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: (gardening)
gardenMy energy and enthusiasm haven't changed, but I've been forcing myself to do a bit of gardening. Progress is quite slow. At least everything that I'm going to plant is planted. That's good news, since we've already reached summer solstice. The main work left to do is to finish digging a trench to level and bury cinder block.  I'll use it to contain some invasive garden roots and also provide a barrier to the grass roots, then put some nice pavers for a walkway on top.

I'm taking 3 ropinirole a day now, but I can't tell much difference. I still have low energy and motivation, and I can't tell that my memory has improved much. I still have muscle twitches. I am at least playing computer games again, but it's rather scattershot. I'm playing several of them simultaneously: RIFT, Neverwinter, Wildstar, Archeage (beta), and my old favorite Arcanum. Progress, of a sort, but still not my usual pattern. Focus... focus.

I find it reassuring somehow to be out in the sun with the plants that I've tended. They've grown enough that they're really starting to look like what they should be: roma tomatoes, lettuce, thai basil, lime basil, thyme, cucumber, watermelon, cantaloupe, spaghetti squash, quinoa, curry, sunroot, mustard, luffa gourd, bok choi, and carrot.

I'll watch more closely this time the progress of my blue bonnet rice. I've planted it before, but I think I ended up plucking it all because it looks so much like grass when it sprouts. This variety doesn't need to be flooded, so we'll see how it grows in plain soil. I'd be even happier if it went native and seeded itself annually. I'd settle, though, if it produces well but I have to collect the seeds each harvest for the next year.

My favorites this year, though, are newcomers that I bought at a local nursery. They are dwarf versions of raspberry (also thornless) and blueberry. They shouldn't grow but 1-2 feet tall and wide. Even after planting them a week or two ago, they're all still showing new leaf growth and continuing to ripen their existing fruits. It'd be awesome if they do well this year and next. I'd be a very happy camper to have fresh fruit for my nutribullet fruit smoothies.

dwarf thornless raspberrydwarf blueberry

I've never understood why the previous owners put a bed of solid moss by the west edge of the house. I'm hoping it keeps the blueberries happy with the acidic pH. Time will tell.
mellowtigger: (T'Reese)
I think T'Reese was 16.5 years old when she died today. She was unable to eat or drink, so I called a veterinarian for a home visit for euthanasia. The vet arrived a few minutes before noon. After T'Reese died, I took her body to AHS for cremation.

T'Reese 2013 on bedI first saw this cat at my workplace, the Texas Workers' Compensation Commission. A coworker brought her to the office so I could meet her. He was worried that he would not be able to find a home for this last kitten of the litter because she appeared almost solid black in those early days. He thought that people were avoiding her because of the old story that black cats are bad luck. I liked her, though, so I kept her in my cubicle until the end of the workday when I could bring her home. I'm pretty sure my boss wasn't thrilled with her there, but what could he do? Send me home early with a new kitten? (Oh, the horror and shame.)

I was unable to think of a good name for her right away. I kept thinking "Reese", because her color was black and brown like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Someone suggested feminizing that word, so I went with "T'Reese" instead. Her personality didn't make her much of a lap cat. She enjoyed petting, but only under her own control. She would be the one to rub her head and body against my hand. She knew that sleeping within arm's reach meant that I would pet her, so she crawled into bed with me only down by my ankles, safely out of petting range. She tried to avoid all contact with strangers, so she lived well as an indoor housecat where she was sheltered from the busy civilization of noisy humans.

T'Reese 2013 on pcShe drove up I-35 with me from Austin to Minneapolis, along with a ferret and a 10-gallon bucket of small aquarium fish. She disliked car rides because they usually meant a trip to the veterinarian, but at least she didn't get car sick. She was quite well mannered. She would frequently hiss at approaching cats (or at Hope when that young cat frequently pounced at the older T'Reese) but never struck out at them that I saw.

T'Reese enjoyed playing with the ferret while he was amongst our little household.  She never took much interest, though, in the computer games that I played.  Nevertheless, I funded a Kickstarter campaign back in 2012, and I bought the opportunity to name one of their stars: T'Reese.  Soon, you can look for her name among the stars of the space exploration game Predestination.

