Sunday, September 30, 2007

Rick Stein: Survivorman

The wife just finished watching an episode of Survivorman, a reality TV show in which Les Stroud gets dropped somewhere with virtually no equipment and supplies, plus a bunch of cameras, and has to survive for seven days while simultaneously being his own camera crew.

Then she switched to an episode of Rick Stein's Food Heroes, a foodie show from the BBC in which Rick Stein wanders around England to find people making good authentic English food, and occasionally does recipes from the stuff he finds. Rick is a bit pompous at times as he rails about the virtues of good old-fashioned food, but he certainly believes in what he's doing.

The idea of a trading places scenario came immediately to mind. I imagined Rick Stein left trapped in a modern American shopping mall for a week, and forced to find ways to survive. He certainly wouldn't deign to look at anything he could get at the food courts, so I imagined him scavenging for ways to swipe what few fresh ingredients those mini-restaurants get, supplementing them with forage from the potted plants. I pictured him buying a camp cookstove at a sporting goods store and trying to cook up a traditional steak and kidney pie, all the while moaning contemptuously about how hard it is to get proper ingredients in this desolate wasteland. All the while, busy shoppers bustling around him, casting odd glances at him now and then.

Meanwhile, what do you suppose Les Stroud cooks at home after a trip to the farmer's market? Probably very little by way of raw slugs and dried moss, but one can't help imagine him buying the worst produce at the farmer's market, cutting away the good parts, and then explaining patiently to the camera how you can make a surprisingly nutritious casserole out of the moldy bits from the potatoes, as he stands next to his unused Dacor stovetop and Subzero freezer, cutting up vegetables with a multitool and cooking them in an old coffee can held over a crude parabolic reflector fashioned from a discarded piece of a shipwrecked boat.

I would so love to watch those two shows.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Notice of public record

Notice is hereby given.

The world is permitted 1,000 more "there are a lot of Starbucks" jokes, and then that's it. Please make an effort to make the best of them.

Thank you. That is all.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Over and out

If walkie-talkies were invented today, and someone proposed they be called "walkie-talkies", they'd be laughed out of town. It's like a baby's name for something! How does that leverage any synergy?

Instead, we'd end up with some terrible acronym like PZIMCD (Personal Zero-Infrastructure Mobile Communications Device), or some almost-meaningless, "how does it make you feel" marketing "funky" name like Yuni (it's a commYUNIcation device, get it?). Ick.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Trial of Telemachus

One bad thing about having a floor-cleaning robot for garages (and other rugged floors) is that when you run this robot in the garage, you need to be very sure to remember to pick it up afterwards, because there's cars going in and out; and yet, it's very easy to forget, because you're not in the room with it while it's running, and can't hear the beep when it's done.

Sure enough, I left Telemachus running one evening, forgot about him, and went to bed. The next day we got ready to go shopping and started to back out of the garage and... crunch. Poor Telemachus looked broken, with his whole front bumper/handle assembly canted at about a thirty degree angle, and I doubted he could be saved.

Last night I did some fiddling about with screwdrivers and tools and managed to get the bumper back into its usual position. Charged his battery up overnight and let him go this morning, and he's been cleaning the garage ever since. He moves like he's had a very slight stroke, and gone through enough physical therapy to get most of his mobility back. He gets around fine and does the job, but he twitches a little oddly now and then, tends to move too quickly, and drives in an uneven arc on the straight stretches. You can't help feel sorry for him, and impressed at his pluckiness. (Silly anthropomorphizing.)

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Mi corazon

Today's challenge: find a bit of Spanish-language popular music that doesn't include the word "corazon" in the lyrics.

By Spanish-language I mean a song originally written in Spanish. By "popular music" I mean any category of popular music, not just pop. Rock, dance, rap, country... I'm just looking to exclude things like opera, medieval chants, etc.

This is probably not impossible. It's probably not even that hard for fans of Latin music. But it's harder than you'd think. You'll go through dozens of songs at least before you find one.

I'm sure English-language songs use "heart" a lot (and a few other words like "love") but I don't think there's a single word (discounting things like "the") that appears in the majority of songs, let alone the vast majority. I wonder why it's so different in Spanish-language songs.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

New new phone, old old problem

My new RAZR is having the same trouble holding a charge that the old one had. I can't possibly have gotten three bad batteries in a row! Or two bad phones in a row. But what else could it be?
  • My settings are fundamentally the same as Siobhan's identical phone, which is a year and a half old and still holds a charge at least a day, usually more.
  • I've tried several chargers. (Next experiment though is to use her charger.)
  • I barely use the phone. I haven't had a call or even a text message in days. Siobhan uses hers a few times a day on average.
  • Could it matter where I am, which cell towers I'm communicating with? Could my office somehow drain it more?
  • I have more pictures on mine than she has on hers, but we both have an MP3 ringtone.
  • Hers connects by Bluetooth to something for an hour and a half every day, but mine rarely connects to anything by Bluetooth, even though it's been bonded to more things in the past. But the extra things it's been bonded to don't even have Bluetooth turned on.
  • If all else fails maybe I'll try swapping batteries with her phone and see if the problem stays with the battery. I can't imagine it will since this is the third battery I've had.

Thank you, Irving!

For many years we've been customers of Gillespie Fuels for our propane. This year, however, their pre-buy price was higher than many competitors, and more importantly, our credit union set up a special deal with Irving Oil to get propane at a more reasonable price for members only. They kept the price low through a close partnership with the credit union, so they could draw directly from an account set up for this purpose there, keeping their costs down. It was a great price, so we decided to switch.

Propane dealers aren't allowed to fill each other's tanks, so Irving needed to make arrangements to switch our tanks. We asked Gillespie to stop filling our tank so we could run down the propane that was still in it, and when they finally picked up the tank, they could reimburse us for what was in it at that time, along with the credit we still have with them from last year's pre-buy. Irving said they'd put in a new tank on August 24th.

On July 24th, an Irving truck came and filled up our Gillespie tank and left us a bill, which would be automatically debited from our account. Whoops. Seems someone in customer service hadn't told someone who actually does the filling about the status of our account (not yet active for another month), and that person also didn't notice the big Gillespie logo on the tank. Big problem, because now there was no way to tell how much propane in that tank was Gillespie's.

We called. They were stumped for a bit but came up with a solution. When the guy came out to set up the new tank on August 24th, he'd transfer all the propane in it to the new tank. We'd already paid for it all, after all. Then Gillespie could pick up an empty tank and reimburse us for only the amount we'd overpaid last year. Okay, a bit of a hassle, but no problem.

I was home on August 24th so I could make sure this all got done right. The guy who put the tank in had never heard anything about this situation. He radioed back to base and then told me, sorry, they didn't tell me about this and I'm not scheduled for it, someone will have to come back next week to do the transfer. So we're delayed another week or so before we can get the money Gillespie owes us from last year, but we can live with that.

