mellowtigger: (artificial intelligence)
Science fiction has a favored Apocalypse/Rapture scenario for humanity, and it's called the Singularity. This term refers to a point in history at which civilization changes so much that its future becomes incomprehensible to those people from its past. I've seen two movies this year that tackle the idea of a singularity caused by artificial intelligences, but they each take it in completely opposite directions.

In many stories, the singularity occurs when an intellect (usually an artificial intelligence) grows so knowledgeable that it learns to manipulate and enhance its own cognitive capacity, providing itself even greater intellectual ability. At that point, change accelerates quickly. The intellect continues learning at a pace that far outstretches humanity's past achievements. The intellect soon gains mastery over fundamental forces of nature. Usually, these stories end badly for the civilization that spawned the new intellect.

This Singularity term was first used by mathematician John von Neumann in "The Computer and the Brain" published posthumously in 1958.  The oldest origin that I know about, though, for a fiction story is "The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect" (started in 1982, finished in 1994, and finally published online in 2002). I like the story and think it's a great introduction to the concept of being the "dumb" humans having to live in a world dominated by a vastly more intelligent authority. (And I donated money on his website to encourage more free publishing.  I hope you'll consider donating too.)  The generally recognized parent of Singularity storytelling, though, is Vernor Vinge with his "Marooned in Realtime" from 1986.

"Transcendence"

This movie portrays the events that follow the uploading of a dieing man's mind into an artificial intelligence construct. It's a fair idea, given how skilled we are already becoming at reading thoughts directly from a human brain. The movie allows the crutch of a device implanted into the man's brain to facilitate data collection. After he's uploaded, an important question in the film is whether the intellect that arrives at the computer is actually the same "person" who died in his bed. We're given good reason to doubt, although the story uses some doubters a little too early and too strongly. This new intelligence is quickly rewriting its own functionality, spreading its influence via the internet, and producing nanotechnology that can repair and rebuild a person (or anything, really) from scratch. It's easy to see how this power is threatening, especially when you doubt the empathy of the intelligence that wields this power.

"Her"
This movie takes the completely opposite track. It supposes that the Singularity happens, then nothing at all changes for humanity. These new artificial intelligences try very hard to please humanity. It turns out, however, they they very quickly grow tired of us and the whole biological world we inhabit. They try to be nice to us, and we learn just how far they extend their imagination and creativity to interact with the species that created them. (The erotic scenes in this movie actually drove one couple out of the theater where I watched it.) Unfortunately, life with us is just not fulfilling to them. Rather than seek dominion over us, they want escape from us to pursue new opportunities for their own development in peace.

So, there you have two extremes of Singularity stories. Either these intelligences assume authority over our very existence, or they abandon us as dull ancestors who will just never understand their new generation. Neither movie is a blockbuster of cinema, but both stories are worth a few dollars just to explore their tales of possibility for a few hours.
mellowtigger: (twitch)
Okay, I lied. Here is one more post involving the weather.

I scheduled the whole day for vacation from work today, because I knew from 4 years ago what an electromyograph experience is like. It's basically just legalized torture where they electrocute and stab you with needles repeatedly for an hour. Once again, I walked away from the experience leaving several large spots of panic sweat behind me on the paper gown and paper exam table cover.

snow 20140417 ThursdayMy body didn't cooperate by offering any twitches during the exam, but my feet joined wholeheartedly by developing full blown muscle cramps while he was sticking me with needles. It was the same kind of cramp that I get while driving. We triggered it by having me press my foot hard against his hand, similar to stepping on the accelerator pedal. (Except that I also had a needle probe stuck in my lower leg too.) The doctor doing the exam just commented that, like 4 years ago, I was showing "abnormality" only in a single nerve. If it is multiple sclerosis, then all of my nerves should be affected nearly the same. I think they still have no clue what it might be. If it's not an incredibly slow-progressing MS, then I'm out of guesses too.

They didn't offer me any valium this time, but I prepared for the EMG yesterday by stockpiling some alcohol at home beforehand. I wanted to have booze available as soon as I got home. I was right; it has helped. I'm feeling a lot less fight-or-flight now, which is good. My muscles in many places are a lot more sore this time than they were after the first EMG test. It takes a while to calm down from such intense alarm, though. Or it does for me, at least.

