Monday, December 31, 2007

New Years at Sara's


This is how we've been spending our time, mostly. Playing highly competitive board games, eating, going for walks, eating, drinking, reading...the usual. We picked up about 6 inches of snow overnight. So, as we took a walk today, it was all white outside and stuff - a big change from yesterday. Todd was able to join us - long time no see. Sara's brother Andy and his long time girlfriend Nicole came up, too.

Apparently, as I've been writing this, the clock kept on ticking and rolled over to the New Year. Hot Damn, 2008!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Perfect Sunday



It's so wonderful to be at Sara's! We woke up fairly early, and once Sara put the finishing touches on the morning's sermon, we all headed off to the local diner for a fantastic breakfast. Then we wandered back up the road to church, where we admired the lovely Christmas decorations and watched Sara in her element. All her parishioners love her, and made sure to come up and introduce themselves to us after the service and tell us how great she is (we concur).

After church, Sara and Alex and I headed out into the woods for a long hike (Katie and Sean begged off due to having the wrong footwear). It is very refreshing to be back in a hilly landscape, our only regret was that Jasper wasn't along to enjoy the day! Upon our return, Sara fed us a delicious lunch of corn chowder and homemade bread, and then naps were had by all.

This afternoon we had some guest turnover—Katie and Sean had to head out ahead of the oncoming snowstorm, and Sara's brother Andy and his girlfriend Nicole arrived, along with a couple of Sara's Sky Lake friends who I remember from counseling senior high camp there in 2002. Todd and Rachel arrive tomorrow.

This evening there was homemade pizza, and everyone is now relaxing with computers, knitting, or trying out a new Egyptian-themed board game that Andy brought along. We're in for another very relaxing day tomorrow, and hopefully another long walk as well.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

On the Road Again

Hilary and I are on the road...again. This time, we have a dual-purpose trip. The first portion will take us to the boonies of New York, just north of the Catskills. Our college friend, Sara, has her parish there. Each year, a group of us college friends will get together for New Year's. So, we hauled ourselves back up to Minneapolis today, after sending Jasper back to doggie camp again. We squeezed ourselves into another tin can and took flight, this time to JFK. Why JFK, when Albany or Syracuse would be closer and less insane? I'll get there in a moment. After a nice aerial view of Manhattan, we waited around for over a half hour for our baggage to show up, then another half hour to get to our rental car. We opted to spend another $5/day to get a jetta with only 1500 miles on it. Over the next hour, we managed to battle our way about 15 miles away from the airport throught Brooklyn and the Bronx. We gave the rasperry to Yankee stadium as we passed. After that, the going was pretty easy going up I-87. We have just recently arrived at Sara's, and are looking forward to bed soon. We'll hit up the local diner tomorrow morning, then listen to Sara's Sunday sermon.

Tuesday, New Year's Day, we get to battle our way back to JFK for the second portion of our trip. We'll hop on a flight and, after a number of hours and time zones later, we'll emerge in Pisa, Italy. How has such a thing come about? The short version is that a friend of a friend of Hilary's father watches over a house in the heart of the Chianti region (no fava bean jokes, please), and wants to get away. So Hilary's dad will be caretaking for the next month, with Holly there for a long while, too. With the lodging taken care of, how could Hilary and I not take this opportunity to see Tuscany? So that's where we'll be for the week after New Year's. We'll post sporadically from Italy as we can.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

iPhone Troubles

Well, I suppose the other shoe was going to drop eventually. Hilary's phone ran into some troubles, and now mine has, too. The story of how it met its fritzy demise is too long to tell, so I'll summarize: it blew a fuse, probably in the literal sense. So, in the space of an hour on Monday, it went from fine to dead as a doornail.

But, hey, that's OK, because it was only a few months into its one-year warranty. Apple Tech Support agreed with me: dead as a doornail and no fault of mine. They offered me the choice of sending the phone in via mail, or seeking out the Genius Bar at the nearest Apple retail store. My guess, in either case, was that they'd take one look at it and swap it for a fresh iPhone.

The choice between mail service and waltzing into a store filled with Apple swag and speaking to a real person...it was not actually as simple as it might, at first, seem. You see, the closest Apple store is in the Mall of America, which Hilary and I have scrupulously (and, some might say, conspicuously) avoided. It is a place that goes beyond the extremes of capitalism and all that is shallow in America - our own little Las Vegas. That, and the fact that it's an hour and a half away. Mail might not be so bad in comparison, particularly since I won't be using my phone next week in Europe. On the other hand, there's a transatlantic flight ahead, and I'll certainly be wanting my iPod.

So, up to the Mall we go, on December 26th. God in Heaven preserve us. Thankfully, the Apple Store is only about 100 feet from one entrance, so we were spared most of the insanity. It was about 8:45 before my 8:00 appointment came up, but once I got some face time with the guy behind the bar, it took all of five minutes to get a brand new iPhone into my hands. Swap the SIM card, and I was back in business. Remarkably good service, very pleased.

I'm still having great difficulties with syncing up my iPhone to my 4-1/2 year old computer. It's not the age really, it's more the fact that my computer lacks a USB 2.0 computer (USB 1.1 only). It sort of works, but USB 1.1 isn't actually supported. It's particularly painful because, rather than just an album here and there, or a week's worth of podcasts, it's as much of my library that I can fit. Oh the pain of it all!

Cut Free

Todd was kind enough to send these two shots from my recent brush with a stuck seatbelt. A nice little before and after of my knife work.

Not much to see in this first one, save that I am clearly in an uncomfortable spot.

Despite appearances, I am not cutting my fingers off. This was taken just after I had sliced the seatbelt, so I was in the midst of my usual one-handed maneuver to close the knife. Notice the shoulder loop behind Hilary's face has no belt going through it. My iPhone is on the seat next to me (more about that later today, I think).

These events happened on Saturday afternoon, and the San Juan airport post office was closed. Sunday and Tuesday were postal holidays. So, there hasn't really been enough time to tell if my dear knife has come back to me. I surely hope that it arrives today or tomorrow, before Hilary and I leave town again.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas


Sorry if the image is a bit blurry - not sure why. Merry Christmas, everybody! After seeing everybody in Vieques, it's just Hilary and I for Christmas. Jasper's back, too, back from doggie camp.

We woke up today have waffles for breakfast (it's not quite like my dad's cinnamon rolls, but it'll do in a pinch). We've been snacking on cookies we've gotten as gifts since then. This evening, we're having a repeat of Thanksgiving dinner: tofurkey, green bean casserole, stuffing, squash with wild rice, and apple pie!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Some More Pictures

lookout postThis is one of the many lookouts built into the outer walls of Old San Juan. To me, it looks like something out of Myst.


A hibiscus that was blossoming just off the porch of La Finca. It would overhang someone seated in one of the many hammocks.


Sunset at Green Beach - our first foray out onto the sand.


Todd wrestling Steph back into the water.


Adding some diced red pepper to guacamole at the beach.


Dancing to Indigo Girls


Us four young'ens having a quick bite in Plaza Colon in Old San Juan.

Rooster



This fella was probably the only downside we encountered at La Finca. He didn't belong there - our hosts speculated that he belonged to a farm across the way. As well groomed as he appeared, he was certainly taken care off. A cock of the walk, you might say.

However, attractive though he may have been as a rooster, as a time keeper he was about as useful as a stuck watch. Actually, even a stuck watch is right twice a day - I don't think we could give this guy the benefit of the doubt. He somehow got it in his head to crow, quite pathetically, at all times of the day or night. Hanging out in a tree just outside our window, Hilary and I were treated to being awoken a couple of times in the middle of the night.

He was a tricky little bugger, too. Hiding out about 8 feet off the ground in a tree, he was safe from the dogs - and from the caretakers. He managed to dodge a shot glass tossed at him at 4 am by Nelson.