He suggested that this transfer would be scheduled for me, but we didn't trust it. Today, Siobhan called to try to get a firm idea of when it would happen. No one at Irving could answer, but they said they'd know by tomorrow.

Tonight we got home to find a $575 bill from Irving. Apparently, someone came out and filled the new tank. Now they're going to debit our account again. And we have one full and one almost-full tank in our backyard, with no way for them to transfer the propane because there's no room to transfer it into. Naturally, there's no one at Irving who can even speculate about what will happen next. We can call first thing in the morning and try to beat them to processing the bill.

They really need to figure out how to talk to one another.

Next step to the MGB

Cigna's response to the letter our doctor's office sent them was more positive than we expected, suggesting maybe there'll be fewer rounds in the fight than we thought. I've no doubt they're going to be more difficult than this eventually, but so far, we're off to a good start.

However, they will only approve this as an out-of-plan surgery, which means we're going to have to fork over $2500 per surgery out of pocket (on top of travel costs). That's not going to be easy, but the far bigger question is how we're going to float the total cost of the surgery, $17,000 each, while we wait to be reimbursed. High Point won't bill insurance; they require payment on the day of the surgery. Assuming we have written commitment to reimburse us from Cigna, we still have to cover the $34,000 plus travel costs ourselves for the weeks or months it takes to get reimbursement. I'm not yet sure how we're going to do that, but I know I'll find a way. It's just a question of how good or bad a way I end up with.

This also means I have to dig into doing their Getting Started packet, which includes, amongst other things, a ten-page essay on what the MGB is. Being on the MGB YahooGroup I can certainly see why they require this. It's mind-boggling how many people don't know anything about the surgery or its impacts on patients, even as they're nearing getting it. Even some people who've had it! And these are the best-informed group, too. It's even worse for other surgeons and groups. But for me it's a bit perfunctory. I could spill out ten pages worth of information about MGB with my eyes closed. I know more about it than my doctor. But I don't relish the time I'll have to spend writing a book report to prove it.

I've been so busy with so many projects lately, but at work and at home, that I've been for a few weeks in a "no new things" mode: no new projects, no new items on my to-do list if I can help it, just try to winnow things down. Hahahahahah. Now I have a whole new set of things to do! Time to take some more time off from work -- making my work to-do list get more cramped.

In other related news, my weight dropped below 450 for the first time. I've lost 37.4 pounds since this program started in May.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Testing the math solution

I couldn't post this as a comment in response to the comment posted on my previous post because of the very limited formatting allowed in comments. Frank posted in response that the expected value should be (1-X)/X, which provides some results we both agreed seemed counter-intuitive -- though in the way that these kinds of probability things often are. (In fact, this problem is kind of related to the birthday paradox, now that I think about it.) So I whipped up a little C program to test it by brute force.

Here's the program:
#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <ctype.h>
#include <conio.h>
#include <time.h>

/* Macro to get a random integer within a specified range */
#define getrandom( min, max ) ((rand() % (int)(((max)+1) - (min))) + (min))

int main() {
int probability, count, result;
long total;

/* Seed the random number generator with current time. */
srand( (unsigned)time( NULL ) );

for (probability = 50; probability >= 1; probability--) {
total = 0L;
for (count = 1; count < 1000; count++) {
result = 0;
while (getrandom(1,100) > probability) result++;
total += result;
printf("%2d%% calculated=%6.2f simulated=%6.2f\n", probability, (100 - (float) probability) / (float) probability, (float) total / (float) count);
And here are the results:
50%  calculated=  1.00  simulated=  0.97
49% calculated= 1.04 simulated= 1.07
48% calculated= 1.08 simulated= 1.09
47% calculated= 1.13 simulated= 1.09
46% calculated= 1.17 simulated= 1.19
45% calculated= 1.22 simulated= 1.22
44% calculated= 1.27 simulated= 1.22
43% calculated= 1.33 simulated= 1.37
42% calculated= 1.38 simulated= 1.41
41% calculated= 1.44 simulated= 1.54
40% calculated= 1.50 simulated= 1.52
39% calculated= 1.56 simulated= 1.67
38% calculated= 1.63 simulated= 1.64
37% calculated= 1.70 simulated= 1.66
36% calculated= 1.78 simulated= 1.71
35% calculated= 1.86 simulated= 1.97
34% calculated= 1.94 simulated= 1.89
33% calculated= 2.03 simulated= 1.95
32% calculated= 2.13 simulated= 2.20
31% calculated= 2.23 simulated= 2.30
30% calculated= 2.33 simulated= 2.33
29% calculated= 2.45 simulated= 2.41
28% calculated= 2.57 simulated= 2.55
27% calculated= 2.70 simulated= 2.78
26% calculated= 2.85 simulated= 2.81
25% calculated= 3.00 simulated= 2.91
24% calculated= 3.17 simulated= 3.17
23% calculated= 3.35 simulated= 3.38
22% calculated= 3.55 simulated= 3.73
21% calculated= 3.76 simulated= 3.77
20% calculated= 4.00 simulated= 4.07
19% calculated= 4.26 simulated= 4.19
18% calculated= 4.56 simulated= 4.70
17% calculated= 4.88 simulated= 4.93
16% calculated= 5.25 simulated= 5.38
15% calculated= 5.67 simulated= 5.52
14% calculated= 6.14 simulated= 6.11
13% calculated= 6.69 simulated= 6.66
12% calculated= 7.33 simulated= 7.29
11% calculated= 8.09 simulated= 8.41
10% calculated= 9.00 simulated= 9.20
9% calculated= 10.11 simulated= 9.97
8% calculated= 11.50 simulated= 11.09
7% calculated= 13.29 simulated= 12.98
6% calculated= 15.67 simulated= 15.47
5% calculated= 19.00 simulated= 18.58
4% calculated= 24.00 simulated= 24.61
3% calculated= 32.33 simulated= 33.43
2% calculated= 49.00 simulated= 47.77
1% calculated= 99.00 simulated=101.59
Close enough that I'd say the difference is likely due to not doing enough trials (I did 1000 for each probability) and inaccuracies in the floating point math and random number generation I used.

A new new phone

After replacing the battery, and sending it in for five weeks of repair, failed to make my old Motorola RAZR able to hold a charge through the day, I finally got them to simply replace it. As an extra bonus, this time, they had the black RAZRs in stock, which not only looks slick and matches my clip, it's visually distinct from Siobhan's silver one.

I had the foresight this time to go through the menus and take notes on all my settings, so the new one is now loaded up with the same address book pictures, the same ringtones, the same wallpaper, the same configuration. Let's hope this one holds a charge!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Doing more reading

Life is full because there are so many enjoyable things to do, that every minute I can spare has a list of things I'd like to be doing during it. One of the things that tends to fall by the wayside when I'm really busy is reading. But one good thing about my current exercise program is that it lets me do more reading. Audiobooks, mostly, which I get from Audible and play on my Palm while I ride the recumbent stationary bike.

