Monthly Archives: September 2015

The Bicycling Big Book of Training – Kosecki

Did you know that lactic acid is not the cause muscle soreness after a long ride? That was based on studies on frog muscles done by Meyerhof in the 1920s. The conventional understanding was that lactic acid was a waste product of exercise, and once muscles were flooded with it, they would become sore. In the last ten years, the data suggests that lactic acid breaks down into lactate, which is another  source of energy. Muscles feel sore not from the lactic acid, but from being torn during the exercise process. You know you’ve been around for a long time when your basic ideas of training get thrown out the window. In The Bicycling Big Book of Training: Everything You Need to Know to Take Your Riding to the Next Level, Kosecki breaks down the myths and lays down the scoop on what it is to train in the twenty-first century.

Best of all, it’s available at your local public library!

Kosecki, Big Book of Training Cover Illustration

Kosecki, Big Book of Training Cover Illustration

Big Book of Training Back Blurb

Cycling is exploding in popularity, and you want in on the action. You’re itching to take up a different style, eager to start a new nutrition regimen, or jouncing to compete in one of the thousands of bike events across the country (or the world). But where to start? The Bicycling Big Book of Training is the ideal guide for any and all beginner and intermediate cyclists who are looking to advance their fitness and training while exploring all that cycling has to offer.

Veteran cyclist Danielle Kosecki covers all of the necessary components of a successful training plan, including:



-Physiology and heart rate monitoring

She also goes into useful detail regarding:

-How the body becomes fit and how that fitness translates to on-the-bike performance

-How to maintain your ideal cycling weight

-Recovery and pain management tips used by beginners and pros alike to keep their bodies in peak condition

Once cyclists understand how to train and teach their bodies how to stay in the game, Kosecki gives a thorough breakdown of every type of cycling event, from fun and leisurely charity rides to hardcore and competitive cyclocross races–including a week-to-week training plan for each! The Bicycling Big Book of Training is an excellent guide for anyone who wants to learn more about the multifaceted sport of cycling and take their performance to the next level.

Kosecki Author Blurb

Danielle Kosecki is the health editor for Glamour magazine. Past writing gigs include More, Prevention, Atlanta Sports & Fitness, and Caribbean Travel & Life magazines and Kosecki is a category 2 road bike racer for CityMD Women’s Racing Team and has hopes of eventually tackling the track, trails, and velodrome. A lifelong athlete, she discovered bike racing while dabbling in triathlon after her collegiate soccer career. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

The Resurgence of Cycling

The book comes out at a good time as cycling is experiencing a renaissance. Why is that? It could be that cycling is one of those sports that you can keep doing forever. It’s not like running or basketball and other high impact sports where, after you hit a certain age, it’s time to hang up the sneakers. In fact, older cyclists seem to be able to maintain their speed quite well. I know this firsthand: having recently joined the Tripleshot Cycling Club, there’s quite a few older cyclists who bike laps around me. The surprising thing is that some of them are in the mid to late sixties, maybe even early seventies. I also run and can tell you that no seventy year old guy is passing me. But it’s different in the world of cycling. The secret to cycling’s success could be that it appeals to the baby boomer demographic. It’s the sport where you stay forever young.

Kosecki covers all the major disciplines of biking: road, centuries, racing, cyclocross, and mountain. Best of all, there’s training programs for each discipline. There’s chapters on exercise physiology. There’s chapters on diet. Strength training and flexibility are all about the core these days. Just like overthrowing the myth of lactic acid, the core training precepts of today seem to revolt against the strength training precepts of thirty or forty years ago. Back then, exercises were steady motions, make sure the back is supported. Now it’s all about balance and the core muscles.

There’s even a chapter on your ideal cycling weight. You plug in your height and do a measurement of your wrist to come up with a factor that takes into account bone size. I didn’t do so well here: my ideal cycling weight is 133 pounds. I’m at 155. There’s no way that’s right. The surprising thing is that it’s not even close! I can go between 145 (usually after deathly illness) to 160 (either working out lots or too many pork chops).

All in all, Kosecki’s book is a good read. I felt educated about the latest in exercise physiology: changing views on how the body works (e.g. lactic acid), changing views on strength training (core is everything), changing views on rest and relaxation (it’s as important as training: no more of the ‘no pain no gain’ credo), and changing views on nutrition (more protein, no more carbo loading). Times are changing and it’s nice to see what the latest thinking is. Of course in another thirty or forty years everything we know now will be upended again in an endless cycle. Reading this book makes you wonder how, with the primitive thinking thirty years ago, people were even able to ride bikes and run, let alone compete in races!

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m Doing Melpomene’s Work riding a bike.

Othello (Iago?) – Shakespeare

I’ve always referred to Othello by Shakespeare as Iago because Iago dominates Othello. Iago drives the action; Othello is like a piece of driftwood, although he gets one of the best lines (as he breaks up a fight): ‘Keep up you bright swords, for the dew will rust them’. But the problem of the play is deeper than the title. Iago is the problem. Why is he such an asshole?

Now, I’m offering a reward to anyone who can convince me why Iago is such an asshole. It’s a question that’s eluded generations of theatregoers. Othello is my least favourite Shakespeare tragedy because I can’t figure it out. Coleridge ascribed Iago’s bad nature to ‘motiveless malignity’. While that has a nice jingle, it doesn’t explain much. Other Shakespeare villains at least have convincing explanations why they’re bad. Take Macbeth: he’s tempted by the crown. But what’s Iago tempted by? I’m not sure. The closest Shakespeare villain that’s bad just for the sake of being bad is Richard III. But at least he has some motivation: he’s getting back at nature for being born deformed (that’s the motive Shakespeare gives him).

Bad Iago

How is Iago an asshole? His wife, Emilia, seems like a nice lady. This is how he addresses her:

Iago (to Cassio): Sir, would she [Emilia] give you so much of her lips

As of her tongue she oft bestows on me,

You’ll have enough.

Desdemona: Alas, she has no speech.

