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.