The Vinestead Anthology

One universe. Five books. Zero sequels.

Book One

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Book Two

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Book Three

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Book Four

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Book Five

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The Last Stop on the Road to Fatsville

A few years ago, while waiting around for class to start at Austin Impact Jeet Kune Do, I got the bright idea to try doing an iron cross on some hanging hand ladders (I don’t know what they’re called, not even enough to google a picture). So there I was, my face three inches off the ground, with my arms straight out to the side, when I felt something give in my left shoulder. It hurt for a few days, and that was it. I forgot all about it.

This past March, I started Camp Gladiator, and by April, I was at my doctor’s office getting a steroid shot in my shoulder. It felt better for a few days, and then the pain came screaming back whenever I moved my shoulder in certain ways. So I went to my good friends at North Austin Sports Medicine, who put me in a boot that time I fractured my foot kicking Lauren to death.

Here’s what you’re looking at but can’t see because you’re not a doctor:

Supraspinatus/lnfraspinatus: Moderate or high-grade partial undersurface tear involves the anterior infraspinatus tendon at the insertion. Tear measures roughly 6 mm AP dimension. Mild bandlike muscle edema in the infraspinatus just inferior to the musculotendinous junction related to muscle strain.

Labrum: Posterosuperior labral tear. At the superior labrum, sublabral recess versus superior labral tear is present. Given the irregularity of the signal along the base of the superior Iabrum, superior labral tear is favored .

Whatever that means. Actually, I know what it means: surgery.

Count backwards from 100…

My first thought when I heard the word surgery was I’m going to die. I knew it with 100% certainty. After all, I had just finished reading Why Anesthesia Is One of the Greatest Medical Mysteries of Our Time over at They talked about how people used to die and no one knows what is happening and chaos and old people and then tried to make it better with a quote from the Mayo Clinic:

Most healthy people don’t have any problems with general anesthesia. Although many people may have mild, temporary symptoms, general anesthesia itself is exceptionally safe, even for the sickest patients. The risk of long-term complications, much less death, is very small. In general, the risk of complications is more closely related to the type of procedure you’re undergoing, and your general physical health, than to the anesthesia itself.

Yes, but very small is not zero. As anyone with generalized anxiety will tell you, it’s boring to imagine all the ways something could go right. Instead, we focus on the image of going to sleep and just never waking up. How the hell are you going to suspend my consciousness and not really understand how you’re doing it? Where do I go?

With my luck, I’ll wake up in hell where I’ll spend eternity at my front window shaking my head at all the cars parked in the cul-de-sac while AWOLNATION blares from unseen speakers.

Stop rolling your eyes at my dramatic response to surgery. If you subscribe to the Multiverse theory, as I do, then that means there are an infinite number of universes in which I die on the operating table next week.


The Real Danger

Before I met my bride-to-be, I was all about P90X, Insanity, and Tim Ferriss’ Slow-Carb diet. I was 30 years old and determined to be fit at least once in my life. Since then, I’ve gotten older, exercised less, and eaten more. As you can see from my weight and BMI log, I’m entering a danger zone. Until now, I haven’t really been scared of it, since I “know how to turn it all around.”

But now, surgery.

My biggest fear now is that this will be the point of no return. Once I come out of surgery, I won’t be able to run for 6–12 weeks. Run. As in, “bounce jauntily down the street at a steady tempo.” I already don’t exercise enough, which makes me worry that this will be the ultimate excuse to sit on the couch and binge watch Orange is the New Blacklist. As if I need more excuses.

My doc estimates it will be 5–6 months before I’m back to my regular exercise (JKD and CG). That’s a long time to be doing very little, especially if I can’t get my diet under control.

Again, imagining how it all turns out fine is boring. I like to imagine the worst and see just how far down the fat-hole we can go.

Day 40: Shoulder gave a slight tingle today. Ate a pint of ice cream to numb the pain. Hurt my back a little trying to plug in my electric scooter. Also my extendo-grab-pole thinger stopped working. That’s the third one since the surgery. Skyped with a company in Norway that has a toilet attachment for my scooter. Also Dom left her engagement ring at the bottom of a bag of chips where she knew I would find it. I’d go after her, but the scooter only has like a one mile range.

Basically your worst case scenario.

The Joys of a Sugar-based Diet

If I’m the first person to tell you sugar is bad, then you, my friend, must be new to life. A quick google search will tell you everything you need to know, so I won’t repeat it here.

 Before sugar

Before sugar

 After sugar

After sugar

According to Wikipedia, sugar is a “sweet, short-chain, soluble carbohydrate composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.” What they don’t mention is that sugar is life. Sugar is happiness. Sugar is everything that is good in the world.

Try to imagine a world without sugar. Hard to read with tears in your eyes, isn’t it?

Thirty days out from surgery, I gave up sugar completely. Cold turkeys. That lasted two weeks. Then I had carrot cake, lemon chess pie, and ice cream. And again the next day, but then I stopped. Cold turkeys.

