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Not a Trekkie July 25, 2013

Ask me if I’m a Trekkie and I’ll deny it.  Yes, I own copies of the Star Trek The Next Generation: Technical Manual, the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Technical Manual and The Klingon Dictionary, but these are only rational items for a wannabe sci-fi writer.  They sit neatly alongside a copy of “The Space Colonist’s Handbook” and a couple dozen volumes on actual space adventures.  My Mr. Spock bobble-head and the two seasons of the Original Series that sit on my shelf are, however, a bit more difficult to explain.

I can clarify my possession of the first by explaining that a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… (oops, wrong movie), Mr. Spock was my first crush.  I’m not sure whether it was the pointy ears or the cool logic that attracted me (or the fact that science officers wore blue uniforms and blue is my favorite color), but I quickly fell in love.  He would be my fictional character of choice until Han Solo appeared on the scene.

As to why I own two seasons of the Original Series, all I can say is that I was just on the verge of purchasing the third when someone decided to “re-master” everything and update the special effects.  Yes, the phaser beams were hokey and the transporter looked a lot like sugar stirred into a glass of water, bit I really didn’t care.  Classic Trek should not be altered.  Unless…

I’ll admit that I was nervous when Paramount announced its intention to bring Classic Trek back to the big screen.  So much of the series is dated: from the sexist mini-skirts to the quirky sounds made by the Enterprise.  Our culture has advanced since the sixties and I had every right to fear that a newer, modern version of Trek would lose many of the unique features which made it so ground-breaking at the time.  This didn’t, however, keep me away from the theatre.

With great delight, I exited the cinema, my head in the clouds.  The new movie was, in my opinion, perfect.  The actors hadn’t sought to “make the characters their own,” but had mimicked the performance of the original cast.  From Spock’s enigmatic look to McCoy’s hand gestures, everything had been just as it was in the Original Series.  (Despite, of course, that little bit about the altered time-line.)  The mini-skirts had been given an acceptably modern flair and the Enterprise still beeped and hummed.  It had me longing for more.

Needless to say, my fiancé and I were some of the first in line when “Into Darkness” was released.  I was totally revved up and ready for another installment of what some said was the prequel to a revival of the series.  There was some serious discussion about whether it was appropriate to rewrite “The Wrath of Khan,” but as my sister pointed out, the occurrence of the crew’s encounter so early in their mission combined with the absence of the Genesis Project does leave things open to some creative twists in the future.  How can I argue with logic like that?

Perhaps the oddest part of my adventure, however, wasn’t the movie, but my fiance’s reaction to it. Upon exiting the theatre he immediately announced that 1) He did not feel threatened by Mr. Spock and 2) He was interested in seeing more Trek. We spent the remainder of the afternoon watching old episodes of The Next Generation (I tried to show him some other series, but to no avail) and I found myself slowly reliving all of the wonder that I felt when I first discovered Trek.

The humor, the adventure, the scientific wonder are all still there.  And, while I wouldn’t class myself with those who attend the big conventions (I am, after all, only thinking about purchasing a Starfleet uniform), I still feel a deep affinity for the show and for the creativity which it inspires.  Perhaps I am just a bit of a Trekkie after all!


An Introduction to Podcasting or Why Our Enjoyment of Movie Adaptations Shouldn’t be Hindered by Our Love of the Book July 18, 2013

I didn’t feel like writing this morning, so after finishing an assignment that needed to be submitted, I retired to the couch with my copy of “Podcast Solutions: The Complete Guide to Audio and Video Podcasting” by Michael W. Geoghegan and Dan Klass.  This book is a part of my ongoing crusade to guarantee that when I start my own podcast, I’ll be producing something of acceptable quality.  After all, if you’re going to do something, you might as well take the time to do it well.

Meanwhile, I’m biding my time with a lovely show entitled “Aboard the Knightbus” which, if you listen to the promo, claims to be “a fun and light-hearted look at the Harry Potter books chapter-by-chapter”.  In reality, it’s a bit more like four women having an early mid-life crisis.  I’ve been slowly improving my performance as “your friendly, neighborhood Slytherin” by practicing my enunciation and, on occasion, purchasing new and better equipment.

The first piece of this equipment, my AT2020 USB microphone by audio-technica, arrived last week and I spent a good bit of time fiddling with it as I prepared for today’s recording.  I’m quite pleased with the product, though the sensitivity of the mic has led to some issues, namely, that it is capable of picking up the sound emanating from my headphones.  Since this will cause an echo in my voice track, it became necessary for me to pop out for a new set of “cans”.

