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Archive for March, 2016

A Review of Total Penguins

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 30, 2016

Total Penguins: The Definitive Encyclopedia of the Pittsburgh PenguinsTotal Penguins: The Definitive Encyclopedia of the Pittsburgh Penguins by Rick Buker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is without doubt the most comprehensive, well researched, exhaustive, thorough resource on any subject I have every encountered in my life, in this case, the Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s most impressive. Admittedly, it’s for a niche market. It won’t appeal to that many people and I doubt it’s sold well. But if you’re a Penguins fan, like I am, it’s completely invaluable. I can’t imagine a more important book to add to your library and your knowledge of the team and its history.

The book is a literally hugely proportioned 720 page hardback with stories and a synopsis of each season, beginning with the first expansion season of 1967 through the book’s publication date of 2010. Fascinating stuff. I particularly appreciated learning about the early teams because even though my dad and I went to Penguins games at the Igloo in Pittsburgh in the 1970s, I was so young, I really don’t remember the players and didn’t start to pay attention to them until the early 1980s, by which time the team had been in existence for 15 years. So I missed out on a lot of the team’s early history and players. And with each team’s synopsis, there’s a team roster listing each player’s stats, including games played, goals, assists, points, for goalies, goals against average, etc.

The next section of the book is huge! It’s about 120 pages of player profiles for EVERY player who has ever worn a Penguins uniform, even if it was just for one game. That’s stunning research. That’s simply amazing. It’s got their stats and everything, just like on old time baseball cards you used to collect when you were a kid. It’s freaking awesome! There are simply hundreds of them! I really enjoyed this section, although it took a long time to get through. It was fascinating to see all of the players we’ve had over the years.

The next section was on the coaches and general managers. A little less exciting, yes, but still, we’ve had some good ones over the years and it was exciting to read about Bob Johnson, Herb Brooks (of US Olympic fame), Scotty Bowman (the all time winningest coach in NHL history), Craig Patrick, and other big names who worked for the Pens. And, yes, it was even interesting to read about all of the owners the Pens have had over the years, although it was depressing to see how many loser, broke owners we had until Mario Lemieux bought the team in the late 1990s and ultimately saved the team from bankruptcy, keeping the team in Pittsburgh, where it belonged.

The next section is on the Penguins Hall of Famers. Very fascinating. As of this book’s publication, 17 former Penguins had been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. It’s safe to assume former Pen Jaromir Jagr will make it at some point in the near future and it’s also a safe bet that Sidney Crosby will likely make it down the road too. There are a couple of other current Pens who have the potential to make it if they keep playing to their level of competition. The articles on these players are really well written and quite fascinating and give you an inside look at some special players. Of course, some of the players here are, naturally, Mario Lemieux, Paul Coffey, Ron Francis, Larry Murphy, Joe Mullen, and Bryan Trottier (who played most of his career with the Islanders, truthfully). The next section is interesting, too, though, because it’s the Penguins Hall of Fame, I guess, for those who don’t make the NHL Hall of Fame. These are for those who make a significant career contribution to the club who the league didn’t think merited a lifetime achievement award of the big one. I didn’t know all of these players and it was interesting to read about them. Some include Syl Apps, one of Pittsburgh’s first stars in the early ’70s, Les Blinkley, our first goalie, Anthony Cagglano, our longtime locker room assistant, Jean Pronovost, another early ’70s star, Vincent Lascheid, our organist of 33 years, and Ulf Samuelsson, our “enforcer” on our great early Stanley Cup teams. Very cool.

The next section is a 90 page section called The Stanley Cup Playoffs. It has a synopsis of every playoff series and most games from every year in the Penguins’ existence. It’s beyond in depth! I mean, this goes above and beyond research, above and beyond dedication. This book was only $29. I think this book is easily worth $100. The author spent 17 years — SEVENTEEN YEARS! — putting this together! That’s half a lifetime for some people. That’s the ultimate in dedication. Surely that should be worth more than $29. Anyway, it was fascinating to read about all of our playoff games we’ve had and to relive some of those moments of glory and agony. It started with St. Louis, moved to Philly, then to the Islanders, then I believe the Caps and Rangers became our playoff nemesis’s for a very long time (still are). In our Stanley Cup wins in the early ’90s, we beat Minnesota and Chicago. In this past decade, we’ve had to go at it with the Caps again, the Rangers again, Detroit several times, playing them twice for the Stanley Cup, winning in 2009. Pretty interesting stuff.

The next section is called The Greatest Games and it is the best and worst games as picked by the author and also the games with the best fights, which I really enjoyed since I miss the old days of fighting in the NHL and am often annoyed that fighting in the NHL has largely been curtailed. I found it amazing to note that one year, back in the early ’90s, 11 Pens players had over 100 penalty minutes on the year. This year, our leader has 65. No one will end up with 100 or anywhere close to it. In the old days, it wasn’t uncommon for enforcers to wrack up 300-400 penalty minutes a year. Now, if a player gets even 150 in a year, he’s considered a mega-tough guy, maybe even dirty. What a joke! I’ve read what Gordie Howe and some of the older former hockey players have said about today’s game and while they admit today’s players are very talented, they think they’re babied and coddled and they’re scared to mix it up and the league has gotten scared to let their players get hurt, even though in the old days, players were charged with, get this, MURDER on ice (not that I’m encouraging that, but you get the picture), so that today’s players, while more talented than yesterday’s players, would probably get the shit beaten out of them thoroughly by yesterday’s players, literally. Who cares what the final score is? The oldies would probably still win. Good point, Gordie.

There is also a section on the arenas, which is somewhat interesting, but far less so than the other sections. There’s only so much you can do with that. There also another section on all acquisitions, sales, trades, and drafts, which is mind blowing, considering how many people you’re talking about over such a long period of time. It’s amazing how much research went into this book. There’s an additional section on other Pittsburgh hockey teams and I had no idea about this. There have been many, including an NHL team called the Pittsburgh Pirates back around 1925. But there were Pittsburgh hockey teams back in the late 1800s, believe it or not. Quite possibly the first semi-professional hockey teams in America with the first real hockey rinks. Teams came from all over North America (including Canada) to play the Pittsburgh teams. There was a minor league club called the Pittsburgh Hornets that played there from from 1936-1967 that went 770-705-174 and won three Calder Cups, including in their last year in existence. Apparently the fans there loved that team.