Iago: In faith, too much;

I find it still, when I have list to sleep:

Marry, before your ladyship, I grant,

She puts her tongue a little in her heart,

And chides with thinking.

Emilia: You have little use to say so.

Iago: Come on, come on; you are pictures out of doors,

Bells in your parlours, wild-cats in your kitchens

Saints in your injuries, devils being offended,

Players in your housewifery, and housewives in your beds.

Here’s another one:

Emilia: I have a thing for you.

Iago: A thing for me!–it is a common thing–

I’ll leave it up to your capable imagination what a ‘common thing’ is. Hint: Emilia’s reaction is ‘Ha!’ and I don’t think she’s amused!

What else does ‘Honest Iago’ do? Well, he leads Roderigo on. Roderigo has a crush on Othello’s wife, Desdemona. Iago promises him access to Desdemona and takes all his money and jewels. Basically he bankrupts him for the fun of it. He has no intention on going through with his promises.

Iago gets Cassio drunk, with the result that he loses his job. He also stirs the pot between Roderigo and Cassio, hoping that one will kill the other. He gets Othello all jealous so that he suspects Desdemona of infidelity. When he succeeds at this, he urges Othello to kill Desdemona. Desdemona had never done him injury, and is his wife’s best girlfriend.

Basically Iago screws everyone over that he can.

Iago’s Motives

Shakespeare doesn’t leave Iago entirely without motivations. Iago complains that he was passed over for a promotion. He wanted to be lieutenant but Cassio got that position. But as Othello’s ancient, he’s second in command. He also believes that Othello has slept with his wife. But he doesn’t give a reason. And there’s nothing in the play between Othello and Emilia that would suggest anything inappropriate has taken place. Then at other times, he says that he enjoys playing the asshole just for the fun of it.

Despite his insidious actions, none of the other characters can see through him. As the play’s reader, I find that frustrating: usually someone suspects something. Everyone calls him ‘Honest Iago’ and trusts him with all their secret concerns. That’s how he can get up to such great mischief: he knows everyone’s secret wishes and desires.

His motivations, to me, are unconvincing. He has motivations. But it’s like meeting someone who’s late for a meeting. If they have one excuse, it might just be real. If they have a bunch of excuses, they’re full of it. Iago, with his many excuses, seems like he’s full of it. But that leaves the question: why is he such an asshole.

The characters don’t seem to know either. When everyone’s dead in the end, and they question Iago as to his motives, this is what he says:

Demand me nothing: what you know, you know.

From this time forth I never will speak word.

I went through a whole play just to hear a character tell me that he won’t say what the whole play was about! Frustrating! So, if anyone knows Iago’s secret, let me know!

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I have real motives for Doing Melpomene’s Work.

Aldridge Street Print & Media

The Greater Victoria Public Library (GVPL) has programs and talks galore! Tonight, Darin Steinkey, Director & Principal of Aldridge Street Print & Media, gave a talk: ‘Steps to Publishing for the Independent Author’. Here’s the blurb from the library’s website:

Aldridge Street Presentation Blurb

Aldridge Street Presentation Blurb

Thirteen attendees. The lucky number. Evenly split between men and women (well, 7:6 ratio). A grey haired crowd, average age maybe in the sixties? It seems that writers need time to be able to write. A lot of people with experience publishing. One fellow was a journalist. Another lady had published a textbook for a course she taught. Quite a few people had published multiple books. Some had self-published; others had gone through publishing houses. There were even some who had done both. Lots of talent in Victoria, BC!

After working at Trafford Publishing, Steinkey saw a niche that needed to be filled: editing for independent authors. With his background in literature and teaching, he became an editor and started up Aldridge Street Print & Media in 2008 to fill the niche. Aldridge Street Print & Media actually offers more: they’re a one stop shop for the independent author, offering book design, layout, and printing services as well. What they don’t do, however, is marketing. The genres Steinkey specializes in are memoir and history. He helped a WWII code breaker, for example, publish her memoir. Cool!

Layout, cover design, writing (Steinkey suggested Stephen King’s On Writing and Strunk & White’s Elements of Style), and editing were covered in tonight’s one hour presentation. The focus was on editing. Self-published authors do a good job of getting their books out there, but they do a poor job of editing. Spelling mistakes or glitches in the layout take away from the writer’s credibility: that was the main message of tonight’s talk.

There are three different types of editors. The developmental editor makes sure the story works. The copy editor checks spelling, punctuation, and grammar. The proofreader checks layout and any mistakes introduced in the other layers of editing. Independent authors need all three. And preferably, they are different people: the more eyes, the better.

The takeaway for me tonight was the fee structure for an editor. An editor charges from $50-$75 an hour. They can edit seven to ten pages in an hour. Pages are 250 words. So, let’s take the preface to Paying Melpomene’s Price. It’s eight Microsoft Word pages. Eight Microsoft Word pages equals 4645 words. 4645 divided by 250 equals 18.58 pages (250 word pages). Since Paying Melpomene’s Price is an academic type work, it doesn’t read as fast as, say, most novels. So maybe an editor will go through seven pages per hour. At seven pages an hour, it would take 2.65 hours. Let’s say an editor charges midway between the $50 to $75 rate. At $62.50 dollars an hour times 2.65 hours, the cost comes to $165.63. But that’s just one editor. Three are required (developmental, copy, and proofreader). So the total cost to edit my eight Microsoft Word pages would come to $496.88. Let’s say each of my chapters is about the same length and that there’s nine more chapters. The cost of getting the whole thing edited would then clock in around $5000.

Good to know. Time to start saving. Thanks to Aldridge Street Print & Media for the talk and the gentleman in front of me for asking about editors’ fee structures.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I need a second job while I’m Doing Melpomene’s Work.

