My Zunivers

30 January 2008

Go Read This

Some of you don't read my wife's blog, so I thought I'd give you a link to this post that she made earlier this week.

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28 January 2008


No, this isn't all about the weirdos I came across at the airports I recently visited.

I was playing Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 today and I decided to look at the helicopters. Everyone I know who has played this game has told me that the helicopters are just skins for aircraft and that the controls did not simulate a helicopter. When I went to the helicopter and started flying, I noticed immediately that the helicopters are airplane skins, they are real helicopters! I had to try this more (and I resolved to smack around the half dozen people I know who apparently can't tell the difference between helicopter and airplane controls). If I could fly something for real, I would like to fly helicopters.

My airplane skills are lousy, so I figured my helicopter skills would be worse. I haven't spent hours of my short life killing time with helicopter simulators. I sucked with the helicopter. Helicopters go in every direction. Airplanes have a rather forward direction and gauges to tell you if your travel direction is off from the centerline of the aircraft. Helicopters react to control changes in completely different ways from an airplane. Airplanes move due to air passing over control surfaces as the plane moves forward. Helicopters are controlled by changing rotor blade pitches and the tail rotor speed. Helicopters are inherently unstable, and even with my HOTAS (a Saitek X45, which has tail rotor controls at my fingertips) I had trouble keeping everything from going haywire.

Anyway, I got to spend about an hour playing helicopter pilot today. I worked mostly on landing, and I went from unable to even crash into a specific large area (like Central Park) to completing almost half of my tries at landing on a selected area the size of half a dozen football fields. That's progress of some sort, but don't need me to fly you to the hospital any time soon.

My advice to you if you are thinking about flying a helicopter simulator-- don't do it unless you've got a firm handle on the principles of helicopter flight. It's bad enough when you have that.

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24 January 2008

Dostoevsky Alert!

As I flew west out of Charlotte on a recent afternoon, I passed over some of the nicer mountains that our country has to offer. In fact, I know that I flew over GSMNP (look it up) because I saw Fontana Lake. Seeing that got me thinking about hiking, and about how those mountains down there are actually pretty high compared to the ones I play on near home. It made me feel a little high... a little on edge... a little inventive, even.

For some reason I started thinking about gloves as I sat there thinking about hiking. A genius invented those. Gloves wrap up each of your fingers and keep your little pointers cozy and warm. It's so much fun to take a nice rest after along hike, too, so I started thinking about how maybe I could sleep in a glove. Maybe this body glove would be kind of like footy pajamas with built-in mittens and a hood, I thought.

As I gazed out to Tennessee and maybe in the distance, looking at the terrain and thinking about how a sleep down there would be more comfortable than a ride in a CRJ-900 (look it up), I realized that mittens are warmer than gloves. I didn't want to sleep in footy pajamas, I wanted to sleep in something more like my kid's baby bags, with arms and a big pouch for my torso.

As the flight continued, I thought to myself that the baby bag was a silly place to stop. If my legs would be warmer together, maybe I could put my arms inside, too? I had it now! In a stroke of genius, I had invented something spectacular. It would be made of insulated materials, have a hole for my head, and have a zipper to get my body in and out. I pondered for a few minutes about the potential for fame-- campers everywhere may begin using this device. I would be rich!

Somewhere over Tennessee, a wave of sadness filled me, crushing my spirits as the low sun reflected from the approaching Mississippi. In my stroke of genius, I had invented the common sleeping bag.

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Bunch o' Crap

I've spent the last two weeks teetering between the too-much-going-on-to-post and not-enough-going-on-to-post states. Yeah.

Anyway, here now, I have some things to say.

I'm pretty ticked about this whole economic stimulus hubbub coming from two branches of our government. Why? Well, because these people have disregarded sound economic policy for a good while, for one thing. One of the primary problems with the US economy seems to be that ultimately too much of our money is getting dumped out of our country. If we give American people more money that is all well and good, but if we give back 1% of the GDP so that people can send 80% of it overseas, it's just nearly 1% more of the GDP in money that's headed to China or some oil country or whatever. We need to keep money here and keep it moving around, not just keep money moving outward. Another problem is our government's deficit spending. Still another is the average American's deficit spending. Also, when things like my potential sources of income get pooped on by congress in favor of thrice their value in earmarks, I don't particularly like the government deciding to either spend less or go into more debt. Perhaps there's little war that needs to have some money cut instead of science.

