Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Random Valentine's Day Generator

Valentine's Day is an interesting holiday. I feel like no matter where you fall on the relationship spectrum, you probably have some kind of mixed emotions about it. If you're single, you feel reminded about it. If you're taken, you might feel a sense of dread or obligation towards having to do a certain thing on a certain day. However, the point of Valentine's Day - showing someone you care about them - is in the right place. It's just not being done right.

In my opinion - the biggest gripes about Valentine's Day revolve around timing. Maybe you really do want to take someone out to dinner - but hate that you can't get a reservation or that you're forced to shell out extra for a special menu. Maybe you're interested in someone but having the holiday encroach on you is putting extra pressure on things. Maybe you'd rather just do something nice for your significant other on any old normal day instead of feeling forced to do it because you're supposed to....

...which is where the Random Valentine's Day Generator comes in. So let's say we completely remove February 14th as Valentine's Day, and people can just do something nice for their loved ones on any random day they chose.... the idea is in the right place, but let's be honest - most people are kind of lazy. Left to our own devices, we'd find ourselves back at anniversaries, birthdays, and Christmas and think "Oh crap, I forgot to just do something loving and kind just for the hell of it."

With the Random Valentine's Day Generator, each person would be assigned a random day every year where they are reminded to do something special for their loved ones. The giver still gets the reminder that there is an extra day a year where they should be doing something sweet but without the other knowing exactly when it might be. You also benefit by the sheer likelihood that the two of you will probably get different days so each one can really do something for the other person that they would enjoy much more.

Think about it - no more crowded restaurants one day a year, no more Facebook griping about being single/obligated-to-do-something, no more corporate consumerism making money off of people's natural tendency to want to be with other people...

I think I'm onto something, who wants to help make it happen?

*Update* No really, I've been thinking about this all day and I think I've figured out a good program with a monetization scheme. Any programmers who know how to create apps want to team up and try to make this happen?

Monday, December 31, 2012

Nikki's 2013 Resolution

Every year for the past few years, I've come to my blog (at the time) and posted my New Year's Resolutions. Every year, they change a bit but you still get some of the generic things - working out, saving money, new experiences, etc. For a few years, I really needed that.

I'm a list maker. I love them. Every day at work, I make lists for myself. I revel in the feeling of accomplishment as I cross things off. Making a list of things to do each year fed my type A personality's need to get things done.

When I was making this years list, I found myself in an odd spot. It seemed like I was adding the same key points that I'd grown fond of over the past couple of years: gym schedule, save money, travel somewhere new. They're all important and I strive to do them every year but it was the first year where I wasn't really making a new list. 2012 was a really crazy year for me. While I think I'm in a great place now - it's not without a year of moving through a lot of struggles. I'm not perfect, but for once I feel like I'm starting my year in a spot where I'm not struggling to figure out how to make myself better. Life did that pretty well on its own and 2012 was a lot of life experiences in one year.

In the end, when I got rid of all of the superfluous and repetitive resolutions, I only had one. This is going to sound really terrible and I honestly mean this in the best way, but I just want to be a little bit selfish.

Resolutions are supposed to be to better yourself or do something for others so I was torn up that I kept coming back to this... but I couldn't let it go. And then I kept thinking about 2012... why did I feel so burnt out? So I tried to pinpoint what the problem was. I realized that I'd used most of my days off to be places for other people - weddings, friends in town, family needs, holidays. I took one trip for myself.. in January. Even the days I took to study, I was worried about a friend that had gotten into some trouble. The only time I'd really said no to obligations I had, was when I was mentally and emotionally drained from dealing with a family issue.

I love helping friends, I love being there for my family, and I really really hate flaking out on plans. Then again - was doing all of those things worth not being home sometimes? Not making time for my personal well being? Most of my friends say "no" sometimes. They take time for themselves. I don't think anyone would think any less of me if I did the same sometimes.

After really thinking about it, I realized my selfish goal wasn't actually that selfish. It was being a normal person who makes balances and priorities and takes time for themselves. If I'm not doing it now - then when will I?

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Sarah Connor Workout

Hi blog world - I know there hasn't been a whole lot going on in this corner of the internet. Although I've had a ton of ideas for posts, it's been really hard to get excited about writing when my fellow authors have not. I'm not usually one to follow the crowd but it's hard to be motivated when that kind of thing happens. I can see this blog kind of fading away. With that said - there was something that I started working on months ago and I wanted to at least get to it...