The last section is a very long 150+ page section on statistics, awards, and honors. It has about any statistic you could possibly think of, no matter how obscure. It’s unreal. The awards and honors are what you would expect, of course, but include minor ones as well, ones you’ve never heard of. But the stats just blow you away. The all time All-Star team Selections. The All-Star Game Selections. Individual and team playoff records. All-time playoff goaltending leaders. Shootout wins and losses. By game, date, winning goal, winning goalie, final score and more! Single game records in just about anything. It goes on and on. You could keep learning for months. It’s stunning.

So, this is an amazing book. My only complaint, and this is no fault of the author, is that since it was published in 2010, it’s a bit dated. It only has Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Letang, etc., stats through 2010. It’s 2016. I’d like to see where these players rank now in career standings! Back then Crosby was in the list of top ten scorers. Malkin was not. I know now Crosby is probably in the top five and Malkin is in the top ten easily. I also know that Fleury has surpassed Tom Barasso, my former favorite goalie, as the team’s all time winningest and winningest playoff goalie and I’d like to see that reflected in that stats. But until the publisher decides to come out with a new edition, that won’t happen. And frankly, I don’t see how the publisher could have made any money on this project. I’m sure they lost money. The book simply would have been too costly to make with too little revenue generated to recoup their expenses. So I don’t anticipate another edition any time soon, if ever, which disappoints me. So, that disclaimer said, this remains the greatest resource I have ever seen for anything. Obviously, it’s the greatest resource for anything related to the Pittsburgh Penguins, of course. Obviously, it’s a great hockey resource. There are tons of pictures and numerous stories of other teams, players, and coaches and their interactions with Penguins teams over the years, so even if you’re not the biggest Pens fan in the world, you still *might* find this interesting. Perhaps. But frankly, it’s for a niche market. To me, it was a gift from heaven. To me, this is just about the biggest five star book I can think of. To me, if you’re a Pittsburgh Penguins fan, there is no other book you should read before this one and I can’t recommend this book more strongly.

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A Review of The Road to Hell

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 26, 2016

The Road to Hell (Multiverse, #3)The Road to Hell by David Weber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, what an awesome book! It was so worth the wait. The Road to Hell is the third book in the Multiverse series, a series that began in 2006 by David Weber and Linda Evans. The next book was published in 2008, I believe, and stopped. Word got out that Weber’s collaborator’s health was poor, so the series was put on hold indefinitely. People lost hope for a new entry in the series, which would have been a disappointment because the first two books were so compelling. And now, as of March 1st of this year, Weber and a new collaborator, Joelle Presby, have finally put out the third book. Geez, it’s good. Just what I needed after how badly things had gone for the good guys in the first two books.

The war between magically-gifted Arcana, the “bad” guys, and psionically talented Sharona, the “good” guys, continues to rage. The dragon-borne Arcanan assault across five universes has been halted at Fort Salby by an extremely desperate defense, but at a horrible cost. Prince Janaki, heir to the Sharonian Empire, went knowingly to his death in defense of the empire. It was critical to stop the Arcanans because they were torturing and executing their Sharonian prisoners, especially the “Voices,” or telepath communicators used by the military and civilian commands to communicate from universe to universe. For weeks, no one had known there even WAS an invasion because no one had heard anything from any Voices. They were all dead. Fort Salby stopped that. And I, and probably all of the other readers, wanted vengeance. Demanded it. And we started getting it in this book. ‘Bout damn time too! While the defenders held the pass at Fort Salby, the newly mechanized Sharonian advanced strike force, went through other universes traveling thousands of miles over the course of three months to take back all but one of the universes and their forts, all without alerting the Arcanan army. Sweet.

We also see the sacrifice, it seems, of Janaki’s younger sister, Princess Andrin, now heir of Sharona, to be wed to a Uromathian prince in order to establish the new Sharonian Empire. But no one wants that except for the Uromathian emperor and his sons. Wait until you find out how Andrin and her advisers solve this puzzle!

Another major part of the story line in this book is the trial of the “good” Arcanan, Jasak, a court martial, where he is defended by his new fiancé and his two Sharonian prisoners he has taken in as family members. I was worried about this court martial for three straight books. It’s finally here.

Of course, since it’s part of an ongoing series (I hope it’s ongoing again), the authors had to stop at a critical point where I had to know what happens next, just so I’ll buy the next book that comes out, damn them, but I can’t wait until the next one and it’ll be a long time. I’ll probably reread the series a couple of times before it arrives on the shelves.

I loved this book. It had mystery, intrigue, sci fi/fantasy elements, character development, action, passion, tactics, etc. In short, just what you want out of a book. Very recommended, particularly if you’re reading the series. Five stars.

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A Review of Courageous

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 26, 2016

Courageous (The Lost Fleet, #3)Courageous by Jack Campbell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Courageous, Jack Campbell’s third book in his Lost Fleet series, is decent, but not great. It’s more of the same with a few new wrinkles thrown in to make it interesting enough for you to buy the next one in the series and keep reading. It’s an effective strategy.

In Courageous, the Alliance fleet is still wandering from star system to system, trying to get home by some path the Syndics won’t know or predict. It might seem like a hopeless situation, but the legendary Captain “Black Jack Geary,” who’s been revived out of cyrosleep after his last mission of 100 years ago, is just the hero they need. He has proven himself so unbelievably capable so far that some of his commanders want to help him become Alliance dictator when they get home, while others just want to get rid of him. Geary simply feels like a lonely old man and wants to retire and be left in peace once he returns to the Alliance.

