Tuesday, September 30, 2008

More reasons to love xkcd

I wrote part of a column once about how great xkcd is, so the news that I love it is not exactly news. I'm particularly pleased by the two most recent.

Part of my day job, a small part, but it can be a bit stressful, is sorting through complaints filed about our messageboard. You can see why I like this one a lot.


And this one is just amazing. I started at the top and was more and more impressed the further I went. It makes me happy on many levels.



Monday, September 29, 2008

Spoiler alert

I just finished reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Cam suggested I read it because it is "a wonderful book." He asked me how I liked it when I was on page 16 and I said it was quite cheerful. He said there were even more cheerful moments ahead. Quite a few of them.

This was the first book I've read by Mr. McCarthy but I did see No Country for Old Men (and if you read my column you know I loved it) so I know that he's not exactly kind to his characters. I ended up reading all night long, finishing around five am this morning. And yes, I had work today. And I had to get Cam up for school at six so not a lot of sleep today.

The book was extremely grim and I kept worrying it was going to get even more grim. I had a sort of low grade anxiety attack the entire time I was reading, with my stomach churning and my heart racing.

I've read loads of post apocolyptic stories and never been quite that worried. Swan Song was one I quite liked, as was the Postman (not the film, the novel.) I think it's because no matter how bad things were in the other stories there was always something to eat somewhere. In The Road there just isn't anything growing at all. There aren't even any insects, so far as I could tell. Which brings me to some complaints about biology.

There's a horrific scene where the two nameless protagonists scare off a small group of people who leave their food cooking on a spit. The food is a human infant. This is one of the moments that cause permenent damage to the spirit of the young boy who is one of the protagonists. The impression I got was that they infant was the child of a woman who passed them shortly before, only she was pregnant then. There's another scene where they break into a house and find a whole bunch of people who are being kept as a food source.

But, and here I'm speaking only from a biological point of view, it doesn't make any sense to keep people so you can eat them. And it surely doesn't make sense to have a baby so you can eat it. The caloric expenditure involved in growing the fetus to term is significantly larger than whatever you would get from the newborn. And as far as the other people go, my understanding is that it takes seven pounds of vegetable matter to create one pound of flesh. So you can feed x number of people from one cow or you can feed 7x people by skipping the cow and having everyone eat vegetarian.

What are these people in the human larder eating? If all there is to eat is other people then by keeping them alive you're wasting the majority of the calories. if there is other stuff to eat then why are you eating them?

Those are the kinds of thoughts that kept interfering while I was reading the book. But in the end I think it may have just been a kind of self defense. When I'm concentrating on how the book doesn't work then I'm not as involved emotionally. Perhaps I simply can't bear the idea of anyone eating a newborn baby so I have to make it unlikely.

Even with all my protective mechanisms in place I couldn't stop crying when the book ended. It's terribly bleak and sad.

When the movie comes out next year I think I'll stay home and wash my hair instead.


Sunday, September 28, 2008

Check out my new website

My brother Fred and I are launching a new site called shoestringliving.com. It's meant to be a place where people can exchange money saving ideas.


It's still a bit of a mess but at least there's finally some content. This is something I've wanted to do for a long time but with the novel writing and the columns and the day job and the raising a family it's been hard to find the time and energy. Hopefully it will be a go.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

Everybody's in love today


Friday, September 26, 2008

What if...

Someone sent this link to me today. For some reason when I imagine John McCain as an elderly black man I think of Mississippi Gary.

I was thinking more of the one where he talks about God playing a beat up old guitar but this one works as well.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

In which I confess my crimes

Cullen and I were talking about the Migratory Birds Treaty and we couldn't really figure it out. So I looked it up and was shocked to find two birds on the list.

Mourning Dove

American Crow

I owned both of these birds when I was a teen back in California. When we lived in Montebello with my grandmother I found a mourning dove with clipped wings on a fence one day and took it in. I also ended up with some other kind of pigeon or dove with purple feathers. That one had been shot through the chest and its breast was a mass of rotting flesh. I debrided it, disinfected it and took care of it until it was healed. Then I took it outside and tossed it up in the air and it took off like an arrow and flew away, not stopping until it was out of my sight.

The crow I found in our front yard when we were living in Santa Ana. Maybe it had a broken wing. I don't remember. It couldn't fly, I know that. I took care of that bird also. It was enormous. It would sit on my shoulder and was taller than my head...

Apparently I broke the law when I cared for both of those birds.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What is the speed of fan fic?

Cam and I are watching the new episode of House, where House gets this new guy, Dr. O'Shea I think name is, to buy him lunch then chats him up. "You know I'm not gay, right" says the new character. "That's okay," says House. "If you don't want to have sex that's fine with me."

