On the photo: an avocado, and here comes the reason why I will never eat avocados again. Don’t read on if you want to continue enjoying avocados..
Two weeks ago I was at a party, or more accurately, a “social event” to celebrate something or the other, and in the line at the buffet I started chatting with the girl in front of me. Or woman? She seemed to be one of the younger guests, and with a slightly unkempt hairdo and poor complexion, she could have been post- or delayed puberty – or simply ageless. I soon found out she was one of the organizers of the event. She also stated she had prepared some of the dishes. Without too much enthusiasm; apparently cooking was notably less enjoyable than climbing the Mount Everest.
“Oh look,” I said, “Avocado dip! Delicious! I’ve heard avocado is extremely healthy. Full of useful nutrients, nutrients, nutrients. Vitamins D and K, ethereal oils, unsaturated fats and you can even eat the nut.” The kind of bullshit you chat about at buffets. I smeared a copious amount of avocado on a cracker and inserted it into my mouth. With my mouth full I managed to say “I even heard you can use avocado as a facial mask; extremely healthy for your skin.”
The girl looked at me blankly and said: “Yes I know. Where do you think this guacamole was last night?”
In a previous post I provided details about the new novel REBOUND – you can get a copy of this book, for instance on your iPhone / iPad.
Alan, our hero, is driven by endless curiosity. A man with unrelenting courage, adaptability, compassion and inventiveness – essential traits to survive in a deserted world. Danger lurks around every corner, and not just from humans. To illustrate the man’s resilience: here’s a short sample from the manuscript.
Part of Chapter 7
Lewis’ eyes explored my face. “What happened to your eye?”
Usually, people ignore the black patch that covers my left eye, they just stare at it curiously, too embarrassed to ask.
“A guy with a knife attacked me.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
I shrugged. “He’s too. I shot him.”
Lewis’ eyebrows went up, a combination of respect and shock. I usually tell anyone who asks me this story. Why not make the best out of the loss of an eye? In addition, the true story was so embarrassingly weird, nobody ever believed it.
I had at one point made the foolish decision to take a motorbike for a ride. In the absence of humans and pesticides, insects had returned in large numbers and as the engine accelerated onto an unspoiled stretch of highway, I hit into a cloud of fat hornets. One had landed in my eye and stung me multiple times. I fell off the bike and barely made it back to base. The next day, my left eye swelled up beyond recognition. I dragged myself to a drugstore where I camped for a few days, trying out any useful medication or antibiotic that I could find. It was no use; without any help, I suddenly had to decide between dying or operating on myself; the left side of my face was swollen like a red balloon, and the eyeball was gray and obviously invested by an aggressive, unbeatable bug. I pulled a stretcher into a backroom, mounted lights and a mirror above it, and prepared an infusion with a cocktail of salt, painkillers and antibiotics. Lying on my back, I anesthetized half of my face. The next hour was the most horrible in my entire life. On some level, even my wife’s death was by comparison a walk in the park. In my dreams, especially after a heavy meal, I sometimes still see the scalpel approaching my eye. The first incision was excruciating. I shortly passed out from pain, and the obnoxious smell of puss and blood that ran down my face. I screamed in horror and shook my head like a wild man. After many minutes I regained some control, and feeling slightly better, I turned my head back to look at my reflection in the mirror. With my gloved hand I opened my half-closed eyelids. The eye itself was gone, the socket a gaping hole, with some ugly bits of tissue and the stump of the nerve in the back. With trembling hands, I rinsed the wound and patched it up with bandages and disinfectant that I had prepared earlier. I fainted.
Find out here how to get a copy of these exciting book!
Everyone has to eat. No other industry has the potential to so directly impact the well-being of the global population than the food industry. Innovative technologies are already affecting us all: from the rise of wearable fitness devices and DNA-based nutritional profiling, to nutraceuticals and the use of nanotechnology to increase nutrient concentrations in food. Good health is good for us as individuals, and our nutrition also affects business.
