Monday, June 8, 2015

Book List

Since I started my current job ten months ago, I've had a lot more time to listen to, well, everything. Music quickly became too useless, and I have had a hard time listening to podcasts because of depression being a butt. So I started listening to audio books. I needed a way to compile a list of books I've read and listened to because I go through them so quickly. I started by listening to free books on Spotify, then switched to Audible, and am currently phasing away from Audible and into Scribd. So, here it is, kind of in order from December last year (when I started listening to audio books) to present, all of the books I've read and listened to. The books I actually read have an R beside them. As I begin to keep it more up to date, I will order it by month finished, because it's easier to read that way. Because of how quickly I go through books, I am always happy to take recommendations.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
The Gunslinger by Stephen King
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
The Martian by Andy Weir
The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon
Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall
R Departure by A.G. Riddle
I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
Dreamcatcher by Stephen King
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
The Power of Six by Pittacus Lore
The Rise of Nine by Pittacus Lore
The Fall of Five by Pittacus Lore
R The Atlantis Gene by A.G. Riddle
The Revenge of Seven by Pittacus Lore
Almost Dead by T.R. Ragan
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
14 by Peter Clines
Valhalla by Robert J. Mrazer
R The Soulkeepers book one by G.P. Ching

June 2015:
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larson
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Sunday, August 17, 2014

ConnectiCast 2014 - Behind the Scenes

The recording of ConnectiCast 2014 began while walking the streets of Hartford as we tried to find our way from the bar back to the convention center. If you listened to the actual show, you know by now that while we were walking, we found what came to be known as "Jenn's steakhouse" (no we didn't eat there). Jenn, quite possibly, had far too much fun getting a picture taken in front of said steakhouse. Jenn also got  a piggy back ride from Phytt, and was rather surprised he didn't drop her. Unfortunately we didn't manage to get a picture of the guy playing the clarinet, although he did a fantastic job and created absolutely beautiful music.

Once we got back to the convention center, we set up outside the main ballroom where the Masquerade was currently taking place. This gave us the opportunity to round up a number of guests, some in costume, others not. We talked to several very interesting people, while all of us sat crowded together around one table and one mic. It might be important to note that "us" consisted of Jenn, Remghar, Huellhowser, Phytt, Starscreem, Rougeyo, and Chris O'C, in addition to our guests.

Our first guest was cosplaying as a Freddy Kreuger Teemo. He was wearing a striped sweater and a Teemo hat. He also had this awesome Freddy Kreuger glove that Jenn got to try on, and attack Remghar with. He estimated Huell's age as 33 years old.

Our second guest was a lovely young lady named Jessica who was cosplaying ass Death from Sandman by Neil Gaiman. Jenn unfortunately didn't get a picture of her. Jessica guessed Huell's age as 35.

Our next guest was a gentleman named Brent who was dressed as Zed the Master of Shadows from League of Legends. It has been decided that over 70% of LoL players are assholes, but you would be happy to know that Brent is not one of them. He estimated Huell's age to be 32.

After speaking with Brent, we were joined by a young man named Alex who was dressed as a male version of Nitaly, who is also a character from League of Legends. He took place in the League of Legends tournament held during Connecticon, and it was decided that he is not a dick, so he is not part of the 70% of asshole players. He guessed Huell's age as mid-30s.

Our fifth guest is the very well known Gnoodles who was dressed as Raiden from Mortal Kombat. It is officially known, as of this point in time, that this man's name truly is Tom Sawyer. When he gets made fun of for it, you'll know because there are fatalities all over the place. He thought Huell was 36.

After speaking with Gnoodles, we spoke with a gentleman named Logan, who got into comics because he shares his unique name with Wolverine. Logan also happens to be the founder of DrawnCon, which is "the premier convention for western animation". This November will be their second year of hosting the convention. For more information, you can visit, or @drawncon on twitter. He guessed Huell's age at 30.

Our seventh and eighth guests were two individuals dressed as Bill Nye the Science Guy, and Minnie Mouse. Rem and Minnie had a discussion about Minnie Mouse's Bowtique, and our guests tried very hard to pretend they cared. We then discussed Bill Nye's competition in the death match. The audience chose Bill Nye to win over 32 individuals, including the PowerPuff Girls, four links, Jorgen Von Strangle, Batman, Cobra Commander, and Jessica Rabbit. Unfortunately, all he had to take home with him was the pride of winning, and the glory of victory.  The beginning of his death match was a dance number, which he demonstrated for us during the show.