I turned to Cam and after we both agreed we like the new doctor I said, "You know someone is already writing some slash fiction starring the two of them."

Cam says "It's already written and posted. Come on, it's been like seven minutes already."

That's my boy!


Monday, September 22, 2008


Two of our rats have tumors. Delirium, my little tan hooded rat has two. The first one that showed up is growing very quickly and is about a third of the size of her torso now. She doesn't seem to care yet. She's chipper and keeping her weight up. She jumps around and climbs just like always.

Mass Hysteria, Cam's albino, has one that hasn't grown much at all, thankfully. Master Chef and the rat with the changing name are both doing fine with no signs of anything.

I can't help being depressed. I don't think the girls are even a year old yet. I think it was winter when we got them. Their dad was five, a fantastic age for a rat and I was hoping they would take after his side of the family.

I'm trying to concentrate on the fact that so far they all seem to feel fine but it's hard.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

No idea what this means

I've gotten into the habit of putting a lot of notes at the end of whatever I'm writing. Sometimes they say things like "Go back and rewrite all the parts with the bears before page 173." That's to keep me from editing as I go. When I do that I don't finish things.

Sometimes I put bits of dialogue or events that need to happen. Recently I put this at the very bottom of the notes for the German Shepard Dog book I've been writing for the last few months:

That cat is not in my book!

I remember it's meant to be dialogue but who says it or why I've got no idea. I imagine it was something that was supposed to happen when I started writing the next day but that's all I've got. There's no book in my book so I don't know. I wonder if I'll ever remember.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Tiger coughs

I've read several stories or books that describe tigers making a coughing sound. I've spent some time today trying to find that sound online but most of the references I've found to tiger cough are Google book search results, which isn't terribly helpful. I'm now just Googling up various sounds and listening to those, trying to find the sort of noise I've imagined. It's for a short piece I've been working on for the last few days called The Bangboo Forest.

If anyone had a link to a tiger cough audio please leave it in the comments. Thanks!

Meanwhile here are some interesting vocals, including a tiger cub making the classic meow sound.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

This is a nifty site


If you're like me you cringe every time you drive past a dead animal by the side of the road. You might even feel guilty even if you've never once hit an animal because, let's face it, just having the roads disrupts territory and endangers wildlife.

The above site lists simple projects the Federal Highway Administration does to protect wildlife. I read about bunny houses that only cost twenty dollars and are made of brush and an effort to save mussels when a bridge was rebuilt. It's pretty interesting. Take a look.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

America's most wanted painting

This isn't most wanted as in posters you see at the post office. This is most wanted as in these guys took a survey and asked people what they most liked in a painting and then made one with all the elements in it.

My favorite part is the wading deer but the George Washington figure is also quite nice.

More about the painting can be found here.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What do you do if...

Dr. Bob answers a question from a member of a mixed status relationship here. If you are a negative and your partner is positive for HIV can you take an emergency pack with you in case your protection fails? The person who was asking was particularly concerned because they were going on a camping trip and wanted coverage. Dr. Bob's response is quite valuable, especially this part:

...if you have a starter pack always available, you could begin PEP within moments of an exposure, whether you're home or in the wild, thereby maximizing your chances of aborting a potential HIV infection. Check with your boyfriend's HIV specialist. He may be willing to set you up with a PEP starter pack. If not, the Frascino Medical Group will. We routinely offer this as well as discussing other measures for reducing potential HIV transmission to all the magnetic couples in the practice. (If you need help, call for an appointment, 650-917-1357.)

Just another reason he's so awesome.


Monday, September 15, 2008

New Routine

I've started working out before I go to bed, in the hopes of sleeping better. I know some people say you shouldn't work out at night because then you'll be stimulated, but I'm doing some yoga, not much, just a little because I'm horrible at it, and that seems to help relax me.

One day recently I did find myself doing aerobics at one am, because I didn't have time to do it during the day, but mostly I try to finish with that and strength training before midnight and do the yoga and the balance games afterward. So far so good. I've now gone 24 days in a row, which I think is pretty good.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

A nice cup of tea

Cam was at a fundraiser all morning, washing cars to raise money for his chorus trip to Disneyworld in the spring, and came home sunburnt and soaking wet. He doesn't have any blisters yet but looks like he could in the morning so first he put aloe on, then I had him soak some little towels in tea and put them all over his arms, neck and legs.

It helped quite a bit so that's how he spent the rest of the day, applying new tea compresses.

He started weightlifting this year at school and has been sore every day so far this semester. The sunburn isn't helping anything. I can just imagine how he's going to feel when he comes home tomorrow. I may have to put him in suspended animation until he's feeling better...


