Rio 2016 – The missing and the missed

Posted on Updated on

Even before the games began, there had been controversies over the Zika virus threat, resettling of some poor families from the favela (officially only a few hundred, unofficially over 50k people), poor living conditions in the Olympic Village and the ban on Russian athletes.The 2016 Olympic Games started yesterday with a colourful ceremony, symbolic for mixing excitement with controversy. Apart from the organisational issues and a beautiful setting, Rio 2016 will be special because of an extensive list of athletes, who will not participate in the Games for various reasons

There are quite a few athletes who will miss the Games due to injuries and other health-related issues. Also, we already know about numerous Russian champions who will be missing (and, unlike others, not missed) after the dope-related ban. Another group of non-participants are the athletes who refused to come to Rio in fear of the Zika virus. Finally, there are of course those, who failed to qualify or were not picked for their national teams despite their respectable results.

The injured and the sick

The long and exciting NBA season took its toll on the American Dream Team with Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis and Blake Griffin absent due to various injuries. Other well-known basketball players, Marc Gasol from Spain, Dante Exum from Australia and Kristaps Porzingis from Latvia, are also recovering from injuries and thus absent from the Games.

Tennis fans will definitely miss Roger Federer (Switzerland), Milos Raonic (Canada) and Simona Halep (Romania), all brought down by injuries, which is particularly dramatic for Federer, who will miss his last chance for the Olympic gold, the only laurel he failed to win in his fabulous career.

Other notable absentees detained by injuries are Alberto Contador (Spain) in cycling and Sally Pearson (Australia) in 100m hurdles.

Fallen Russian champions

Russia will not be able to participate in athletics and weightlifting at all and many participants were banned in aquatics, canoeing & kayaking, rowing, cycling, modern pentathlon gymnastics, sailing and wrestling

The absence of Olympic and World Champions in athletics, canoeing and weightlifting opens new possibilities for other competitors. For all the early betters, who chose to gamble on the Russian champions like Yelena Isinbayeva (2xOC, 3xWC in pole vault), Anna Chicherova (OC,WC in high jump), Ilia Frolov (3xWC in modern pentathlon), Viktor Lebedev (2xWC in freestyle wrestling), Yulia Efimova (WC in 100m breaststroke swimming), Maria Sharapova (5xGrand Slam winner in tennis) or Alexander Dyachenko (OC in canoe sprint), the ban means an automatic forfeit. On the other hand, all those who bet on their opposition before the ban took place may well feel gratified for their early choice as the odds for any other champion are definitely lower in those disciplines now that the Russians are banned. The pressure rises especially for Brasil’s Fabiana Murer, who will hope to exploit the absence of Isinbayeva.

Not only the champions were affected. Several athletes hoping for a good performance will be missed as well, to name Ilnur Zakarin (cycling, this year’s Tour de France stage winner), Tatiana Kashirina (weightlifting, current snatch world record holder), Sergey Litvinov (hammer throw) or Vladimir Morozov and Nikita Lobintsev (both freestyle swimming).

The Zika threat

Although WHO denied any rumours of a Zika threat to for the Olympics’ participants, some athletes withdrew from the Games fearing the virus (and no wonder…). The discipline most affected is golf with Jason Day, Marc Leishman, Vijay Singh, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson all refusing to participate. Cyclist Tejay van Garderen and tennis player Tomas Berdych (Czech Republic) also withdrew, openly admitting it was on account of the Zika virus threat.

The ones staying at home and the ones left there

For various reasons we will not see Lebron James (USA, basketball, resting), Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic (Australia, tennis, row with AOC), Jarryd Hayne (Fiji, rugby, dropped by coach), Adam Scott (Australia, golf, protest against competition format), Phil Mickelson (USA, golf, no. 6 in the world ranking, not qualified), Michael Diamond (Australia, shooting, dropped because of drunk driving charges) and John Isner (USA, tennis, other starting plans).

The long line of notable absentees started yesterday with Pele, the living football legend, missing out on the opening ceremony due to his health condition and after the first day, we can see how this particular problem of absent athletes may affect the Games. In fact, today’s individual, men’s, mass start cycling race was a case study of the missing and the missed in Rio 2016 with Tejay Van Garderen withdrawing because of the Zika virus threat (he didn’t want to risk transferring the virus to his pregnant wife), Ilnur Zakarin banned for dope allegations, Alberto Contador recovering from fractured bones after a crash in the Tour de France and Nairo Quintana absent because… well, nobody knows why he withdrew, but he was replaced by Pantano. Regardless, the race was probably the best Olympic cycling race ever held, with suspense (Majka caught by Van Avermaet and Fuglsang 1,5 km to the finish line) and drama (Nibali and Pantano crashed 10 km to finish, while leading the race) till the very end (gold for Van Avermaet, silver for Fuglsang, bronze for Majka – go Poland!).

This is just what we should expect. There are a lot of athletes missing, but only few will be missed and the Olympic Games are still bound to enchant us with excitement, rivalry, joy and drama with more close finishes and new, open opportunities.

9 Good Ideas (to follow) and 9 Bad Ideas (to stay away from)

Posted on Updated on

Starting a career in writing is a great idea, but also a deceptively difficult one to execute. Given today’s free tools, anyone can write and, more importantly, anyone can publish. This creates a fierce competition between writers and limits the possibilities of success for all but the very best. Thus, I wish to share my thoughts on the first steps each writer takes and hopefully spare you a few days, weeks or maybe even months of frustration. The following advice is aimed to help the very beginners. If you are a seasoned wordsmith you will probably find it trivial, but who knows… maybe you should read it just in case.

So, you’ve just decided to become a professional writer and a published author. Here are some DO’s and DON’T’s you might wish to consider:


Writing a few hundred words is easy on a good day. You’ve just had a brilliant idea, thought up a great character or just feel like writing and the words fall into place all by themselves. It is on those days you don’t feel like writing that pushing yourself to strike the keyboard is most important. Keep a log of your progress and pay attention to stay over the 500 words per day target. To become a decent writer you need to write about 500 000 words and twice as much to become a master of the craft.