He did, I think, finally realize that if he just fluttered back across the way, he wouldn't have to have crowing contests with his far flung competition. So, by the time we were on our way out, we think he had moved on.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Information Bankruptcy

Upon arriving at home after more than a week away, one is greeted with all kinds of information: emails both personal and professional, a stack of mail about yay high, newspapers, frequented websites and blogs. In some cases, people get so behind on catching up that they declare information bankruptcy - write off anything that has accumulated in their total inbox and try to get back on track. It is very similar to the concept of personal bankruptcy. In some cases, people just triage and scan the pending information they need to deal with - like negotiating with creditors to pay off only some percentage of the debt, while forgiving others. Still others figure out an extended payback schedule, and try to catch up over weeks and months.

For myself, I have declared as "unpayable" the two weekend and six weekday newspapers I missed while away on vacation. I will try an extended payback period for personal emails and blog posts. Most of my work inbox is probably unforgiveable, so I'll get on that first thing tomorrow. Being Christmas Eve, a lone monday between the weekend and Christmas Day, I will probably be one of the few people at my office. That should be just fine.

Knife

Well, Hilary and I are back from Vieques. Bummer. We were so enjoying lounging around in 80-degree, sunny weather. Now we're back in Minnesota, encountering teens and blowing snow. We are, however, extremely glad that we have this one last day off (Sunday) to regroup back at home before returning to school and work. We'll be posting more pictures from our trip as time goes on, but I'll post this one neat story from our return trip.

Most of you who read this blog know that I carry a knife with me regularly. Not just a small swiss army keychain knife with a nail file, but a 4" straight-edged lock blade made by Spyderco (the link is for the current model, mine's a few years old). I have carried one around since junior year in college, and find that its utility in my day to day life outweighs the odd remarks I sometimes get when I whip it out and flick it open it, one handed, in the space of about a second. I use it to open letters and packages, pull splinters, trim cuticles, strip wire, and as a fine probe. It has many other uses, including in emergencies.

Obviously, this isn't something that, even back in the day, would have been allowed through airport security. Therefore, it must be in my checked baggage, or I simply don't bring it on trips. I have actually had one disappear from my checked bag en route, but that's a different story entirely.

Anyway, suffice to say I had it with me on this trip - I peeled mangos with it, for instance, since the knives at La Finca left much to be desired. I won't get into all the details of our return itinerary, but in summary: us young'ens got back to San Juan airport in the middle of saturday morning, checked in with our respective airlines, and checked one bag apiece. Then we caught a cab to Old San Juan to kill a few hours before we went back to the airport to catch our mid-late afternoon flights.

The cab we returned in was in good repair, but my seatbelt was clearly having issues. When we pulled up to the drop off area, I found that I couldn't release the latch. Try as I might, it simply wouldn't let me go. The driver had no luck either. I could conceivably still extricate myself from the seatbelt by pulling some extra slack out and sliding underneath it. That is, I should have been able to pull some extra length out. However, the belt arrest mechanism, which prevents the belt from reeling out in an accident, engaged as I was playing around with the belt latch. Before I knew it, I didn't have enough slack in the belt to even continue play around with the latch. There are pictures of me in this predicament, which may or may not get posted in the future.

The cabbie was a good sport and, realizing that this was a serious problem, mentioned that he'd cut the belt if he had a knife. Well, as it so happened, I did have a knife and, after shimmying it out from my pocket under the seatbelt, whipped it open and sliced the belt. Freedom!

[As it happens, this means that my knife would be useful in case of a car accident - yet another good reason to carry it around]

By the time I got to the curb, however, I realized that the fact that I had my knife with which to free myself was a bit of a problem - we had already checked our bags hours ago! My knife had pulled me through in a real pinch, was I now going to have to relinquish it? Determined to keep it, I sought out the airport post office. You would think that, with the large number of items banned from airplanes, every airport would have a post office facility (or, at least, a self-serve kiosk) RIGHT NEXT to security, available for 24-hour, last minute shipping. However, this isn't the case. The San Juan airport has a post office but, alas, it is closed on Saturday and Sunday. What the Hell?

The airport does, however, have a Best Western Hotel and Casino. I was able to beg a hotel stationary envelope from the desk clerk and a few sheets of paper. Visits to three different souvenir shops yielded a place that sold postage stamps (at a 10% markup - is that even legal?). Next question: how much postage? It was a typical envelope, into which I was putting my several-ounce knife folded into a few sheets of paper (to keep the envelope from breaking). What's the postage for a several-ounce envelope? Is the postage from Puerto Rico the same as it is for the rest of the U.S.? I suppose I could have used my iPhone to look up the knife's weight online (from the mfg website), then the postage (from the USPS). But, I was in a hurry, so I just rounded it way up and put six stamps on it. Then, crossing my fingers, I slid it across the check-in counter at the casino/hotel and went back to find the rest of my group.

As it turns out, when I checked the USPS postage calculator this afternoon, I found that I was probably conservative by a factor of 2. That's fine - the extra postage is nothing compared to the replacement cost. We'll see if it makes it through.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Height of Geek

If only because I can, I am blogging from Sun Beach, on the south side of Vieques Island. I have here a picture, taken with my iPhone, that I am sending to Mooses of the North.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Bio Bay a Bust

The highpoint of this evening was to be a trip out to the bioluminescent bay - a local attraction. Technically, it is called Mosquito Bay (with good reason), but is called Bioluminescent Bay because it is filled with a plankton that, when disturbed by, say, a passing boat, paddle, or swimmer, glows in the water. Hilary and her folks partook the last time they were here, and the effect was said to be amazing. They went out with a guide in open kayaks, and slipped over the side to swim around. The water dripping off their arms and legs would even glow a bit.

So it was with great anticipation that we drove down to Banana's bar in Esperanza this evening to meet up with our guide - Berito. With a couple of kayaks strapped to the top of is little Isuzu, he lead us on an increasingly-poor dirt road to our put-in point. It was 10-15 minutes of very dicey driving that in other places would be considered mild off-roading. In our rented Caravan, it was definitely an impressive bit of work on Holly's part to keep making headway.

The kayaks were, as I said, open - kind of like sitting on top of a hard-plastic lozenge. Tandems, too. We launched and headed out into the water.

Unfortunately, observing this faint bioluminescing phenomenon is premised on some good night vision conditions. With the moon hanging almost straight above past first quarter there was a fair bit of light about. The phenomenon is also, of course, premised on the conditions being right biologically. Alas, Olga has passed by a week or two back and churned everything all to heck. Plus, the tide was out, which affected things further. As it happens, these things were already known to us, and made our crew only five for this outing. We had tried to arrange things such that our six elders would get their tour from a pontoon boat, while us four young'ens would do the kayak thing. The pontoon boat tours are out for the next week at least, owing to the aforementioned waxing moon and spot of difficulty with Olga.

So, after paddling in a wide circle for 15 minutes or so, we (us four and my dad) had to admit that there wasn't anything really to see tonight. Bummer. We headed back to shore and pulled out. Our guide, Berito, was gracious with his apologies, and would not accept payment for a no-show show. But, for his troubles, he would accept a drink from us back at Bananas.

So, fifteen minutes of suspension flexing, oil-pan threatening, sidewall straining driving back to the paved roadway, and we were back in Esperanza. The round ordered, we sat around to learn that the world is, in fact, increasingly small. Berito's ex-girlfriend, as it turns out, is from my hometown of Rochester, NY, and so he had been there a few times. He's planning to get his first experience with snow next month by learning to snowboard in Colorado (Steph's current home).

And here, since I've got nothing else for tonight, is the previously promised picture of an iguana. Its buddy, at the time this picture was taken, was about 15 feet higher up, trying to scale the top of a telephone pole. Why? Only he knew.

Vieques Day Two

Another relaxing day on the island! We spent part of the afternoon in Esperanza, one of the two towns on Vieques. There's a nice walk by the water, and some shops with local crafts and other goodies. We ended the day at Sun Bay, where several of us went for a sunset swim. There was a bit of excitement when the van a) developed a flat tire and b) refused to start, but that was eventually all sorted out. Alex cooked us a wonderful dinner of enchiladas, and Todd wowed us with a test batch of chocolate mousse for dessert. Some photos below...and look out for the iguana as soon as we can persuade it to load.

four swimmers

footprint at Sun Beach

laptops and relaxing

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Coffee and La Campesina

The wireless network at La Finca Caribe and Blogger weren't wokring well together last night, so no pictures just yet. Soon enough Hilary will blog more fully.