Totally creepy evening-- I sent an e-mail to one of my references, who I forgot is currently more than halfway around the world. (More than halfway on a sphere? Yes. I mean more than halfway by time. The spherical spatial symmetry, when mapped to time, gets broken by the date line.) So I'm doing my normal 2AM beg for recommendation letters thing, which is hardly begging because these guys are so nice, and he replied before I was done sending the next message. So, yeah, that was weird. But I guess it's supper time there, so maybe it's not weird. Yes, there are physicists who eat supper at their computers.

My kid is really cute. You've got to have one like her. Of course, my mother in law says my wife was cute before she grew up, too. And my mom says the same thing about me. Oooh! More symmetry breaking! Aging freezes out degrees of freedom. Wow, this is nerd central tonight. Anyway, the kid has been entering that pissed off stage where she realizes there is more to the world than she can accomplish. Heh. That'll never go away. It starts with wanting to roll over but your head is too big and ends with realizing you'll never be a scientist when you grow up even though you've already gotten a PhD. On the bright side, she'll be out of diapers in a few years, so her life will improve over time whether she admits it or not.

I'd like to sell t-shirts online. To do that legally, I need to register a company (not necessarily a corporation, just a company) with the state in order to take care of sales taxes and other taxes. To register with the state, I need to go through God knows what (only He could; I've looked at the stuff) that's been set up to get this done. Apparently there were too many failing small businesses in past decades, so the state has set up all sorts of red tape to start one that involves making sure your business plan is sound and you know the laws and yadda yadda ya. That might be good at making sure people don't lose their shirts, but it also means that you can't legally sell one fricking shirt without explaining to Big Brother how you plan to successfully make this shirt selling thing into your life work. If any of you with recent experience with proprietorships want to save my sanity, let me know. Maybe there's a way to the barn besides the cattle chute, and I just can't see it. And no, tax fraud or asking a lawyer doesn't count.

I ate too much today.

I don't even want to start complaining about this stupid Fortran program. It's an excellent Fortran program, really. It's great, although dated. The compilers, however, need a swift kick in the behind. This program compiles fine with g77. g77 is gone from memory at my place of work, at least as far as I can tell. gfortran and ifort won't compile the program, giving me error messages about-- horror-- declaring constants inside a function, and writing to the screen, and using common blocks! Oh, the humanity! The program wants to do perfectly valid things, but the compiler can't let it do that! You know what? I must have totally screwed up the indentation of a line somewhere.

Leave a comment and let me know how life is going.

Oh, and to my good friend next county over whose wedding I best manned (verbed!), I've been meaning to call you but I can't seem to get around to it between when I get up and around 10PM. I haven't forgotten, I'm just lame enough to explain myself here instead of, say, e-mailing you.

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21 January 2008

Why I Quit the Sound Room

Sorry for all of you non-church types. This one will bore you. Go search through Google for studies by Christians about why people leave churches. Not the ranting crap by positivist types with an agenda, the sociology of religion stuff. It will be more informative for you than reading my ranting crap.

Now, for the churchy among us

As I said a few days ago, I quit my job in the church sound room. It took no discussion with anyone, I just made up my mind. But I think it is fair for me to outline why this came about and why I have made up my mind to throw in the towel. First, you need to know where I'm coming from. Then we'll get to specifics.

Working up in the church sound room is a thankless job. If you do it perfectly, nobody notices that you're there. Your goal there is to be invisible. Of course, sometimes you do screw something up. The best of the best in professional situations like TV broadcasting or movies screw things up when multiple people are cross checking each others' work. We plebes, whether just as talented as a pro or there only because we have bigger hearts than ears, have no hope of ever being perfect when working alone. The end result is that people sometimes do notice us. That is the only way to get noticed-- make mistakes.

When the job gets noticed, different things happen depending on who notices and what they notice. Turn on a microphone late for a prayer and you get a friendly jab about it from one of your fellow volunteers. Miss turning someone's guitar louder during the first verse of a song and you'll get some crap for it, usually from that person or from someone else singing or playing an instrument. By crap what I mean is condescending attitude and a little bit of "What's wrong with you?" served up with some implied "Don't do it wrong again." (That last bit is laughable because no matter how desperately people try to tell you the way to run a mixer, it's an art form rather than a science. Proof comes when you get two people telling you opposite things about what you should do-- and believe me that happens even when you try to make art that matches people's perceptions of propriety. Some things like missing a cue are universally called mistakes, but there are people who get their panties in a twirlie as small as mixing as if the piano is the lead when they think the guitar is the lead.)