Writing more words into your story just to meet your daily target makes your prose bloated and unreadable. If you’re stuck, write something else. Ask your friends or family for random words and turn them into a short story, a single scene, a joke or a poem. After a few such exercises, you’ll find you have many more original ideas on your own. Even if you don’t use this short scenes directly, they might trigger your creativity later in your career.


Write down all your ideas for stories, scenes, jokes, poem, etc. If you’re stuck with one, develop another. In time, some of your ideas will naturally merge to create new, better stories, novels or possibly even a series. Working on several pieces simultaneously will keep you writing and, what’s important, you will never get bored or frustrated with your work.


As obvious as it sounds, it is a pitfall of multitasking many writers stumble upon. Make a schedule keeping you in touch with your expectations of career progress. Thus, anytime you see a publishing deadline approaching, you can focus your work on the story that is closest to completion. In my opinion, one book (c.a. 100 000 words) per year is most appropriate for the first two years. If it is a novel divide it into chapters and work on 25 000 words’ chunks bimonthly. If it is a collection of stories, plan your work accordingly. Remember that you need at least two weeks of editing for every six weeks of writing.


Short stories are great for beginners and deceptively it is not because they are easy to write. They are actually much more difficult than a novel. A novel is like a long-term relation: there better and worse times, but generally you can make up for your mistake unless you go way over the line. A short story is like speed dating: you need to dazzle your reader and if you make a mistake there’s no time to make amends. However, short stories have a few advantages: if you write a bad short story you will have wasted a month, not a whole year, you can edit a short story in one evening and you can keep doing it until the story is good, a short story forces you to lock your thoughts in concise sentences and to apply logic and reason to your storyline. Overall, it is a great exercise to write one short story per quarter.


One short story per quarter leaves you with two months of “free” time. Apply at least one of them to work on a bigger project. A novel needs planning and is a much greater challenge than a short story, but you should start writing one anyway. It is easier to sell a novel and before you start editing it, you will have become a decent writer anyway. Becoming an author is a marathon, not a sprint, but to complete it. you need to start running and keep at it until the finish.


Unless you have a natural knack for concise writing, you need to review your work and eliminate redundant words (like “natural” in this sentence). Simple, straightforward prose will get you more readers and simultaneously teach you to formulate your thoughts in a logical manner.


Every word you write is sacred. If it turns out you have to cut out a scene from your story, save it in a side file. You never know when it will come handy. It might trigger a new idea in your head or fit right into a different setting. In a worst-case scenario, it will serve as a milestone marking your progress.


Until you have become a revered writer remember to work on your craft. Read a lot and read diversely. Don’t confine yourself to one genre and step out of your comfort zone. If you like romances – read an action adventure (a great one here). On the other hand, if you like action adventure read a social drama. Mix the classics with contemporaries and don’t hesitate to reach for foreign writers. Apart from the above, read a lot about writing, storytelling and character creation.


Vampires, elves, dwarves and werewolves crowd fantasy. Morally torn androids and teen insurgents fill the sci-fi pages and shabby, drunk detectives solve crimes in crime stories. Step away from the cliches and create your own characters. Find your own voice. Don’t try to write like Hemingway, Palahniuk or Bukowski, they have already been published, read and revered. It’s your turn now.


Not every scene is easy to write. Some writers are better with storytelling and some are better in writing dialogues. Some like to set their stories in the past and others prefer the future. Identify your strengths. For example, I am much more comfortable with telling the story from a third person perspective and setting it in the past than with a first person perspective in a present tense. Exploit your strengths to a maximum. Exploit them. Thus, you can concentrate on the story and not think about the form.


Your writing will be better if you become proficient in many different styles of telling the same story. Ask your beta-readers what are your weaknesses and work to eliminate them. If your dialogues are awkward – practice writing dialogues about any subject possible. If you lack creativity – think about the stories of a few objects within your sight. Imagine how would they end up in your room had they belonged to someone famous. Move out of your comfort zone and write outside your preferred genre and never stop working on your craft.


Unless you write just for the sake of writing, sooner or later you will want someone to read your story. It is not easy to make people want to read your story because there are countless free stories available, many more than can be ever read (more details on this phenomenon here). Hence, you need to find people who might be interested in your work and shout out to them. Use social media (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.) to promote your work and a blog to convince your audience you can write 🙂


Social media are addictive. With a constant torrent of great content, they can take over your life and incapacitate you writing-wise. If you ever find yourself giving up more than an hour of your precious time daily – alarm bells should go off in your head. Social media are great, but your stories are infinitely more important. Remember: you can quite easily sell an insightful, well-written story without any prior engagement in social media, but you will never sell a bad one even if your social media accounts are bulging with followers.


While you might think writing a historical romance crossed with sci-fi time-travel adventure and a side crime plot is a ground-breaking idea, I must warn you your readers would prefer a clear genre setting for your story. Don’t get me wrong: a good book is always a good book (a bad one is always bad for that matter) but a clear statement “this is (a romance, a crime story, a thriller, etc.)” will tell your readers what to expect, allowing you to focus your marketing efforts on a specific group of customers.


Mixing all the genres in one story is difficult and should be tried only if you either feel there is no other way to tell the story or you feel genuinely sure you can pull it off (which is the same in so many ways…). Unfortunately, if you limit yourself to only one genre, soon your writing will become one dimensional and flat with no ability to show a scene in a different perspective or resolve conflicts in any other way than the routine one.


While it is beyond doubt your books will be bestsellers someday, this may come later than you expect. Keep in mind a realistic estimation of your future revenues and keep your day job in the meantime. Making money off your writing starts well into the second year of work and becomes a significant source of income about a year later. It is safe to assume you will be able to live off your writing no sooner than after publishing your second full-length book and possibly not even until the fifth one.