That lasted a week because when mom makes chocolate chip cookies, you eat the damn chocolate chip cookies. And brownies. And ice cream. And a smoothie.

A week out from surgery, and I’m back on the no-sugar train, which I’m sure is set to derail any day now.

I’ve convinced myself it won’t be my fault if I treat my shoulder pain with Ben & Jerry’s. My only hope is that I’ll be confined to the house and Dom will refuse to bring me sugar.

Speaking of…

The Finite Well of Willpower

There’s some argument about whether willpower is finite or not, but most people agree it is hard to always do the right thing. The way I see it, my list of “right things” for the second half of 2016 includes:

  • Eating a minimal amount of sugar
  • Reducing carbs
  • Eating more vegetables and fruits
  • Exercising however and whenever possible
  • Physical therapy
  • Not going insane

So many people have had arthroscopic surgery and come out fine on the other end. They didn’t drift into the great unknown of the afterlife, they didn’t skip their PT, and they recovered nicely. But how did they do it? Through willpower alone?

I use most of my willpower to write. Every day. Put in the work. Write the novels. Make the dollars and cents. Spend it at Whataburger. Double Whataburger with cheese and jalepeños, hold the onions. Fries. Strawberry shake. I bet Heaven smells like a Whataburger.

That was a delicious tangent.

I worry that I won’t have enough willpower to do everything I need to do to recover as fast as possible. I need to get back to JKD. I need to get back to CG. And I don’t want to sacrifice my writing willpower to make that happen.

The Summary of All Fears

In short, I’m scared that trying to recover from this surgery will be the final nail in the coffin of my physical fitness dream. My diet may start out good but will soon return to its sugary roots. Lingering shoulder pain will keep me from running, fighting, and doing boot camps. Fear of further injury will keep me from pushing myself back into weightlifting.

Everything will go downhill except the graph of my weight, which will climb steadily towards the heavens, never to find its way back down.

All is not lost though.

I’ll have a physical therapist to whip my shoulder back into shape. Dom will continue to plan healthy meals and threaten to make me watch Scandal with her if I eat so much as a single M&M. Forrest will show me how to fight with just one arm. The CG family will continue to applaud my efforts at camp for absolutely no reason.

I guess that’s the solution. If you don’t have enough willpower of your own, draw from your friends and family.

Of course, none of that matters if you don’t wake up after going under.

See you on the other side.


BSIY (Highway to the) Drop Zone

As mentioned at the end of BSIY Elevated Garden, Dom and I have been working on a Drop Zone for the area just inside our garage door. When we built the house, there was supposed to be a diagonal nook that connected the oven/micro to the wall behind it. We asked them to build a valet / drop zone instead, and they said blah blah no blah blah fire code. So we said, fine, leave out the nook; we’ll build the drop zone ourselves.

Our requirements were simple:

  • A place to hang jackets for the two months out of the year that it’s cold in Texas.
  • A bench because we’re getting old and can’t put on our shoes standing up anymore.
  • A place to store said shoes so we don’t track dirt into the house.

Dom put in months and months of Pinteresting to find designs we liked, and then we set to building!

Step 1: The Tools

Even with my ever-increasing arsenal of tools, we still had to stop by the Home Depot to pick up a new toy.

I don’t believe in any tools that can shoot nails into my eyeballs, so I left this guy to Dom’s steady hands. Much like the dogs, I ran and hid in the other room anytime she used it.

Step 2: The Design

We went for the simplest design we could find: MDF over bead board. Here is Dom’s initial sketch.

You can get all of the materials from Home Depot. Choose your bead board based on how wide you want the slats. As for the MDF, you’re going to need a few different widths.

  • Large — to form the baseboard
  • Medium — for the sides and horizontal braces
  • Small — for the shelf that will overhang the top of the wall

We also got:

  • Liquid nails
  • Caulk
  • Electric sander
  • Paint

Step 3: Prepping the Site

Luckily, the wall we were working with had no outlets and no light switches on it. The only teardown we had to do was for the shoe molding and baseboards.

This was pretty simple, and since we had plenty of leftover molding in the attic, we didn’t need to salvage what we removed. Okay, yeah, we were just lazy with the whole reuse recycle thing.

Step 4: Cutting the Bead Board

Dom really wanted to do most of the work for this project, so I just sat back and helped where I could. Although her circular saw form needs some work, you can’t argue with results.

Step 5: Attaching the Bead Board

For reasons I can’t remember now, we decided to mount two sections of bead board, leaving space for the middle horizontal brace. If we had to do this project again, I think we’d leave out that unnecessary step and just stack the second row of board right on top of it.

This part took way longer than it should have thanks to the cheap-o caulk gun I’d had for years. We bought a better one from Home Depot right after we finished this stage.

Why no pictures of Dom using the nail gun to secure the boards? Because I was in the room hiding with the dogs. We went over that already.

Step 6: The MDF Cometh

I don’t know what it is about MDF but they cut like they already want to fall apart. We sized the boards and used liquid nails to attach them to the wall. Once they were dry, we drilled holes for the cross braces and secured them with screws, since they will be supporting the weight of the hooks.