I recently finished reading Entanglement by Amir Aczel, a very thorough tour of quantum mechanics focusing on entanglement and its role in the history of quantum theory. I've read a lot of books about quantum mechanics and sometimes feel like I almost, but don't quite, understand it as I'm in the thick of one of these books, though by the end I feel it's slipped away again.

This book was perhaps the first time I understood, at least a little, Bell's theorem, or at least the alternative three-particle-entanglement version. Specifically, how it's possible to prove mathematically that there can't be a hidden-variables theory, something which had always puzzled me before. Of course, it's already feeling like it's melting away. But at least I can recall that I have known it, and been convinced, and could review it at any time, so I no longer just have to take it on faith that the proof is real.

As with most books about quantum mechanics, the author plays up how the book will talk about the fantastic possibilities for technological advances made possible by our advancing understanding of quantum mechanics, but in the end, he really doesn't talk about them. I want to know what quantum computing is, how it works, and what advantages it has, but all I get are news article blurbs that just say that there's a huge advance, but not what or why, let alone how it works. I want to know how "spooky action at a distance" could be used for superluminal communications, or more to the point, why it can't! I want to know why we couldn't have lasers and microwave ovens without quantum mechanics, and what else we can expect to get in the years to come.

Currently I'm reading Against All Enemies by Richard Clarke, read by the author. He does an amusing, and surprisingly good, impression of the voices and accents of the presidents and other public figures he's served under and with. His from-the-inside view of the history of modern terrorism has been shockingly enlightening, particular as I see the roots of our current situation with Al Qaeda in the events of the Cold War's end.

I always had a vague sense that there was the Cold War, then a decade or so of relative peace and safety, during which terrorism gradually became an issue, and eventually came to replace the Cold War in the role of making us all feel terrified and powerless, and giving Hollywood a source for villains. And I knew that some elements of terrorism had roots in the Middle East conflicts revolving around Israel, as well as the global oil trade. What I really never understood before this book was how the rise of terrorism, and particularly Al Qaeda and the Taliban, are not merely something that came after the Cold War, but were birthed in the same events that brought the Cold War to an end. Now I see that the events at the end of the Cold War are at least as responsible for the advent of modern terrorism as anything about Israel or oil, if not more so.

Probably the next book will be some bit of science fiction, maybe a collection of short stories. Then back to science.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Mr. Mojo Risin'

Listening to some songs by The Doors this morning, it occurred to me that while their songs are firmly rooted in classic rock, there's some of the same quality of "texture", an ethereal, atmospheric effect, in their songs as in some trip-hop stuff, like Portishead. If Jim Morrison were alive today, I wonder if he'd be into trip-hop.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Memetics versus memecrobial infection

You can't understand what a meme is without understanding the principle of the selfish gene. We usually think of genetics as a function of organisms; that a species survives because its genetics work to make it able to survive. Dawkins turned this on its head. The genes are what are trying to survive and procreate, and the organisms are just complex, effective tools that the genes use for this purpose. Genes are what really matter, though. That's why, the minute your body can no longer procreate -- can no longer pass on genes -- it tends to fall apart. There's no longer an advantage to keeping it working after that point, because the survival of the organism is irrelevant, only the survival of the gene.

The idea of a meme was an outgrowth of this idea. Memes, as they were originally defined, were ideas that did the same thing that genes do. The canonical example of a meme is a religion, or an ideology. A meme is a long-lasting thing which struggles for survival against other memes, and the minds it will inhabit along the way are important only as a means to continue and spread the meme. That's why martyrdom works: the meme doesn't mind losing a host, as long as the process gets it into other hosts.

But these days if you say "meme" on the Internet odds are what people will think of is not a meme at all, but just a momentary fad. Nothing about the genetic model of the meme really applies to how these fads propogate or survive, nor is there really anything fundamentally different about how they spread today than how they used to spread 30 years ago -- it's mostly just faster, and can happen with less investment, but these are differences of quantity, not of kind.

What is mistakenly called a meme on the Internet today is more aptly compared to a microbial infection. It passes from person to person by contact, a person suffers it for a short while and then gets over it, and that's it. It survives by finding more hosts, but that's where the comparison to genetics ends, because it doesn't have any long-term survival. It doesn't have a consistent identity over time. It survives not through tenacity or ability but through sheer numbers.

It's always a pity when a really powerful, really meaningful word, which is the only way to express a unique, insightful concept, is devoured by the grinding engine of word-trivialization. Especially when it's co-opted to mean something we already had perfectly good words for. The language is lessened, and so is the scope of human thought. Having thought this through, I now regret my own contribution to the misuse and erosion of this sublime word.

Monday, August 13, 2007

A math problem

Consider this game. I've got a die with sides marked "win" and "lose", such that the probability of rolling "lose" is X. You roll the die; if you roll "lose", the game ends. If you roll "win", I give you a dollar and you roll again.

For example, if X is 0.15 (a 15% chance of rolling "lose"), the odds of you getting nothing is 15%. The odds of getting $1 is 85% * 15%. The odds of getting $2 is 85% * 85% * 15%.

Put generally, the probability of any result n is:

P(n) = x (1-x)^n

The question: How can I calculate the average expected payout for a given value of X? All I can figure out is it would be the sum of this infinite series:

Once upon a time I might have been able to figure out whether that converges on something I can express as a simpler formula, or at least calculate for a few selected values of X. But I don't even know where to start now.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Arguing on the Internet

The problem with arguing on the Internet is somewhat analogous to if a skilled swordsman wandered the streets offering a foil to random strangers to fence with them. The average person on the Internet is about as skilled at logical argumentation and rhetoric as he is at swordplay, having never touched a sword, but having watched a few Hollywood pirate movies.

But that's only the tip of the iceberg.

Imagine instead if the master swordsman handed a foil to a random stranger on the street and started fencing, but every time he got a hit, his foe said "no you didn't, that's not how the game works!" and insisted he was actually winning. Every time he did some kind of ridiculous Hollywood cinematic thing, he'd consider that he scored a point, but since the master swordsman wasn't doing those things, neither his foe nor the bystanders would accord him any points.

In the end, of course, the master swordsman would have had dozens of chances to maim, kill, or subdue his foe, and blocked every blow that came anywhere near being able to injure him. But no one else would realize that he won. They just thought he was dry, and kind of boring.

You can only win so many arguments against people who don't even realize what an argument is before it's not even amusing for its own sake.

(Months after I made this post, the following strip showed up on Cectic:)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

Remember a few years ago when it was all the rage to type in "leet"? I mean stuff like this:

lolz 1 4/\/\ §0 \/\/1++¥

That used to be so cool, so amusing. How antiquated that seems now! Today everyone realizes that was just dull, unfunny, affected, contrived, and worthy of ridicule.