Having a job is crucial for your writing career, after all, it would be difficult to write while you’re starving. On the other hand, a job closer to your passion for writing will benefit you in more ways than just the financial one. Try moving towards working with words: editing, copywriting, teaching literature, working in a library, etc. Each day will make you a better writer twice.
I hope all the advice above will help you in your quest to become a respected writer. Remember to follow your passion and good luck 🙂

The banana peril

Posted on Updated on

Bananas are one of the most popular fruits on the planet. Globally, we eat close to 300 million of them each day and it is hard to believe they could disappear within a couple of years. Alas, banana extinction will not have been the first one. A better tasting, more resilient kind of the fruit, called Gross Michel, disappeared between 1960 and 1965 falling victim to the Panama disease (not the one troubling the tax evaders at the moment). A fungus called Fusarium attacked and killed the Gross Michel bananas in just half a dozen years. Now the same fungi with a catchy alias TR4 (short for Tropical Race 4) are decimating the crops worldwide. And it’s spreading fast…

TR 4 was first noticed in 1990 in Malaysia and sprawled across the South-East Asia to reach Mozambique in Africa in 2013. A year later Australia became infected and the virus penetrated 3.8% of the world’s plantations. Now all continents apart from Latin America are compromised and the virus claims around 7.5% of the crops. By 2016, the viral threat became so serious the annual banana congress was moved from Costa Rica to Miami, Florida in order to stop the disease from spreading to the last, virus-free continent.

The virus is spreading like wildfire because all the world’s bananas are genetically uniform and 45% of the world’s crops, called Cavendish, come from a single banana bred in England around 1834. The second reason is that TR4, unlike its great grandfather, is not a racist and affects not only the Cavendish but all the local banana varieties, making it more difficult to find a kind resilient to infection. This threatens a $9 billion a year industry employing 100 million people across 107 countries. TR4 has already damaged around $400 million worth of banana crops and although it is still far from the damage toll done by its predecessor, the virus is just getting started. It is worth remembering, TR1 left the industry with a loss of around $2.3 billion ($18.2 billion in today’s money). The descendant is even more deadly and it is believed over 85% of banana crops will be irreparably lost.

There are two ways of dealing with the problem. One is trying to contain the virus by eliminating the exposed plantations, quarantining the workers and sterilise all the equipment. Unfortunately, this has been unsuccessful so far, because Fusarium fungi dwell deep in the soil and the only way of killing them is incinerating the whole plantation and never growing bananas there. Plantation owners are not willing to make a sacrifice like that and it would take a joint international effort to force such a discipline. Other counter-measures are insofar of little impact, as sterilising equipment has no effect and quarantining the infected crops is only prolonging the inevitable. The other way is research of either a cure or a banana species resilient to the virus. Especially the latter solution is promising, although it would lead to a change in the bananas’ taste, texture and transport handling. Thus, bananas may become an expensive luxury or change their taste in a way difficult to predict in less than a decade, so go out to the nearest supermarket before it’s too late, just in case…

Welcome to Miami

Posted on Updated on

Despite global warming’s obvious environmental impact it is often difficult to put a grasp on a tangible cost of climate changes, but Miami, FL is a showcase of what will happen within the next few decades and how much it will cost. Miami, FL is located at the tip of the Florida peninsula on a flat porous limestone plateau with an average elevation of just 6 ft above sea level and right in the middle of the “hurricane alley” stretching from the west coast of Africa to Gulf of Mexico’s east coast. The city faces now locally all the global threats of the future: water shortage, abnormal weather risk and rising ocean water levels.

Due to rising temperature, billions of tonnes of ice melt into the ocean every year. It is believed that the ice trapped in polar caps could raise the sea levels by around 75 metres if it all melted. Polar ice caps are shrinking at a rate of 34 300 square kilometres per year and with each tenth of a degree more this process escalates and sea levels rise faster. Over the last century and a half water level rose by 8 inches (20 cm) and since the rate doubled over the last twenty years it is predicted the sea levels will have risen over 4 ft (120 cm) higher by 2100. Without any counteraction, over one-third of Miami would be underwater and being high and dry would actually be a good thing. Meanwhile, the costs of ocean levels rising are already visible. Salty water penetrates the porous limestone upon which Miami is built and contaminates the Biscayne Aquifer, the main source of fresh water for the whole South Florida. The Aquifer’s convenient, the shallow location made Miami fresh water one of the cheapest in the whole country, but now it turns out to be its peril. Freshwater in Miami is now 20% more expensive than five years ago and over one third more expensive than a decade ago and the underground dams separating the Biscayne Aquifer from the ocean will need to be raised within the next decade.

In times of peril mankind’s choice has always come down to our most primal “fight and flight” instinct. Miami’s problem is a classic example of this dilemma. Fighting for the city will bring annual, cumulative cost of supplying it with water, strengthening the construction of buildings against hurricanes and building dams both around on the coast and underground to keep the ocean off the land and separated from the fresh water deposits. The alternative means abandoning over $3.5 trillion in assets and relocating nearly 5 million people. In Miami, both plans are simultaneously in motion with the city council assuring the population everything will be taken care of and the developers still erecting buildings right by the ocean whilst many people sell their properties and leave the city, which results in a progressive real-estate market slump.

Seaside property prices are still soaring, but it is increasingly difficult to get a mortgage in places most endangered and within the next decade first cities will face a dilemma whether to spend money on saving the estates or to abandon them. These are the only ways of dealing with this crisis: engineering (superficially elevating coastal barriers) or retreating (abandoning land and buildings). What Miami faces within the next two decades, the rest of the world will experience another quarter of a century later. Although the core of the problem is still in the future it is in itself inevitable and universal worldwide. In less than two decades the problem will reach not only Miami and North Carolina but also Amsterdam, Bangkok, Calcutta, Guangzhou, Mumbai, New Orleans, New York, Shanghai and Tokio.

