Big Tobacco – Little Minds (an e-cig story)

Last year the FDA put out a report about how e-cigarettes (personal vaporizers) are toxic and dangerous. Their unbiased tests and fair results reflect a huge cross-section of – oh who am I kidding. They tested two brands that are generally regarded as crap and found faint traces of a couple of potentially harmful substances in some of the tested units. They failed to mention that these substances are found in much higher concentrations in real cigarettes and that the detected amounts on the tested units are well under the accepted “safe” levels. I have no proof and I’m not really a conspiracy theorist but the spin they put on it reeks like last week’s cigarette butts. Without proof, however, I will not speculate on whether or not Big Tobacco had fingers in this cookie jar.

Let’s go over a few things about e-cigs to clear the air and set a few things straight. These personal vaporizer devices typically come in either a two or three piece unit. Both styles have a battery which makes up the majority of the length or bulk of the device. You attach to that either a two piece atomizer/cartridge combo or a one piece cartomizer (which contains both of those in a single unit). The cartridge holds the liquid that fuels the atomizer which creates a vapor that resembles traditional cigarette (or ‘analog’) smoke. Thus this device mimics traditional smoking but without the poison cocktail of chemicals and carcinogens found in traditional smoking.

Well what is this liquid? It’s a base consisting of either vegetable glycerin (VG) or propylene glycol (PG). Now don’t let that scare you. Yes, PG is used in antifreeze…and many other things including food. It is a thickening agent and approved for human consumption by the FDA. I mention this because there was spin on some news reports about how the e-liquid is evil and punches kittens in the face when nobody is looking all because it contains an ingredient found in antifreeze. You know what else is in antifreeze? Water. That’s safe to consume, isn’t it? I wouldn’t suggest drinking antifreeze. But it does contain (besides toxic chemicals) ingredients deemed safe for humans to ingest. Please don’t let FUD fool you. Don’t let Mother Culture steer you to stupidity by believing everything that she and the tobacco companies say. Do a little research as I have done.

Now where was I? Oh yes, the e-liquid ingredients. So you have VG or PG or maybe even a mix of the two. That’s about 80% of the liquid right there if not more. You may have some distilled water for adjusting the consistency as well. Oh, I think that’s in antifreeze…hrm. Anyway, there’s that and a food grade flavoring or mixture of flavorings. That’s it. If you get a liquid containing nicotine then the PG or VG was probably pre-mixed with the nicotine and then blended with some non-nicotine PG or VG for lowering the overall percentage of concentration. Then a few drops of a flavor and there you have it. Let’s compare that with the chemical compounds found in cigarettes. I believe at last test they discovered over 4000 chemical in an analog, many of which are poisonous or carcinogens (cancer-causing). Kind of makes you think, doesn’t it?

So where does that put us? We have a battery, the atomizer, then this liquid filled cartridge. Put them together and get the look and feel of smoking without all of the nasty side effects. You don’t smell like a mule’s ass and you can actually smell and taste foods. There’s no second-hand smoke because there is no smoke. There’s nothing burning so you won’t have ashes or butts or burn marks anywhere. It’s only about 20% of the cost of analogs after you get past the initial investment for your PV equipment. I wonder why big tobacco is campaigning so hard to get the FDA to ban them? It just doesn’t make sense, does it? You’d think they would decide their market is declining and they would look to expand into this new realm. Do you have any idea how easy it would be to convince a life-long Camel smoker that if he wants to get away from all that he should get the Camel e-cigarette? And since you have to replace batteries and atomizers and buy new cartridges and/or e-liquid to refill…you would have a constant revenue stream from it.
But no, they want the FDA to crush the fledgling market.

Now I do concede that there hasn’t been enough independent testing done on the devices and having them completely unregulated means the quality of the products we can currently get may be nightmarish. So yes, there should be oversight. But there should not be banning nor should it be required to get a prescription to have one. That’s just dumb. They’re proposing more strict standards for the e-cigarette which can be used completely without nicotine than the standards set forth for nicotine patches and gum. Really? Are all politicians really that bought and paid for by Corporate America? Of course they are and I’d be surprised if there was an honest fiber in any one of those smug self-serving asses on Capital Hill. But I’m a cynic…too bad my views are more right than wrong.