Tom Danielson’s Core Advantage – Danielson & Westfahl

It’s official: I’m a club cyclist! Joined up with Victoria’s Tripleshot Cycling Club. The deciding factor when choosing between clubs is that Tripleshot offers a lot of group rides. And the rides leave early in the morning (6AM!). One of my goals has been to get up earlier. The will to cycle seems more powerful than the languor of sleep, so might as well use cycling as motivation to get a jump on the day! It’s all psychological warfare.

On the longer rides (80+km)–even those done at a leisurely pace–the first thing to give out is not the legs or the lungs. It’s the lower back. It gets sore. Not a sharp pain. Rather a sort of a deep ache that takes the fun out of the ride. It’s sort of like having a headache: you’re not dysfunctional, but you’re not having a good time either.

Online searches suggested various solutions: get a bike fit, get cleats adjusted, or increase core strength. I’ve been experimenting with the bike fit (saddle height, fore-aft, handlebar height and angle). Raising the handlebar definitely helps, but at the cost of aerodynamics. I’d like to leave the handlebar where it is: just a little below the seat. I don’t think it’s the cleats. But the argument about core strength won me over. There were some basic tutorials online for various core exercises. And a book also turned up: Tom Danielson’s Core Advantage: Core Strength for Cycling’s Winning Edge by Danielson (a pro) and Allison Westfahl (a physiologist and fitness personality).

Tom Danielson's Core Advantage Cover Illustration

Tom Danielson’s Core Advantage Cover Illustration

The library didn’t have the book. But the library does have a wonderful interlibrary loan service. I’ve been using it quite a bit lately. Books seem to take two weeks to come in. The books come in from all sorts of public and academic libraries in BC. If you’re looking for a book and the local library doesn’t have it, chances are you can find it on the interlibrary loan search engine. It’s fast and it works. That’s how I got to read Core Advantage: through ILLO or interlibrary loan. Try it.

Tom Danielson’s Core Advantage Back Blurb

Tom Danielson’s Core Advantage offers a simple, highly effective core strength program for cyclists. This comprehensive approach shows the 50 essential core workout exercises that will build strength and endurance in the key core muscles for cycling―no gym membership required.

Professional cyclist Tom Danielson used to have a bad back. He shifted in the saddle, never comfortable, often riding in pain. Hearing that core strength could help his back, he started doing crunches, which made matters worse. He turned to personal trainer Allison Westfahl for a new approach. Danielson and Westfahl developed all-new core exercises to build core strength specifically for cycling, curing Danielson’s back problems. Better yet, Danielson found that stronger core muscles boosted his pedaling efficiency and climbing power.

Using Danielson’s core exercises, cyclists of all abilities will enjoy faster, pain-free riding. Cyclists will perform simple exercises using their own body weight to build strength in the low back, hips, abs, chest, and shoulders without adding unwanted bulk and without weights, machines, or a gym membership. Each Core Advantage exercise complements the motions of riding a bike so cyclists strengthen the right muscles that stabilize and support the body, improving efficiency and reducing the fatigue that can lead to overuse injuries and pain in the back, neck, and shoulders.

Beginner, intermediate, and advanced training plans will help bike racers, century riders, and weekend warriors to build core strength throughout the season. Each plan features warm-up stretches and 15 core exercises grouped into workouts for injury resistance, better posture, improved stability and bike handling, endurance, and power. Westfahl explains the goal for each exercise, which Danielson models in clear photographs.

Riding a bike takes more than leg strength. Now Tom Danielson’s Core Advantage lays out the core strengthening routines that enable longer, faster rides.


The book is divided into lots of chapters but really it has two sections. The first half persuades you that core strength is the cat’s meow. It also explains the theory behind core training. In a nutshell, core strength is necessary because each time you press down on the pedal, your core (esp. lower back) has to counterbalance against the force of your foot pressing down on the pedal. So cycling uses the core but does nothing to strengthen the core. If your core strength is not up to the task, the back gets sore, your form goes to mud, and you lose power.

A good way to think of it is this: when you do a leg press on the machine at the gym, your back is supported by the backrest of the machine. So you’re using your legs and not so much the core, since the back is stationary. Well, you put out force when you cycle too. But when you’re cycling, you’re not leaning your back into anything. So the core has to keep the body stable as you press the pedal. That’s why the back gets sore. The back is actually doing quite a bit of work! Imagine how harder it would be to do the leg press without the backrest?

I like all the theory in the first half. Most of it is written by Westfahl. Every couple of pages there’s a Tommy’s Take, a few paragraphs by Danielson where he translates the theory portion into real world cycling experiences. It’s a good one-two combo. Westfahl perhaps goes a little overboard in stating the virtues of core training. She never claims that it solves world hunger and is a cure for cancer, but she comes pretty close. Undoubtedly, however, core strength is important. How many bodybuilders do you know who sweep the floor and put out their back? I know a few. It’s the weight machines: by supporting the core for you, it’s actually doing you a big disfavour as now your core strength is out of proportion with the strength or your arms, legs, and chest.

The second half are the exercises and the exercise regimens. The pictures are useful. Westfahl explains the exercises and which muscles they target. There are photos of Danielson doing the exercises to make it easy to follow along. Westfahl’s focus is on dynamic core strength. The plank is among the exercises, but she prefers ones where you are moving around exercises to static exercises: you’re also training your nervous system. This approach makes sense.


I’ve been doing the core workout for three weeks now. After week two I could do some of the more advanced exercises. I’ve also been riding the bike more and more. The lower back is still a little sore after long rides, but it’s getting a LOT better. I’m not sure if it’s the exercises that are helping or just putting the time in the saddle. Probably a bit of both.

One thing that I really like are the exercises that improve posture. On long rides, it always strikes me that the bike riding posture is just very, very bad. It’s worse than sitting in front of a computer screen. A lot worse. Now, I love biking cycling, but the posture is just bad. There are exercises in the book to open up the chest and loosen up the back after it’s been hunched over for so long. I really appreciate those exercises.

So: I enjoy the exercises and plan on continuing to do them. This book is an in-depth look at core strength training and though it’s written for cyclists, really anyone can benefit from it.