By 2070 over 100 million people will need to be relocated and over $20 trillion, a quarter of world’s GDP and that is on top of the rolling costs of global warming estimated to be around 1.5% of the world’s GDP in 2025, and close to 2.5% in 2070. Just the extra loss of abandoned real estate, spread over the next 50 years would slow the world’s average growth, currently established at 3.5% per year, by 0.5% and squeezed into a decade it would trigger a decade-long depression. The only hope is we will take the global threat more seriously than Florida’s developers, still erecting seaside condos and apartments for rent despite last year’s real estate prices drop, which marks the beginning of a new age. An age when adverse climate change is reflected in property prices, insurance premiums and water supply.

9 steps in your writing career

Posted on Updated on

With nearly two and a half years into my writing career, I needed some reference point to put my glorious achievements and wretched failures into perspective. Thus, I pondered upon the inevitable steps a successful novelist has to make in a writing career and because I am prone to look at life as if it were a role-playing game, here is my take at a wordsmith’s leveling system.

My first thought was that not everyone can be a writer. There is one characteristic you must have to even think about a writing career. You have to be driven by a thirst for new stories and knowledge. Learning new things is at the core of becoming a good writer. But let’s start at the beginning. First of all you need to become a:

Storyteller – more a natural predisposition, than a conscious career step, but I argue that you need to put in quite some work to become a storyteller. Your constant hunger for new stories is preset, but it is your will to pursue that hunger through books, games, films or human interactions, that allows you to become a storyteller. If you are one, your mind works in less obvious ways than the society expects. You are a bit more perceptive and you have a bit more insight into other people’s motives. You connect facts into long event-chains and are more aware of causality. Most importantly: you can make a story out of anything around, be it a spot of oil on the motorway, a bandaid on your classmate’s cheek or a night out. People with those skills were always special and throughout centuries they became bards, philosophers, clerics, scholars and also, if they were stubborn, also writers. If you decide to hone those skills by practice, you are likely to make the first conscious step in your writing career and become an:

Event Storyteller – a step not only short, but sometimes even skipped by the more introvert writers. However, when telling stories inside your head is not enough, you seek a way to tell stories on a regular basis. You come up with some jokes, then you throw a play for your parents, a stand up comedy show for your friends or become a gamemaster for a few role-playing games sessions. Usually you write down some notes before your event (if any) and throw them away as soon as you finish, but every now and then you think a particular story would be worth saving. If your passion continues, sooner or later, you start collecting your notes, poems, plays and other written texts to become a:

Private Writer – usually not a long-lasting step either, but it bears great significance, because by now you already made a choice, that you like writing and prose is your medium of telling stories. You also made a choice between fact and fiction as your main area of interest. Many writers stop here regardless of their skill in the craft. They keep writing for their whole lives and become famous authors posthumously, when someone finally sees their work and is able to appreciate it. On the other hand most of us feel an urge to show our work to someone and become an:

Amateur Writer – a great stage of learning the craft and conquering our fears. You are an amateur writer, when you write mostly short stories and experiment with their form and structure. Your friends and family are your audience, but you probably have a blog too. The decisive characteristic of an amateur writer is make no money with his writing and treating it as a hobby. Again, many writers stop at this level and may write for fun for their whole life, sharing their work only with their loved ones. For most of us a time comes, when we feel our work is so good it needs to be shared (and cherished) by many more. (That does not mean amateur writers are not skilled in the craft .Remember there are a lot of great amateur writers out there before you start being judgmental.) And so you become a:

Published/Self-Published Amateur Writer – you sent a piece of your work to a competition, you self-published or get published after being approached by a start-up publishing house. There is no difference in skill or experience between this stage and the previous one. You still write for fun and the only change is some money in your pocket you earn on your hobby from time to time. The money makes you think and you realise writing might be a cool way to earn a few bucks on top of your wage on a more regular basis. Thus, you become a:

Semi-Professional Writer – for the first time you think of your writing as a career. You start writing regularly and promoting your work. Multiple social accounts join your blog becoming your multi-faceted internet presence. You still have a day job other than writing, which makes you most of your monthly income, but you try to cut back on overtime and focus on your new career. You dream about the day you will tell your boss to stuff it and hope it will come as soon as possible. Finally, if you’re a good writer, a decent marketer and/or generally a lucky bastard, a day comes you find your writing income high enough to quit your day job and and be your own boss as a:

Professional Writer – being a professional writer is a bit like purgatory. You know how great it will be once you can afford to write only your own stories, but for the moment you have to write mostly other stuff to pay your bills. By now you have a solid set of skills and a working knowledge of the craft. You write full-time, which means you work more than most. There are upsides though. Your hours are totally flexible and you don’t need to get out of your pyjamas to go to work (it’s good to go that though). If you make it this far, it’s usually just a matter of time before your cumulative work allows you to concentrate on your specific genre. Sometimes it takes a few years and sometimes a few decades, but sooner or later you become a:

Creative Writer – This is nearly it. Your genius and determination elevated you to the top. Not only you make your living by writing, but also by now you only write the fun stuff. You don’t have to slave away writing marketing content for products you don’t believe in and write those boring articles, essays or press releases. All you do now is concentrate on your work. Of course you still need some external clients, but your work is strictly creative now and what’s more it is all in your own name. You write your next novel and double as a screenplay writer for a movie or a video game. Again only time separates you from being an:

Author – The end of the line. You make enough money from your books, you don’t need to write anything else. You still can if you want to, but it is your choice. By now you’ve written millions of words and published a few novels. You’ve been in the business for a decade or two and maybe you have another decade or two of active work in front of you. There is only one thing to look for now – a legacy. Thus, you start your each new book with hope it will be a masterpiece (you will learn what makes a masterpiece next time)…

Having said all of the above I must admit three years in the writing game is too short to make a difference, although I must admit I had to overcome the language barrier as well (English is like a second native language to me, but still it took me a year to start writing as well as in Polish).