One of the new wrinkles is this: aliens. Or the possibility of aliens. Geary is coming to realize that an unknown alien race may be manipulating both the Alliance and the Syndics through the hypernet gates. And the Syndics may know of this race and may even be in on it! Geary and his intelligence officers are puzzled by some data intercepts they receive. The big Syndicate fleet did not intend to arrive in the system where the Alliance fleet was. They had expected to come out of the hypernet gate in a different system. But somehow, the gate had malfunctioned. But everyone knows the hypernet gates never malfunction. Did some aliens change their course? And why would this alien intelligence move the Syndicate fleet? If they wanted to eliminate Geary’s fleet, how could they possibly monitor things in one system and then shift the Syndicates? Were they capable of instant communications across who knows how many light years? What to do? What’s up?

Campbell is known for his military sci fi and space opera. Not for character development. I’d say that Geary is pretty well developed in this series. As much as Campbell can do. Another character Campbell tries to work with is Captain Desjani, Geary’s beautiful, young fleet commander, who obviously has feelings for him (and he for her), but neither of them will let such emotions get in the way of their duties and professionalism. That said, Geary’s lover, Victoria Rione, a politician, is a mystery. I assume he’s written her to be intentionally mysterious and confusing, but by now, she’s turned into such a game-playing bitch, that any sympathetic feelings I had for her character I once had are long gone. It’s impossible to get to know her, her motivations, her integrity, her honesty, anything at all. Nothing is as it seems with her. I hate her so much. After listening to her bitch and moan page after page, I’m ready for a change and I think the one I want might be coming in a future book in the series, which is good enough to keep me reading in this series.

That said, I have no idea why this is a six book series. The first book is obviously essential, as the last one will be, I assume. The middle four books seem to be filler, just chases and fleet battles in different Syndic systems that all run together, book after book. It gets boring after awhile. Sure, you learn some new things along the way, some of them critical, but you have to search to find them. Otherwise, you’re just skimming. Campbell is obviously well liked by many fans. I’ve come to enjoy some of his books. But as far as military sci fi goes, he’s no David Weber. Not even close. Of course, no one is, so I’ll say Campbell is no Chris Bunch either. Better comparison. Bunch’s Last Legion and Star Risk series’ are similar space operas, in some ways, but have substantially better character development, snappier dialogue, more believable military action, etc. There are other military sci fi writers out there who are also better than Campbell. Nonetheless, this is entertaining. A decent book from a decent series. Not great, perhaps not even good, but not bad. Above average. Three stars. Cautiously recommended as a series.

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Last Issue of RRR

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 20, 2016

It’s the first day of spring and that means the Spring 2016 issue of Ray’s Road Review has been published. Please feel free to drop by and read some fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Additionally, we’re going on indefinite hiatus, which makes us a bit sad. My severely poor health makes it no longer possible for me to hold down my poetry editor duties and Gretchen and Chris are going to pursue their own things for the time being. At some point in the future, we hope to come back and start back up, but that’s probably a ways down the road. I feel proud to have been a part of something that has become such an excellent literary journal and I’d like to thank Chris for giving me the opportunity and Gretchen for being a big part of it.

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A Review of Crusade

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 20, 2016

Crusade (Starfire, #2)Crusade by David Weber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Crusade, written in 1992, years before the Honor and Safehold series’, is David Weber doing what Weber does best. There are tons of excellent space battles which, after all, is his very best skill and talent. There are religious zealots, in this case, human-related aliens, led by bishop and archbishop generals who, as in the Safehold series, are sadistic, genocidal nutjobs. Why Weber decided at some point in his life that bishops and religious leaders would make good and believable generals is beyond me, but after reflection, I guess they don’t because after their initial victories and genocides, they usually seem to get their asses kicked by the “good” guys, so let that be a lesson to you, bad religious guys!

Also, there are “bad” politicians in the book, getting in the way of the military, not letting it do its job, trying to draw it down, get their own glory, fight their own stupid personal battles, generally be idiots, until the patriotic military dude wins the day and lets the military make its own tactical battle decisions, etc., and then and only then does the military start to win. Obviously, religious nuts and politicians are evil.

Oh yes, the Orions are the “good” aliens. The Thebans, the “bad” aliens/former Terrans, escaped the original Terran/Orion war a century or so ago through a wormhole no one has ever come out of and apparently thinks the Orions are still evil and humankind is still at war with them, thus when the Thebes appear out of said wormhole 100 years later, they fire on an Orion ship and the war begins. Of course, they are there to return mankind to Holy Terra’s original state, or what they think it should be according to their “holy” works as written by some freak a long time ago. Since the Terrans are now allied with the Orions, they are now polluted by the Satan Orions and must be eliminated, so off to the concentration camps with them and let’s execute as many as possible. Of course, there are resistance groups, and since they’re “good” Terrans, they’re smart and they outsmart the Thebes and, as is often the case with Weber, one of the high ranking Thebans, in this case the leading admiral, begins to have doubts about their mission and even their origin, as well as their treatment of the prisoners, so he defects to the Terran side, and with his help, the Terrans carry the battle to Thebes and all is well with the universe. Yay rah. No seriously, good book. Great battles, as always with Weber. I am reading a Jack Campbell series (The Lost Fleet) right now and while it’s okay, and while the space battles have great cover blurbs (of course), they can’t even compare at all with Weber. No one can. He’s simply the best. Of course, he has annoying habits that just get worse with each book he publishes: the number of characters, their stupid names and titles, the infodumps, etc. But he can do a battle like no other.

This book is part of an old series. I know this because I’ve read another Terran/Orion book. I don’t know the name of the series though and it’s not listed anywhere in the book where I can find it. I’d be interested in reading more, even though it’s old and not as good as his later series’, simply because these books are very action packed and tension filled and good indicators of his books to come. He even uses names we’ll see in future series’, like Manticore, Saint-Just, etc. I’d love to give this book five stars and I’m tempted to. I’m not sure I shouldn’t. But I’ve read too many five star books by Weber and I’m not sure this is on par with those numerous five star books. This is close, but not quite as good. Or is it? It’s a tough call. You know what? It was a really good book with a lot of drama, a lot of great action, a lot of tension, a lot of suspense, some really great battles. I see no reason not to give it five stars, so I guess I will after all. I can’t justify not giving it five stars. So five it is and recommended. And yes, the book stands on its own. Read it.

