mellowtigger: (we can do it)
Today, the big news is that the Supreme Court of the USA has ruled that all states must allow and recognize same-sex marriage.

The truth in history is often very nuanced, requiring long explanation to convey information accurately. Occasionally, however, something meaningful and whole can be captured in an image, allowing the details of metaphors to unfold in the mind like a well written haiku. Sometimes pictures are better than words.

changing of flags from confederate to rainbowchanging of flags from confederate to rainbowUncle Sam changes flag from confederate to rainbow
changing of flags from confederate to rainbow

Justice kissing LibertyLiberty kissing Justice
Bert and Ernie watching television supreme court
Dukes of Hazzard car with rainbow flag

Not to get all wordy now and defeat my earlier point, but there are two things worth noting about today's court ruling.  First, all of the women (plus two men) decided for the government to enforce equal treatment under the law for its citizens, and the naysayers were all men.  Second, one of the naysayers is himself now in an interracial marriage that was once illegal.  Curiosities to ponder.

supreme court justices on marriage equality ruling

People everywhere are celebrating, everyone is sharing the news, media sites are flooding with images and stories, and even YouTube itself has something to say with a collection of videos plus their brief commentary.  I was intending to skip the Pride festival this weekend.  I am reconsidering my decision, however, after today's good-mood news.  #LoveWins  #LoveIsLove
mellowtigger: (Daria)
We can't have nice things in the USA.  I wish I lived somewhere civilized that had a single-payer health care system that "collects all medical fees, then pays for all services, through a 'single' government (or government-related) source."  But, no.  Instead, we have a convoluted bureaucratic nightmare that is ripe for exploitation.

I had sinus surgery back in January.  It's public knowledge, since I blogged about it.  Many bills arrived later.  I paid all of them except for one curious letter that arrived from people I didn't know and a place I didn't know, wanting money.  There was no  privileged information in that letter, so I treated it like I do all spam email that I receive: I trashed it.

Months later, a bill collection agency tries to collect.  Once again, they say a person I don't know wants money, but nobody can offer any definitive information to help me confirm their authenticity.  Again, I refuse to pay, but at least this time I'm willing to put some effort into an investigation of the claim.

It required 2 calls to my surgeon's office, 2 calls to my insurance provider, and 2 visits to the hospital, but I finally got a claim number that I could verify.  Here's the trail of shame for the rickety medical billing system currently in use:
  • My surgeon's office had no contact information for the anesthesiologist.  How did they arrange for him to show up at my surgery?  Who knows?
  • My first call to my insurance provider (Aetna) offered only one name for anesthesiology, but it wasn't the doctor's name; it was a nurse's.
  • My hospital does include a listing for the doctor (Mark Lantz), but the information is all wrong.
  • The listed phone number (763-520-5370) is "disconnected or no longer in service".
  • It includes a webpage (, but it's also useless.  The webpage offers no contact information for the doctor.
  • The webpage includes its own email contact (, but the email bounces.
  • The webpage includes a brick-and-mortar address at the hospital itself, but the information desk at the hospital knows nothing about the group.
So, somebody wants money from me, but it is...
  1. somebody with no phone contact,
  2. somebody with no email contact, and
  3. somebody with no viable street address.
Once again, I feel perfectly justified in treating this demand for money as an unlawful attempt to wrangle money from my pocket.  This complete lack of verifiable accountability is why internet email is so filled with spam.  An unscrupulous person could easily get rich by getting a virus onto a computer for a hospital or billing service.  They can start writing paper letters to people they learn have had medical procedures done.  People will willingly write them checks for no good reason.  It's terrible.

On my first visit back to the hospital (their customer service was great!), I was able to get printouts for the anesthesiologist report and the billing report.  At least I could verify the doctor's name, but nothing provided any trail to verify the claim against me.  On my second visit back to the hospital (again, their customer service was great!) a billing person was able to connect me by phone to the doctor's billing person.  Finally, at long last, I had a reliable trail of contact to someone with knowledge of this bill.  I got a claim ticket number that they had filed with my insurance provider.

I called my insurance provider again, and this time they were able follow that claim number and give me confirmation of this bill.  I called back the bill collector and gave them my bank routing information so they could file an electronic draft immediately.  I still don't know anything about the bill collector other than the phone number (651-287-6137), but I'm tired of investigating and just want this mess to end.  Afterwards, I was so stressed out and drained from this escapade that I went to bed and slept 6pm-1am.

This is the healthcare system that we have in the USA.  It's awful.  And I'm sick again, this time with something new that's affecting my throat.  Happy, happy, joy, joy.
mellowtigger: joystick (gaming)
I've written about the RIFT game previously in detail.   I've continued playing this free game for so long because it's more of a cooperative game style than player-versus-player. You can start as any class yet still play (with paid class unlocks) as any other role on a whim.  I can also play it from my Linux desktop.  It's a native Windows client, but it works just fine with some Linux tools that allow it to run anyway.

They're now having their annual summerfest event.  It lasts several weeks, but it arrives in phases.  I think it's the most complicated (many quests) of their events.  There's lots of stuff to do: fishing, exploring, even some combat.  These hints will help you complete some of the older quests, but the newer ones (including the minion chain) aren't included on that page yet.

If anyone decides to give the game a try, you can use the following link to create your free account.  It's part of their Ascend-A-Friend (you play the "Ascended" heroes of the game world) feature, which allows me to teleport to your location when you're online so you have a companion.

I play on the Faeblight server (although you can temporarily jump servers on a whim) among the Defiant faction.  You'll have to create your character among the Defiant if you want to play consistently with my main character, since the other faction is historically our enemy.  Not to worry, though, because the player-versus-player aspect of this game has been reduced over the years.

I hope to meet someone in game.  Send a letter to "Tewadema" so I know you're there.

Omaha Zoo

Jun. 6th, 2015 01:12 pm
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
I finally made it to Omaha Nebraska this week as part of a 4-day retreat for work with The Nature Conservancy.