It was during this impromptu shopping trip that I got sidetracked by one of our local bookstores.  (I swear, it just jumped out at me from behind the mall!)  I had recently seen a preview for the movie adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game”, a book that a friend of mine has been repeatedly recommending for years.  I felt that it would be best to read the book before seeing the movie and decided to purchase a copy to read while I’m at an upcoming writer’s conference.

After explaining all of this to the sales clerk, she led me to a stack of books which I had walked right past in my endeavor to locate a clerk to help me locate the book as quickly as possible.  “It will ruin the movie,” she observed as she handed me a copy.  I smiled, thanked her, and headed for the checkout.

Her words echoed in my ears all the way home.  Would reading the book really destroy my movie-going experience?  The truth is, more than once, I’ve gone to see a movie adaptation of a book I enjoyed only to walk away disappointed.  “The Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter” series’ were prime examples.  While both did an excellent job at visually portraying what I’d envisioned as I’d read the books, neither seemed to do justice to the story lines.  Neither Frodo nor Faramir had lived up to my expectations of these heroes and the sad absence of most of Severus Snape’s best lines left me with a sense of emptiness.

This sense of betrayal lasted until just a few weeks ago when I had the opportunity to listen to Mugglenet Academia’s “Harry Potter: Book to Screen” interview with screenwriter Janet Scott Batchler.  Truth be told, I’d never really considered the many difficulties that screenwriters face as they attempt to adapt the written word to an almost entirely visual medium without angering long-time fans of the book.  Sadly, time and budget restrictions often result in writers expunging characters or sub-plots that have become dear to readers in favor of the primary story arcs which will attract those unfamiliar with the story.  Lengthy explanatory passages which worked well in print must be translated into dialogue.  And elaborate descriptions of scenery or costumes must often be reduced to whatever can be created with the technology or textiles currently on hand.  The result?  Even the best movie is likely to fall short of our expectations if what we’re seeking is a perfect representation of the book.

So what do we do?  Perhaps the best answer is to understand and appreciate both medium for what they are.  Books play primarily on our imagination.  They allow us to visualize the most unusual or extraordinary circumstances and personalize what we see.  And there is no limit to the number of pages they can take to convey this information.

Movies, on the other hand, convey the vision of the writers, directors, producers, and actors as they seek to convey their own personal perceptions to their audience.  Movies must maintain the pace if they are to keep the viewer’s attention.  They must convey color and excitement, drama, and romance, and all within a limited number of “pages”, if you will.

When we approach these mediums in this fashion, it may be possible for us to appreciate both – enjoying the intimate, personal experience of reading the book and relishing the social aspect of sharing in another’s interpretation of those same descriptive words.  Perhaps, when we do, we’ll walk away with yet another unique experience: that of enjoying both the movie and the book upon which it is based!


One Accident Leads to Another July 11, 2013

The goldfish were a beacon of peace.  Bobbing up and down to the trickle of water which flowed from their filter, I often found myself just sitting and staring.  I smiled as they came to the front of the aquarium, their gargantuan eyeballs fixed upon me with what seemed to be compassion and understanding.  At the end of a rough day, this was the place to go: a place that reminded me that there was more to the world than the office.

And that was the thought that started it.  I worked at a desk now, the buyer for a small company.  Amidst frantic deadlines, mis-shipped freight, and product quality issues, I was beginning to feel the weight of the job.  If fish made me so very happy at home, why couldn’t they make me equally happy at work?

The idea was a brilliant one and it wasn’t long before I had secured permission to set up a new aquarium at my desk.  Nothing big, just a gallon and an half: enough to hold a small Betta.  Like my goldfish, his selection was inspired by childhood memories.  Unlike my goldfish, however, I labored under no misconceptions that he would be an “easy” fish to keep.  I started out right with a volume entitled, Betta: Your Happy Healthy Pet by John H. Tullock and shortly thereafter added, The Betta Handbook (Barron’s Pet Handbooks) by Robert J. Goldstein, Ph.D.  Both books contained a wealth of information and I was able to ensure that I had my aquarium set up properly from the start.

My goal was to make the environment at “native” as possible.  This included everything from adding the almond oil, tannin containing ATISON’S BETTA SPA 100ml to an attempt at providing my new fish with a real-life hunting experience through the addition of a few live plants and some newly hatched brine shrimp.  I think that my boss began to rethink his project approval the day I appeared with my San Francisco Bay Brand Shrimpery and set about my farming project, but he tolerated it nonetheless.  Three days later, I had a fresh hatch and, with great delight, dumped the entire clutch (probably a few hundred baby shrimp) into the aquarium.