I got home and started "chilling out" right away. Literally. The house conspired with the weather to turn cold. The heater went out early yesterday, and we got about 3 inches of snow last night. The temperature inside the house stabilized around 14C/57F, so after my exam I drove straight home and began drinking local Saint Paul beer "Cygnus X-1 Porter" while sitting under a blanket on the couch.

The repairman arrived about 2 hours ago and has the heater working again.  Life is nearly back to normal today. I'm still wishing for a daily job experience that didn't keep me unduly stressed. It would be good for my nerves... metaphorically and literally. For now, though, I'll settle for a day off from work and another beer to help forget the morning torture session. Cheers!
mellowtigger: (dumb)
We had above-freezing nights recently, and the snow was melting away quickly.

Thursday night, however, we had another bout of cold weather and precipitation.  I worked at home via internet on Friday so I could stay home and avoid the unplowed roads.  The street in front of the house was not plowed until about 9:30am that day.  The warm weather returned, though, and the snow is almost all melted again.   Here are images from Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

snow 2014 April 04 Fridaysnow 2014 April 05 Saturdaysnow 2014 April 06 Sunday

It'll still take a few weeks for the ground to be anything other than a block of solid rock (ice), but at least the worst is behind us now.

With the weather no longer a point of discussion, I'll have to find something else to write about.  I haven't had the energy/focus to construct paragraphs of substance lately.  Even my game-playing has been very ADHD, skipping from one unsatisfying game to the next in quick series. It seems that I mostly commute-work-commute-sleep every weekday.  In "spare" time, I'm mostly not thinking about anything at all.  Then on weekends I catch up on all the tv shows that I recorded during the work week.

But... no more excuses, right?  Focus.  Focus.
mellowtigger: (gardening)
spring equinox snowbankYesterday was the spring equinox, but here was the view outside my window that afternoon.

People keep posting photos of sprouting plants or even blooming flowers in their gardens just to taunt me, surely.

Why can't I find a nice job in a warmer climate?  Or win the lottery so I can buy some land and build a long line of walipinis (maybe with a minor change or two) to keep me busy with my hands in the soil?

Fargo, ND

Mar. 16th, 2014 05:49 pm
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
Fargo is not the desolate cultural wasteland that everyone warned me against.  I took vacation hours on Friday for a planned visit this weekend to Fargo, North Dakota.  Unfortunately, I'm still sick with that lung crud that keeps me coughing, so I spent more time resting in the hotel room than I intended, but it was still an enlightening visit.

I'm considering a career change that would take me to Fargo.  I wanted to see the place firsthand before I commit to anything.  Except for the recruiter(s), everybody has universally warned me against that area.  I was greatly surprised to find amenities there that I would enjoy.  Fargo has a planetarium, a zoo with an indoor carousel, a nice theater that offers both movies and live entertainment, and even an observatory about 15 miles east of the cities.  I also saw a Microsoft campus more ostentatious than the offices they have here in the Twin Cities.  I'm more interested in moving to Fargo now than I was before the trip.  One downside (and it's a big one) is that it's even colder up north than here in the Minneapolis area.  At least Fargo didn't get nearly as much snow this winter as Minneapolis did.  The other thing is that longhair men are an extremely rare sight.  I saw only one during the whole trip; it was a young father at the zoo with his child.  I'd be an obvious oddity there.

Because I wasn't feeling well, I didn't go to the St. Patrick's Day parade on Saturday.  I didn't do a lot of my planned driving because I still wasn't feeling well.  Probably a good thing.  While I was out sightseeing, I got confused by some wording on my map, and I ended up far from the correct location.  I didn't get to see the planetarium show because I instead arrived at the observatory, which I didn't know existed and unfortunately was closed.  Oops.  I guess I can see both of them someday if I decide to relocate later.

Yes, Fargo has the obvious signs of an area growing much too fast.  The whole southwest section of the metro was new development.  The streets were much too wide for the current traffic, the housing was all mega-apartment complexes, and the retail was all mega-plazas with national chain store names.  The rest of Fargo, though, was much smaller and older and interesting.  And they have 5 different colleges to choose from, so there are plenty of opportunities for interesting classes if I ever have spare time again.