I rarely take vacations, since travelling is more stressful than just relaxing at home. I've been in Minnesota for 18 years and still haven't gone across the northern border to Canada, east to Chicago, or west to see the rocks (Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse) of South Dakota. My plan last week was to leave Friday or Saturday and go see the rocks. Instead, I delayed so I could hear Bernie Sanders in Minneapolis on Sunday, then I took off immediately for Omaha. I spent the night at Motel 6 in Omaha, then I walked around the Omaha Zoo for several hours. I was tired of walking and didn't go to the Lauritzen Gardens afterwards. Instead, I drove to Nebraska City, Nebraska for the conference.

The indoors exhibits for the Omaha Zoo are very good. They have habitats specifically for desert biome, jungle biome, and a smaller building just for butterflies (even hotter and more humid than the jungle, so my glasses fogged up). Their outdoors exhibits bothered me, though, because they had large animals in small spaces. The Minnesota Zoo is much more humane in this regard.  The indoor exhibits in Omaha were even more impressive because some animals (mostly birds but some bats) were allowed territory that wasn't caged separately from the human paths. Animals were mixing in with people, and it was a great combination to see.

I recorded some video clips while I was there. They include The desert dome had an underground exhibit devoted to all kinds of nocturnal creatures. They even had a large beaver lodge down there and a very tall "cave" whose roof had a bright gap exposed to the sky's light. It really looked like a bat cave, although the nearby bats were kept in contained spaces.

desert dome pathdesert Cape Thick-knee
desert nocturnal Bush-tailed Jirddesert nocturnal beaver lodgedesert nocturnal cave

The Lied building housed the jungle biome. It was very large and its structural components masqueraded very well as native environment. It also included a few birds that could reach human paths. The bats in this daytime jungle building could roost anywhere, too. I don't know who the Lied family is, but their name was included in the conference center where I stayed in Nebraska City for the retreat event.

jungle Lied buildingjungle bats signjungle bats roosting
jungle view1jungle view2
jungle view3jungle view4

Elsewhere, the zoo included its large animal exhibits (with several many spaces under construction) and an Imax theater. The aquarium included an odd "virtual pool" where kids could jump around with the tidepool creatures. (At the Minnesota zoo, people can touch real animals in real water.)

apesMutual Of Omaha Wild Kingdomaquarium projected water for kids to splash

The one thing that actually surprised me on my mini-vacation, though, was seeing the many wind farms in Iowa.

wind generators in Iowa

Who knew Iowa was investing so heavily in sustainable energy sources?  Why isn't Minnesota dotted with these structures?  Is the wind really so less common here?
mellowtigger: (changed priorities)
I'm feeling hopeful that the USA can address its climate, economy, infrastructure, healthcare, and especially its democracy (not an oligarchy).

So many people RSVPd that organizers had to move the event to a larger venue. It still wasn't large enough. I got there just a few minutes early, but thousands and thousands of people were streaming for several city blocks in each direction waiting to get inside. We didn't all fit. I got to see inside only via this tweet on the right from Bernie Sanders. 

My thoughts when I first arrived were interesting. They occurred to me in this order:
  1. Wow, this is a lot of people.  I'm not going to get an indoor seat.
  2. This location is ideologically appropriate. It's at the Minneapolis American Indian Center, across the street from the Community University healthcare (where I went for dental work 4 years ago), at a metro bus stop.
  3. This early crowd is quite old-and-white. 
  4. Minnesota is an awesome state.  How unusual that this older crowd would be so enthusiastic for a democratic socialist.  I picked a good place to move nearly 20 years ago.
As I walked block after block to find the end of the western line (another line trailed eastward), the crowd grew progressively younger, and I saw a few non-white faces too.  The doors soon opened, and the lines moved quickly as the indoor area filled up. The lines moved even faster when the only remaining space available was outdoors in the stadium area.  The staff had loudspeakers available, so we could still hear Bernie speak.  Here's my pan of the outdoors crowd, or as well as I can get with an old, cheap, basic cell phone.  Bernie's tweeted pan video is better quality.


I hung around for an hour outside before I decided that I had my fill of both crowds and standing. (My leg will never be back to normal after the injury and blood clot 2 years ago.)  I went back home to complete this post before driving to Nebraska for a week-long conference for work.

My current choices (in this order) for presidential candidate are listed below.  I reserve the right to change my mind up until the election.  If Bernie doesn't win the Democrat Party nomination, then my options shift to third parties.  Bernie was determined to avoid throwing the election by running as a third-party candidate himself, but I'd rather vote my conscience than vote for oligarchy.
I stated long ago that I won't be voting for Hillary, even if she gets her party's nomination. She'll need to be filling sports stadiums if she has any hope of defeating Bernie Sanders in the Democrat Party's primary.  If for some odd reason she wins (I'm convinced Bernie has a good chance at winning both the nomination and the presidency), then probably I'll be voting either Green or Transhumanist.

#BernieSanders #Sanders2016 #Election2016
mellowtigger: (coprolite)
I'm not a very happy camper this morning. I've had a sinus infection since Wednesday of last week. I know the cause. I have a blockage in my left, lower sinus. As such things go, it's actually somewhat mild. The burning started in my sinuses and has since spread lightly to ears, throat, and chest. I've been taking plain aspirin the whole time to keep the headache at bay... until I returned to work yesterday.

temp 102.9F (39.4C)Last night, my temperature kept rising for hours and finally reached 102.9F (39.4C). I didn't even know my electric thermometer would flash a dramatic red background color like that. *laugh* It seems like overkill, but I went to the hospital to have them take a look. I was intending for them literally to take a look to see if they could spot that blockage and just pull it out. What a disappointment. They barely peeked in my nose and throat. They were concerned mostly with getting my temperature down. But getting the temperature down just masks the infection! That's what I'd been doing unknowingly all week by taking plain aspirin. It wasn't until Tuesday that I stopped taking aspirin, and that's when my body showed me just how bad was the infection that it's been fighting for the last week.

