Friday, January 27, 2006

An Unsuspected Criminal Past

Have you ever googled your name? I never really bothered until recently. Not because I'm not vain - I'm plenty vain - but simply because I never expected anything to be there. I've been reasonably careful to keep my actual identity offline (I'm in disguise you know) and while I google my pseudonyms all the time I'd never bothered with my given name - until recently.

Well my name is there. The top listed site links to the court records of my arrest for drug trafficking and firearms possession. Well not my arrest - but somebody with the same name. It turns out there are a lot of somebodies with my name - doctors and musicians and fathers and athletes. But I'm satisfied to say that you won't find me in there anywhere.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Return of the Pink Panther

You've probably already seen them - previews for the new Pink Panther movie starring Steve Martin. Are these previews filling anyone else with a sense of dread? Don't get me wrong, I like Steve a lot - he's hilarious - but I'm instantly skeptical of Hollywood's continuing insistence of never innovating, but simply remaking the old - and remaking it poorly. The Pink Panther movies are absolute classics (and perhaps exactly the sort of series that adapts well to sequel after sequel) but Peter Sellers left some awfully big shoes to fill. It'll be difficult to do justice to his legacy and still innovate enough to create a fresh new movie. I'm really hoping Martin can pull it off - but I'm not holding my breath.

Monday, January 23, 2006

World's Shortest Intelligence Test

I learned something new today and feel the need to inflict it on the rest of you. Here is my very own version of the most succinct diagnostic tool ever conceived. It's short, sweet, and perfectly simple. Just follow the instructions and see how smart you really are.

Problem #1 - Reading through it only once, count how many times the letter "F" appears in the following sentence:

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Three Essays Worth Reading

My brother sent me an essay entitled How to Do What You Love by Paul Graham - who also wrote an interesting essay on procrastinaton. Both are well worth reading, but the essay I felt might be of most interest to the both of you who actually read this blog is Richard Hamming's You and Your Research.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Rough Week (w/ a happy enough ending)

My wife had been feeling some pains off-and-on for a while, but Monday snuck up on her like a windshield on a bug. Doubled over and clutching her abdomen in pain I took her to the Emergency Room around 8PM. We waited for forty minutes, her lying on her side and occasionally puking in trash cans - until finally she got a bed, an IV and some nausea medication. Then the testing began in earnest. Urine, blood, and x-rays were all largely inconclusive. We learned she wasn't pregnant, but nothing else definitive.

The doctor decided she needed a CAT-scan so the nurse handed me some berry-flavored barium beverages and a straw. The containers even had festive pictures on their sides - like we were going to have a cocktail party or something. Obviously it tasted awful. At first I had to urge her to drink it slowly, hoping she wouldn't just throw it all back up, but after the first few minutes I had to continually coax her to drink it at all. It took hours before she was ready for the CAT-scan.

They sent us home around 4AM - her high on morphine and a bottle of percocet in her purse, me with the business card of a local surgeon and the diuturnal mental image of an 8cm growth near her left ovary. Of course the metric units were lost on me. Ever the prototypical American, I lacked the facility to but it all in perspective - at least 8cm sounded small. She made me look it up when we got home. I wished she hadn't. Eight centimeters is big. It's huge. It's a baseball. I still don't understand why something so big wasn't visible on the surface.

Tuesday was a trip to the OB/GYN-cum-Surgeon who did an ultrasound on her and pronounced the suspect mass to be both unusually large, and dangerous enough to warrant near-immediate surgery. (Neither revelation was particularly new.) By unusually large and dangerous he explained it was ten centimeters - not eight - and crushing her ovary. By near-immediate he meant, "Come back tomorrow."

In all fairness he was an excellent doctor and did a good job preparing us for what he was going to have to do and what we should expect. He had actually given my wife the option to operate that night or wait till the next day. She chose to wait only because she needed the chance to absorb all that was happening and wanted to be able to call her family first. After yesterday's operation we learned for certain that the growth was only a monster cyst - not cancer. It caused a torsion of her left ovary - which had to be removed - but she's now returning to normal health. Thankfully nature loves redundancy - one ovary is all you really need.