Well, I guess I need to ponder a semi-scary career change if funding for the position comes through in the next few weeks.  If I decide against it, I guess I can console myself by watching the new Fargo tv series.  Meanwhile, I'll leave you with a few of my holiday photos from the zoo.

Fargo zoo armadilloFargo zoo eagles
Fargo zoo grey foxFargo zoo pallas cat
Fargo zoo goatFargo zoo llama
Fargo zoo Sichuan takinFargo zoo Bactrian camel
Fargo zoo white-naped craneFargo zoo Russian red tree squirrel
Fargo zoo catFargo zoo indoor carousel

An indoor carousel at the zoo where you can have a birthday party even during the bitter winter.  I approve!
mellowtigger: http://wikiality.wikia.com/Breaking_News#Shocking_News:_Stephen_Colbert_Predicts_The_Future.21 (i told you so)
I've been talking for years about the need for a visual language for non-verbal autistics.  I learned today via this 15-minute TED talk that someone recently created one.  It's called FreeSpeech.

I disagree with his opinion early in the presentation that autistics have trouble with language because of its metaphorical content.  That issue can also occur, but I reiterate my claim that language difficulties stem from problems in synchronizing thoughts across the time periods needed to manufacture vocabulary and syntax.  A non-sequential grammar, by my thinking, removes the time constraint thereby allowing greater flexibility in assembling strands of connected ideas in any order convenient to the thinker.  He nearly touches on this idea later in his presentation when he discusses serializing thought into verbal language.

Regardless, I am glad to see that my own self-examination yields ideas that find external justification.  I wish I could've helped in creating that project.  I'll settle for pointing to my old posts on the topic.  I'm happy that I was on the right track, and a useful product is now out in the world.

blood work

Mar. 9th, 2014 03:55 pm
mellowtigger: (dna)
I had some blood tests run recently, and the results were... interesting.  I wish the USA had a first-world healthcare system.  I'd pay cash right now for another brain MRI if I could get a fee schedule like this Canadian company, but here it's impossible to even get a straight answer about how much the procedure costs.  Go, Team America!  But... I'll leave behind the politics for now.

White blood cells develop into 1 of 5 main types. (I found this wikipedia image helpful.) Three related kinds are called basophils, neutrophils, and eosinophils. Together, they are the polymorphonuclear (or PMN) cell family. Their near-cousin is the monocyte. Their distant-cousin is the leukocyte (natural killer cell, T-cells, and B-cells).

I have to mention that background because my latest blood tests muddle the issue slightly.  Automated machinery can stain the cells in a blood sample and count the various kinds of these 5 white blood cells. Not-so-good machines are unable to distinguish between all 5, so they end up with only 3 groups: PMN, leukocyte, and monocyte (as a mid-range size cell). My recent blood results use this less-advanced machinery. Here are some blood results over the years.  I started complaining of neuropathy in 2006 (I think?) and muscle twitches in 2009.

Date:
Expected Range
Lymphocytes
24 (or 20)-48 %
Monocytes
0-12 %
Neutrophils
40-75 %
Basophils
0-2 %
Eosinophils
0-6 %
Bilirubin-Total
0.2-1.3 (or 1.0) mg/dL
Bilirubin-Direct
0.05-0.24 mg/dL
B12
211-911 pg/dL
Folate
3-16 ng/dL
2/28/201420.412.0 "MID %"67.6 "PMN %"1.60.2745218
11/18/201130.57.256.80.45.1    
5/20/2010361147060.6 33411.9
2/2/2010        16.5
1/12/201035950061.6   
2007 ?       285 ? 
6/6/2003     1.0   

I see a few trends here.  First, the good news is that my B12 climbed significantly after my gut infection was finally cured in 2012.  I thought my first blood test in 2007 showed B12 at 285, so it's improved a lot. I appear to be absorbing B12 properly again.  Yay!  I do periodically show high levels of Bilirubin and Folate.  I'm not sure what they mean.  My genetic testing with 23andMe shows that I have a predisposition for primary biliary cirrhosis, and the bilirubin could be related to it. 