If you are just beginning your journey as a writer, stick to these few guidelines (details coming soon):

  • Make sure you have enough money to get by:
    • keep your day job until you make at least half as much from your writing.
    • work part-time until you can really afford to stop.
    • never rely on your savings.
  • Never invest in your book more than you can afford and what is really needed:
    • professional cover and editing are a must.
    • self-publishing can be professional for free (beware of swindlers).
    • agents should work on commission.
  • Improve your workshop:
    • be open to critique
    • expand your knowledge
    • learn the trade (how to…? articles coming soon)
  • Keep writing 🙂

Dying for a drag

Posted on Updated on

I haven’t smoked for over three days now. I’m not bragging, I’m just explaining the inspiration behind this article, because even though it’s only been three days I already miss it. In many ways, the following article is a closure of sorts. May it help as many of you as possible stay strong.

For the last few months, I have been a happy smoker of a single cigarette per day. My beloved Magda finally made me stop just a few months from the twentieth anniversary of my first drag. So let’s start with summing up this period financially or in other words:

How much did I spend on cigarettes during my whole life?

I have smoked for roughly 7165 days (give or take a week) and I have never been a chain smoker. In the darkest, most stressful years I have rarely smoked more than 10 cigarettes a day and smoking a whole pack during one day was truly exceptional. Moreover, for the first three and the last two years I have been smoking far less than 2 cigarettes daily, so it is safe to say that throughout my smoking days I reached an average of about 6 cigarettes per day. Still, when we multiply it by the number of days it totals to just under 43 000 cigarettes, which constitutes 2150 packs. Let’s disregard the actual price of a cigarette pack over the years and count it all at today’s prices. Thus, the result will be both easy to understand and roughly accurate as the inflation will be already taken into account (although the price of cigarettes has risen much faster than the inflation, but this is a topic for a different article altogether). The average cost of a pack of cigarettes in Poland today is € 3.75, so throughout my entire life, I have spent around € 8060 at today’s prices. Not a small amount, but not enormous by any means.

Mind you, Poland is a relatively cheap country to live in and I haven’t smoked all that much. If you are a moderate smoker living in Britain, smoking 12 cigarettes daily over the same period of time as myself, your expenditure would sum up to around £ 24 500. In the US it would be on average about $ 30 000, but not in New York. You have to be a Rockefeller to smoke in New York.

Anyway, being a light smoker has not been ruining me financially, but…

Was it ruining my health?

Before I answer that let me tell you how surprised I was to discover that 26% of adult US smokers are non-daily smokers, smoking less than 6 cigarettes a day. Times have changed since I started smoking, when if you did smoke you rarely smoked less than a pack a day and it turns out many people nowadays are asking themselves the same question: how harmful can these few cigarettes be?

OK, let’s start with the worst news (and the least obvious for that matter). Even if you are a very light smoker (up to 4 you are just as likely to suffer from a meniscal problem as a heavy one (over 23 cigarettes per day). Menisci are the two C-shaped, elastic discs cushioning your knee and they are the first to go if blood isn’t flowing freely. Now, for the cardiovascular system itself, it makes little difference how much you smoke. You take as much as 70% of the damage of the chain smokers anyway. The relatively good news is that your lungs pay only 20% of the price compared to those of a heavy addict, but are still 4 times more likely to get cancer than those of a non-smoker.

How bad is quitting?

To be honest, I am not qualified to give you an opinion based on my own experience. For at least half a year I have smoked only one single and very lonely cigarette per day and that is not enough to develop a full blown withdrawal syndrome upon quitting, but I can tell you that even with such a small daily dose I did experience a mild discomfort if I didn’t have my routine cigarette. Thus, I can imagine quitting can be tough for even a moderate smoker.

In general, the nicotine withdrawal symptoms start within just two hours after you have finished your last cigarette with increased irritability, anxiety or even depression and keep getting stronger until up to 72 hours after quitting, during which you can experience headaches, nausea, fatigue, digestive problems and sleep pattern alteration. Oh.. and, of course, there’s sweating… the sleazy kind you never forget. Afterwards, they slowly wither to disappear about two weeks later. A common substitution for tobacco craving is an increased hunger and sweets consumption.

Personally, I didn’t experience most of the symptoms listed above, but I did sleep a lot over the last weekend (26 out of the 48 hours). Even considering the need to catch up on some sleep after the week, it still remains an anomaly in my sleep pattern. My anxiety and irritability levels have been off as well for the last few days and as far as coincidences go these facts combined are difficult to dismiss, so it might be argued some withdrawal symptoms are visible even with only one cigarette a day.

What happens afterwards?

Well, we’ve suffered through hell to stay clean for long enough to start experiencing the good sides of quitting and the longer our cleanliness persists, the better the advantages. Just 20 minutes after finishing a cigarette your heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature return to normal. If it happens to be the last cigarette, the carbon monoxide level in your blood will have done the same after the next 12 hours. After 48 hours your taste and smell will begin to recover. After just 72 hours you will be 100% nicotine free.

Even though other aspects of your health take a bit longer to improve, keep in mind that the risk of cancer and heart diseases decreases each day after quitting. Most cancer and heart-related risks decrease substantially within 5 years of quitting and dissipate to the level of a non-smoker after around 15 years, so it seems it’s never too late to quit, especially if you want to live forever.

Let me give you some advice.

If you’re a heavy smoker don’t quit on your own. Either test your willpower and cut back to less than 10 cigarettes a day (keeping it that way for a few weeks) or consult your physician before any rush moves. Otherwise… well, think for yourself. let me tell you this: cutting back is always a good idea.

Having said that, I must admit I loved smoking. I still do and, however politically incorrect it may sound, I hope I will have a chance to smoke one cigarette or cigar from time to time…

PIGSODUS – a game to remember

Posted on Updated on

At first all there was, was an encounter on a motorway. A concerned YouTuber made a dramatic video of a desperate pig fighting to get off a butcher’s van.  The CEO of Psylocibe Games, Piotr Lipert saw this video and was impressed by the hog’s enormous will to survive. It is difficult to presume this particular hog knew what was awaiting at the end of the journey, it is even harder to believe the swine’s efforts to escape were thought through and planned. But this is what Psylocibe Games chose to believe and so Horace Oinkstein, the protagonist of PIGSODUS came to life.