We've come so far. Today, if you want to be funny, you should talk like this:

im in ur shed hasing ur buckitz, lol wut

That's endlessly amusing, and eternally cool. Surely, there's no need for any further progress in the evolution of culture. I think we've finally nailed it this time.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Getting better

My hemoglobin A1c is down 0.5 to a new level of 7.7, a distinct improvement. And the trends in my blood glucose continue to drop. My cholesterol levels are also back into the fantastic range (except my HDL (good cholesterol) which stubbornly refuses to budge, or even obey the laws of physics).

Of course it's hard to tell how much of that is because of the extensive changes in diet, and my steadily more consistent and complete levels of exercise, and how much because of the simvastatin and increased dosage of metformin.

The doctor's office is working on the letter to Cigna to get that process started. Probably we'll see that within a few weeks.

I'm eating an apple a day, and boy is it not working. I am seeing some doctor or other like every week!

I don't know about you but I'm getting bored reading about health stuff on this blog all the time. Why doesn't the dumb blogger write about something else already?

Monday, July 16, 2007

A glimmer of hope

A Cigna representative raised the heretofore unconsidered possibility that our 3½ years in control of diabetes using only diet and exercise might, combined with a letter from our doctor, count as proof that we can make the changes necessary, thus obviating the need for the six month wait while we prove it again.

Of course, we're already two months into that, and doing very well. I've 24 pounds, well ahead of the goal timeline Cigna required (in fact, I've already lost as much in two months as they want in six) and even still ahead of my own personal (and more ambitious) goal. And we're not about to stop on it. But we are going to talk to the doctor about getting that letter. If so, maybe we'll be able to get going sooner than we'd thought.

One caveat on that is the fact that I myself might still have to lose a bunch more before I fit into the requirements for the laparoscopic surgery. However, at my current rate, that shouldn't be a problem. Even if we get to skip three of the six months, I should still be at that goal quicker than all this could be arranged.

Besides, it's unlikely we'd get ours at the same time, in spite of how much more convenient that'd be for travel costs and the like, just because someone has to take care of us. And I don't mean stopping by to ask how we're doing every few days. It's more like what you can only ask of family, and for a week or two at that. We'll really have to do it for one another, which means we take turns. And that means I go second since my stomach size is an issue.

So for now, status quo. I continue the tedious and annoying process of recording everything I eat in my Palm (ten times as tedious and annoying for Siobhan since she has to calculate all the things she cooks too). I continue to do my exercises, using Kinesio knee tape, icing, and soon a cane for long walks, to avoid the pain that so far isn't stopping me this time. And I continue to lose weight, aiming for that compatability-with-surgery size.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The good kind of busy

Been feeling kind of harried lately with so many things I want to be doing and not enough time to do them all, but they're not bad things, they're just too many good things. There's some programming I want to be working on, game prep for GMing I need to be doing, a story I have in mind to write, and an assortment of around-the-house work to do: replace a bent lawnmower blade, take a load of trash to the dump, fix the tires on my lawn trailer, clean the utility room and garage, and unpack books onto the bookshelves I set up a few months back. Plus if there's ever nice weather on a not-too-busy weekend day, I'd like to go fly the RC plane I got for Christmas, finally!

Since some of these are more "creative" endeavors, it's hard not to get swept up by whichever one happens to have inspired me at the moment. Some of those other things might never get done, or at least not when they need to be done, if I allow the inspiration to lead me. But it's always hard to let it go. Feeling inspired and full of creative ideas always feels like an opportunity I shouldn't let slip by because it might not come again.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Health update

The good news: in the first month of my "new start", I lost 19 pounds. Of those, 12 were in the three weeks after my first doctor's appointment, and thus, count against Cigna's 5% requirement. Since that only comes to 25 pounds or so, I'm clearly going to have no trouble getting there in six months. It seems I might even be able to get to the target weight that the MGB surgeons would prefer for doing my surgery laparoscopically (the only way MGBs are done).

The bad news: my HbA1c (a measure of long-term blood glucose levels) went up from 8.0 to 8.2. Now, that's not much; it's actually within the plus-or-minus of the test. But it's an increase when it should be a decrease. I'm not too worried, though. My tests have shown a slow but steady decrease, about what I expected. After all, I'm not aiming primarily for fast BG reduction this time around. My exercise regimen is limited by my pain, and my reluctance to push myself too hard and make myself stop. And my diet regimen is limited by the dietitian's insistence on adding fruits and vegetables despite the fact that their carbs will bring up my BG. I expect slow progress, but progress, and that's what I've been seeing. I suspect the HbA1c just isn't showing it yet, but will by my next test.

It's kind of hard to really feel invested in it now. I have a dose of short-timer's syndrome. After the surgery, odds are good my blood sugars will be a simple non-issue. It's easy to get thinking of this process as not being about my blood sugar, but simply about checking boxes on Cigna's checklist. The doctors would be horrified at that attitude; they want all my efforts to be based on the idea that the surgery will never happen. I'm trying to strike a balance. I care about my blood glucose, but if the long-term goal of eliminating diabetes and achieving significant weight loss requires me to have slower improvement in my BG and HbA1c right now, that's fine, too.

Anyway, the exercise part, which I've always said is the linchpin of everything else, is still in a preliminary state. Still not seen the physical therapist, and still using the same equipment, so the fact that I'm keeping it up at all, even at this reduced level, is an impressive achievement. (Not that the doctors even realize that, let alone give me credit. All they see is that it's not as much as they'd like. But I'd much rather be able to sustain doing some-but-not-enough than to push too hard and end up stopping.)

Next week's physical therapist appointment is a hopeful step. The arrival of the recumbent stationary bike I ordered, expected in the next two days, is an even more hopeful one. The hope they point to is being able to keep my exercise regimen more thorough and complete without a lot of pain. That'll lead to better improvement in blood glucose, and sustaining the weight loss.

On the other side is the process of arranging the surgery itself and its insurance coverage. The doctors keep talking about this like it's routine, and asking us when our surgery date is, but it's likely to be quite a struggle. We're not sure if it's better to start working with Cigna now, in hopes of getting the lengthy process of them losing our paperwork and issuing spurious random rejections to happen in parallel with our six-month weight-loss regimen; or if it'd be better to wait until we have that regimen, and all our other ducks, in a row, before we even draw ourselves to Cigna's attention, to make it harder for them to come up with ways to reject us. I wish we had a tactics guide for that kind of thing.

The other problem is getting local support. A surgery like this requires a lot of follow-up in case of problems and to make sure we're doing what we need to do. Yet it is, like many other kinds of surgeries, specialized enough that you can't get it locally, you have to travel for it. Since we can't fly out to High Point, North Carolina every few months (or even every few years) for routine follow-up, we need a way to get local follow-up, which means we need a local practitioner to agree to do it.