On the other hand, they ran a urine test and discovered minute traces of blood. They uncovered a possible kidney problem. Okay, so I guess the hospital visit wasn't a waste. They put me on amoxicillin for the infection plus two over-the-counter pain killers to keep the fever in check (instead of using aspirin).

I called this morning, but I couldn't get an appointment with my sinus specialist (who did the sinus surgery in January) until Friday. I couldn't get an appointment with my regular doctor (to start investigating the kidney issue) until Monday. *twiddle impatiently*

I guess it's more naps, plenty of fluids, and saline sinus flushes until I finally get to see a proper doctor.

Update 2015 May 08 Friday: The amoxicillin accomplished nothing useful after 2.5 days, so the ear/nose/throat specialist told me to stop taking it and start taking levofloxacin instead. She saw the bad mucus and suctioned it out of my sinus. Whatever it was, it plugged up her machine, so she had to rinse it to get suction back. I can't tell yet if that was all of the blockage.  She also has me using Nasacort and Afrin, rubbing Bacitracin ointment in my nostrils, and continuing to flush my sinuses with saline.  I'm hoping the infection will finally subside soon.

Update 2015 May 11 Monday:
The followup with my regular doctor this morning showed no blood in my urine, so apparently I don't have to worry about kidney problems after all.  It may have just been a side effect of the infection I had earlier.  I can still feel it a bit in my sinuses, but my temperature is normal and my ears and throat are normal.  I'm on the way to better health again.
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
I attended the Black Lives Matter protest in Minneapolis yesterday.  It was the most convenient political activity that I've ever joined.  My employer's building closed early that day since the protest was happening across the street from the front door at the Gold Medal Park.  All I had to do was walk outside and join the event.  It couldn't be any easier.

Here are photos and brief video clips that I took. The crowd grew to about 1,000.  I can vouch for that many, at least, although I saw one news report that guessed as high as 1,500. What did not appear in any of the news accounts, though, is the observation that it was a very pale crowd. I think it was about 85% caucasian. The minority clearly has the support of the majority here, which should be encouraging for all of us who expect improvements to be made.  Unfortunately, I didn't know the schedule and had another event to attend, so I left apparently just minutes before they started marching.  I missed the main event.  Oops.

extra security at my work buildingpark's sign with early crowdpark's sign with tv crews assemblingpolice surveillance camerapolice unmarked vehiclesposter easy to hold up smart supportsposter from lady in wheelchairpostersposter at bus stop downtown Minneapolis

Here is a series of shots that show how the crowd grew over time.

time 5:05pmtime 5:33pmtime 5:38pmtime 5:45pmtime 5:52pmtime 5:54pmtime 5:56pmtime 6:03pmtime 6:07pm

I don't pretend to be good at video either, but here are two pans of the crowd that I took.
crowd chanting at 5:48pm (avi, 111 MB)  "No justice, no peace, prosecute the police"
crowd at 6:09pm (avi, 37MB)

I was featured in cameo for several seconds during the 6pm CBS news from local tv station WCCO. You can watch the video here.

I'll write soon about the issues at hand. I land solidly in the "we can do better" camp, but I have a lot of evidence to offer and thoughts to consider. I need more time to organize my thinking. I'll try to be concise. :)

mellowtigger: (Saturn vortex)
Cities in the diagonal stretch from Minneapolis to Fargo experience a greater range of temperatures than anywhere else in the United States.  This spring is proof enough of the short-term variability that we experience.

March started out with -21C (-7F) followed a few days later with 17C (63F) temperatures.  It was a very strange transition.  The snow had already melted away from the landscape, which was unusual enough so early in the year.  On the day with high temperatures, though, I was driving down the road rolling down the windows because I was feeling too warm in the car, then I looked to the side and saw that the ponds were all still completely frozen over with ice.  Hot and cold at the same time.  The landscape hadn't adjusted to the warm air.

snow 2015 March 23 MondayWe went back down to sub-freezing temperatures again.  Then we saw some more snowfall on March 23rd (photo at right).  It didn't last long, though.  Temperatures went back up, and the snow melted away quickly.   The next week or two saw temperatures fluctuate some more, but not as widely.

snow 2015 April 10 FridayOn Friday morning of last week, we actually had snowfall for a few minutes (photo at left).  It only lasted about 10 minutes, but there were some large snowflakes in that downpour.  By Saturday, though, we were back to 20C (68F), and I was out in the garden planting seeds already.

If our growing season keeps lengthening, then maybe one of these years I'll finally be able to grow some carrots for 2 years in a row.  That duration is important, because carrots do not produce seeds in their first year.  So far, all my carrots have died during the winter when the soil freezes.

Spring has finally arrived in Minnesota, though.  I'm cautiously optimistic for 2015.
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
Surgery took longer than expected, but I am recovering well.  I have a slight fever tonight (just 99.3F), but I'm continuing antibiotics for a few more days.

The surgeon found more polyps than showed up on the x-ray, so she worked on me much longer than the expected 2 hours.  I think it was more than 3 hours.  One of my landlords drove me to the hospital at 6:30am on Wednesday morning, and he came back to take me home again.  I arrived in the living room around 1pm.  For days, I felt like I had been punched in the gut, chest, and throat.  Apparently that muscle soreness was the result of spending so much time with them using the breathing apparatus in my throat, inflating my lungs more than I normally would.  My diaphragm, chest, and neck were sore.

looking like Hannibal Lecter after my sinus surgeryFor the first 24 hours, they had packing stuffed up my nose to absorb all of the blood.  Every time I stood up, though, I would start bleeding again.  My face was a mess.  The hospital nurses showed me how to roll up a face mask to use it as a belt to hold up the bandages on the outside of my nose.  After a few times going to the bathroom at home, I finally looked at myself in the mirror.  I realized I resembled "Hannibal Lecter" from Silence Of The Lambs where he's wearing that face mask to keep him from biting people.  Pretty, isn't it?