You blog readers will soon come to know that Becca, Will and myself are also part of a trilogy club. The idea started a few months ago after the "Trilogy Time" episode of How I Met Your Mother in which you learn that Barney, Ted, and Marshall have a pact to watch the Star Wars Trilogy every three years. As part of the tradition, they guess where they will be the next time they watch the trilogy three years later and then compare what actually happened to what they guessed. I thought this was a great idea and gauged interest on Facebook. Thus, Trilogy Time / Trilogy Club was born.

Since then we've watched and scheduled a few more trilogies, but we've been hypothetically planning some of the ones coming up. My group of trilogy friends are all people who  love to dress up and plan theme parties and sometimes we get... out of hand. So - in preparation for the Terminator Trilogy, I want to go full on T2 Sarah Conner but that's going to take some work.

The goal:
Have a realistically Sarah Connor-ish body (mostly just those arms) by the time Terminator Trilogy Time rolls around.

The Workout Plan:

Based on Linda's actual workout:
Four times a week: Mondays, Thursdays (work chest, shoulders, triceps)
Tuesdays, Fridays (work back, biceps)
4 sets of 8 to 12 reps per exercise (starting with 8 lb dumbbells and moving up)
Dumbbell bench press
Inclined flies
Lateral raises
Front raises
One-arm rows
Bent-over rows
Standing curls

Plus, my own workouts:
Ab workouts
Walks, Jogs, Rollerblading, Kinect (you laugh but 30 minutes on Dance Central...), Hikes

Ideal Results:
Convert 10lbs of fat to 10lbs of muscle mass (note that I'm not trying to lose weight)
Get Sarah Connor (circa T2) arms
Open the door to my apartment in a fitted black tank top, cargo pants, steel toed boots, aviators and holding one of my Lara Croft airsoft guns, urging people in before the machines arrive (if you're not acting the part, you're only half dressed up)

Actual Results:
Workout plan above - did I stick to it?
I was bad at doing the workouts as many times a week as I wanted, but I did them. It's hard to balance a workout with a full+ time career, a social life, video games, reading, etc. The best way this works is just to MAKE yourself do it. I'd get home, change, and work out. Luckily, I had weights and things at home so there wasn't an extra push to go somewhere. This helped because it cut down on the time needed and I could still watch recorded things while I worked out. Basically it replaced couch + tv time with workout + tv time. However, my dumbbells only went up to 20lbs so unless someone wants to get me these, I'm going to have to head to the gym now.

The exercises I listed above were great to get started since I hadn't lifted in years. However, I blew through them quickly. I ended up going online to find a variety of Back/Bicep and Chest/Tricep/Shoulder work out so I had more variety and was pushing myself harder. If you're not sore, you're not trying hard enough so I kept building on the work outs in order to get results.

It was really interesting to see how quickly I could really adapt to the workouts I was doing and that I had to keep adding reps, weights, and exercises. With the arms, I knew I just had to increase the number of pounds. However, my abs are where I really started having trouble. If I was getting an ab workout from randomabs or pinterest, I usually had to multiply the number of reps or sets (or both) by 3-4. This is the area that I really had to keep changing up my workouts and I've become really good at creating my own ab routines.

This was tough. I was trying to do a lot of different things here instead of sticking to one concrete eating plan so my weight ended up fluctuating and driving me crazy. In the end, the best thing for me was to stick with what has always just worked for me: portion control, picking healtier options, staying away from excess fat and carbs, and piling on the protein. Most of all - cooking at home has worked out really well. I'm really lucky that we get lunch at my work but these options aren't always the healthiest. It's not too hard to pick out the better options from the food we order but some days I was trying to make two meals out of it or I'd get food out for dinner. That was terrible for my goals and really showed on the scale and on my body. Eventually I just took it back to cooking dinner at home so I could be aware of what was going into my body and that helped so much. I find that personally, when I focus on making myself healthier food, I also tend to pick the healthier options at work. It's like I train myself to not crave things that will hurt my goals.

Having a goal was so important. In that past I went with "workout more" and that was too generic. Instead this one was "be Sarah Connor." I could think about how long I'd been working, see what the muscles looked like and realize I wasn't there. I'd think I was getting strong and then look at Linda Hamilton pictures and realize I wasn't even close. I think that's going to keep me going for a long time. Genetically, it might not even be possible for me to look just like that, but I know I haven't reached my limits so I need to keep pushing.

The biggest thing was balancing weight loss and muscle game. I had said that the aim wasn't to lose weight, but gain muscle. If done right, the muscle gain would offset the weight loss so I'd still lose size and be toned. At first, I was gaining weight because I wasn't eating healthy. This was so frustrating because I could feel my muscles growing and getting stronger but it just made me feel bigger instead of reaching my goal. However, I'm happy to say that I'm back at my starting weight but with a lot more muscle and that feels fantastic. I'm excited to keep up on this trajectory now that I've gotten the diet down. But really - the goal was Sarah Connor and I'll need to keep lifting a few more dumbbells.