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A Review of Fearless

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 19, 2016

Fearless (The Lost Fleet, #2)Fearless by Jack Campbell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fearless is the second book in Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series about Captain Jack Geary who has been revived and recovered from 100 years of cyrosleep just in time to try to save the Alliance fleet from total annihilation by the evil Syndics. The first book in the series, Dauntless, was pretty good, but I gave it only three stars because the weaponry used was so insanely stupid, mainly “grapeshot” and “hell lance spears,” both of which sound unbelievably stupid when compared to similar military sci fi space battle weaponry and also when simply considering simple space battle physics. Nonetheless, many soldiers in the Alliance fleet think “Black Jack Geary” is a hero returned from the dead to save them and the Alliance. To many of these, Geary can do no wrong, and they’re willing to follow him virtually anywhere as he tries to find a way home to the Alliance. Other fleet officers, however, resent Geary’s attempts to instill discipline in a military that has become undisciplined over a century of war. These idiots are causing too much trouble and when they find someone new to follow, Geary faces a mutiny. There’s another sub-plot that’s interesting. Mysterious and often hostile Senator Victoria Rione finally warms up to Geary, to a limited degree, and they become lovers, at least part time, and on her terms. Where this will lead, no one knows. But it’s Geary’s first romantic relationship in over 100 years and as we find out, it’s her first relationship since her much loved husband was thought killed by the Syndics and, as is found out, was captured and now lost in the system. Which really screws her up.

The fleet finds some Alliance prisoners and frees them, one of whom is a famous captain who immediately tries to relieve Geary of command. Geary has to verbally slap him around to put him in his place. This guy is so narcissistic, he thinks he IS the Alliance AND the only person who can possibly save the Alliance. Jerk. Captain Falco is way too over the top and two dimensional, as is many of Campbell’s characters (characters aren’t his strong point), and he ultimately leads a mutiny of 40 ships away from the fleet, fleeing away toward a different system. Geary is incensed, but there’s nothing he can do. He’s convinced they’ll be decimated.

My thoughts about the first book remain for this book. Geary is a great character. His flagship captain, Captain Desjani shows signs of growth and is a wonderful character. Rione remains mysterious and I can’t figure out whether I’m supposed to like her or be annoyed as hell with her. Perhaps both. Most of the ships’ captains are either over the top annoying or forgettable. The tactics are decent, but the weaponry remains unbelievably stupid. I can’t get over how, what, 30th century or later ships use 17th Earth century pirate ship ball bearings for close encounter ship fighting. And the ships, close enough for that type of engagement, don’t get close enough to brush each other and blow each other up. Unthinkable. Beyond stupid. I know I compare most military sci fi writers to David Weber, but he IS the standard and his ships are usually, what, millions of kilometers apart from each other when they engage. The very notion that they could even be close enough to touch each other, let alone doing so without blowing each other to hell, is beyond laughable.

It’s an intriguing story though. It’s good enough for me to keep reading the series. I want to see Geary, a good character, win over the officers and get the fleet home. I want to see how he gets his undermanned, injured fleet home from deep in enemy space while being pursued by a bigger enemy fleet. But meanwhile, I’ve got to put up with these annoyances. Oh well. So, I want to give this book four stars. And I’m tempted to. Yet, because of the weaponry alone, I want to give this book three stars, again, like the first book. So, what should I do? Well, Geary has to overcome this mutiny and win a big battle minus 40 ships, all the while having to deal with a confusing new romantic relationship and the rumors around the fleet surrounding that and the insubordination of various officers. I guess I can try to overlook the stupidity of the author over the weapons due to the decency of the rest of the book. So, a grudging four stars. Somewhat recommended, but only if reading the series. I’m continuing reading. Not too bad, if you can get past the unrealistic crap and concentrate on the story.

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Trigeminal Neuralgia Situation

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 12, 2016

Okay. Update. This post is largely in response to a request from a reader. As many of you might remember, I have Trigeminal Neuralgia. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it’s a neuropathic disease which affects the trigeminal nerve, the largest nerve in the brain, causing unbelievable head and facial pain. Most scientists, doctors, neurologists, health care professionals, and patients widely consider it to be the most painful disease known to mankind. I’m not kidding. Google it. It’s also widely known as “the suicide disease.” I’m not kidding. Google it. Look at the Wikipedia entry. The last time I looked at it, it was there.

Not many people have it. Somewhere between 35,000 and 40,000 Americans have TN. That’s all. That’s why there’s virtually no R&D done on it. There’s no money to be made in it. There are two major types of TN: Type 1 and Type 2, often also referred to as Atypical TN. I have Type 2. It’s extremely rare. Only about 5,000 Americans have it. I’m one of about 5,000 Americans who have this rare, unbelievably painful facial disease.

The pain is hard to describe accurately. I can only under-describe it. Type 1 pain feels like sharp, electric shocks coming in quick, hard jolts through your face in 15, 20, 30, 40 second episodes over and over again for 30, 40 minutes, one hour, three hours, five hours, then maybe a break for awhile, then perhaps days, etc. It’s unrelenting. The electric shocks are supposed to be ungodly. I don’t experience these with Type 2. The pain usually centers in eye sockets, temples, cheeks, and jaws, although sometimes teeth and gums, as well as foreheads are also impacted. Sometimes even the back of the head. There are triggers. Eating, dental work, brushing your hair, wind, rain touching your skin, foul weather, anything brushing your skin, occasionally stress, it can be just about anything. Sometimes there’s no trigger.