I didn't take any painkillers the next morning, so I could drive myself to my 1-day followup exam.  The doctor removed the internal bandages.  She told me the surgery ran so long because I was "very good at growing polyps". There were no problems at the exam, although I had to wash my shirt when I got back home.  The bib they gave me didn't absorb all the blood, so it soaked through to my work shirt.  I resumed painkillers, so I mostly slept from then onward.  I slept a lot.  I probably spent 2/3 of those first few days asleep.

I had my 1-week exam this afternoon.  It also went well.  I've been washing out my sinuses several times a day, and she said I had done a very good job.  I'm avoiding stairwells and heavy lifting for a while, but I think I'm out of danger now.  I have a 3-week exam in February, and I expect to get a "clean bill of health" then.

My throat/voice still seem a bit out of whack.  I should probably talk more, so my vocal cords get some use after that breathing tube.  I just wish I could knock the last of this soreness in my sinuses... and the mild fever.  It doesn't help that the air here is so dry from the cold temperatures.

Better days ahead, at least, since I can breathe normally again.
mellowtigger: (snow)
We finally have cold weather and snow. That polar vortex is back too. This morning is barely "subzero" (-1F/-18C, windchill -14F/-25C), but it's been a lot colder recently.

I spent this week a little farther north than usual. Where I work (with The Nature Conservancy), they have a conference once every three years that brings together employees from Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. We met at a location close to all of us, a small resort in Ottertail, Minnesota. Unfortunately, the weather there reached a low of -13F/-25C (windchill -30F/-34C), so I never went outside during the event. The weather didn't cooperate, so they cancelled the sleigh ride, cross-country skiing, ice fishing, and even the evening campfire.

The experience was good, though. I have a much better sense of what my coworkers are doing. I learned some cool stuff too. The state of Minnesota makes available some great datasets from LiDAR surveys. They are very detailed, and they can detect both tree canopy and ground level. I also learned that North America's grasslands are useful as carbon sinks, storing several tons per acre under the roots of those grasses. Unfortunately, we're losing grasslands at a faster pace than the world is losing rainforest. Meanwhile, I gave a presentation with my tech support coworker on what to do when your email inbox reaches its quota. It's not a particularly exciting topic, but people seemed to take away tidbits that they thought were useful to their own work life.

drive in snowWe heard the bad weather forecasts, so organizers sent the South Dakota people home early to escape the expected bad driving conditions. The next morning, however, it seemed that South Dakota escaped the snowfall while the rest of us were just beginning to receive it. Instead of a final buffet lunch, we got boxed sandwiches so we could get in our carpools and head home immediately. No luck, though, because the weather system was already covering our route. It took much longer than usual to get back.

I took this photo while we were traveling slowly along the interstate highway back to Minneapolis. We saw several accidents and near-accidents, but I was delivered by my carpool safely back home.

We're forecast for above-freezing days soon, so we'll get more thawing in January.  Winters here are getting easier each year.  Normally, we'd have an arctic landscape outside, with boring snow cover from first snowfall (November or December) until thaw (around April).  Now, though, it seems that we will have "punctuated" winters where the snow actually melts between downpours.

Climate change is interesting, at least.
mellowtigger: (food)
Scientists may have finally discovered why red meat is bad for humans.  Vegetarians score a big win with this new discovery, because the consequence is inescapable for any of us. Given that this genetic change appeared 2-3 million years ago as the Homo genus made its appearance in the world, it seems that we (unlike modern apes) are designed specifically not to eat red meat.

We already know that red meat is associated with poor health in humans, linked to conditions as varied as arthritis, heart disease, and different cancers.  Nobody, though, had a clear and concise explanation for these associations. I figured it was mostly our modern livestock production system (antibiotics, chemical-laced foods, inhumane conditions, etc.) that was to blame, but it turns out that humans evolved a unique biological difference from other mammals... and it leaves those other mammals noxious to us as food sources.

Most other mammals (including other apes) produce a kind of sugar whose long name is N-Glycolylneuraminic acid and whose shortened name is Neu5Gc. This simple sugar ends up in their meat and their milk. Humans, however, are incapable of producing this molecule. It is thought that we evolved this deficit because it made us immune to a form of malaria while other mammals are still susceptible to infection. Neu5Gc is a natural substance and non-cancerous in itself, but it is now foreign to us. When we eat this food, our immune systems develop an antibody response to it. That antibody reaction then produces inflammation, and the chronic inflammation from daily exposure leads to cancers and other ills.

Researchers created mice with the same Neu5Gc deficiency that humans have, then they fed them with Neu5Gc.

When such mice were challenged with anti-Neu5Gc antibodies, they developed evidence of systemic inflammation. Long-term exposure to this combination resulted in a significantly higher incidence of carcinomas (five-fold increase) and an association with Neu5Gc accumulation in the tumors. Similar mechanisms may contribute to the association of red meat consumption with other diseases, such as atherosclerosis and type 2 diabetes, which are also exacerbated by inflammation.

Chronic exposure with antibodies caused tumor development, and those tumors were rich in Neu5Gc deposits even though the mouse cells could not produce the substance. It appears that they discovered the "smoking gun" that explains why red meat is bad for human health.  I look forward to the human trials that can conclusively show the same link.

I've been semi-vegetarian for many years already. I have many meatless days by happenstance. I did not choose this lifestyle for humanitarian concerns. I am the only person responsible for my food, and I simply don't trust myself to store and cook meat properly for safe consumption. Instead, I eat meat when I go out to restaurants. It's not clear at this point what amount of Neu5Gc exposure is safe (unlikely to trigger antibodies), if any at all.

Like the Whos down in Whoville, maybe it's time that we switched to a healthy (but humane) roast beast?


Dec. 24th, 2014 09:43 pm
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
The seasons are changing, and not just in the usual sense.

no snow 20141224Minnesota winters have been so reliable for producing a "white Christmas" with snow on the ground like a true winter wonderland. Not this year. I came to Minnesota in 1998.  During my years here, I remember one December or two that was so dry that I wondered if there would be snow for the holidays. This year, though, is a first. It's above freezing. All that snow that we got 2 months ago? Gone. I have never seen this effect until now.