Useful tips:
- Don't put it off. I tried to do my workouts RIGHT when I got home. The only things I did first were change and set up my workout area. I didn't want to let myself get comfortable at all. This also means I'd work out before eating dinner. Helpful hint - if you do a tough ab workout, you don't really feel too hungry. This kept me from stuffing myself when I did get to dinner.
- Find partners. I love climbing because you need a partner. It's much easier to get yourself to a gym if someone is expecting you. I hate flakiness so planning to meet someone was a great way to ensure I would show up.
- Find an inspiration. I find it hard to push myself to work out if it's not "fun." Even though I don't mind ab and weight work outs, I know I won't be a good coach for myself. However, it was easy to look at the Linda Hamilton pictures and get pumped to work out. There are plenty of actors that have transformed their bodies for a role. Find your inspiration (it may not be Hollywood either, that's just pretty visible).
- Change it up. I found to get ideas for different ab workouts so I wasn't stuck doing boring crunches all day. This has two benefits: working a variety of muscles and keeping yourself interested. It was fun to see what workout would come up. When randomabs got too easy I'd try to find workouts wherever I could. Comcast has a ton of workout On Demand. I found a variety of ab plans on Pinterest and eventually I was familiar enough with the exercises that I could try to throw together my own creative sets. Plus, I was still climbing, hiking, going to gym classes, and I dusted off some old Tae Bo videos.
- It doesn't take much time but it does take some. My ab work outs were only about 10-15 min on the days I did them and the arms were about 20-40 min. Plan for an hour a day. Some days I added in some sort of cardio which was another hour and climbing takes around 2 hours. That means I was working out 1-2 hours on the days I did it. That's quite a bit of time but it wasn't that hard to fit it in if I made it a priority. Getting dumbbells for the apartment made it easy for me to do things while watching TV.
- Schedule time to work out. Some weeks I would be great about making myself do my workouts every evening or moving them to the morning if I had plans after work. This got to be pretty tough. I want to work on putting workouts as a higher priority than happy hours. I feel better when I work out. Let's have that fill up the calendar.
- Keep healthy snacks around. Snacking is natural and healthy. It's much better for your metabolism to eat little snacks throughout the day so keep healthy snacks around. This will keep you from resorting to junk food. My favorites are fresh fruit for something sweet, chips and fresh (or homemade) salsa or carrots and hummus for a savory snack.

I'm excited that I found a work out plan that I love. Mostly I'm excited that I have something set up. Having a plan that I really stuck to, is getting me excited for what's next. I really just focused on my abs and arms. Now I want to use the same goals for legs and cardio. I've recently purchased a Nike Fuel Band so that I have motivation to run and I've been signing up for some 5ks. I think I'm becoming a bit of a work out geek... and I'm so happy about it!

If you are interested in the things I've been doing, you can follow me on fitocracy and check my workouts.

I know the Holidays are tough for anyone to find time to work out (myself included) but this might be a great time to start planning your January fitness plan.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Art of Pumpkin Carving, Part 2

Now that Halloween is around the corner, I've gotten around to carving my pumpkins and here's what I ended up with:

These little guys were pretty easy to make. I ordered a dozen vampire teeth from Amazon, bought some little pumpkins and cut out mouth shapes then stuck the teeth in. They didn't last as long as I hoped and was pretty grossed out to find the mouths were black. Needless to say, I didn't recover the teeth...

If you want to make these guys, the shape for the small and big mouth can be found here. The teeth won't look right if the lines aren't straight so be careful with that.
Also, I think mine didn't last so long because I didn't clean them out. The only hole is the mount but it should be big enough to get some of the insides out of these small gourds. 

I thought it was fun that Assassin's Creed 3 was coming out right around Halloween so I decided to pay homage to the game. Last year, I did Portal pumpkins so this was along the same vein. Plus, I've been working on powering through Assassin's Creed 2 so I can do the second part of my series (btw - I adore Ezio. Can I just say that?) The pumpkin was very easy but having such a big piece in the middle with little support was my downfall and when the biology started setting in, the middle caved. I'm glad I snapped this before that happened!

