sábado, 4 de mayo de 2019

An Ominous Book T-shirts

I am launching these two cute designs featuring characters from my books: Lod Spaulding and Lord Froylan.

Colorful, cute and fun for all, why not take a look and see if something catches your fancy?

Lord Spaulding




Lord Froylan





Cheers!

I hate LATAM airline's new pricing system

Now, I am a stereotypical millennial. College educated, hopelessly single and most likely perpetually childless, and instead of being one of those people that goes bankrupt buying the latest gizmo and brand name clothes to impress the Jones, I prefer to travel because I love traveling.

And yes, I am guilty of traveling abroad a lot more than locally. Depending on how you count the countries I have been to, I have either been to 9 or 10 countries so far ever since I graduated med school in 2011. I have made a huge effort even now that I am temporarily earning 40-50% less money than as a GP to travel abroad at least once a year. I might break the tradition this year though because I need a certain amount of money to purchase my titulation papers and specialist registrar license.

Now, I have been to South America on 2 occasions and have flown on LATAM airlines on both occasions. On both occasions, the flights have been to Santiago de Chile because for some reason that still confuses me, even though Chile has a more robust economy thanks to a stable government and copper mining, tickets are almost always cheaper for me than if I went directly to Argentina. One could argue that if I was very clever and didn't mind connections, I could still land a great deal flying either to Peru, Colombia or Panama on a wide array of different airlines including the quality mexican ones such as Interjet or Aeroméxico, where I could then connect to Buenos Aires for a lower fee. Since I am still currently a poor graduate student earning a modest but still sufficient scholarship, I haven't bothered to check that out for now.

Back to the topic at hand, the first trip to Chile was a direct 8 hour lugger via LATAM and I found out one day before I left Mexico that Chile has a sort of reciprocity tax with Mexico and Australia. Apparently, Mexico charges a similar tax to most Latin American tourists, even countries with stable economies (such as Chile) where citizens that would be unlikely to weasel themselves into the country and work under the table without getting work visas.

Now, since this entry tax is not a visa "per se", Wikipedia never really gave any thought about mentioning this little tidbit of information. I believe it was some random mexican backpacking tourist blog that revealed this critical information to me the day before I left, so that I could be prepared to fork the 400 MXN in US currency when I showed up (there is a MXN/Chilean peso conversion booth in Terminal 1 of Mexico City's airport... the problem is that all direct flights to Chile are in Terminal 2 where the currency booths only offer the really popular money conversions such as USD or Euro). I showed up at Santiago de Chile's airport and walked the plank of shame along with the scant few other mexican citizens to the pay-me-up booth instead of going direct to customs like everyone else. Long story short, while the blog post was correct that you had to pay 23 USD to enter Chile, it has to be exact change. I brought 2 20 dollar bills. Had I known they were going to be so picky, I would have gone to Banco Azteca anytime and convert exact spare change. I ended up having to pay the tax with my credit card, which is something that always annoys me because mexican CC's charge like a 30% surcharge for international transactions plus the unfair USD/MXN conversion. Luckily when I got home, my credit card bill stated I was only charged for the regular monetary conversion rate. If you ever travel to Chile on an Australian passport, they charge a much heftier 160 USD. Just to let you know.

Anyhow, my first trip mainly focused on Santiago de Chile for 2-3 days, a side day trip to Valparaíso, and then I flew to Calama domestic via LATAM and easily reached the very touristy San Pedro de Atacama. Don't worry about the fact that Calama airport is still 45 minutes away from the town. 90% of the people flying to Calama are tourists just like you and there's a whole ton of shuttle companies fighting over each other to convince you to ride with them. I highly suggest buying the return ticket for a 20% discount, they usher you to your hotel directly and you can also call them to change arrangements with no extra charge. I then did the 4 day Uyuni trip in Bolivia which is really, really, really worth it. People claim Mexico is cheap and whatnot. They don't realize it would be impossible to book a quality 4 day tour with food, booze & lodging included along with really friendly tour guides that explain everything every step in the way (in Spanish only) for only 4000 MXN, at least in the really touristy areas such as the Mayan Riviera. You would be lucky if you can book a 1 day entry to Xcaret or the half day whale shark snorkeling tour for only 2000 MXN per person. 