With a few plants and plenty of substrate, I figured that it would take Mr. Spock a few days to locate all of his new prey.  Unfortunately, I had underestimated his love for the hunt.  He immediately took to the new live food and I watched at first in excitement and then in horror as he set about consuming every single shrimp in a matter of minutes.  The once bright-eyed blue crown-tail now looked distinctly bloated and, for good reason, I was distinctly worried.  Of course, there isn’t any good way to pump a fish’s stomach (at least not that I’m aware of) and the next morning, I found myself paying a tearful goodbye to the friend who, at least for several weeks, had helped relieve the stress of my job.

Not ready to give up, I immediately went out and purchased a second Betta: Mr. Worf.  This time, it was not the crustaceans who were to seal his fate, but my fellow office workers… including one germ-obsessed nut with a can of Lysol.  With great effort, I explained that chemicals and aquariums didn’t mix.  Then, I explained it again.  And again.  Each time doing my best not to have an asthma attack within the confines of my own, freshly aerosolled office.  (Come to think of it, I might have had better luck had I made my lungs the topic of discussion rather than my fish tank!)  The message fell on deaf ears and, a few weeks later, Mr. Worf found himself buried in a grave not far from Mr. Spock.

Irritation now flooded my heart and soul and with selfish zeal, I packed up all of my tiny aquarium equipment and hauled it home where, unwilling to accept defeat, I set it up one more time.  Within days, a new occupant flitted amongst the plant life.  I did my best to ignore that this completely defeated the purpose of setting up a second aquarium to begin with and, for the next two and an half years, enjoyed the constant presence of “Fishy”.

As I sit here writing this, I find myself gazing at a new little friend.  Baby Sev is now my fifth Betta (most live only two to three years in captivity) and my second attempt at raising a fish “from scratch”.  Still a fry, he may as easily turn out to be a female as a long-finned male: only time will tell.  He’s friendly enough and as I watch him flick his fins at me I am reminded that true failure is found only in a failure to learn from our mistakes and an unwillingness to try… just one more time.


Top Ten Myths About Celiac Disease July 4, 2013

Filed under: Celiac Disease — acgheen @ 12:00 am
Tags: , ,

Part of my adventure involves living with a condition known as Celiac Disease.  An auto-immune disorder (triggered by the gluten in certain grains) that attacks the small intestine and hinders its ability to absorb nutrition, the disease can be painful… or even deadly.  At the time my father was diagnosed, it was considered to be relatively rare.  With increased awareness of the condition, however, this is not proving to be the case.  If you don’t already know someone who has CD, the odds are in favor of your meeting someone in the near future.  So this week, I’d like to take a few minutes to share some of the most common myths about the disease.

Myth 1: Celiac Disease is an allergy to wheat.

Yes, wheat is one of the taboo foods for a Celiac… along with barley, rye, and (with the exception of distilled products like whiskey) anything derived from these grains.  But unlike an allergy in which the body attacks the invading allergen, an auto-immune disorder causes the body to attack itself.  Instead of sending a barrage of natural defenses against the wheat, a Celiac’s body actually begins to destroy the cilia that line the small intestine.  Right response.  Wrong target.

The only way to prevent this auto-immune response is for a Celiac to eat a gluten-free diet.  Which leads us to:

Myth 2: Gluten-Free Living is About the Ingredients in a Product.

The answer is yes… and no.  Gluten-free ingredients are just the beginning.  I can, for example, eat a grilled steak.  I can’t, however, eat that steak if it’s cooked on a grill which has also been in contact with a BBQ sauce containing wheat… no matter how many eons ago that contact took place.  It also means that I can’t eat prepackaged foods that were processes on equipment that also processes wheat.

Gluten particles are microscopic and, without a rigorous (read: I’m an orthodox Jew preparing for Passover) de-glutenizing of the cooking equipment and the area in which that equipment is used, I run a severe risk of being “cross-contaminated”.

This means that, for the most part, I can’t eat anything made in my friends’ kitchens… even if the ingredients, themselves, are acceptable.

Myth 3: People with CD Can’t Eat Out.

Just because I can’t eat food from most of my friends’ kitchens doesn’t mean that I can’t eat from any of them… and the same goes for restaurants.  Some select friends understand exactly what exposure to gluten does to my body and take the time to ensure that they have followed all the necessary procedures for eliminating gluten from their kitchens and cookware before they prepare my food.

The safest way to prevent cross-contamination, however, is to use dedicated cookware and a dedicated kitchen space.  Some eateries do.  My favorite places to eat are restaurants in which the owner’s family has been affected by Celiac Disease.  They’ve seen the damage done by the auto-immune disorder and will take extra care in preparing my meals.  This does not, however, mean that I can eat at any restaurant offering a gluten-free menu.  Which leads us to Myth 4.

Myth 4: If the Packaging and Advertising Say Something is Gluten-Free, It Is Safe for Celiacs.