Global warming will bring big changes to Minnesota. They've already had to change the dates of the local ice festivals, or cancel festivals altogether. With "warm" weather like this, however, ice festivals may become stories told by old people to young disbelievers who never knew a climate cool enough for buildings made of ice.

It just doesn't feel much like Christmas this year.

At work, several of us donated food and time to cook and serve dinner at a Ronald McDonald house in the local Children's Hospital.  We heard that our food was good.  People from other floors were coming down to eat after they heard that the meal that night was nice.  That group event was the closest sense of holiday that I've experienced this year, even though I'm not really comfortable doing kitchen stuff with strangers.  It took a long time for me to get comfortable enough cooking meals just for myself in a typical household environment.

The solstice came and went.  I noticed its passing and am looking forward to more daylight hours.  Christmas Eve tonight, though, doesn't feel like much.  Normally, I'd play a marathon of computer games, but I haven't been able to do much of that lately either.  I'm converting my computer from Windows to Linux, and I still don't have everything settled yet.  Not that I've really celebrated Christmas as a holiday in a long time. I think the last winter that I ever did any of the usual stuff was probably the Christmas of 1996, the last time that I dated anyone.

Hope and ChewbaccaEven Hope is low-key tonight.  She can be excused, though, since I was told by my landlords that she had nibbled on some poinsettia earlier today (not normally accessible) while I was out at the movie theater.  She may be feeling a bit nauseous.  She didn't even bother getting annoyed by my Christmas Chewbacca.

The latest Hobbit movie didn't thrill me as much as usual today.  This lack of enthusiasm may be a side effect of breaking my gluten-free diet during the last week.  I've had pizza, burritos, Whopper candy, egg rolls, and lots of other yummy, yummy foods that I've missed in 2014.  I just needed a holiday break, I guess.

I'm already paying for it with a significant resurgence of muscle twitches.  I guess maybe the brain fog is worse too.  Maybe that has something to do with my difficulty in making the switch to Linux in recent days too?  Ah, well.  It was worth it.  I mentioned pepperoni pizza and Whoppers, right?

I suppose it's time to get back on the gluten-free bandwagon, though.  It clearly helps.  A lot.

Oh, and I'm going in for sinus surgery again during the 2nd week in January.  It's the same sinus polyp problem that I had in 1998 during my first sinus surgery.  My ex-boyfriend helped with recovery last time.  This surgery should not be quite as invasive, and I'll be relying on landlords for transportation.  I expect it to go well again.

I'm certain that 2014 was a much better year than 2013.  Then again, though, that was a rather low bar to measure against.  Even with T'Reese dying this summer, 2014 was still a better year.  I hope things finally turn around in the coming months.  Maybe Hope and I will both perk up a bit.  Better days for everyone!
mellowtigger: (astronomy)
I liked the movie, in spite of the mixed reviews.

I saw it on opening night and enjoyed it a lot.  On the ride back home from the theater, I listened to National Public Radio where a man and woman were discussing several movies.  The man thoroughly disliked Interstellar and wanted to walk out several times.  He never explained why, exactly, he disliked it so strongly.  And now I can't find that radio clip.  It was Friday, November 7th, soon after 6pm Central, if any readers here know where to find it.

Interstellar is a good story, though.  The film is nice to watch on a big screen, sure, but the visuals are not the point of this movie.  It actually has a story... with characters... and adventure... and it asks us what humanity considers its own purpose to be in this universe.  It doesn't get much farther than pointing out that nature is harsh and our existence here is provisional, but it's still a fun ride.  It dares us to wonder what's "out there" in our future.  As a reflection of the main character himself, the story as a whole makes the point that we perform much better as explorers than caretakers.

I wanted to see it a 2nd time after reading some of the (vague) criticism of the movie, to see if I still actually liked it.  First, I watched "2001: A Space Odyssey" on television, then I walked out the door to the theater to watch "Interstellar" again.  I still liked the movie.  I saw three similarities between the two films.  First, they both use orchestral music to good effect.  Second, they both tried to accurately depict life in space (both zero gravity and the lack of sound in a vacuum).  Third, at the end of each movie, they had to rely on visual metaphor to convey peculiarities of math and physics to a general audience.  On this last point, Interstellar did a far better job than 2001.

So, I recommend the film.  Be warned though that it's 3 hours long.  Don't buy any soft drinks unless you're prepared to miss a few minutes of the story for a restroom break.  A minute or two out of 3 hours, though, isn't much of an omission.
mellowtigger: (Green Lantern)
I'm a happy camper.  I voted today, and in only 2 cases did I vote for either of "the big two" political parties.

We're so lucky here in Minnesota to having a thriving democratic process where lots of different political parties appear. I looked into the candidates for each race and selected my favorite based on their positions.  Apparently, I like the Independence Party here in Minnesota (who gave us Jesse Ventura as governor many years ago), because that's who the majority of my candidates were representing.  Who knew?

The Independence Party got 4 of my votes.  They were offering interesting candidates for state offices: Hannah Nicollet (for Governor), Bob Helland (Secretary of State), Patrick Dean (Auditor), and Brandan Borgos (Attorney General).  Their party got my votes for all of Minnesota's "big offices" that were up for election this term.

The Democratic Party got 2 of my votes.  One is for Keith Ellison for U.S. Representative.  I'm a progressive (which the Democratic Party isn't), but Keith has always been on the right side of every voting issue that's been important to me.  He also happens to be Muslim, which I keep hoping will shame those feed-and-clothe-the-poor-Christians into voting for candidates that actually work to feed and clothe the poor... but I keep being disappointed by them instead.  I also voted for Carolyn Laine for my Representative in the state congress.  There was only one third-party candidate, but Tim Utz was a scarier proposition than either of the big two party candidates.