She was always picky about food. She seemed to have an allergy to seafood, throwing up most of the seafood meals that I gave to her. For the last year of her life, the problem became worse and she was throwing up frequently. I kept trying different foods from the store. Non-grain foods seemed to be easier for her to tolerate, but she started refusing all meals in her last days. I didn't realize until too late that she was also refusing all water. She would go to her many sources of water, dip her chin down to the water surface... and then freeze. Only with close observation did I notice that she was not actually drinking. She would finally give up her effort then move on to another water source or go back to her bed to lay down. I had only marginal success using cat formula with a syringe and tubing. I think I got only a few milliliters of fluid into her during the whole weekend. Most of it went everywhere else. It was demotivating for us both. She and I were both helpless to do much for her thirst.

T'Reese 2005 on staircaseT'Reese 2014 licking condensation

I should have let the vet euthanize her on Friday, but I didn't realize her health condition was so severe. Watching her unquenchable thirst this weekend was unsettling, since there was nothing actually to be done for it. The vet and I assume it was a slow growing cancer in her liver that was affecting her health this past year. It finally became too much for her body to endure.

T'Reese 2014 ill

T'Reese will be missed.

two weeks

May. 30th, 2014 11:41 am
mellowtigger: (T'Reese)
It was the vet's opinion that T'Reese is already experiencing pain just on her dehydration state alone.  She is beginning to show some jaundice, so the vet thinks it's possibly a slow growing liver cancer that didn't show up on ultrasound a few months ago.  T'Reese has no fever, so it doesn't seem to be an infection. I've got some more medication to try, but basically I have to get T'Reese hydrated and stop losing weight.

If she doesn't respond and keeps deteriorating, then I'll be scheduling euthanasia for her in 2 weeks.  I was willing to let her expire here in my bedroom as long as she didn't seem in pain to me, but the vet seems to think she's in pain already but just doesn't show it.  The vet said I could be with her in the office during euthanasia, or they can suggest vets who visit the home.

I'm off to buy some chicken broth (for hot hydration) and ice cube trays (for cold hydration) to see which T'Reese will respond to.

edit: 2014 June 01 Sunday
She is deteriorating quickly.  She cannot drink any water on her own.  Today, I've had no luck getting her to swallow any formula from a syringe-and-tube either.  I've already called and left a message with the vet to schedule euthanasia on Monday.  She's clearly unwell and unhappy.
mellowtigger: (T'Reese)
T'Reese eating seabass and shrimp dinnerI've been going to the pet store and buying one of everything. T'Reese, who has always been a picky eater, has stopped eating much of anything, so I'm offering everything to see what works. She simply ignores all of the things that she used to find especially appetizing. She'll lick at new meals a time or two (if at all) then walk away.

She still nibbles only lightly each time, but at least I found a meal that she'll return to nibble 7 or 8 more times. Seabass and shrimp appetizer is a hit. Mostly, she licks up the soup and leaves the meats, but at least she gets some nutrition into her belly.

T'Reese needs multiple opportunities to lap up a few drinks of her meal, so I have to chase Hope away constantly.  Hope has taken to hissing at me for preventing her from stalking those yummy special dinners.  I make her wait until T'Reese is sound asleep before I set all of the leftovers (most of the dish) down on the floor.

On my way home from work today, I stopped and picked up several more of these meals.  I also stopped at the vet's office to schedule an appointment on Friday which is my next day off of work.  If T'Reese makes it that far, then maybe they can tell me what's going on with her.

To call her skeletal would be an understatement.  She is knobby all over her back and shoulders and haunches now.
mellowtigger: (crazy)
I've changed to a new job. Based on recommendations from 2 neurologists (at the same clinic), I'm still gluten-free and now I'm also taking a brain-affecting drug.

For years now, I've been complaining about my muscle twitches and low energy level. For months, I've noted that my blog has been rather light on substance compared to previous years, because my concentration and focus have been seriously lacking. I've mentioned that I feel better when I can get out bicycling, gardening, or drinking Wild Blue (blueberry lager). Not previously mentioned, I've also kept some dark chocolate chips in the kitchen (and by the sofa) to snack on. Also not previously mentioned, I've had zero enthusiasm, even failing for months on end to play any of my usually beloved computer games. I got my former database administrator hooked on Wizard 101, then I ditched her for half a year when I stopped playing all of my games. Turns out... all of these symptoms and behaviors may be related to a single underlying cause.

