units have 3 trays to allow use of various filtering media as well as internal sponge filters to reduce particulate accumulation on the tray media. The canister’s head and seal are all easily opened and closed. The unit is quiet and uses very little electricity (about 15 watts for the 307) which meant I was able to use hook each one up to some old UPS battery backup units I had and have the filters keep running when we had a power outage.

The hoses are not the typical ones. These are ‘ribbed’ and accordion-like is the best way to describe it. They work well and the only gripes I’ve heard are from people trying to connect them to other items like inline heaters and UV sterilizers that have standard tubing. It can be done, you just have to sort out the measurements. Fluval has a new inline UVC clarifier of their own now but I haven’t tried it yet.

I set the filters up in an overlapping pattern and adjusted the nozzle directions to try to get the water flowing all over the tank and avoid dead spots.

The final result is a healthy tank that is forgiving of my occasional overly generous feedings.

I am very pleased with how well the Fluval 307 filters perform and the design excellence. If I ever manage to get some additional aquariums I plan to try out their other models and series.

As a final note let me say I am not independently wealthy. This equipment was purchased in stages over a year and I used some gift cards and reward points I’d accumulated. I also was fortunate enough to trade some tools I wasn’t using with a guy I met at a SCAPE club meeting which meant I didn’t have to pay for the aquarium, stand or gravel.

Since I am on the subject a quick plug for the SCAPE (Southern California Aquatic Plant Enthusiast) club. If you are in the area they have regular meets with auctions and trading. If you attend a meeting you can request a membership card as they have negotiated discounts with some local fish stores. The online forum has a Tradewinds subforum where people will seek to buy, sell, trade and even give away items; members will sometimes team up to negotiate group buys. The members actively trade and breed a wide variety of fish, plants and live foods. You can find them on the SCAPE Forum and their Facebook Group page. There is an unofficial Discord channel created by some members though it isn’t as active as the other two options.

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Where do we go from here?

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The last few years have been mad ones. Our interactions with each other, our national and international politics, COVID-19, Ukraine – and there is a load of other stuff tightly packed in and around those few. The world seems to be sliding off the rails. I hear John Noble voicing Denethor echoing in my head, “Abandon your posts! Flee! Flee for your lives!”

But where can we go?

We are all sailing through space, on a little glob of earth. On the surface of that glob are a few drops of water and the tiniest sliver of miraculous life.  The world is full of puffed up and angry people who imagine themselves giants when in reality we are all less than amoebas on the cosmic slide that holds the speck that is our Earth.

We should be working together to solve the great challenges of mankind. Each country has knowledge and resources that could fix problems elsewhere in the world. Instead we hoard our wealth and fight to gain power over each other.

Photo by samer daboul on Pexels.com
I speak of the human race as a whole. This may not apply to you. You may be outraged, hurt or even offended by my words. That is not my intent. The truth is that I am talking to myself on this blog to see if it is any better than screaming into the wind.

There are good people on this earth but the ignorant are louder and their words and actions are contagion.

If we don’t do something differently then one day we’ll be gone. Every one of us gone. No more spring time, or Mardi Gras. No more concerts, Marvel movies, good food or babies. No more of anything. Good, bad, famous, unknown, rich, poor, black, white, tall, short, talented…. none of it will matter.

What a terrible waste that would be.