Getting back to the point, people that get into “vaping”, the term used for people that enjoy PV’s, often find that they want an analog less and less. Usually this moves very quickly to “I think they taste nasty so I put them down altogether” realm. So while they haven’t been clinically tested as a smoking cessation device, they more often than not end up being the tool with which people quit. I mean, if you can get your “nic fix” without all that other crap that comes with burning leaves, why wouldn’t you?

And I would be doing a disservice if I failed to mention all of the medical professionals that express great concern over these devices being marketed to kids “as a gateway to smoking real cigarettes”. Get your heads out of Big Tobacco’s ass. Yes, I concede that the oversight and regulation of PV sales should include the same age restrictions as analogs. I don’t want my daughter on these things. But how do you justify that these would be a gateway to moving into the realm of doing something that tastes like crap, smells worse, and gives you all sorts of health problems? I even heard one say that because the juices come in fruit and candy-like flavors that there was no way such a thing could be marketed at adults. Sir, I respectfully call bullshit. I have a hookah. I am 35 years old. I enjoy my blueberry and cappuccino flavored hookah tobacco (shisha). I also enjoy my flavored juices for my e-cigarette. I’m not addicted to the awful flavor of Camel Lights, I’m addicted to the physical act of smoking and to the nicotine. I get to satisfy my addiction with something far more pleasurable to ingest with far less harm to my body and health. So get off my lawn.

To the FDA I say go forth and come up with fair legislation to regulate the manufacture and sale of PV products. Make sure there is a level of consistent quality in what we purchase. Make sure that our children cannot get their hands on these things easily (for nobody can stop someone determined enough). Do your health studies and effects studies. But do this without lining your pockets from Big Tobacco. If you let them get a word in, then you are likely going to be condemning Americans to a choice between proven failures like nicotine gum and inhalers or going back to the single most deadly legal substance in our country…cigarettes. Stop the spin. We know it’s not healthy because nicotine itself is a poison. But stop demonizing it as being worse that real cigarettes because it just ain’t so.

An e-Cigarette Story

I have a 13 year old daughter. She has been on my case for years for me to quit smoking. Now understand that I started smoking Marlboro Reds when I was 15. I’m 35 now and over the years my list of brands includes Marlboro Reds and Lights, Camel Filters, Wides, Lights, and No. 9’s, Vantage Ultra-Lights, Newport, and a host of others. I also like the occasional cigar and until I lost my pipe when I moved into my current house, I enjoyed the occasional puff on some cherry tobacco. I like my nicotine. I like blowing the smoke. I like the feeling of it as I inhale. Heck, I even own a hookah and will spend the 20 minutes setting it up just to have some of my blueberry shisha (no dummy…that’s tobacco designed for use in a hookah).

So to say I’m a bit reluctant to give up my smoking might be an understatement. Oh I’ve tried over the years. I’ve been able to put them down for a little while but when the stress gets up, I really really really want to have that little cylinder of death between my fingers and smoke billowing from me as I exhale. So I always end up going back to them. I know it makes me smell like an old ashtray and I know it does terrible things to my body. I don’t care because I have an addiction. It’s probably more to the act of smoking than to the actual nicotine but it’s no less powerful in my case.

You may be wondering where this is going. Simple. My mother recently had a heart-attack and she’s been a smoker all her life. She’s unapologetic about it. After the attack, her doctor told her that she cannot smoke if she intends to remain among us. I don’t know that she’ll ever forgive him for that statement. While we’re all thrilled that she’s given up the deadly habit, she’s resentful because she never wanted to stop. And then she found the world of e-cigarettes. She ordered one up and has been much more pleasant now that she can satisfy the habit without endangering her life like she did with regular cigarettes.

Having seen this and how effective it was for her I decided in my own little obsessive way to go research this little miracle product. Apparently this device was invented a few years ago over in China and is fairly booming as a market in other parts of the world. It showed up on our shores not that long ago and it’s been off to a good start so far. What is it exactly? Some call it a Personal Vaporizer (PV) which is a more accurate name than e-cigarette even if it still isn’t exactly right. What you have is typically a 2 or 3 piece unit consisting of a battery, a cartridge with the flavored liquid, and an atomizer. In the 2 piece model the latter two will be a single unit sometimes called a cartomizer. Basically the battery heats up a coil in the atomizer that evaporates the flavored liquid that you then inhale as if smoking a regular cigarette (or “analog” as they are referred to). The result is something that looks like smoke and feels much like smoking but contains none of the carcinogens found in an analog.