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Bad advice

I'm often dismayed by the first aid advice offered in fiction. And yes, I know it's fiction, which means its not real, but can't you still try to get the basic stuff correct? In Stephen King's The Langoliers one character, a young girl, is stabbed with a very large knife. The spy character, who seems to know what he's doing in many other scenes, takes the knife out, in a gory procedure, and presses a tablecloth on the wound. The tablecloth on the wound thing might work if it were just a wound but when someone has an embedded object you should never take it out. Unless of course you're a surgeon and ready to operate or what have you. My first responder teacher taught us that the object actually works as a cork, keeping bloodflow down.

I'm a member of the dear reader book club and in Thursday's excerpt from a book called Killer Mousse by Melinda Wells I found this surprising passage:

"What happened? What's wrong with her?" His small eyes blinked double-time.

"I think she's had a heart attack," I said. Remembered grief stabbed at me: My husband had died of a heart attack.

George pressed the phone to his chest and muttered a curse. "We don't have a doctor here, or a defibrillator. Do you know CPR?"

I stood up. "I'm afraid it's too late."

"How can you be so calm about this?"

"I'm not. But if I let myself go to pieces, it could start a panic, and people in the audience might get hurt."

The question isn't why is she calm about this but why in the name of all that's holy did she say it was too late for CPR? The woman had been fine a minute before and this is exactly when you do CPR. (Actually we were taught to do it to anyone, no matter how long we thought they'd been dead, unless they were actually decaying, or if they were decapitated. People have been successfully resuscitated after three hours of not breathing. Extreme case and involved something called the mammalian diving reflex, but still.) You absolutely want to do CPR when someone has just stopped breathing and their heart has stopped. And you keep doing it until you are relieved by someone who is more qualified than you or until you're in the same shape as the victim. That's what I was taught and I'll stand by the words of my teacher, who was a Battalion Chief in the Anne Arundel County Fire Department.


Friday, September 12, 2008

No stone cutting here

I was watching a rerun of House last night (I'd recorded it so it may have run earlier this week, the whole series is in reruns on USA network) when Foreman (Forman? I'm not sure how his name is spelled) asked House if he'd ever heard of the Hippocratic to which House gave a smart answer that included the words "do not cut those who labor under the stone."

What was this? Some sort of no operating on Freemason's oath? No cutting of those slaves who worked in the quarries? What? I was confused. So I looked up the Hippocratic Oath at Wikipedia and this is what I found:

I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art.

The article goes on to say that barbers, who as we all know were the precursers to surgueons, hence the blood striped barber poles, were in charge of removing bladder stones. That's what kind of stone is being discussed, kidney and bladder stones. Which is interesting but the language is different from House's precise words. Next I found this:


The original Hippocratic oath admonished us to "not cut those who labor under the stone" because of the disastrous complications that accompanied ancient attempts at removal of urinary calculi.

So labor under the stone is laboring because urinary calculi are so painful and you have to pass them? Like delivering a child? That kind of labor?

These are the kinds of questions that motivate most of my web searches. Twenty years ago I would have had to go to the library and likely forgotten what it was I wanted to find out. God bless the interwebs.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Nigel Marven

I watched a show called Rats with Nigel Marven today. I've never seen this guy before but I was struck by how daft he is. He gets bitten by a snake in the first ten minutes of the show because he's annoying it while it's trying to sleep off a big meal, namely a wallaby. If you look at that link he says Indiana Jones is afraid of rats but the line from the film is "Snakes, why did it have to be snakes?" At least I think so, maybe I'm the daft one.

I'm glad our rats weren't in the room since they eat one on the show.

The weirdest thing about the show is how much Mr. Marven looks like President Bush. More like the first President Bush than our second in some scenes, namely the one where he's standing on the veranda after the snake bite and before the sugar glider licks his hand for a long time. Maybe they're related?


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Instability of renters

This week's econ story from Brad Finkelstein analyzes some census data. It talks about how far away people are apt to move when they change households. with the majority staying in the same county. The most interesting part to me came at the end:

Just under three in 10 renters changed residences between 2007 and 2008, compared with about one in 15 who lived in owner-occupied housing.

That clearly illustrates how much more precarious life is for a renter, despite the current housing/mortgage/foreclosure crisis. I know we've had to move like five times because the owners of our residence sold it out from under us. I even moved us into an apartment once and a commercial townhome once to keep the place being sold and the entire complex was sold. It's ridiculous.

BTW that link will only be good for a week and then I'll overwrite it with next week's article.


Monday, September 08, 2008

I don't get it

I don't understand how nicknaming someone Barracuda is supposed to be a compliment.

This website says:

The great barracuda is an eating machine and it has the bulk to prove it.

While this one says:

In murky water, it tends to attack an object even before identifying it.