I can take crap. I've been taking crap about audio mixing in churches for almost fifteen years. Crap itself isn't a problem. I'm used to it. But I do want you to note something about getting crap about sound systems at church-- except for major problems like feedback or not being able to hear the sermon, the people who do the complaining are almost always the people who take roles on the microphone end, not the people who are always on the speaker end. It's not necessarily the people with the microphone (or instrument) who gripe, it's people who sometimes have one. The people who never get on the platform basically never complain unless something big happens. This is why I tell people just getting into this sort of work that the clueless people in the pews are the best judge of their abilities. Musicians, frequent speakers, and fellow techies are clouded by their personal biases.

My response to complaints is based on the motivations behind my description of the job. My job description is to never be noticed. Why do I choose that description? I choose it because it is my way of fitting into the bigger picture of ministering in corporate worship. If I am noticed, I could be, for some person, a distraction from the sounds, sights, thoughts, and even spirit of worship. There is a reason why I put that conditional in there, saying "could be" rather than "am." There are things that I do that get me noticed but that are not in any way harming anyone's worship experience. You only really know by asking individual people.

My response is a simple question-- "Whose worship experience was ruined?"

This takes complainers aback. Whose worship experience was ruined. They seem to find that to be an interesting thought. When I make a major screw up like let some feedback slip, I know that I made some people cringe and I'm sorry if that really ruined their morning. When I didn't balance a guitar volume properly for your crappy seat two rows back and on the left outside the main speaker envelope and in earshot of the monitors, you might be one of the singers who just wasn't doing that song but you don't have a chance in a lifetime of convincing me that I ruined anyone's church service.

But did I ruin someone's service? And for that matter am I really sorry that I ruined someone's morning with a little slip of feedback? Frankly, that feedback really could have ruined someone's morning. That imbalance in the guitar really could have made the self proclaimed mixing expert want to pull her hair out. But you know what? If people are that anal, that's not my problem. I can't be perfect and never squeal a speaker (even though it has been years). I can't balance the sound to everyone's liking when different people have different tastes. But, even more important, nobody in a church, involved with worship or not, should be so uptight that a little speaker ringing or a little volume imbalance kills their spirit of worship. Even if feedback is annoying for everyone in the room, get over it. Even if you hear the volume imbalance because I'm doing it differently than Chris Tomlin's recording but nobody else in the room notices, get over it.

Answering my question is confusing. What I'm demanding is that people be evaluated to make sure that their complaints about church sound match up to what should and should not bother them. By asking whose worship is ruined and then saying that some things are not my problem, I'm introducing the idea of an "ought" without drawing any particular lines of where "ought" is. I gave examples. I could give more. I can't give general, foolproof guidelines for when getting all buggered up is warranted or not.

That question-- "Whose worship experience was ruined?"-- is not just something for sound people. It's actually a question for anyone who helps lead people to worship in any way. Remember that worship doesn't only mean music. People can worship in listening to sermons. Pastors who say "um" and "drrrr" all the time do not get their points across. Their stammering would be a distraction. I can worship God with my intellect. If my intellect spits out big words that confuse everyone at the Bible study, I can think my words and keep my mouth shut. My words would be a distraction.

That is why I'm surprised when my question dumbfounds people. Remember, the people who complain to or about my job are by far the people who make the sounds, visible people who are involved in leading others in worship. They should not be surprised or think that what I'm saying is new and profound. They are already leading, so they already should have thought about this.

Anyway, that's the background material. Now on to the specifics.

Our most recent e-mail with the Sunday schedule said that the people involved in leading the worship have decided that they want the sound room staff to be in half an hour before Sunday School for the warm-up period. That itself is actually rather normal. I did it for years. You should have the person running the computer and projector and the person running the sound board up to speed with everyone else. If you don't, people will miscommunicate and something or another will not happen the way some people (usually musicians) envisioned it. This leads to possible confusion and at its worst distracts the majority of the congregation away from worship and into focusing on the goof-up.