My second trip to South America was also via LATAM and I spent 5 days in Easter Island. In case you are wondering: the island is freaking awesome. Some people claim that you can rent a car and see it in 1 1/2 days. Theoretically, it could be possible if you already know where all of the cool places are (hint: a lot of the cool stuff is not mentioned in the maps and barely covered on the internet travel blog sites. You have to know a local from the island to tell them to you). Easter Island is safe from earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis, which is good. The bad thing is that 50% of the time, it can be raining cats & dogs. You never know when you will get a dud day. No, it will not be sprinkling little droplets of water, it's going to be monsoon rain bad. And just to let you know; most of the best parts of the island are outdoor activities. Even the museum on Ororo volcano requires a very long trek in the wilderness that will become a mud slop during bad weather.

I didn't do it because I lack the permit (I would love to do it someday though!), but Easter Island has one thing that is a real bling bling bargain: scuba diving classes. I was amazed at how cheap it was to get the PADI permit. Still a bit more pricey than Roatán, but cheaper than if you got it in Cancún without a buddy discount. There is an underwater moai!!! <3

So, in case you are wondering, that is the main reason why the majority of people visit Easter Island for several days. An ideal itinerary would be 7 days, some people that simply want to take things very slow spend 10 days. I would have liked to do 10 days, but even though lodging in a guesthouse where you can cook your meals is very affordable (around 50-80 USD a night), food is expensive. There is a reason why everyone suggests foreign tourists to bring food from back home that can be legally brought to Chile such as cereal boxes, pasta and soup packages in the plane. Believe me, bring your food and then splurge on 1 meal a day. Your wallet will thank you for it.

In a nutshell, I had 2 really great trips to South America and while I think LATAM could offer a larger variety of in plane meals because they always offered a very limited selection of pasta alfredo and tomato raviolis, the airline offered good deals backs then. I still can't believe I snagged round trip tickets to Easter Island for only 745 USD (taxes and everything included).

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Sadly, and this is the reason why I decided to write this tediously long blog post, LATAM changed their policies early this year. Some brilliant executive higher up in the food chain has decided to emulate crummy American companies and start nickel and dime tourists for every menial surcharge. This is especially annoying to mexicans such as myself in part because everything charged in USD is 200 times more expensive for our already limited wallets due to the always unfair exchange rate and the country's chicken little paychecks. Mexicans are also not used to be treated like disposable sardines by airlines. In comparison to american companies, most Mexican airlines still offer a lot of services. Before Interjet's finances began to crumble in a good percentage due to the NAIM airport disaster where everyone is now paying AMLO's stupid wambulance temper tantrums with a 800 MXN tax when they fly international from AICM (yes, even to nearby destinations like Texas or Guatemala get slammed with the same awful tax as people flying to China or Europe), Interjet offered you 1 can of free beer. Ah, those were the days!

Back then, when LATAM offered you an outlet deal, the deals were good, real good. 450 USD round trip to Lima with taxes included, you choose your seat for free, 1 piece of free documented luggage that was max 23 kg, yup yup!

Now, LATAM started issuing a really crummy deal: their "cheap" 350 USD round trip tickets to Lima do not include a documented luggage and these "bargains" do not include the taxes either which usually ump the plane ticket price 100 USD.

As a millennial where I am used to being told everything moneywise in my face so that I can make an informed decision instead of wasting my time, I would prefer to get the full price of my ticket so that I don't waste time typing my name and yadda yadda yadda, only to discover that "bargain" is in reality 500 USD.

I also detest airlines that are emulating every bad corporation decision by American airline companies to dump every surcharge on customers because they whine that they are always bankrupt... only to never remove these awful and very pricey fees once they become solvent. Just to let anyone know, there is a reason why I seldom travel to the USA even though I can enter the country whenever I feel like it. They few times I travel there, I always fly mexican airlines.

Airlines claim that surcharging tourists is a good money grab. Yes, in theory, it is. The problem? Since most people traveling to South America are on short trips such as myself or people visiting friends & family, they are usually not going to be bringing Fido the dog and their golf clubs. They will be traveling with clothes, shampoo and a laptop. I am used to traveling with a backpack and have learned the delicate art of traveling with only sufficient changes of clothes for 5 days and then hire a laundry service abroad for dirt cheap. And I suppose at least for the trip towards my destination, I can suck it up and carry 1 piece of luggage on the plane and buy shampoo abroad.

The problem when everyone dumps their luggage inside of the plane?

Everyone packs their luggage to the limit and then you are waiting in the aisle like the stooping idiot while everyone is stuffing their turkeys in the overhead bins. Along with the fact that it is epicly annoying to have to search all over the plane for a place to stuff my luggage even everything is already filled, airlines are losing money for every minute the plane is in the airport because it cannot take off until all of the bags are stuffed and the passengers seated. In a way, enticing clients to document luggage saves the airline time & money. But when you make it prohibitively expensive to do so, will people bite the dust?