How does food affect our health? First of all, all over the globe, food is stigmatized as not being that good for us at all: obesity is a global epidemic. In 2008, more than 1.4 billion adults were overweight, and this situation is worsening. Currently, obesity is the fifth leading risk for global deaths: 44% of diabetes burden, 23% of the heart disease burden and 7% to 41% of certain cancer burdens are attributable to obesity. At the same time, we sense that food and nutrition have profound positive effects on our health: just think of the “promotion” of fresh vegetables by our parents at family meals; or special low-fat or low-carb foods available in any supermarket.
Obesity has a dramatic effect on healthcare costs (e.g. 200B$ per year in the USA), and governments are taking this issue very seriously. Individuals are following suit: people are taking charge of their health experience. They expect not only medical care, but any kind of health-related product to be tailored to their specific needs, so that they can live full and healthy lives.
Changing attitudes in nutrition
People are becoming more conscious of what they eat. The number of vegans in Britain rose by 360% in 10 years to half a million individuals – the perceived health benefits driving the trend. Tofu schnitzel, tofu bratwurst, tofu kebab: with 10% of its population going meatless, Germany has the highest rate of vegetarianism compared to its European neighbors. In addition, consumers are reaching out for biofoods, to ensure that fewer chemicals and pesticides land on their plates – and in their stomachs. The European organic market grew by 7.6% to more than 26 billion euros in 2014. U.S. organic sales reached $43.3 billion in 2015 – outstripping the overall food market’s growth rate of a miserly 3% – by growing a whopping 11%. Healthy food is no longer a fad, it is a business.
Far reaching effects
The effects of obesity have been investigated extensively, and the direct causal relationship to e.g. diabetes type II or the increased risk of stroke through heightened blood pressure are well described. However, in many other instances, the effects of food on health are enigmatic. The immune system may well be at the core, as this highly complex, yet very effective apparatus has the capability to protect our body from many attacks. The immune system can detect and destroy abnormal cells and thus prevent many cancers. There is also a direct link between neurological disease and the immune system. Overall, the immune system is influenced by many different nutrition factors – to name but a few: zinc, selenium, vitamins A, C, E and B6 and folic acid; and thus by our diet: e.g. processed food has been described as threatening to our immune system.
Most interestingly, the gut is the primary site of interaction between the immune system and microorganisms. Just imagine: humans carry ten-fold more bacterial cells than human ones. The microbes that live in our gut (tens of thousands of different species) can easily fill a half-gallon jug. Together they make up the human micobiome, with a tremendous potential to impact our physiology, in health and in disease. These microbes contribute to metabolic functions, protect us against pathogens, educate our immune system, and affect directly or indirectly most of our physiologic functions. The microbiome has therefore been implicated in diseases such as asthma, autism, multiple sclerosis, depression and anxiety, ulcers, and (suprise, surprise) obesity. Needless to say, the microbiome flourishes or suffers by our diet, and thus our food intake has, through the health of our microbiome, an additional effect on our health.
Nutrigenomics and more
What if we could improve our health by eating some foods and avoiding others, based on who we are as individuals, all the way down to our DNA? In comes genomics; or better: nutrigenomics. Adapting dietary advice for particular subsets of people is still very much a work in progress. Classic example: people with phenylketonuria lack an enzyme that breaks down phenylalanine. By limiting phenylalanine in the diet, those with the mutation can avoid intellectual disability and other problems. For that reason, phenylketonuria is screened for at birth. Lactose and gluten intolerance are also genetically hard-coded, although in the latter case the underlying mechanisms are harder to interpret. As the cost of sequencing a human genome continues to drop, it is highly likely that in the nearby future all of us will have our fully annotated genome sequence in the cloud, accessible through a smartphone app. Why not sequence our microbiome on a daily basis – as we flush the toilet? Combine the information from the two in that same app, and receive real-time notifications on what you should eat that day; always up-to-date with the latest insights?
