Journey to the end of the world — Chronicles from Concordia

Dr. Stijn Thoolen is the ESA-sponsored medical doctor spending 12 months at Concordia research station in Antarctica. He facilitates a number of experiments on the effects of isolation, light deprivation, and extreme temperatures on the human body and mind. Find this blog post in the original Dutch below. The end of our world is full…

via Journey to the end of the world — Chronicles from Concordia

Horse Isle 3 – the Essence Anomaly – Updated

A recent update introduced something called an Essence Anomaly.  Anyone who plays Horse Isle will know that Essence buys equipment and various account perks like the kayak, the pony cart, the chariot, the ability to sense wild horses, the sailboat, the hot air balloon and even musical instruments.  You can run around all over the map and gather Essence that way but it’s nice to get a boost at times.

Enter the Essence Anomaly.  Basically it’s a big ball of essence floating in the sky, and it’s at a random place.  You have 30 minutes to travel to it, or find someone else to help you travel to it.  If you are within 200 meters of it when the time is up, you get 150-250 Essence all at once.  Information about these are announced as Server Events, like Mane Event, water balloon throwing parties, etc.  It’ll show up as a green button on the right side of your screen so you can find out the heading – that way you’ll know how far away it is, and in what direction.

You will also probably see plenty of talk about it in Global Chat.  Most of the time if it’s attainable, someone will set up an Adventuring Party, which I would highly recommend joining.

Here is what the relevant news post has to say about it:

+ A random spot (up to 750 km from center, may be ocean) spawns an Essence Anomaly.
+ Every player who gets there in the allotted time will receive bonus at end.
+ Bonus is 150 to 250 essence.
+ New ‘Anomaly Researcher’ Award tracks completions.
+ Hint: SoundFX is silent as you get near the heart of the anomaly.

(There have been updates since that news posting, in distance from center, and in duration, but I’ve fixed them here.)

Tips if you have a slow computer:

You can be up to 200 meters away from the Anomaly so it’s better to stand near the edge.

Try turning your quality down temporarily.

Look at the ground or away from the group if you start lagging really badly.

Essence Anomaly Etiquette:

Since some of our computers lag terribly at these Anomaly gatherings, especially since a couple hundred players might show up, here are some general hints.

It’s nice to dismount, just to reduce the polygon count.

Don’t light any fires or carry torches.

Put away extra equipment like carts or chariots.

If you’re part of a party, and you’re on the way to the Anomaly, try and grab some Essence.  It benefits the group.

It’s nice to help invite new players who are late to the party.


Wondering what that cool Essence Anomaly actually looks like?

I have pictures!  I’m the guy on the black WAR UNICORN at center, with the red saddle blanket.  He’s got big hooves and I’m dressed all in black with a black hat.

Like to join me on this awesome game?  If you would, make sure and use this link or place my ID, 1023, in the box when you join.
That way, if you ever decide to buy a subscription, even for one month, you’ll get a bonus 1000 essence, plus 10 Esroh Essence to help you get started.  A subscription costs 500 Mobia per month and you can buy Mobia from other players in-game if you don’t have cash to spend.


anomaly madness
The wackiness as everyone gathers (note stars in sky)
Essence Anomaly
The anomaly itself, taken at night

Map to Genkijima

In the last entry, I promised to post a copy of the map I mentioned once I got it done.  I made this on a big sheet of foamcore, and it’s truly no great work of art but was fun to do and also does the job.  I have fourteen foil stars indicating fourteen pounds lost on the path, as you can see.  I’m using silver ones for regular pounds lost and gold ones for each tenth pound.  It’s now hanging on my living room wall, just as obnoxiously colorful as you please!

On this map you can see such places as “Monotony Marsh,”  “Give-up Grounds,” “Pitfalls,” the beacon at “Onederland,” and “the Running Fields.”  I could have made a much prettier version digitally but I don’t think it would be quite as compelling.


Genkijima Map 1000


Journey to Genkijima

This is going to be a personal post but I hope it still benefits those reading it.

I’ve been overweight since I was roughly ten years old.  It started getting out of control in college when I could eat what I wanted, when I wanted.  However, I was getting exercise through Kendo and lots of walking, so it didn’t get too bad.

When I eventually got my first car, a few years later, the weight really started to pile on.  Add to that a couple of incredibly stressful jobs that involved lots of sitting and being yelled at over the phone and it got even worse.  Now, I’ve always had the most atrocious sweet tooth you could imagine and also a really good nose for bargains, so that combination didn’t help at all.

I tried, various times, to lose weight.  Once I tried Atkins and lost ten pounds rather quickly – but that was an expensive diet and so it didn’t last long.  Plus the fruit cravings were terrible.  I swear I could smell a mango from the produce section as soon as I entered the grocery store.  Another time I did Paleo and that worked great but was too expensive, and also I broke a tooth so all those veggies were out for a while.  I’ve tried shakes, tried fasting (a little bit) tried just restricting my calories without logging.  For a while I lived in Nevada in a tent and ate lots of beans and rice and very little else, and lost a bunch of weight.  I managed to keep it off for a while too but then money issues continued and more stressful work and I gained it again.

My biggest issues were the fact that exercise is super, SUPER boring, which I have little tolerance for, walking is rough during hot Arizona summers, and my life was seemingly consumed by stress and long commutes.

Well.  I got a better job, and more money started coming in, but I still gained because all the cool, nice people I work with LOVE to cook and they just LOVE potlucks, and of course the candy bowl, and it’s still kind of hard to walk while at work.  I had little motivation.

At the beginning of this year a “Biggest Loser” competition came around, with a $400 prize, and that was enough to make me really, really want to win.  I figured a three month period of aggressive weight loss would be enough to get some good habits started.  In December I’d finally gotten a weight set and started seriously trying to become stronger, because I wanted to be more self sufficient, and let’s be honest, also wanted some moderately buff arms.  I began to see results.

On January 6 I started logging my calories with a goal of 12-1500 calories a day.  Just existing in a sedentary state I burn 2200 calories so this could give me a solid two pound loss every week, and I intended to maximize this with what muscle gain I could manage and with plenty of movement.  However, I didn’t want to blog about it on here till I was well begun on my journey.  Because I really, REALLY hate to be a stereotype.

As of this writing I’ve been on plan with no lapses for 26 days.  I’ve lost about 13 pounds.  I feel more energetic, I fit better behind the wheel of my car, my waistbands are looser, my watch slides around more, and I’m stronger.  I’ve recently started making my cardio days my lower calorie (12-1300 calories) and making sure that I get at least 100 grams of protein per day.  No food groups are forbidden though I minimize processed starch or sugar.  I weight train three times a week with stretching and bodyweight stuff like squats on my rest days, and I walk 4-6 days a week, trying for about a mile.  Mostly it’s laps inside my  building where there’s air conditioning.  I love weight training, it makes me feel really good and I don’t have to do it for hours.

Here’s the really interesting thing.  One of the hardest things about pretty much every diet I’ve ever tried has been the cravings.  But I just realized today that I have actually had very nearly NO cravings or excessive hunger even though I’ve probably cut my daily calorie intake in half (at least.)   And I have cravings all the time when I eat what I want, when I want!  I haven’t even looked longingly at the candy bowl.  I’ve had chocolate twice (2 squares of ultra dark) and sugarless gum maybe three times, oh and I think three cough drops.  In 26 days.

I don’t want to go back.  I feel so good.  I snack all the time, but maintain portion control and always keep it healthy, and I know for a FACT that over the long term I’ll hit my numbers as long as I stay on plan.  I don’t deprive myself.  Since my weakness is freshly baked bread, when I bake some I’ll have ONE slice of it, log it, and leave it alone for the rest of the week.  If I want rice I’ll have a cup of it or less.  Knowing that nothing is totally forbidden has kept me from wanting most of it.

I’ve gained some muscle, and lost fat at the same time, because I keep my protein high and lift heavy.  No puny five pound weights for me.  At the moment I’m doing sixty pound weighted squats, twenty five pound kettlebell swings, and thirty pound dumbbell rows, plus a bunch of other stuff including exercise bands.  Plus lots of countertop pushups, because I’m still too heavy to do proper pushups.