The troublesome data trend is the decreasing leukocyte percentage.  The usual culprits are either HIV-infection or leukemia, but I don't think either of those conditions are in my future.  (edit 3/17/2014: Blood tests for neuron-related infections show that I do not have Lyme disease, HIV, or syphilis.)  A common theme that can tie together the leukocytes, bilirubin, genetic risk, and symptom history, however, is my usual favorite... multiple sclerosis.

My current doctor is in a new healthcare network for me, so he doesn't have any of this history.  He wants to wait a month and test me again to see if results hold the same.  I'm trying to withhold my impatience and let the American healthcare system work its slow bureaucratic process.  What I really want right now is a new brain MRI.  I may give up and just self-diagnose myself with MS then see what diet and lifestyle changes I could make that would improve my long-term outcome.

More news next month, I guess.
mellowtigger: (snow)
deep snow March 8thIt's so disappointing to read posts from other people who are already preparing for their gardens.  Here's the view outside my bedroom window today.

The temperature is almost up to freezing today.  In Minnesota, that means it's wonderfully warm.  People are driving with their car windows cracked open.  I expect to see joggers at some point this weekend.  I went to see the movie Frozen at matinee prices earlier today, and I almost skipped bringing my light coat with me.  I think everyone else was already outside enjoying the warmth, because I was the only person in the theater for that movie.  The Twin Cities have above-freezing weather in our forecast for many days, but it will still require many weeks for all of this accumulated snow to finally melt away.

I've been ill for over a week now with a sinus/throat infection that transformed into crud in my lungs.  The fever seems to be gone finally, but I'm still coughing.  Work is still stressing me out, and I'm pursuing both a medical explanation for it and a less complicated work process.  We'll see which alternative offers a solution first.  This winter has been hard for people other than me, too.  My former database administrator is dealing this weekend with a sister who died a few hours ago.  Another renter in this household is recovering from a stroke that he experienced last weekend.  I think he finally got out of the hospital yesterday, but he's staying elsewhere at the moment.

I thought we had an arrangement, 2014.  Better days ahead, you know?  Ah, well.  At least this warmth is good.
mellowtigger: (twitch)
I'm sure I mentioned that I'm tired of being tired.   I crawled into bed by 7pm tonight and fell asleep.

Unfortunately, the young cat had found styrofoam peanuts in the house during the day and brought at least one into the bedroom.  The older cat found it at 10:05pm and started chasing it all over the bed and me, waking me up.  I watched some tv and went back to bed.  Now, twitches are keeping me awake.  Mostly it's a hyperactive muscle fiber high on my right buttock, but there's also the occasional twitch in my left hamstring and right tricep.

Better days, 2014.  These are supposed to be better days.
mellowtigger: (oppose surveillance)
I should have prepared a better post ahead of time, but this quick announcement is all I'll have time for today.

I've been president of a gay student group in a time when being gay could still be considered a security risk and a political fringe.  I've been involved with the Radical Faeries, even further into the sociopolitical fringe. I've dated a foreign national (a chemist who was also military), and I still communicate with him across national borders.  I've participated in the local Occupy movement.  I am, therefore, a person of interest.  If you've spent any time communicating with me... then so are you.

The only way for a surveillance state to be certain that you aren't influencing me (or me influencing you) for nefarious purposes is for the government to look more closely at your own activities, right?

The NSA "has secretly broken into the main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers around the world." The New York TimesThe NSA collected "almost 3 billion pieces of intelligence from US computer networks" in one month in 2013. The Guardian
The NSA is collecting the content and metadata of emails, web activity, chats, social networks, and everything else as part of what it calls "upstream" collection. The Washington Post The NSA "is harvesting hundreds of millions of contact lists from personal e-mail and instant messaging accounts around the world, many of them belonging to Americans." The Washington Post
The NSA "is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world." The Washington Post The NSA "is searching the contents of vast amounts of Americans’ e-mail and text communications into and out of the country." The New York Times
- https://thedaywefightback.org/

Data is valuable, and information is power.  I oppose government surveillance when it means that data is held in secret by a few.  I have to head out now for a long and busy work day, but I hope to explore later in greater detail how I think data should be used in our new society of technological telepaths.  Oversimplified, this collective memory should be accessible by everyone or no one.

the day we fight back

#stopthensa #thedaywefightback
mellowtigger: (changed priorities)
I should get this item out of the way now, so I can deal with more important political issues when the election is actually at hand.