So I ordered one. Specifically the Gemini from Revolver. It’s a little more expensive than some but less than others and I really like the looks of it. I’ve had it nearly a month and I had my last analog about 3 days after it came in. I haven’t even wanted a real one. I play poker with a bunch of my friends each week and all of them smoke. I found to my surprise that I can sit at that table for hours around them and just puff on my Gemini with no craving for those smelly things. It’s been rather amazing. Add to that the ability to get liquids with different flavors much like I can with my shisha and I’ve now got a way to get my craves under control without going through a silly amount of work. I love this thing. And the people online that I have found over at e-cigarette-forum.com are truly kind and supportive of everyone that is interested in testing out the world of “vaping”.

My truck no longer stinks and neither do my hands or clothes. My daughter is actually willing to give me a hug…well not in front of friends because that isn’t “cool” 🙂 It’s a whole new world out there and I’ve already saved a good bit of money by not keeping up my pack a day habit. Of course, my daughter has decided it’s probably for the best if I spend that extra money on her so I can’t go back to regular smoking.

Mississippi Apple Store Opens

Apple’s first store in Mississippi opens today at 10:00am Central time. I’m going to be there updating this post from my iPhone as I can as things progress.

Edit: I moved the images to the bottom of the post and created thumbnails to speed load times.

Update 9:02 – I just arrived and there’s already a crowd.

Update 9:17 – Only one person in this crowd is here for an iPhone. Apparently Apple has a large userbase in Jackson, MS.

Update 9:28 – The line has stretched around the corner farther than I can see through the store windows. Also, we have two of Ridgeland’s finest supporting mall security at the entrance.

Update 9:39 – We’ve got a group in line singing “My Girl”.

Update 9:43 – The staff just came running up and cheering. They’re really getting the crowd energized.

Update 9:47 – The staff is now in the store and chanting. I can’t make out what they are saying so I’ll ask when I get in the store.

Update 9:58 – They just had the countdown and we’re headed in. And I’m the first one stopped…

Update 10:28 – They let me in with only a minor wait and I’ve been busy shopping. The service is great, which is what you expect from Apple stores. Photos will be added to this post when I get home.

Update 10:41 – The line still stretches out of sight from in the store. Apple, you have a winner.

Update 11:13 – Looks like the line finally went away and you can just stroll inside.

And there you have it. The first Apple Store in Mississippi is now officially open for business. I want to personally thank Jessica and Sara for all of the wonderful help they gave me while I was busily trying to spend my entire paycheck. Oh, WLBT, you so lose. Why on earth would you even bother showing up at all if you weren’t going to get there until an hour after the doors opened? You missed the best part of the opening.

Everything I need to know…

Have you ever seen those posters that start out with “Everything I need to know I learned in <insert school grade/movie/book>…” that list all these wonderful little truths about life that everyone knows but nobody really pays attention to? I have my own version of this poster. Everything I need to know I learned from anime. The difference between American cartoons and anime (or Japanese animated television shows) is a large gap of maturity and true life lessons gleaned from character development. I find more meaning in one episode of, say, Gundam Seed than in the entire run of Scooby Doo.

There is a huge difference in mentality when our respective countries approach animated works. Americans by and large consider the animation medium as something childish and only fit for the most shallow of pursuits. The Japanese approach animated work as a serious art that can convey even the most complex stories with better efficiency and cost than a live-action and special effects ridden behemoth that one would expect from Hollywood. They do not demean the medium because of silly preconceptions. Some great dramas can be conveyed through animation. I speak of stories and characters with real depth and real growth over the course of the story arc. Characters are often flawed and dealing with inner turmoil that can cause what would normally be a minor situation to turn into a major catastrophe. These same characters make human mistakes and suffer consequences for said mistakes.