The Libertarian Party got 1 of my votes.  We have Al Franken as the incumbent Democratic candidate, but he voted on the wrong side of the SOPA/PIPA issue 2 years ago, so I was determined to vote against him.  I'm not really a fan of the Libertarians, but the only alternatives were either a Republican or a former Tea Party Republican.  So a vote for Heather Johnson it became, since she was the least bothersome of the 4 choices.

I voted for a new city mayor here in Columbia Heights.  I liked the stated positions of Chris Beskar better than the incumbent.  We don't have political party affiliations for any of our city offices, I think.

For all of the contested county Judge seats, the challengers were all scary people so I voted for the incumbent for each of the races.  The other judges (7 in the Court of Appeals and 17 in the 10th District Court) were all uncontested races, so I voted for the only name available for each seat.  It's sad too that so many county offices were uncontested: Commissioner District 4, Sheriff, Attorney, and Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisor District 4).

Maybe I should consider taking up a political career for the next election?  I care about politicians actually serving the interests of the people.  I can't see myself doing a worse job than anyone else on the ticket.  Except maybe Keith Ellison.  I think he's a good politician.  He actually gets involved in the community throughout the years, not just during an election cycle.  I haven't seen the like since Ann Richards was governor of Texas.

I hope you voted.  And, like me, I hope you found many candidates you could support who were not from "the big two" parties.  I am happy with my vote this year.

Windows 10

Oct. 19th, 2014 09:13 pm
mellowtigger: (Daria)
For the last few weeks, I've been using the Windows 10 beta on my home pc. The short review:

It's not as awful as Windows 8, so I guess I could use it.

Yes, they skipped Windows 9. The most plausible explanation is that many programs may make the mistake of looking for earlier versions of windows with a search string similar to "Windows 9*", which would find instances of Windows 95 and Windows 98. Skipping ahead to Windows 10 will avoid that problem scenario where a program thinks it's running on an old system instead of a new one.

I upgraded my existing Windows 7 to Windows 10, so the process took a long time with a lot of reboots. Afterwards, performance was awful. It was really, really slow. I started disabling services that were hogging disk access. It was automatically defragging, it was monitoring usage to "optimize" disk access... and I turned it all off if I noticed an active service that I didn't immediately need. Finally, performance was back up to Windows 7 speeds.

I started up powershell. I checked, and, it's running at version 5 now.  Yay!  I tried out the new command that linux people will recognize from Debian's "apt-get". It allows a 1-line command that will install a software program onto your computer from a centralized host. It makes software management much easier on linux, and now Microsoft has caught up. There weren't any packages available yet that I was interested in using... but the available libraries will grow with time. This feature is very nice!

Import-Module OneGet

grey slider on grey scrollbarThe interface is still a little goofy, and I still like Windows 7 better. I can tolerate this new one, at least. The only interface issue that gave me trouble was my difficulty in detecting where the slider is located on a scrollbar. The whole thing is soft grey, and one grey is not sufficiently distinct from another grey. Click the picture on the right to see for yourself. It's a screenshot from my desktop.  I have to look for a moment before my eyes finally detect the slider in the scrollbar.

I decided to provide feedback to Microsoft about the scrollbar. Bad move! Doing so somehow tied my profile (which was previously a standalone account) to my Microsoft online account (which I never wanted). It also activated OneDrive and started syncing files on my pc to Microsoft's servers (which I definitely never wanted). I disabled it immediately:

mmc.exe, then add/remove snapin: Local Computer Policy (or run gpedit.msc)
Computer Configuration\Administrative Templates\Windows Components\OneDrive
edit "Prevent the usage of OneDrive for file storage"
set state to Enabled

I also took back control of my profile by disconnecting the Microsoft online account:

PC Settings / Users and accounts / Your profile

I've decided that Windows 10 is passable. There's no compelling reason to upgrade to Windows 10... except the eventual shutdown of support for Windows 7 by Microsoft. Welcome to the future. Hurrah?


Oct. 17th, 2014 04:47 pm
mellowtigger: (the more you know)
Don't panic! There, I said it. The only thing that surprised me about this ebola kerfuffle is that it started in Dallas instead of someplace like Minneapolis.

Ebola is a virus named after the Ebola River, near where the virus was first identified in Africa. The greatest number of known infections is currently found in Liberia. The United States has several regions of numerous Liberian immigrants, such as Rhode Island, New York, and Minnesota (and most of those Minnesotans are in the north metro where I live)... but Texas is not among them. So it's curious that Thomas Eric Duncan arrived in Texas on a plane flight from
Liberia, bringing the virus to Dallas on September 20th. It's bucking the statistical odds, but Texas is where he happened to have family.

Ebola is not spread easily. It's even less contagious than HIV when we measure its contagion mathematically. You must have direct contact with bodily fluids. It happens, however, that ebola causes a person to produce copious quantities of bodily fluids. Infected patients endure projectile vomiting and intense diarrhea. Ebola was originally named a hemorrhagic fever because some patients also developed bleeding, but only about 10% show this symptom. It has been renamed because now we know that it is the intense dehydration that leads to organ failure and death.

So what do you do? It's simple; don't panic.
  • this particular outbreak in contextRemember, HIV is more communicable than Ebola. I dated an HIV+ man for 1.5 years without ever contracting HIV myself. You're not in a tizzy about AIDS killing everyone in your neighborhood next month. Find your calm.

  • Remember, you must have direct contact with bodily fluids. Only the nurses who cleaned up after Thomas Duncan have become ill, and we know that they lacked proper protective gear and habits. The man himself was apparently infected after helping to carry an infected neighbor from home to hospital (where they were turned away due to overcrowding) and back to home again. The Dallas man was vomiting at home but none of his family or neighbors are ill after the hazmat team cleaned the vomit, and they are nearing the end of their 21-day incubation period. Find your calm.