People at Psylocibe Games are all gamers as well as professionals. They believe an indie game can be just as well written and as playable as any of its great studios’ counterparts. We all played the greatest titles of RPG and adventure history: The Baldur’s Gate Saga, Planescape Torment, Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion and Broken Sword series. PIGSODUS is the debut project of a studio which humbly admits it will be difficult to match those giants, but is ambitious to deliver. Piotr Lipert boldly states his people all have both the motivation and the skills needed to make a memorable game and he can guarantee you will not be disappointed with the outcome.

When Piotr contacted me, I thought the game was already in the making and all he needed me for were some dialogue lines and a piece of copy every now and then, but later it turned out the whole story was only a shapeless blob ready to be moulded. Thus, the whole PIGSODUS reality  was created, starting with the back story of Horace himself, through all his family, complete with pig customs, traditions and bedtime stories, up to all the NPCs amongst which you’ll find such amazing personas as Theodore Cleaver (the farm owner), Eggdar Chow (the chicken, Horace’s BFF), Mad Dog Barker (dogs’ special forces veteran and local vigilante) and Pussy Charming (yes, she’s a cat).

The story of PIGSODUS is designed to be as non-linear as possible with multiple ways to cope with a problem at hand. We try to make most of the obstacles manageable in more ways than one. If you face a guarded entrance you can probably fight your way through, find a different way in (usually by solving a mind-breaking puzzle) or talk/sneak/trick your way in by interacting with the guards using your special abilities.

The levelling system of our hog hero is interesting as well. There are three main branches of growth: physique, spirit and wits. The first is responsible for our main character’s strength, agility, speed and physical charm. Spiritual growth is responsible for Horace’s willpower, resolve, magic resistance and magical prowess. Finally, wits are responsible for his science and technology skills, puzzle solving abilities and dialogue options.

Apart from the innate characteristics our protagonist will be able to eat or drink pills, potions and various foods to take effect in his “stomach slots” as well as carry several pieces of equipment in his inventory (don’t even ask what The Great-Flaming-Grand-Sword-of-Doom Toothpick does).

The guys from Psylocibe Games managed to bring to life a world mirroring our own, in which people are only one of the species with an agenda. A world where mysticism and willpower go hand in hand with technical prowess and where magical potions are just as common as chemical drugs: a real-world wonderland.

PIGSODUS deals with many difficult subjects in a story dripping with dark humour. Throughout the game, the player will face dilemmas with no obvious answers, questioning morality, social structure and environmental issues. Some matters are too important to be laughed at and need to be shown in full detail.  Thus, the game contains graphic violence and some explicit language (ok, nearly all the language in PIGSODUS is explicit).

Besides, we wanted to make the game as fun as possible and there’s nothing more fun than sex and violence with a dirty commentary 🙂

You can check out PIGSODUS homepage here and join our FB community here. Have fun !!!

“Publish or Perish” – an ominous title for a fun game.

Posted on Updated on

This month’s guest post is from my friends at Rombo Games, who have just finished their latest release and wish to share their enthusiasm with the world 🙂

The guys from Rombo Games are my school friends (well, some of them) and this post, courteous not commercial, is to help them raise money for their project on Kickstarter. Help them if you can 🙂

These guys love making games and it shows 🙂

Rombo Games’ mission over the past few months has been to create an augmented reality board game to teach kids the scientific method and basics of particle physics. Sounds difficult but we made it! Kids love to play “Publish or Perish”!

You can see it with your own eyes here 🙂

Your role as a player is to be a scientist and deduct the properties of real particles and then publish them. The game mechanic is cooperative or competitive, depending on how you want to play, in both cases you are racing the clock and feeling the pressure of “Publish or Perish”.

Publish or Perish stands out from the rest because of it’s educational value and original use of technology. Thanks to the Augmented Reality your mobile phone will be transformed into a Particle Collider!

We’ve already launched our Kickstarter campaign and got very enthusiastic feedback during Essen Spiele – the biggest game convention in Europe. During the convention, we were surprised to learn that the game didn’t only attract kids, but full-time scientists too. They claimed it looked like a fantastic drinking game for their community.
In the press pack, you may find the pictures and detailed description of the project!

A.J. Chaudhury: Bio and Introduction

Posted on Updated on

My blog is available for free. If you like it, please help me make it better and buy my books. You can also donate to my Paypal account: greg.h.guzik[at]

I am a full-time writer and I would greatly appreciate your support.

Hello folks!

Thanks to G. H. Guzik for inviting me to his blog! I am A. J. Chaudhury, an eighteen-year-old fantasy author hailing from Assam, India.

August 2015 saw the publication of my debut novel, an adventure epic fantasy “The Staff”, which is the first book in the Belaria series. Book 1.5, “The Felis Catus” followed in September and the second book “The Man Rat” is coming soon too.

Short Bio: I started creating stories right from the moment I learnt the alphabet. I still remember the first story I wrote. I was a dinosaur maniac when I was four, five years old and the first story obviously had a dinosaur protagonist. You may cringe at the idea of romantic dinosaurs, but it was a love story where the hero had somehow survived to the present age, so many years after his kind perished.

Plagiarized versions of TV shows I liked followed and at a point I started making my own fictional characters. Uncle Placenbroke (detective stories), Alexander Rabel (thrillers) and Caniole (Placenbroke’s sidekick) were good friends from my childhood (whom I had created myself). My father encouraged me to keep writing and even though he passed away when I was in the eight standard, his memory will always keep inspiring me to write.
So it happened that I eventually began writing a fantasy story, inspired by LOTR and Harry Potter. It was called “Who is the King?” It was a very primitive version of the story of my now published novel “The Staff” and featured a king and a knight as the main protagonists, instead of Charlz.