She's got a big gash in her tummy (it was too big for laparoscopic surgery) and will need a few weeks before she feels normal again, but I'm just so glad she's going to be okay. And my in-laws came in yesterday too. They arrived just as I found out the surgery was a success - perfect timing. Now that they're here I'm able to go back to work during the day (I'd missed a few days) and although she was originally scheduled to be released tomorrow, she was doing well enough to be released today - so I'm especially glad to have their help.

A few days before all this happened I'd conjectured that a crisis is sometimes what it takes for us to realize what's important in life. Now I'm thinking we didn't need this at all. But I'm not complaining - I'm only happy she's alright.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Ten thousand fools proclaim themselves into obscurity, while one wise man forgets himself into immortality.

"I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law."

"Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love."

~Martin Luther King Jr.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Everything is always fair

Yesterday the wife and I spent the day visiting friends and family in DC. Firstly we visited an old squadmate of my wife's who is now in the hospital (Walter Reed) after a particularly bad explosion destroyed his vehicle in Iraq. He was in pretty rough shape but recovering and obviously in very good spirits - all things considered. This is to say he wasn't too happy, but retained his sense of humor and was keeping a positive outlook despite the fact that he may yet lose a leg and will never walk normally again even if he doesn't. He's a huge guy - any lesser of a man (I simply mean anyone of normal physical stature) probably would have been killed on the spot. So I guess he's lucky - or so everyone says. He had nine days left on what was his second one-year tour. We'll continue to visit him whenever we can.

Next we visited my cousin the doctor in her new house. She's got a two-year old son who got really sick a week before Christmas. At first it looked like the flu but then he couldn't shake a fever and when they took him to the hospital they discovered he was uniquely susceptible to a bacteria?/virus? that destroyed his pancreas' ability to create insulin. So all at once a perfectly healthy little boy became a Type I diabetic. They *again* were lucky they caught it in time - he could have died. Now he's still a normal little boy who lets me play with his train set and likes to read me stories (with my help.) He's understandably fussy about testing and shots but for the most part takes it all in stride. He's still too young to understand - right now it's a lot harder on his parents.

But everyone keeps adapting, and there's always these tiny little miracles wrapped up in these huge tragedies - that as far as I'm concerned don't make up for any of it - but still manage to bring friends and family together and keep us all focused on what's important. It scares me to think that maybe without all this horrible unfairness surrounding us in life and death we'd probably all default to being the enormously self-centered asses we all wish we could be - if we could just have things our way.

Friday, January 13, 2006

I went topless - and it sucked

I while back I was reading Quantum Blog and learned about topless sandals. Since they sounded cool and were having a sale I figured I'd give them a try. It's pretty amazing how they stick to your feet - and they don't feel weird or uncomfortable either. But after only a few minutes of wearing them around my home their edges accumulated bits of dog hair - which was gross. They weren't too difficult to clean-off (and I know they weren't intended for wear around the house) but I have to assume they'd also pick up fine particles of sand and such if I were at the beach or outside elsewhere - not cool. I figured they weren't a total loss, even if I would only use them for the showers in the gym, but then I discovered their critical vulnerability. They're completely useless if they get wet.

So what's the point of sandals you can't wear inside or outside, to the beach, to the pool, or to the showers? None I can figure. And what if it's hot and you're one of those people with sweaty feet? I imagine the only place they'll ever be seen is on campus at liberal arts colleges where everybody always goes to class in flip-flops because they're all too cool to be bothered to get out of their pajamas. Perhaps a few of them will see these topless sandals as being the trendy new thing - at least until it rains.

Monday, January 09, 2006

If I only had a Brain

I'm reading a new text on functional neuroscience and trying to refamiliarize myself with the structures of the brain, but it's been years since I formally took a class in neuroscience and it seems some remedial learning is in order. Normally I consider rote memorization to merely be a pretext for actual learning, but knowing the brain's structures 'inside and out' is critical to understanding how these structures interact - which is where the I need to be if I really want to learn anything cool.

Everything else I know about anatomy can be summed up by that song, "the knee-bone's connected to the .. Thigh-Bone!" but that catchy little ditty breaks down when you get to things like 'the supramarginal gyrus is adjacent to the postcentral sulcus' - which is a real shame because now I can't get that tune out of my head.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


This morning I finished reading Nick Sagan's first book Idlewild. It was a book nSilico and I both bought at a recent book fair. He finished reading it a day or so before me but wouldn't tell me what he thought of it until I finished it too. I'm still curious as to what he thought of it, but I liked it a lot.