  • Remember, ebola is not airborne like the flu. People in direct contact with bodily fluids contaminated by ebola should exercise great caution, but simply being near an infected person is not a risk factor. "Clipboard man" was not in contact with the patient or within range of a sudden projectile vomit, so he had no reason to fear infection. Ebola is not like the flu; it is not airborne, and little of the virus is found in saliva. Find your calm.
This outbreak had the great misfortune of happening during "Stupid Season" here in the United States, which is the time before a national election in November. So reactions on both sides have been politicized for potential gain.

I think there is actually a strong political component to be found, but I'm much more interested in trying to observe that effect impartially. In the realm of politics, we're learning a lot about the social psychology of our political outlook. One of the more interesting discoveries is that conservatives experience "disgust" more intensely than liberals. Revulsion itself is an innate response. We're genetically programmed to experience it, and humans are typically revolted by things like bodily fluids, wounds, rot, maggots, and sick people. It's fascinating that some people experience it more intensely than others, and it's even more fascinating that these people with similar reactions gather into similar political groups. Ebola wraps up nicely the revulsion experience into a single package. It also includes foreigners, another point in which conservatives experience greater discomfort.

I doubt that anyone had intended to portray the prejudices of their political life, but this scenario has really brought to light some great examples nevertheless. Both sides are behaving stereotypically.

Conservatives react with revulsion (remember that intense inner experience) by proposing ideas like:

Liberals react slightly less emotionally (remember that weaker inner disgust) by doing things like:

  • calling for more action at the source of the outbreak (on foreign soil),
  • appointing a figurehead to bypass regulatory constraints and act quickly,
  • mocking past efforts to oppose universal health care, and
  • even hugging and kissing nurses when necessary to remind the public of routine daily life when you're not in the throes of an emotional panic response.

If you must indulge your paranoia, then I suggest purchasing simple paper surgical masks to cover your nose and mouth. It will remind you against touching your face, so you'll wash germs from your hands before introducing them to your body. Just follow simple cold/flu protocol in general, and we'll all be happier and healthier for it.

If you overcome the pre-programmed urge to run away from your revulsion, then you might even find the motivation to head towards the source of your fear and help others.
mellowtigger: (Pride)
Today is the 27th annual National Coming Out Day. It's a worthy holiday to celebrate because it encourages acts of bravery that have ultimately changed society in the USA. Gay people will always be a minority of the population, yet a majority of Americans now support marriage equality.

lesbians marry after 72 years togetherI've never liked the phrase "legalizing gay marriage", because it makes it sound like marriage was something that never happened previously. It did. I've attended ceremonies over the years that were non-traditional and not recognized by the government.

Consider these 90-year-old women pictured on the right. They finally got legally married after living together for 72 years. Gay marriage isn't something new. Gay social bonds have existed all along. Unlike their straight counterparts, however, they came with zero government benefits, leaving each partner susceptible to the whims of their doctors, family, and neighbors during any time of trouble.

It's important that government recognizes these social bonds. It's government (not church) that lets you see your sick partner at the hospital. It's government (not church) that lets you continue living in the house after your partner dies. It's government (not church) that lets both adults care for their children.

Minneapolis I35-W bridge with rainbow pride colorsWhen Minnesota got marriage equality last year, Minneapolis lit up the Interstate 35-W bridge in rainbow colors to celebrate the governor signing the law. Minnesota became the first state to defeat an existing anti-marriage state amendment.

A few months later, the marriages began.

And the sun failed to darken.

And the institution of marriage failed to crumble.

The world keeps on turning as it did before, in spite of all the protest against equality.

public sentiment same-sex marriageIt's easy to forget amidst the celebration and especially amidst the growing "common-ness" of marriage equality that it was a struggle to reach this point. It's easy to forget that equality has not reached all states within the nation. It's easy to forget that, in some places, opposition is still so fiercely engaged that a mother will petition the nation's supreme court to keep her dead son's estate in her own hands instead of his partner's, after the hospital also denied the partner access while her son died after a car accident.

Marriage provides social benefits granted by the government, not the church. And government should treat its citizens equally. Benefits provided to some should be available to all... or they should be withheld from all.  No other arrangement offers equal treatment under the law.  I'm not the type to socialize easily, so I expect never to marry.  I am glad, though, to live in a state that exercises its authority with fairness and compassion in mind.

We got here through small acts of bravery accumulated over the years, so as Harvey Milk implored in 1978 (paraphrased).... Come out, come out, wherever you are!  It's scary, but it makes a difference for future generations.  Let new generations focus their energy on new challenges in life, not these tired old manufactured divisions of bygone years.  From a position of equality, we all have more time to deal with issues of substance that we can discuss together... like the safety of the water we drink.
mellowtigger: (dna mouse)
Most people know that they get half of their dna from their mother and half from their father. What most people don't know, however, is that they also inherit another kind of dna exclusively from their mother. The mother provides the "egg", and the egg is very special. It includes extra material that every cell needs to survive and replicate. One vital feature inside our cells is the mitochondrion, a small factory that produces the chemical energy that we need to thrive. Mitochondria have their own dna, separate from our regular dna, and we inherit it entirely from the egg.

Without mitochondria, we would slowly die. Our cells individually would simply run out of fuel to function. I kept up with news in the early 1990s about medical trials because I knew college students who participated in this "job" sector as volunteer medical test subjects. I remember that one study was terminated prematurely because its participants died. They discovered that the drug was destroying human mitochondrial dna (although it did not harm dogs in previous tests), so their test volunteers were slowly starving to death, cell by cell, throughout their bodies. The point being that the health of our mitochondria affects our bodies profoundly, so our maternal heritage of mitochondrial dna is an important part of our genetic lineage.

One side-effect of these powerhouses doing their normal function is the production of hydrogen peroxide, H2O2. As any child who's seen hydrogen peroxide bubble on their wounds would know, this chemical is highly reactive. Since mitochondria produce it, our cells need a way to harness the chemical before it reacts with other chemicals in our cells (like our dna) and causes harm. This destructive reaction by oxygen-containing molecules or free radicals is known in a very generic way as "oxidative stress". We need antioxidants to defend against that damage.