I could drag myself up that early every couple of Sundays and ruin the first two days of my working week-- I do work even though most of my church thinks I don't because I don't get up early every morning. That isn't the problem, although I had one problem with the e-mail itself. Nobody asked me about it. Nobody said "Would this be a problem for you?" In fact, the pastor who sent the e-mail knows that it will be a problem for me. We've discussed my sleeping problems in detail, to the point that I actually had him, at least at the time, understanding. I can't get that far with most people. But the e-mail only said "[We decided at the last meeting that] we need all Sunday morning ministers at the 9am rehearsal. This may be a challenge for some of you but in the spirit of giving God our best we need all parts of the service to be ready for the flow of the service. We have come a long way with technical help like various musicians, special audio/video tracks, the big screen and all needs to be coordinated together so the congregations focus is on worshiping God not watching us 'trip over one another.'"

I know for a fact that I was one of the people he had in mind when he felt the need to put in the line about this new arrangement being a challenge. That bugs me, because he knows that my problem isn't something that I can fix. That isn't the primary concern that I have, though. Like I said, I could drag myself out of bed. My primary concern is later in the sentence-- "... in the spirit of giving God our best we need all parts of the service to be ready..." and still later with "...all needs to be coordinated together so the congregations focus is on worshiping God not watching us 'trip over one another.'"

Second and third things first, the audio work at our church works fine with minimal preparations in order not to be a distraction. The production side is not huge or irregular. Things with sound coordinate fine as long as the person in the chair is paying attention. The main problem with sound is that the musicians are definitely amateurs. With musicians of the caliber we have, everything is noticeably different every time around. The audio levels will be no more or less ready if preset in detail at a rehearsal. (I could go on about how much the musicians themselves do contribute to distracting people's worship, but I'll spare you the details because I'm kind. If musicians are doing the distracting, they should be able to overcome that without my help.) Things with the screen coordinate fine when the singers sing the words as projected, which can be checked without having someone run the computer, and the preassigned timing of multimedia is respected by everyone.

First thing second, that tired old line "giving God our best" is in there. That line is the excuse that every granny in the pews uses for why we shouldn't wear jeans in church when I'm sure God doesn't give a flip. That line, or some variation using Christian slang like "first fruits," is used by money grubbing evangelists to get their coffers filled when I'm sure that God has no such intentions. That line is also used by every perfectionist or otherwise picky person as a reason that everyone else should pander their opinion so that they do not need to face their own inflexibility.

So, I'm quitting. The reason why I'm quitting is because I'm being asked to do something unnecessary for no reason except to make inflexible people more comfortable. It's not something I can't do, it's something that will make no improvements when I do it. And I'm not convinced that I'm being asked to do it for God. It's probably the musicians who are the most upset about things not going properly as they define it (completely ignoring their own problems that I'm being nice enough not to outline), but it could be some of the congregation who have complaints but are afraid to come to me. If it is the former, they need to get over it. If it's the latter, the worship team should encourage them get over it. My going early on a Sunday is nothing but enabling someone(s) in their quest to have things their own narrow way, neither flexing nor seeing that what is correct is flexible. Someone somewhere in the church (I have my gut guesses and I'll keep them to myself) has some messed up priorities about music and worship. I can't work with people whose approach to dealing with it is to feed the problem instead of correcting it. I'm not going early to do this job when the people calling for me need to wake up and realize that they or someone else is taking them too seriously and that there are more important things nobody is getting done.

Even if I'm told that it would be okay for me to come in as I have been for years, or that he e-mail was only meant for screen people and not for sound people, or some similar thing, I'm not immediately going back to the job. Going back is going to require specific people making specific changes in their attitudes and approach to ministry and church life. Nothing else will get me back there to work. I'm finished until I see people taking the right approach. If I'm completely wrong and there is nothing wrong with their approach, we shouldn't work together unless we're in agreement. If I'm right, I'm going to wait it out. Either way, I'm out.

So, that's why I threw in the towel. It's liberating, but also sad. I've never quit this job before. I've endured crap. I've endured people with improper motives. The difference is that now I've had enough.

Farewell, old soundboard! You're wired up too screwy anyway.

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20 January 2008

Tales From the Obvious

A Yahoo article, currently titled "Popular View of King ignores complexity"

So does the popular view of everything. I'm surprised that title got past the editors.


18 January 2008

Big Skies

I'm nice and warm indoors on this sunny, blustery, wonderful day in Kansas, and praying for good weather to fly home. ("Charlotte or Atlanta," I thought to myself when buying my ticket. "They usually don't get snow. I'll go through there instead of Minneapolis or Detroit or Chicago." Guess who is and is not getting snow this weekend?) I would be outside, of course, but I left my gloves at home and I know the difference between having fun and being unsafe in the winter. And besides that, I've been working here. Anyway, let me give you the brief rundown...