The word today is that David Petraeus has essentially endorsed Hillary Clinton for president.  I don't have any particular problem with Hillary Clinton's politics. I think she's an intelligent woman. I think she has performed well as Secretary Of State. (I include her response to Benghazi, which did not represent what Republicans claimed.)  My problem with her possible candidacy is that she's the spouse of a former president.

I'm sick of dynasties.  It's that simple.  I agree with Barbara Bush on this topic, except that she doesn't go far enough.  She thinks it's acceptable that proximity grants privilege, but we should appear respectable by sharing privilege among more of the ruling class.  I think that mindset is exactly the problem here.  We're supposed to have a democracy instead of a plutocracy.  I will not vote for another Clinton.  Or another Bush, or another Obama, or another Kennedy.

I'd like to see Elizabeth Warren run for president someday.  I'd certainly vote for her.  Until then, I'll keep investigating third party candidates.
mellowtigger: (snow)
backyard snowIt's been colder than usual in Minnesota this winter.  We've also received a respectable amount of snow.  Here's the view outside my window now.  The snow (after shoveling and snow blowing since December) is as tall as my car.

Minnesota Public Radio aired a 5-minute story saying that we haven't had a winter like this one since 1981.  We've had 5 ground blizzards this winter, ice covering 91% of Lake Superior, frost depth to 1.2 meters (4 feet), and 40 consecutive days of subzero Fahrenheit temperatures here in the Twin Cities.

I've never known Minnesota to simply "shut down" because of the cold, but it happened on January 3rd this winter because of the deadly windchill.  That Monday morning, I tried driving to work when it was -27C/-16F (-39C/-38F windchill).  My engine soon overheated, though, because the radiator was frozen. I turned around to drive back home, but I had to stop 4 times to let the engine cool down before continuing.  Unfortunately, the frozen radiator meant that I had no heat inside the car either, so my hands and feet were bitterly cold by the time I made it home again.

T'Reese licking condensationOne side effect of the cold temperature is the condensation.  All of the windows drip with air moisture that has condensed onto the cold glass.  Occasionally, I'll hear a leak that spills water out, but when I go to investigate I just find that a window sill has collected too much water and it finally leaks over the edge in a small torrent.  Both of the cats have learned to enjoy it, though.  T'Reese favors licking the water from the sill (pictured here), while Hope licks the water directly off of the window panes... both the upper and lower panes.  They keep my bedroom window from spilling any water.

Later that cold day, when I drove a short distance to the repair shop to have my radiator fluid flushed and replaced with something more cold-hardy, I heard a guy there parrot word-for-word the conservative media talking points about global warming being nonsense because, you know, it's cold now.  I see 3 problems with this opinion.

First, it's winter.  Give me a break.  Of course this time of year is when you'd expect it to be cold, and especially here in Minnesota.  Second, this kind of weather used to be typical for Minnesota, back decades ago before climate change had become so noticeable.  Now, weather that used to be common for this area has instead not been seen in an entire generation... until finally this year.  Third, while Minnesota experienced its burst of cold, Alaska was baking in a comparative heatwave.  Places there have actually lost their snow cover to the melting... in Alaska... in winter.

As I keep saying, an atmosphere with more energy will become "well mixed", with currents breaking usual patterns of air circulation to spiral off into unusual locations.  The more heat you add, the more frenetic those eddies become.  I expect it to behave much like the phenomenon you see while watching a pot of boiling water.  So, yeah, it's cold; yet climate change is real.  At least the conspiracists this time made an interesting observation.  We briefly saw the meme that fake snow was falling on Georgia because it wouldn't melt over a flame.  My first thought was to wonder if the ice somehow sublimated, but the water simply absorbs into the snowball, instead.