After drying out for the 2-3days while in transit, and suffering the requisite caffeine withdrawal headaches, the first cup of coffee today hit me like coffee has not done for many years.

We shopped at three different places yesterday for provisions: a roadside produce stand, a supermercado, and the local health food store. The first was outstanding - it is great to reap the tropical bounty around us in pineapple, mango, avocado, and bananas. The supermercado was a little lacking in certain areas. For instance, Todd and Steph wanted to bake cookies for the group, but we were unable to find crystalized ginger (a long shot even stateside), nor molasses (wasn't there a time when they did nothing BUT?), nor chocolate chips. Interestiingly, there were plenty of packaged chocolate chip cookies from the Keebler elves. The health food store, bless 'em, was a small place that must be holding on by a thin margin.

As Hilary will tell later, we had an excellent dinner at La Campesina, a fairly new place that surely will be a great success - if they can get their telephone hooked up.



Sent from my iPhone

Monday, December 17, 2007

Day One in Vieques

We had a wonderfully relaxing first day on Vieques yesterday. Everyone slept in just as late as they pleased, then tracked down some breakfast in the kitchen before finding spots on the porch. Most of the rest of the day was taken up with reading, sleeping, and needlework.


In the late afternoon, a group of us decided to head to one of the beaches for a sunset walk. After half an hour of driving on extremely bumpy and puddle-filled dirt roads, we ended up on a deserted Playa Verde (Green Beach) just as the sun was going down.


We ended the night with a spectacular dinner at La Campesina. The restaurant is under new ownership, and everything from the drinks to the food (homemade hummus) to the desserts (chocolate brownie waffle!) was just spectacular. The setting is lovely as well. The group that got here a day before us had already eaten there once, and enjoyed it so much that they wanted to go back, so we can highly recommend the place. They put together a very tasty off-menu vegetarian dish for me, as well. They may see see us again on Thursday, as the Key Lime Creme Brulee was sold out by the time we ordered dessert, and Todd (and the rest of us) would really like to try some!

Live from Puerto Rico

All this week, we'll be posting from a funky little shack in Vieques, Puerto Rico. We've got a pre-Christmas family gathering going on here: my folks, Hilary's folks and grandfather, and some school friends. Vieques is an island a ways off the main island - part of it used to be a firing range for the US Navy until a few years back. Since then it has slowly been developing, but is still fairly rustic. Hilary and her folks have been once before - the notable change from last time is the addition of wireless internet access at La Finca (the shack we're staying at). Although it's a bit slow, it is amble to allow a few postings of the goings on.

Saturday we dropped Jasper off at the dogsitter's in 10 degree weather. We drove up to Minneapolis, flew to Orlando, and then on to San Juan. We arrived a little before midnight, local time, and made it to our room at the Hotel Milano around 1 am. It made for a long day, to say the least. But what a change from that morning - it was 80 humid degrees in San Juan as we made our way to a late sleep.

The hotel is situated in the southern end of Old San Juan, and we planned to spend part of sunday touring around. We met up with my folks, who had stayed in the next room over on Saturday night, and toured the two remaining forts that made up the bookends of San Juan's fortifications: San Christobal in the east, El Morro on the western tip, overlooking the inlet to San Juan bay. The Spanish built up these fortifications starting some 500 years ago. They were attacked at various times by just about everyone, including the US during the Spanish-American war in 1898. The US army even used them during WWII to keep an eye out for German U-boats.

We headed back to San Juan airport in the mid-afternoon. We were to meet up with two schoolmates of ours: Todd, coming in from his parents' place in new Jersey, and Steph, coming from Detroit. Both ran into problems due to weather at their departure points - Steph was sitting on the tarmac in a snowstorm for nearly an hour and a half. As it happened, she hadn't yet landed when we had to leave SJU, numbering only five instead of six, in our hired van to Fajardo to catch the last ferry to Vieques at 6 pm. We tried valiantly to make a reservation for her on a puddle-jumper to Vieques leaving at 5:30 on Vieques Air-Link. Unfortunately, I don't think that they have nearly enough staff - my half-dozen calls to their desk went unanswered, even after 15-20 rings. Thankfully, Steph was able to make her own arrangements when she landed, and even beat us to Vieques by nearly an hour.

Those of us that took the ferry had a bit of an adventure in transit. The wind was up and just off the port bow. The seas were choppy, making for an undulating ride for those of us on the upper deck. As the bow came down, it would shoot up spray that would immediately be carried downwind. At first, nearer to shore, the spray passed us by. When we got out to open water and the wind picked up, we got hit by wave after wave of spray that soaked us nearly to the bone, and got into our luggage here and there. It was a group of drowned rats that Mark picked up at the Dock that evening. But, a change of clothes at La Finca and a long meal of pasta and catching up soon remedied that.

We'll continue posting as the week goes on. Expect pictures soon.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Technetium-99 Shortage

My work involves being knowledgeable about both medicine and technology. Sometimes it allows me to totally get my geek on. Just yesterday I delved into the realm of nuclear chemistry to find out information about a worldwide shortage of technetium-99. You may heard about it in the news - it has been having an impact on the practice of nuclear medicine for the last couple of weeks.

A little history first (hey, I found this stuff out, so now you get to hear about it, too). Technetium, element 43, is the lightest element that has no stable isotope. That is, any form of technetium either already has or soon will decay into some other element. That is why is was not conclusively discovered until 1937. However, using the power of his invention, the periodic table, Dmitri Mendeleev was able to predict both its existence and some of its material properties decades in advance. Due to its location on the table, he figured it would be similar to manganese, and so called it ekamanganese. The reason it is called technetium today is because of its greek root, which means "artificial." Technetium was the first synthesized element - it was isolated from a molybdenum target used in early cyclotron experiments.

Nowadays, technetium is a workhorse in nuclear medicine. It is injected into patients in various forms and compounds, and emits radiation from the inside out that is used for bone density scans, determining the extent of a heart attack, and other diagnostics. The particular isotope, Tc-99m ('m' for metastable), undergoes a reshuffling of the protons and neutrons in its nucleus, settling into Tc-99, and spitting off a 140 keV gamma ray, which is soft enough to be picked up by X-ray equipment. The slightly more stable isotope, Tc-99, is a run-of-the-mill beta-emitter and gets excreted from the body pretty soon thereafter, limiting the total overall dosage. Tc-99 gets used in radiation calibration standards.

The decay from Tc-99m to Tc-99 has a half life of about 6 hours. That means that it doesn't stick around too long once it is made. Not long enough, even, for it to get transported. Its precursor, Molybdenum-99, however, has a half-life of nearly 3 days, which is ample time to transport it, extract the desired Tc-99m, and inject that into patients before it decays to diagnostically worthless Tc-99. Hospitals typically receive once weekly shipment of Mo-99 in what's called a technetium cow.

Working our way back up the supply chain, it is worth asking where all the Mo-99 comes from. As it turns out, nearly all the Mo-99 used in North America, and a fair portion of that used worldwide, comes from a single source: a heavy water nuclear reactor in Chalk River, Ontario. There are a handful of other sources worldwide, but Chalk River is the heavy lifter, and not only for Mo-99, but also other isotopes used for diagnostics and treatment.

As it happens, the reactor was shut down on Nov 18th for five days of scheduled maintenance. Once they got started, however, they realized there was other maintenance that they really ought to do then, too. So, rather than five days of downtime (roughly two half-lives of Mo-99), the hiccup stretched into weeks. The projected restart for the reactor had gone out as far as mid-January. That works out to about 23 half-lives of Mo-99, meaning that 1 gram of Chalk River Mo-99 that was out there in mid-November would have decayed to about 0.1 micrograms of Mo-99, a few nanograms of Tc-99m, and 0.999 999 grams of Tc-99.

To put it another way, the extended downtime of the reactor meant that the supply of Tc-99m was inexorably drying up (or, more specifically, decaying). Effects varied here and there, but by and large it meant that some tests were delayed, patients were put in a priority queue, and diagnostics were done with lower dosages (and hence, yielded poorer results). By some accounts, it was a mounting crisis.