Step 7: The Shelf

We used a smaller MDF board to lay across the top of the wall to act as a shelf. Home Depot sells white cove molding, so we used that on the underside to break up the right angle. We don’t expect to put anything on the shelf, but it looks damn good. That was all Dom’s idea, by the way.

 The cove molding is hard to see with the caulk and paint already done.

The cove molding is hard to see with the caulk and paint already done.

Step 8: Make it Pretty

Now that all the easy work has been done, it’s time to crack a bottle of wine and prepare for two months of finishing working. We filled in all the nail holes and joints with caulk, waited for it to dry, and then sanded. And sanded. And then we bought and electric sander. And sanded one more time.

I could write an entire other post about the hoops we had to jump through to get the right paint for our drop zone. We really wanted it to match our interior trim. Easy, you say, just ask the builder what paint they used. Yeah, it sounds simple. After multiple trips to Sherman Williams, half a dozen people all telling us different names of paints, it took Andrew from CalAtlantic (formerly Ryland) to come over with his painter and then just straight give us paint from a current build down the street. He didn’t have to do that at all, so it was a nice ending to what was weeks of head-shaking torment.

Still, Dom did a great job with the finishing, often staying up until midnight while I slept soundly in a soft bed.

Once the paint had dried, we reinstalled the shoe molding and door stop. Again, Dom had to use the air gun and I can still feel the echoes of that terror.

Step 9: Hook it up

We couldn’t figure out what color we wanted the hooks to be, so we went ahead and mounted them as-is to see how black would look. If we decide later that we want another color, we can just unscrew them and paint. Drop Zones vary in the number of hooks they use. We went back and forth between 7-across and 5-across. I think we made the right call with the less-cluttered look.

Aren’t you done measuring yet?

No matter what your future wife tells you, take your time with measuring and spacing out the hooks. All of this work will be for not if they aren’t distributed evenly or aren’t pointing straight up. Measure first, measure second, drill third.

Finished Product

After we were done, Dom and I shared one of our classic high-fives and looked in awe upon that which we had created. We both acknowledge that this took much longer than it should have, mostly because we’re still learning. One day, we’ll graduate from BS-it-yourself to Do-it-yourself, and then we’ll be unstoppable. We’re going to take a week or two off and then figure out what we’re going to do next.

Dom wants crown molding. I’d like a sliding barn door for the master bath. We’ll see.

Send us pics of your drop zone if you end up building one!

 Carrot wreath, because May.

Carrot wreath, because May.

BSIY Elevated Garden Bed

When it comes to making decisions at 36, I typically opt for the choice that doesn’t require me to bend or kneel. Thus, when it came time to think about building a garden at the new house, I didn’t want to repeat our last mistake of a raised garden bed, i.e., that it was still on the ground. So, after Dom showed me a few pictures of elevated garden beds, I looked at my wall-o-tools and decided I can build that.

I can’t remember where she saw the original picture, and I didn’t feel like downloading plans, which meant it was time for a good, ol’ fashioned Bullshit It Yourself project.

If you’re a Master Craftsman, you can already see from the picture above how simple this design is and how easily it will be to build. For the rest of us, we’re just gonna wing it.

Step 1 — The sides

Since the legs will be sitting directly in the dirt, you’ll likely need some weather-treated wood. This is just a guess, since I didn’t bother to look it up first.

Cut two 8′ 2x4s in half. Cut the ends at 45 degrees to level with ground and top of bed. Mark the center point on each leg; this is where you will join them together. Because of the way we’re going to attach the slats, you’ll need a shim at the join point.

I used wood glue and exterior-grade screws to put everything together. The slats aren’t weather-treated, so I’m guessing this will fall apart within a year or two.

Since there are no plans, you’ll need to measure, cut, angle, and attach each slat individually. I used two 8′ 1x4s; you can save some wood if you cut it down on 45 degree angles. If you mounted the legs completely perpendicular, you should be able to make 45 degree cuts on the slats and have them line up. Keep adding smaller slats until you reach the shim. If you’re not lazy, maybe fill in that last bit between the slats and the shim with a triangle piece. I’m lazy, so I didn’t.

Obvious tip: pre-drill the holes to keep the wood from splitting. Also, if the wood is soft, be careful not to sink the screws too much.

Step 2 — Connect the sides together

If you’ve got time, you can continue to use 1×4 slats to make the front and back of the garden. I’m sure it would look very nice. If you’re lazy, just use larger slats! I can’t remember the exact measurements of the boards I used, but they were 6′ long and 1″ thick. I needed 2 for each side.

You can choose any length you want, depending on how big you want the garden to be. Note that because of the way the legs are positioned, you may have to notch one side to get it to sit right. In the picture above, I notched the other side of the board unnecessarily.

See in the foreground how my slats don’t sit flush with the other boards? That’s just shoddy craftsmanship. Do a better job than me.

Step 3 — Bracing

It was at this point that I realized just how much dirt the bed was going to hold. At six feet long, I knew I need some additional bracing to keep the longer panels from bowing out.