I've gotten stuff done. I've nearly conquered the crappy Fortran 77 code (Fede called it right). It's actually a nice code, it's just Fortran 77 so it's crappy by default. Common block my rear end. Give me a module. I might update it. I've already used it to make pretty plots.

On second thought, don't common block my rear end. I don't know what subroutines you might put it through, passing by reference of course.

The guy I'm here to work with is really cool. He's let me take over half of his office, and he has been really, reallly helpful. I'm going to dinner at his house tonight.

Kansas is big. I drove for a few hours yesterday just to help out the oil industry. While I did not make my travel goals due to going bingo fuel (me, not the car), I got to see some incredibly pretty scenery through sunset and early twilight. This area is not exteremly flat. It's not completely empty here, like a desert, and the people are not hicks like up in the mountains, but it's a very rural place with very rural people.

Kansas has nice people. After a few years back in the northeast, and after a year in the south, it's nice to be back with people who really are nice. Nobody is uptight about anything. It's relaxing.

Kansas has big steaks. Big steaks are not cheap, but you can justify them if you skip breakfast once or twice and fly out of an airport that's $200 cheaper than your original travel estimate.

I did not go to Nebraska, Iowa, or Oklahoma. I did, however, see from the air the section of Kentucky that has no road access to the rest of the state. (The boudary between the states crosses a big loop in the Mississippi River, making a bit of what should rationally be a piece of Tennessee into a piece of Kentucky.)

You know the Lego streetsweeper my mom got me for Christmas. Of course not, I didn't mention it. Anyway, my mom got me one, but we noted that it didn't look a whole lot like normal streetsweeper. I saw actually saw machines almost exactly like that one here this week. They were scrubbing the ice off of the sidewalks. That was just cool.

This week I permanently quit my volunteeer job playing Mr. Audio at my church. Unless there was a tremndous misunderstanding and a whole lot of groveling goes on over it, this is non-negotiable. My pastor did not reply to my e-mail, which means that he wants to talk to me about it. Unless he's groveling, I will have none of that. Some people are about to find out the real meaning of "stubborn. " Frankly, they deserve it. I should get a shirt that says "Pennsylvania Dutch and Not Changing My Mind!" I'll have more to say about this once I'm home, because my reason for quitting is not what most people involved will end up thinking.

So, that's the summary. I need to pack up my stuff and get ready to head back to my hotel room. Tomorrow, bright and early, I get to hit the road for Kansas City, about two hours away without traffic. Then I get to sit around in airports all weekend.

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13 January 2008

Just More Stuff

I hate giving you random lists of things, but that's about all I've got right now.

I wish I could taste Moxie from the good old days. Older folks tell me it used to be a lot more bitter back before Coca Cola got hold of it.

I saw a job advertised by Pepsi to be trained as a flavorist. People with my sense of smell need not apply. I can just imagine getting my hands on an entire bottling plant and never noticing the oder of wet socks that the soda has started to emit under my watch.

I found another job where I could put my PhD to use for a few years as a writing instructor. I think I'll apply. (Before you laugh, remember that the crap you see here is nearly unedited first drafts. I find myself reciting sections of Strunk and White when I re-read my posts. I'm not as much of a recite Strunk and White kind of guy as much as a put the consonant on the pitch kind of guy, but I do like saying "omit needless words" whenever the situation I am in allows.)

If you didn't get it, sorry.

I have again decided that I have no concept of what is and is not socially appropriate talk. I'm nearly as sick of having that rubbed in my face as I am in having my late sleep rubbed in my face. Seriously. People who think they are normal just have normal problems, foremost a complete lack of ability to understand that other people's minds, bodies, and relationships can work in different ways from their own.

The director's commentary on The Producers (new movie) is the worst I've heard for a long time. If she's not reading to us, I'd hate to hear her read to us.

I'm convinced that Rob Bell is usually not wrong, just misunderstood. I would explain why, but I ranted enough on that subject a couple of points up.

I was looking around for food in Manhattan. The number of seafood restaurants out there absolutely scares me, though. Look, it's easy. Lobsters are from Maine, clams are from southern New England, and if you want crabs then go to Maryland (or a state school). Never eat seafood in a landlocked place noted for it's wheat, corn, big balls of twine, and lack of proximity to anything resembling an ocean. I'll have to ask locals where I can chase down a decent steak or a slab of ribs.