Our next guest was a gentleman named Russell Hannula who was cosplaying as himself with a steampunk Tom Sirvo that he made entirely on his own out of primarily recycled part, some of which were painted by the light of a lantern during a thunder storm. He has a YouTube channel called Cinematic For The People ( where they make fun of full length films. He can also be found on Google+ and Facebook under Cinematic For The People. During this interview, Huell got sick of having his age guessed, and had Russell guess my age, which was guessed at 24.
Next up, we were joined by three people who had come from the Masquerade and they put on a sword show during the event. Mike (dad) was dressed as Uncle Iro, Connor was dressed as Zuko, and the youngest son was dressed as Aang, all from Avatar. The two brothers fought during the Masquerade, and the dad then came in and helped everything end in peace with a sign that said "make tea not war".

Next we were joined by Barry, Preston, Joe and Dylan who were a bunch of nerds carrying around a "Free Shrugs" sign. The guy on the front right of the picture is the one who gave the greatest shrugs we have ever seen.

Our 17th and 18th guests were Aliya (dressed as female Captain America) and Cody. The most awesome part about this pair was they basically finished each others sentences and spoke in sync. They guessed Huell's age to be 38 (Cody) and 35 (Aliya).

Our next guests were two young women named Jezelle and Naria. In this interview, Rem asked a lot of questions, some of which were not of the most appropriate nature, but the girls handled their discomfort quite well. They guessed Huell's age at late 20s to early 30s and 38.

Our next guest was a guy named Nando who seemed to really enjoy hanging out and talking with us. He had a very special ConnectiCon dance that he did for us (pictured to the left). He was able to bond with Huell because they both have a bit of Mexican in them. Unfortunately, Nando doesn't remember exactly how old he is. He did manage to make Phytt yell at him though, by saying Phytt's favorite word on the show.

Our 22nd guest, Geoffrey, was dressed as a Steampunk Queen's agent. His job is essentially to do any queen's dirty work. While we were talking, Geoffrey shot Huell with the rifle that he hand crafted from things like bed posts and floor lamps. He is also a vendor at other conventions where he and his crew repair any props that need some TLC. The repairs done are often done by women who have some sort of trade skill. Geoffrey can be contacted about his works on Facebook: Thee-Gartisan Works, Etsy: TheeGartisanWorks and Flickr: thee-gartisonworks.

Our final guest was a woman named Colleen dressed as Tyrion Lannister, who was exhausted after a day of people requesting to take pictures with her. Unfortunately we were unable to get a picture of Tyrion. She also does another Tyrion cosplay, as well as a Bilbo Baggins cosplay. She guessed Huell's age to be mid 30s. She has a cosplay page on Facebook: Mini Mal, where all of her various cosplays can be found!

Nando made an encore appearance at the end of the show and guessed Rem's age to be 29, Jenn's age to be 30, Huell's age to be 27, and Starscreem's age to be prepubescent.

It was basically agreed upon by everyone that the best part of ConnectiCon is the people we encounter. A building full of nerds and a weekend hanging out together is always a great time!

We would like to thank the staff at ConnectiCon for being wonderful this year as always, and our press liaison, Leo for being amazing and keeping us informed with everything that went on. We would like to thank the Convention Center for being so accommodating to all of our needs and having awesome dudes who polished the stainless steel while riding up the escalator.

We had a great time at ConnectiCon 2014, and if you ever get the change to attend a convention, check it out and give it a chance because conventions are awesome. It's just a whole bunch of nerds getting together and celebrating the stuff they love.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

My Appeal to Stephen King's Writings

Very few people know, yet, that I am incredibly fascinated with the works of Stephen King. This started from a very young age. While growing up, my mother had a bookcase full of Stephen King's books, that my siblings and I were forbidden to touch. It seemed like they were her prized possessions. For as long as I can remember, that bookcase remained in the dining room, available to look at, but otherwise off limits.

 In high school, things weren't so great in my life. I turned to books as an escape from life. I could get lost in a book, and find myself as another person in another world, and just forget about real life for a while. In my four years of high school, three of them were spent buried in books as often as possible. So often, in fact, that I was one of few people allowed to break the rule on the limit to how many books could be checked out at one time. The rule was three. I think the most I left with at once was seven books. All I had to do was talk to the librarian. If we had an extended weekend, or if I was going on a trip, she would let me check out some extra books, always knowing they would be returned far earlier than they would be due back. I read at least 80% of the books in the fiction section of the library.

But when I stumbled upon the shelf that held the Stephen King books, it was like I had found gold. This world so long forbidden was now right there at my fingertips. It was overwhelming in the best possible way. I can remember reaching out, and just touching them, knowing I wouldn't have to fear repercussion, because these weren't the forbidden books on the bookcase in my dining room. These were books free for me to read whenever I wanted. And read them I did.

Once my mother found out I had started reading them, she finally broke her own rule. I was allowed to read one of her Stephen King books - it was the only one of her books I was ever allowed to read. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. It was like I was holding the most precious thing in the world, when she handed me that book, and told me I was allowed to read it. I felt amazing. It was a perfect moment. To finally be able to have that which was forbidden for so long. I cherished every word on every page, the feel of the book in my hands, knowing this was my mothers book, and I was allowed to read it. It's the only book of hers I ever read. Other than that, they had to come from the library.

But after that, we could talk about them, and she gave me recommendations on which books she thought I would like, and which she thought best for me to avoid due to my life circumstances. I ignored her advice, much to my dismay, because, as it turns out, she was right. There is one book that I someday will try to read again, but as a high school student, not having yet started to deal with any of the pains of my life, not yet knowing I had PTSD as a result of it, I wanted to prove her wrong. It upset me to realize she was right, but I also knew there were many other books there to comfort me.

The one thing that was unique about Stephen King books is, aside from the one that broke the rule of being forbidden, I always had to read them through borrowing them from the library. As much as I enjoyed having that option, I know there is nothing quite like opening up a brand new book, knowing it's yours. Being the first one to read those pages, no creases, no writings at all. I've always loved new books, and very much enjoy being able to buy books at a great deal. But something I never did was buy a Stephen King book. There is something about them that always felt forbidden. I was allowed to have them, but only for a short time.  Well, that changed recently. Thanks to a very dear friend of mine, I now have my very own copy of Under the Dome. With Season 2 of the TV show starting in just a few weeks, I wanted to read the book. This very dear friend of mine bought me the book for my birthday. It is still strange, to see this book sitting on my nightstand and know that it is mine. It's not forbidden, I don't ever have to return it.

I have read hundreds of books in my short 22 years. There are a few categorizations of books that I am always drawn to. I love reading books that are narrated well by a child character. I adore dystopian fiction. I very strongly admire the works of Stephen King. It would be hard to say I have a favorite author because I simply just love to read. But the works of Stephen King I greatly admire. He has a way with words that I am constantly fascinated with. He can tell a story and make me feel like I am there. Every book of his that I have ever read, I have enjoyed reading. I also very much enjoy the movies that have been made based on his books. And I know that no matter what happens in life, no matter how bad my relationship is with my mother, I will always have one thing in common with her - a strong admiration for the works of Stephen King.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

My Fight with SMA Syndrome

Many people know that I recently had major surgery, though I haven't explained why. As time goes on, more people have started asking about it, so I find it would be helpful to explain.

I suffer from a very rare and serious condition known as Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome (SMA Syndrome, or SMAs for short). SMA syndrome is most easily described by simply saying there is a part of the intestine that normally goes between two arteries. For me, those arteries are squeezing that part of my intestines, not allowing much to pass through.The following picture shows this very easily, with the one on the left being a normal structure, and the one on the right more like what I had going on.
There are a number of different causes for SMA syndrome. For myself, it is believed to have been caused by growing too much too quickly causing a structural abnormality, as well as low body weight. The SMA-aortic angle (as viewed in the image above) for myself is much more narrow than it should be. The two arteries are almost parallel, leaving little room for the part of the intestine that's between them. Additionally, though I have always been thin, I have been slowly but steadily (and rather unintentionally) losing weight in the past almost two years causing a reduction in visceral fat in my abdomen. Visceral fat is the fat that is supposed to protect the organs, and in this case, help keep this problem from happening.