I started with some inner bracing to connect the panels together.

The 2x4s are joined to the legs, and the panels are secured from the outside in. See that metal bracer on the right? That’s because I didn’t have an extra six foot 2×4 and damned if I was going to go back to Home Depot for a fifth time that day.

I actually started staining and sealing the wood before I decided to add even more bracing. With most of the weight centered over the gap at the bottom, I needed something behind those panels to keep them straight. Two 8′ weather-treated 2x4s cut to size did the trick.

Step 4 — Mind the gap

I’ll admit that I really had no idea what I was going to do about the bottom of this garden bed. Even with the sealing and the plastic sheeting (later), I didn’t want the brunt of the wet soil sitting on wood. I settled on using PVC to form the bottom. I could put some holes in it to let the water drain freely, or just use it to force water to the sides. Unfortunately, Home Depot only had 4″ diameter, and the gap was just a little bigger.

Time for some teeth!

I cut up some 1×1 pieces to form the teeth. And now, as I sit here looking at it, I realize the PVC will be bearing the weight for the soil, and the teeth will be bearing the weight of the PVC. Luckily, those teeth are secured with 3″ screws going through the panels and 2×4 brace. We’ll see how long they hold!

The PVC does fit nicely inside now, and there are more channels for the water runoff:

Step 5 — Pictures

We placed the elevated garden bed next to the fence just outside our dining nook windows. It’s high enough that we’ll be able to see the plants through all stages of growth, and should be more pleasant to look at than the boring fence.

What Did We Learn?

Here are some of things I learned while working on this project:

  • You should probably have plans before starting a project.
  • The more tools you have, the more options you have for accomplishing a task. I used a circular saw, hacksaw, multiple drills, shavers, sanders, clamps, a t-square, a quick square, line chalk, etc., etc. Buy more tools!
  • Two days of woodwork equals three days of lower back pain.
  • Safety goggles save eyes.
  • Point a fan at your workbench when you’re cutting with the circular saw and blow all that sawdust to the side.

Dom and I are putting the finishing touches on a valet project that we are also BSIYing our way through. It looks much better than my garden.

Comments are open below. What did I do wrong? How long do you think this garden bed will last? If you build a better version, link to the pics!

Five Years of Jeet Kune Do

I have a confession to make: I’ve never seen a Bruce Lee movie start to finish. I saw Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, and loved it, but I think I was born too late to really appreciate Lee’s groundbreaking work. Instead, I was raised on a steady diet of American-made ninja movies, like Pray for Death and the aptly named American Ninja. Then came the Once Upon a Time in China movies with Jet Li and Iron Monkey with Donnie Yen. And of course, there was Jackie Chan.

Chinese martial arts movies like The Legend of Drunken Master and the lesser titled The Legend, have something American movies like Best of the Best and Kickboxer sorely lack: fun.

After five years at Austin Impact Jeet Kune Do, I’ve seen a lot of students come and go. Lately, I’ve been thinking more about what brings them to class, and ultimately, what sends them away. Were they looking for immediate self-defense, something more like Krav Maga? Or were they looking for something more regimented and serious, like Wing Chun?

What drives people to take up any martial art at all?

I took a break from Jeet Kune Do during my fourth year, mostly to clear my mind and let my body recover (and get fat), but also because, for a short period, I felt there was no one coming to class for the same reason I was, which was to have fun.

That’s the great thing about the way Sifu Forrest leads classes at AIJKD. We have goals, things we need to learn, but class is about as laid back as you can get without descending into anarchy. When I decided to come back, I started with one-on-one classes with Forrest specifically because I knew they would be fun. No newbies to train. No egos to contend with (especially mine). Just friends kicking the crap out of each other.

Later, after I rejoined the regular classes, I was happy to find more people who shared my desire to make training lighthearted and enjoyable. That’s not to say that you can’t get a good workout at AIJKD, or that you’ll be the only one taking it seriously as you train for your Amateur MMA bout. You and I just won’t be working together that often. Instead, you’ll hear me laughing and adding sound effects to my punches and kicks from across the room.

Everyone has their own reason. Self-defense, fitness, daddy issues, etc.

Right before I took my break, another student scolded me for only sparring with Lauren. My ego didn’t allow me to be eloquent with my response, so I chested up and told him to mind his own business, which is never a great thing to do in a place where everyone is learning to hurt each other.

What I couldn’t articulate then was that Lauren was one of the last people I trusted to spar with. After years of fractures, bruises, and blood, I wasn’t in the mood anymore to spend weeks recuperating because someone else was trying too hard or didn’t have control. More importantly, sparring Lauren (and others, like Forrest) was fun. With longtime sparring partners, sparring becomes more of a chess match. You know what the other is capable of, and you spend the round trying to surprise each other.

It’s endlessly entertaining, and I wouldn’t trade it for a hundred matches where I have to keep repeating take it down a notch before unloading a heavy hook and feeling shitty about it later.