Enter the Canadian Parliament and the Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Yesterday, as I was doing this research, the Parliament passed legislation ordering the reactor to start up again. The startup was ahead of schedule and against the advice of Canada's nuclear regulators. Still, a crisis is a crisis.

With the reactor ramping up again, the production of medical isotopes and reach full capacity within a week.

I wish I could come up with a nifty epilogue to this story, but that's about all I've got. I suppose this even could strengthen calls for additional redundancy in the supply chain - create the ability at other nuclear reactors for medical isotope production. If nothing else, with was a fun bit of research in an otherwise ordinary day.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Electronic Failure!

I had the afternoon off today, which was delightful. It gave me a chance to finish up most of my studying for the end-of-rotation exam on Friday. I also took Jasper out for a long walk while the day was at its warmest. Within the first five minutes of leaving the house, I pulled out my ringing cellphone, lost it through my mittened hands, and watched it splat open on the sidewalk. After I stuck all the pieces back together, it still refused to work. So then I turned on my iPod...which promptly died, probably because the very old battery was unhappy in the 20 degree weather. Jasper then enjoyed my technology-free full attention for the remainder of the hour or so that we were out! He had a wonderful time romping in the snow, and he's getting very good at running full speed for me when I call "come!" Though he doesn't always stop once he gets to me. Once today, he grabbed his treat and took off again, which I suppose fulfilled the letter if not the spirit of the command.

Pediatrics is wonderful. I really enjoy the patients and my coworkers, and have become very excited about the pediatrics part of family practice. I'm also pleased to report that I have now finished my last on-call night of third year! The only rotations I have left in the spring are family practice (2 weeks), psych (4 weeks) and surgery (6 weeks in Arizona). I'll also have 9 weeks of research time to work on the anxiety/defibrillator project.

Right now I'm really looking forward to finishing up the peds rotation, getting the exam over with, and heading off to meet up with our families and some friends in Puerto Rico! Jasper is going to go to puppy camp—he'll be staying at the dogsitter's house and playing with her dog until we come back to Minnesota just before Christmas.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Rough Week

How wonderful is the weekend! Hilary has this rare day off in the midst of her peds rotation, and I certainly can use the break myself. We certainly need the recuperation - it's been a rough week (hence the relative lack of blogging).

It started, not surprisingly, in pediatrics. Hilary (and, we later learned, one of the residents) came down on Sunday morning with an awful GI virus. You probably will recognize the symptoms - exhaustion, fever with chills, joint aches, a generally unsettled GI tract and, of course, gut wrenching, tie-you-in-knots vomiting. It laid Hilary flat out for all of Sunday and Monday, which she wisely called in sick for. All contemplation of food was banished - even saltines seemed out of the question. She was feeling well enough on Tuesday to return to work, but took every opportunity to sit down, and had another bout of vomiting once she returned home.

Things were looking up as she returned Wednesday for an overnight, just in time for me to come down with the same ailment. I guess that was inevitable. I struggled through a long meeting that morning, trying to hide occasional shivers, and then somehow survived until an early afternoon meeting before throwing in the towel. During the hours in between, I tried to remain focused enough to be productive - compose a few emails, write debrief notes from the morning's meeting, prepare for the afternoon's - but it just wasn't happening. My joints ached enough such that sitting was uncomfortable. As I passed the secretary's office on my way out to announce my departure, she commented on how pale I looked. That was my cure to walk back to the bathroom for the second time that day to, well, you can guess. I finally came home and crashed for a few hours in bed, only to wake up and crash for a few more hours on the couch. I fared a bit better than Hilary, however, and was feeling well enough to return to work the following afternoon.

Although Hilary and I have been functional since our respective recoveries, we would hardly consider ourselves fully healed: we're still tired a lot, food's appeal comes and goes, and we're still trying to catch up on fluids.

So, it is very well indeed that we have this day to try and get our acts back together. It's a good day for sticking around the house, too: temperatures started off below zero, with approximately zero chance of sunshine.

Back to the gatorade.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Jasper Hates the Snow
Jasper Loves the Snow

Over the weekend, we had ourselves a nasty bit of weather. It started off well enough - some light snow on Saturday, which made for a lovely backdrop for the trip to the farmer's market. However, by the end of the day it had turned to sleet and freezing rain, which not only made the roads treacherous, but soaked into the snow and froze over into a solid shell. Walking Jasper out among this mess on Saturday night was hardly fun for either of us. Being the distrustful sort, he didn't know what to make of this glazed, slick surface that he would often punch through. What is more, the big woof (me) made an awful commotion with each step, because I definitely did punch through with each step. Therefore, Jasper hated it. Oh sure, he made a valiant attempt at his usual romping, but it didn't last. The following morning when I let him out, he didn't get any further than the patio - so fearful of a glazed backyard he was.

Over the next two days, Jasper had even more reason to dislike the ground conditions as the crust got broken up by boots, snowblowers, and plows. I worried for his paws - walking over these broken chunks of ice couldn't have been good for him. In the meantime, the banks of the creek where we usually walk had consolidated to a very slick slope, so much so that Jasper couldn't venture down to the water's edge, as is his wont, for fear of not being able to get back up.

Today, however, we received 5-6 inches of fluffy powder. With this lovely cushion, Jasper was back to his romping, playful self. Now he loves the snow. It's so much fun for him to run through, slide to a stop, spin around, and run some more. The fact that there's snow on the ground doesn't stop him from sniffing everything around him - it just gets his muzzle dusted. Now the only worry I have is the snow that galls up between his pads. He doesn't seem to mind it too much, though.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Beer Tasting

Beer is a two-syllable word. Or so the Australians would have us think.

This evening I attended a beer tasting benefit for the local humane society. The owner of a local liquor business and his brother, the owner of a local large hotel franchise, hosted it. Our host and beer educator was from Merchant Du Vin, the sole importer of many craft European beers sold in the U.S. Pictured below is the spread, which was split among the four of us at the table. Alas, we left a fair bit of it on the table - given enough time I might have been able to drink my 1/4 share, but the tables were set for 8, so it would have been quite the feat even to do that much. It didn't help that the wait staff kept bringing out food to go with the beer. My stomach groaned even as I gave it more excellent stuff.

Our host was exceedingly knowledgeable. Apparently all he and his colleagues do, when not selling their wares to local retailers, is go from country to country and sample the best stuff around. Tough gig. He held forth for over two hours about the different kinds of beers, anecdotes about their development, and why European beer is so much different than American.



The lineup for the evening was:
Ayinger Brau-Weisse, and outstanding wheat beer that would have been even better in hot weather. Brewer's page here, for those that speak German.

Samuel Smith's Organic Lager, India Pale Ale, and Imperial Stout. The IPA was refreshing - it didn't knock you over the head with the hops, and instead was just downright pleasant. As our host put it to us, "Guinness is on the light end of stouts. This is on the heavy end." That should put it in perspective - it was like pouring chocolate.

Zatec, a Czech "Brilliant Lager." It is better to call it a pilsner (a subset of lagers), but the EU forbids any beer not brewed in Pilsn from carrying the name "Pilsner."

Orval Trappist Ale. Apparently, trappist ales are a very specific class of beer. To officially be a trappist, it has to be brewed by monks, in the monastery, to cover the monastery's costs, and 65% of the profit must go to charity. For some trappist beers, they meet their operating and charity quota mid-year, and just go out of stock until the next. This one was unbelievably aromatic in taste and bouquet, floral, with a very persistent head.

Westmalle Trappist Dubbel - this was in a 750-mL bottle, like wine. At 8% alcohol and very smooth, it is meant to be sipped like wine. As it turns out, our table had most of a full bottle leftover, which I was allowed to cork and take with me.

Green's Endeavor Gluten Free Dubbel Ale. This was of the same style as the Westmalle, but brewed with rice instead of malt, and some other changes, so that it contains no gluten, and is thus accessible to drinkers suffering from celiac's disease.

Traquair Jacobite Ale. The Traquair House is, apparently, the oldest habitation in Scotland, and belongs to the Stuarts. When the Stuarts fell, they shuttered the house until they reclaimed the throne. That didn't go so well for them. In the 60's, thought, the patriarch reopened the house and turned it into a brewery. This thick dark Scotch Ale is aged 10 years in oak casks and is to ordinary beer what cream sherry is to chardonnay.

