Friday, December 24, 2010

Would you like to restart your computer now? YES!

Yesterday, I broke my mother-in-law's computer. When turned on, it would show the Dell logo, then a cursor would blink a few times. Then blackness.

An hour later, after much rebooting and Windows startup repair utility failing - twice - I managed a system restore to a point before I broke the computer. And then I spent another hour reassuring my mother-in-law, and fixing the things I had gone over there to fix: installing a new mouse (the LED in her mouse had burned out - who ever heard of that happening?) and removing expired antivirus software.

The cause of the breakdown? When prompted "would you like to restart now?" after installing software for the new mouse, I said "no". And then I uninstalled the expired antivirus software, which also required a restart. Only, after doing those two things with no restart in between, the computer was no longer able to boot.

I have never before broken a computer that severely. It was especially scary because I did it to someone else's machine. Yikes.

Moral of the story: if your computer wants to restart, SAY YES!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Lactose and osmotic pressure

Since college, I have had some issues with lactose intolerance. My degree of tolerance has seemed to go up and down, which is puzzling and frustrating. After a recent bout, I decided to do some reading on the subject to try to gain more understanding of (and more control over) my situation.

I started with a Google search. After reading several webpages, the information was all starting to sound the same. Until I got to Wikipedia: "lactose... raises the osmotic pressure [in] the colon."

Osmotic pressure? I think I learned about that in ninth grade... I had to click through the wikilink to figure that one out. So, having something that cannot cross a semi-permeable barrier (gas and other by-products made by lactose-eating bacteria cannot cross the intestinal wall) causes water to cross the barrier (making watery, um, colon contents).

It looks like the unchangeable part of lactose intolerance is lactase deficiency: the inability to digest lactose in the small intestine. So the lactose travels down to the large intestine, where it is eaten by bacteria. At that point, the degree of symptoms (or even if there are any symptoms) depends on the behavior of said bacteria: how much gas and "increased osmotic pressure" they produce while eating lactose varies widely from bacteria species to bacteria species.

So I can eat cheesy pizza one week, and have polite bacteria that dispose of the lactose without causing me any trouble. The next week, not-so-polite bacteria cause me to seriously regret that cheesy lentil and leek loaf. How to encourage the polite bacteria to keep up residence? There seems to be a feeling that eating the same amount of lactose every day can help, but nobody really knows. So I haven't actually gained any more control from my reading.

But at least I can laugh while thinking about my situation as a problem with "osmotic pressure." Thanks, Wikipedia.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

New line of communication

At work, I may call a customer without knowing who I need to talk to. Sometimes I have notes from coworkers or predecessors, extension numbers and names that are useful. Sometimes the notes are hopelessly out of date. Sometimes there are no notes. Regardless, after navigating voicemail systems and explaining myself to secretaries, I often meet a person I will work with over and over again. This was the case with customer A.

I have been at my current job for six years. In that time, my contact at customer A has answered his phone once. At first, he would call back to respond to the voice messages I left. A few years ago, he stopped returning my phone calls: instead, a coworker would bring me reply he had faxed over.

Taking this as a hint against voice messages, but not being too fond of faxes, I tried sending him an email. His email address was printing in the header of his fax. It bounced back to me: invalid address.

I sent him a fax with my email address. He replied, from a totally different email that what was printed on the fax. Success! In the time since then, I have come to rely on his quick and helpful replies to my email inquiries.

Last year, a coworker asked me to get some paperwork from customer A. "You're the only one who can get a hold of anybody there," I was told. I'm not sure how I developed this mystique among my coworkers; I was somewhat bemused. I made the contact as requested, and met a new person at customer A, one who handles paperwork.

She now emails me on a regular basis with questions. I get the impression that before acquiring my email address, she suffered these questions in silence. Certainly none of my coworkers seem to have any previous contact from her.

Last month, a person from customer A's accounting department emailed me. I put them in contact with our accounting person. How we could have done business with this company for decades without them knowing our correct accounting contact makes me wonder.