I don't find anything saying these fish are intelligent and of course they don't have a reputation for diplomacy or problem solving or any other skills that make up the tool chest we humans need in a leader.

Even in fiction they're not portrayed in a positive light. Look at Finding Nemo, all of Nemo's brothers and sisters were killed in the eggs by a barracuda, who also killed Nemo's mother, Coral.

I know we frequently get stuck with nicknames that are less than flattering but it's just weird to me that someone would embrace this one to the point of pirating a song by the same name. Color me baffled.


Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Wii Fit misses Chris

Today I was doing some yoga with my new friend the Wii Fit and it said it hadn't seen Chris around lately. There's no real way to tell it Chris is several states away and won't be back until October at the earliest. Poor pining Wii Fit.

It asks me loads of questions, most of which have a yes answer. Like Do you trip when you walk a lot? That's one of the reasons I got the system, because it's meant to help with balance and mine is crap since I got meningitis. But I've already made quite a lot of progress. Last night I did so well with the standing on one leg for thirty second test that my Wii fit age for the day was an astonishing 20 - 25 years less than my actual age. Today I was worse, scoring in my 30's, but that's still quite nice.

I've noticed that my posture has improved all around. When I was standing waiting for Cam to be weighed at the pediatrician's the other day I noticed that I don't favor my bad leg when waiting any more, which is so much better for my back. Go Wii Fit!


Saturday, September 06, 2008

Tropical Storm

Tropical Storm Hanna brought us a couple of little gifts today. The power was out for several hours, although it kindly waited until after I posted an important news item at the National Mortgage News site. Posting news on the weekend is kind of a big deal. I don't remember doing it in the last eight years.

The roof in Cullen's room is also leaking. Thankfully we didn't get the six plus inches of predicted rain so the buckets we set up caught the water. Whew.

Now we'll see what the next two big storms due bring us. Hopefully just a little colder weather and maybe some rain.


Friday, September 05, 2008

I don't know how to read

I saw this headline in my CUJ Daily Briefing today:

Ex-State Department FCU Exec Charged With Stealing $170,000 Through Phony Expenses

And was quite intrigued. How did that work? I wondered. Then I realized it didn't say Pony Express at all, it said Phony Expenses. Sigh.


Thursday, September 04, 2008

Migraine town

I went to see my hematologist yesterday and had to wait for about an hour in a room with a flickering florescent light. I should have asked for a different room but I thought I wouldn't have to wait that long. End result, migraine all day today. Then I took Cam to his doctor for a sinus thing and the power kept going out so the florescent light kept flickering. Sigh.

Interestingly the Wii fit verified that my balance gets out of whack when my brain flares up. I took my daily balance test and scored a mere 35%, half of what I got yesterday. My Wii Fit age also jumped up ten years but I guess that's to be expected.

My PT/INR was weird again, back down too low to 1.3. This time I have an idea why as I'm now taking synthetic thyroid hormones, which interfere with the action of the coumadin. Hopefully I'll get it all straightened out after increasing my dose by fifty percent.

Sadly two of our rats have developed mammary tumors. This is particularly distressing because I've had them on this plan I call the happy rat plan where we've given them foods rich in antioxidants and avoided treats that I thought would be unhealthy for them. The two dark brown hooded rats are still doing quite well. One of those girls is about six months younger than the other three so I would hope she didn't get sick at the same time. Hopefully these guys will stay free of the fast acting brain cancer our last two girls had. I'm not brave enough to face any more pet losses.

Our cat Titan is getting too old and cranky to groom himself so I bought him a brush and a comb. Cam has also been giving him a shower or a bath once a week, which is good for allergies but usually kind of hard to manage. I don't know if Titan is just mellowing out or is feeling too feeble to complain strenously. No bloodshed so far so Cam can continue being much braver than I.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Humans are weird

I went to the lab today to have several vials of blood drawn (PT/INR, ferritin, CBC, etc.). It wasn't what you would call a good time. The first phlebotomist checked both my hands, gave up, checked my left arm and then told the second one she would have to draw my blood instead.

The second phlebotomist then drew all this blood from the vein that runs along the big knuckle and into my index finger. It was quite painful and made my other fingers twitch. It also made me dizzy and sick but luckily I didn't throw up or faint, so go me.

As I sat in the car after, waiting to feel well enough to drive, I thought that it's awfully odd that we have the ability to make an appointment to go in and get something done that we hate and that we know is going to hurt us. It's not even like getting a root canal where you are already in such pain you'll do anything to make it stop hurting; instead you take someone who feels perfectly well and send them in so they can be stabbed, in pain and naseauted.

It just leaves me with one questions. When are we going to finally develop a tricorder? It's barbaric to actually have to pierce the skin to get simple blood data.


Monday, September 01, 2008

This looks like fun