So what have I learned after five years of JKD? Mostly that I should have started sooner. I was 31 years old when I joined, and I got knocked out during my second spar ever (at least, that’s how I remember it). The same year, I fractured my ribs, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. How’d you hurt yourself? Fighting! Yeah, but what I didn’t realize was that injuries stack up, as do the medical bills that come along with them. As you get older, and your responsibilities start to dominate your life, you realize that you can’t afford to get hurt. My foot still aches where I fractured it, and that’s never going away.

For some people (like the Daniel who wrote Three Years of Jeet Kune Do), JKD is a way of life. I thought it might be that for me, but the older I get, the more I realize it’s really just a hobby. It’s a way to experience first-hand the joy I see on Jackie Chan’s or Jet Li’s face as they wail away on an opponent. It doesn’t relieve stress for me; why would I want to take that out on a fellow student? I have Bob at home for that.

 Welcome to your new home, Bob. Your time here… will not be pleasant.

Welcome to your new home, Bob. Your time here… will not be pleasant.

There was a time when I was embarrassed about my motivation. I’m not an alpha male out to conquer the world with his bare fists. I’m not a my-body-is-a-temple type on a spiritual journey to become one with the universe through well-executed spinning back kicks.

These days, I don’t mind telling other students that I’m not there to be a punching bag, and that I have no interest in turning it up so they can feel the sting of getting punched in the face. That’s not what I’m about.

I’m just a guy looking to enjoy his limited time on earth. I want to socialize. I want friendly competition. I want to make noises every time I throw a punch because it reminds me of the movies.

Fortunately, there is room for everyone at Austin Impact Jeet Kune Do. Sifu Forrest is there to teach you what he knows about The Way of the Intercepting Fist, and as Bruce Lee said, you’re free to absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own.

So come by, punch things, get sweaty, and most importantly, have fun.

Reconciling a new Veneer

In my novel Veneer, residents of Easton live with a shared layer of augmented reality that covers almost every imaginable surface. To change the color or design of an object, they simply have to reach out, touch it, and imagine something different, a process I named reconciliation. I find it fitting that a reader looked at the cover of Veneer, imagined something different, and decided to reconcile something new. Sure, the technology is vastly different, but the result is the same.

I stumbled upon the website of Justin Pérez, a graphic designer and fellow University of Texas at Austin grad (hook ‘em!), during the third hour of my daily Google search for mentions of my books. Imagine my surprise when I discovered he had redesigned the cover for Veneer.

I reached out to Justin to let him know how much I liked the new cover and to ask about the circumstances surrounding the redesign.

The prompt for the project in my graphic design class instructed us to redesign an album or book cover. I chose Veneer for several reasons. The main reason being that I found the book interesting. Secondly, because the book was relevant […] to today’s discussions regarding emerging technologies and their societal affects.

When I went to UT, I remember sitting in 20th Century Short Stories thinking about whether my stories would ever be discussed the same way we were discussing The Yellow Wallpaper. Since I don’t write short stories anymore, and since UT is not likely to add a 21st Century Erotic Dystopian Cyber-Thriller Novels class anytime soon, I guess I’ll have to settle for Veneer showing up in a graphic design class elsewhere on campus.

What are the odds that a UT grad writes a novel that a UT student discovers years later and uses for a class project? You see, Professor Ghose? My stories did go somewhere.

I am and will likely always be hopeless when it comes to cover design. Using Jonathan Foerster’s Sonnet artwork as the cover for Veneer seemed like a great idea at the time. The imagery matched up well with the scene where Rosalia describes her nightmare to Deron. But all I did was slap a title and a name on pre-existing artwork. Despite how awesome Sonnet looks as a standalone piece, the final product didn’t feel like a real cover. Later, when I hired Lauren Ellis to do the Perion Synthetics cover, I realized that this kind of thing is better left to the professionals.

If you’re wondering what goes on in the mind of a designer:

I wanted to incorporate several elements from the book’s plot, but also keep the cover as minimal as possible. For the redesign, I decided to include a piece of fabric as the main backdrop for the cover. It is meant to represent the veil/veneer AR technology can create. The fabric slowly transitions from red (representing Rosalia) to black & white (alluding to Deron’s inability to perceive the veneer). The fonts are sans serif to echo the futuristic tone of the book.

Naturally, I had to share the redesign with my friends.

Sunshine said, ooh! That cover makes it look like “adult” reading.

Elizabeth added, That was my first thought too. Veneer meets 50 shades, coming to a book store near you. Lol.

LOL indeed, Elizabeth. Though, according to some reviews, Veneer is already 50 Shades. So I guess Justin’s cover does indeed, as he puts it on his website, “more accurately represent the book’s plot.”

It turns out that Justin and I share the same trepidation about the potential downsides of augmented reality. Veneer takes it to an extreme, but in the next five to ten years, we’re likely going to see advances in AR that have significant impact on how we interact. You thought people got lost in Second Life or World of Warcraft? Imagine how bad it will be when they’re actually there. Or at least, when they think they are.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Big thanks to Justin for choosing my book for his project. Authors are often crippled by self-doubt, so it’s refreshing to see someone discover my book and enjoy it enough to want to make new art with it.