I am somewhat disturbed that so many of my coworkers and so many people at customer A seem unable or unwilling to communicate with each other over the phone. I am happy I have been able to improve the connection between our two companies with electronic communications. The whole experience leaves me with puzzled emotions, but has led me to one firm conclusion: email is a very powerful tool.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Chemo-ically treated hair

Saturday, I saw my sister-in-law's family. The occasion was their son's fifth birthday.

We exchanged pleasantries with my in-laws. My brother-in-law commented to me, "I didn't know you had curly hair." I gave my standard reply, "It was the drugs they gave me."

It is common knowledge that chemotherapy usually makes one's hair fall out. Its later effects seem to be less commonly known: when hair comes back, it is often a different color and texture.

Pre-chemotherapy, I had dark brown, almost completely straight hair. Now, I have medium brown hair with a pronounced wave.

Having people comment on my new hair texture bothers me. Not that I have any problem with how my hair looks (I actually think I look rather cute with it). But I feel like I'm marked: the chemotherapy changed me in ways that I had no control over. The hair changes seem benign, but what else did the drugs do to my body?

I will try not to dwell on it. I think I will be pretty successful. At least, until the next time someone notices my hair.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

They're like potato chips

One week ago, my partner and I met with a woman who lives nearby. She breeds birds, mostly parrots. We were interested in a hand-fed budgerigar (parakeet) she had for sale.

She gave us the pitch for the local bird club, told us about the need for foster homes for large parrots, and gave us a brief tour of the birds she owns. We handled the bird we were interested in. Before we put him in our carrier, she made sure his wings were safely clipped (we don't want any escapee parrots!) and trimmed his nails.

There was a moment when we were all staring at the bird's little feet kicking in the air near the nail clippers. She looks at us and says, "You know that birds are like potato chips." I must have looked pretty blank. She went on, "You can't stop with just one."

I laughed. This purchase brought our parrots to four; we will always remember two others that have passed away. It is a joy to interact with them, and to watch them interact with each other. I was especially grateful for their presence when I was fighting cancer.

No, I thought, I could not imagine having stopped with just one.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Holy nickname

Last spring, my bible study group read the Song of the Sea - what the Israelites sang after crossing the parted sea while fleeing the Egyptians. One thing that caught my attention was the nickname "Yah" used in the song. It is, the commentary explained, an abbreviation of the YHWH formal name of God.

It made something click for me in the worship services: Halleluyah. Learning it growing up in a Protestant church, and seeing it used in novels, I had always thought of it as just a word of praise. The past six years of attending worship services that include Hebrew let me realize that Hallelu is a Hebrew word: Let us praise. And "yah" is a nickname for God.

The name YHWH used to be pronounced by the High Priest inside the Temple during the High Holy Day services. Two thousand years ago, the Temple was destroyed and the office of High Priest was discontinued. The prohibition on saying the name outside that specific circumstance is such that the vowels and pronunciation have been lost. The Bible records an instance of the death penalty being imposed for inappropriately speaking the name YHWH (Leviticus 24:10-23).

And yet, there is this nickname. A nickname so pervasive that it is part of the most common praise for the Lord. Halleluyah. Holy nickname.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Cook hopes

I just ordered three cookbooks from Amazon.

I am in the process of researching slow-cookers. Two of the cookbooks are for the slow-cooker. I hope the information in them will help me decide on a size and give me an idea of which features are most useful.

I am afraid this is overambitious. The past few months, I have only cooked one or two meals a week. (The partner and I eat a lot of frozen meals, and eat out a lot.) While my hours at work have improved from this spring, the stress from work is worse. I often feel so mind-numbed that all I can muster up the motivation for or enjoyment of is flash games on the internet.

I hope things are improving, and planning to spend more time cooking is an expression of that hope. I also hope that a slow-cooker meal, where I could do the prep the night before, would work better with my schedule.

Planning and working toward a better future. That feels good to do.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Making my bed

Children often argue with their parents about chores. I was no exception. Making my bed was a particular sticking issue. My father kept telling me I would be more comfortable sleeping in a freshly made bed. My own experience proved otherwise - I was perfectly content sleeping in a bed with mussed covers. There had to be more to this bad-making thing. Turns out, most people appreciate the aesthetics of a made bed. It's good for socializing to have visible parts of your house look nice - making the bed is for the community, not the individual.