One of the unfortunate things which I hope won’t tarnish the book is that Danielson was suspended for doping for six months in 2012-3 and was caught doping again in August 2015. It’s a great book but knowing about the doping makes it harder to read the Tommy’s Take sections. Those are the parts where he talks about how hard he trains and how core strength gives him the secret advantage over his peers. Reading those sections make you think: maybe it was the drugs?

But perhaps that’s harsh. I’m sure he trains hard, and that doing the core routine is an advantage. The drugs no doubt help as well. A comprehensive 2015 report costing three million Euros commissioned by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) suggests that doping is still rampant. It is available here. According to the ‘respected cyclist professionals’ interviewed, anywhere from 30% to 90% of the peloton is still doping.

That must be a tough question all pro cyclists face: to dope or not to dope? If you don’t dope maybe you never make it to the top. Maybe you don’t even keep your job! But if you do dope, you lose your reputation. And you bring down the people around you too. I’m sure Westfahl must have had second thought teaming up with Danielson on Core Advantage. Now her name is *gasp* attached with the doper. I don’t mind so much. But some people will.

I’m reminded of an old fable. Death, Love, and Reputation used to be great friends, journeying together everywhere. One day, they decided to spit up. Death said: ‘Friends, if you desire to see me, I can be easily found: go to the site of any of the great battles and I’ll be there’. Love said: ‘I can be easily found as well: you can find me in the castles and the courts where the princes and the ladies hold their balls’. But Reputation said: ‘Think twice before we part, because it is my nature that once I leave someone, they will never see me again’.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m Doing Melpomene’s Work.

Gotz von Berlichingen – Goethe

Besides his Faust (which is read and hardly performed), most of Goethe’s plays languish. Egmont (for which Beethoven composed the overture), Torquato TassoGotz von BerlichingenIphigenia: these are hardly household names like Oedipus rex or Death of a Salesman. It’s a shame, because I rather like Goethe’s plays. They are simple in expression (usually concerned with freedom), forward driving, full of impetuous characters (including powerful female roles), and full of his wit. They read almost like fairy tales. I would cross the road to see a Goethe play. One which I’ve been meaning to read is Gotz von Berlichingen.

Before the bionic man, there was Gotz, the man with the iron hand. Gotz was based on an actual Gottfried (Gotz) von Berlichingen. He lost his right arm to enemy fire and had a prosthetic hand made up which could hold reins, a shield, or even a quill. Considering that he lived from 1480 to 1562, the technology must have been quite amazing! Gotz was a knight, mercenary, and writer. He left behind an autobiography which Goethe used as source material for the play. Gotz is a popular figure who captures people’s imaginations up to the present day. Sartre used him as a character. And there are various German movies starring Gotz. One came out in 2014 and there were also ones in 1955 and 1979. The 1979 movie is available on YouTube. I watched a few minutes and it looks good!

The Iron Hand of Gotz

The Iron Hand of Gotz

Since the library didn’t have a copy of Gotz, I was able to find a copy online here. It’s a beautiful 1885 translation (unknown translator) published by George Barrie. It’s illustrated by ‘the best German artists’. It is nice. I miss books like that. Usually books are all words. Seeing the pictures reminds me of reading children’s books when I was a child. They should do that more often.

Gotz von Berlichingen Illustrations

Gotz von Berlichingen Illustrations

Götz von Berlichingen: The Play

Yes, I can do umlauts: on the Mac an umlaut is made by pressing option+u. For those of you typing in foreign languages, it’s handy to put the character viewer in the menu bar. It looks like this and you can choose to put it in the title bar by selecting the option in keyboard preferences in system preferences:

Keyboard Viewer

Keyboard Viewer

Once you have the view up, press option, and it will show you all the different characters the keyboard can make!

Back to the play. One of the things I like about Goethe plays is the exuberance of the characters. They are full of living energy. Take this example between Gotz and the grateful monk:

Martin: Let me request your name.

Goetz: Pardon me—Farewell! [Gives his left hand.

Martin: Why do you give the left?—am i unworthy of the knightly right hand?

Goetz: were you the emperor, you must be satisfied with this. My right hand, though not useless in combat, is unresponsive to the grasp of affection. It is one with its mailed gauntlet—You see, it is iron!

Martin: Then art thou Goetz of Berlichingen. I thank thee, Heaven, who hast shown me the man whom princes hate, but to whom the oppressed throng! (He takes his right hand.) Withdraw not this hand: let me kiss it.

Goetz: You must not!

Martin: Let me, let me—Thou hand, more worthy even than the saintly relic through which the most sacred blood has flowed! lifeless instrument, quickened by the noblest spirit’s faith in God.

Goethe is also the master of coming up with little aphorisms such as:

Goetz: Where there is most light the shades are deepest.


Goetz: If your conscience is free, so are you.


Goetz: Not a word more. I am an enemy to long explanations; the deceive either the maker or the hearer, and generally both.

The last one reminds me of excuses people make for coming late to work. If it is a real excuse, it is short and simple (e.g. ‘oh, traffic was bad’). If they are lying, they make long explanations: the traffic was bad and then the car died and then my kid was sick and then my mom called and the dog barfed and on and on…

Now, have you ever heard of someone accusing a writer that he is rhetorical? I’m thinking of Euripides: he’s often accused of being rhetorical. I’ve never really understood what that really means. Looking up ‘rhetorical’ in my new Shorter Oxford English Dictionary yields this:

  • 1 Orig., eloquent, eloquently expressed. Later, expressed in terms to persuade or impress; (freq. derog.) expressed in artificial, insincere, or extravagant language. lME.
    • b Designating a rhythm of prose less regular than metrical. rare. e18.
    Rolling Stone The article lacked description, interpretation and evaluation; in short, rhetorical criticism.

    rhetorical question a question, often implicitly assuming a preferred (usu. negative) answer, asked so as to produce an effect rather than to gain information.