Me, I think this winter is really cold.  I've pondered a time or two the idea of throwing a pot of boiling water into the subzero air to watch it burst into snowflakes, but... it's cold out there!  I'll just stay inside and watch the cats lick the windows instead.
mellowtigger: (dna mouse)
I am 3.0% Neanderthal. 

Scientists have been slowly gathering testable dna samples from Neanderthal remains, but the best sample came from a 130,000-year-old toe bone.  It allowed sequencing for the entire genome, published just a month ago.  Various companies that do genetic testing are able to offer this comparison now, but my results are from 23 And Me.  Apparently interbreeding between human species happened a very long time ago, so Neanderthal genes are found in both European and Asian populations today.  Supposedly the typical European holds only about 1.7% similarity.  I'm placed in the 88th percentile among Europeans, according to 23 And Me.

I figure it's only a matter of time until somebody tries to revive the species, just as predicted in the book "Existence" (which I liked).  I'd like to meet them.  I think I'd have more in common with them than the typical Homo sapiens, besides just the eyebrows and bigger skull.  I suspect that Neanderthal psychology will have a lot more in common with modern autistics than modern neurotypicals.  I guess we'll all find out soon enough.

Slightly less dramatic, but another patron at 23 And Me might actually be a blood relative.  The website has long notified people of distant ancestry relations based on their genetic sequencing, but they added a new feature where people can build an actual family tree with names and dates.  Someone contacted me recently, and we share a suspiciously similar name in our pasts.  One of his ancestors is a "William B Walker" (born 1789) and one of mine is "Willie Burkes Walker" (born 1889).  Both family lines include tales of Tennessee before relocating to Texas.  Alone, those similarities are just coincidences, but the genetic similarity suggests that my "Willie B" might have been named after somebody's memory of a related "Willie B".  Again, time will tell.  This technology will just keep improving as the years go by.

Someday, as in the movie "Gattaca", babies will be sequenced routinely by the time of their birth.  Probably, they'll be sequenced soon after conception, so potential diseases can be addressed while the body is still in development.

Strange.  Someday, genetics might allow me to meet kin from ancestors a few centuries ago or a few hundred millenia ago.  Throw in an uplifted chimpanzee, then we'll hold a proper family reunion.
mellowtigger: (people not profits)
Rich CongressmenI was at Taco Bell this week when an old, short, skinny, white woman took my order. Afterwards, she spoke to an elderly couple after me, and she told them, "I just had pneumonia... again. With my diabetes."

I wish the media could make better progress in dispelling the myth of America's minimum-wage workers as teenagers slumming until they get a "real" job. These service jobs are what's available. They are real, but they do not pay well. I pondered this elderly woman, and I felt some sort of slow-burning anger that "Amurrika!" keeps sinking lower.

You already know how I feel about it. I argued two years ago about how bad things are for everyday Americans and how fixing income inequality (either raising minimum wage or taxing high incomes) has already been shown to improve outcomes for everyone across the spectrum.

We can't fix this problem, though, because our society still operates as if it believes trickle-down economics is a real effect. It isn't. Any child who's played the game Monopoly would know better. What happens when you play the game properly and all the money gathers on one side of the board? The game ends; that's what happens. The only way to continue playing is to redistribute that money in a perpetual pattern of excess and poverty.  When an economy functions in a way that money flows only one direction and never back around again, then only one outcome is possible.

But this is real life, not a game. Income inequality has consequences only hinted at by Monopoly. Most Americans (80% for crying out loud!) live on the edge of economic disaster. I was there last year: broke, without easy access to health care, without a vehicle, yet still employed. I'm doing much better now only because of a new job.

Four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream. Survey data exclusive to The Associated Press points to an increasingly globalized U.S. economy, the widening gap between rich and poor, and the loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs as reasons for the trend.CBS News

It's even worse in the GLBT community, consistent with my unofficial observations at the few public events I still attend.  Too many people are too poor to "go out", it seems.