I've been thinking about that while attending services for Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. The idea behind the holiday is for people to reflect on how they can be better, and lay out an ethical plan for the year. Sounds nice.

But... it doesn't seem to work. People who attend Yom Kippur services (or comparable practices in other religions, such as Catholic confession) don't seem to have any higher standards than people who are religiously apathetic. I don't see any different behavior in myself now compared to my religious-service-free college days.

So, if the purported effect of making us better people doesn't pan out, why do we come to these services? My theory: the same reason we go to weekly services. Not for ourselves, but for the community. Those who pray together stay together and all that.

I like the community at my synagogue. It provides me with study opportunities, opportunities to give back to my local community, and social interaction with a wide cross-section of people. I'm glad we have events such as Yom Kippur that keep us together as a group.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Happy New Year

I grew up in a town with a much higher Jewish population than my current city. On major Jewish holidays, there were generally multiple people absent from my school classes. Everyone was kinda aware of the holiday season.

Yesterday at work, three coworkers learned for the first time that I am a synagogue member. They kind of stumbled into it asking how my day off was: no clue that Thursday was the start of the Jewish New Year celebration.

At least I didn't go my husband's route, telling them that we all dress up in a giant dragon costume and set off fireworks indoors.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Lack of taste

Tuesday, I was eating grape tomatoes, picked off my own tomato plant. It is really rewarding to have a successful vegetable after so many disappointing years. And they taste good, too... just as good as the store-bought ones.

I remembered all I'd read about home-grown tomatoes. About the extra flavor that vine-ripening gives, how the more delicate varieties for home gardens taste better than the bred-for-storage-and-mass-transportation commercial brands. People are driven to write songs about this wonderful flavor experienced by the successful tomato gardener. I'm not seeing it in my tomatoes.

Perhaps the brand I chose is the culprit. Or perhaps my gardening: my plant had a rough start and took about 80 days to produce its first fruit: much longer than the rated 60 days. It may not be getting all the sun and fertilizer it needs to reach its full flavor potential.

Then again... the people who rave about homegrown tomatoes also rave against refrigerating tomatoes. Not just the homegrown ones, but any tomato. The cold can break down important flavor compounds. They say. But not for me: I have done experiments, and cannot detect any taste difference between refrigerated and non-refrigerated tomatoes. Maybe it's me.

Last summer, my sister came to visit. Our conversation drifted to her college classes. She talked about her food science class, and shared how it had improved her appreciation of flavor. Not as much as her classmates, though: some of the things they could smell, she could not detect. This struck a chord with me. I cannot count the number of times friends, family, and coworkers have complained of a smell I cannot detect. "It must be genetic," I told her. Our sense of smell is sub-par.

Perhaps my poor sense of smell comes with a poor sense of taste. I think this calls for further research. Today, I'm going to a tomato tasting festival. Will they all taste alike to me? Or will I discover what I've been missing? Let the experiment begin!

Update: OK, so the partner's not up to a 3 hour roadtrip this morning. Maybe next year?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Not good enough to help

When I was growing up, one of the stories my mother told me was about my grandmother's childhood. When my grandmother tried to fold laundry, she didn't do it right. Her mother told her she couldn't fold laundry, and the mother might as well do it herself. When my grandmother tried to clean her room, she didn't do it right. Her mother told her she couldn't fold laundry, and the mother might as well do it herself.

When my grandmother had children of her own, she was an extremely poor housekeeper. My mother has strong memories of not being able to have friends over because they couldn't stand the dust. My mother also remembers the regret my great-grandmother expresses over her impatience with my grandmother. It was very important to my mother that she walk a middle path: clean enough for company, but standards at a place where my sister and I were capable of meeting them. She did not want to make the mistakes of her mother or grandmother.