I'm sitting here writing in this blog instead of getting my work done. Fancy that.

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12 January 2008

Normal Parenting

For the sake of being a normal parent, I figured that I should disclose to all of you, parents or not, the proper way to go about comparing your child to another child.

1) Hear about something someone else's kid has done.

2) If your kid did it better, make sure to mention it.

3) If your kid didn't do it better, your kid must have done something else better, so change the subject to some other aspect of kids.

For example, my kid rolled over from front to back for the first time this week, just two days after her fifth month birthday. If your kid rolled over at a younger age, congratulations! Your kid is better than mine! If your kid rolled over for the first time at an older age, your kid must be smarter or happier or sleep better. Travel around Lake Woebegone and rub it in.

Oh, and did I mention that if your kid rolled over younger than mine then your kid is dumber than mine?

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10 January 2008

Random Things

Some people who read this blog won't read the big posts. I don't know why. If I post nothing for a week and then a quadruple length post, you just saved a post or two of reading time. Random thought posts like this one are perfect for splitting up, mailing to your friends, or putting on some abstract greeting card line you are designing (with my copyright permission, of course).

Notebook computers are overpriced. I know, it's a free market we live in. That combined with absurd prices for some things means nothing other than most people are stupid. My college economics professor would probably disagree, though, because people are rational and will only buy things for the amount of money that those things are worth. Why capitalists and introductory economics professors assume that every buyer is rational is really beyond me. Look at recent mortgage statistics or savings versus debt figures and you'll see what I mean.

I get to fly to the Great Plains next week. Yep, the Heartland. Winter wheat and.. winter wheat. Perhaps I'll get some work done there? I hope that I'll have a few daylight hours off to visit the world's largest ball of twine, located mere hours from where I'll be staying. Along with that potential side trip, I get to see Kansas City, drive a few hours, do some research work, and give a lecture about my dissertation. Hey, free for me, so why not? I'll miss my kid a lot, though.

For you navel gazers, my trip has nothing to do with looking for jobs. Don't you have anything better to do with your time than ask about that, like think of more intelligent topics of conversation? If you care, thanks. Now stop playing who has the bigger penis games and being all angsty like you think I'll get a job and then you'll find out after someone else. Yes, this is a sore point. That's why I'm telling you not to pick it. Duh.

My kid and I are bonding as oldest children. I like to sit her down from time to time and explain her place in the family hierarchy. My experience puts the job description as "Take no crap, but be nice about it... unless you can get some harmless amusement from the deal." We have a secret handshake and everything. Also, the kid just upped diaper size. It happened a little late, thanks to some marital infighting about using as many of the size two diapers as possible. A few days of constantly cleaning up the but crack poop fountain, a feature found on some babies in diapers that are too small, convinced the dissenting parties that a size change was required. There have been some leg leaks, a feature found on some kids with diapers too big, but the way the kid's been eating that should end soon.

Because of my trip next week, things are getting dicey in the Sibling State Contest. This is about the only thing in which my younger sister and I actually compete, so humor us even though it's really lame, okay? My sister is happy to sit at her current position of two states down but I don't think she'll tolerate more than three. Actually, she is three states down, in my opinion, because her feet have not to her knowledge touched terra firma, my only requirement, in Delaware. We do count her stop only in a plane in another country toward her score on countries, where she's got me whooped for the forseeable future. She thinks that this is precedent, although I argue against that based on national sovereignty. As far as I care, what happens in the United Arab Emirates stay in the United Arab Emirates. But the tricker one to argue is... well... that one hasn't come up for a while. So on this point I am taking crap. Bugger. We really should have made the rules before we started the contest. Common law is not necessarily helpful for us, because we already have some non-standard rules about airports and about duration of visits.

Anyway, I wasn't dropping extra research grant money or flying Southwest just to keep myself from visiting two states on this trip (Kansas City is in Missouri), keeping her reasonably far behind so as not to provoke her. In light of my trip, she is threatening a road trip to New England where she can pick up six states in one easy weekend. That would put her two up on me. I have four New England states without my name on them, but my sister knows this and refuses to invite me to go along with her. I would invite her and then go without her, but that's just the way oldest kids play. The stack isn't completely in her favor, though. New England has been her insurance, and once she uses it it's gone even though I have four states left up there. I straight out could put that move out of play as her go-ahead if I wanted to. It would cost me some gas money, however. Either I could go to New England, or I could go driving around on my current trip. Either way would take about the same amount of gas.