After four years, countless revisions, thousands of articles read on the craft of writing and getting critiques from online writing communities, I published it this August. If you are interested in my books, then one thing you should know is that “The Felis Catus” is way better than “The Staff” and “The Man Rat” will be far better than “The Felis Catus”. I hope to keep up that trend as I keep writing and publishing.

It has been a wonderful ride and I plan to never stop writing.
The Belaria Series: The Belaria series revolves around the life of Charlz Bezon. It takes place in a totally unique world which is far from the likes of our own (yes, it is a flat world). The other world was created by an African wizard, Tobalku, thousands of years ago through Dream magic. Each of the main books deals with a facet of Charlz’s life. As the series progresses, Charlz will grow old, his wants and aims will change, and he may or may not die in the final book.

Synopsis of “The Staff”: Fifteen-year-old Charlz resides in the village of Tempstow in central Belaria with his Aunt, Eliza Sadinton, and her son, Thamus. In the north of Belaria over which the Tropagian forest is spread, many a creature of the dark lurks behind the cover of trees. There, a vile plot is being concocted by those who call themselves the rulers of the forest. Charlz is oblivious to the dangers looming over him and his family and even a warning from the weird Future Stocker folks make little meaning to him. Soon, Charlz’s world is going to be turned upside down as he and his family get sucked into the sinister plot.

Synopsis of “The Felis Catus”: Benglam Singsit moves to Jorhat, Assam, planning to reside there for the year. He dislikes the children of the man at whose home he has taken a room on rent, who always are messing with his cat. Soon, Benglam’s pet and companion of twenty years goes missing. Are the children really responsible? Or is something else at work?

Visit me at my blog
My Goodreads page is

Who wants to live forever?

Posted on Updated on

My blog is available for free. If you like it, please help me make it better and buy my books. You can also donate to my Paypal account: greg.h.guzik[at]

I am a full-time writer and I would greatly appreciate your support.

One day, when I was a teenager, my father, in his early forties then, read an obituary of one of his friends from high school. He saddened and with a sigh remarked that God had already started taking people from “his shelf”. I wasn’t even surprised because then a man dying in his forties was uncommon, but not unheard of. That was 20 years ago.

The point of this story is to show you how much has changed since then. Now, a man dying before his sixtieth birthday is an anomaly. On average we live longer and our life expectancy is continuously improving. But does it mean we could live forever? And who would want to?

Apparently mankind had been fascinated with old age long before any scientific attempts to describe the problem were even possible. The first source of longevity fantasies is religion. Demi-gods, prophets, wizards and heroes reaching sometimes hundreds of years are common in mythology across every culture. Some Sumerian kings were believed to have reigned for up to 36 000 years. Legendary Chinese wizards lived for several hundred years and many of the classical heroes were simply immortal.

Same motives can be found in our own culture as well. The oldest person in the Old Testament was Methuselah with a whopper age of 969 and he was only one amongst many antediluvian figures, with Jared (962) not far behind and Adam, Moses and Job also following. In Qur’an (which is much more conservative in this matter), only Noah is mentioned to “be with his people” for 950 years. Some interpreters of the holy texts claim that it is a mere fault in translation mistaking the lunar cycles for solar ones (i.e. the aforementioned ages would be denoted in months rather than years). Assuming it might be indeed the case, Methuselah turns out to be a little under 81, Jared a bit over 80, and the rest in their late 70’s. Those old blokes will become handy in the latter part of this article.

Regardless of writers’ intentions, the stories of old men in the Bible have influenced the western civilisation’s view of longevity for over a millennium. All through the Dark and Middle Ages old age was considered to be a divine blessing and an average lifespan of the population, much shorter than that of the prophets, was seen as punishment for the humanity for all its sins. Hence, the myth of a purifying power of the Holy Grail, absolving all sins and thus granting eternal life. And speaking about Holy Grail it is hard not to mention the legend of Merlin Ambrosius an Arthurian wizard, who lived for at least half a millennium.

With the Renaissance came a more humanistic approach connecting old age with physicality and for the first time healthy living was put forth before spirituality, although what renaissance people considered healthy was not exactly the same concept as our own. Still, the budding science of medicine started an everlasting pursuit of panacea – the ultimate cure for all diseases – which was portrayed in the quest for the cleansing Fountain of Youth. In the XVIIth century, the quest for eternal life traversed even further into exact sciences’ territory, when it became the objective of alchemy. Of course, the Philosopher’s Stone was primarily sought after for its ability to transform lead into gold, thus giving its owner unlimited wealth, but the unlimited time to spend it in was a perk none the less.

The first scientific studies of longevity date back to the second half of XVIIIth century, when Bolle Willum Luxdorf started working on his Catalogus longævorum – Catalogue of the Long-living. Amongst many names and stories gathered in his work, two are worth mentioning. The first is that of Petran Czartan from Timisoara (Romania), the first holder of the “oldest person ever” title, who died in 1724, allegedly at the age of 185. His claim was based on his exact knowledge of historical events he had witnessed. His story is unverifiable, but remarkably, it is also very difficult to disprove. The second person of Luxdorf’s study worth mentioning is Katherin, countess of Desmond, who was the only one of the entire list to have nothing to do with her longevity claim and also the only one, whose story can be verified by official documents. Although she was definitely not 140 when she died in 1604 and her date of birth can not be pinned down, she was well over 90, which makes her one of the oldest women in the Renaissance (especially that women’s life expectancy was shorter than men’s until XIXth century – more on that later).