I have a goal of converting 95 pounds of fat into carbon dioxide and water, and I’m thirteen pounds along.  Now we get to Genkijima.  That will bring me down to about 150 pounds, when I should be 130 ideally, but that extra 20 pounds of weight will hopefully be mostly muscle.

Since I haven’t been slim in so long, I have been doing a lot of thinking about all the things I’ll be able to do when I don’t have a small person’s worth of weight draped over my frame.  I started calling it the Land of Slim, but realized that was a pretty lame name.  So I picked “Genkijima.”  “Genki” is a japanese word roughly translated to mean “energetic health.”  A person who is “Genki” isn’t just healthy, but they are cheerful and have an upbeat outlook on life.  “Jima” means “Island.”  Tomorrow I’m going to buy a big piece of posterboard and draw a map of the land between where I started and this mystical island. with little spots I can color in for every pound lost.

Genkijima may be a place I’ve never visited in adult life, but I know the way.

jumping off the head
What it kinda feels like to begin this journey….


Postmenopausal rats!

I was doing some research on muscle building, and I saw the abstract of a study about a hormone called DHT and its effect on muscular growth.  In particular, the study mentioned “postmenopausal rats.”

I laughed so hard at that.

I’ve owned rats, though the only female I had wasn’t with me long enough to attain menopause, not that I could detect a breeding cycle anyway.  I think the domesticated ones make adorable, sweet, intelligent pets.   My mind started playing with the idea, though.

rat1rshawSo, what would a postmenopausal rat be like?  Would she be a little slower, a little more wise?  Would she know her way around all the traps?  Would she know all the ways of cats?  Would she have a really nice nest in the good part of the wall?  Given rat breeding rates, would she bake cookies for her great-great-great-great grandpups?

It definitely was something to think about.  A matronly rat with kind eyes, perhaps, because being kind really helps your longevity and you need to be an old rat indeed to outlive your breeding cycle.  You’d definitely need to be wise to avoid all the dangers to rat-kind.  Your collection of paper shreds would be impressive.

Then I thought of what the study was about and started laughing again.  It was determining the effects of added DHT on muscle growth in postmenopausal rats.  So that meant they weren’t just postmenopausal rats, they were DOPING postmenopausal rats.  In effect, tiny bodybuilders.  (All love to bodybuilders, by the way, and I know they don’t all take extra hormones.)  So then the next image came to my strange mind – a tiny weight set, with an old lady rat grunting out reps and trying for a new PR.

I don’t need TV to entertain me.  Really, I don’t.

*grunt*  Just two more sets to go…



Unleash the power of snacking

If you’re anything like me and a bunch of other people, you want to start 2020 on the right foot.  For many of us, healthy eating habits are something we’re working on.  One of my biggest pitfalls was snacking… what I call “getting a case of the nibbles.”  I wasn’t really hungry but my mouth was bored.  It would often happen when I was working online, or at my actual job working, or driving.

I’ve started seriously logging my calories lately as well as working out a lot more (okay, working out at all – I didn’t start till December 10)  so that’s been pretty eye opening.  The logging is working because I’m finally being honest with myself about what I’m putting in, what macronutrients it’s made of, and what vitamins, etc, I’m getting.

Since I’ve started thinking of my daily 1700 calories as a kind of budget, I’ve naturally started thinking of snacking in a different way  Basically, if I were to eat something not so great for me, like a bowl of my wife’s fantastic stroganoff or a slice of pizza or something, I want to really enjoy it, right?  Because I can’t in good conscience go back for seconds.  I don’t want the calories to just go into my mouth and not even notice them.  It would be like saving up to go to a concert then not listening to the music!

Since I’m prone to mindless snacking though, I use that as a time to get good food into me.  For example, I’m honestly not super duper fond of mini bell peppers.  However, they don’t really taste bad and they have amazing amounts of nutrients in them.  So when I’m bored I bust out my daily six mini peppers.  I can mindlessly eat those – when I’m done I’ll feel better, have a shot of vitamins, and my mouth will have had something to do.  I also won’t be on the carb spike/crash cycle that will just have me snacking again.