Type 2 is different and a lot harder to diagnose. Instead of a series of short, sharp, insanely painful attacks, Type 2 people experience nonstop, usually all day, unrelenting dull, aching, yet also sharp (if that even makes sense), intense, otherworldly pain centering in similar locations. Allegedly, the pain is slightly less severe, but because it lasts virtually all day, every day, often for days, and in my case, weeks and months and even years, every day, I would assert that in some cases, such as mine, it’s much, much worse. You get no break. It’s horrible. It’s incapacitating. The first year I had it, beginning in the summer of 2010, through the summer of 2011, I spent most of my afternoons and evenings in bed, unable to function, able only to do things in the mornings when my pain was less intense, and even though I’ve not always been bedfast this whole time, I still schedule all of my appointments for early in the mornings and run all of my errands early in the mornings when I am able to, because by my early lunch, I’m usually in a great deal of pain and by after lunch and for the rest of the day, am unable to function as well as I would like, sometimes not at all.

There are treatments, medications, and some temporary surgeries, but only one possible cure, through a risky brain surgery. There aren’t any medications specifically for TN. There’s no money to be made in developing a medication for something that so few people have, so none of the companies have done so. Thus, neurologists and pain management specialists give out other types of medications for pain. The most commonly prescribed medication is Tegrotol, which I’m allergic to. The second one is Neurontin, which did nothing for me. Most TN patients are on incredibly high doses, usually well past the daily maximum recommended doses. Often they don’t get pain relief. Lyrica is another popular medication. There are many others. Sometimes people take Klonpin. I’ve taken that for years, but it does nothing for my pain. Two I take that have helped are Keppra and Topamax. After I started taking them together, I didn’t get a TN attack for some months and that was nice. Of course, there are often side effects and with those two, I had severe drowsiness for two months and fell asleep in my chair every morning and every night at 7:30 pm. It was annoying. Of course, most people with TN have extremely severe pain and these types of anti-seizure and anti-depressant medications only do so much. Sometimes people with 10 out of 10 on a 1-10 pain scale need something stronger. Unfortunately, as I’ve learned with some research, people with Type 1 are not helped with narcotics. People with Type 2 are. I have been taking narcotics since 2010. They used to help quite a bit. However, my pain levels increased threefold over a year and a half ago, and they ceased working like they used to and I had to start taking more and more for less than half the aid they once provided. This was annoying, in part because I didn’t even like taking them in the first place. Indeed, the first thing I normally do is take over the counter medications. I don’t even know why. They’re useless. I just don’t like to jump straight to the heavy stuff. I start with Advil, Tylenol, etc. Then move on to Excedrin Tension and Advil Migraine. Then I go to the prescription non-narcotics, such as Treximet, which used to help, and Sumatriptan and Naproxen, which has torn my stomach to shreds. Then it’s on to the heavy stuff. However, a couple of months ago, I had to bite the bullet and after five and a half years, admit with the help of four doctors and two pharmacists that I had reached my tolerance level and it was time to move up to something more powerful. When my pain management specialist gave me my prescription, I was horrified, because it was for a medication I’ve always heard about and had always heard negative things about and I’ve always heard it’s risky as hell to take this and indeed, when I did research, there were all sorts of warnings everywhere about it. I talked to another doctor and to two of my pharmacists and they assured me they thought it would be safe and good for me and would help me, so I got it filled and pondered things and several days later, started taking it, wondering what the hell would happen. Well, I’m still here. And it has helped. Some. I was hoping it would eliminate my pain, but it has not. I did further research and talked to my doctor and found out, it will not. My doctor told me their goal was to minimize my pain and restore my quality of life. Well, it’s definitely cut my pain, some of the time, perhaps even a lot of the time, certainly in the mornings, so that’s good. I’m also taking a second narcotic for “breakthrough pain” when needed, which is more often than I would prefer, but I’m still getting significant pain episodes, so it’s necessary. But less often than before.

So, what kind of procedures have I had and what are available? Well, I started out having Gasserian Ganglion Blocks. You have to be put out for those. They involve putting a needle through your cheek up through your mouth to your middle cranial cavity housing your V2 trigeminal nerve “tendril” (that’s what I call them) — there are three on each side, giving you sensations in three quadrants of your face on each side —  and anesthetizing the end of the nerve. They have to put you out because if you felt the needle connecting with that nerve end, the screaming would unnerve the entire hospital. Allegedly. I’ve had quite a few over the past five years now. Many don’t work at all. Not even for a day. Total waste of time and money. A couple have worked for several months. One worked for a year, so that was a good investment.

I’ve also had Botox injections, which haven’t helped me much. The longest any have helped my pain levels have been two weeks, reducing my pain about 50%. They’re supposed to help for 2-4 months, reducing your pain 100%. There are also steroid injections. Lately, I’ve been having Trigeminal Nerve Blocks, which I don’t think I’m reacting well to. With the last one I had, last week, I had significantly bad pain afterwards for three days. In fact, the third day afterwards was one of the most painful days of my life. It was absolute hell. If it were possible to rate pain over 10 out of a 1-10 scale, this would have been perhaps a 17. I couldn’t move, think, function, could barely talk, couldn’t read, nothing. None of my pain medications helped. I wanted to die. I actually thought about killing myself. Twice. That’s the first time in a very long time I’ve thought about that. It was horrific.

There are more major surgeries. There are four long term temporary surgeries, including Gamma Knife and Radiofrequency Ablation. I’m thinking of having a Balloon Compression surgery, which is long overdue. I finally made an appointment this week with a strongly recommended Nashville neurologist for next month to discuss this and other surgical options. Why Nashville? There’s only one group of neurosurgeons in Chattanooga and they’re idiots. I met with one last year for this same purpose. I told him my situation and he had never heard of TN Type 2. I was stunned. He didn’t know what it was. I explained it to him. He didn’t believe me. I had to provide documented proof. It’s his fucking field! I know it’s rare and only 5,000 people in the country have it, but if specialists in this field don’t even know of it, you’re pretty screwed. Indeed, I’ve been trying to find help elsewhere for sometime now. Last November, I went to Vanderbilt’s Neurology Headache Clinic. It was a waste of time. They didn’t do anything that my current, local neurologist wasn’t doing. I was turned down by the Mayo Clinic last month. I have no idea why. I’ve decided not to apply to Johns Hopkins. I don’t like their program. The Cleveland Clinic doesn’t even treat TN! Shit. What do you have to do? The one major, biggie surgery is called an MVD. It’s a brain surgery that involves cutting open the back of your skull, going in and rearranging the arteries around the trigeminal nerve and anything else that might be touching it and aggravating it, and if necessary, simply cutting it in half, which is a bit extreme. It used to take a long time to recover from, although that process and time length has really improved. It’s a risky surgery though. It used to be slightly lethal and some neurosurgeons were reluctant to do it. It still can be lethal. A little fewer than 0.05% of people (I think — could be a little wrong with that figure…) undergoing it die on the table. But most people consider it a worthwhile risk. Apparently, the more experienced the neurosurgeon, the better your chances of survival, so it’s in your best interest to find someone good. People travel all over the country to find someone good.