Oxidative stress is now linked to a great many disorders, from Parkinson's to Autism and more. Of particular interest to me is the realization that it can trigger mitochondrial dysfunction in some people with autism, separate from the known long-term dysfunction comorbidity. Mitochondrial dysfunction would leave me feeling tired, unfocused, and thoroughly exhausted by physical activity... which matches nicely with my symptoms.  We've ruled out multiple sclerosis to explain my own health problems, so I've separated the symptoms of muscle twitches/cramps (which is responding very positively to a gluten-free diet) from the symptoms of exhaustion, brain fog, and apparent dopamine depletion. I am considering oxidative stress as an explanation for this second set of symptoms which has not responded to Ropinarole.

I've spent a lot of money on medical bills this year. Now that I'm earning a poor person's wages again, I have to get my spending under control. There are expensive tests for objectively measuring mitochondrial dysfunction, but doctor visits will have to wait while I slowly accumulate more discretionary funds. Instead, I'm experimenting more cheaply by taking supplements that affect mitochondrial function and oxidative stress. Most diet supplement pills are known to be ineffective, so I'm trying to stick with ones already proven to have some effect in reputable journals.

I bought some pills containing:
  • glutathione,
  • coenzyme Q-10,
  • vitamin E, and
  • selenium.
I can get more vitamin C and beta-carotene just by eating some carrots. I'll try adding plenty of turmeric spice to my meals too. I hope this combination will improve my energy level, memory/concentration, and dopamine. In theory, it should; but in practice, we'll see.
mellowtigger: (sleepy)
I went two Sundays ago to the lantern festival in St. Paul, Minnesota, where they have been a sister city with Nagasaki since 1955.

With my low energy these days, I knew better than to try staying the whole day. Instead, I took a nap for a few hours beforehand then drove to the Como Park Gardens. I stayed for about 3 hours. I was joined by my former database administrator (from 15 years ago when I was officially a programmer), and she took these pictures while we were there.

They had Taiko drummers and other traditional music that was all nice. The food was good too. I tried bubble tea which was both interesting and good. There are marble-sized "pearls" of tapioca dough in a sweet, fruity, iced drink. You use a very wide straw to drink the liquid and the "bubbles" of dough that come up through the straw. It sounds strange, but it's very good. Chewy, sweet, refreshing... and tapioca is gluten-free!

They lit lanterns and played music in the Japanese Garden, and they also had lanterns in the water at Frog Pond. They kept the doors to the Conservatory open late so people could access the bathrooms as needed, so we also toured inside the sunken garden where the roses were all in bloom.

crowdgarden 1
garden 2garden 3
garden 4garden 5
pond 1pond 2
Terry and Kelly in sunken gardenConservatory
Terry and Kelly selfieTerry and Kelly with Conservatory

I really need to solve these long-standing health problems.  They are taking their toll on me.  I feel like I've aged about 20 years during the past 5, but I can tell from these pictures that I'm starting to look it too.

The good news is that my gluten-free diet is indeed helping the neurologic problem.  My twitches and cramps have greatly reduced in frequency, duration, and severity.  When I intentionally broke the diet for a much-needed pizza, I experienced unusually strong (for recent weeks) muscle cramps, so I feel comfortable blaming diet on that issue.  My energy and focus, however, seem to be a separate issue related to years of sleep deprivation.  As you know, I'm taking dopamine-agonist ropinirole, but now I'm also wearing this nose-plug CPAP.  So far, neither is helping.  I may have to spend a lot of money to get a custom dental mold created that keeps my jaw and tongue in place at night so my airway remains unblocked while I'm on my back. At least doctors are seeing evidence of problems then trying solutions.  I'm still hopeful that something will improve my situation.

I had the energy to do some gardening today in the back yard.  Only some, but some is better than none.
mellowtigger: (hypercube)
It's no secret that I've been addicted to crowdfunding for years.  You can change the world if you lend your resources to the effort(s).

The most popular site for projects is probably Kickstarter, but other sites (Experiment, SunFunder, Indiegogo, Patreon, and more) promote various specialties.  My only disappointment so far is PetriDish for science projects.  I successfully funded one project there, but the site owner was running it only as a capitalist not a science afficionado.  He decided he wasn't making enough cash from his cut of the pledges, so he stopped development on the website.  In contrast to that stalled effort, sci-fi computer game Star Citizen currently stands at $47.4 million raised, the largest crowdfunding effort in history.

Reading Rainbow kickstarterToday's post, however, is about 3 new ideas.

First, another huge success (already one of the top 5 fundraisers on the Kickstarter site) is an effort to bring back Reading Rainbow.  They have 3 days to go to their deadline, so you can still donate before the fundraising ends!  Not only did they quickly surpass their $1 million initial goal, but they've won the attention of Seth McFarlane who will match every dollar raised beyond their current $4 million up to their next $5 million stretch goal.  Successes like this project do restore my faith in the compassion and goodwill of humanity.

Second, it's not all about charity.  Innovation can be found on sites like these.  I spend too much time at my computer desk, and I already know that I'm prone to blood clots, so that's a very bad combination for my health.  The new Cubii, however, is maybe a way to counteract the health risks of my time at the computer.  It's a mini-elliptical so I can exercise while I type.  I look forward to trying it.

Third, I've already mentioned that I want a gauntlet to wear that incorporates many tech devices in one.  Someone is working to develop a wristwatch with a 360-degree display surface.  That's one more step towards a tech gauntlet.  The Moment smartwatch has already reached its funding goal (and I need to conserve my limited funds), so I'm donating only $1 to this one.  I am happy, though, to see creativity going where I expect to see great new developments.

I approve the religious exhortation to tithe money, but I disapprove of donating money to religions.  Think outside the box.  Every effort to improve the lives of humans is ultimately the result of hard work by other humans.  I recommend donating money where it is most impactful.  Choose a charity or a project that suits your interests, then go help them change the world for the better.  Sometimes you can even help yourself in the process. I enjoy it immensely.  I hope you will too.


mellowtigger: (Default)

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