There are a lot of things that SMAs can cause. For myself, it started as acute pains almost two years ago where everything was deemed normal. It slowly progressed to frequent nausea which further spurred the weight loss, because I couldn't eat without feeling sick, sometimes for several days at a time. I also had issues with gastritis, which is now managed by medication. I continued to have problems, but it didn't get severe until a few months ago. It was actually the weekend of my little brother's 7th birthday, at the beginning of March that things got bad. I had been experiencing an inability to eat large amounts of food at one time. I would get full pretty fast, and occasionally having pain when I did eat. This quickly became a problem more and more often. I was getting to a point where I was changing my diet on my own because it was so difficult to get appointments with my doctor. I was doing everything I could to try to get the nutrients my body needed without being in so much pain. I didn't want to keep losing weight.

It was so bad one night that I ended up having an emergency doctor's appointment the next day, and my doctor saw me before seeing other patients who had had appointments at the time. From then I was put on a liquid diet. A few days after that, I saw my surgeon, and surgery was very quickly decided on, for less than two weeks after that date. I was told to remain on the liquid diet as much as I could, but was allowed to do so at my discretion. There were times in that two weeks before surgery that I ate solid food because all I wanted was food. I just wanted to eat. It caused terrible pain, as I knew it would, but other than that my body felt so much better having real food in it.

Over the process of trying to figure out what was wrong with my stomach, I have had a number of tests done. First I had a regular ultrasound of my upper abdomen. Everything came back normal. Then I had an upper endoscopy - everything was normal. Next was a full abdominal CT scan - not normal. This was the first test to spot any sign of SMA syndrome (in addition to a number of other, less severe issues). I also had a gastric emptying study where I had to eat a radioactive egg sandwich, then have pictures taken of my stomach every 15 minutes for a few hours. This was also not normal. It showed my stomach emptying at a much slower rate than was normal. When my stomach should have been less than 50% full, it was still 78% full. I also had another upper endoscopy (several months later) that did not show everything as normal. This time, they found I also have a hiatal hernia, which explained some of the terrible pain I've been in. I then saw a vascular surgeon where they did an ultra sound of my abdomen and looked at blood flow in the area as well as looking for any structural abnormalities. They confirmed the diagnosis of SMAs and also realized I have another rare and serious condition called Mesenteric Arcuate Ligament Syndrome. I honestly don't know what that even is, because I never had to worry about it. My final test before surgery was an Upper GI Series where I was again told I had a hiatal hernia, and I was able to see the point in my intestines that was being compressed.

The next step was surgery. I had what is called a laparoscopic dudenojejunostomy. Lots of big words that basically means they moved my intestines around. I unfortunately cannot find an image that helps to better explain the procedure they did. But they made four incisions in my abdomen, and then went in and moved my intestines around and basically created a second path from my stomach that went in front of the arteries that were causing an obstruction. They didn't remove anything, so the original path is still there, just no longer needed. It is possible that over time (many many years) if the original, obstructed path were to open up again, then the new one would just scar closed because it is no longer needed. So now I basically have two paths out of my stomach, that eventually merge back to the same point. They just shortened everything a bit to create the new path. After surgery, I wasn't allowed to eat or drink anything for the rest of the day. The next day I was put on a full liquid diet. That basically means anything that is mush: blended soups, cream of wheat, applesauce, yogurt, ice cream, stuff like that. I spent three days in the hospital, dealing with minor complications along the way, and went home the evening of my birthday. I have to remain on the full liquid diet until my follow up appointment (a total of two weeks of nothing but mush). If everything is deemed to be healing well and there are no problems, then I will be moved up to a bland diet for a few weeks, and then slowly return to a normal diet as I can tolerate more foods. The recovery process is going to take a few months in all, assuming all goes well. Because the surgery caused a lot of trauma in my intestines by moving everything around, I have to take things slow so as to not cause any further damage as my insides heal.

This is a very rare and serious condition that honestly really sucks. But I have been incredibly lucky. I've had a great team of doctors working with me who saw and acknowledged the problem to help treat it right away. There are a number of people in the medical community that do not believe this to be a real problem. Because of that, often times eating disorders are blamed. Unfortunately in this case, not eating and losing weight isn't a choice so as to be thin. For me, my avoidance of food was because of the amount of pain it caused. I hate losing weight. All I want is to be healthy, and it's going to be a very long time before I am healthy again, even if all goes well.