Head over to Justin’s website at and check out his other work. If you decide to hire him for a project, just make sure it’s done by the end of the year. I’m gonna need him for the cover of my next book!

Then maybe, just maybe, another UT student will redesign it five or six years from now.

We’ll see.

The Infinity Push-up Challenge

You can do 100 push-ups? Big deal. Let’s see how you do with the Infinity Push-up Challenge!

Scientific studies suggest that the number of push-ups you can do correlates to how much money you’ll earn, how many people love you, and how many grocery bags you can carry in one trip. Not only that, push-ups hit all the important muscle groups: biceps, triceps, and even the little-known diceps. And nothing fills out an Abercrombie v-neck like a cartoonishly large set of traps, just ask All-American sportsman Steve “Stone Cold” Austin.

You’re not strong. You’re silky boys.

The average American male can only do two push-ups, so how do you get from that paltry number to full-on infinity? I asked three of the best Crossfit trainers in Austin and none of them responded. So here’s a plan I threw together on the back of a few Burger King napkins.

First, you’ll need to find out your MAX REPS. That means good form, no cheatsies, and no pausing for a quick snack. Choose a quiet spot in your living space and knock out as many push-ups as possible. Write this number down and name it MaxYou’ll be following a weekly workout plan, but every 3rd to 5th Friday, you’ll want to skip the 2nd A.M. workout and instead test your MAX REPS. Keep writing this number down (one day it will be INFINITY!).

Silk comes from the butts of Chinese worms.

Second, you’ll want to print out the first few hundred pages of this workout schedule. If you’re concerned about the environment, you could convert it to a PDF and record your progress digitally (you will need a tablet, phone, or computer with infinite space, however). For brevity, I’ve only included the first six and last six weeks of the plan here.

The plan starts slow, perhaps even well below your MAX REPS. For best results, don’t try to skip ahead. Do this workout seven days a week.

Although the plan follows the standard n, n+1, n, n+1, n, n+2 format found in every successful workout routine, there are some caveats to be noted on this journey.

  • WEEK 12 — Also known as Puke Week. Repeat this week as many times as necessary until you can complete it without throwing up.
  • WEEK 52 — A Year of Ups and Downs. Celebrate an entire year on the Infinity Push-up Challenge Workout Plan by skipping the lunch workout.
  • WEEK 1000 — You have made it through 1,000 weeks of push-ups. You are older and wiser now. Your inclination will be to examine whether doing infinity push-ups is worth it. Don’t give in.
  • WEEK 5200 — The Centennial. You’ve been at this for 100 years. Your arms must be huge. I can only imagine what kind of Bugatti you are driving.
  • WEEK (10¹⁰^56)/52 — Is it getting hot in here? Don’t let the Heat Death of the Universe stop from reaching your goal. You’ve come too far to turn back now!
 You haven’t watched this movie in a while, but you should.

You haven’t watched this movie in a while, but you should.

Still not convinced? Check out these testimonials!

“At first, I didn’t think I’d make it past week 714. But then I did.” — John Mowry, 33

“Not only does this plan work, it’s also the most mathematically sound physical fitness routine that has ever been proposed by scientists. I’m so fortunate to live in modern times.” — Lana Robbie, 18

“I’m going to spend the rest of eternity doing infinity push-ups and that makes me six kinds of horny.” — Matt Housley, 58

So who’s ready to get started? Don’t forget: the goal is to do INFINITY push-ups. The sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll finish!

Good luck!

Fixing a cPanel Insufficient Disk Space Problem

So I logged into our company website’s WHM portal the other day and noticed that the most recent cPanel update had failed due to insufficient disk space. Here was the message:

The last attempt to update cPanel & WHM was blocked.
 Please correct these issues and rerun updates.
 fatal: Cannot upgrade due to insufficient disk space. Detected 1.97GB. You will need at least 3GB to install/update to a new version of cPanel.

Sounds simple enough, right? However, a quick check of the server revealed that:

  • /usr had only been allocated 8GB
  • /usr was 76% full

A quick Google search turned up some tips for freeing up disk space in /usr (where cPanel lives). Searching for and deleting large log files only freed up about 500MB, still quite far from the 3GB we needed. Unable to move further, I contacted the technical support team of our hosting provider. They provided me with the syntax to find large files in Linux. Back to square one.

Luckily, Uplogix employs a team of highly talented developers who know Linux far better than I do. Since the server had so much space in /home (100GB free), they suggested simply moving /usr/local/cpanel to /home/cpanel.

What Didn’t Work

Our first attempt went like this:

  • shut down cpanel process
  • copy /usr/local/cpanel to /home/cpanel
  • mv /usr/local/cpanel to /usr/local/cpanel.bak
  • create a symlink from /usr/local/cpanel to /home/cpanel
  • start cpanel process

Unfortunately, we were greeted with 500 Internal Server errors when we tried to connect to cPanel and WHM. We guessed this was a permission problem.