Lindemans Peche and Framboise Lambics. These two are becoming trendy these days. Very sweet, low in alcohol, low in fizz, and very smooth, they are able to take the place of champagne in various functions. The host described women requesting cases or kegs of this stuff for their bachelorette parties. The Peche tasted just like peaches, and the Framboise like very flavorful raspberries.

All in all, I'd say I downed only a bit more than two pints' worth. Still, it was an awful lot to take in. Good thing I took notes.

Snow!

Tonight, Rochester is experiencing its first real snow of the year. There's about a half an inch on the ground now, as we return from Jasper's evening romp. We'd been waiting eagerly to see how Jasper would respond, and as we'd hoped, he loves the snow! He ran around and around as usual, occasionally stopping to bury his nose in the chilly white stuff. He looked like he was auditioning for Santa Claus or Gandalf by the end of our walk. The scary inflatable snowmen down the block have deflated, so he can even stroll down the sidewalk unmolested. So, a step in the right direction towards Jasper the mountain dog. Maybe we'll even be out on skis soon!

We spent the evening at the local Radisson, which was hosting a beer tasting to benefit Paws and Claws, the humane society where I volunteer. I helped man the front table with shelter information and a couple of puppies looking for homes, and Alex bought a ticket and got to sample all the beers and goodies. There was a guy talking about each of the different brews, and Alex took many notes, so I'm sure a separate post is forthcoming. I did get a sniff of the raspberry one, and it smelled delicious!

The pediatrics inpatient service is going wonderfully. I really like the team that I'm working with, and we've seen some very interesting patients. The consultant supervising the team this week is fantastic—he is very encouraging and also gives great feedback about how to improve, and he spends at least 30 minutes, sometimes an hour, with us students every day answering questions and quizzing us about patients and important pediatrics concepts. I had a good overnight call on Tuesday, with about 5 hours of sleep out of the 34 spent at the hospital. I'll be on again overnight on Saturday, the bummer is that I don't really get a weekend, since I'll be there from about 7 AM Sat to noon or 1 on Sunday. I'm sure Alex will delay the Sunday waffles until I get home, though! Knowing that Puerto Rico is coming up at the end of this stretch makes all things bearable.

More from Alex soon, I think. We'll see if we can get some snow pictures of Jasper, maybe Sunday afternoon if it sticks.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Jasper on the Go

We had a beautiful sunny day today, and decided to take advantage of it by heading out for a long romp with Jasper. We went to Quarry Hill Park, and he got plenty of off-leash time when there weren't other dogs around. This gave us a chance to practice his commands, especially "come." He's getting better!

Here's Jasper in full bound, heading towards Alex's call. Look at those ears!


Resting for a moment:


Enjoying some scrambling (practicing for the mountains):


Jasper is so much fun, and endlessly entertaining. Now he's snoring away after his exciting afternoon, and I'm eating pumpkin pie and watching the UConn women beat Duke. All is well in our household!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Jasper's New Toy

When we were out and about running errands today, we stopped at Petco to pick up a couple of things for Jasper. He does not have many toys, because he doesn't play with them often. I think I've written before about his tennis-ball toy that he doesn't chomp hard enough to squeak. Besides that, he has a rope toy that he has gently gnawed the loose strandy ends off of, and he just finished totally shredding one of Alex's old T-shirts. We've contemplated getting him one of those toys that you put treats inside, and then when the dog chews and plays with it, the treats fall out. However, most of them are made of hard rubber, and we just don't think Jasper would chew hard enough to get the treats out. Today, though, we saw a toy that looks like a little football but with lots of holes in it, and it's made out of very soft rubber. So we bought it, brought it home, stuffed a few pieces of peanut-butter bone in there, and put it down next to Jasper. He has nudged it a couple of times and is currently contemplating it about 6 inches from his nose. We'll see how it goes.

Other excitement today: a realtor came to do a walk-through and give us some ideas of things to do before we put the house on the market waaaay in the future. Apparently I don't get my bathroom upstairs. Bummer. Also, we turn out to have way too many books and are supposed to make our bookshelves more "decorative" than functional before we start showing the place. How weird is that? She was very appreciative of Alex's beautiful work refinishing the floors, however.

And finally, we went and tagged a Christmas tree at the cut-your-own place on the outskirts of town. We're going to be away from mid-December until the 22nd, and then again starting on the 29th, but I really wanted a tree since we have so many wonderful ornaments and this will be our first actual Christmas spent here in Minnesota. Alex is indulging me, though we might come home from Italy to find all of the needles on the floor! It's quite against my family's tradition of procrastination to pick out a tree this early, but we figured it'd be easier to do the choosing now, rather than in a month when the lot has been picked clean. It should be easy for us to pick it up and put it up on the 23rd...accompanied by hot drinks and Handel's Messiah, which has become our decorating tradition. I'm hoping to pick up a wreath at the farmer's market this weekend, too.

Jasper is profoundly unenthusiastic about the decorations going up around the neighborhood: some folks down the street have big inflatable snowmen in the yard, and Jasper HATES them. It took me ten minutes to get him past them on our way back from our run yesterday. He kept leaping into the street to get away from them, and then I had to pick him up and put him back on the sidewalk. He's not that excited about the bright blue blinking snowflakes on one of the other houses, either. Poor guy.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving

This post was supposed to have some pictures of our Thanskgiving Day spread in it. But, alas, I managed to botch copying them onto my computer, and then further bolloxed it by deleting them off the camera. Now, the images are theoretically still there - the data is still on the flash card, but there are no longer any references to them. Undelete programs exist, even ones that specialize in recovering photos from cameras. For a pair of run-of-the-mill photos, though, it didn't seem worth the $20-40 and hassle to pay for such recovery software.

No matter, I'm moving on. You'll just have to take my word that it was a nice looking spread. Quite large, too, considering that it was just H, Jasper, and myself this year. A tofurkey, green bean casserole, stuffing, squash and wild rice medley, and two pies. Two pies for two people (and a dog) seems just about right.

We considered having some classmates over, or otherwise making it larger, but really ended up liking this smaller affair. No timetables - we just cook and eat when it suited us. Heck, we even ate on the couch! We popped in The Lord of the Rings (Extended Edition) as we started cutting veggies at 10, and finished it about 12 hours later.

It has taken a turn for the chilly here in Minnesooooota. It was in the teens as I strolled into work this morning - one of about 10 in my office of 50 that came in today. Being a bit of a quiet day, I worked on something out of the ordinary. We have a $100,000 hi-speed video camera, the same kind that are used at White Sands for missile research. I was using it for something far more mundane. I may post videos at some point. In the meantime, check out what other people have done with those cameras.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Triumphs in the Emergency Room

Working in the emergency room is great. I feel like the patients I see are really mine, since I do all of the initial workup, and that is very satisfying. The consultants have been excellent preceptors, and the residents very helpful and willing to teach as well.

Last night I had two particular triumphs. One of my patients was a teenager who had a one-sided sore throat and swelling. On examination, she had one enormous tonsil, which was actually pushing her uvula over. Now, if you've been to medical school, you are jumping up and down right now and yelling "peritonsillar abscess! peritonsillar abscess!" This is a classic finding, and I had read about it but never seen it, and it was SO satisfying to recognize what the problem was and to be able to tell the consultant so with some confidence. As I've written about before, third year is full of feeling dumb, and it was nice to actually diagnose something. (Other than viral upper respiratory infections. We do a lot of that in the emergency room.)

The other nice moment involved an infant with...drumroll please...a viral upper respiratory tract infection. That part was pretty obvious, but when I looked in her ears, I thought that one of her eardrums was a little redder than the other. Now, she was really squirmy, and 4 month olds have tiny little ear canals, and there was some wax in the way, so I was in no way SURE that this was what I saw. It's really tempting when I have an equivocal finding like this to not mention it, and just let the consultant draw her own conclusions from her own exam. However, I have also realized that the only way to get better at detecting physical exam findings is to mention them and then see if I'm right, so I did tell her. And it turned out that that ear DID look a bit redder than the other one.