What exactly "follow-up" comprises seems to be hazy. Other long-distance patients of High Point seem to get by on "get my bloodwork done locally and have results copied to High Point", combined with the usual possibility of emergency care in case of catastrophe. Yet our doctor's office blanches at the idea of agreeing to provide this kind of care, perhaps because they imagine that they'd be called on to do more than they actually would, or perhaps it's me who is underestimating how much they'd have to know or do.

Why won't someone just write me a check for $34,000 so I can avoid all this insurance stuff and just get it done? It'd just be done.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Underappreciated movies redux

Today's nominee is Sneakers.

I wonder why this movie made so small a splash. It has a fantastic cast full of big names, and lots of them. It was pretty well promoted back in its day. It's got plenty of action and a cutting-edge feel, even though the pacing is not frantic, it's measured and well-crafted, rather than just piled on and ratcheted up. Seems like a sure winner. But while it didn't bomb or anything, a lot of people are not even aware of it, or only faintly.

Looking at it solely as a heist movie, it's one of the best out there. It's also one of the best computer "hacker" movies, both in terms of an interesting plot, and in terms of realism (not to say it's perfect in that regard, but most of its inaccuracies are easily dismissed as simply time-condensing things that would be boring to watch more slowly, plus there's the MacGuffin, which isn't real, but is at least plausible). It's also a very good action movie. Plus it includes a fair amount of serious thoughts about the value of information, the balance between privacy and identity, and the impact an information society can have on politics, society, economics, and justice, for better and for worse. (Admittedly, some of that takes the form of slightly heavy-handed, though still story-appropriate, exposition.)

It's one of those movies that bears up very well to repeated watching. You don't start finding flaws; the closer you look, the more the plot fits together. You don't find it becoming hollow; you start appreciating more details, more foreshadowing, more subtlety in the acting and writing. It's a movie that sticks with you, not one that boils off the memory a minute after the credits roll.

It also has good laughs, and they're very natural laughs: they don't feel like people being artificially witty, but the kind of funny that you have with normal folks who happen to be funny. Okay, on second thought, "normal" isn't the right word. Some of these guys, especially Mother, are pretty weird. But when they're funny it's because of who they are, not because of who the writer was.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Local produce on the honor system

Here in rural Vermont it's not uncommon to see stands at the side of the road selling local corn, flowers, or produce on the "honor system". There's a pile of fresh corn, probably pulled from the immediately adjacent field the previous day, and an old coffee can to put your money, and there's no one around.

Many people who come to Vermont and see these are astonished at the idea that anyone could still, in this day and age, count on people to pay for what they take in a situation like this. And yet almost everyone does.

What I find amusing, though, is that everyone's first reaction is to think, "why don't people just take the corn and not pay for it?" but hardly anyone thinks, "why don't people take the money that's sitting right there in a tin can?"

It's odd how somehow the idea of not paying for your corn is a different level of dishonesty from the idea of taking the money. On an absolutist level, it's exactly the same; corn and money must be interchangeable since the very existence of the booth proves one can be exchanged for the other at a fixed rate. Yet virtually every single person approaches the situation and concludes that stealing corn is "not as bad" as stealing the money from the can.

Including me; in some way I can't work out, that's my reaction, too. Though they're not as far apart for me, as evidenced by the fact that when I first saw one of these, I thought of the money theft almost immediately after thinking of the corn theft, while many people never get to the money theft possibility at all.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Most underappreciated movie

I could do a week of posts on this subject... actually I could do a whole blog on it, I bet. Nominate a movie that was really good, but that hardly anyone knows.

Today's nominee: Strange Days.

The whole movie springs from one single premise: the existence of a machine that can record and replay memories and experiences. It's easy to miss it in the flurry of story and breathtaking visuals and plot twists and interesting characters and suspenseful action, but squeezed into the same two hours with all that, there are explorations of not just one or two implications such a technology might have on society, but dozens of them, good and bad, individual and sociological.

It also has the virtue of having a main hero character who is not only not that heroic (let's face it, he's a coward), but who has no ability to fight or defend himself, even though he is always getting into dangerous situations. No, his one and only skill, ramped up to limit, is being ingratiatingly oily and slick -- not just when it's helpful, but all the time, because that's who he is, even when it is ruining his life.

It's just too much movie for most people.

Monday, June 11, 2007


The kind way to put it would be to say that I am picky about a lot of things. I don't find amusing a lot of things that other people do find amusing, things like movies, or humor. A less kind way would be to call me "high-brow" or "elitist". The least kind would be to call me snobbish.

At times I wonder if I'm missing out on some of this stuff. But most of the time, I can be pretty condescending in my assurance that there's really nothing to be missing out on. A great example is the large number of formulaic jokes in widespread circulation on the Internet that are, as far as I can tell, "funny" by virtue of only two things: intentionally bad spelling, and excessive repetition. Sometimes, there's a picture of an intentionally irrelevant animal, too.

Most of the time I conclude "this is not really funny, people are just worn down by repetition to have progressively lower standards". A tiny part of the time I wonder if there's something to low-brow humor and I'm missing out. Is there really something funny about fart jokes? How about cruelty humor? What do people who enjoy the badness of bad movies see that I don't see? Where's the true amusement in 2.3 million videos of cats falling off tables?

I want to apologize to the people who I must seem very snobbish to, because I don't mean to come off with a superiority complex. But would such an apology mean anything? Part of it is just apologizing for my general social ineptitude that prevents me being more tactful. Part of it comes from that tiny bit of wondering whether it's not really me that's missing something. But the fact is, a lot of me still concludes that I am, in fact, more discerning, and the problem is just that I don't think that makes me "superior", but it's inevitable it will come off that way. And if it comes off that way, how can I apologize for seeming snobby? Maybe I really am snobby.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Proxy bidding

Here's another one of those "there are two kinds of people" things: those who understand proxy bidding, and those who cannot. I think it's genetic, like the ability to curl your tongue. Either proxy bidding is a simple thing that makes perfect sense, or you simply are unable to think it through, no matter how many times it's explained.

Unfortunately, the people who don't understand proxy bidding make things more difficult for everyone else, not just for themselves. If everyone was able to take advantage of proxy bidding, then when I put my bid in on something, there's a good chance I'll find out immediately whether I'm already out of the bidding and should move on to bid on some other item. Instead, I'll probably waste days riding out one bid so it can be outbid at the last minute -- literally -- by some idiot sniper who can't understand the auction would have come out precisely the same if they'd just put in their proxy bid earlier. It would just have saved them, plus everyone who lost, a lot of time.

The urge to try to explain it is strong, because it's just so simple, but I will resist. There's no point, it's either obvious or inscrutable. Maybe someday scientists will develop some kind of psychochemical therapy for this malady.