I saw a picture for a Dark Knight Joker pumpkin and I knew I had to do that. I've only really scraped one pumpkin before so I wasn't sure how it would go but I think it turned out really well. The picture I was going off had a variety of shades on the face. Some areas were black so I didn't touch those. Every other lighter area, I did a base scrape. From there, I scraped deeper on the light areas and left the medium ones with a fair amount of thickness. I think the key here would be to constantly light the pumpkin and see how it's going.   I think it would have looked better if I'd gone a little deeper but it still turned out pretty cool. 

The last pumpkin may be hard to figure out if you don't know what you're looking for but it's the Delorean from Back to the Future with it's flame trails. To be honest, I was a little pumpkined out by the point and was preoccupied with the World Series (GO GIANTS!!!!) so I really phoned this one in. This is basically the image I was going off of. Again... phone that one in...

I also made a couple of tweaks to the Heath pumpkin. This is the picture I used for that one. There's is definitely more angular but like I said, I'm still a pumpkin-scraper-in-training. Hopefully, next year I can nail it down because I already have some amazing things I want to try. 

The important thing for me is to try to do something fun and creative. Face pumpkins are cool but I've made dozens of them. I didn't start doing images until a few years ago so I'm probably going to stick with it for a while. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Arrow, Episode 2 - Who's Still Watching?

Pilots are pretty unique episodes. They usually tend to stand out from the rest of the season or run of a show because they have one purpose - to attract viewers. Usually they either fail horribly (cough, Beauty and the Beast, coughcough) or work pretty well. Since Arrow's was the latter, I was curious to see how the second episode followed up.

There was one big thing that I was on the fence about in the pilot and once I was able to get around my initial qualms about the show, I found it to be incredibly glaring in the second episode. I had no idea what to make of the acting, specifically the lead. I couldn't decide if Stephen Amell is either an amazing or terrible actor.

The question started last week and the acting issue became more apparent in the second episode. When Amell is playing Ollie Queen, he's stiff and bland. He makes a lot of awkward smirks. You really can't help but think that he was hired to be a pretty face. The character really falls flat... until you realize that he's playing several different parts...

There are at least 3 different roles that he's tackling: Ollie Queen, Arrow, and Ollie Queen in flash backs and all three of these characters are pretty different. Present day Ollie Queen is the one that drives me crazy. He's emotionless and flat. However, this can be explained by the fact that he's been living on a deserted island for five years and is probably pretty scarred. We haven't seen a lot of Arrow yet. He's spoken occasionally but it's in that solid, justified Batman kind of way. However, the flashbacks to younger, pre-accident Oliver Queen are almost like a completely different character. The mannerisms, the expressions, even the tone of voice almost make you think it's a different actor all together.

It makes me really happy that they have these flashbacks and continue to have them. It makes for a more well-rounded character AND let's you see that Amell is more than a pretty face. At the end of the episode when Oliver realized he was going to have to act like his pre-accident self in order to mask his secret, he again completely transformed into the immature playboy that was completely unique from the Oliver Queen in the rest of the episode. That was when I settled the acting talent question once and for all. This guy is good.

Aside from that, the show is growing on me. I was having trouble with that hurdle but once I got over it, I was able to appreciate the rest of the show. I said in the last review that I would really like it if the show continues to use flashbacks to explain what happened to Oliver on the island that transformed him into Arrow and gave him the skills he now possesses. This episode solidified that they are indeed going to continue with that which I think is vital to making this show more complex than just a "hero catches bad guys" story.

I'm excited to see how it goes. It seems like they're still filling some back story and setting the show up which has made it move a little slower, but I have high hopes.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

CW's Two New Geeky Shows

Last week the CW premiered two shows that definitely flashed on my geeky radar. Both made me a little wary but the plots piqued my interest and I figured it would be good to give them a shot. I had a few slots open on my weekday tv schedule so there really wasn't much to lose. Both shows had the distinct possibility of being amazing or completely terrible... so let's see how they turned out.

Both reviews include extensive plot summary so beware of spoilers. However, they are both on the pilot episodes so even with spoilers, it's all need-to-know information if you want to get into the show(s)!

Beauty and the Beast

Even though this show premiered second, I watched it first because I thought it was sure to be the better of the two shows. I had no really no intention of watching this show originally. I love the Disney movie of my childhood and the Once Upon a Time interpretation of the story, so I was pretty content with where the fairy tale laid in my eyes. Plus, seeing advertisements of a not-so-ugly beast really made the show come off as just another crappy CW melodrama.

Until I actually read up on the plot... The show was to take a new angle on the tale as old as time. This beauty was more than a damsel in distress - she was actually an NYPD detective who comes across a man who saved her life ten years earlier. She learns that he was part of a failed military experiment that has left him (hardly) deformed and will super human powers. He has faked his own death so they don't come after him and he needs her help to stay hidden. Wow! A Beauty and the Beast story where she helps save him as much as he saves her? That doesn't sound so bad.