  • 2 Of, pertaining to, or concerned with the art of rhetoric. lME.
    G. Phelps The author’s command of the rhetorical devices.
  • 3 Of a person: apt to use rhetoric. m17.
    J. Dennis The rhetorical author…makes use of his tropes and figures…to cheat us.


I used to always think ‘rhetorical’ meant ‘using rhetoric’ or lots of arguing. But then, characters argue in Aeschylus and Sophocles as well but Aeschylus and Sophocles aren’t accused of being ‘rhetorical’. But after reading more and more Goethe, I think I understand. ‘Rhetorical’ means that you can hear the author arguing a point through a character. You never hear Aeschylus or Sophocles or Shakespeare’s own voice in their plays. At least I don’t. But, reading Euripides, sometimes I get the feeling I hear more Euripides than the characters! It is sort of the same in Goethe, though I mind it less because it seems like we share a similar perspective on a lot of things. Take this passage, for example. Is this Gotz speaking or is the Goethe speaking?

Goetz: To the health of the emperor!

All: Long lie the emperor!

Goetz: Be it our last word when we die! I love him, for our fate is similar; but I am happier than he. To please the princes, he must direct his imperial squadrons against mice, while the rats gnaw his possessions. I know he often wishes himself dead, rather than to be any longer the soul of such a crippled body.

I think I hear a bit of Goethe in there. Egmont in another one of his plays talks a similar way too. So, this is what I learned today: when you hear a writer talking in his own voice, he is being ‘rhetorical’. Believe it or not, it’s taken me over ten years to figure this great mystery out!

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m Doing Melpomene’s Work.



The First Draft, The Second Draft…

Newsflash: the preface is rewritten. Chapter 1 is halfway rewritten. Most of the preface was salvageable. It had to be rearranged and paragraphs added to reflect what was actually in the chapters. But most of it survived. Chapter 1, however, is a different story. It’s being completely rewritten. Not much of the first draft is going to make it into the second draft. The topic is the same: introducing the basic building block of the risk theatre. But that’s about it.

Normally, this would be a bummer. But good thing I recently read Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. It’s a book on writing fiction. But it applies to all sorts of writing. The basic toolkit is the same. The process is also similar. Non-fiction is still creative: you’re presenting the facts in a ‘story’ to persuade the reader. King’s advice came to mind: the first draft is for the writer. The second draft is for the reader. No writer gets it right the first time. It is through the hard work of writing, rewriting, editing, coming up with the second draft, and the third draft that gets things done.

Now, what did King mean when he said that the first draft is for the writer and the second draft for the reader? This is what I think he means. The first draft isn’t really directed towards any sort of audience. It’s a proof of concept. It’s the writer talking with himself. Rambling. Or not even that. It’s the writer standing helpless as his words revolt against his ideas. There’s something of a Frankenstein in writing: once you’ve written it, it has a mind of it’s own. The idea can be beautiful. But the words can be ugly. The concept could seem perfect. But the words can prove the concept wrong. In the first draft, the writer is both active and passive. He is active in the sense that he is the one writing. But passive in the sense as he is helpless to where the story takes him.

If proof of concept takes place after the first draft is done, then the writer can proceed to the second draft. Proof of concept means that the words, verbs, and adjectives sort of square with the original idea. There is a congruence between idea and expression. It may not be perfect (and oftentimes is the opposite of perfect), but it works. If proof of concept has not happened, then, well, sorry to say, there is no need to proceed to the second draft. Time to start again. This has happened to me before. It is quite sad.

In the second draft, the writer is writing for an audience. He writes with the benefit of hindsight: he knows where the story is going to go. He can tailor the second draft so that it makes sense to readers. In all likelihood, the first draft just makes sense to the writer. For King, his ideal reader is his wife Tabitha. That’s who he writes the second draft for. My ideal reader is an old friend from grad school. The book is like a conversation or a chess match between us. A bit of agreement and some competition and disagreement as well. But no matter who the second draft is written for, it’s not written by the author for the author. That’s what first drafts are for.

In writing the second draft, the biggest lesson is that writing is just as much a process of destruction as it is of creation. You have to have the courage to throw out everything that doesn’t fit, no matter how much labour you’ve put into it. It’s like spring cleaning. It’s as difficult as throwing out old family heirlooms. But it must be done. Others do it. Of the really focussed and direct books I’ve read, I shudder to think how much writing, rewriting, and pruning must have taken place to achieve crystal clarity. Judging from my own experience, I would say a lot. Or, more than the writer cared to do. That’s probably where good editors come in… To tell the writer to put more fire into his work or put more of his work into the fire…

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and I’m Doing Melpomene’s Work by putting some of my hard work into the fire.

WordPress: Absolute Beginner’s Guide – Hussey

How easy is it to set up a WordPress blog? With the right guidebook, it’s as easy as pie. My computer skills are limited: familiar with Microsoft Office, can back things up myself, not too familiar with Facebook and LinkedIn, no coding experience. But, with the right guidebook, I was able to set up Doing Melpomene’s Work. The guidebook in question was: WordPress: Absolute Beginner’s Guide by Tris Hussey. Published by Que in 2014. 410 pages. Lots of full colour screenshots. I read it in a week. After reading it, I was able to create the blog in an evening. You can do it too. BTW, as I write this in September 2015, the book is still very much up to date.

Hussey, WordPress: Absolute Beginner's Guide

Hussey, WordPress: Absolute Beginner’s Guide

WordPress: Absolute Beginner’s Guide Back Blurb

More than 70 million websites and blogs run on WordPress: it’s the world’s #1 web development tool. Now, you can make the most of WordPress without becoming a technical expert. WordPress Absolute Beginner’s Guide is the fastest way to get comfortable and productive with WordPress and its most powerful tools. Whether you’re new to WordPress or not, this practical, approachable book will show you how to do exactly what you want, one incredibly clear and easy step at a time – all explained with full-color illustrations.