My fellow Celiacs and I only wish this were true!  Unfortunately, not every restaurant that offers a “gluten-free” menu actually offers food that hasn’t been cross-contaminated.  And unless the packaging on those potato chips indicates that they are “certified gluten-free”, their gluten-free claim doesn’t mean much.

Certification is an expensive process, but an important one for Celiacs.  It means that the company not only manufactures gluten-free product, but that they’ve had an outside party test that product to confirm that no cross-contamination has taken place.  (Products must contain fewer than 20 ppm or parts per million of gluten to be considered gluten-free.)

Myth 5: It Must Be Safe for Celiacs Because my Friend with CD Doesn’t Have Any Problem with It.

Like most diseases, the obvious effects can vary from one person to the next.  If I come into contact with even the smallest particle of gluten, I begin to get flu-like symptoms.  My Dad, on the other hand, was only diagnosed with Celiac Disease after he began losing weight.  He didn’t feel ill, at all, so it wasn’t until that weight loss became extreme (the effect of his intestine failing to absorb nutrition from the food he was eating) that he realized something was wrong.

Don’t be fooled: the outward signs may be different (or even non-existent), but the same thing is going on inside of every Celiac!

Myth 6: It’s Okay to Cheat Now and Again.

In short: no.  While you’re sure to find Celiacs who do cheat on their gluten-free diet, the same thing will happen to their intestine every time.  And this cheating will shorten their life-span.  Conscientious Celiacs don’t cheat even when it’s more convenient to do so or the craving for that greasy pizzeria pizza becomes overwhelming.  Friends of Celiacs should never encourage them to cheat either.  The best way to demonstrate your friendship is to be conscious of your friend’s condition and find solutions that suit both of you!

Myth 7: If You Haven’t Been Diagnosed, You Don’t Have It.

I run into this argument quite a bit.  If testing and the ensuing medical diagnosis were what made the difference between having a serious problem and not having one, I imagine that many more people would forgo the testing!  After all, who wants to be told they have cancer, diabetes, or even the flu?  Just because you haven’t undergone an invasive test performed by a medical professional doesn’t mean that you don’t have Celiac Disease… or that you aren’t justified in treating it.

Celiac Disease is genetically transmitted.  If one member of a family has been diagnosed, other family members with similar symptoms don’t necessarily need to be tested to confirm that they have the disease.

My advice?  Don’t try to talk your undiagnosed Celiac friends out of doing what they know is best for their bodies.

Myth 8: I Shouldn’t Eat in Front of My Celiac Friends.

Not at all!  While we don’t want you to wave maple doughnuts in front of our faces or eat that pizza as though you’re special because you can have it and we can’t, most of us don’t mind others consuming gluten products in our presence.  We have the self-control to say “no” and, if we really can’t handle the temptation, we can open our mouths and tell you… or simply walk away.

Don’t feel guilty (or resentful) if we bring our own food to the family reunion or church potluck!  It’s our way of letting you know that our dietary differences aren’t enough to keep us from wanting to be with you… even when you’re eating!

Myth 9: People with Celiac Disease Don’t Lead Quality Lives.

This is the “pity” line and, if you mean that there is a lot we can’t eat, then you’re right.  But there is also a lot that we can eat!  Yes, we have to forgo most fast food, candy bars, certain soda pops and potato chips… but tell me, does that sound like a bad thing?

I eat mostly whole foods – allowing me to consume less, but get more nutritional value from what I do eat.  Since the diet change, I’ve gone from a size 14 to a size 8… and I’ve yet to meet any woman who finds such a transformation to be a cause for complaint!

Myth 10: Celiac Disease is Like a Death Sentence.

Yes, Celiac Disease can have deadly effects, but when it’s managed properly, most Celiacs live perfectly normal lives.  In fact, you’ll find many of us who are grateful that we finally understand why we felt so lousy for so long!

I went from feeling like I had the flu, living with achy joints and exhaustion, to feeling energetic enough to take up walking and cycling! For me, the recognition that I have Celiac Disease wasn’t the door to a prison, but a ticket to freedom.  And many other Celiacs would agree.  Our lives are better now that we’re gluten-free.

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with CD, the road can be a bit rocky at times (I remember thinking that I’d never eat anything except boiled eggs ever again!), but there is hope.  Gluten-free living requires being alert and conscientious, but it is rewarding.

It’s my hope that this list of myths has helped you better understand what Celiac Disease is and what the gluten-free lifestyle looks like.  If it helps you better live that life or to connect with your friends who do, then the article has been a success!  If you have any questions about living with Celiac Disease, feel free to send them my way.  I don’t have all the answers, but I can at least help connect you with some folks who do!



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