I really, really hope LATAM reverses this decision. They have a luggage document surcharge that, well, it boosts the plane ticket price to the upper economy pricing system. That 400 USD plane trip to Lima with the luggage surcharge boosts it to 500 USD but without any of the perks of the upper economy ticket (such as seat selection and a better ticket cancellation policy). Might as well just buy the upper economy ticket that has the free documented luggage included and get over with it.

LATAM has an absolute power over flying to Easter Island, there is no other way to avoid it unless you Travel via the USA to other pacific islands or make complicated round trips all over SE Asia and go there via Tahiti. Their Lima-Rapa Nui route was also canned because Chile is insanely strict regarding bringing diseased fruit & vegetables to their country. In that sense, I think the policy to continue viewing Rapa Nui as a domestic flight to protect their already fragile environment from diseased foreign food to be good mojo.

I am definitely not a fan of LATAM's new luggage policy that renders every "deal" to be a dud. Perhaps I would have to suck it up buttercup and bow to the overlords in order to visit Easter Island again, but that doesn't mean I have to do the same for LATAM's other routes.

Aeroméxico travels to several South American hubs such as Santiago. Tickets can be a bit on the pricey side, but Aeroméxico continues its 1 documented luggage for free at least to South America (this is obligatory according to mexican law and they can get penalized for millions of dollars if they try to do this gimmick to any international destination that isn't Canada or the USA). If you are patient with outlet sales (and Aeroméxico has been holding quite a lot of them lately), chances are you will fly to Santiago cheaper with them.

Your second option is using the huge array of competing airlines for travel to Lima and Colombia. The Airbus A350 is perfectly capable of flying from Mexico City and Cancún to Peru and Colombia, so you can get good deals on Interjet. Volaris doesn't fly to South America yet, but they have been expanding their fleet to Costa Rica and now even Nicaragua. It is only a matter of time before the two budget airlines fly to Panama, which will open the doors to South America on the cheap.

If I were a tourist wondering if I wanted to fly to South America, I would avoid LATAM unless the Upper Economy ticket was a better deal over the competition. Maybe they can get away with Brazil and Argentina, but plenty of cheaper airlines fly to the closer South American destinations.


Buyer beware.











miércoles, 24 de abril de 2019

Indie April

These are the final days of Indie April.

What is that?

A special 1 month event where bloggers, reading enthusiasts and book authors share the word of indie books and promote their material with the hopes of increasing sales, and obtain the ever elusive reviews.

Me?

I haven't gained any new reviews for my books (le sigh!) but I have gotten a handful of KU reads from several books and I have read & reviewered a few indie books.

Remember!

If you read a book, even if you didn't like it too much, try to spend 5 minutes of your time writing a review on major websites. You will make an author feel very happy and could stimulate people to try out new work.

Cheers!

sábado, 9 de marzo de 2019

Why blog?

I have to admit that I haven't been writing much on this blog as of late. Unless you were living under a rock, chances are you have heard that Google+ is shutting down because people simply don't use the website.

It makes a lot of sense to cut down of the chaff, but doing so has caused viewership to my blog to plummet to less than 5 views per week.

As such, I sometimes don't really have a topic to write about. My blog mainly focuses on what I write, and it isn't aimed at more mainstream topics such as travel or book authoring tips.

If you have reached the end of this brief post, kudos for showing up!

sábado, 9 de febrero de 2019

Is the article where mexican scientist cures cervical cancer fake news?

Honestly, I don't obsessively check each and every medical journal. I am obliged to try to keep up to date on breakthrough discoveries pertaining towards anesthesiology, and I do read what I can in my free time. Medical news comes bursting at an insane rate and it's impossible to read everything.

Last week, ground breaking news burst through the twitters-phere about a group of mexican scientists from IPN university who found a way to "eliminate HPV virus, the leasing cause of cervicouterine cancer. This is a devastating disease that is still the second leading cause of death of mexican women (at least regarding cancer), and the patients I have met with the disease suffer greatly from it.

Like usual, news outlets became excited from the ground-breaking discovery.

Unfortunately, while the news at first sight sounds great, and it will become a huge boost for government funding for IPN (and I believe the school will surely make good use of this aid), the news is actually misleading.

Why?

Look no further than the abstract of the original article:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28380684



The article for starters is from 2017. The second tidbit of news is that while it used an innovative technique, scientists were only capable of eliminating the virus in 83% of patients where 57% of them remained cancer free 12 months later. I have not yet read the full article, but the abstract is pretty self explanatory.