And why has my pain increased threefold? Well, over a year ago, I started getting extreme back pain out of nowhere. Since then I’ve been to my orthopedist and rheumatologist umpteen times, as well as physical therapy for six months, which did nothing at all. After getting all sorts of x-rays and other images and tests and whatnot, I found that I have severe curviture of the spine, spinal stenosis, massive amounts of osteo-arthitis throughout my entire body, worst of all in my hands and lower back, severe disc degeneration in my lower back, so much so that it’s bone on bone in the bottom of my spine and discs above that aren’t much better. I also have severe nerve damage in my lower back and a broken tailbone, as well as pain in my hips and legs stemming from my spinal and disc problems. I wrote a blog post about some of this not too long ago: CT Myleogram and Emergency Procedure. Additionally, about a year and a half ago, I started getting a new and different type of head pain. It was bilateral — TN is almost always unilateral — and felt different. It also wasn’t responsive to any of my procedures and not really to any of my medications, except occasionally to my narcotics. My then-new neurologist diagnosed me with three new head pain disorders: tension headaches, severe migraines, and cluster headaches. For those of you who don’t know what cluster headaches are, many scientists and doctors also feel that cluster headaches, like Trigeminal Neuralgia, are the most painful disorder known to mankind and they are also called “the suicide disease” by some. I don’t know how you reconcile the two, but in any case, I allegedly have both, so I’m totally screwed. However, my wife and I feel there’s a FIFTH undiagnosed, untreated head pain disorder that remains undiscovered that we’re really frustrated about that we feel my doctors aren’t really trying to find. Thus the desire to go out of town. The reason is, I’ve been given a ton of old and new, even experimental, migraine and headache medications and these headaches respond to absolutely none. Not one. They’re responded to no procedure. They’ve responded to nothing. At least the clusters often respond to TN treatments. So in our opinions, this can’t be a migraine. So what is it? So, Mom keeps asking when I’m going to have brain surgery. Like it’s nothing. Well, there are two reasons. First, Type 2s don’t respond nearly as well to any surgery, especially MVD. They just don’t and no one knows why. Second, even if I did respond well to an incredibly expensive, risky surgery and it eliminated my TN pain, I would still have my daily 10 level severe head pain and have to take my same pain medications and it would be pointless. Until this other head pain is diagnosed properly and treated, I see no point.

Surgeries. My back doctors are recommending back surgery to repair my nerve damage, a possible spinal fusion, surgery to remove my tailbone (which I refuse to have), and down the road, two probable hip replacement surgeries. Great. I already mentioned the balloon compression surgery for my head.

Get this. In the past three months, I’ve already had SEVEN minor surgical procedures! Seven. I’ve had four in the past three weeks alone. One was an emergency procedure for a procedure that went bad. I’ve had four procedures that have gone into my spine in the past two months. I can’t tell you how exhausted I am. I’m so tired out by all of these procedures, I don’t want to have another in a long damn time. But I probably will. That’s just how things work out.

I have Trigeminal Neuralgia Type 2. I have a shitload of other problems to contend with right now too. All seem and probably are serious. All are relatively debilitating in one form or another. I haven’t been able to work in over five years. I miss working in an office, doing something productive, interacting with co-workers. I miss having a social life. I feel badly that I can’t take Gretchen out on the town like I’d like to. I feel like I’m screwing her over badly. But she’s got a really good attitude and she’s incredibly supportive and I really couldn’t make it without her. She lets me talk and she listens. She offers input when I ask for it. She takes care of me. It’s damned nice of her. That’s true love. I’m very lucky to have her.

If you ever meet anyone with TN, I hope that this blog post will have helped you to understand their situation to a certain degree. I hope you will understand their feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. I hope you will be supportive. I hope you will say a kind word to them. Meanwhile, thanks for reading this, if you did. And have a good weekend.

 

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A Review of Dauntless

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 11, 2016

Dauntless (The Lost Fleet, #1)Dauntless by Jack Campbell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Interesting first book to a new series. Dauntless is about one John “Black Jack” Geary, a commander of a small fleet escorting an Alliance convoy attacked by Syndicate ships, and holding them off, allowing the convoy to escape as his ship is destroyed and he is killed. He is memorialized in the history books, everyone in the Alliance knows who he was, and many people think it’s possible Black Jack will return to save the Alliance in time of great need one day.

It’s been one hundred years. An Alliance fleet traveling in Syndicate space happens upon an old Alliance escape pod and find Geary very much alive after all this time, frozen in cryosleep. He is awakened, rejoins the fleet as it attacks the home of the Syndicate worlds and finds itself drawn into a trap. The admiral and his officers are brought to the Syndicate ship to discuss potential surrender, are betrayed and slaughtered in full view of everyone. However, before the admiral left his ship, he gave command of the fleet to Geary, so it’s up to Geary to help the Alliance fleet escape from the Syndicate worlds and make its way home through enemy territory with an enemy fleet hot on its tail.

Meanwhile, Geary feels bewildered to learn that not only is he alive, but that his one famous deed was actually exaggerated and now he’s a hero of legend. All he really feels like doing is grieving over the loved ones he lost a century ago. But he has no choice. Duty calls.

What makes this a particularly hard task is the Alliance has changed unbelievably since Geary was “alive.” He doesn’t even recognize it anymore. Yes, the technology has advanced, as one would expect it to, but the military no longer has skills or experience, due to constant fighting, and they no longer observe hierarchy. Instead of following commanding officers’ orders, they discuss and vote on whether to do so or not. This infuriates Geary and he works to eliminate this practice immediately. This doesn’t go over well with everyone and he gains enemies immediately, legend or not.