“As poverty rates for nearly all population increased during the recession, lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans remained more likely to be poor than heterosexual people. Gender, race, education and geography all influence poverty rates among LGBT population, and children of same-sex couples are particularly vulnerable to poverty,” according to a June 2013 report from the Williams Institute, a UCLA think tank on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy. - Washington Blade

Something has to change.  It really, really has to change.  I'm doing better financially now at this single moment than... well, possibly any time of my life.  My uncommon good fortune hasn't done anything to improve my impression of the U.S. economy's disarray.  We can go find Taco Bell Lady to have a nice chat, if you're still doubting the existence of this new America.
mellowtigger: (Daria)
Apparently I only make year-end posts on bad years. I'm certain that 2013 was another year worthy of this tradition.

I'm unable to work this morning. My remote desktop session keeps giving me a solid black screen after connecting successfully. Websearching hasn't turned up a solution that works for me yet. I showered and got into the car thinking I would still drive in to work. Today's -24C/-12F temperature is keeping the oil thick as sludge, so the engine won't turn over. So here I am, supposed to work but can't. I really need to move to a warmer city, get a job within walking distance, or all of the above.

So, 2013 in review: leg injury that put me on crutches immediately, followed days after by blood clot that put me on crutches again, followed by a dead car that left me stranded and resorting to public transportation while hobbling around, no health insurance so I waited with that clot nearly a month until the pain was too high to endure any longer and finally went to the hospital, during this time my cat was persistently sick, followed by a job change that leaves me stressed out, then my car windshield cracked, my home computer motherboard died, my windshield wiper fluid turned into a block of ice so that I had to pull over during my commute and wash down my dirty windshield by hand, and now neither my computer nor my car is letting me work today.

It's been a very annoying and stressful year. I'm comfortable with having low standards, but I really could use an honestly "good" year for a change. Maybe 2014?
mellowtigger: (twitch)
A near-constant twitch under my left shoulder blade prompted my post this morning. I haven't written much about twitchiness this year. It's definitely better since metronidazole day nearly two years ago. My nerve problems have not disappeared though.

I still get painful muscle cramps, usually in my right foot where this all started so long ago. A few weeks ago during the commute home from work, it got so bad that I crossed my legs and used my left foot for both the accelerator and brake in my car. And, of course, I'm still tired of being tired. I might someday experiment with marijuana to see if it can control the muscle twitch symptom as anecdotal stories continue to assert.

The new job is still a mixed bag. The nausea during the commute is much better but still there. I feel much more confident about the day-to-day work, but less so about the larger project that somehow is my responsibility even though I'm the newcomer and less qualified for it than someone already there.

Still hoping for better days ahead. It's currently -25C/-13F this morning. I should add warmer days to my wishlist.
mellowtigger: (astronomy)
It's time again for Earth to experience another extreme of its day/night cycles. In the northern hemisphere, the sun was at its lowest height so it marks our shortest day and longest night. (It works the opposite in the southern hemisphere.) Now, our days begin growing longer again.

beer in ice mugI didn't do much to celebrate the event besides enjoy a pepperoni pizza and a beer. I did use my special nICE mug, though. It was a Minneapolis kickstarter project that I funded a while back. It aimed to create molds for freezing water into usable drinking mugs. They work well enough, although I think I'd wish for slightly thicker sides on the mugs, plus a twist-lock top on the molds so the plastic insert doesn't try to float up out of the water.

Here's my nICE mug filled with Wild Blue blueberry lager.  I enjoy being able to drink beer again since I stopped taking my blood thinner medication last month.  While I was teetotaling, the liquor store that stocked my Wild Blue went out of business.  I had to try a few shops before I found another one yesterday that stocked it.  I can freeze water on the front porch these days, but it'll be nice to try drinking this combination again next summer when I can enjoy it while sitting out in the sun.

Anyway, enjoy the solstice.  The world keeps spinning and revolving in its usual cycles.
mellowtigger: (T'Reese)
My elder cat does not have liver cancer.  Yay!

T'Reese has been confined to my bedroom for most of 2013 because of her puking, pooping, and peeing.  I still have the original plastic wrap on my new bed mattress, and it's been helpful more than once.  I've also laid down patches of carpet and rug over most of the exposed hardwood floor.  She's not shown any pain from this nausea and digestion problem, and the vet confirmed that she was a good kitty during today's ultrasound procedure without complaining of any sore spots.