I get to fly with a ticket I bought less than a week before my flight! And I have a beard! And I carry a bag! How many ways can you spell "special treatment from the TSA"? Remind me to show up four hours early for my flights. I mean, I posted the words United Arab Emirates on my blog, even. I must be trouble. Nothing says terrorist like a beard, a recent plane ticket, and a middle eastern country named in a blog. I should get shoes with intact soles before I leave.

Speaking of all the airport security shows now playing at an airport near you, there's something really buggering me. Why the heck are people so freaking stupid about basic civil liberties? I know people who have said they don't mind the government invading their privacy because "I'm not doing anything wrong." When given reasons why their opinion is misguided, they say things along the lines of "I prefer being stupid and not taking things like that into account." They didn't use words that big, of course, because if they knew bigger words they would be smart enough that we wouldn't have had the conversation. Curiously, I've never heard "Oh, you might have a point" from a single one of them. But then again, I know someone who is getting a PhD and insists-- absolutely insists-- that the whole World Trade Center thing would not have happened if we had national ID cards. Um... right... because the people who did that had no acceptable ID on them? Not. The basic idea on civil liberties in this country, no matter what your education, seems to be pledge allegiance to the flag when asked, take your own head, insert it into ground, and die oblivious so your kids can enjoy the finest of fascism. Hey, I'm just saying. It really bothers me. How the freak can I get into the security business? I'd love to rake in tons of money doing nothing for people.

The grocery store was fun tonight. I went because a few things were due to be on sale. They were! It's nice to still get that meat for $1.88 a pound even with yogurt up 14 cents for two ounces less and ice cream at 3 for $8 instead of 2 for $5. My wife won't need to have pork chops for dinner again tomorrow. (I like pork, but not too much, she says. What is about habitual spaghetti eaters, anyway? They all say things like that about non-spaghetti ingredients prepared in manifold ways, all the while downing almost daily their own highly specialized description of proper spaghetti. It's really freaky.)

Winter might return soon. I apologize sincerely to everyone.

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03 January 2008

Pulse Oximetry

At dinner the other night, a bunch of fellow nerds were curious about how a thingamajig on a fingertip can measure oxygen. There is a brief explanation here.

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02 January 2008

Mmmm.... Moxie....

Hey, look at this! And I've got some in the fridge, and I bet you don't. Of course, I like tasting things that smell like a cross between organic solvents and sand, and I bet you don't. So I guess this arrangement is good.

Curiously, one of the main producers is in Pennsylvania. So why can't I barely find any around here?* My current cache came from New Hampshire, canned in Londonderry and brought here by a friend who knows I like the stuff.

*Of course, I never even thought to try the beer distributors. I might have more luck there.

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01 January 2008


Christmas Eve started out nicely enough. The roast was heading to the oven, the kid was reasonably happy, and the weather was nice enough. My wife needed to go to Wal-Mart to get some things. I wanted to get out of her parents house, so I happily chose to go to Wal-Mart.

At regular Wal-Mart stores, I like to wander around crafts, automotive, and sporting goods. It's always quiet back there in the corner of the store. I was pushing the baby happily up and down the aisles. She was only a bit upset at the situation, and heading downhill, but when my wife found us we still had enough time to get out of the store in peace.

"I need to get one or two things for you," my wife said. "I'll check thsoe out separately. MEet me at the front of the store."

"I don't want to go to the front of the store. It's loud and busy up there." The kid hates noisy places as much as I do. (Actually, if you want to be real about it, I hate noisy places as much as a baby.)

"I'll just be a second. I'll see you up there," she said as she pranced away like a cheerleader in a parade setting off to share balloons with some kids.

Ummm.... Okay. Be brave, I told myself.

Oh dear pumpernickel was that ever a mistake.

There were people down at the front of the store. The people were making noises. The baby didn't like it. I didn't like it. The baby and I held hands. A mob of people came out of pets. Another mob from pharmacy. I was unhappy, and I decided to head for high ground, which means the back of the store.