Another story my mother told was of trying to get my father to help with household chores. He tried to do the dishes, but he put them away in the wrong place, so my mother might as well do all the dishes herself. He tried to cook dinner, but he didn't have the side dishes ready at the same time as the main dish, so she might as well cook dinner herself.

I think I have avoided that particular mistake of my mother's (I think it's cute when I can't find a dish because my husband found a better place for it). Seeing how hard she tried to avoid it, though, and still fell into that trap, makes me wonder what habits I have that I am too blind to see.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Tomato plant: 1 Gardening advice: 0

In May, I planted one cherry tomato plant. I tried a new location this year and hoped to get more than a handful of tomatoes. And at first, my plant seemed to really take off.

At the end of May, I went to check on my plant. Most of it was gone: one or two deer mouthfuls, I suspect. All my hopes wavered. The plant did sprout new stems, and I staked them. All I could do was hope for the best.

I was worried, though: my first gardening book, Bountiful Countainers, warns against secondary stems: it says they only make leaves. It recommends pruning away everything but the main stem, where all the fruit would be produced. My main stem was pretty much wiped away. I wondered, had that been my only hope for fruit?

Yesterday, I was ecstatic to find blossom buds on my plant, on all four stems. And so I have learned: there is more than one way to prune a tomato.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ripening berries

The mulberries are ripe. We have at least three trees in our yard: no matter where I am doing yardwork, I can stop and snack on a few mulberries.

The gooseberries are ripe. My neighbor helped me cut down a bunch of smallish elm trees last year, and the gooseberries really like the extra sunlight. It looks like I'll get several dozen berries, up from less than five in previous years.

The raspberries are ripe. This is about on-time from our 2006 and 2007 experiences. But it surprised me, because we didn't get berries until July in 2008 and 2009.

I won't do any formal berry harvesting this year because of my work schedule. I will enjoy seeing these reminder of summer every time I walk through my yard.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Facing mortality

I visited family recently: my mom and grandparents. While I was there, my grandparent's fridge broke. I went to their house to help set up the replacement.

One of my tasks was to transfer all the decorations. I started with the letter magnets - two sets, larger and smaller letters. The sets are decades old, ones that I played with as a child. I put some up randomly, and spelled a few words with others.

Next in the pile was my cousin's artwork: it fit neatly in among the letters and words. There were some magnets with cute sayings that held up the artwork. I was mildly proud of the arrangement I'd made.

Finally, I came to the last item. I examined it, wondering where it would go on the fridge. It was an envelope. I read the letters to myself: EMS DNR inside. "Emergency Medical Service" I puzzled out. And then, "Do Not Resuscitate."

I stood there for a little while, just staring at the packet. My mother came over. She looked at the packet, looked at the fridge, then said, "It doesn't seems like it fits, does it?"

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hearts and stomachs

This morning, I watched the routine at my mother's house. She went across the alley to check on my grandparents. We listened to the morning news. The dogs were fed, the cats were fed. Her husband left for work - "Don't forget your lunch!" admonished my mother.

Making meals for a loved one seem to me like an excellent way to express one's love. It's convenient - they don't have to meal plan or cook - and often it is healthier than other options. Being cooked for can have a dramatic impact on one's health - my mother's husband lost over fifty pounds the first year they lived together.

I am visiting my mother and grandparents this week. I have been really struck by how much care revolves around food: my mother packs lunch and cooks an evening dinner for her husband every day, and most days cooks a mid-day dinner for her parents. Cooking and other care for her parents is a task she shares with a sister and a brother's girlfriend.

Seeing all this food-caring makes me wishful in two ways. One, I wish I had more time so I could take care of my own partner by cooking healthful meals. Two, I wish my partner would take care of me by planning and cooking our meals. There are obstacles to both wishes. But being reminded of how good cooking can be, perhaps these obstacles can be overcome.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Dirty parrot

Last night, I was winding down from a long day. I made a cup of tea, and sat down on my couch. As I sipped my tea, my cockatiel got excited. He wavered back and forth on his perch, then climbed down the cage to the couch. Step, step, step, hop! Onto my mug.