I was wrong.

The story has so many flaws, I'm not even sure where to begin. First of all, for a crime drama, the cops' actions just don't really make sense. While solving the opening mystery, they jump to a ridiculous number of arbitrary conclusions. My favorite is when they find a pregnancy test in a public area of the victim's workplace and assume she is pregnant even though this doesn't come up in the autopsy and they mention that it should have. You'd think that would be a flag that test belonged to someone else... The main character's actions are just so off the charts, that it was borderline ridiculous. She gets a search warrant for a building and then goes without her partner. There she finds a man that is supposed to be dead who is the only suspect as his fingerprints were at the crime scene and does not arrest him because he had a news article about her mother's death and more or less asked her not to. Then, there is a scene where she is attacked on a subway platform that inexplicably has no one there besides herself and the attackers. Despite this, the beast is there and saves her life again, killing three people. They both flee the scene even though she is a cop and could easily be linked back to the crime in about 20 different ways.

This pilot just completely baffled me. This was some of the worst, hole-filled writing I have ever seen. The show  took a pretty cool sounding premise and destroyed it by not being thoughtful in the writing. With so many popular crime shows on TV, it's so easy to see how many problems there are with the logic in this show. The whole thing seemed incredibly rushed and I need a bit more effort so this was definitely the first and last episode of Beauty and the Beast for me.


I almost didn't even want to watch this after the last one. However, I figured I should at least give the pilot a chance... and I'm so glad I did.

The story starts off with Oliver Queen, a ship wrecked billionaire, using a flaming arrow to light a fire and signal the ship that will save him from the island he is stranded on. You quickly learn he has been stranded for five years and his father died in the accident that left him deserted. The doctor that inspects him correctly foreshadows that this Oliver has likely been changed by the island where he has lived for so long.

Throughout the episode, Oliver has flashbacks to the shipwreck which teach the viewer that Oliver's father was involved in some shady dealings when he ran the Queen company. He wants Oliver to survive the crash in order to fix the corruption that he started and then takes his own life so that Ollie can use the supplies to survive. It is clear that there are still many gaps about what else Oliver learned during the wreck and on the island and hopefully the show continues to use flash backs to fill in this information.

Now back home with his wealth and resources, Oliver is able to set up a secret base that he can use to create high tech weapons and set up powerful computer systems that he can use to track down evil and corrupt criminals in order to restore justice to society using primarily arrows.

If you think this sounds just like Batman meets Robin Hood - you pretty much nailed it.

I really love super hero movies, but wasn't an avid comic book reader so I knew just about nothing about Arrow going into this show. I figured the character was just the DC version of Hawkeye and that wasn't terribly far off. What I wasn't expecting was an archer version of Batman. However, I really like Batman so I'm okay with that. I'm excited to see where this show goes. They set up a lot in this pilot. There are many avenues to go down for future villains, recurring villains, deeper back story, future side kicks, and potential love interests. The writing gives a lot of information in the pilot while barely scraping the surface and I'm very excited to keep watching.

Arrow is on Wednesdays at 8pm and Beauty and the Beast is Thursdays at 9pm. Both shows are on the CW.

Friday, October 12, 2012

How Did the Ghost Patch His Sheet?

With a Pumpkin Patch!....No, nothing? Bummer.

With the World Famous Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival happening this weekend near us, I was already going to write this before Nikki blogged about carving them, so puns aside, here are some fun facts about that gorgeous gourd, the PUMPKIN!

Pumpkins are believed to have originated in North America. Seeds from related plants have been found in Mexico dating back to 7000 to 5500 B.C.

A pumpkin is really a squash, which is actually a fruit! Seriously, I don't make this stuff up. This is science! Maybe this is. Or this.

Early references to pumpkins go back several hundred years. They were called “pompions” (from the Greek word ‘pepon’, meaning “large melon”).

American Indian tribes grew pumpkins for food and long before the discovery of corn, relied on pumpkins to get them through long winters.

Pumpkins were once thought of as a cure for freckles and snake bites.

Pumpkins are now grown on every continent except Antarctica.

Pumpkins are 90 percent water.

Pumpkins are monoecious, having both male and female flowers on the same plant.
After planting, it takes pumpkin approximately 90 to 120 days to mature. There is only one day during the entire growing season, in which the pumpkin flower can be pollinated. If the growing season is a dry one, pumpkins will typically be 20% - 30% smaller, in size.

80% of the pumpkin supply in the US is available in October.

Thanks for reading!