And then my chest started to hurt on the center and up the left side. A lot. And my shoulder hurt, too. And it hurt when I breathed. Oxygen wasn't getting to my brain properly, so I had to breathe deeply (but not rapidly, because that hurt too much). And, for a fleeting moment, I felt a little ache in my left arm. As I leaned on the shopping cart and headed for high ground, the first thing I did was check my pulse, which was a very hard to feel 110 or so. After about three minutes the main pain went away, but when I made any kind of motion with my left arm I felt like I was being stabbed inside the chest and up to my shoulder. My chest ached when I breathed in, too. And I started sweating a lot, even though I was feeling kind of cold.

The kid just sat there looking at me wondering why I had stopped smiling at her.

My wife found me and I told her that I needed some medical attention. She wanted to call a helicopter or something, but I pointed out that I was walking and we were in the middle of nowhere. ("Bedroom community" sums up that part of Maryland nicely.) We checked out, walked halfway to yonder to the car (the parking lot was much more full than the check-out lines would have made anyone guess), and my wife wanted to take me to the nearest clinic. Um, how about a hospital? Because it's Christmas Eve? We went to her parents house a few minutes away and asked for directions to the hospital. My father in law offered to drive, and off we went.

We went to the hospital and, after some banter about the weather and my personal information, I got put into a wheelchair and taken to the real triage nurse, who bantered with me some more about all the same and concluded that I was more important than anyone else there but less important than anyone who would show up a spinal injury, a severed limb, or with metal bars stuck in their heads. From there, I got to get an EKG, an IV line, some oxygen, and the a ride to an emergency room room. Then I sat around. A lot. And random people would come in and have me tell them my story, and all of them who wanted to know what I was doing at the time asked if the prices at Wal-Mart were too high or two low. I think I solved the problems with the American health system, too, but that's for another day.

I settled down with a book about Sea Turtles from a magazine rack and worked on that, alternating reading with playing with the kid, talking to everyone in the room, and telling every frecking person who came in with an ID badge the reason I was there. I ended up with a gall bladder and heart ultrasound, a chest x-ray, and a CT scan involving some iodine. The oxygen was more than I needed, so I kept setting off the respiration rate thingy. Hey, when you give me two liters and sit me down to do nothing, why do you expect more than five breaths per minute? I had great fun playing with my oxygen level on the monitor. The blood tests were fine except that my cholesterol sucked, which everyone but the janitor pointed out to me for the rest of my stay. I got some heavy duty blood pressure medicine that eventually had the rest of the EKG machine going nuts.

And then I got to stay overnight to finish the blood tests. Oh, joy! The cardiologist (also the hospital's medical director, and with an accent that didn't phase me but that nobody else in the room seemed to understand) strongly advised staying. I couldn't think of a better way to wait for Santa, so I had a nice ride upstairs with my ER nurse and an EMT school guy who couldn't pass up the time-and-a-half.

Santa never came, but my nurse up in the preventative care unit was a real turn on. You all know the type I'm into. Anyway, she was kind enough not to take out my blood herself after missing the vein on the first try. She called in one of the professional butchers. My nurse was perfect for the night shift because I don't think her speaking voice was loud enough to clear the daytime hospital drone. So things were quiet up there.

I watched TV until 1:30 ad then tried to go to sleep. They left me alone from 12:30 to almost 6:00, and from then until a few hours later, but it was way too hot to sleep in there, like 72 degrees. Everyone who did come in the room was greeted with me saying "You're not Santa!" None of us wanted to be there, so let's make fun of it, right?

Breakfast never came because nobody was sure whether I'd be having any more tests. I didn't, it turned out, so I did eventually get some slop or another. After renormalizing for my desperation-- I had eaten only a ham sandwich the previous day-- I remember it sucking only enough that desperate people will still eat it. Eventually I was dismissed to go home, after scheduling some tests with the cardiologist (the daughter of the cardiologist from the previous night). And home I went, to my wife's parents' house, where joy abounded and Christmas cheer filled the air. Actually, not really, but there were leftovers from the Christmas Eve dinner, which even my wife sort of missed, and piles of toys for the kid. I waited until later for my toys, because I frankly needed a nap.

After napping and eating more, I did open up my presents. I got a pile of CDs, a Rob Bell book, and some candy. My wife and I collectively got a wall hanging and a DVD or two. My older sister in law gave me a CD. My wife gave me the pack of prophylactics that set off this whole event.

I stayed up with my brother in law and watched some TV, and then went to bed happy in material revelry. Honestly, this year I wasn't really into Christmas from the beginning. It certainly ended up being something a little unusual, though.

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