So, good times in the emergency room. I have one more shift tonight, and then a four-day weekend. There will be plenty of studying during the weekend, but it will be a nice chance to gear up before starting the inpatient service on Monday. We have a very quiet weekend planned. I'm just looking forward to spending time with Alex—since I've been in the ED from 4PM -midnight, and he's at work from 7:30 to 5:30, we've only been catching each other for a few minutes a day when I come home and he's falling asleep. Jasper and I have been spending some quality time together in the mornings, but we've actually had really poor air quality here so no running the last couple of days. We did drive up to Minneapolis yesterday to hunt and gather a Tofurkey for Thanksgiving. Very odd that our co-op here in town didn't have them, but it gave me a chance to pick up more of Jasper's vegetarian kibble, too.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Jones Seminars and Energy

One of my favorite things back when I was at Dartmouth (particularly in my later, heavy-engineering years) was the Jones Seminars at the Thayer School. Friday afternoons, at the end of a long week (usually with a long weekend ahead, too), we'd gather in room 100 for coffee and cookies and a lecture. Yes, this is a geeky way of kicking back.

These were general interest lectures in science and technology given by distinguished guests or Dartmouth professors. Some of my more memorable ones were about the Columbia Accident investigation, bio-engineering a yeast to produce complex human hormones and proteins (now the focus of a successful Dartmouth spinoff), some interesting futures in robotics, the two-mile time machine, high-efficiency solar cells, and so on.

This fall, the subject of all the Jones Seminars are on energy, climate change and, most importantly, what can we do about it. Being a mostly-engineering audience, the focus of the interventions are things like cellulosic ethanol (another dartmouth spinoff) and carbon capture and sequestration. But, consistent with the Thayer School's mission, there were have also been speakers from non-profits and, just yesterday, from BP. There was a tie-in to an energy symposium put on the by the Thayer School as well.

Absolutely the best part about all this is that these lectures, which were always videotaped, are now available as video podcasts, too. I can remember a few years ago wanting to watch one of these lectures again, and having to wait four weeks for the videotape to be post-produced and available through the library (not on the shelves, even). Now, the post production is done in a day or two, and the video can be downloaded and watched by anyone, anywhere. They are available in large video format (640x480, approx 100 MB / lecture), small video format (QVGA, about 60 MB), or just straight audio. Unfortunately, they need to be transcoded (i.e., reformatted) to fit properly on my iPhone. The transcoding is kind of slow, so mostly I just watch on my computer.

Although these series are given to a mostly engineer audience, they are accessible to most folks. The focus this term on energy and what we can do about it is, I believe, particularly important. These are very informative and entertaining lectures given by very intelligent people, and I encourage all our readers to check them out.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Weekly Round-Up

I thoroughly enjoyed my week in the newborn nursery. We had four babies to take care of on my call night. I took all of them straight from the OB's hands and helped check them out. One of them was only 33 weeks old, and he needed some breathing help, which I got to do with a mask and some oxygen. Also spoke some very out-of-practice Spanish with the parents when the interpreter wasn't around!

As part of my rotation, I gave two presentations this week, and both went well. Friday morning, the consultant supervising the nursery team also watched me do a head-to-toe newborn exam, and he thought that I was doing a good job, so it seems like I'm acquiring the skills that I'm supposed to be on this rotation.

This coming week, I will have some shifts in the peds emergency room. I actually have Thursday through Sunday off, which is fantastic and way more than I expected! After that, my three weeks on the inpatient service start, and that will be much more intense hours-wise, with call every fourth night.

Jasper has begun spending more of the night upstairs in our room. He won't come near the bed, and he won't let us approach him up there, but when the alarm goes off in the morning, we can hear him chewing gently on his tennis ball toy. (This toy would squeak if he chomped on it hard enough, and we've tried to show him that, but he's never looked very enthusiastic about that noise, and I think if he ever made the toy squeak, the next thing we'd hear would be Jasper's head hitting the ceiling.) When one of us gets up out of bed, he leaps to his feet and runs downstairs, wagging his tail. This enthusiasm doesn't quite translate to getting out the back door efficiently...he's much better about that than he used to be, but we still have to put the leash on and coax him a bit.

He and I ran almost every day this week, since I was home around noon each day. Mostly he did well, though one very windy day freaked him out completely. He really is a lot like a pony sometimes, in terms of the things that spook him. He also has decided that he would really like to chase the geese at Silver Lake, who are all about as big as he is. "Heel" is an ongoing project. Though it definitely increases my pace when he's dragging me towards a gaggle!

Other than that, I've been able to do some more reading for pleasure. Last week was a nonfiction week, I finished up Once Upon A Quinceanera by Julia Alvarez and also God's Harvard. The Quinceanera book is about the Hispanic coming-of-age celebration, almost a mini-wedding, that is held for girls on their 15th or 16th birthdays. Julia Alvarez (no relation, teaches at Middlebury in Vermont) is one of my favorite writers. She's written several semi-autobiographical novels and a couple of wonderful books of poetry, and in this book she follows several girls through the leadup to their ceremonies. She explores the origin of the Quinceanera and spends a lot of time discussing whether these celebrations are good for the girls (a chance to collect everyone from the community who is invested in the girl's well-being) or bad (many of the girls end up pregnant in that next year, seeing their coming-of-age as permission to become sexually active, and also many families go deeply into debt to throw the parties).

The God's Harvard book was also very thought-provoking. It's about Patrick Henry College, which is a conservative Christian college in Virginia. Especially from my vantage point as a philosophy major, educated in courses where debate was required and no assumption was too basic to be questioned, it was really odd to read about an institution where certain viewpoints were simply not up for discussion. It's totally antithetical to my whole idea of higher education. Though, admittedly, Dartmouth's goals for its students are very different from Patrick Henry's.

Also, the creationist, not-believing-in-evolution thing drives me crazy. I'm a scientist, and part of being a scientist is accepting the best explanation of a phenomenon that we can discern from looking at the world around us. It's ruthless and often uncomfortable, but it's brought us delightful things like vaccines and antibiotics (and that's just in medicine, I'm sure Alex could come up with a bunch more physics/engineering examples). Besides, genetics is so intricate and awe-inspiring that it's a much cooler backstory than six days of finger-snapping.

Alex was telling me some interesting stuff about universities being hesitant to grant degrees to earth science PhD students who are six-day creationists, even if their theses deal with another topic. Now that's an interesting question about academic freedom...

Enough ranting for the evening! It snowed a little this morning, but not enough to stick. We're really hoping for a good skiing year, there are lots of great golf courses for cross-country. We're trying to figure out if skis would scare Jasper, or if he could come and romp around with us.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Almost As Disturbing As The Kinky Witch

Alex sent me this link, and as soon as I stopped laughing so hard that Jasper was concerned for my safety (and sanity), I decided to share:

1977 JC Penney Catalog

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Disturbing Decorations

Hilary and I pass this decoration on our way to work each day, and we
find it frightfully disturbing. I ask you: do you find anything wrong
with a Halloween decoration featuring a witch, hands bound over her head with
chains, tied up to a tree, and smiling?

witch

(click to see full-size)


Sent from my iPhone

Monday, November 12, 2007

Another week, Another rotation

On to week two of pediatrics! This week, I'm working in the newborn nursery. This is a delightful job, combining the opportunity to play with babies with a short schedule that has me out by noon most days. The consultant overseeing the nursery seems to be very good, and he took some time today to talk to each of us about our goals for the rotation, which sets things up nicely for the week. My main goal is to get more comfortable with the newborn physical exam, so that I can tell a normal baby from one who is having trouble.

Tomorrow night I'm going to be on call, which means I'll go to all the high-risk and C-section deliveries during the day and overnight. I'll be working with one of the second-year pediatrics residents, and may well see a classmate on the OB rotation down in the delivery room.

So for now, I'm relaxing with Alex, apple pie, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Jasper is happily shredding one of Alex's old shirts and awaiting his evening stroll. He's already been out running with me today, when I came home around lunchtime. He leapt up and headed for the door, wagging his tail, as soon as he saw me come downstairs in my running clothes and start putting my sneakers on. What a smart, happy pup!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Bedraggled Jasper

Bath time for Jasper! As promised, we took a few photos this time.