So yeah!  Mindless snacking, when used correctly, can be a weight loss strategy!  Who knew?

Some good items to mindlessly snack:

Mini bell peppers

Regular red, yellow, and orange bell peppers (more nutritious and green) cut up with seasonings on them

Jicama matchsticks with appropriate seasonings

An apple, cut up with cinnamon on it

Carrot sticks



Snow Peas or Sugar Snap Peas

Broccoli florets

…and more!  Just watch out for the high cal sauces and dips.


shallow focus photography of yellow and red bell peppers in basket
Photo by Nick Collins on

What to do when you’re dieting and your spouse makes toast

sourdough loaf 900


It’s a dilemma for sure…

Diet in full swing.

Hungry spouse.

Don’t want to break the diet….

But hungry spouse.

It happened to me.  I was on the third day of a dieting contest started at work, and about $400 of prize money is on the line.  (In dieting, motivation is important.  Money motivates me pretty well, which is why I chose to take part.)

I was doing pretty well, too.  I was a little under my caloric goal (a modest 1800 calories a day), had limited my carbs, increased my protein, and made sure my fats were healthy.  I was even pretty on track with fiber.  Eggs for breakfast, salad for lunch, ample low calorie vegetable snacks, protein shakes when needed.  I’d had a good dinner with mixed vegetables and chicken breast, and I was feeling satisfied.

Then the spouse says… “I’m still hungry.  I’m going to toast some bread.”

This bread, by the way, was lovingly baked a few days before, by me, and I happen to know that it’s lovely and slightly chewy and soft and everything homemade bread should be.

I knew that the minute that wonderful, tantalizing aroma hit my nostrils I’d be a goner, and nothing but pure carbs would fill that void.

So what was I going to do, balancing on the horns of that particular dilemma?  After all, I didn’t want my spouse to be hungry, and the bread needed to be used before it went ad.  But I didn’t want to increase my food intake when I was doing so well.

Enter the mint oil!

Beyond beneficial effects to those sniffing it, peppermint oil also does a great job of preventing you from smelling anything else.  I applied a bit around my nostrils, being careful to do it so it didn’t burn.


Barely any delicious toast smell intruded, even though we were sitting near each other.  And I went to bed, still satisfied, having dodged a bread bullet.

Now it’s day four and I”m still on track.  I’ll share my principles in case anyone’s curious.  I’m not using gimmicks this time, just solid strategies that people have used with success over and over again.  I’m combining several strategies because I WANT THAT MONEY.  Of course, what I really want is to feel better and look better, the money reward is a tool toward that.

My Simple Diet Plan

Write down everything you eat, tracking carbs, fat, and protein.  (Fiber and sodium are good to be aware of too.)  I’m using MyFitnessPal for this.  It’s free.   This makes you aware of exactly what you are eating, how much, and what it’s giving you.  Just doing that alone has been shown to help people lose weight just through awareness.

Cut 500 calories a day from what you normally need.  Again, tools like MyFitnessPal are good for this, although there are plenty of other apps/sites/charts that will help you.  Usually you will take your weight, activity level, age, gender, and weight loss goal, plug them in to a calculator, and it will give you a target.  I do like MyFitnessPal because it lets you also set goals for how much protein, carbs and fat you want to eat.  To lose a pound, you need to use 3,500 calories more than what you are taking in, so if you cut 500 calories per day (or exercise enough to burn that off) you’ll lose a pound a week.

Do both cardio and strength training.  Cardio burns fat, strength training grows muscle, and muscle burns more calories than fat does.  In my case I’m doing some fairly heavy weight lifting three times a week and supplementing that with stretching, calisthenics, and walking.  The weight lifting seems to be helping to improve my skin and hair, which can happen because a female body naturally releases human growth hormone after weight training.  It’s our answer to male testosterone when it comes to growing muscle.