Leading WordPress instructor Tris Hussey provides step-by-step instructions for every task requiring more than one step. Screenshots and illustrations guide you through complex processes, so you’ll never get lost or confused. You’ll find friendly, patient, crystal-clear coverage that always respects your intelligence, and never patronizes you. Hussey covers all this, and much more:

  • Understanding the mechanics of a WordPress website
  • Installing WordPress yourself, along with the themes and plug-ins you want
  • Using if you don’t want to run WordPress on your own equipment
  • Setting up your site right the first time, to avoid problems later
  • Tweaking themes to make your site look perfect
  • Integrating images and media
  • Making your site mobile-ready
  • Using basic search engine optimization techniques to get your site discovered
  • Troubleshooting, maintaining, and performance-tuning your site

WordPress: Absolute Beginner’s Guide Author Bio

Tris Hussey was Canada’s first professional blogger, and has since become a freelance writer, bestselling author, technologist, and lecturer. His bestselling books on social media and technology include Create Your Own Blog, Using WordPress, and Sams Teach Yourself Fourquare in 10 Minutes. Hussey has taught social media, WordPress, and podcasting at University of British Columbia and produced the WordPress Essentials video collection.

Hmm, I wonder if it should read ‘Tris Hussey is Canada’s first professional blogger’?–he seems like a young guy!

The Book

I had originally planned to review a newer book that just became available at the library: WordPress: The Fast and Easy Way to Learn 3rd ed. by George Plumley. It’s part of the ‘Teach Yourself Visually’ series. The Plumley book is shorter (310 pages) and newer (2015). If you like screenshots on every page, go for the Plumley book. If you like a more detailed explanation, Hussey is the better option: there’s more text. If I were to start all over again, I’d go for the Hussey volume. The Plumley edition is even more basic than the Absolute Beginner’s Guide.

WordPress is pretty simple to use. The jargon is complicated though. WordPress today is like what computers were before Apple made everything simple: it’s not complicated but appears complicated if you’re not familiar with it. Hussey cuts through all the jargon. For me, that was a big help. For example, there’s blogs and blogs. And then, of the .org blogs, you can do install your own web server or you can find a host that offers an easy or one-click installation.

There’s chapters in Hussey’s book on both and but the book is more geared towards the latter. I imagine that’s what most people will be interested in. BTW Doing Melpomene’s Work is a blog hosted by GoDaddy. One-click installation. It’s been running just over a year without any major problems. The only problem was one time I changed pages while one of the plugins was still updating. GoDaddy helped me resolve the problem in about 10 minutes. Not bad.

In addition to chapters on setting up and installing, Hussey also guides you through the process of selecting the plugins you really need. Plugins are little widgets and tools that make your site more user friendly: social media buttons, comment boxes, and things like that. And then there are chapters on attaching media into your blog: video, photo, and sound files.

Usually I like the ‘Missing Manual’ series. But, after looking through the 10 or 15 WordPress beginner books they had at the Vancouver Chapters, I went with Hussey. It had the right blend of screenshots and text. Explanations were easy to follow. The writing was interesting (he relates how things have changed since he started blogging in 2004). If you’re thinking of starting a blog, this is a good place to start doing research.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and thanks to Tris Hussey’s help, I’m Doing Melpomene’s Work.

Shorter Oxford English Dictionary

Now that the rewriting and editing process has started, it was high time for new dictionary. The dictionary that came with the laptop (MacBook Pro running OS 10.10.5) is good, but I wanted another one for a second opinion. I also wanted a reference dictionary to keep spellings and hyphenations consistent. Hyphenation is rapidly evolving: it’s no longer ice-cream but ice cream. And not bumble-bee but bumblebee. Hyphenation is like a double-breasted suit: out of fashion. As the stock dictionary is The New Oxford American Dictionary and I use British spellings, I was also looking for a specifically British dictionary. I thought about getting a physical dictionary, but if a suitable app could be found, that would be preferable. In the 90s and even 2000s the reference dictionaries were always physical. I was hoping that in the 2010s that has changed. It has: the search led to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary

The app was downloaded from the Apple app store for $28.99 CAD. This is the sixth edition, version 2.4, Oxford copyright 2007, updated February 28, 2015. It must be licensed out to WordWebSoftware, who put it together and copyrighted the software part of it in 2011. I wonder why Oxford couldn’t do it in house?

Here’s the online blurb from the Apple App Store:


The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary contains an incredible one-third of the coverage of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary and includes all words in current English from 1700 to the present day, plus the vocabulary of Shakespeare, the Bible and other major works in English from before 1700.

With new coverage of global English, as well as slang, dialect, technical, historical, and literary terms, and rare and obsolete words, the Sixth Edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary contains more than 600,000 words, phrases, and definitions, with coverage of language from the entire English-speaking world, from North America and the UK to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, and the Caribbean. It has been fully updated with 2,500 new words and meanings based on ongoing research at Oxford Dictionaries and the Oxford English Corpus.

This is a mobile dictionary with content from Oxford University Press and advanced search and language tools that have become the staple of quality language apps from MobiSystems.

SEARCH TOOLS – effortlessly find words using a clear, functional, and easy-to-use interface. The integrated search tools activate automatically the moment you start typing:
* Search autocomplete helps find words quickly by displaying predictions as you type
* Keyword lookup allows you to search within compound words and phrases
* An automatic ‘Fuzzy filter’ to correct word spelling, as well as ‘Wild card’ (‘*’ or ‘?’) to replace a letter or entire parts of a word
* Camera search looks up words in the camera viewfinder and displays results

LEARNING TOOLS – engaging features that help you further enhance your vocabulary:
* ‘Favorites’ feature to create custom folders with lists of words from the extensive library
* ‘Recent’ list to help you easily review looked-up words
* ‘Word of the day’ section to help expand your vocabulary every day

Sounds good! Now, you may be asking: why not just get the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary (OED)? Well, is selling the 20 volume set for $1447.04. That’s the 1989 edition. It must weigh a ton. And to get the latest (i.e. what’s happened between 1989 and 2015), you have to get all the supplemental volumes. No thanks. But doesn’t the OED come in an app? Not that I can find. There’s a cd-rom version for $295 USD (about $375 CAD). Most of the links to it from Oxford’s own site are broken. The cd-rom version apparently is designed for Macs with a PowerPC processor. Those are the Macs from 10+ years ago! Not about to drop $375 for a dictionary that probably won’t work and doesn’t appear to be supported. It surprises me that Oxford would even continue to sell such stone age software.