How companies react
Crystal ball aside: many consumer goods companies are investing in the area of nutraceuticals, example focusing e.g. on Alzheimer’s. Again, and perhaps not surprisingly, gastrointestinal health is one of their focus areas too. Brewers are not only turning to genome sequencing to identify how to create certain flavors through knowledge of the yeast genome. A London brewery has launched a service to create a beer personalized to your DNA-based taste preferences. A range of new applications is envisioned in the area of nanoparticles in nutrition: e.g. to improve the bioavailability of bioactive food components. Taken together, as technological progress continues to take quantum leaps and as more scientific facts become available about the interplay between nutrition and health, consumer interest in food quality and beneficial foods will continue to increase.
The Fat Years Are Over – Time to Start Thinking About Healthy Nutrition?
(This article is adapted from the original blogpost on LinkedIn; the latter contains all the references).
The very first book I ever read was an illustrated children’s story about a small duck. I must have been six, I still remember how I struggled with the first page for weeks, until one Sunday morning I suddenly could read it in one go. I was so happy that I woke up my parents. Even after all these years I still have that book, torn and frayed at the edges. I haven’t stopped reading since. I recall the books of my youth, such as the ones by Jules Verne and Karl May. I read Lord of the Rings when I was 13, and then moved on to science fiction: Asimov and Jack Vance. Many books I have read multiple times: some even 5 or 10 times! Good books never get boring.
Then, I started writing myself, and in 2010 I published an adventure novel… about the dreadful effect of a corona pandemic. As an author, I have less time for reading, but I still do manage to read some exiting novels. Luckily enough my wife prereads a lot of new releases and passes the most thrilling ones to me.
Here‘s my personal list of the Best Books Ever! It is in alphabetical order, but you can easily browse or re-order to your liking. Currently it contains 50 titles, but I will add more over time. And yes, my own pandemic books are also in the list, as they have also greatly impacted my life. I hope the list inspires you to pick up some great (classic) fiction and non-fiction. Is any favorite missing?
Beautifying yourself is crucial, it is rewarding to stay in tip top shape and your fellow humans will respect, appreciate and like you more. In that regard it may be very rewarding to be able to say: Finally the Sun Yin Yang tattoo is ready!
sun yin yang tattoo
Admittedly NOT on my body, thank you! After long consideration I decided against ANY skin mutilation. After all, this may be hype now, but in ten years that hype may well be over… but any tattoo would still be there! So instead of investing money in this rather special art form, I decided to invest into THIS. In any case, If you’re thinking about tattooling, start small. Give yourself a chance to learn the process, how your skin takes ink, and how your body heals. Don’t do it cheap: a suspiciously cheap tattoo parlour, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. You’re altering your body for life. If that’s not worth a decent investment, I don’t know what is.
No matter how madly in love you are now, putting your hubby’s or one-night stand’s name on your body is risky – if not stupid. Be certain that you stand behind your choice for the rest of your (or your partner’s) life. As a tattooist of mine once said, “You want it removed? Bring an axe bro.” Changing Mary to Harry is simple enough (if you adjust in other dimensions as well), but changing Mary to Zebedee, or Kevin Spacey to George “Nespresso” Clooney is near impossible. If you’ve got a tattoo, people will talk about it. They’ll judge you, they will put you in a mental drawer, and they will slam it shut and lock it and throw away the key. So you have to decide about the location: a hidden spot (chest, your back, buttock, or certain organs) or out in the open (cheeks, nose, forehead, hands, neck, ears, calves if you are a short-/skirt-man or certain organs, if you’re that kind of guy).
In any case. Stay in shape, stay clean, dress well – and leave your body as it is – that’s my motto.
It is the attempt that counts. A piece of art, on the verge of the macabre. San Bernardino alle Ossa (Saint Bernhard of the Bones) is a church in Milan, not to far from the Cathedral of Milano, by itself an inconspicuous building. This church is best known for its ossuary (a skull and bones collection) in a small side chapel.