Several observations. Some of the characters were interesting. I liked Dauntless’s captain, Captain Desjani. She turned out to be incredibly loyal to Geary and showed some flexibility and spunk. I also thought the character, Co-President Rione, showed potential as Geary’s possible equal in future books in the series. She is an interesting mystery, in any event.

However, the world building in this book is absolutely horrible! All of the Alliance and Syndicate worlds are dull and unremarkable. Nothing stands out. They have no distinct cultures or peoples. They have nothing really to offer the reader. They’re just pieces of rock floating in space. Why name them anything at all? Why pretend they’re even there? Why not name them “R-22-387-WW?” Campbell could and should have done a much better job with the various worlds.

Also, I have a serious issue with the ships’ weapons. Most warships in sci fi novels have variations of lasers, grazers, missiles, plasma weapons, etc. Most space battles are fought kilometers apart, usually hundreds, thousands, or in David Weber’s case, even millions of kilometers apart. Not here. The warships here use some type of grapeshot. I’m not joking. Grapeshot, as in something out of Earth’s 1700s pirate cannons used as anti-personnel shredders, used by ships up close to each other, usually just yards apart. Why in the hell would spaceships be yards apart??? That’s insane! If they collided, and they undoubtedly would, they’d all blow themselves to hell. It’s literally unthinkable they would use such a close quarters weapon in space, and ball bearings at that. Seriously? Are you freaking kidding me? What am I, 12? Do you seriously expect me to believe that a 30th century (for example) warship’s hull could possibly be penetrated by ball bearings? Another weapon these warships use are some form of electronic “lances.” Again, a close quarters weapon that ships use to touch each other up close and personal to cause damage to other ships. Okay, sorry for the language, but this is called for – are you fucking kidding me??? That’s fucking stupid as hell! I’ve never heard of more stupid sci fi weapons in my entire life. If spaceships got that close in a space battle, they’d most certainly collide at the speed they’d be traveling and both ships, and probably others around them, would all be blown to hell. I think I read somewhere that Campbell’s a military vet. I don’t know if that’s true, but if so, he surely didn’t rise very high in the ranks, because he’s definitely not smart enough to do so. He can write a decent, not great, battle scene. Can’t compete at all with Weber, Chris Bunch, many of the others, but he’s okay, but he really is clueless when it comes to inventing realistic sci fi space weaponry.

Final point. The religion of the Alliance is the worship of one’s ancestors. Interesting.

This wasn’t a bad book. It had some interesting ideas, an interesting premise, a good protagonist in Geary, possibilities for an interesting series, a few decent characters, and some good tension. But there was some extended moralizing that became annoying. The world building was lacking. The fact that the Alliance military had essentially disintegrated in 100 years seemed a little stretched. The weapons were completely laughable to the point of insulting the reader and drops the book’s rating at least one star, minimum. This is probably a good four star book that I’m giving three stars to because of the ridiculous weapons issue. However, it’s good enough for me to pick up the second book in the series and read it, which I’ve done. Thus, cautiously recommended, even at three stars.

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A Review of Canby’s Legion

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 6, 2016

Canby's LegionCanby’s Legion by Bill Baldwin
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This has to be one of the most stupid books, if not THE most stupid book, I have ever read! Yet call me stupid, because I read the whole thing. And I have stopped reading dozens of books, dozens, even hundreds of pages, through because they were too stupid to continue, so I’m not sure why I continued reading this one even though I knew it was unbelievably bad. I guess parts of it, perhaps about 10%, were intriguing enough to make me want to find out what happened at the end. Isn’t that sad? I can’t believe I let the author suck me in that much, just by a mere 10% of the book. It was so bad, and I still read it. That says something sad about me.

A gigantic war was fought 10 years ago between Earth, the Imperials, and the Volpato Confederation, whom Earth crushed. Some of the “bad” Kirskians got away in the end, led by one Kobir, and they became mercenaries. Meanwhile, things on Earth became unbelievably corrupt and degenerate and society disintegrated. The military was largely disbanded and society was divided up between Nobles, Politicians, Merchants, vets drawing stipends and barely making it, citizens holding down jobs that barely paid enough to live on, living in public housing and eating in soup kitchens, and those on the Dole, barely alive, many dying on the streets. The Nobles and the Politicians ran things. The fleet was largely retired since there was peace in the galaxy. Gordan Canby, hero of the war, is a retired starship commander living on his stipend, barely making it, and wishing he could make it out into space again, he and his ex-colleagues. This is where the story begins.

The book is bad, in part, because the characters are such incredible stereotypes, they are virtually cartoons. The Minister of the Admiralty, David Lotember, in charge of the fleet, HATES the vets with a passion unsurpassed, for no good reason. He despises them and wants to rid the remaining military of the remaining vets, so institutes a purge, replacing all of the veteran officers with newly trained, highly educated, nobly born and bred, well off sons and daughters of Nobles and Politicians to command the new starships. They go off into space in search of pirates and promptly get their asses handed to them, firstly by the Kirskians. They look like incompetent fools. Why? Hard to know, other than they have NO experience to fall back on. Dolts! Lotember is so stark raving mad that when he gets angry, which is just about every page he appears on, or frustrated or humiliated or suffers any negative emotion or experience, he immediately rapes a subordinate and we get to read through the beginnings of this, over and over and over again. So too, Sadir, First Earl of Renaldo, Lotember’s boss, an incredibly obese glutton with a tremendous appetite for bisexual escapades with anyone who moves in private or public situations, who eats constantly, even while defecating, which we get to enjoy viewing while reading this book, and involves himself in orgies. Since he’s also a slaver and Kobir finds out, Kobir blackmails him and Renaldo wants him dead, so he insists Lotember send his fleet out after him and that accomplishes nothing. When Rendaldo gets angry or upset, he too has to rape the person nearest him. Oh joy! Really nice reading, I’ve got to say. This is so over the top, it’s not even funny. And don’t even get me started on the emperor, who literally reclines eating grapes with servants. Stereotype much, Baldwin?

