Author Archive

Review: Star Wars Allegiance

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Star Wars  Allegiance
Star Wars Allegiance by Timothy Zahn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars: Allegiance tells the story of a young Mara Jade and the desertion of five stormtroopers. Mara Jade is serving Emperor Palpatine as the Emperor’s Hand, comparable to James Bond’s role as a secret service agent. Mara Jade is still young though – only eighteen. She is idealistic and somewhat naive (especially in regards to the Emperor).

Daric LaRone is one of the five stormtroopers who desert. He has started to question whether the Empire actually cares about its citizens. Four other stormtroopers desert with him after LaRone’s altercation with an ISB (Imperial Security Bureau) officer. Like Mara Jade, the five stormtroopers are idealistic.

This story takes place after the first Star Wars movie, A New Hope, but before The Empire Strikes Back. During this story, Luke does not yet know that Darth Vader is his father. Luke also does not know that Leia is his sister (on whom he seems to have a crush, at least from Han Solo’s perspective). Luke has not yet visited Yoda, but is carrying his lightsaber at his side (this is important since as far as most people know, the Jedi were wiped out; the only person known to wield a lightsaber is Darth Vader, as well as the Emperor’s Hand, according to rumours). Han Solo has not fully committed to the Rebel Alliance, although he’s agreed to help out with their mission in this story. Leia is still working with the Rebel Alliance and in this novel is attempting to recruit another world to their cause. Leia’s home world, Aldaraan, has been destroyed.

The location in this story is Shelsha sector, Luke and Han are sent there to investigate raids on the Rebel Alliance’s shipments (covert shipments, of course) while Leia is sent to Shelsha sector to meet with its governor in hopes of persuading him to join the Rebel cause. Mara Jade is sent to Shelsha sector to investigate its governor, while the five stormtroopers happen to be in that sector after deserting. LaRone and the other four stormtroopers are trying to stay hidden, but find they can’t help getting involved when citizens are attacked by swoop gangs and raiders. Darth Vader is obsessively trying to find Luke, and ends up in Shelsha sector as well. Considering the scenarios, it isn’t surprising to the reader that some of the main characters eventually meet up with each other.

Like his previous Star Wars novels, Zahn skillfully weaves together multiple plotlines. He never gets bogged down with explaining the different plotlines, and consequently keeps a fast pace to the story.

One key reason to read this Star Wars novel is to get a glimpse of Mara Jade while she was serving the Emperor. She’s smart and sassy, but somehow very loyal to the Emperor. When Zahn created the character of Mara Jade, it could have been easy for him to simply write her as a female Jedi, in contrast to Luke; or as a female Sith, in contrast to Darth Vader. Interestingly, she isn’t either of those. Mara Jade’s role is significantly different than Darth Vader’s. While Vader is busy force-choking his enemies, Mara Jade is cleverly finding ways to implicate her targets. In contrast to Luke, Mara Jade sees killing her opponent as a potential necessity. Luke would rather not kill anyone – ever. Recall who actually does kill the Emperor at the end of Return of the Jedi. In this comparison, Mara Jade is hardly naive – Luke is. Mara Jade is only naive when it comes to the Emperor, which can be explained easily when the Emperor is considered to be Mara Jade’s surrogate father. (Though, when Mara Jade and Luke finally meet, the score might be more even. At that point, it’s Mara Jade the Smuggler, who is probably more of a female Han Solo.)

Star Wars: Allegiance is an exciting read. It’s another Timothy Zahn story worthy of the name Star Wars.

View all my reviews

Book Blog

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Book blog time again.

I still need to get into the habit of writing a book review right after I read a book.

I finally got around to finish reading China: Its History and Culture by W. Scott Morton and Charlton M. Lewis. It’s a good overview of the history of China. I picked up this book for two reasons. One was for the overview of key events in China’s history. The second reason was because I wanted to know how the history affected Chinese culture. For each era (or dynasty, in most of the cases), this book does a good job of presenting key historic events and discussing aspects of the culture. The only drawback to this book is that the second half of the book is devoted to events in the 20 century leading up to the new millennium. This might have been unavoidable though since we know more about recent historic events than we do about events in the distant past. Overall though, this book gives the reader a good idea of how China came to be the country it is today. After finishing this book, the reader should have a good sense of the character of China.

As for fiction, below is a list of books I read recently:

Circus of the Damned by Laurell K. Hamilton
Well of Shiuan (as part of The Morgaine Saga omnibus) by C.J. Cherryh
Spell of the Witch World by Andre Norton (consists of three short stories – “Dragon Scale Silver”, “Dream Smith”, “Amber Out of Quayth”)

Circus of the Damned is Hamilton’s third novel in the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series. Once again, Anita Blake has to stave off a supernatural threat. Like her first two Anita Blake novels, this story moves at a good pace. Hamilton keeps the story moving and there’s loads of action and excitement. Of course, Anita solves the case by the end of the novel, but does she solve any of her own issues? Not quite. Circus of the Damned is another enjoyable read for those who love the urban fantasy genre. As part of a series, it will be interesting to see how the character Anita Blake develops.

Well of Shiuan by C.J. Cherryh is the sequel to Gate of Ivrel. In Well of Shiuan, the two main characters, Morgaine and Vanye, travel to a world facing annihilation (by flooding). It turns out to be directly caused by events in the past, in which Morgaine was involved. Determined to finish her mission to close all the Gates, Morgaine continues to deal with the consequences of her past actions. Meanwhile, Vanye has to learn that he can’t save everyone and that each person has his/her own destiny.

Spell of the Witch World is classic Andre Norton. If you’re a fan of classic fantasy (that is, swords and sorcery), Andre Norton is highly recommended. Somehow Norton is able to engage the reader in even the simplest of stories. “Dragon Scale Silver” is about a sister who, after having a premonition of her brother heading into danger, decides to rescue him herself. “Dream Smith” is a cute tale about a deformed blacksmith who crafts a dream world for him and the frail young woman with whom he is enamoured. Lastly, “Amber Out of Quayth” tells the story of how a woman escapes the prison of her arranged marriage.

Training Blog (as of May 9, 2013)

Friday, May 10th, 2013

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Running, 1 mile

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Ran to the gym, half mile
Cycling 20 minutes 7.3 miles 120 calories
Chin-ups (military – overhand; counterweight) 50
Parallel pull-ups (counterweight) 50
Dips (counterweight) 40
Lateral pull-down 62.5
Seated leg curl 52.5 each leg
Decline leg press 90
Squats 90
Chest press 8/8 (dumbbells)
Pectoral fly 8/8 (dumbbells)
Rear deltoids 8/8 (dumbbells)
Shoulder press 10/10 (dumbbells)
Front shoulder lifts 10/10 (dumbbells)
Bicep curls 10/10 (dumbbells)
Wrist strengthening 12/12 (right arm weaker)
Wrist twirls 12/12
Pushups set of 15
Ran most of the way home

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Stayed home. I did a few exercises with the weights I have at home. I need to buy a pair of 8 pounds dumbbells and a pair of 12 pounds.
Rear deltoids 5/5 (dumbbells)
Lateral raise 5/5 (dumbbells)
Shoulder press (machine) 10/10 (dumbbells)
Front shoulder lifts 5/5 (dumbbells)
Bicep curls 10/10 (dumbbells)

Friday, March 8, 2013

Running, half mile to the gym
Cycling 20 minutes 7.26 miles 121 calories
Seated leg curl 52.5 each leg
Running 1 mile, then headed home
(I got to the gym late. I forgot it closes an hour and a half earlier than on Mondays through Thursdays. I did some exercises at home after.)
Rear deltoids 5/5 (dumbbells)
Lateral raise 5/5 (dumbbells)
Shoulder press 10/10 (dumbbells)
Front shoulder lifts 10/10 (dumbbells)
Bicep curls 10/10 (dumbbells)

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Running, covered 1 mile and then a bit extra
Later, did a long walk downtown for a sushi buffet!
(I ended up getting weird muscles cramps in my foot that night after I feel asleep. It’s been a while since I ran or even walked that much. LOL. I had a cramp in my shin while the muscles at the bottom of my foot was cramped. I couldn’t point my toes, but I had to push my foot forward – think of the foot position while wearing high heels. The cramping went away after a little while of careful massaging. Then later, I had a Charlie Horse in the other leg. LOL… really did not get enough exercise prior to that day.)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Running, half mile out, then half mile back home

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Running, half mile to the gym
Cycling 20 minutes 7.3 miles 97 calories
Chin-ups (military – overhand; counterweight) 50
Pull-ups (underhand; counterweight) 50
Parallel pull-ups (counterweight) 50
Dips (counterweight) 40
Lateral pulldown 60
Seated leg curl 52.5 each leg
Hip adductor 100
Hip abductor 90
Decline leg press 90
Squats 90
Chest press 8/8 (dumbbells)
Pectoral fly 8/8 (dumbbells)
Rear deltoids 8/8 (dumbbells)
Lateral raise 8/8 (dumbbells)
Shoulder press 10/10 (dumbbells)
Front shoulder lifts 10/10 (dumbbells)
Bicep curls 12/12 (dumbbells)
Wrist strengthening 12/12 (right arm weaker)
Wrist twirls 12/12
Back strengthening (weighted) 25
Leg lifts set of 24
TKD – poomsae and some kicks (back kicks)
(Unfortunately, I irritated my meniscus tear by doing a tornado kick. My fault though. I should have checked that my kicking alignment was correct. The knee and the ankle should always be aligned with each other. The problem I have is that my knee sometimes drifts inward during the kick. I think this is a natural tendency in that leg. I seem to recall ice skating that way when I was a kid. If only I knew to fix that back then. In any case, I’ll fix this by slowly doing the roundhouse kick motion until the muscles in my leg remembers the correct alignment again. This has happened before and like before it’s easily corrected.)

Studying Korean 한국어을 공부해요 – Some Sources for Beginners

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

I’ve been studying Korean off and on (with some intervals of intense studying) for a while now, so I thought I should do a quick blog about some of the materials and sources I’ve used and/or am currently using.

I started studying Korean using the Teach Yourself Korean book and audio files.  The book starts easy, but then it throws a lot of vocabulary halfway through. The dialogues are good for getting used to the flow of the language. The dialogues get longer and more comprehensive, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – the problem of learning vocabulary in this book is tied to the use of romanization throughout the book.

Although the book spends a bit of time in the introduction teaching you the hangeul, the romanization is prevalent.  The romanization system used is based off of the McCune-Reischauer, but there is now a standard romanization system in South Korea called “Revised Romanization of Korean”. Consequently, the McCune Reischauer will be useless if you obtain Korean language learning materials using the new romanization. The Korean-English vocabulary at the back of the book is organized using romanization as well which is a little annoying once you’ve spent the time to learn the hangeul well. It is best to obtain a Korean-English dictionary that lists the Korean entries using hangeul and not the romanization.  There is no hangeul next to the Korean entries in the vocabulary at the end.

In each unit, the dialogue is given in hangeul with the romanization following the dialogue, while the English translations of dialogues are found at the end of the book.  The list of phrases and expressions in each unit is given in romanization only, which makes it annoying to look up the phrases when you are reading the dialogue using hangeul. It also makes the learner prone to learning the phrase only using romanization which means that when the learner comes across it while reading a later dialogue in Korean, the learner won’t immediately recognize the phrase or expression.

The vocabulary list in each unit does include the hangeul, but second to the romanization. It’s not easy to ignore the romanization when looking at the vocabulary as native English speakers automatically read English where it’s present. The romanization makes it hard to learn the Korean vocabulary when the learner just wants to learn the vocabulary using hangeul, not romanization. Basically, it was helpful at first, but once the learner has a good handle on hangeul, the romanization just turns into a big crutch. Romanization is best used as a pronunciation guide, not what the Korean language learner should be reading.

The book has grammar points throughout, but no grammar summary at the back. Since I’ve decided to learn another language (I studied French in school), I’ve noticed that I will go look at a grammar summary because it gives me an idea of what to expect from the language. Some grammar points could be explained better, but this book does a decent job with the grammar. For a study of grammar indepth, I think it’s better to find a source concentrating on it.

This book provides a decent introduction to Korean language and culture, but once you get used to the hangeul, I’d recommend switching to a book with no romanization (I used Active Korean 1 – see below) as the romanization detracts from practicing reading hangeul. I suppose there are those who don’t care to learn the hangeul, who only want to speak the language and understand what they are hearing, in which case these people will love having the romanization (for them, this book is a good recommendation). However, I don’t see the point in not learning how to read a language. Korean is an Asian language, but it is not Chinese. The Korean writing system is technically phonetic (while the Chinese isn’t), although the words are put in syllable blocks (similar to the Chinese system). The hangeul isn’t that difficult to learn and there is an explanation as to why the language is written the way it is (see “Origin of Hangul”).

This book would be better if either:

a) they include hangeul with the list of phrases and expressions, and in the vocabulary at the end of the book; they put the hangeul first and the romanization second in the vocabulary list; they include hangeul in the grammar sections; they put more exercises in hangeul (I ended up skipping most of the exercises because the answers were in romanization – I wrote them out in Korean); and they drop the romanization at some point (maybe a quarter of the way through; they could keep the romanization after the dialogue as long as it doesn’t interfere with reading the dialogue in hangeul as I’m aware that a learner might use it to check if they are reading the dialogues correctly);

or

b) they put in more exercises to help learn the hangul and replace the romanization throughout the book with hangeul; they could keep the romanization after the dialogue.

This material is not ideal for anyone who knows the hangeul well as the romanization is a hindrance more than an aid at that point. The most anyone with proficiency reading Korean could use this material for is to practice reading and listening to the dialogues. They may want to read the grammar points, but there is romanization in the grammar explanations not hangeul, and there are better grammar books on Korean available (I’ll cover a few of them below).

Since I was a little frustrated with the persistent romanization in the Teach Yourself Korean, I switched to using something with no romanization. Active Korean 1 is a good beginner book that teaches you the hangeul upfront and has a decent amount of vocabulary without having the learner feel overwhelmed. The material is put together by Seoul National University Language Institute. There are grammar points throughout as well as a grammar summary at the end. The exercises are straightforward, and there is some effort to make learning the language fun. This book is great for practising reading Korean. It will be pretty easy to get through if one already knows the hangeul. I highly recommend this for beginners.

After Active Korean 1, I went through Korean Through English 1. This material was also put together by Seoul National University Language Institute. It consists of a little more material than Active Korean 1 and contains good explanations of the dialogues on the audio tracks. It teaches the hangeul first, and there is a good amount of exercises to go through before digging into the dialogues. There is a glossary of the Korean vocabulary at the end. The appendix includes a linguistics essay on the Korean language. Like Active Korean 1, this book is great for practising reading Korean and is pretty easy to get through if one already knows hangeul. I obtained an older version of this material and the audio files. I’m not sure if you can obtain audio files for the book listed on amazon.com, but if you can get the audio to go with the book, I recommend this material for beginners.

Some other beginner sources I have include:

  • My Korean 1 and 2 (text and audio)
  • Integrated Korean (beginner (text and audio), intermediate and advanced (audio only))
  • Colloquial Korean (book and audio)
  • Elementary Korean (book and audio) and Continuing Korean (book and audio)
  • Living Language Korean (book and audio)
  • Beginner’s Korean (book and audio)

I’m thinking of continuing my Korean studies with My Korean 1 and 2 (text and audio), which can be found online (see link just above). My Korean has romanization in the first unit, then the hangeul is taught in the second unit (using the Revised Romanization of Korean). Starting in unit three, romanization is dropped and is only provided for the dialogues after the dialogues along with the English translation. In this respect, My Korean is what Teach Yourself Korean could have been. I will have to see how well it explains grammar.

Of the materials listed above, Living Language Korean and Beginner’s Korean seem to be the least useful for me. Although Living Language Korean teaches the hangeul and does not use romanization after lesson five, I felt that it did not give a good explanation of the grammar points in the first lesson. It doesn’t explain honorifics and speech levels well and confuses honorifics with formal speech level. In the first lesson, one of the exercises is to fill in the topic particle, but one of the answers is a subject particle instead. In terms of amount of vocabulary, Living Language Korean is similar to Teach Yourself Korean, in fact it has quite a bit of vocabulary in the first lesson. If I get a chance to use this material, it will be for practising reading and listening to Korean and for vocabulary build-up. I will probably either ignore the grammar in the text or skim it; and I’m not confident about the exercises being well designed.

As for Beginner’s Korean, it uses romanization (Revised Romanization of Korean) throughout. In fact, it’s more of a nuisance as the romanization is put right below each line of dialogue (Living Language Korean uses this format for the dialogues in the first five lessons). The vocabulary in the lessons and at the end of the material is listed with hangeul first, which is better than in Teach Yourself Korean. As for grammar, it has grammar points throughout and a grammar summary at the end. This might be useful for a review of grammar points. While listening to the dialogues is always good practice, I probably won’t use this material to practice reading Korean since the romanization is right below each line of dialogue.

In regards to listening material for languages, I’ve heard about Pimsleur and have seen it in the bookstores, but as posted in “Pimsleur Language Programs – Save Your Money”, I think the Pimsleur material will be a waste of time for me considering there are other good sources for studying Korean. In fact, I think it’s more likely I’ll use the Korean for Dummies as listening material before I use the Pimsleur material. I almost forgot about Korean for Dummies. It is definitely not recommended for learning Korean if you want to know how to read Korean. It does not teach you hangeul and the book uses only romanization. It’s kind of funny that it puts in a pronunciation guide next to the romanization. That being said, it’s a mite better than the Pimsleur Korean material as it’s cheaper and has more content than the Pimsleur material. In any case, I doubt I’ll use the Korean for Dummies any time soon (although I suppose it could have interesting tidbits about Korean culture throughout).

I also should not forget about Rosetta Stone. I definitely think it’s worth using, but in conjunction with other learning materials.

That’s about all the beginner Korean material I have to mention for now. I have some other material that I would consider intermediate to advanced, and I have yet to get to that material.

If you’re really into Korean and making your way through whatever material you’re using, you will definitely need a good Korean-English dictionary. This will be difficult as you should get a Korean-English dictionary that lists Korean entries using hangeul and not romanization. The problem that exists is that so far there aren’t many Korean-English dictionaries listing entries in native Korean that have extensive vocabulary on that side of the dictionary. This is the case with the Hippocrene Practical Dictionary Korean-English English-Korean. It just doesn’t have enough Korean entries. The Collins Gem Korean Dictionary is a better option. A Korean dictionary by Samuel E. Martin, Yang Ha Lee, and Sun-Un Chang was published in 1967 by Yale University, and is a must for Korean language studies. It uses the Yale romanization for the pronunciation guide.

If you have to settle for a romanized Korean-English dictionary, I use Berlitz’s Korean Concise Dictionary. As long as you are willing to learn the McCune-Reischauer romanization, it has a good amount of entries. I originally bought this dictionary to help me with Teach Yourself Korean. I use it now when I can’t find an entry in Martin’s A Korean Dictionary or in the Collins Gem one.

For grammar, I’m currently making my way through Basic Korean: A Grammar and Workbook by Andrew Sangpil Byon. Then, I will make my way through Intermediate Korean: A Grammar and Workbook by the same author. I also found 500 Basic Korean Verbs quite useful for explaining speech levels, honorific verb form, along with verb tenses, and a variety of verb endings. It uses the Revised Romanization of Korean instead of listing verbs by native Korean, but this appears to be the only good book out on Korean verbs. A couple of other Korean grammar books to look out for are A Reference Grammar of Korean by Samuel E. Martin and Korean: A Comprehensive Grammar by Jaehoon Yoon and Lucien Brown.

Finally, the last few materials I have are flashcards – Tuttle Korean for Kids Flashcards and Tuttle More Korean for Kids Flashcards. I found these two packages at a used bookstore, so I thought I’d give them a try. They, unfortunately, have romanization on them on the front, but at least the Korean is in larger print than the romanization. The flashcards Korean in a Flash is ideal for anyone who is serious about learning to read Korean and a good addition to your current Korean material. I will have to get these at some point.

안녕히 가세요!
~~~C

Pimsleur Language Programs – Save Your Money

Friday, February 1st, 2013

I finished with a couple of Korean language learning sources recently and am trying to decide on which one to use next.

I decided to listen to a bit of the Pimsleur Korean. The audio track took at least six minutes to teach me one sentence in Korean. That’s right – at least six minutes. (I don’t know exactly how long the audio was going to go on about the one sentence because by about the six minute mark I was extremely bored and wanted much more new material already.) I understand that the method they are using in the material is designed to ensure precise pronunciation of the language and that the learner will sound like a native speaker (though I’m not sure if the pronunciation is that precise or that you will sound like a native speaker when they are teaching you to speak soooo sloooowly), but I’m pretty sure I learned 안녕 하세요 (annyeong haseyo) in a shorter amount of time. It’s not that hard to pick up the pronunciation. Spending six minutes to learn one sentence is definitely a waste of time for me when I could probably learn between five and ten full expressions as well as understand the basics of their grammatical construction, not just intuitively know the grammar rules and constraints. I agree with the amazon reviewer who posted (see the first link above) “promises pie in the sky but delivers very little”. He further says

I agree with the reader from New Zealand: these tapes is for beginners. Most of the material on these tapes I learned my first year in Korea.

The product comes with a brochure, telling the consumer all about how wonderful the product is and what a brilliant scholar Dr. Pimsleur is. According to this brochure, ‘extensive research has shown that we actually need a comparatively limited number of words to be able to communicate effectively in any language.’ That is not true. According to a word frequency chart compiled at Yonsei University in Seoul, it takes 3000 words to read 85% of written Korean. It takes 6000 to raise that to 90%.

In short, the Pimsleur language material is over-priced for the amount of content covered. Other sources cover more material for a lot less cost and probably a lot less time wasted. Teach Yourself books and audio materials are a good starting point for some languages as well as being a lot cheaper than Pimsleur, and you can always shop around amazon.com for more material (or use tpb).

If you really need something to practice pronunciation, I recommend Rosetta Stone. It’s more immersive than the Pimsleur materials since Rosetta Stone is computer program. It does have its drawbacks too. It is expensive as well, but probably more worth it than the Pimsleur material, especially if you are learning more than one language. You can also maybe have someone procure a copy for you (university students may have access to it and might be able to give you a copy for personal use). Rosetta Stone doesn’t teach grammar (at least not Korean grammar) as well as other sources, but it at least provides feedback on how well your pronunciation is. There is occasionally the technical difficulty of your microphone not picking you up well, but that can be resolved by reducing how accurate you need to be for the program to consider your pronunciation as “correct”. (A side note: a funny albeit annoying thing about Rosetta Stone is its tendency to occasionally cut you off and tell you you’re wrong (“beep!”) before you finish speaking. When that happens, maybe just restart the program and do the microphone setup again in the program.) The thing I like about Rosetta stone is the use of pictures. That is how children learn language as well. Remember pointing at something as a child and your mom, dad, or older sibling will tell you what it is? That’s how Rosetta stone works. It shows you pictures, then tells you what it is. Obviously that can turn into a “mix and match” game. It also has the pure listening practice, along with reading and writing practice for the language you’re studying. A plus about Rosetta Stone for Korean is that there is no romanization. 😀 (The Korean writing system is actually phonetic, so continuing to use romanization after you’ve learned the pronunciation is a bad habit. The romanization is a crutch – one needs to start walking and running.)

Luckily for me, I managed to procure the Pimsleur Korean material without dishing out an arm and a leg for it. I happened across it and I wasn’t really looking for it. Now, I just don’t know what to do with it lol. Maybe, if I run out of other Korean material (I don’t think that’s going to happen soon lol), which reminds me that I probably should post a blog about some of the Korean material I have used already.

~~~C

Workout Day – Resurrection

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

It’s probably about time I resurrect my training blog. Although I haven’t been writing about my training the past few years, I have been trying to keep up with martial arts, running, and general fitness training overall. I have a few writing projects on the side that I’d like to work on, and that means sometimes blogging about my training doesn’t take priority. It’s much more important that I get the training.

It’s been a bit rocky for me in terms of martial arts training, mostly because I need to maintain a higher base level of strength in my legs (i.e., quads, hamstrings, calves) just to do any kind of serious kicking training. This is due to the torn meniscus I still have. (I checked recently and there is still no way to fix it – my taekwondo Master says I need to order a new knee on ebay… lol) There are still a lot of other goals I have in life (I’m currently studying a few different languages on top of some other subjects of interest), and it’s hard to find a balance between that and working out on top of taekwondo training. Basically, the torn meniscus has caused a time sink for me. :-(

In any case, I still think it’s important to maintain a good level of fitness. Exercise is still very important to me.

Today, I managed to get up early enough to make it out the door in the late afternoon to try a bit of running and then a workout at the gym. My normal workout routine when I have the time is running first, then at the gym, some cycling. After, it’s weight training.

I felt lame today. I could barely run a half mile. My allergies are a pain when it comes to running in the winter. I think the cold dries out the congestion in my breathing passages making it hard to breathe the minute I try to run faster. (See my previous blog, “Allergies and Running in the Winter”.)

At the gym, I only managed ten minutes of cycling. So very lame. I got to about three or four minutes, then my quads just started whining at me (okay, not literally, but that’s what it feels like in my brain). This is sad considering I used to do 30 minutes of cycling after taekwondo training or after at least a mile of running. *sigh*

The weight training went considerably better. Surprisingly, I didn’t lose as much strength as I thought. I lost some in the biceps and forearms. I managed to do the leg press at the normal weight, but I had to push through more than normal. It was the same with the squats. I figured the leg press and the squats weren’t too bad, but the cycling was worse because the cycling requires proper breathing to help the muscles work through the exercise. I was still a bit congested when I got to the gym. :-(

After the weight training I had some time to do some basic taekwondo kicking. Nothing too strenuous on the knee. I just went through the motions carefully and focused on technique. Trying to do kicks after weight training is hard. Every kick feels like there’s a dead weight attached to you. The reason should be obvious – the muscles are already tired from the weight training. However, because of my torn meniscus, kicks feel better for my knee after I do weight training.

After the gym, I did a little bit of running on the way home. It’s -4 degrees Celsius out, and I’m not going to dawdle my way home. 😉 Strangely, I don’t mind running after weight training. It’s not recommended if your goal is to try to improve your speed, but it’s actually quite helpful with loosening up and relaxing the muscles and your body after weight training. The hamstrings get a little tight when I run after weight training, but that’s normal. Unfortunately, that tightness kicked in a little earlier than I would have liked, so I walked it out for most of the rest of the way home.

I felt lame today, but overall I feel good. My muscles feel suitably worked out and firm. :-) As long as I keep up with a regular workout, the muscles will get stronger. :-)

Below are my workout notes (I use a handy app called Memoires on Android):

Running to the gym

Cycling 10 minutes 3.62 miles 65 calories

Skipping reps, right, left (right weaker)
Calf raises reps each leg/standing calf machine single

Chin-ups (military – overhand) 50 counterweight, single
Pull-ups (underhand) 50 counterweight, single
Parallel pull-ups 50 counterweight, single
Dips 40 counterweight, single
Lateral pulldown 60
Seated leg curl 52.5 each leg
Hip adductor 100
Hip abductor 90
Pullover
Decline leg press 90
Squats 90
Lunges
Incline chest press 45 (machine) 8/8 (dumbbells)
Pectoral fly (machine) 8/8 (dumbbells)
Rear deltoids (machine) 8/8 (dumbbells)
Lateral raise , single (machine), 8/8 (dumbbells)
Shoulder press (machine) 8/8 (dumbbells)
Front shoulder lifts 8/8 (dumbbells)
Bicep curls 10/10 (dumbbells), (bar)
Wrist strengthening 12/12 (right arm weaker)
Wrist twirls 12/12
Back strengthening 25 (weighted)
Leg lifts set of 30

I passed on the skipping today. I forgot to bring my skipping rope to the gym, and by the time I got home I was just too tired. Next time hopefully. :-)

~~~C

Book Blog and Some Short Stories

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

It’s the new year and time I should update my book blog. The last review I wrote was on Battle Royale by Koushun Takami. (See “Review: Battle Royale”.) I highly recommend this book as long as you aren’t squeamish about violence.

I read two more stories from The Dark Descent:

“The Swords” by Robert Aickman
“Seven American Nights” by Gene Wolfe

“The Swords” by Robert Aickman was amusing. It was about a man’s “first experience”. In this story, not only is the man’s first experience a bit of a disappointment, it’s slightly traumatizing to him. Disturbing and horrifying would be the description for those with fragile emotional states. For me though, I found the story weirdly amusing (in that morbid sort of way), especially since the story suggests that the man has a taste for necrophilia.

“Seven American Nights” by Gene Wolfe was well-written, but I found it boring. I found myself constantly waiting for something horrific to happen. It might have helped if I found the character more likeable or interesting. Some elements of the story were interesting such as the deterioration of America. Clearly, this was meant to be a post-apocalyptic setting. I am drawn to post-apocalyptic stories, which explains why the setting of this story stands out to me.

I read H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” some time ago and found I liked his writing style. I’ve had The Best of H.P. Lovecraft sitting around for a while, and finally got around to reading it. I’ve read the first six stories as of this blog.

“The Rats in the Walls” was interesting. It felt a little like an adventure story, sort of like Indiana Jones. The ending is horrific (sort of like Raiders of the Lost Ark). I would label this story as psychological horror. In psychological horror, it seems to me that it’s the protagonist’s state of mind that leads to his/her tragedy.

“The Picture in the House” is not my favourite so far. The horrifying picture suggests the fate of the character once having stepped inside the house. However, the ending is left unclear. We don’t really know what happens to the protagonist. Because of this, I’m unsure as to whether or not Lovecraft actually finished this story or intended to write more. It reads like it’s only one scene in a much larger story.

I rather enjoyed reading “The Outsider”. For me, it quickly became clear who is the protagonist. I’m also a sucker for stories about the “underdog” or characters who have to struggle against the majority. That aside, the interesting aspect of this story is that it puts the reader inside the mind of the monster.

“Pickman’s Model” is a story to make you shudder. I really hope I never meet anyone like Pickman. Pickman is a brilliant artist or so one would think. His paintings with monsters in them look real. Perhaps you can guess why? This story is similar to the story of the brilliant doctor. He’s admirable, at least until you discover his studying methods.

“In the Vault” is a short tale about revenge beyond the grave. This story didn’t quite scare me, but rather made me laugh. Okay, I have a morbid sense of humour. Seriously though, the undertaker had it coming.

“The Silver Key” reads more like fantasy than horror. In this story, we are introduced to Randolph Carter, although this is not the first Lovecraft story featuring Randolph Carter. I confess I’m not quite sure what the point of this story is, except that I understand why Randolph Carter is considered to be Lovecraft’s alter ego. In this story, you get the sense that in writing about Carter’s doubts, fears, and insecurities, Lovecraft was writing about his. I will probably return to this story at a later date since Randolph Carter seems to be loosely tied to the Cthulhu mythos.

Since I was in the mood for short stories, I decided to dig into The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke. I picked up this book a while back after I had read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I was thinking recently that of the single novel stories, Battle Royale and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell are my two favourites from the past few years. The Wheel of Time is a favourite story too, but it’s the whole series I like and I can’t pick one novel out of the series.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke is a wonderful collection of short stories by Clarke. If you didn’t like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, you probably won’t like this collection of stories. This collection of stories consists of more magic and fairies. If you don’t like stories about magic and fairies, than you won’t like these stories. I, however, consider magic (and fairies to some extent) to be integral to the fantasy genre. Susanna Clarke’s stories are a wonderful addition to that genre.

The title story, “The Ladies of Grace Adieu”, was amusing. As this story was first published in 1996, this is where Clarke first developed the characters of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. The story is quite simply a warning that male magicians should not underestimate the power of female magicians. Those who are familiar with Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (Susanna Clarke’s masterpiece of magical fiction) will recall how female magicians were frowned upon. The story also disproves Mr. Norrell’s claims that the Raven King does not exist.

The other stories are all quite entertaining. “On Lickerish Hill” seems to be a variation of “Rumpelstiltskin”. It is a re-telling of Tom Tit Tot fairy story. “Mrs Mabb” is a story about a woman who, upon her return from visiting a sick friend, has lost her fiancé to a fairy. “The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse” is a lesson for those who would annoy someone with magical abilities and is also a warning that if one were to engage in magic, one should be very careful about it. In “Mr Simonelli or The Fairy Widower”, while trying to outwit a fairy from marrying one of the innocent young ladies, Mr. Simonelli brings about trouble for himself. “Tom Brightwind or How the Fairy Bridge Was Built at Thoresby” presents a glimpse of the fairy world. “Antickes and Frets” is a short story about the last days of Mary, Queen of Scots. Lastly, in “John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner”, we learn how the fairy John Uskglass was defeated by a mere human.

I was sorely missing The Wheel of Time and was wanting to get back to that series. However, I’m also in the middle of switching from hard copy books to ebooks. I have The Gathering Storm (book 12 of The Wheel of Time) on digital, but I still have a pile of hard copy books to get through. I decided to read New Spring by Robert Jordan, then continue with the rest of the series on digital.

I know some did not like New Spring as much as the main series, but I rather enjoyed it. It was interesting to read about Moiraine and Suian as Accepted in Tar Valon. It also provides a lot of background for the various Aes Sedai that Rand et al. have to deal with in the main series. I also find it amusing that Suian ever became the Amyrlin Seat, impulsive as she is. Then again, Suian in the later books in the series is quite like Suian in New Spring. It’s also amusing to see how Moiraine, despite her noble blood, defers to Suian as Suian is a stronger leader. Both female characters have presence, but Suian commands respect. There’s not as much about Lan in this book as one would expect. The story does ultimately tell you about how Moiraine and Lan meet up, and that first meeting is quite humourous for the reader (probably not so much for Moiraine). I think because Lan’s story is tied into the whole of The Wheel of Time, the rest of Lan’s story will be told through the main series. At least, I hope they remember to finish up Lan’s story by the time the main story is concluded.

After reading New Spring, I started The Gathering Storm. I’m currently on chapter 3.

I’m a little further along in War and Peace now. I left off back in July 2010. I’m now on book 3, part 3.

The rest of my “currently reading” list can be found on my Goodreads profile. If you have Goodreads, feel free to follow me on there.

~~~C
Your local bookworm

Temporarily Boycotting Twitter due to Censorship Issue

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

As a minor form of protest against Twitter suspending Guy Adams’ account (in effect censoring him), I won’t be signing into Twitter until I hear that they’ve reinstated his account. If they don’t reinstate his account, I will be considering deactivating my Twitter account. For now, my blog posts (from Pneumatised!), Tumblr posts, and Plurks will still auto-Tweet via those respective sites. People can also follow me on Google+, where I frequently post publicly.

What Guy Adams had to say about Twitter suspending his account (click the title link after to see his full article)

~~~C

London 2012 Summer Olympics: Waiting for Taekwondo to Start

Monday, July 30th, 2012

It’s Olympic time again. Like the last three Summer Olympics, I’m looking forward to the taekwondo sparring competition at the Olympics, which starts on August 8th (see the taekwondo schedule via the London 2012 site). While I wait to watch taekwondo, I decided to check out a few other Olympic sports that I never got to see much of in the past. Canada’s broadcasting on the Olympics in the past tended to focus on swimming, gymnastics, and athletics (not that I mind those sports; I like watching gymnastics, but I’d rather go swimming and running plus it gets boring watching those two events after a while; I just think they should air some of the other sports as well). However, since Canada won a bronze in women’s taekwondo back in 2000 (Dominique Bosshart was Canada’s only competitor for taekwondo at that Olympics), the Canadian media has in the past given some glimpses of taekwondo. Since Karine Sergerie‘s silver win in 2008, the Canadian media has gotten a bit more excited about taekwondo (though I’m not sure how well they will cover the competition this year).

Olympic broadcasting online in Canada this year will be done by CTV (RDS is the French name). I don’t watch TV anymore so using Sportsnet or TSN isn’t an option. (See London 2012 Broadcasters for how to watch the Olympics in your country.) Besides, maybe I can watch other sports using the online media. Of course, the CTV Olympic website (for the French site, it’s RDS Olympiques; the English and French sites are linked on each others) has proven to be a bit of a pain to use. You can avoid the CTV broadcast completely and use the “World Feed” instead, but you’ll have to go to the specific sport section and look for their “World Feed” video links. There’s always commercials before the video even starts (of course *eye roll*), and you’ll get more commercials if you jump around too much in the video stream. I’m not sure exactly how they determine when to pop up the commercials, but be warned they’re there. You can’t skip them. Just hit your computer’s mute button if they annoy you like they do me. The most annoying thing about the commercials is that after they run and your video resumes, the video defaults to mid-volume level again. You’ll have to adjust the video volume controls again. (I use the video volume so I don’t have to amp up the hardware volume on my computer – it sounds crappy if you do that.) If you miss the event live, CTV has full replay videos for some events. I’ve been taking advantage of this. The best way to find these videos is to go to the “schedule and results” section, click on the sport you want which should then pull up a listed schedule. There might be links to the full replay videos there. Having found my way around CTV site. I managed to get video streams for a few sports that CTV wasn’t airing during its “Watch Now” video broadcast.

Here’s what I watched so far at the 2012 Summer Olympics:

Day 1: Saturday, July 28

Archery – men’s team (bronze and gold matches)
Fencing – women’s foil (bronze and gold matches)
Judo – men’s -60kg and women’s -48kg (a couple of the quarterfinal matches; I couldn’t find the full video replay of the gold matches)
Shooting – men’s 10m air pistol and women’s 10m air rifle (finals)

Day 2: Sunday, July 29

Archery – women’s team (bronze and gold matches)
Fencing – men’s sabre (gold match)
Judo – men’s -66kg and women’s -52kg (gold matches)
Shooting – women’s 10m air pistol and skeet (finals)

Day 3: Monday, July 30

Fencing – women’s épée (bronze and gold matches)
Judo – men’s -73kg and women’s -57kg (gold matches)
Shooting – men’s 10 air rifle (finals)
Gymnastics – men’s team (finals)

You can see the results of Olympic events at the London 2012 site. They have also created some mobile apps. The results app is the most useful. (See the London 2012’s mobile apps page.)

For team sports, I’m mostly interested in basketball and soccer since I played those in high school. Canada has a women’s team for basketball this time (they did not have a men’s or a women’s team at the Olympics in 2008). For soccer, Canada’s women’s team is at the Olympics again. Canada’s men’s teams for both soccer and basketball didn’t qualify for the 2012 Olympics. If I have the time, I’ll watch some basketball and soccer. I also got to see a bit of handball and waterpolo. I’ve never really seen those sports in action before.

As for taekwondo, it’ll be interesting to watch Karine Sergerie again. At the 2008 olympics, Karine Sergerie won a silver medal in taekwondo for Canada. She’s back this time. Will she get the gold? (Sergerie’s silver is Canada’s second olympic medal in taekwondo. Dominique Bosshart won a bronze in 2000.) To find out more about taekwondo at the Olympics, visit olympics.org’s taekwondo section. There are videos of past competitors at the Olympics. Sergerie’s weight division is -67kg. She won the World Taekwondo Championships in 2007 in the -63kg division. The Olympics have only four weight divisions instead of the eight in standard taekwondo competitions.

As with past Olympics, there have been some controversies in competitions. See the following articles:

Controversy, Disappointment for Japanese Judokas (My comments can be found on my Tumblr blog.)

South Korean fencer in protest after controversial Olympic defeat (My comments can be found on my Tumblr blog.)

There’s thirteen more days of the Olympics left. Taekwondo starts in eight days. I think I’ll take a break from the Olympics for now – read a book (I’m reading Sherlock Holmes again; yes, all the novels and stories again) or maybe play a game (I haven’t played much Mass Effect 3 multiplayer in the past few weeks). I also need to get back to my own taekwondo and fitness training. :-)

~~~C

Links:
Olympic News via the London 2012 site (In case you’re tired of the news stream from your country’s Olympics broadcaster, check out the news page from the London 2012 site.)
Olympic Schedule and Results (London 2012 site)
Taekwondo at the 2012 Summer Olympics
CTV’s video snapshot of Karine Sergerie

Articles:

Yi Siling wins first gold medal of Games (China won a gold and a bronze. Nice shooting. ;-))

Republic of Korea claim another gold (Korea not only excels in taekwondo, but in archery as well! :-D)

Canada Olympic Women’s Basketball: Team Loses 58-53 To Russia(Russia makes a comeback against Canada, who failed to hold a 10 point lead. Canada, this is why it’s hard to root for you in team sports (aside from ice hockey, and oh yeah, curling). (Sidenote: “Russia is missing star centre Maria Stepanova. The six-foot-eight star, who has played in the last four Olympics, tore her anterior cruciate ligament at the Euroleague final eight in late March.” The ACL tear is a common injury among female athletes. It can be career-ending if it’s not fixed.))

Canada Makes the Team Final… (About damned time!)

Peng Peng Lee’s Olympic Journey (At least she’s doing the right thing – surgery, recover, and get stronger first.)

Peng Peng Lee – One on One (A short interview with Canadian gymnast, Peng Peng Lee)