On the way to the tub:


Getting wet:


Lathering up:


Jasper bore all of this with a long-suffering air, and has been looking quite put out all evening. But every time he shakes, he looks a little less bedraggled as his hair starts to fluff out again.

We have given him some apple pie to improve his spirits. It seems to be working.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Date Night!

We had a very productive work-around-the-house day: hit up the farmers' market and the bread store (warm cinnamon raisin bread, yum), chopped up a ton of broccoli to freeze, ripped out all the dying annuals from the front flowerbeds, planted the new iris, got the leaves from the yard to the city compost lot, and worked on changing the dormer in our room upstairs from a study nook to a reading nook.

Once Alex got home from a quick trip into the lab to check on a spinal model-in-progress, we decided to celebrate our productiveness, or our dating anniversary (a couple weeks late), or the first week of my rotation, or some other yet-to-be-determined occasion, by heading out to dinner and the symphony.

We called the Redwood Room, our favorite spot, and were excited to hear that there was no wait. By the time we arrived 20 minutes later, though, the wait was up to 45 minutes, so we had to try elsewhere. We eventually had a delicious, if slightly rushed, dinner at City Cafe. Falafel, actually, which made us reminisce about the last time we had falafel, which was at the state fair (even though it wasn't on a stick, so I'm not sure it counted as official state fair food).

The symphony was spectacular this evening! This was our first chance to use our season tickets, since we were away for the opening concert, and we were happily surprised by how good our seats are. Tonight's program was titled "Best of Enemies," featuring Brahms and Tchaikovsky, who shared a birthday but apparently loathed each other's work. Maestro Lantz had chosen Brahms' Concerto No.2 for Piano and Orchestra and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5, and both were wonderfully played. He always writes great program notes, which makes the music extra interesting. (Sorry, I am not as clever as Alex at this computer stuff and so do not know how to link to these two pieces in iTunes. I can tell you that in addition to the amazingly fast piano work, the Brahms has some beautiful cello. The Tchaikovsky featured a lovely horn solo and then some oboe in the second movement. But you'll have to find them yourselves.)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Pomegranate


This is what the seeds from six pomegranates look like. These are very curious fruits, with a very curious heritage. I highly recommend giving them a try. We use these in one of our favorite recipes. It is a bit of work pulling the seeds from the husk, though. Pomegranates are in season now, more or less, so we bought these to pull the seeds and freeze them, so that we can enjoy it into the next year.

We try to be very consciencious shoppers, especially when it comes to food. We like to think that our purchasing habits matter in the grand scheme of things. Hilary is vegetarian (with vegan tendencies), I'm more or less vegetarian by extension. We buy from the farmer's market as we can. We have cut up and frozen lots of food from that market for the winter, on the belief that the energy used to keep it frozen is less than the energy used to grow, process, package, and transport the store-bought produce it offsets. Purchasing local is better for the local farmers, too.

It doesn't work for everything, though. We still eat chocolate, I still drink coffee. We bring back large quantities of Vermont maple syrup each time we visit the alma mater. Pomegranates are a tricky case, too - they certainly don't grow around here. The ones we just purchased were from southern california. Like I said, we try to be consciencious shoppers, but it doesn't work for everything.

Ashcroft on Wiretapping

Now, most readers of this blog are probably of a like mind to H and myself when it comes to the government's warrantless wiretapping program (past, present, and future). It is extremely sketchy at best, and downright unconstitutional in the main. One aspect of the whole case that is now making its way back into the headlines is the culpability of the telecom giants that assisted the government in this program. The latest FISA reform bill would have given those companies retroactive immunity for their participation. That bill has been held up by Chris Dodd, and so has settled to the background again for a while.

However, chiming in on the debate was former attorney general John Ashcroft. In an op-ed piece in the NY Times the other day, he lays out arguments for why this immunity should be granted.

On the other hand are a number of responses to the NY Times, including one from Russ Feingold. It all makes for interesting reading that a well-informed citizen should catch up on.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Pediatrics

My pediatrics rotation started yesterday. Like our other core rotations, it is 6 weeks long. This week, I am getting a subspecialty experience with the pediatric gastroenterologists. Next week, I'll be in the newborn nursery. The third week, I will be doing shifts in the peds emergency room. Then I'll finish up with three weeks on the inpatient hospital service (back to every-fourth-night call).

Peds GI is actually going to be quite applicable to family practice, since in addition to seeing rarer diseases such as childhood-onset Crohn's (an inflammatory bowel disease), I'm seeing some basics such as constipation and diarrhea. I've also gotten to work with some teenagers, which is an age group I really enjoy.

The doctors have been very good preceptors, taking plenty of time to explain their thought processes to me and refer me to useful journal articles. There's a resident on the service who has also been great about showing me around and sharing the interesting cases!

I'm trying to stay active even though I'm back to a clinic schedule and it's getting really cold and dark outside! This morning, I was actually up at 5:30. I had a migraine last night, which doesn't happen too often, but when it does, the only thing that really works is to go to bed, so I was asleep around 9:00. Since I had some work I needed to do, but couldn't bear to look at a computer screen last night, I got up early this morning to get that stuff done. Then I took Jasper out for a run before Alex and I headed in for an 8:00 start.

Jasper and I just got back from our evening walk, a short but very active romp along the bike path. Once we let him off the leash now, he takes off like a shot, and loves to run circles around us while we chase him and play with him. Then we practice "sit" while he's all worked up. He's really doing well and is getting more and more responsive to us. His response to "come" has improved drastically in the last week or two, he's willing to approach head-on at a dead run as long as I'm squatting down. Standing up, it's still a little too intimidating, it seems!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Weekend Activities

My, weren't we productive this past weekend! The weather was gorgeous - a definite encouragement to be out and about. Considering that the temperature is on its way down below 30 and the winds have been gusting up to 30 knots today, the weekend's nice weather, though chilly, may be the last for a bit.

We started off with the Farmer's Market. This was the first weekend of the Winter Market, which means that it was in a building at the fairgrounds. In contrast to last year's Winter Market (the first time it'd been held) this week was a wildly good time. There were folks at the door giving out coffee and pastries. A few vendors still had fresh produce (perhaps the last for a while, given that frosts are coming in more frequently now). We picked up a store of goods to lay in for the winter: broccoli (for the freezer), shallots and garlic (to hang in the cellar), leeks for some hearty soup. The market was bustling with activity. I hope that it remains popular - although it is difficult to think there'll be the same level of activity in February, when it's -15 and blowing.

One of my activities this weekend was putting together another set of bookshelves, as Hilary has been requesting for months now. They're not terribly exciting from the picture, I know, but still darn useful. It is a little tricky doing this kind of work with the tools I currently have, which are a far cry from the facilities that I got started with at Dartmouth. It helped a lot that I finally put together a cross-cutting jig for my tablesaw. The design is a replica of a set of shelves Hilary has had for years now - very quirky, too. The space for the bottom shelf is 10-1/4", for the middle it's 10-1/2", and the upper is 10-3/4". I like to think I could have done better, but opted for matching selves instead of better shelves.



I also raked the leaves. Ah the joys of home ownership. I truly love the large maple we have in the back yard. But, honestly, it drops so many leaves. How many? Examine the pictures below. The pile of bags is from two rakings we did in the last two weeks. Hopefully these'll be the last - the tree hasn't got anything left to throw at us. While outside raking, we like to let jasper out, and open the gate between our yard and the back-neighbors, so that he and the border collies can run around like crazy. A border collie is a marvel of nature - a perpetual energy source that seems to have no endurance limit. These two really don't get enough exercise, so they are naturally very rambunctious. While Jasper doesn't like to play fetch (he runs away from anything you throw at him) he does love to chase after the collies.




We also had one of Hilary's classmates over for dinner on Sunday. She cooked us some wonderful indian food, and we provided a chocolate-peanut-butter pie for dessert. In preparation for company, we did a blitz cleaning, including vacuuming the rug. Jasper, as you can well imagine, doesn't like the Roomba at all. He does like his waffles, though.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Who's That?