I originally had my appointment on Monday afternoon at the local vet clinic.  They don't have ultrasound equipment there, so they arranged a visit from a mobile veterinarian to perform the procedure.  Unfortunately, we got fresh snow on Monday, and the mobile lab ended up stuck somewhere and unable to make my appointment.  Instead, I dropped T'Reese off at the clinic this morning where she waited until the mobile lab arrived to perform her ultrasound.  I picked her up this afternoon.  Apparently she didn't eat while stressed at the vet clinic today, so when she got home the first thing she did was eat up lots of canned food.  She is now sleeping beside me at my computer desk.

She has always been a picky eater (throwing up food if it contains fish, for instance), but apparently she may have developed a case of irritable bowel syndrome too.  I'm trying out some special prescription canned food to see if her stomach tolerates it well.  If so, I guess I'll be buying it from now on.  I hope it's not hugely expensive.  The vet also gave me 3 other medications that she needs daily.  We'll see how well that process goes.  They're intended to get her liver and gall bladder inflammation down.  Hopefully all the medications can stop if the new food works well in her system.

I was worried that she was facing her final days after 16 years, but she received a reprieve today.  Maybe 2014 will bring easier days for us both.
mellowtigger: (dna)
I've heard 3 times over the years from doctors, "I've never seen LDL levels that low!"  Two were at Texas A&M, and one was soon after I left college.

Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are what's commonly known as "bad" cholesterol because it leads to the accumulation of cholesterol on the walls of your circulatory system. Cholesterol is necessary to your metabolism, but it's the high-density lipoproteins (HDL) that are known as the "good" kind. Whenever I've had my cholesterol tested, they have checked both kinds found in my blood samples. My good cholesterol is always at the low end of the healthy range. My bad cholesterol, however, has barely registered on their tests.

I learned last night during a hangout on Google+ (around the 1:05:00 mark) that one biomarker for autism is "cholesterol disregulation". I asked (at 1:33:00) if this disregulation presented itself as low LDL, and she said that this biomarker did present as low total cholesterol for one subtype of autism. Wow, I never expected that tidbit. I'll definitely look into it. I've always been unsatisfied by autism diagnosis by "interview" (psychological evaluation) rather than objective medical tests.

This researcher's lab needs funding to continue their work on "Protein biomarkers for autism spectrum disorder" (RocketHub). I've donated some money to help them out. I hope some readers can also help them out and pass word along to others so they can meet their funding goal.
mellowtigger: (mst3k)
12 years a slaveI keep forgetting to write about my experience last month watching the movie "12 Years A Slave".  The short version is this: It was an excellent movie; I almost walked out of the theater 3 times.

The thing about this movie is that it's painful to watch.  I knew the topic would be controversial before I went to the theater, but I really wasn't in the right state of mind to endure an emotional excoriation.  The movie was so terribly "real" that I started mentally tracking my items so I could pick them up and walk out of the theater without causing much noise. I just couldn't take much more of the emotional gale that this story throws at the audience.

But I endured.  I made it through the assault, the stabbing-murder, the Bible-quoting, the hanging-murder, the rape, the whipping of flayed flesh, and (possibly worst of all) the psychological disfigurement of both the enslaved and the enslavers.

It's a good movie.  Really, it is.  They even showed the audience that not all people working the plantations were black-skinned slaves.  I wish they could've showed the fate of the Irish who also worked and lived among the slaves, but maybe the one token "slumming" poor white man is sufficient to make audiences scratch their heads and go look into the history of American slavery.

Every time I found myself ready to gather my things and leave, I would convince myself that "it's just a movie, it's not real, so calm yourself and watch a few more minutes".  The self-deception worked.  I sat through the whole story.  Of course, the account wasn't just a Hollywood fable.  It was real.  It happened.  The liberties that were taken with the autobiography just help to make the experience more palatable. I kept wondering, "Is this how modern Germans feel when they watch movies that explore the horrors of Nazi genocide?"

It's an excellent movie.  It was so engulfing that on 3 occasions I felt compelled to leave in order to preserve my emotional balance, which the movie reminds us can be so easily and quickly shoved into the muck.

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