In 1200s, the local cemetery ran out of space, I am not sure why, but one guess could be that famine struck northern Italy. A room was built next to the church to hold bones to tackle that problem. After all, you cant simply throw corpses in the river or burn them, can you? The result is a haunting, octagonal room, with hundreds of skulls stacked to the ceiling. As the church suffered from some catastrophes, and needed to be rebuild a couple of times, this work of art is in actuality much younger.
What struck me during my visit was the perfect symmetry with which the bones and skulls are stacked. The creators invested a lot of time to get it right and to make it esthetically halfway acceptable (if you go for that kind of thing). What I also wondered was how they separated the flesh from the bones. Were these people first buried, and the skeletons dug-up later? A human body may take about 1-2 years to be free of flesh, depending on its location, e.g. a body in a field will decompose much faster than a buried human (see my novel Two Journeys for more grisly details).
The skulls were all small, much smaller than the ones I saw in anatomy class. I suspect that most belonged to children, as only few seemed to be adult-size. An alternative explanation would be that these people were very small – perhaps it was indeed a famine? One or two skulls had impressive deformities; elongations at the back.
Below some of the impressions from our travels. Click on any of the pictures below to enlarge.
The novel Celeterra is available as paperback and also in many e-book formats, for instance at Barnes and Noble. If you would like to read this exciting novel, simply go to the bookstore on your device, or visit your favorite bookstore, like for instance at Barnes and Noble.
What is this book about? It has many different aspects. On one side it is a crime story; there are some mystery aspects to it. It has to do with religion, and it is set both on Earth, and in heaven. It is definitely a dystopian story, about people who are power-hungry and want to misuse religion for their purposes. Most of my books deal with that motive, in some form and shape: individuals that want to profit from the misfortune of other individuals.
In the end Celeterra is simply a great adventure story to read and you won’t be able to put it down.
Altijd bent towards Vance and whispered in his ear. “Adolf Hitler!”
Vance’s mouth fell open. “What? Adolf Hitler, the German dictator, is in Heaven? Are you sure? He was a terrible war criminal, directly responsible for the murder of millions of people!”
“I met him here! Let me tell you what happened. One afternoon, Ballew and I were walking hand in hand along a small brook. The trees were golden, soft music filled the air. Extraordinary birds hopped on the path, which was covered with small diamonds. Two men came in our direction, both casually dressed; trousers, shirts, sneakers. The man on the right was Adolf Hitler, I recognized him immediately. We stopped and talked to them. Ballew seemed to have met both of them before. Hitler was rather quiet, not speaking much at first. He made a serious and subdued impression. When he did speak, it either was in German or heavily accented English. His companion was less reserved and chatted away happily with Ballew. If I remember correctly, his name was Ed Gean or something… I cannot recall exactly. Ballew mentioned later that he had been a notorious killer in his earthly life.
“Anyway, I was challenged to follow the conversation, I just stood there and stared at Hitler. He seemed to be slightly embarrassed by this. During a break in the conversation, he turned to me, stiffly, as if his back was rigid.
“‘Well, Altijd, how do you like it here?’
“At first, I didn’t know how to reply. Then I mumbled that I thought it was a great place. Hitler smiled. “‘You know, young man, I have been here for a long time. I have very much enjoyed every day of it.’
“To me, his statement sounded rather unconvincing. He had said it somewhat mechanically, as if he was reading it, from a piece of paper. Ballew took a hold of my arm. “‘Adolf is one of our most honorable guests. He has been here for quite a while, and if you have any questions about this place, just ask him, there is nothing that he has not seen or heard about. He knows every corner of Heaven and many of its more interesting inhabitants too.’
“Adolf Hitler smiled weakly beneath his moustache and took a hold of Ballew’s hand and kissed it. Ballew giggled with pleasure. “‘You are always so charming. Come, why don’t the two of you join us for our walk?’