Monday, June 04, 2007

A rhetorical red herring

Opponents of gay rights sometimes raise a specious but effective red herring argument whose danger is how it gets gay right advocates to surrender rights to set the terms of the argument. It goes like this.

"According to this highly dubious and probably unscientific source I have here, the supposition that homosexuality is inborn is not true! Homosexuality is merely a choice, and one which can be chosen against. Therefore, we should not be talking about gay rights."

The question of whether homosexuality is nature or nurture is an important one, and there are times to argue about it. But on the topic of gay rights, it is immaterial. More than that, it's a red herring whose sole purpose is to get you to let the neocons set the terms of the debate to ones where your case isn't quite as strong. Once you give in to the bait and try to refute their argument by focusing on the question of whether homosexuality is innate, you have implicitly accepted their assumption, their begging the question: that gay rights should only be granted if it is inborn, not a choice.

And that's simply not so. Amongst the most cherished, and arguably the first established, of all our rights that protect us against prejudice, is the protection of freedom of religion. And religion is unquestionably not inborn, but is entirely a choice, and definitely something which can be chosen against.

Don't let the conservatives choose the battlefield. Don't let them get away with such a key assumption.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Charity coin drops

Maybe this is a local thing -- I certainly had enough trouble finding pictures of it online -- but every summer, I find myself infuriated by charity coin drops. This is where some charity, maybe a good one (like funding a fire department) and maybe less good (like funding a school trip) decides that the best way to raise money is to stop traffic on some major artery and practice extortion, all but demanding coins from every passing car.

Well, I appreciate that you really want to earn some cash, but here's the thing. I include at least a thousand dollars a year in my charity donations. I choose very carefully where this money goes, to support causes I want to support and where I think my dollars will go the farthest. I don't give my money to the loudest or most obnoxious people merely because they're in my face -- in fact, I tend to lean away from them, and in favor of those who are quietly using my money primarily to help people, not to pester me for more money while wasting paper and my time.

The fact that you got a permit to inconvenience me and thousands of other people today is not sufficient reason to override all of that. Nor are your puppy-dog eyes or your ineffectual grimace as I pass you by. You think I'm a cold and uncaring person because I choose not to participate in your extortion, but I'm really just choosing more carefully than you are how to allocate my charity.

So give up this intrusive and insulting approach to charity and try something else, please. Because I am not about to start encouraging you.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The road to MGBville

Now that we're decided about a gastric bypass surgery, it's good to be working on it. Last Thursday we went to the nutritionist, and today to the doctor, for the first of six pairs of meetings (which must be in consecutive months). Cigna's arbitrary and largely meaningless goal for us is the loss of 5% of weight. My real goal is to get my blood glucose back in control by hook or by crook; if I have to go through this for Cigna I might as well also do something with a very evident need right now.

So, the changes we're making now are as follows. Counting carbs again, and limiting them. Exercising again; for now, just working through it, and soon, getting a physical therapy referral to work on ways to make it less painful and more sustainable. Adding more fruits and vegetables to the diet, which requires us to bite the bullet and go to the supermarket twice a week for just produce. Doubling my metformin dose, starting today.

The exercise part is the linchpin. Exercise keeps my appetite in control, it makes the biggest difference in my during-the-day readings, and it does more to bring my fasting BG down than any single other factor. Finding a way to make it sustainable despite the pain is key.

Getting my BG in order will be a hard struggle, but one that is maybe easier to endure knowing it's very likely that it's for a limited time. (The surgery will not only be very likely to cure my diabetes outright, it'll also make the pain reduce or disappear which also makes everything else fall into place.) Losing 5% of my weight while doing it will be a piece of cake.

Mmm, cake.

Dang, now I have to go exercise.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Back from vacation

I wasn't off at the seashore this whole time, that was just three days. But I've been on vacation at home since, some of it hanging around and some of it getting chores done.

Salisbury, Massachusetts was a good getaway... because we really didn't need much other than the ocean. Clearly, this is a town in need of some urban revitalization. The first impression is that most of it is run-down and mostly abandoned buildings. This is a very unfair impression; large stretches of town are actually shiny new and it's clear revitalization is going on with lots of new building. But you don't notice the nice buildings, you take those for granted. What stands out is the run-down old things with signs right out of the 50s. The seaside boardwalk area looked like Atlantic City after Biff stole the Delorean... though I bet it looks less that way during the high season when everything's open.

One thing's for sure, this was not a "touristy" destination, despite the seashore and all the relics of a touristy era. The shops and restaurants were inhabited by locals, and there was a conspicuous absence of the kind of retail presence that touristy areas have. I don't think I saw a single "gift" shop selling tacky crap. Nor did I see many license plates other than MA and NH (Salisbury is so on the border that most of our dining and shopping was over the border in NH).

What really matters, though, is that right outside the hotel room was a small porch which opened onto sand, and the roar of the surf was plainly audible and visible from my bed. There's no sleep so relaxing as sleep lulled by the smell of ocean breezes.

The only interesting dining found in the area was a little Mexican place of no particular significance, clearly catering to locals, but it was good stuff -- well-seasoned, authentic, and tasty. Their baja omelet, full of tender marinated carne asada, was remarkable. Otherwise, the food was serviceable and unexceptional.

Relaxing time at home was also productive. First time I ever did a tuneup on a lawn tractor, using only crappy and incomplete directions in the manual, and everything still went well; the tractor started right up and purred like a kitten. (Well, a very aggressive kitten with 42" cutting blades.)

Back to the daily grind today, but it's not so bad, the rest was nice. Lots more to write about, but that's for another day.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Random idea for a roleplaying game element

I can't claim credit for this one, I picked it up on mailing list for Everway years ago, might even be Jonathan Tweet who came up with it. But I've been saving it in my bag of tricks for years and years, waiting for a chance to use it.

Amongst the people of this particular culture has arisen a long-standing tradition that seems very strange to outsiders. People have odd and disturbing names: Poison, Treachery, Despair, Infection, or Bankruptcy, for instance. It turns out that the people here believe these things to be brought by spirits of the same name: if you get poisoned, it is because you were visited by the Poison Spirit. And surely, the Poison Spirit is less likely to harm someone who has been named for him! Children are always named for some malignant spirit which the parents fear might otherwise afflict the child, as a protection against them.

(It might be even more cool if this turns out to be true -- that anyone named Poison is, in fact, immune to poison. Just need to ensure no one can get named Death, or Badness, or something else too vague or potent.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Reticence and reversibility

We were trying to decide between RNY and MGB alternatives for our bariatric surgery, and while we'd heard the arguments for MGB, we hadn't really gotten a fair shake at hearing RNY's side. In all our extensive research, the few RNY doctors we'd heard had only been vague or spoken in anecdotes and speculation; they didn't talk like scientists at all. So we scheduled an appointment with the RNY surgeon, Dr. Spaulding, at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, in hopes she'd give us her side. After all, we have to choose a surgery before we can seriously begin the process of qualifying for it and getting it.