It wasn't the greatest book ever - it was mostly your standard fare Sci-Fi plot with standard Sci-Fi twists thrown in, but I don't want to paint the picture that it was all so unoriginal. Nick has an unusual writing style, an inexhaustible imagination, and the undaunted courage to not hold any of it back. Even if the story holds the same themes you've read a dozen times before, it still manages to become something uniquely his. A lot of the mainstream reviewers criticized the book for not having an easy to follow pace - and while I'd agree that this book didn't have the kind of storyline that might translate easily into a made for TV movie - I think the story flowed well enough. After all, its continuing weirdness was sort of the point. And I loved the dark mood that permeates the entire novel. Parts of it even reminded me of the feel of Orson Scotts Card's Ender's Game - if only a bit, except Card could never be quite that dark.

All I can really say about the story is that it's about a young man named Hal, who wakes up with amnesia and the certain knowledge that someone is trying to kill him. Everything else is for him (and you) to figure out.

I was most surprised to discover in the about the author section at the end of the book that Nick Sagan is the son of famed Scientist/Sci-Fi writer Carl Sagan. Their writing styles, choice of material and general outlooks are totally different. Without a doubt, Nick Sagan is his own creature and not attempting to be a clone of his father. With that said, I'll try to avoid comparisions of the two.

In the end, Idlewild is a fine start for a new writer, and although still shy of true greatness, it's plenty strong enough to for me to add him to my list of 'to read' authors. I'll be sure to check out the book's sequel Edenborn soon.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Attack of the Killer Turd

While walking my dog Izzy this evening, she (not me) somehow managed to step in a giant pile of poop. It was cold and dark, so I didn't realize it right away - not until we got back inside. As soon we got in the house I noticed the enormous clump of leaves stuck to her left rear foot. Then I noticed the smell. She, amazingly, seemed oblivious. I told her to STAY and went into the kitchen to get a dish-towel and soap.

Normally she's relatively well behaved and tends to do what she's told (especially if there are no distractions around) but something about my tone must have frightened her. She sensed she was in trouble and didn't know why. So she ran and hid under the desk. It was easy enough to find her. I just had to follow the crap-smeared paw prints across the living room. She must have searched for a place to hide because she'd apparently run in circles before settling under the desk.

It took a full fifteen minutes just to clean her paw - there was an endless supply of feculence wedged between her pads and the soapy warm dish-towel had us both gagging. I threw it away when I was done. It took a lot longer to clean the carpet. At least Izzy was genuinely upset with herself for the whole debacle. I've never seen a dog act so ashamed. I didn't even bother to scold or punish her, but seriously - what kind of dog walks in crap and doesn't know it?

This whole episode makes me wonder what it'll be like when we have kids (my wife and I - not me and the dog.) Whatever trouble a dog can create I imagine a kid can do a thousand times worse. I suppose I'm as ready as I'll ever be.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

I'm still a kid

Over New Year's I went and saw Narnia with my wife and a bunch of friends. I had already seen the movie, but my wife hadn't. She wasn't really interested in seeing another 'kid's movie' and probably would never have bothered with it had it not been the movie the majority of our friends wanted to see. Now she won't stop talking about it - she loved it.

I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as a kid but that was so long ago I couldn't really tell you what, if any, differences exist between the book and the movie. What's worse is I never finished reading the rest of the Narnia Chronicles at all. The only C.S. Lewis book I really remember clearly is the Screwtape Letters, which for whatever reason remains most memorable to me (it's all about the psychology of sin - go figure.) A friend reminded me about his famous Sci-Fi series which starts with Out of the Silent Planet, which I think I read but I don't really remember either.

So, long story short, I'll be reading a lot of C.S. Lewis this month. It'll be fun - especially since it seems likely my wife will be reading Lewis too.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Back from the Brink

It's time to breathe some life back into many of the ongoing projects that got left on the back-burner - including this blog. I'm going to try to have more frequent updates, add new types of content, and introduce various other enhancements in the posts to follow. We'll see how it goes.