But but but... I read this article from El Universal that stated they found the cure!

https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/english/mexican-scientist-cures-human-papilloma-virus

I read it too. I also cringed at the crummy English used by the newspaper. Even Google translate is better than whoever translated the article.

Now, pubmed can be a highly reliable friend when you want to search for medical articles. I use it a lot because I need to for my job. I looked at the name listed in the Universal article and searched for her most recent published article.



This article is obviously not about the ground breaking discovery, and any 2018 articles are unrelated to HPV cancer. Now, I can't deny that perhaps this mysterious ground breaking work is still yet to be formally published. I will give it the benefit of the doubt.

In the meanwhile, the next time some reporter is about to release somewhat relevant medical literature, they should be certain that the information is correct with the aid of a doctor. Spreading confusing news can cause havoc and potentially ruin the hard earned reputations of doctors.

In an era where people prefer to listen to quacks and con artists (anti vaxxers anyone?) instead of people who have spent 12 or even more years in higher education, it should be the responsibility of journalists in an era replete with fake news to verify their sources first.

lunes, 4 de febrero de 2019

An Ominous Book 7 Harlequins coming live!


I have taken an insanely and unjustified long hiatus before releasing the 7th novel of the Ominous Book series. In an ideal world, I would have waited an additional year and a half to officially publish the book in order to afford the publicity the book deserves.

Against better sense, I opted to release this book so that I can focus my attention on my many other half finished and close to finished projects, amonst them, to publish the 8th book of the series as well, which is still going under some extra revisions that I engage in when I have the chance.

The 7th novel Harlequins is the longest book of the series, and probably and the 5th book, it is my second favorite because it explores a new and very exciting character Hama, and her buddling relationship to an always reluctant Lord Spaulding.

The drawing above is the first cover of the 7th novel. I have always wanted it to feature both Hama and her arch-nemesis Gulraj in the cover, because they look really nice together even though Hama would never agree to date him. Quite frankly, I didn't like how Hama's face turned out too much, and I tried redrawing it like 3 times or something. I find it to be a shame because Gulraj turned out so close to how I have always imagined him to be, cunning smirk and harlequin steel sword included!

All in all, while an extremely limited amount of people have read the 3rd novel, much less read all the way to the 7th, I am deeply pleased with this book that I love reading over and over again, and hope Hama's story delights you half as much as I enjoyed writing and laughing about her voyage.

The ebook is stated to be published February 14th, and I am trying to upload the pdf file with little success for some reason so that the paperback is available as well. Click on the image below to get it on Amazon right now!


sábado, 29 de diciembre de 2018

Do you like taking MOOC courses?

I'm a geeky bookworm. There you go, simple as that.

I enjoy learning and reading new things for fun. Reading books is just a huge source of fun for me, and I feel sad that I spent so much of my life devoid of the joy of ebooks because the technology didn't properly exist yet.

Now, I have a college degree, and in 14 months, I will graduate from my Masters degree as well. Again, that is really cool.

But for all of the cool stuff I learn that is fully applicable to my degree, I never get to have any fun. My degree was different from the average undergrad where you could take a dozen intro 101 courses and learn a little of what you want. Had I had this option, due to the nauseating amount of college credits needed to graduate (almost 500!), I would have never finished undergrad ever.

So, I got the degree, but didn't really get to enjoy "the college experience". My Master degree is another fluke. To this day, I have only set foot into the university that will recognize my degree a whopping total of 10 times, half of which were quick 10 minute visits to pay the reinscription fee. I have never seen the massive library that the school boasts. Heck, I don't even have an ID card as such. It's been 2 years, and they still haven't sent us one in the mail and I was too lazy to get one myself when I had the chance. Bummer.

Therefore, while I don't have a lot of free time, I do enjoy taking a MOOCs course here and there. Most of the courses are not directly related to my degree, but given my degree involves a lot of Chemistry and Physics, I have found relatable knowledge from MOOCs I have taken as seemingly unrelated such as the CSI esque Real Life Criminal Investigation MOOC I once took (spectrometers used in crime labs to identify chemicals follow the same physics as some of the medical equipment I use on a daily basis).

I took a Harvardx course on Public Health a few years ago for fun, and while there were things about the course I feel like I had to disagree with, the website sometimes sends me brochures when new courses pop up.

Today they just sent me one about the Cairo pyramids in Egypt. It seems like a fun course, it's free and it's a set-your-own-pace sort of deal. I really can't enjoy it right now because of time constraints, but in case you want to learn more about the ancient pyramids, you can click on the image below.

Enjoy!