Between the time we scheduled it and the appointment, they instituted a new program where new arrivals in the bariatric program had a "pre-first-visit visit" in which they sat in front of a dull slideshow that covered the basics, and then got insulted by nurses for a little bit. This is very helpful for most people who, apparently, go to hospitals and doctors without even looking up what their condition means or what the surgery they're considering actually is. Not so helpful for us, as it turns out, since they cancelled our doctor visit in favor of this. We didn't learn anything we didn't know, and weren't able to get any of our questions answered. We wasted half a day of sick leave and several dollars in gas and parking for nothing.

When we complained, they set us up an appointment with Dr. Spaulding for this morning. We went in and got told right off that we'd be seeing a nutritionist and a psychologist to prescreen us for the procedure before we could talk to Dr. Spaulding. It was futile to point out that we weren't on the track for any procedure, we were just trying to get some answers. We were on the conveyor belt and there was no way to get anywhere other than down the assembly line.

So we sat through these post-pre-meeting pre-meetings, which we had to do separately because "that's how we do it", before we could finally talk to Dr. Spaulding. She was friendly and personable, but she also insisted on starting at the beginning, explaining everything in detail except for the bit we said we wanted to talk about: why RNY over MGB? But finally, going into our third hour there (not counting the hour drive each way) we were finally getting to the actual point of the meeting.

Her reasons for RNY over MGB: "Oh, I wouldn't recommend MGB." She added, "I know someone who did those for a while, but he stopped right away." When pressed, she suggested that there wasn't enough data on MGB to determine what its risks were (though she also claimed that they were greater) -- which is not true, they've been doing MGBs for 10+ years and have done thousands of them. Pretty much the same non-answer I have always gotten from RNY doctors which sounds suspiciously like what, in the non-scientific lay world, really means "I am against anything I haven't bothered to learn about yet." You expect that from used car salesmen, but you expect doctors to have a scientist's mindset, to base things on evidence and proof.

I didn't let it rest. We had spent two whole mornings on this and I didn't want to come away without the answer again. I pressed the issue. Her response was that I would have to schedule another appointment, as she had to be moving on.

I can understand that she only has so much time set aside for us and that her next patients don't deserve to be kept waiting. But we explicitly said our whole purpose in coming to see her (both times) was to ask this question. We said it when setting up the appointments, and then first thing when we got there, and first thing when she came in. Now she wants it to be yet another appointment.

And when we talked to the person who schedules appointments, she had no way to do so that wasn't the next step on the assembly line. Merely to come to another appointment would require us to again visit the nutritionist, who would in turn demand detailed day-by-day food logs with calorie counts. It would also be a meeting not with the doctor, but with the nurse who had berated us while providing no answers at our first pre-meeting-meeting. In other words, it would be yet another opportunity to not get answers, while being treated like an interchangeable part.

But in talking more about this, we've come to the conclusion that her answer was all the answer we really need. I don't just mean that the way we were treated is a clear answer that "we will not get a surgery here" -- that goes without saying. I mean that her lack of a good answer, compounded upon all the other lacks of a good answer, and stacked up next to the scientific research we've seen (though I have to read more of that more closely), is an answer.

More to the point, the clincher of the deal is reversibility. RNY is not really reversible -- it's been done, sure, but it's not usually possible and you shouldn't count on it. That means if you get cancer and need chemotherapy, you're screwed. Chemotherapy will make you need more nutrients than your RNY-altered stomach can supply, and you'll starve to death if you go on it, period.

There are other reasons you might need a reversal, but that's the big one. MGB is reversible and also revisable -- if you're losing weight too slow or too fast it can be adjusted, though naturally you don't want an extra surgery if you can help it. But if you need it, the option is there, and that's something the RNY people can't touch.

Settling on MGB also settles the open vs. laparoscopic question since MGBs are only done laparoscopically. It also settles the question of where to have it: the only place that offers them to people my size is High Point Regional Health System in North Carolina. Now we have to work out the logistics of how to get there to do this, for both of us (done at separate times), including followup appointments. We have to start the annoyingly repetitive and unnecessary six-consecutive-month medically supervised weight loss plan Cigna requires.

And, biggest of all, we have to work out how this will get paid for. Getting Cigna to cover a completely medically necessary surgery with an in-plan doctor locally is a challenge. Getting them to cover a surgery they classify (for no reason we can determine) as "experimental", with a doctor in NC who may or may not be considered "in-plan" on our plan, is going to be a bitch. High Point won't bill them, either; we have to get pre-approval and then pay for it ourselves (to the tune of $17,000 each) and hope Cigna comes through after. If it ends up being considered in-plan, and they pay, it'll cover almost all of it (except our travel costs, of course), but if it doesn't, we may have to shoulder 20%, which is more than $10,000 between us. Where I'm going to make that money appear from is a good question.

But at least we have settled finally what direction we're going, so now it's just a matter of overcoming all those obstacles.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Supermarket music

It's been a long time since they played muzak in supermarkets. Or indeed any retail operation, so far as I've seen. Maybe they still do in elevators in office buildings. But apparently someone discovered that actual music is better for sales. And specifically, the music that the primary shopping target market grew up with.

For the last ten years, the music in all the supermarkets I have visited has been mostly light, inoffensive pop music from the 1970s, and gradually it's been working its way forward. Little by little, I'm more comfortable and familiar with the music. And thus, it becomes clear that I am not only an adult now, I am solidly the center of the target market at whom the supermarkets are focusing their marketing machines.

Don't get me wrong. Most of the music I listen to in an average day is not the music I'm hearing in the supermarket (though as time has passed the amount of overlap, though small, has grown). Actually, music composed around and before my birth makes up a larger part of my music collection than the music I actually grew up with, not out of any kind of reluctance to my own generation, but just because it's better music.

But the supermarkets aren't trying to mirror anyone's music collection. They're trying to create a feeling of comfort and nostalgia which, it turns out, inspires more shopping. Maybe it's the feeling of home. For most people it's the stuff you heard while you were in high school. In my case, the stuff that, right now, this year, is the core of the supermarket mix for the first time.

It's almost depressing because, when you get right down to it, the music of my generation was not that great. If you think back to the early 80s and think of music, most of what comes first to mind is superficial fluff that didn't age that well. I do enjoy it, but it's a guilty pleasure, and it sure doesn't make me want to stand up and shout out for my generation.

There was plenty of good music being made at that time. Great music, even. But it was mostly by bands that came before and were still going, and thus are not associated with that period of time nearly as much as bands that arose (and most of the time, vanished) during it. For example, some of Rush's best work was in the early 80s, but no one thinks of them first when you think of "bands of the early 80s".