Nearly two weeks after surgery, I still spend most of my time in bed, unable to do much. And on the off chance that I am out or am doing more, I end up dealing with a lot of pain afterwards. It gets really boring spending every day alone in bed, but I have to be patient because I definitely don't want to do anything to prolong the recovery process.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch with me, either in the comments section here or on Twitter. I'm sure there's a lot more that I could have elaborated on further, as this is a complicated issue that is difficult to understand.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Brain Implants

One of my assignments for an Ethics in Psychology class I am taking was to write a response to a news article. I found one that discusses  the future of neuroprosthetics (aka brain implants). Below is the response I wrote for class, but I'm curious to know what other people think of this stuff too!

The article:

Currently, brain implants are being used to restore sight and hearing, and to help control tremors. In the future, they will likely be used to improve memory and focus, to speed learning, and to essentially give people super-human abilities. With a much greater understanding of the brain, it could be possible to create technology similar to that which was used in The Matrix to teach new skills, by essentially downloading them into the brain. Similar technology could be used to repair and enhance vision, creating night vision, automatically zooming vision, and searching the internet based on things we see. This type of technology has recently been used in the popular television show Agents of SHIELD, which allows individuals implemented with this technology to receive messages, see through walls, etc. Future technology will also lead to increased control of robotics which would be incredibly helpful for individuals who are paralyzed or have amputated limbs replaced with prosthetics. 

This type of technology clearly has great implications for the future. This technology could also be used to allow for better memory, attention, mood and alertness. This could be incredibly beneficial for individuals who suffer from disorders such as ADHD, bipolar disorders, and depression. The greater concern with this technology is in children suffering from these disorders. There is already a problem with parents wanting to medicate children for “disorders” without ever having them appropriately tested for the proper course of action. This type of technology could be very tempting for this type of parent, because it would simply require a procedure to fix all of the ‘problems’ in their child, without having to worry about daily medications, or anything of the likes.
There is also research being done by the military to “cure PTSD, depression, and pain” through the use of neuroprosthetics and electric currents. At this point in time, neither of the mentioned disorders are truly able to be cured. This is great cause for interest and would be a revolutionary treatment for all of society if it would be found to work. 

This type of technology is not something that is currently highly regarded in society. There is great concern with pushing forward with this technology before the necessary brain understanding is present. There would be an increased risk at causing more damage, rather than improving current conditions. There is also the problem of accessibility. This type of technology seems like something that would be incredibly expensive, at least at first. It seems like it would be difficult to have it be something insurance companies would be willing to cover. This, then, would exclude this ‘treatment’ to individuals who could potentially benefit from it.

Mind Reading Technology

One of my assignments for an Ethics in Psychology class I am taking was to write a response to a news article. I found one that discusses  the future of mind reading technology. Below is the response I wrote for class, but I'm curious to know what other people think of this stuff too!

This article strongly follows up with many class discussions on brain scans used to read minds. This type of technology is in very early stages of development, and there is a long way to go until the technology exists to read minds with non-invasive methods. As this type of technology becomes more of a possibility, there are more and more fears instilled in the general public, mainly due to a lack of understanding about how difficult understanding the deeper operations of the human brain truly is. In spite of this, there is still great research being done to “read minds” and learn more about brain structure and function. An example of this, discussed in the author, is a study lead by Allan Cowen which uses fMRIs to reconstruct a face that an individual in the scan is viewing. These recreations aren’t perfect, but have been generally recognizable. Similar technology is also being used to reconstruct viewed videos. This information suggests then that it is possible to “decode dreams based on brain activity” though this is something that would still require a great deal more research before this happened. 

Researchers have also begun working on further ‘brain reading’ technology which could have great implications for our futures. Chun, a Yale Psychology professor, is studying attention, and specifically what happens with brain functions when people essentially zone out. This could have great implications for disorders such as ADHD where these types of experiences are far more common. Another researcher, Stanford neurologist Dr Parvizi, is studying memory retrieval. It is found that we can detect the retrieval of memories, but cannot yet dictate what those memories are. If this technology could be altered so that memories could be retrieved from an individual, on the basis of a brain scan, there could be great implications for individuals with memory impairment disorders such as Alzheimer’s. 

Through all of this, as technology continues to advance, there will be great concerns with privacy and autonomy. At some point, people will likely be asking “what if I don’t want my thoughts read, or my memories accessed?” This is going to be a concern pressing forward that will only be able to be addressed through adequate education. And even if it were possible to properly educate individuals about this technology, people would still have fears and concerns. This is something that will happen in time, and it is with that technology that, over time, will require a great deal of education.