My class had a Halloween party this evening. (A six-week rotation block ended this morning with a big exam for a lot of people, so we had to celebrate a bit late.)

About half an hour before we were going to head over to Matt's house, we finally turned our attention to some sort of costume. Alex was wearing his Google T-shirt, so I suggested he just go as a softwear engineer. Then he realized that if he just borrowed one of my black turtlenecks and waved his iPhone around, he could go as Steve Jobs!




I went as Jen Rizzotti, with my UConn women's basketball shorts and a number 21 duct-taped on my T-shirt. Old hero worship dies hard.

Speaking of iItems, check out this hysterical sketch on YouTube: iRack.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Cross-Country Speeding

Wired has an article I was reading while in transit to Maine about a person named Alex Roy who attempted, and succeeded, to break the unofficial coast-to-coast land speed record. He took a souped up BMW from Manhattan to the Santa Monica pier in an insane 31 hours, 4 minutes. Do the math and that works out to an average speed of about 95 m.p.h. That's average speed. In order to make the average that high, you need to put the pedal to the metal when you can (up to 150 m.p.h.) to make up for time lost getting gas, in traffic, and pretending to be an average driver when passing speedtraps. That's why the speed record is unofficial - making it official would probably land you in jail pretty quick. The article has all kinds of interesting asides about the meticulous planning, his failed previous attempts, how he got started on this in the first place, and - most importantly - how one avoids getting hammered by the cops.

Reasons to Hate Cellphone Carriers

Wired has an article entitled "10 Reasons to Hate Cellphone Carriers." Without any difficulty they managed to stretch it to 14, and the comments at the end include many more. I'd say that, yes, cellphone carriers suck. Everyone knows it, everyone's experienced it, everyone's effected by it. Even if you are saying to yourself, "Gosh, my cellphone (and, by extension, carrier) doesn't seem all that bad," you should be aware of all the things that can be done with cellphones in other countries, for substantially less money than in the U.S. Most people don't know how backwards it is here.



As a way to fight back, I suggest backing Sen. Amy Klobuchar's (D-MN) bill that would substantially improve consumer rights when it comes to cell carriers.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Goblins!

Happy Halloween to all!

And a very happy birthday to Clara!

We have had 11 trick-or-treaters so far this evening. I think we had a lot more last year, so we still have tons of candy left. I'm sure it'll disappear right away if I take it to the student lounge at the med school!

Jasper has been very well behaved. We were really worried that the people traipsing onto our porch tonight would freak him out, but he's barely batted an eye. He's been extremely sociable in the last couple of weeks, even getting up to follow me around the house a bit. He ran some errands in the car with me today, including a trip into the pet store, where he was very well behaved and even sat promptly for a treat at the check-out register. Perhaps he will even be a real dog someday!

Past Halloweens have been much more eventful than this. When we lived in Norwich, we were just off of Main Street, and thus were part of the town trick-or-treating route that started at the school. The PTA even left a bag of candy on our doorstep for us to give out...though that was nowhere near enough, even when added to what we'd already purchased! Alex had to run to Dan and Whit's mid-evening to restock our candy stores. It was great fun, though, we sat out on the front step to hand out the goodies, and I spent most of the time gazing at my not-quite-24-hours-old engagement ring.

Alex and I also started dating on Halloween five years ago, so it's still kind of an anniversary for us as well. (Thanks Rachel. And Dave. And red champagne.)

A Blogging Machine

I have spoken before about blogging from the iPhone. Apple even has a commercial about it, you may have seen it on TV.

Well, that kind of blogging is done in one of two ways that I know of. The first is by using the Safari web browser built into the iPhone. It is the same as how I am blogging right now from my desktop computer, except it's on a mobile device. The second method, supported by a few mainstream blogging services, allows you to send an email to your blog. The email either becomes a saved draft, which you edit before releasing (again, via web browser), or it is posted immediately.

Well, that's all well and good, but the iPhone is such a capable platform that I think there is a better way. What I'll describe is a little specific to Blogger, partly because that's the platform I use, but secondly because it is owned/run by Google, which has some kind of development agreement with Apple (see the Google Maps application on the iPhone).

To turn the iPhone into a real blogging machine would start with a new iPhone application. You'll notice that there are currently three unused spots on the iPhone home screen (and an infinite number possible beyond) - this would be one of them. This application would have your logon information for one or more blog accounts, similar to how the Mail application has the account info for one or more email accounts. (As a bonus, these account settings would go beyond just logon information, but also include blog settings, preferences, etc.). Also like a Mail application, you would have an "Inbox" that would hold copies of your old posts, as well as an "Outbox" with drafts of new posts. Third, like the Mail application, you would have a fairly bare-bones compose window. The compose window would be laid out very similar to the compose window I am now using, complete with a series of formatting tools (bold, italics, insert hyperlink, etc.). The "insert picture" button would link to the iPhone's library, and allow you to size and crop images before uploading, in addition to determining the thumbnail size and justification (see Blogger's upload image window below).




Now, what makes this dedicated application better than the two traditional methods of iPhone blogging I mentioned above? The advantage over the web-browser based method is that you don't have to be connected to the internet to compose your next post. Like a mail application, you can draft and compose offline, then upload when you're connected. Although Apple toated Web 2.0 applications as being equivalent to iPhone native applications, there is a clear advantage in terms of user experience and performance in having the thing run locally. Compare a dedicated email client like Outlook, Eudora, Thunderbird, or Blitz to their web-based equivalents.

The advantage of a dedicated blogging application over the email method is that you would have access to the formatting tools I've mentioned above. Instead of composing emails, you are doing something more akin to word processing (a fine distinction, but one I feel is important). The blogging application, with its list of old posts and folder of draft new posts, seems a more tuned application.

Now, this is a good start, but it needs one more thing: an easier way to add content. Typing with the on-screen keyboard on the iPhone works, but is 1/3-1/10 the speed of using a real, physical keyboard. The images that you can capture with the iPhone are ok, but a way of getting images from real digital cameras would be nice. There is precedent for this: older iPods had an optional accessory that would allow you to offload images from your camera to the iPod's harddrive via USB.

Combine these two ways of adding content and you get the second portion of making the iPhone the ultimate blogging machine: a keyboard/Dock. When the Palm Pilot was the PDA in the world, there existed a thriving market of third-party accessories. Several companies sold keyboards into which you could dock your palm pilot. Some of these keyboards were real marvels, able to fold in half or quarters, resulting in a footprint the size of the Palm Pilot itself. Something similar could easily be made for the iPhone, and contain the all-important Dock connector. When the iPhone docks with the keyboard, the on-screen keyboard is disabled, allowing you to view the entire iPhone screen while typing. This would be an advantage not only in the blogging application, but anytime you need to type with the iPhone.

Having actual cursor keys and the ability to select text, copy, paste, and so on would be a real advantage. One could even have dedicated hotkeys on the keyboard to take you to the Safari, iPod, Mail, and Phone top-level applications. The real clincher would be to have a USB port on the side, to which you could connect a camera and transfer images to the iPhone.

Now, all this tossing around of ideas is great, but what would it take to make it happen? As I said, this would best be done through the Apple-Google partnership. There are enough coders and user-interface gurus between the two, plus a unique knowledge of the iPhone's inner workings, to make this very slick. The keyboard could be done as such things have always been done for PDAs and iPods - through third-party development. Offloading pictures from a camera directly to the iPhone would be tricky. However, camera USB drivers can be fairly generic these days, and the iPhone is built on OS X. I think the software tools necessary exist to be able to implement it. Moving the pictures from the iPhone back to a computer during the next sync is already implemented for the iPhone's internal camera.

Ordinarily, I would keep all of this to myself, lest someone get rich off my ideas. However, I am putting it here for all to see for a few reasons. First - I'm never going to have the resources to do this myself (even patenting the idea would be too much). Second, there is a likelihood, in light of Apple's announcement of allowing third-party development for the iPhone, there's a chance that someone (perhaps Apple and Google themselves) is already working on this. Third, if someone does come out with this, based off of what's written here (a very long shot, considering the small readership), I can always point to this posting as prior art and make a fuss. Lastly, I just think this would be really freakin' cool, and want to see it happen.