I left Dell, even though I was told I was doing a good job at software testing. I found a few really good software bugs while I was there, and I was proud of those discoveries. I'm sure the software is better now because of my efforts. After spending half a year testing a particular software release that finally went to customers, though... I couldn't muster any enthusiasm for that accomplishment at all. I knew that my poor concentration, memory, and motivation were going to lead to problems eventually, so I left while I still had a good legacy behind me. My bank account really liked my job at Dell, but I was constantly stressed there without really having a great explanation for why.

I decided to get back to technical support work, where I had not previously noticed any deficiency within myself. Tech support is a kind of work that focuses on short-term and immediate issues at hand, which is something that I need in my life these days. I now work at The Nature Conservancy. My new workplace includes many people who have spent a lot of years at the company, and it's reassuring to see that kind of longevity anyplace. Also, I like the purpose-driven environment much better than corporate culture. I think this job will be a good fit on several levels. I am once again back among the ranks of America's working poor, but I'll be making almost 25% more than I did at the Animal Humane Society. I think I can continue living at long-familiar subsistence levels without losing financial ground this time.

So, based entirely on my personal self-assessment, I have changed my life for this new reality that I find myself in. On my last week at Dell, however, the neurologists sent me for an all-day/all-night sleep study. I thought it was a bit frivolous, but I was glad that they were still taking me seriously after we finally ruled out multiple sclerosis as a potential diagnosis. Turns out... it may have been the most valuable test so far. Besides a snoring problem when I'm laying flat on my back (but not serious enough for the technician to put me on a CPAP that very night), they discovered that I have a serious problem with restless leg syndrome. That observation leads to a conclusion that could explain everything.

Restless leg syndrome tends to appear because of low dopamine levels in the brain. Low dopamine levels from various causes are associated with:
  • chronic fatigue
  • low motivation
  • poor concentration
  • anxiety, stress
  • fasciculations (muscle twitches), cramps, and neuropathy
The body improves its own dopamine function by:Do these points sound strangely familiar? I may finally have a sensible diagnosis! It'll be many weeks as we slowly increase dosage of ropinirole to see if it actually solves my constellation of symptoms/behaviors. Because this drug influences dopamine in the brain, which affects our seeking of rewards, it has the potential side-effect of triggering risk-taking behavior of all types (hypersexuality, gambling, anger/dominance displays, and other addictive/stimulating behaviors). In some people, it actually makes their restless leg syndrome worse. I'm hopeful, though, that I'll get to see some improvement in my life without any pesky down side. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, I'm starting this new job; I forced myself to start some gardening this weekend (with many frequent breaks and naps); and for the last week or so I've gone back to playing an online game called RIFT. (Join me at this link for a few refer-a-friend benefits, if you want.) We'll see if I can maintain my interest while using this new dopamine drug.

Hopefully the coming months will see my focus, motivation, and enthusiasm return to normal.  It still begs the question why my dopamine would be low, but I'll take a respite if I can get it.
mellowtigger: (T'Reese)
T'Reese has lived a long life for a cat.  I think we first met in January 1998 (or was it December 1997?), and she was already many weeks old.  So she's maybe 16.5 years old now, when most indoor cats live 12-15 years.

I haven't taken her back to the vet again recently, because she doesn't seem to be in any pain at all... and she's just simply old.  She's starting to stumble a bit when she walks.  The main problem, though, is that she has lost far too much weight.  I notice too many bony edges on her body when I pet her.  Her picky eating habits have reached the point where she turns away almost all food now.  One of her medications is flavored, and I've been dosing canned food with it just to get her to eat something... if only a teaspoon a day.

It's annoying that I have to keep the younger cat at bay so the old cat has a chance to nibble on some food in peace.  I feed them separately, but Hope always thinks that T'Reese is getting better food than her.  T'Reese will eat maybe a dozen bites and then wander off to nap again.  At this rate, she can't keep her body going much longer.

At least she seems relatively content, and she does not seem to be feeling any pain.  I could hope for as much luck in my last days.
mellowtigger: (twitch)
Do you remember last month when I considered self-diagnosing with multiple sclerosis then beginning a diet change regimen to improve my long-term outcome? Well, today I reviewed with a doctor the results of my recent medical tests. She suggested that I begin a diet change to see if it has any effect on my symptoms.