“We continued along the path. We talked about this and that, and Adolf and Ed pointed out some of the sights. I still had difficulty taking part in the conversation, I was truly flabbergasted to stumble upon this singular, most brutal dictator in Heaven! However, my three companions chatted away happily. Even Hitler seemed to have thawed to some extent. Still, on several occasions, I saw him shooting quick glances at me.”
Altijd interrupted his narration. They were following a small track leading down into one of the valleys, towards some distant music. It was getting later in the day and the sun was setting. Sheep stood in the heather and munched away at sparse green grass. Vance noticed that he was getting hungry.
“What happened then?”
Altijd walked in front of him. Without turning around, he continued his story. “We picnicked together, underneath a tree. Blankets had been laid out for us. We had some champagne and toast with smoked fish. It was a pastoral scene, Arcadian – like a Tomas Cole painting. Ballew looked absolutely marvelous, she was always so very pretty when she was enjoying herself. She was sitting very upright and in the center. We three men rested leisurely on the grass. Hitler started to tell stories about his childhood in Austria, about small boy’s pranks and escapades. Despite myself, I had to admit that his narration was extremely funny. He was charming and a great storyteller. One story stands out in my mind; how he and his childhood friend had gone out to steal apples from a neighboring orchard. When the farmer discovered them, they had to run off as fast as they could. His friend was a bit overweight, and as they climbed over a fence, his trousers had torn. He got a proper spanking from his mother. At that part of the story, Hitler got up and was gesticulating passionately, like I had seen him do in some of those old documentaries. However, this time he was not rallying for war, but talking about his youth and imitating his friend’s mother! He was so funny!”
How to make money with your writing? Don’t try to make money with your writing!
Agreed, there are some authors that sit down to write, deliberately, their “next hit”. What differentiates you from all those other writers out there is… your stories, your thoughts, your style – put them to paper! You will need to allow the flow of words to come out, your ideas. Be your own most critical editor. Read your texts as if you are a stranger: would you buy this book? Would you actually read it, if someone gave it as a present?
When I started writing as a boy, I used to re-read my own texts weeks later, and I tore up most in frustration. I hated my own words. My style sucked. I was too young and impatient to write long sentences, writing a single page took me hours. As a result, I tried to cram too much action onto a single page, and that made for very bad writing. Other sentences were full with beautiful words, that I had read in other books. The words weren’t my own. I lacked experience. As a young boy or teenager, your life may be overflowing with experiences, but in reality, “you ain’t seen nothing yet”. As an adult, you have seen it all, and your mind is filled to the brim with memories. The only thing that you need to do is to knit these memories into a story. That doesn’t mean good authors do not copy: but not from authors, but from the life that they have lived and the people that they have met. I am not implying that young people shouldn’t write or that they can’t be good authors – experience helps create a great story – and so does practice.
Writing then and now
Book publishing was always a stressful business. In the past, a typical author sat down with a stack of paper and wrote an initial manuscript (by hand). This was passed on to a publisher, who would accept or decline the book. A contract covering the royalties would be signed. A typist would turn a handwritten manuscript into a printable text. The book would be published, and with each edition, typos and errors would be removed, based on feedback from the readers. An author was a literary craftsperson, a rare species, focused on getting compelling stories to paper.
Nowadays, anybody can be an author. If you have a laptop, you can create a story within weeks, and in the space of half an hour, you can switch the book live on an internet publishing house, and your novel is automatically pushed out to half a dozen types of devices. There is virtually no interaction with the publisher, royalties and taxes are dealt with by ticking a couple of checkboxes. Today’s author is a cowboy with a laptop, one amongst many, and focused on getting a story out, fast. This is also reflected by the publishing houses: Smashwords specializes in publication of eBooks. Ironically their homepage dominantly states: “Words Published: 16,867,232,325″ – obviously, it isn’t QUALITY that counts, but QUANTITY.
As an author you have one option in this publishing madness: create the books that you believe in. Don’t enter this market with the illusion to get rich – most authors die poor. That hasn’t changed.