That’s sort of disappointing the unabridged OED isn’t available for download. I was prepared to pay up to $200 for it. You can subscribe to the online version for $295 USD a year. This seems like a ripoff. And you have to be online to use it, which is a turn off. At any rate, the Greater Victoria Public Library subscribes to it and you can access it FOR FREE by logging in with your library card. But you still have to be online and it would be a pain to login each time you wanted to look up a word. Imagine! Sheesh!

So, because the unabridged is too hard to access, the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary is the next best thing. At 600,000 words, the word-count is almost double the 350,000 words in the New Oxford American Dictionary, the dictionary which comes stock with my computer.

Shorter Oxford English Dictionary Versus Stock Dictionary

Let’s go head to head. Here’s works I’ve actually been using whilst writing Paying Melpomene’s Price.

Here’s aporia in the stock dictionary:

aporia |əˈpôrēənoun an irresolvable internal contradiction or logical disjunction in a text, argument, or theory: the celebrated aporia whereby a Cretan declares all Cretans to be liars.• Rhetoric the expression of doubt.ORIGIN mid 16th cent.: via late Latin from Greek, from aporos impassable, from a- without + poros passage.

And here’s the same word in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary:

aporia əˈpɔ:rɪə , əˈpɒrɪə noun. m16.

  • 1Rhetoric. The expression of doubt. m16.
  • 2 A doubtful matter, a perplexing difficulty. l19.
ORIGIN: Late Latin from Greek, from aporos impassable, from a- 10 + poros: see aporetic , -ia 1.
I almost find the stock dictionary better! One nice thing about the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary are the pronunciations: press on a button and it says the word out loud.
The next word is Capitoline. That word is not in the stock dictionary. But here’s the entry from the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary:
Capitoline kəˈpɪtəlʌɪn adjective designating or pertaining to the hill at Rome on which the Capitol stood ; of or pertaining to the Capitol: e17.
Let’s see how they deal with the proper name Melpomene. The stock dictionary has:
Melpomene |melˈpämənēGreek & Roman Mythologythe Muse of tragedy.ORIGIN Greek, literally singer.
The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t have an entry for Melpomene, only ‘melpomenish’:

melpomenish mɛlˈpɒmɪnɪʃ adjective. literary. rare. e19.


ORIGIN: from Greek Melpomenē (lit. ‘singer’) the Muse of tragedy + -ish 1.

Shouldn’t it have Melpomene if the melpomenish entry refers back to the name?

Surprising: the stock dictionary outperforms and the Shorter Oxford in some ways underperforms expectation. It IS, however, nice to have both dictionaries. I’d make the same purchase again.

To sum up: The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary is a good buy at $28.99. The sound files are a big plus for pronunciations. 600,000 words is plenty. Besides proper names, haven’t run across any words it doesn’t have. The interface does the trick. If you’re looking for an authoritative dictionary with British spellings, this is your ticket until the unabridged OED becomes available for download.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and I don’t like to be a spelling slob whilst Doing Melpomene’s Work.

Cooking Soap

Last night was soap making night with assiduous first time soap-maker F! Good Planet on Fort Street sells soap making kits with everything you need. They go for $50 or so. There’s a discount on the kits if you’ve attended their soap making classes which I did last year with LH. Well, the kits have almost everything. They have all the raw materials. You supply: safety goggles, a medium pot, a thermometer that can go between 45-80C, and a whisk (or hand blender). The kit comes with the raw materials (lye, fat, essential oils, and organic colouring). They even have a pair of safety gloves. You can also add exfoliant. We picked up some poppy seeds from Market on Yates for exfoliant. Hemp hearts also work.

The first time I made soap, it was in the back studio of the Good Planet store. Tea tree oil. I’ve been using it since then. It lasts a long time. And my skin likes it much better. Commercial soaps (even the dermatologist recommended ones) leave me itchy. Writers have sensitive skin! Well no, I’ve got eczema so I’m always mindful of skin care. Did you know that some commercial soaps cannot even be labelled ‘soap’? They have so many weird ingredients that the bureau of people with nothing better to do makes the manufacturer’s call them ‘beauty bars’ instead. I’m not into hippy stuff, but I definitely am into home made soap.

How Do You Make Soap?

It’s easy as ABC. Allow about 1-1/2. Measure out water (tap water is fine) into a bowl. Whilst wearing gloves and goggles, slowly add lye to the water and whisk. It starts smoking a little bit as the water rises from room temperature to 70. It will take a little while to cool to 45, at which point you pour in the fat. When the lye/water gets close to 45, heat up the fat in the microwave until it’s at 45. While whisking, slowly pour the fat into the lye/water. Make sure not to get any on exposed skin!

It takes a while to whisk. Maybe 15 minutes. It might go faster with hand blender, but that’s just something else to clean up. And it’s good to give the forearms a workout too! As you whisk it, a chemical reaction takes place between the lye and the fat. It’s like gunpowder or cement: it forms a new substance. In this case, after the process of saponification, the lye is no longer lye and the fat is no longer fat. It’s become soap.

Soap after whisking 10 min

Soap after whisking 10 min

After a 15 minute whisking workout, the consistency (which started out like water) gets to the ‘trace’ stage. That’s when you can lift the whisk up, and the soap dripping off the whisk into the pot stays on the surface for a second before melting back into the solution. For example, you could spell out a letter (briefly) or something like that on the surface of the soap solution.