Do exercise that you like:  Whether it’s bicycling, swimming, walking, weight training or whatever, try your hardest to find a way to do whatever it is that you like the most.  That’s the only way you’ll stick with this unless you have way more willpower than me.

Cut out stupid crap.  I’m talking things you don’t really need – like white sugar, empty starches, junk food.  Think of calories like money and you only have so much to spend.  you want to get good food value for the price, right?  If you are doing step 1, you’ll see that, and think things like “wait a minute, is that bag of chips really worth it when it doesn’t give me any fiber or protein and I’ll just want more after I’m done?”

Eat Clean.  More vegetables, minimally processed meats, swap whole grains for white, cut down on preservatives wherever possible.  Cook for yourself when you can.

Make it easy for yourself.  Convenience is key here.  If you’re busy, and who isn’t? then make stuff ahead and portion it out.  For example, I needed chicken for lunch.  So I baked several breasts of it.  Then I boiled a dozen eggs at once.  Now I can carry those with me and just cut some chicken when I need it, throw some mini bell peppers in with them along with a piece of fruit, and off I go.  If I had to individually prepare everything I probably would have quit by now.   Similarly, make sure whatever you need to exercise is accessible and conveniently placed.

Start with protein in the morning.  This comes from a multitude of sources and helps stave off that carb-cycle that has you hungry long before lunch.

Basic food principles:

More Protein.  This keeps you full, builds muscle.  Eggs are cheap, and a great way to start.  Hard boiled eggs are easy to pack, and a simple mushroom scramble is tasty and nutritious too.  Yes, egg yolks have cholesterol but your body needs that to make estrogen or testosterone and keep your brain healthy.

Less Carbs.  Yes, carbs are the body’s fuel, but we usually eat way too much of these.  Especially from really awful sources.  I know, I’ve done it most of my life.

Eat good fats.  I’m not going to eliminate fat because as above I need a certain amount to keep my brain healthy.  Nuts, eggs, olive oil, coconut and flax are good sources.

Cut down on sugar.  Eliminate white sugar, and limit honey or molasses.  It’s not a very good “value” nutritionally and it always makes you want more.  Most of your sugar should come from fresh fruit.

Drink lots of water.  Coffee and tea are fine too if they don’t have sugar.  Green tea is amazing.  Water, water, water.  “Bathe your cells.”

You don’t have to be rich to lose weight.  Healthy foods like beans, lentils, vegetables, fresh fruit, and sometimes even lean meats can be relatively affordable.  It pays to shop around.  Also check out ethnic stores, sometimes they have really good deals on things that are expensive at the supermarket.  Shop sales, use your freezer, stock up.  Buy big amounts, make things in batches.  Eat less.  That saves a lot.  Also, those dollars saved when you don’t buy chips and soda can really add up.

Have a positive attitude.  This can be the hardest part of any diet.  It’s easy at the beginning.  Then stress piles up, you start thinking the goals are far off and unattainable, or you think “I was ‘good’ today, I can ‘cheat’ a little…” and you step off the wagon with one toe.  Then another, and another, and pretty soon your whole foot is off, and your’e falling off the wagon really hard, right into a Boston Cream Pie.

Things that will help your attitude:

A support structure, even if it’s just one person who encourages you online.

Reminders, whether they are pictures, book, a computer wallpaper, or music.  Have something around that reminds you of why this stuff is important for YOU.

Pay attention to small victories.  This can be as simple as feeling less creaky in the morning, or noticing your jeans aren’t as tight, or even just being able to walk a little further.

If you ‘fail,’ you can stop ‘failing’ any time.  Failure is never final.

Planning.  If you know your motivation is likely to be low at a certain time of day, do something to distract yourself.  Or if you know, like me, that your nose will cause you to be really hungry even when you’re full, be prepared.


You’re not alone, I’m doing this right now.  All this stuff.  And it’s really not so much once you see how it fits together.  Do what works for you – so far, though, this is working for me.  And it worked for me before, too, but I kept forgetting that last reminder.

The next time my spouse wants toast, I’ll be breaking out the mint too.  Or, if I have enough carb grams left for the day, I may join her.