The writers have a goal to tell a story. This is true regardless of what country a writer hails from. Stories that are written without regard to what kind of budget the studio has to offer are far better than those crammed into cookie cutter sized generic flavored snack batches that Hollywood is so famous for spewing forth onto the masses. Using animation as a medium, suddenly the cost of that planet exploding or those slow motion effects have no monetary difference from that scene of two guys sitting at a table and talking. This gives the writer the ability to truly delve deeply into the tale he or she wishes to weave for the audience so that they might share some of what the writer has put into the work. But I stray from the subject…

Some of the things I have learned from anime:

  • Choices have consequences both good and bad. I must take responsibility for my choices and actions. [Gundam Seed]
  • It may be far easier to do nothing, but it is far more rewarding to stand up and take action. [DBZ, Gundam, most action anime]
  • Stereotypes are misleading. Everyone is different so give everyone a chance. [Witch Hunter Robin, Inuyasha]
  • Never give up on a dream. [Gundam Wing, Outlaw Star]
  • Money is not the most important thing in life. [King of Bandit Jing]
  • Love conquers all. [Chobits, Appleseed]
  • People can change. [Elfen Lied, Rurouni Kenshin]
  • Sometimes life just doesn’t make sense. Just take those times and deal with them the best that you can. [FLCL]
  • True friends will be there for you. [DBZ, Rurouni Kenshin, Outlaw Star, Dual!]
  • Every day is an opportunity to learn to understand myself better. [Noir, .Hack]
  • Everyone needs help sometimes. True friends will be there for you. [Yu Yu Hakusho, all Gundam]

I could continue this but the point is made. Unlike most American animated shows, anime offers something deeper and more meaningful…something that can provoke thought and understanding. So don’t just shrug off Japanese animated shows as “kiddie stuff”. Give them a chance and you may be surprised at how well written the stories and characters actually are. Just avoid things like Colorful and Bo-bo-bo. After all…every genre has a few bad seeds.

Geek Plague – Fanboyism

In the world of geeks we have a problem. A serious epidemic that threatens our peaceful natures. This plague must be stopped before needless violence rips from us the very thing that binds us together: our overwhelming passion for tech/sci-fi/fantasy stuffs. This plague is the mutation of a mild mannered geek into a frothing-at-the-mouth fanboy. Fanboyism really isn’t a new phenomenon. As long as there have been geeks, there have been the radical right-wing zealots that evolved into full blown fanboys. It isn’t restricted to a specific genre of geekdom either. For today’s purposes, though, we will look at the OS Fanboys.

Probably the most famous group of fanboys in current times is the Apple Fanboy. Oh sure, there have been Apple Fanboys since the birth of the computer company in an unsuspecting garage. Since the advent of the iPod, however, the Apple Fanboy has been propelled into the Spotlight (see what I did there?). These are the guys that swear by everything Apple and condemn everything Microsoft. They are touted to have an unwavering belief in Jobs, their “messiah”. But they are not alone.

Microsoft Fanboys are always ready to return a volley of scathing remarks about Apple’s “toy” computers. They all but worship the corporate empire that Gates built and believe that the only reason people resent the object of their near-worship is its unparalleled business success. They resent the idea that any software or hardware offering could dare to think it can compete with their Titan Champion. They stand resolute and declare that all other systems are either just as vulnerable or more vulnerable than theirs. They proudly preach that the only reason their beloved OS is unfairly targeted more than any other is because it is so awesome. It doesn’t stop here, however.

The third leg of this unholy trinity is the Linux Fanboy. He lives by the mantra that all software should be free and open to everyone. He denounces Microsoft and Apple for their evil and secretive ways and blames any faults discovered in their systems on this closed environment. In the eyes of the Linux Fanboy, only the almighty Linus understands the truth in how to get the most out of a computer. Only open-source can save the geek world according to this steaming waste of carbon-based life form. Okay, that was unfair…all fanboys are steaming wastes of carbon-based lifeforms.

I’ve been accused of being each of these over the years. I find that funny. While it’s true that I do not like them all equally, the levels at which I do like them changes with time. I have a tendency to ramble on about one more than the others at any given moment. It has to do with which one I’m learning new things about or spending the most time on. See, I keep saying this in many different places: Each systems has its strengths and weaknesses. Each OS has tasks it performs a bit better than the others. The best thing to do is know them all and use the right system for the job. I really don’t see what is so hard about that idea.