But that doesn't help when they're playing some A Flock Of Seagulls in the freezer aisle and I find myself singing along, does it?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Smokers outside my window

One of the few perks of my job is that I have a window, which I guard jealously. I also retain the ability to open it when, at this time of year, it's beautiful out, but not so hot that I will feel guilty about the air conditioner running more.

The downside is that my window is over one of the two doors out of my building.

Last few years, our office was down to a single remaining smoker, all the others having either quit or... well, quit. And he had an office at the far end of the building, ensuring the other door was far, far more convenient for him to go smoke out of. Thus, I always wondered why he would, time after time, come smoke under my window instead. He had to go out of his way to do it. I complained, and he'd go to the other end for a little while, and then start again, over and over.

This year, we have two new employees, and both of them are smokers. We were so close to nirvana! It's so frustrating. And they're all coming down to my window to smoke. Plus our new cleaning service is one girl who is only here for an hour or two each day, but manages to smoke at least 3 cigarettes outside my window during that time.

All day long I'm opening and closing the window over and over. It's maddening. Maybe I should be more tolerant, but it just gets under my skin that we even have smokers still. Some irrational part of my brain insists on thinking of smoking the way I would about polio or feudalism, as something we used to have but thank goodness we don't anymore. And then they have to bring it to my window.

So here's my question. Get a list of the arguments that smokers use to justify their "right" to smoke in my presence, and for each one, substitute "urinate". The arguments all work just as well, and most of them better, since urination is a natural function necessary to life, and the sterility of urine means it poses no real health danger. So as far as I'm concerned, if you want the right to smoke in front of me, the cost is having to endure people peeing on you, with as gracious a smile as you can put on. Fair deal.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Look, an extraterrestrial!

Like other mammals and, to varying extents, most living things on Earth, humans have a circadian rhythm: a natural, hardwired internal clock that regulates metabolism and other operations of body and mind. When exposed to the cycle of sunlight and dark, this rhythm keeps approximately in time with a day. When humans live in places isolated from these natural cues (for instance, on extended tours of duty on a submarine), they usually, for convenience, create articial rhythms of light and dark on the same 24-hour cycle.

However, when a human is left free of any external cues of light and dark, an interesting thing happens. If he has nothing to calibrate his internal cycle with, it will naturally, and fairly quickly, settle into a rhythm of not 24 hours but 25.

On an apparently unrelated subject, there are a few oddities about how the human musculoskeletal system works, which are often pointed to as evidence that the evolution from quadruped to biped hasn't quite finished. However, some people point out another odd observation: on a planet whose gravity was half of Earth's, our musculoskeletal system would actually work pretty darned good.

Hmmm... we seem to have an innate biological prejudice for low-gravity worlds with 25-hour rotational periods. It's almost as if we come from somewhere else nearby...

Okay, while this is intriguing, I'm by no means serious. This is great fodder for a surrealistic roleplaying game, but certainly not anything real. Though, hmmm...

Monday, April 30, 2007

A busy week

This week is going to be very busy for me due to a lot of stuff going on at work, so I don't expect I'll be posting much to my blog. Right now I'm feeling a little dry of topics anyway.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Paying people to do your homework

Every day when I skim through the RSS feed of new jobs at RentACoder, it's amazing how many of them are very obviously, even openly admittedly, people hiring people to do their homework. There's often ones saying that a job must be done urgently because the homework is due.

I find this infuriating. What are these people going to do when they get jobs, hire those out too? I can't help notice that if I were willing to take these jobs I could make a mint on very easy work. But I would never do it. Sometimes I want to make a fake account so I can bid on these, then never do the job, just to sabotage their efforts or at least slow them down. In any case, I find it frustrating I even have to see them. They should be in their own category (rather than combined with "Personal project") so I could filter it out -- though even if RentACoder had that category, I bet half the time the jobs wouldn't end up in it.

I'm not even in the education field. Why does this infuriate me so much?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Coding in my head

Sometimes, as now, when I get working on a coding project that grabs my enthusiasm right, I can get to a stage where working on the code feels like a compulsion. At times when I'm not coding and my mind isn't 100% occupied I'll find the code uncoiling itself in my head, ideas about what needs to be done next and how it should work, even bits of code. I'll come out of the shower with ideas that need to be captured and be tempted to run dripping to my computer to write them down.

I am so ready for an implant computer. If I could be recording my thoughts while in the shower, and able to see my screen there (on a portable display I could set down outside it, on HUD glasses, or better yet, on corneal implants), I could get so much done.

Sure, people worry that if you had that, you'd never be able to relax, or get away from work. Poppycock. The ability to leave work at work depends on your conviction to do so, which I've never had a problem with, even as I play with my laptop at home night after night. Gadgets may make it harder, but it's still up to you to get the kind of job that lets you go home at the end of the day, if it is important enough to you; and then to stand by that principle.

Meanwhile, while I was writing this I had to pause to make a note about that code I'm working on.

Monday, April 23, 2007

History threshholds

It was many years ago when I first had this moment. Someone I knew, I realized, had been born after Star Wars had come out. He had never lived in a world that didn't have Star Wars indelibly stamped upon its culture. The idea that the movie was once something that people figured wouldn't even succeed or make a profit. let alone become iconic, was alien to him.

As time goes by, different events serve as that boundary point of my advancing age: something which is an event to me, but "merely" a part of history to someone else. For my parents' generation, it was the moon landing, or JFK's assassination. For their parents it was Pearl Harbor, or D-Day, or VJ-Day. After Star Wars the next one for me is probably the fall of the Berlin Wall -- that one's coming up hard now -- or the Challenger disaster. It will be 9/11 all too soon.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Note to self: notes to self are to self.

How many times have you heard someone say "Note to self:" out loud to you? Or "mental note" equivalently. Do you think they know what those phrases mean? Clearly not, if they're always doing them out loud to others. Wait, is this some of that "irony" stuff I hear about? I thought that was about flies in your chardonnay. I don't even like chardonnay; it might be better with flies in it, come to think of it. Or maybe all the chardonnay I've tried in the past already had flies in it, and that's why it was so yucky? Note to self: try strained chardonnay some time. Hey, you, what are you doing reading my private notes to myself?

Spring? Is that you? I thought you'd never come.

We've been wondering up here in Vermont whether that damned groundhog didn't see two shadows, because it's been ten more weeks of winter already. But this week's weather forecast is glory in liquid form.


Hi 56°F


Lo 26°F


Hi 64°F


Lo 31°F


Hi 67°F


Lo 31°F

Mostly Sunny
Hi 70°F

Mostly Clear
Lo 39°F

Chance Showers. Chance for Measurable Precipitation 30%
Hi 74°F

If I didn't know better, I'd think that was spring.