What Did Work

It turned out that I was searching for the wrong terms, and after more Googling, found Moving cpanel location from /usr/local to home. User Eddie suggested we use a bind mount instead of a hard link.

mount --bind /home/cpanel/ /usr/local/cpanel/

Here were the steps:

  • shut down cpanel process
  • copy /usr/local/cpanel to /home/cpanel
  • move /usr/local/cpanel to /usr/local/cpanel.bak
  • make a new directory: /usr/local/cpanel
  • bind /usr/local/cpanel to /home/cpanel
  • start cpanel process

Even without deleting /usr/local/cpanel.bak, the cPanel update completed without issue.

PROBLEM: The mount command we ran won’t persist across a reboot.

SOLUTION: Add the mount command to /etc/fstab

root@upxwebserver [/usr/local]# cat /etc/fstab
# wasn't enough space in /usr/local for cpanel, so we had to move it to /home 
/home/cpanel /usr/local/cpanel none defaults,bind 0 0

We then rebooted the server and everything continued working fine.

Problem solved.

Thanks to Matt for steering me away from trying to resize the partitions on the server. Additional thanks to Jeremy for playing Clash of Clans on his phone when the going got tough.

Stealing Roberta

For legal reasons I don’t fully understand, this disclaimer is in the front material of Perion Synthetics:

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, persons living, dead, or synthetic, is purely coincidental.

It’s generally not a good idea to use real people in your stories. As awesome as it would be to have Natalie Portman fighting cybernetic dinosaurs on a dinghy in the South Pacific, she probably wouldn’t be too thrilled to find out about it when your cross-genre erotic fanfic blows up like you just know it will. Profiting from a real person’s likeness (whether they’re an actor or a model or a local anchorwoman) may even get you sued.

Here’s what a lazy Google search turned up:

There are two distinct legal claims that potentially apply to these kinds of unauthorized uses: (1) invasion of privacy through misappropriation of name or likeness (“misappropriation”); and (2) violation of the right of publicity. (The “right of publicity” is the right of a person to control and make money from the commercial use of his or her identity.)

Source: Digital Media Law Project

In the good old days of the Internet, you could use someone else’s work or likeness without attribution, and they would have very little chance of finding out. These days, the Internet is a much smaller place, so if you’re stealing someone else’s stuff, they’re likely going to call you out on it. I used to and still enjoy taking images from DeviantArt and making promotional material for my books. The difference is that now I only share those privately with friends on Facebook. To use them publicly, I need to ask the artist’s permission or pay for the privilege.

While I’ve never used a real person in my stories, I’ve definitely been inspired by a few. This mostly happens as a result of a Science Fiction cliché in which a woman too beautiful for her role enters the picture. In Xronixle, the general look of the Lucienne character was inspired by Luba Shumeyko. In Veneer, some of Ilya’s features were inspired by… someone else. What does it mean to be inspired by someone’s look? I think of it like this:

Alright, G and Natalie are rushing the various security levels of the singularity when a woman as attractive as Luba Shumeyko shows up to stop them.

Sometimes when I write about a location I’ve never been to, I pull up images on Google or go to street view in Google Maps. Then I can just project my story onto what I see. The same works for people; it just helps kick off the imagination process.

A few chapters into Perion Synthetics, Cameron Gray meets a prototype synthetic. When it came time to write that scene, I asked myself:

If a company were to develop a true-to-life synthetic human, what would it look like?

To which my brain answered:

Probably a lot like Roberta Murgo.

When I’m writing a zero draft, I don’t stop to think of better names for characters, so I just named this prototype synthetic Roberta and moved on. When it was time to go back and rewrite, the name had grown on me.

That’s why, when I was messing around one day with the dream cast for the movie version of Perion Synthetics, I made this graphic:

If you click over to my About Me page, the first image shows the individual pictures I printed out and taped to the wall to help keep me motivated during revisions. I eventually showed the above to my Facebook friends just for fun. Later, on a whim, I used it as a throwaway piece of eye candy on a blog post. Surely nothing would come of it, right? I mean, honestly, who reads my blog besides you, Mom?

Yesterday, this happened:

Never in a million years would I have thought I’d get busted by Roberta Murgo. Lucky for me, she was a good sport about it. She even posted the image to her own Facebook page. And she hasn’t sued me yet, so that’s a bonus.

She left a few comments on Tuesday Roundup 7/16, but the one I found most interesting was in regards to her not suing me:

ok! i wont! just please do not refer to me in sexual ways because i am married

It reminded me of when I was having the cover of Perion Synthetics made. In a copyright-free world, I probably would have found a picture of Roberta on the Internet, slapped it on the cover, and called it a day. Instead, I called in a favor from a friend and asked if she would lend her likeness to the cover of my next book.

Having known me since high school, she was smart enough to ask for a synopsis before agreeing, lest there be something in my story that she didn’t want her likeness associated with. Though my friend is not starring in blockbusters or walking the runway, she still has a public image to protect, so you can understand why some people would vigorously defend their right to “control and make money from the commercial use of his or her identity.”