He likes tea, but this was more than the usual excitement. This time, he didn't just sip the tea. He got some in his beak, shook his head to throw it around, and then fluffed his feathers up to enjoy the moisture. He looked like he was thinking about jumping into the mug. Our blue-and-white budgie came over and wanted to do the same thing. Poor dirty parrots - I've been working so much I haven't bathed them.

Today, I brought out the casserole dish. I filled it halfway with lukewarm water. The budgie jumped in and splashed around, beating the water until he was at least damp all over. The cockatiel likes to have help from a spray bottle - he gets really soaked. Afterward, they preened. And preened. And preened some more.

Now we have good, clean, happy parrots. It was a fun day.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A mouse did it

Two weeks ago, the telephone line in our computer room stopped working. My partner and I took a break from internet and phone calls. We read books, we hung out with each other. My workload is still crazy heavy (one week I was there for 80 hours!) which helped keep the phoneline a low priority.

Yesterday, I traced the cord around the room and into a large closet. Way at the back of the closet, where the roof slopes down and you have to stoop, there is a knot in the floorboard. The hole it leaves is mouse-sized. And in front of the hole, the phone line was neatly chewed through.

It was quick work to patch the wires together. But thanks, mouse, for a refreshing break from the always-on connectedness of internet.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


Yesterday morning, I was at Bible study. We started the sixteen verses that contain the ten commandments. Most of our discussion centered on Exodus 20:5-6, which follows the commandment against idolotry:

I, the Lord, your God, am a zealous God, Who visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons, upon the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Me, and [I] perform loving kindness to thousands [of generations], to those who love Me and to those who keep My commandments.
The idea that innocent children should be punished for the sins of their parents, aside from being repugnant, directly contradicts other text in the Bible (e.g. Deuteronomy 24:16.)

One commentary put an interesting spin on the passage: perhaps it is not a statement of intent to punish. Rather, it could be an observation of the moral interdependence of parents and children. Children who are abused, for example, are at significantly elevated risk of becoming abusers themselves.

We also talked about the ratio of bad effects—three to four generations—to the "thousands of generations" for good effects. Does time really increase the amount of good in the world?

I remembered part of a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr, and looked it up when I got home:
The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.
It's a hopeful statement - bending toward justice. I find it kind of inspiring to think of the arc reaching back to Moses and the commandments. May we continue to guide the morals of our society toward justice.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Wanna take a break?

Yesterday, a supervisor and one of my bosses asked me to join them: they were going for a cigarette break. I wasn't sure how to respond.

I have come to a point in my career where being a non-smoker is a (mild) impediment to further advancement. Not something I had foreseen, and not a welcome development.

On the other hand, I'm well-liked enough to be invited. I think that's a sign I should just keep doing what I'm doing. No tobacco necessary.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Advertisement and body image

As I mentioned last week, I am spending a lot of time at Pogo. Pogo is an advertising-supported service. This means I have been watching a lot of advertisements.

In these ads, a common product is an expectorant. If you have a cough or sinus pressure, say the ads, take this product: it will get the mucus out. To dramatize the eviction, the ads anthropomorphize the mucus. Green people who live in our lungs or sinus cavities are shown riding motorcycles, swing dancing at clubs, having family reunions, or reading bedtime stories to their children. These green people are bad, imply the ads.

All the green people are obese. All the ill people—"good people" being harmed by the green folk—are skinny models. In addition to the "you don't have to suffer sinus pressure or a lingering cough" message, these ads are sending the message "take our product and you will kill the fat person inside you." It's absurd and disturbing at the same time.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


I have been feeling burned out. When at home, I avoid intellectually stimulating activities - I read very little, I don't write (here or on Wikipedia), even knitting sessions have been rare. Most of my free time is spent playing flash games on sites such as pogo.

Pogo offers many multi-player card and board games. While I am overstimulated from work, my introvert nature takes hold: even the minimal contact of playing an internet game is too much for me. Solitaire is more what recharges my batteries.

Yesterday, I stated playing dominoes. With other human beings. A sign of recovery, at least for this introvert.