When it reaches trace stage, put the colouring, essential oils, and exfoliant into the mixture. Then pour it all into the wax lined mold:

Pouring soap into mold

Pouring soap into mold

Wrap it in a towel (to keep it warm to the chemical reaction continues) and in a day or two, you can chop it up into blocks. It’s still quite soft. Cures in three weeks. And gets better and harder with time. If you’ve used the right amount of lye and fat, no expiration date: too much fat and it will go rancid. Too much lye and you will burn your skin! As a safeguard, people usually err on the side of a little more fat than the chemical process demands. If you do this, it will last a long time. I’ve had my other soap for over a year and it looks and smells great.

After a day, voila:

Soap curing in mold

Soap curing in mold

Ready to be chopped into blocks!

Why Make Soap?

It’s good value. Good Planet sells the bars for $6. If you get 25 bars from the box, you save $100 from the individual cost (retail cost of individual bars = $150, kit = $50. If you sourced out the materials individually instead of getting the kit, you could probably gets costs down to $20.

It’s good to make things yourself. There’s a certain satisfaction. It’s going back to the roots of things. You’re in control. You feel like you’ve done something. It makes a good gift.

You learn something. Who knew making soap was this easy? And yes, now I know why Blind Willie Johnson and all those other blind blues players went blind: don’t get the lye in your eyes! Take the precautions and it’s 100% safe. Well 99% safe.

What I Learned Making Soap

Do not throw the pots and whisks right in the dishwasher. The dishwasher soap does not clean soap soap and makes more of a mess. Rinse off the soap before putting everything in the dishwasher.

The lye will discolour cutting boards. No biggie. Now I have a soap making memento!

So: if you haven’t done it, give it a whirl! You’ll be glad you did!

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and I like to stay clean while Doing Melpomene’s Work.

On Writing – Stephen King

Sometimes such a tremendous book comes along you have to lay aside everything else you’re reading. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen Edwin King is one of those books. The last one that had that power was Consilience by Wilson.

King, On Writing Cover Illustration

King, On Writing Cover Illustration

Hmmm, what’s in the cellar?

Assiduous readers will know that I’ve been reading style guides and ‘how-to’ books on writing lately. Big King fan JC in the 90s had persuaded me to try reading ‘The Long Walk’, a short story by King. I liked it a lot more than I thought I would. JC also told me that King had written a book on writing horror. Now that is in line with what I like. It’s always been in the back of my mind to read it. It would be like learning about comedy from Seinfeld: learning from the master.

So I picked up On Writing at the library. But looking at the publication date (2000), this wasn’t the right book! It turns out Danse Macabre is the book that JC had mentioned. But no matter. On Writing fits the bill of what I’m looking for: some tips on how to write for readers.

King, On Writing Back Blurb

‘If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write’.

In 1999, Stephen King began to write about his craft–and his life. By midyear, a widely reported accident jeopardized the survival of both. And in his months of recovery, the link between writing and living became more crucial than ever.

Rarely has a book on writing been so clear, so useful, and so revealing. On Writing begins with a mesmerizing account of King’s childhood and his uncannily early focus on writing to tell a story. A series of vivid memories from adolescence, college, and the stuffing years that led up to his first novel, Carrie, will afford readers a fresh and often very funny perspective on the formation of a writer. King next turns to the basic tools of his trade–how to sharpen and multiply them through use, and how the writer must always have them close at hand. He takes the reader through crucial aspects of the writer’s art and life, offering practical and inspiring advice on everything from plot and character development to work habits and rejection.

Serialized in the New Yorker to vivid acclaim, On Writing culminates with a profoundly moving account of how King’s overwhelming need to write spurred him toward recovery, and brough him back to his life.

Brilliantly structure, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower–and entertain–everyone who reads it.

Wow, the back blurb wasn’t written by King: he hates adverbs. Most of the time.

The Book

The book is part autobiography, part style guide, part analysis of his own novels, and part about living. The best way to put it is that it’s a book on the writing lifestyle: writing and life are intertwined. To prove the point, King even has tips on where to place furniture:

It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you site down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.

Oops, my writing table is smack dab in the middle of the living room…the sign of an apprentice writer!

It’s refreshing to read King after reading the other style guides. King doesn’t like pretentious writing books either. The only one that passes his ‘bullshit rule’ is The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. King advocates simple writing. I love one of his examples:

He came to the river. The river was there.

That’s no less a writer than Hemingway.

Now, every style guide advocates simple writing. But King provides good and bad examples from his works and others. They are entertaining examples. That’s what makes this book good: you want to read it.

But there are places where he taught me something new. For example, he talks about paragraphs, and how to make paragraphs look nice and inviting to readers. The first thing readers do, even before they start reading, is they scan the page: how to the paragraphs look? Easy? Or do they look big and daunting? I had never thought of that. Thanks, King! I will make paragraphs shorter and more evenly sized! Why didn’t I think of that? Or someone else, for that matter?

King advocates honesty. Write about things you know about. That’s what he does. His characters are the types of people he runs across. Even when he was run down, as he was going in and out of consciousness, it struck him that the careless driver was someone straight out of his novels. Even the advice he gives writers is deadly honest: if you can’t write, his book isn’t going to help you. Nothing will. The most his book can do is make a competent writer a good writer. Going from bad to good is out of the question. Going from good to great is also out of the question. That’s what genes are for.

Although King talks about fiction writing, the wisdom is transferable to any sort of writing. Writing to King is just like a toolbox. There may be special tools for fiction writing, but in the fiction toolbox are all the sorts of tools you’d make everything else with too. Yes, he uses the toolbox analogy. His writing toolbox is actually modelled after his uncle’s toolbox. I like this book. Things are real. You can touch them. It’s not one of those writing books filled with linguistic theory. When I read those books I feel like they are bashing me over the head with a hammer.

So why write?

Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.

Damn, I like that! Speaking of getting happy, I am happy to have read this fine book! And now I think I will have to read The Stand somewhere down the line…in another twenty years maybe…

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m getting happy by Doing Melpomene’s Work.