Meanwhile, Canby is talked into cashing in his stipend and buying four old, but good, warships and talking the old gang into becoming mercenaries with him. Anything is better than the shit they have to put up with with the political system on Earth and they have to get back out into space. They get a politic supporter, secretly, a man running for prime minister, who donates funds and supplies for the cause. However, there’s something about him and it’s rather easy to figure out early on, just as it’s pretty easy to figure out pretty much everything in this book early on. For instance, Canby, the protagonist/hero is a dunce. He has a great ex-military woman who joins his “Legion,” and suggests they no longer remain an “item,” even though they’re still interested, just to avoid bad appearances. So he becomes involved with a mysterious hottie down on her luck, living with her boy, in the slums in DC. She works a day job and a night job but sometimes finds the time to go out with him. She’s fairly secretive about her work, but eventually opens up and their relationship becomes romantic and he thinks he falls in love. Anyone with a brain can figure out early on she’s a hooker, but he’s too damn stupid to even consider that. When he goes to DC without her knowing it in advance and sees her on a street corner with some guy in a limo and follows them to a seedy motel, where he gets a viewing key and can literally see them having sex, he goes outside and throws up and flees. Um, reality check? Geez, man, wake up!

Finally, they are ready to go, do their first job well, get some PR, start doing some other jobs, and then the biggie. His STILL-girlfriend’s Noble client – Renaldo – wants to hire Canby to kill Kobir and the Kirskians, but wants to do so anonymously through Cynthia. She talks Canby into it, but Renaldo also talks her into getting his operational plans from him, which he very stupidly gives her – idiot much? Renaldo immediately goes to Lotember and tells him that mercenaries are going to be destroying these other mercenaries here and there on this date and the fleet needs to go attack the winning mercenaries when they have won to eliminate them. The attack occurs, the fleet shows up and attacks both prematurely because they are stupid children fresh out of college with no experience, and Canby and the Kirskians band together to attack the Imperials and destroy some of their battlecruisers and send them fleeing. They eventually attack Renaldo’s residence and steal his greatest and most priceless treasure, which they sell to the emperor through a fence for three times what Renaldo paid for it and it makes them all insanely rich. Yay. Rah. Big whoop. Cynthia is actually made Minister of the Admiralty for betraying Camby to Renaldo three times, because he is so trusting and so unbelievably stupid when anyone with a brain can see what’s going to happen. Even Kobir can see it. In fact, Kobir is the smartest one in the book, the “bad” barbarian.

The Kirskians, the bad guys, are the most polite, tightly run unit, effective, moral, decent group of mercenaries/people in the book. Canby, a fucking idiot, and the Legion come in second. They’ve got good hearts, at least. The Earth’s leaders are corrupt and depraved unlike anything the world has ever seen. The military is good, at least as far as the vets go. The new military being recruited out of college, is comprised of inexperienced idiots. The rest of the civilians are simply sheep to be ignored. The lesson here is that the author is obviously pro-military, except when it comes to service academies or ROTC programs, very anti-politician, anti-elitism, very right wing, regards regular civilians as irrelevant people to be ignored, military vets are the only intelligent people with integrity, etc. The military vets are so very “good” and the Earth’s leaders so very “bad” and corrupt and depraved that, again, it makes the characters completely one dimensional, stereotyped, and cartoonish. The book is largely predictable, the “battle” scenes, if you can call them that, are pathetic, particularly if you compare them to other military sci fi novelists like David Weber, Chris Bunch, and John Ringo, etc. This guy simply can’t write. And one more shining example of the utter stupidity of this book. The ships. They are starships/warships. They fly in outer space, like ships do in every other sci fi novel. They are technologically advanced. They have technologically advanced weaponry. They have technologically advanced navigation abilities. They FLY in outer space. Toward the latter stages of the book, they are made into intergalactic ships, so they are capable of traveling to other galaxies. Yet the only method of lifting off, landing, transporting, and storing any of these ships on any planet by any nationality or race is unbelievable. They are actual ships. That’s right. They need water. They take off and land in oceans and lakes. They maneuver and travel in water. They are docked in water. They are stored in water, at docks. OMG. How archaic is that? I’ve never seen anything so unbelievably stupid in a sci fi novel in my life! You’re telling me you can construct warships/spaceships that are technologically advanced enough to fight space battles and to travel to other galaxies, but the only way you can take off and land on a planet is to taxi and lift off from an ocean or lake? Are you fucking INSANE??? Most sci fi writers usually have off planet docking facilities for larger ships and you take pinaces or landers or smaller ships of some sort to the planet’s surface. Barring that, most ships have landing gear so they can land on the surface of the planet, ie the ground. Water? That’s insane! What is this, the 1700s in space?

This is how boneheaded Bill Baldwin is. I could go on with more examples, such as the weaponry in his spaceships, his countless threats that are never followed through on throughout the book, the absolute idiocy of virtually all of the characters except Kobir, the fact that the author at times seems to be mirroring Weber’s style and ideas in some ways, etc. But I won’t. Suffice it to say, this is an unbelievably bad book. This is a one star book and most definitely not recommended.

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Crosby, Malkin help Pens frustrate Lundqvist, Rangers

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 4, 2016

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist each scored in the final 2:13 of the second period, leading the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 4-1 victory over the New York Rangers on Thursday night.

 

Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 27 shots for the Penguins and is one away from becoming the 20th goalie in NHL history to reach 350 wins.”

That’s seriously impressive. Way to go, Flower! One of my favorite goalies of all time, and my favorite Penguins goalie ever. He certainly deserves the honor.

 

It’s great to see our top four goal scorers all score goals in the same game. They haven’t all been on the same page on the same night all season long and it’s been painful some nights. Last night really helped. It showed what we could have been doing, and should have been doing, all season long.

Go Pens!

 

Source: Crosby, Malkin help Pens frustrate Lundqvist, Rangers

 

 

 

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