Ultimately, I probably should have kept my Perion Synthetics Dream Cast image to myself.

But then, if I hadn’t posted it, I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to trade comments with the woman who inspired the most advanced, beautiful-but-lethal, synthetic human ever known to Science Fiction. And yeah, that includes Cameron from The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Big thanks to Roberta for commenting and sharing!

You and I, Arjuna, have lived many lives.

I remember them all, you do not remember.

Jeff Winston was on the phone with his wife when he died.

I was only nine or ten when I picked up Replay for the first time. In the decades since, I’ve read it over and over again in the hopes of becoming a better writer. It has taught me how to be direct with my language, how to be honest with the motivations and desires of my characters, and most importantly, it showed me (and continues to show me) that stories can be more than just entertainment; they can make your reader feel something.

Prior to reading my first big boy book, I was content to devour anything written by Judy Blume, Louis Sachar, and Bruce Coville. If there was a finer book than My Teacher Fried My Brains, I hadn’t read it. I had always been aware of my parents’ bookshelf, but the titles had always seemed so imposing. ShogunThe Satanic Verses, IT. Okay, IT is not that imposing, but still. These books were dense and full of big words I didn’t understand.

Replay, though, seemed instantly accessible. I turned to the first page and there it was.

Jeff Winston was on the phone with his wife when he died.

It might have been the best and worst of times, and the clocks might have been striking thirteen, but I consider Replay’s opening line to be one of the best in literature. There is so much contained in this one little sentence, and it is as tragic as it is mundane. We join the story just as the main character dies. At ten years old, I had yet to read a book where anyone dies, let alone at the very beginning of the story.

Replay is the story of a middle-aged guy who dies and wakes up as his 18 year old self with all of his knowledge still intact. He has to relive his life knowing what will happen, not just to himself, but to the world. He tries to avoid the bad moments and recapture the good, but as he finds out, the future isn’t set. Just by having knowledge of it, of thinking he knows how it will go, he changes his replay in ways he couldn’t have imagined. He lives another life, only to die again of another heart attack.

Wash, rinse, and replay.

Jeff Winston was on the phone with his wife when he died.

Whenever I tell someone about Replay, I usually just parrot the synopsis and hope they find it interesting enough to purchase the book. However, to really tell you why this book is my favorite, we have to go beyond the sex, drugs, love, and loss of Jeff’s various replays. You see, on a superficial level, a man counting cards in Vegas or betting on the Preakness is just as entertaining as Peter trying to mail his little brother. There are a lot of books, and a lot of sci-fi, that are just pure entertainment. Just really cool things that happen to really cool people. And explosions.

Replay is different. I didn’t realize it until the very end of chapter seven. For the first third of the book, I was pretty entertained. Jeff gets into some crazy stuff (crazier if you’re a ten year old boy with no reckoning of the adult world), but it wasn’t until this moment that I realized something incredible: I was having an emotional response to a story. It was like a moment of sudden self-awareness. I saw beyond the narrator to Ken Grimwood sitting at his typewriter. I saw him crafting the story, moving pieces here and there, trying to elicit an emotional reaction.

After that moment, everything changed.

Jeff Winston was on the phone with his wife when he died.

I tell people I like to write love stories disguised as Science Fiction, and I owe that all to Replay. Though time travel is a common SF element, the emotional journey Jeff takes throughout his many lives seems to be unique. (I wouldn’t see it again until decades later in The Time Traveler’s Wife.) It’s all well and good to have virtual reality and robots and endotech, but there has to be an element that reaches out to the reader and squeezes their heart in their chest.

Transferring emotional content from the writer to the reader (or trying to, anyway) has shaped the content of my novels and will continue to forever. Xronixle would not be the same if X didn’t have a misguided love for CVeneer would have been all visuals if not for the misunderstood relationships between Deron and Rosalia, and Rosalia and Ilya. In Perion Synthetics, I wanted to focus on the relationships between humans and synthetics more than the novelty of anatomically correct sex robots.

Replay was the first book to show me that emotional transfer was possible through storytelling.

The possibilities, Jeff knew, were endless.

There is so much to learn from this book beyond what writing is about. So much of my personal style is derived from Grimwood’s that I often read this book, or just chapters, before I start writing something new, or when I’m stuck. If I can’t start a chapter, I’ll load up my Kindle and read a few from Replay, just so I can remember that yes, writing is easy, so long as you are direct and honest.

Here are some other things I’ve learned from Replay:

  • Flaws give a character depth
  • The narrator is as much a character as the characters
  • Sex is a natural part of human existence, no matter what the American Family Association says
  • Chapters should end with a smooth taper or powerful bang, never ambiguously
  • Respect the emotional connection between the reader and the characters
  • Write freely

All of this said, Replay is not just a book to inspire readers to be writers. It is entertaining and thoughtful, exciting and poignant. I tell everyone who hasn’t read it that they must read it now, which reminds me:

If you have not read this book, you must read it now.

Order the book from Amazon.

Read more about Ken Grimwood at Wikipedia.

If you’ve read the book, what was your favorite part?