Basically, the neurologists are in the same position now as they were 4 years ago. Electromyogram tests confirm some nerve damage, and it is worse now than 4 years ago, but it is a pattern that is not consistent with multiple sclerosis. By eliminating MS as a possibility, though, and finally accepting that I'm serious about wanting to solve this ongoing problem, they are now considering other options to explain my symptoms. Gluten was the first new suggestion for this something-that-isn't-MS-but-behaves-much-like-MS. This scenario reminds me of my mother's own nerve problem that isn't-Parkinson's-but-behaves-much-like-Parkinson's. She's now gluten-free too, but for digestive reasons.

I already knew that a low-fat diet can drastically improve outcomes for MS patients, but it turns out that gluten sensitivity is also implicated in multiple sclerosis and other muscle-twitch phenomenon. I've been considering a gluten-free and/or paleo diet for years. I now have a medical excuse to try at least the gluten-free regimen. The theory behind the paleo diet seems very sensible to me, but I just haven't found the science articles to back it up. Gluten, on the other hand, has lots of well-established issues. In particular, wheat is not what it used to be in our more distant human history. (If you listen to the fringe news, the story of wheat gets even scarier. So don't accept the scary stories without some kind of verifiable evidence.)

I think I'll go have a "goodbye gluten" deep dish pizza tomorrow while I consider how much of my kitchen stock I have to throw away because of "contaminated" ingredients.  I don't expect this change to be easy, but it seems necessary.
mellowtigger: (we can do it)
St. Anthony bridgeI haven't driven my car over this St. Anthony bridge in 2.5 years. I mentioned in 2011 September that it was in bad shape, then weeks later I discovered that city transit buses were prohibited from driving over it. This week when I tried to bicycle for the first time in a year, I noticed that the bicycle/pedestrian trail is also closed. So, buses and bicycles are bad, but cars... sure, go right ahead. No thanks. I'll maintain my boycott.

We did get one new bridge (re-)opened during the past year, and I use it frequently instead of the less convenient alternatives. I still wish this nearby St. Anthony bridge was repaired and safe.  Overall, one in ten bridges in the USA are in "urgent need of repair". The American Society of Civil Engineers has completed another report card of our national infrastructure. They still give us a failing grade, although the 2013 score is up slightly from 2009, now a D+ instead of just a D.

"The 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gives an overall grade of D+ across 16 categories, up just slightly from the D given in ASCE’s 2009 Report Card. Six infrastructure sectors benefited from either an increase in private investment, targeted efforts in cities and states to make upgrades or repairs, or from a one-time boost in federal funding.

Notably, this marks the first time the grades have improved since the American Society of Civil Engineers first graded the condition of America’s infrastructure in 1998. However, a D+ grade is still not acceptable."
- http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/a/#p/overview/presidents-message

Here's an update of the table that I posted back in 2011.

category201320092005200119981988
AviationDDD+DC-B-
BridgesC+CCCC-C+
DamsDDDDDi
Drinking WaterDD-D-DDB-
EnergyD+D+DD+ii
Hazardous WasteDDDD+D-D
Inland WaterwaysD-D-D-D+ii
LeveesD-D-iiii
PortsD-iiiii
Public Parks and RecreationC-C-C-iii
RailC+C-C-iii
RoadsDD-DD+D-C+
SchoolsDDDD-Fi
Solid WasteB-C+C+C+C-C-
TransitDDD+C-CC-
WastewaterDD-D-DD+C
estimated 5-year cost (7-year for 2013)$3.6 trillion$2.2 trillion$1.6 trillion$1.3 trillionii

I'm still disappointed that Obama didn't resurrect the Civilian Conservation Corps or some new equivalent, that Congress won't tax the super-rich to support the society that they depend upon as much as the rest of us, and that Congress still favors the exploitation of our resources by corporations rather than investment in our shared development for a sustainable future.

And so we continue our stalled society. The USA's disappearing middle class is now affecting big business, and Canada's middle class has officially surpassed ours. Because somebody (I'm looking primarily at Republicans) won't allow us to tax the biggest benefactors of our society in order to continue developing our society.
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.

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