Do I agree with Microsoft’s marketing practices? Not really. Do I believe that open-source is the silver bullet (ugh, I just used a buzzword) for cracking the computer world into an ecosystem that dwarfs what we have now? Not a bit. Do I think that Apple’s idea of totally locking down everything is the solution to the world’s computer problems? Not even close. But each of these groups does have important things to offer. The hard part is navigating the Fanboy Minefield to find real information. I think Dwight Silverman found this out with his article on Mac pricing. I’m guessing he wasn’t expecting a three way war to break out in the comments like it did. Unfortunately, that’s life on the intarwebs.

So to all Fanboys: Until you can stop frothing at the mouth and open your minds a little…shut up. Learn to recognize that other systems…other opinions…can have merit. I’ll be glad to calmly debate the merits of any system over any other. Is that too hard for you?

Supreme Victory!

Back in the 90’s fighting games were all the rage. Everybody had a favorite whether it be Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Virtua Fighter, or any of the other versions that flooded the market. Personally, I like Killer Instinct. I was in love with the combo system that Rare created. I liked that you could break the combos. I like that the combos looked neat and didn’t require inhuman timing and 32 fingers to pull off. And yes, I thought B. Orchid was well rendered. I had KI Gold for my N64. I spent untold hundreds of quarters on the arcade machines. I always used the trick of holding right and all three punch buttons on both controllers at the VS screen on the arcade machines to get the hyper speed. I was addicted.

One of the saddest days of my gaming life was when I found my N64 cartridge had decided to give up this life and never again let me enjoy the world of Orchid and Jago and Kim Wu. I have never managed to get my hands on a replacement. That game and Goldeneye are the only reasons I still have my N64. I mourned the loss and actually still do. That may change before too much longer, however.

Rumors have been around for years that Rare was secretly assembling a third KI game somewhere in the bowels of the company. They have repeatedly denied doing so…with very careful wording. Here’s a denial from about a year ago:

purely out of contractual obligation, no, we’re not working on KI3

Purely out of contractual obligation? So if it wasn’t for that, you would be? See what I mean about the statement. It’s fairly ambiguous. As a matter of fact,EGM’s rumormonger Quartermann is now saying that Rare is now working on the third installment and it will be an Xbox360 exclusive. There are a lot of people our there that I am sure are wondering why this matters at all since there are so many better fighting games already out there. The simple answer is that KI has a reasonably largefanbase that has been ignored for years. I am part of that group. I am happy that we may finally get a new game with our favorite characters because really, are any fighting games unique anymore? Not really. It all boils down to opinion and mine is that KI3 could be a good thing.

Of course, so would KI and KI2 on Live Arcade or KI Gold on the Wii’s Virtual Console. I’m not holding my breath for any of these to happen but I can always dream. I can dream of a world where we get all of the originals to tide us over until Street Fighter IV comes out and that KI3 hits the market just as we get bored with SFIV. That would be totally awesome dude.

Dr. Horrible Really Isn’t

If you’ve been under a rock, then you might not have heard of Joss Whedon‘s latest gem, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Comprised of three fairly short episodes and designed for web distribution, this mini-series is full of whimsy and general silliness. Long time geeks will recognize the stars that Whedon has breathing life into this latest creation. Names like Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser and How I Met Your Mother) and Nathan Fillion (Firefly) comprise the hero(?) and his nemisis. Center to their current conflict is Felicia Day (Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

In usual Joss Whedon style, the hilarity ensues from the very first scene and it just gets better and better as the story unfolds. Without giving any spoilers, the premise is that Dr. Horrible (Harris) wants to join the Evil League of Evil and must prove himself which is easier said than done because he is always foiled by Captain Hammer (Fillion). Unfortunately, the time of free viewing on the website has passed, but it is available through iTunes for $1.99 and episode or $3.99 for the entire series. He plans a DVD release later. More details about that will be unleashed upon us at ComicCon. I can say this, if you like Whedon’s previous works and you like the silliness of Monty Python and Mel Brooks, then you’ll probably love Dr. Horrible. One thing I can tell you for sure, Dr. Horrible is wonderful.