The following centuries were finally quite well documented, which allowed me to come up with the following table:

Table I: Life expectancy, life span and oldest people through history (from Renaissance on, UK data is used instead of world’s average)

Life expectancy

(at birth)

Life expectancy

(after reaching adulthood)

Oldest verified person of the period
Paleolithic Age (> 12 000 BC) 33 54
Mesolithic Age (12 000 – 7000 BC) 32
Neolithic Age (7 000 – 3 100 BC) 31.5 Otzi – 46-70
Bronze Age (3100 BC – 1 150 BC) 32-36 Ramesses II – 90
Iron Age (1150 – 650 BC) 35
Classical Age (650 – 350 BC) 40.5 Gorgias – 105
Hellenistic Age (350 – 50 BC) 40 Alexis – 100
Roman Age (50 BC – 476 AD) 36 47.5 Galeria Copiola – 105
Dark Ages (476 AD – 1046 AD) 34 Pepin II – 79
Middle Ages (1046 AD – 1348 AD) 35-42 64 Godric of Finchale – 105
Renaissance & Reformation (1348 – 1620 AD) 31-35 69 Laurence Chaderdon – 104
Enlightenment (1620 – 1780 AD) 35-40 71 Ferdinand Ashmall – 103
Industrial Age & Modern Era (1780 – 1918 AD) 40-54 68 Margaret Ann Neve – 110
Interwar period & WWII (1918-1945 AD) 54-64 71 Delina Filkins – 113
Atomic & Space Age (1945 – 1972 AD) 64-72 75 Mary Kelly – 113
Information Age (1972 – 2000 AD) 72-80 78 Jeanne Calment -122
XXI th century (2000 AD <) 81 82 Misao Okawa – 117

Let’s start with the basics and explain what life expectancy really is. In short, it is the average amount of time a person at a certain age is expected to live. Two main points of the previous sentence are “average” and “at a certain age”. The first one means that all possible illnesses, accidents, wars, murders, etc. are taken into account and the latter means that it can be calculated just as well for an infant as for a supercentenarian. Thus, what we normally refer to as “life expectancy”, is in fact “life expectancy at birth” and is the simplest way to statistically describe population’s age.

Having said that, it is crucial to remember to interpret the data correctly. Over the previous century this statistic for the world’s population than doubled from 31 in 1900 to 67.6 in 2010. In fact ever since the paleolithic age mankind’s life expectancy at birth has oscillated around 35 right until the Xth century, reached 40 by the XVIIth century and only exceeded 50 at the beginning of XXth century. Does this mean our life span miraculously increased over the last 100 years? Obviously not. So what happened?

The first thing to clear is why our life expectancy at birth wasn’t improving drastically before the XIXth century. Around 14 000 years ago mankind’s lifestyle changed dramatically from hunting/gathering to semi-settled farming. At first, low yielding crops were unable to fully replace the meat/fruit/nut diet with grains and vegetables, which resulted in a bigger mortality rate through malnutrition, partially offset by a lower number of cold-related deaths and hunting accidents, but overall causing the life expectancy to plunge from 33 to 32.

With agriculture and animal domestication, soon people settled completely and were able to gather in bigger societies. The more food they were able to produce, the bigger their villages became and so, without proper sewer systems, waste induced illnesses and local disease outbreaks replaced malnutrition as a primary cause of death and the average life span further decreased to our species’ lowest – 31.5.

From then on things seemed to be only getting better. Crops were plentiful and less weather dependant. Excess food allowed some people to make a living differently than by farming or hunting. So began a slow, but steady progress of technology, philosophy, arts and science. 2 500 years of relatively undisturbed growth followed, resulting in flourishing cultures of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome. Human life expectancy rose by one-third to 40.5 and the longest living humans were a half older than their predecessor from the neolithic age passing the 100 years barrier. One could truly say, the classical age was a golden one.

Unfortunately, it was not to last for a new peril overshadowed our civilisation. With new advances in technology, transport and engineering, war ceased to be a globally meaningless local conflict and became a factor influencing the lives of the whole mankind. Persian wars, Alexander the Great campaigns, Punic Wars and finally the Roman Conquest managed to outweigh the benefits of progress and brought life expectancy back towards decline. At first it was a slight drop to a round 40 years mark, but it was soon to be deepened.

By the Ist century, BC Rome was the decisive force of human civilisation, spreading over three continents and forcing its lifestyle on its citizens. What the Romans didn’t know, was that lead, which was then a material commonly used in plumbing and in kitchenware (plates, pots, cups, etc.), is toxic. Combined with neverending border wars and city expansion, it was a deadly mix bringing down our statistic back to 36 years. The empire finally collapsed leaving Europe in a state of constant power struggle for the second half of the first millennium. Without further advances in medicine and constant political chaos, the population’s average lifespan diminished by another 2 years.

At the brink of a new millennium, things started looking up again. Papacy reinstituted the Holy Roman Empire stabilising the political situation. Wars were still common, but main cities were able to prosper peacefully and once again the food was abundant. For the next 300 years progress prevailed and Europe experienced a Golden Age, in which the life expectancy reached an ever highest 42. It was brutally stopped by the Black Death and the Hundred Years War that followed, which instantly reduced the average life length by over a quarter to only 31. After another fifty years, Reformation began a century of religious wars and inquisition. Reaching the New World didn’t help our ancestor’s lifespan either, as sea mortality was high and the conquistadores rarely died of old age. Regardless of an enormous leap in general science and medicine, by 1620 the life expectancy managed to recover only 4 years of the drop, reaching 35.

Ever since then, the scientific progress has been fast enough to overpower any adverse conditions. Not even a revolutionary period of the second half of the XVIIIth century stopped the steady growth of the average age at death. Soon the industrial revolution pushed the world into the modern era and the greatest factor hindering life expectancy rise – infant mortality – was gradually defeated.

It is also worth mentioning that it was only in the XIXth century, when women’s life expectancy expected men’s one. This was because two main factors shortening women’s lives were eliminated. The first one was death while giving birth, which became a rare occurrence and the second one was lack of means to live in the old age, as in previous centuries women rarely held any positions of power and rarely inherited any assets. Moreover XIXth century saw the introduction of pension plans adding a few years extra for seniors of both genders.

In XXth century rapid progress of all fields of science and just as rapid change in lifestyle allowed our life expectancy to soar even despite two world wars and several social engineering experiments. For the first time in history mankind has an abundance of resources and unparalleled knowledge of our genome. Is this enough to push our lifespan to a new level? So… who wants to live forever?

Further reading: