Thursday, February 28, 2008

In 'n Out

If you checked this blog title and thought about a tasty double-double with a shake and want to keep that image in your mind, stop reading now. Come back, like, some other day, dude.

Really, I warn you now that this entry is let it all hang out TMI about bodily functions, relating what goes in to what comes out. I warned you a while back that I was planning a blog about poop. You might not have noticed, you might have thought I was kidding. You might have been living on the edge and coming back anyway, you might have wondered what I was about. The wait is over. Let's see if I can make this poop talk both entertaining and educational. Don't say you haven't been warned.

Despite my huge warning, I don't think people talk enough about pee and poop (except at our family dinners). There's important health information there and when people don't talk about it, interpretive knowledge is not passed along. Apparently doctors used to ask if you were regular, but I don't know if I've ever had any physician ask me about my poop even that much. I've also never had one define "regular". The one time I brought something up they said it was no problem but didn't say why they thought so. I've given urine samples, but the doctors only see the resulting numbers. My acupuncturists tend to ask about all sorts of excretions, and I find those assessments more comprehensive than my western medical exams.

I got to thinking about blogging this when I saw an episode of "House" where a vegan girlfriend brought her boyfriend to the doctor because his poop was floating. Diagnosis? He'd "cheated on her" with an extra fatty cheeseburger. While I generally check whatever lands in the loo, I hadn't really paid attention to whether or not I had floaters or sinkers. And it hadn't occurred to me that fat in the diet would be the difference; I figured it was probably fiber because wood floats. I wondered why it never came up in my previous 35 years. I had heard some time ago that when King George had his fits of madness, his urine turned purple. (Modern medicine knows what causes this but I don't remember.) Anyway, either his bath handlers and physicians didn't pay attention or thought it was beneath their notice. It makes me think that had they paid attention, his life might have gone a little easier and England been a little more predictably ruled. Purple you'd think would be noticeable.

Back in the early days of the internet, along with the fractured history in which Drake circumcises the world in a clipper ship, one of the most oft received net humor pieces was the shit list with various mutations. It always seems to contain a few unmodified regulars like the clean shit, the ghost shit, and the corn shit. And years later I think of that list when I have one of the identified shits. Most distressing recently was when I got the 'pebbles shit' at Disneyland and my friends had to wait for me and I couldn't make progress and couldn't risk leaving. My brother had a sympathetic nervous system or something though because he claimed one that week as well. They don't have on the list the "half moon shit" that looks like it's been through a moon shaped extruder.

Somehow another friend and I got talking on this as well, and about how poop relates to health. She'd read that an "S" shape is the most healthy, indicating a good food balance. I usually get "C" shapes. We discussed whether Cs were short Ss or not, but didn't resolve the issue. I had a perfect S the other day and it was different enough to be memorable and make me think of her. It also made me wonder again how my nutrition gets interpreted on the back side. I have one data point that eating a whole plate of stir fried "new bamboo shoots" (looks like pop beads) results in a cow patty. Which makes sense because it's mostly indigestible fiber which is something cows are fond of. On the nutrition front, I tend to eat a big lunch then lot of salad or veggie stir fry for dinner. A little meat usually happens if I eat out or get some sliced ham. I don't eat much fish. And I sporadically take supplements.

Anyone who takes vitamins knows that B makes your P a glowing bright yellow. Anyone who's been to Burning Man (or like me, has friends who talk about it) knows that pee with color means you're not drinking enough water and you'd better start chugging so you don't dehydrate. If you eat asparagus, urine comes out with an intense, somewhat savory, smell. (If your's doesn't, investigations have shown it's your sniffer at fault.) One of my supplements (Juvenon- a mix of acetyl L-carnitine and alpha lipoic acid to repair damage to mitochondria which provide cellular energy) makes my urine smell with the same asparagus intensity and presence, but a slightly different odor. I asked their online doc and he said it's sign that my body is consuming the supplement and giving off the scented breakdown product. Ok, fine, but sometimes it takes me by surprise.

Recently, though, I started taking grapefruitseed extract on the advice of my podiatrist. She says it clears up fungus and yeast but doesn't destroy kidneys like Lamisil. (She also said to start with small doses as it "helps release toxins" and can make you feel flu like symptoms if one goes overboard with it, in case you're tempted to try.) Since I'm generally extremely healthy but for not being able to fight off yeast and fungus, I thought it might be a good idea. So far so good, I'll let you know about the toenail in a couple months, but the weird thing is that it makes my pee smell like I've just eaten fish. So like I do with most things excretory, I called my little brother. And he mentioned that his pee doesn't smell like an old fish dinner the day after indulging. I think I asked someone else and theirs doesn't either (that they know of).

I mentioned that I don't eat much fish. Partly it's because I'm not used to preparing it. Also, I tend to be a hoarder and buy food to use "sometime later" rather than right away, which isn't compatible with fish. But mostly it's because my pee stinks to high heaven the next day as if I'd just left the meal on the counter overnight. Does this happen to anyone else? I put up with it for lobster, but I get tired of day old shrimp, salmon, crab, or whatever stinking me out the next day even if it didn't have a smell when it went in. It doesn't come out through my skin at all, like raw garlic does for 3 days, but it's still unpleasant. And now I'm getting that same phenomenon from the grapefruitseed which has additives C,E, and Zinc but no fish, not even calcium from shells. And now that I've taken it for a couple weeks, the fishy exit smell has become intermittent.

Along with the fact that raw onions make my guts disco, apples give me diarrhea (since about age 30), and my fish stink doesn't digest, it makes me wonder what gut bacteria I don't have and what enzymes I don't produce anymore. I've had antibiotics every so often and I usually have acidophilous and yogurt afterward, but my digestion is definitely strange. Am I getting good nutrients from my food? Or is it all coming out in the end?

I have at least 3 friends who have had their guts surgically shortened. It's major invasive surgery. When the bowels are stitched back together, the doctors monitor your Flatus Status to check your progress. When you fart, you can drink again. When you pee, you can eat solids again. When you finally poop, you can go home. What I found out from one friend is that different regions of the intestines absorb different food related things - fats, starches, etc. I'd had some notion that it was just a chemically enhanced diffusion process and that some things were just absorbed or consumed faster than others and the length of the guts just provided dwell time. But along with major surgery it means that stitched up guts might not work the same or absorb the necessary nutrients quite the same.

This isn't as good as sectioning a bowel to find out how it works, but... The week before I moved to CA, I gave myself food poisoning eating twice reheated shrimp pasta. I thought the movers would show up to find my dessicated body. When I thought I could keep something down, I did a little experiment. I'd purchased a bottle of activated charcoal, used for combating poisoning, when my friends started reproducing. I never had to use it and noticed it when I was throwing out old toiletries for the move. Apparently it has an expiration date, but I figured it wouldn't hurt the food poisoning, and at best would bind up some germs, so I mixed it with soda per the directions and drank it down. My tongue, lips, and teeth went totally black. Really freaky. What I learned about my digestive speed was this: within 4 hours, some of the carbon had gone completely through; the next day, there was all black, all the time; the black continued to come out for about 4 days. So my colon expresses some stuff right through, processes teh bulk of it in a day, day and a half, and takes it's own sweet time to completely cycle the whole batch.

Still here? Cool.

Everyone Poops. Please comment with your knowledge of how your body works in this regard or how you think it should, in the spirit of getting some interesting knowledge collected, entertaining, useful, or just odd. I'm really curious. (No, I haven't yet checked Wikipedia on the topic of poop.) Does coffee make you poop? (My brother's contribution.) Does beer stop you up? (It does me.) Do you ever get the moon poop? (Is it a bad sign?) Do you get the fish stink too? What is the worst supplement/vitamin combo you've ever noticed come out later? Is your poop "S" shaped? Do you use your poop to tell you when a food is bad or good for you? If you've done an elimination diet, did your poop change? (How?) Do you have foods you stopped or started digesting at some age or event? Enquiring minds need something to read in the bathroom.

Humorous Pictures

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Medical Moron

Gah. All my projects are catching up with me and there's not enough time in the day to do them all. I think I did pretty well today at looking not-insane and not messing up my experiments. It was a near thing. I did pipe up during our core team meeting with the helpful "Ok, I get it: Blue like Water, Red like Stop, Green like Go" to help remember the facilities shutdown chart legend. I was probably the only one who needed the mnemonic. I was speaking like a retarded Dr. Seuss because I got about an hour of sleep last night. Yep, I'm moron. Normally I don't sleep that well, but I've been back to the acupuncturist and taking herbs and the last week has been filled with more energy and less sleep. (18 hours on sunday is too much.) But even I know that I need more than 1 hour of sleep. I even know that 7 hours tends to do really well for me. Knowing isn't doing.

What I did do... I did oversleep a bit over the weekend again, but yesterday was going ok. I wasn't very hungry for lunch so I went and got a small smoothie and I tried their new "energy" booster. As I was walking out the door, I read the fine print saying the new booster had caffeine. However, I didn't file that away properly because berry fruit smoothie doesn't read as "caffeine source" in my brain. I finished work and still had energy. After frenetically drafting a couple versions of my new kitchen I was still not getting "you are sleepy" signals at midnight. So I mocked up an upper cabinet with brown paper and taped it to the wall to get a sense of how imposing it will be. Not bad. It will do good things for the storage spaces.

1am, still no signal, but I know I should go to bed. Do I? Nope, I check my email and mock the lame Discovery offerings on TV. The Bermuda Triangle show was actually really good and had science. The "Loch Ness Monster" of Lake Champlain however was full of quacks, hacks, and whackos! Their programming was really scraping the bottom of the barrel this week. I finally got fed up and turned off the computer and TV and moseyed on to bed. Where I felt tired, but my eyes wouldn't stay still or shut. So I turned on the light and started reading a book (Allison Kent), figuring I'd drop off in a bit.

By the time I realized I wasn't about to drop off, and [smacks head] oh, yeah, I'd sucked down caffeine after 1pm, it was too late to take my emergency chlortrimeton (8mg overrides caffeine upper and helps me sleep) because I didn't want to oversleep my alarm in 3.5 hours. And I still couldn't sleep. I maybe got an hour, all told (and still hit the snooze for 20 minutes). Somehow I functioned today, but it was a medical miracle. Hopefully I can get home ok and sack out for the next 11 hours or so. I'm craving the zuchhini sticks from Claim Jumper though so I might have to make a pit stop on the way home from my 11 hour day at work after 1 hour of sleep.

Oh, and maybe stop at borders and see if they're selling Ed Gaffney's new book and Grimspace by Ann A-something, which came recommended.

Updated to Add: Did find Ed's book, and Suz's re-release, a book that has been recommended, a few more to round out the get the 5th romance free, and 4 things on the $1 clearance shelf: 2 of which I will probably keep, one of which I almost bought at full price back in the day. Started Ed's book at dinner and got sucked in while I ate fried zucchini and ribs one handed and got BBQ sauce wedged firmly under every fingernail on that hand but kept the book clean. And I remembered I took a picture at lunch. Here's your moment of zen.

dog in sunglasses with chew toy in truck
Happy dog in sunglasses.

Yes, yes, I know, bedtime. Now!

Monday, February 25, 2008

There's Green in Them Thar Hills

It's been raining here recently. We had a major downpour last night and I even got a little lightning. It really didn't rain my first winter here. This rainy season is making up for it. But the bizarro thing is that the local landscape that usually looks like the surface of the moon is covered in all shades of green. Except where mud is sliding down the cliffs in Malibu. I keep thinking of the original immigrants - yeah, the weather is fine the rest of the year, but if they came during rainy season, the try season would be a super shock to the system. Plus, how did they get wagons over these mountains?

I saw all this today on my drive back from Santa Monica where I went to wander around with a friend from NorCal. The place looked all lush. Speaking of which, we stopped in the "Lush" store and got a nice little hand scrub, wash and lotion treatment. Then I came back and fell asleep on the couch. Two hours of walking should not warrant a 4 hour narcoleptic "nap".

Friday, February 22, 2008

We Wish You a Merry

I've been all riled up recently about how objecting to intolerance is not intolerance but I'm still trying to figure out how to word it most clearly. In that effort, I wrote something that could be submitted for a masters thesis in some schools to an unassuming person who asked me for my thoughts when I objected to a generic forwarded email that said we should bring back "in God we Trust" on government sponsored documents and anyone who doesn't like it should "sit down and shut up for a change". And why government employees wishing me a "Merry Christmas" is not ok when they are representing their official role.

Brevity didn't have any place in my reply. But I felt really good about trying to work out why even saying "In God we Trust" is out of place in secular government money or documents, even if she got the brunt of it. Then she replied and asked for further comment. Don't poke the bear with a stick if you don't want the result... One thing I forgot and can't bring myself to inflict on her now. I remember hearing that Thomas Jefferson strenuously objected to writing into the declaration of independence anything about god, but got badgered into it and felt that sticking to his guns on the issue wasn't his top priority.

So in some ways, this was actually a good thing about my day even if it stemmed from aggravation.

Another was that I got good, quantitative data from my experiment that I can use to refine my process. Another engineer busted his butt to get me the data fast and I'm grateful and really psyched about it!

Third good thing was that today was the Engineer's week dinner. Our group got a table right in the front which was good because I could hear the speaker when he turned his head away from the microphone for half of every sentence. His topic was about the evolution of the pacemaker and other implantable medical devices. He worked on the electric retinas that I saw on Alan Alda's PBS science show. The coolest thing though is this little implantable tube called "Bion" which can assist people with limited or partial movement by boosting the stimulation of muscles. It's still in the works but there are human tests that are helping people.

Ok, I have 4 good things. The business outlook for the stuff that we make is good. If we manage not to mess it up, my mortgage is safe for a while. This is good news.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Let it All Hang Out

I had a good and bad day today.
Good: Had energy, woke up somewhat untired due to some new herbs and a treatment from the acupuncturist.
Bad: While it smells like orange cinnamon, I think he snuck in some extended release crack because I can't sleep either without dosing myself with allergy meds (my typical caffeine counter). I guess I'll just take the herbs in the AM now.
Good: I spent some late night time working out various solutions for working bookcases into the woodwork.
Bad: Sleeping might have been a better idea.
Good: My process development at work is working out so far. It might work, it might not, but so far so good.
Bad:Our schedule might slip on a big project due to 1 part in a huge kit of parts being delayed.
Good:After learning about the possible delay I got back to my desk and found an email from our other facility offering me their spare of that part, totally out of the blue. My boss thinks the tool karma is turning around.
Bad: Someone in the book club used one of the phrases that drives me insane. "If you don't like it here, why don't you just leave?" How about "I'm rubber, you're glue, what bounces off me sticks to you?" It's at the same mental level and an equally useful 'argument' that instead of addressing the issue at hand says "you have no right to an opinion here, you have no right to express an opinion here, it's my way or the highway." The thing that really gets me going on it is that people say this line and claim patriotism and freedom of expression. "We like it here, so you should be grateful for such wonderfulness." But by its very nature, this expression is about shutting down the expression of anyone with a different opinion. It's about implying they have less right to expression than you do. That's not freedom, that's not a reasoned argument, That's being a bully.
Good: I stepped in and called the bullshit bullshit.
Bad: I stepped in instead of just letting it go. (I justified it because while it's ok to ignore unpleasantness, it's not ok to ignore a bully. When nice people see that bullies are allowed free reign on the playground, they decline to come back to play.)
Good: I found a new, cheap Vietnamese place and had dinner there.
Bad: The restraunt took over the space of my first favorite local breakfast joint.
Good: While driving there, I heard a great piece on "Fresh Air" on NPR by a bible scholar and professor whose studying has turned him agnostic. (Interestingly enough on LAink just now a guy got a tattoo of the very passage being discussed.) And I felt compelled to lay out why, here. (No, you didn't do anything to deserve this suffering.)

He was relating the 'Lot' story about suffering in a very clear and thoughtful way and I realized afresh how much I detest that story in all possible ways. It teaches all the wrong things:
  • If someone harms you, let them keep harming you. BAD.
  • If someone harms you, don't ask why or expect an answer. BAD.
  • It's ok to let people in power walk all over you, even more you should embrace this behavior indefinitely. BAD.
  • Kids are interchangeable and easy to replace. (Did they ever ask Lot's wife how she felt about bearing ANOTHER 10 kids after the first 10 were wiped out on a whim?) BAD.
  • A divine being can cause unnecessary suffering and still be considered good. BAD. I was just reading an essay whose author defined good an evil based on their actions around "unnecessary suffering" which resonated with me. Lot's suffering never had a point, except that he was a patsy on a string. There was no reason for it - divine entertainment not being sufficient reason - and since no reason was ever given to the people it was supposed to be a lesson for, so it was entertainment. Suffering for no reason, or for entertainment, is unnecessary suffering. To cause such a thing is to be on the evil side of the good/evil divide.

Good:I came home and watched some of Obama's speech and it was wonderful. It addressed things I've been wondering about and was full of his trademark hope. He said that what he got from his family was love, education, and hope. I have yet to listen to him that I haven't felt buoyed up. That man has a rare gift.

So. There you have it. Perhaps I should not be left alone with my own thoughts so often. Hopefully letting them out here will keep them from echoing through my mind and gaining more importance than they deserve.

Who do you root for?

I once read an article, maybe in Reader's Digest, where the author had asked her husband why he was rooting for the same football team that had been the arch nemesis all season. He sounded crazy to her and me when he replied. Here's the sequence:
- You root for your home team first.
- If your home team loses the semi-finals, even to their arch nemesis, you root for your regional team even if you normally revile them.
- If your regional team loses in the finals, you 'switch your allegiance' to your conference winner in the final game.
- In this way you always have a favorite in the Superbowl or whatever.

I never understood this. I freely admit it. You like that team or you don't, right? Well, I understand it today. I read an article on politics and noticed in the comments a lot of statements/threats like "if your candidate wins, I'm voting for the other party, I hate them so much. Take that, so there, nyah, nyah." Um... These politicians are currently pitted against each other in the finals. They are on opposite sides. But they're on opposite sides in the same conference. They really are more alike than different. One of them will win. And if you want a different party in the white house, you have to vote for the Democrat. If you want the same thing going on, you need to vote for the Republican. You won't do anything to the losing candidate by voting for the other side, but you will punish yourself and your fellow Americans by switching parties.

One reason I detest negative campaigning, especially in primaries, is that the dirt you throw now sticks later. And it has time to grow. Not that you have to say your opponent is good. You can say "Here are my strengths, here are my weaknesses. Here's how I will capitalize on my strengths and shore up my weaknesses." (If you offer up a weakness, you can spin it to do the least damage, plus there will be less motivation to keep digging for dirt.) You can compare and contrast your S&W with your opponents'. You can explain how your plans are better plans. You can give powerful, uplifting speeches filled with hope.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


I'm not much for delayed gratification. It's about 60/40 whether I lose interest completely rather than be whipped into a frenzy of excitement waiting for the great day. I tend not to pre-plan my leisure actvities. Being someone who doesn't plan ahead much, theater tickets are usually beyond me for shows that sell out. Aside from not buying tickets on the first day, even if I had tickets, I'm the kind of person who might forget 6 months later to even go. I'm everyone's favorite last minute date - I'll go to most any concert or play you have one leftover ticket for, as long as you don't give me too much advance notice that your other, better friend backed out without paying.

But there's a phenomenon that I can often take advantage of if I remember the date of the show in time and manage to get to the box office early - last minute tickets that were being held for various reasons get released within a couple hours of showtime. And sometimes they're really good seats. The downside is that sometimes you go there and can't get in, and often can't get seats together if you go with someone. But today I lucked out. And thank god, because I looked at all the show offerings they've got and this was the only one that even interested me remotely from January to April. Yesterday when I stopped by the box office at our local theater, the box office lady couldn't find me even one single seat. I figured that might change closer to showtime and walked over to the place about an hour before the 'show' went on.

My lucky seat was A13 - 5th row, nearly center, with lots of legroom because the orchestra pit line was in front of me. So my view was pretty much this.
Adam and Jamie of Mythbusters
It's a little blurry because I couldn't use a flash and I'm not a terribly stable platform, even with my elbow braced. There was also a moderator I trimmed out. So sad for her.

I might have been one of 5 adults in the theater who was not accompanying an 11 year old boy, although I did the a smattering of girls too, which was good. The show was promoted by a "Discovery Science Center" group who wants to build an actual facility to work out of. I don't know if the money went to this cause or not. I do find it ironic that the most Hollywood-like thing I've taken advantage in my move to LA of was a show of two guys from San Francisco.

The show was fun. The guys are exactly who they seem to be on the show. Adam is the engaging one and Jaime is more quiet. And as I suspected, they are colleagues, but not really friends. They legitimately get on each others' nerves, but have hammered out a business relationship that works and they enjoy themselves. Jamie talked a bit about the reason he likes to work with Adam rather than do the little competitions that they sometimes do is that their ideas are usually so different from one anothers' that working together they come up with something better than either could do individually. The whole being greater than the sum of the parts kind of thing. In the Q&A at the end someone asked when they'll stop doing the show and Adam said "when they lock the doors". Good news for us fans! And there are plenty of fans. I didn't see a single one of the 1800 seats without a body in it.

Interesting tidbits:
  • The insurance guys are ok with plans that say "when it blows up", they are less good with "if it blows up". So make it look like it wasn't an accident...
  • When they shoot up pig carcasses, they keep them refrigerated, dig out the shrapnel and donate them to soup kitchens, but Jamie still thinks it's a waste of meat.
  • Adam wants to do a "surreal gourmet" show with cooking eggs on a sidewalk, roadkill dishes, etc... But the only thing we'll probably get is what they're shooting next week, literally. They'll be tenderizing meat with explosives.
  • They're voracious readers! JH actually majored in slavic languages.
  • One show you won't see is where they tested whether or not the cereal box has more nutrition than the sugary cereal inside. They had 3 mice each in 3 cages: one control, one cereal diet, one cardboard box diet. The cardboard mice started to look a little skinnier and twitchy. When they came back from a weekend, there was one very fat mouse left in that cage.
  • If you see them running hell for leather, follow them.

They also had to leave out the "lighting farts" section of their farts show, along with making Kari wear embarrassing fart detecting underpants with a strategically placed microphone. Apparently lighting farts was too much for the producers who thought it would offend viewers. I think that's hysterical because every 11 year old boy would think it was great. And I've never heard my grandmother laugh harder than when she related the story of my grandfather's college roommate setting his ass hair on fire while lighting his farts. The "Flatus Ignition Seat" segment with the high speed camera footage did make it to YouTube, though, courtesy of MIT students who got the clip we saw today. I see they still haven't fixed the spelling in the title page.

One of the serious things they discussed was great for educational purposes - getting stuff wrong and making mistakes often tells you more than doing stuff right. Neither one is a trained "scientist" but they do, IMHO, a great job with scientific method even if their sample set is a little small. They admit that due to small sample size, they can't totally stand behind all their conclusions, but they do what they can to try and work through the issue methodically. Myself I like the progression from testing the causes to get one conclusion, to testing whatever causes need to be used to get the expected/myth conclusion. Or just blow it up. That works too.

One of the fun things they discussed was that they've now done so many explosions that they've started to discuss them as if they are rating wine. "That one was a slow starter and had a lot of moving force, but rumbled on for a while". "This one was a fast shocker that blew stuff into shrapnel". You could probably also find the explosions clip reel they showed on YouTube. I should write and encourage them to come up with a nice "flavor wheel" like thing for the explosions. What, in a bang, maps to "fruity, with a hint of spice"? If you get a chance to see them, and you're a fan of the show, go.

Yay! I took advantage of living where I do. (Although it turns out I could have done this where I used to live too, since I worked walking distance from MIT.) I walked over and then afterward spent most of the afternoon ambling around outside, looking at the enormous goldfish in the pond whose eyes look like craft store googly eyes, chatting with my brother on the phone, and taking in the fine weather.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Linked Up

Another 3 or so things to talk about that have nothing to do with one another.

Some of the bloggers I keep in my sidebar (so I can remember to go there) have some good stuff to say. Like this, although I was never that hot on Edwards. Perfectly acceptable fellow. Not necessary. Also in Sarah F's blog, she links "A Daily Show" video segment with JS's response to Mitt Romney's bowing out mad-lib speech. I used to think he could have been a decent fellow, but he spoke the hate and he is now dead to me. Please let me know if you think I might enjoy reading someone you link up to.

I spent most of yesterday evening looking up causes and ages of death on the CDC website to get a handle on what might be considered acceptable risk. There's some really cool stuff there. In 2004 there were about 260+ million people in the US and about 2.4 million died. Most of varied diseases related to old age or some age plus bad habits. People who died young mostly did so due to accidents (mostly motor vehicle, poison, firearms or falling accidents), less so due to non-accidental accidents self-inflicted or otherwise. The rates for these things were fairly consistent from age 15 to 75. US kids from age 1 to 15 tend not to die off much. I was fairly surprised to see just how old most people are when they kick off even though my grandmothers are about 87 and 92 and I happen to know that a life expectancy of 45 doesn't mean you'll die at 45 so much as it means that most kids in that country don't live to age 5 and haven't had their shots.

BTW, Belated Happy Chinese New Year and Prelated Valentine's Day.
I actually meant to say something about the year of the rat since most of the animals I have aligned myself with at some point are rodents. (Otters are in the dog family and not rodents tho.) The rat is one of these aligned rodents as I was born in the year of the rat according to the many placemats in my chopstick wielding history. I don't think I posted my goals yet. I wrote them down, at least. I think it's something like do well at job, date, find local dinner/hiking pal, remodel kitchen, run 10K, finish painting main room, blow glass, think about getting a master's degree or something, read. Because let's face it, I'm way ahead on the reading. I spent most of our lunch meeting reflecting on the kitchen remodel.

Happy Today because:
Good chat with mom; good chat with grandma; progress on work project; salad that came with pizza lunch had lots of stuff in it, none of which I found objectionable.

Moving On

So as delightful as that was... Please do go read the comments. I'm delighted to know that other people (at least 1, anyway) have criteria for voting for president that describe the person, not their stance on particular issues. The only reason I care about the particular issues is because of how it speaks to what type of person they are and help predict how they'll vote. Someone who cares about the populace in general would, to my mind, work to promote policies that allow every adult as much freedom as they can get in their personal life, while restricting business enough to protect individual people from unnecessary risk caused by the businesses and other people, and showing the people how they go about doing it. (Individual privacy, Governmental transparency more often than not, and some mechanism to protect the weak from the strong when the strong start to encroach.)

Moving on to the stuff that affects me every day.
Today (and yesterday) at work I was floundering around on my most important task. I'm getting more and more data, less and less clarity. I was supposed to discuss the data with my boss at 4. I didn't have it collated. I thought about avoiding it. But then I thought, WTF, she needs to know where I am and where I'm not. Like usual, it turned out to be a really good talk, she helped me clarify things without saying "wow, you're a dumbass", and I have just as much data but a lot more clarity. I also have enough other things going on that we were able to talk about other mostly substantive stuff I'm working on for about a half hour more. Including whether to create a separate two letter designation to fit the naming convention for a deposition step, coming up with a reason it's necessary, and deciding to call it "MB" for "metal, backside" instead of "BM" for "poop".

I also meant to post earlier about something which made me inordinately happy (but I was off reflecting on politics or hibernating). One of my tools uses metal carriers to ferry normal sized test wafers into a tool designed to hold larger, thicker, mounted wafers. We're moving from 4" wafers to 6" wafers and I have to supersize my holder too because the handler won't run two different sizes. My equipment engineer and I discussed various possibilities for recreating the current version in larger format, but there are issues there we wanted to avoid. So we wrote up some success criteria, took the list and the small version to a local machine shop, discussed possibilities and together with the machinist, were able to come up with a design that should both carry the wafer and solve the other issues. When I picked up this $300 disc of metal with a couple of bends and holes in it, I was totally thrilled. Not only does it seem to be an improvement (it fits in the regular cassette!, it's cheaper and less prone to warpage but we can't test it yet) but it makes me feel happy to just look at it. *I* made that happen! It took the combined brains of 3 engineers and 2 machinists to bring it about, but I drove it, and fostered those discussions to make it work. Something that didn't exist before does now because we worked together. And it's shiny! As independent as I am, I really like working together with people to create stuff.

It occurs to me that I like glass for the same reason, although I often think I get more enjoyment from the process than the product. I should look up those various LA glassblowing contacts I went to such effort to get and go back to sticking arms on vases. What's kind of funny is that one of them keeps popping up "Linked In" as "someone I might know" but I'm determined not to add her until we've met in person. I don't know what would possibly drive the connection on LI, though. She's a minor exec for a movie studio or something and my other contacts are engineers not artists.

Now I'm rambling. To summarize: I'd like a president who values people more than power, I enjoy working for my boss, we solved a problem at work that gives me joy, and I need to work on getting in touch with people, not just posting to the ether.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The O/C

For the last several days I've been trying to figure out what to say about Obama vs Clinton and why I prefer Barack to Hillary. But the more I think about it, the less it comes down to facts I can nail down. When I put the major issues at hand (as decided by the press) into the various calculators, Obama comes out on ahead of Clinton in 4 of 4 attempts (although usually as the 2nd choice to various also rans because of the lack of decisive support for civil rights for gays). When I look at their voting histories or statements side by side, on the surface they appear to be close to each other and about 65-75% of what I'm interested in supporting, where that final unmatched 25-35% is taken up by one issue usually favored only by Republicans and the fact that I just plain don't give a damn about most of the big manufactured "issues" that get so many people up in arms and asking ignorant questions on national TV. If Obama weren't running, I'd be supporting Hillary as the most qualified and well matched candidate that I'd be willing to support. But Obama is running, and I like him more.

The first time I heard Obama speak, he gave that oustanding address at the Democratic National Convention. It was eloquent, inspirational, and personal. I heard it on the radio while driving home and stayed in my car for many minutes after I got home so I wouldn't miss a word. If he had kicked Kerry out of the running that night, I would have voted for him. At this same DNC, which was held in Boston, I went with some friends to a Women's Rally with other democratic big names such as Carol Moseley Braun and Madeline Albright, who were awesome and awe inspiring, and Hillary Rodham Clinton, who wasn't. I'm not sure if I discussed this with my friends at the time, and have avoided speaking about it since in case Hillary became the best candidate, but her speech and demeanor turned me stone cold. Her speech was rigid, conventional, and pandering - full of "requisite" soundbites rather than something I could identify as her voice. And after nearly a decade of listening to a man whose every spoken word makes me want to vomit and foam at the mouth, I really want a president I enjoy listening to.

The reasons behind why I respond with joy to Obama and freeze up to Clinton come from why they are saying what they say and voting the way they do. Or at least my perception of why since I'm not close personal friends of either. So it's still subjective (maybe it does come down to a feeling) but I can at least analyze it a little. Obama gets that our international standing is at an all time low. He gets that the current administration leads with fear and tries to get us to hate and fear others - muslims, immigrants, etc... to get us to fall in line with policies that strip our civil liberties and constitutional rights in the guise of providing some dubious "safety". His policy toward immigration is driven by a desire to reduce fear. Fear is reduced when people live in times of plenty, and leaders promote hope and have plans for building the future. All of his speeches are about doing what is best not just in the now, but for the future, how America can again be a force for good, and how he'd like to lead us there.

Clinton, on the other hand, speaks very emphatically about how she is tough and will beat the Republicans, not about reducing fear. Her talking points sound like they've been poll tested to the point where she no longer has an association with them. She talks a lot about solving problems that I don't have with solutions that I don't really like, for reasons I find dubious (like "the people say I need to have an opinion and this is the best tolerated one"). But I know other people like them because they're what I see in the headlines - without any reflection or analysis given. This whole immigration non-issue is being tackled from the point of an immigration problem, when, like Obama, I see the problem being more driven by fear of competition for meager resources and the immigrants are a cheap scapegoat for other problems. I feel like she votes to keep getting elected, not to lead.

People who don't know where their next meal is coming from don't have the resources to consider their actions on the future. If they die of starvation, their grandkids aren't an issue. They will eat the last gorilla for dinner. Never mind that we Americans are far from dying from starvation, but this administration has fostered us thinking that we are constantly on the verge of being wiped out by terrorists and WMDs giving us the same shortsighted outlook as refugees. Cynthia Tucker, a journalist from Atlanta, wrote that the American Dream is not democracy as such; it's the idea of economic mobility. The idea and reality that our lives are not determined by fear or birthright and anyone can become wealthy and successful and powerful is what makes America a place of hopes and dreams. I would argue that our country has been denuded of hopes and stripped of dreams as our economy erodes (they're accepting Euros in manhattan shops these days) and our infrastructure crumbles. Hillary doesn't make me hopeful. Hillary doesn't inspire me to dream of a better America. Obama does.

As leaders, Hillary has a history of getting shut down when faced with opposition. Obama has a history finding common ground between opposing forces. Maybe she's learned from these defeats, but I still see her pushing a preset agenda, rather than negotiating a win for both sides. The Clintons can play dirty, but they don't do so enough against the Republican spin machine; they choose the wrong targets. I honestly don't know how Obama will handle a smear campaign, but he says he's willing to strike back hard and fast - and somehow the nastiness that started early in the primaries got shut down. Who shut it down? I don't know. The fact that it stopped speaks well of both candidates. The attack ads are making a resurgence, though so I don't know if this state of trying to win on merit rather than yanking the rug out from the opponent will stand.

As for electability, a black man and any woman are hard sells in the red states no question. But Obama doesn't have the virulent hatred that Clinton has to contend with. If she gets the nomination, the Republicans will have a field day hating her, and not have to support their own candidate at all. It's not fair, it's not nice, but I honestly believe it to be true. Obama is not a total unknown, but he hasn't made as many enemies. It's going to be tougher to rouse against him because the predisposition to dismiss him out of hand isn't there. And for some reason it's still ok to print and discuss tripe like "women can't control their emotions" as if it is either fact or relevant, but one can't say outright the same thing about a black man.

If we elect Obama, a man with an African father, an American mother (who was into microfinance), an Indonesian sister and a Chinese Canadian brother in law, the world sees the new face of America not only as someone who understands the world outside our borders, but as a symbol of change. I'm not sure if Clinton does the same. I do remember the Clintons taking Chelsea on world tours to meet and greet the world's leaders on every school vacation - that was a good move of theirs. I know that Clinton has cultivated relationships with world leaders. I just don't know if that will hold sway with the world's populace.

Clinton, if elected, will probably walk into the office with a full cabinet and major advisors selected, ready to rock and roll. A lot of good could come from that. But I think a lot of the people will be from the old administration and however good I had it during the Bill Clinton years, I don't want to go back there. We did Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush already. I want something new, I want something different - and I'll buy into the soundbite - I want change. Granted, I'm someone who got a job on the opposite coast of a very large country just to force some change on myself, I might not be representative in wanting change that involves unknowns.

Obama has given every indication that he will listen to and incorporate the advice of experts into his plans, so I hope he comes up with a top notch core team quickly, but not all from the Clinton clan. Obama has enough experience that he knows how things work, but not so much that he's given over to it as the only way things can work. One has to understand the rules in order to break them deliberately, but living with the rules for too long makes one lose that sense of needing to break them.

We live in interesting times to be sure. I not only have one, but two qualified "minority" candidates to choose from for president who have a real hope of being elected. If Obama doesn't make it, I'll throw in behind Clinton, but I hope I don't have to. This wound up being more touchy-feely than I'd hoped. Please let me know if you have any facts to back up my feelings. Is it so wrong to want a president I can listen to with pride?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


Ok, so I am a little flabbergasted that Obama didn't take CA. People apparently play their voting cards close to the chest as all the ones I got a peek at, so to speak, were for Obama. I'm thinking about blogging my reasons for O over C. Let me know in the commments if you'd rather I didn't.

To cheer myself up, here are three things that made me happy yesterday:
  • I got to vote for the best of good options, not for the least bad of appalling options.
  • Several people called me to talk, and despite my being a little strident about a particular issue here and there, no one told me to put a sock in it. (And really, I tried to listen. I swear. I really wonder sometimes why my parents didn't drown me to get me to shut up.)
  • We took an early group lunch to go to a huge soup and salad place because it's healthy, and I only overate just a little, not a lot, and most of it fibrous and all of it tasty. Plus, lunch with people. If we do our regular lunch tomorrow, it will be a chatty week.
And today:
  • It turns out our weekend night shift tech is really sharp. Of all the people I've trained on my new tool - several per shift over 4 shifts - he's one of 2 who just got it right away. I'm going to be able to use him for help with more complex experiments, I hope.
  • I figured out what was bugging me (most) about the aberrant way we do FMEAs at the new job. We rate the severity of the layer failure (which is pretty much always 8 of 10, 10 being worst) but don't take into account the fact that there can be different severities from the various causes. So one failure is not necessarily like the other. Although with FMEAs it always feels like you have to re-create them from basic principles even when you're on top of your game. And whether or not I was, I felt like I was on top of my game.
  • HR was responsive and accurate and got my direct deposit sorted out and re-instated paper receipts of my pay stubs. We have to tunnel through the interwebs to get the e- version and I'd really rather have someone send them to me for proof. Even if it is more paper, it is paper that has a defined home.
Anyone else had something good going on? Or do y'all have a case of the Februaries?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Did you vote?

If you're in one of the Super Tuesday states, I hope you voted. Probably should have had this public service announcement more than 11 minutes before the CA polls close, but still. It seems that the better place to vote for who you want is in the primary. By the time the final election comes around, one vote hardly matters. But right now, I feel like my vote today matters more.

I just spent a quality 64 minutes listening to this while doing some exercise. It's a bit of a tell for how I voted. And why.

Although the YouTube video of Obama pronouncing "nuclear" correctly in the David Letterman countdown was nearly sufficient to clinch the deal. /NEW-clee-ur/ not /NEW-kyuh-lur/ where u is really a schwa.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Worth Waiting For

I hibernated this weekend, including staying off line. I avoided paying my bills. This is nuts when you consider that some of that task is also getting my reimbursements together for my medical spending account. Sometimes I'm really good about it. Sometimes I'm a lump. After having fabulous houseguests for 2 weekends in a row, and my most stressful week at my new job so far, I needed lump time. Otters hibernate, right? Besides, I saw my shadow.

During my hibernation time, I actually picked up my body rev and did some arm and ab work. (I did a full leg and ab routine tonight which is 30 minutes.) I read/skimmed 3 novels in a series that I didn't particularly like, but somehow felt compelled to plug through despite TSTL moments in every one, particularly from the heroes. If I was more deliberate about it, maybe you could call a Mythbusters Marathon "meditation". I started watching the Dirt reruns in anticipation of the new season. I ran off at the mouth Friday night at some guy at the Mexican food place, making me realize I need more face to face time, or at least talking time, so if you get a call from me, don't be surprised.

There, now wasn't that worth waiting for? Don't you want to be me? Yeah, me neither sometimes. So I thought about various things to blog about that are more interesting to me than what I'm doing.

For instance: Why do toilet paper holder manufacturers have to go to such great lengths to keep people away from that second roll? There has to be something deeply embedded in the human psyche about resource comparison to drive that destruction. Plus, that behavior is seen elsewhere, like at a food buffet, although I'd normally avoid pairing those two places in one example.

On the TP, if you start from 2 fresh rolls, out of necessity someone will crack into a fresh one. With the hors d'oeurve ("HD") buffet, people circle around a freshly laid buffet for several minutes, unless food has been a long time coming, because no one wants to disturb the symmetry (or perhaps they don't want to seem hungry) until finally the instigator in the room breaks the seal and grabs that first piece.

Shortly after starting the first one (TP roll or HD tray), people only take from the one that has been started. Perhaps out of inertia, perhaps they don't want to go to the effort to undo the glue, cut that first piece, or break the symmetry. Perhaps they only want to use something that has already been found desirable.

Around the midpoint of removal, a switch happens and people start drawing on the previously untouched backup roll or HD tray. Perhaps because the first resource seems aged, or like yesterday's news, a little less fresh. (Do you have that fresh feeling?) The original "better choice" starts to become less desirable. Even seeing the trays put out at the same time, the second tray becomes all that. From this point, people still draw from both, but at a faster rate from the less-used one until both resources are consumed down to about the same level.

Around, at a guess, 5-15% remaining, people start passing over the HD tray, because who would want the leftovers? This happens even if the tray has only been out for 15 minutes and people know darn good and well the mini Bouef Wellingtons are no less fresh than 5 minutes ago. Good caterers know this and will move the dregs of one tray onto the dregs of the other tray, or onto a fresh tray without waiting for the dregs to clear completely. Or they sic me on the tray. I love me a good buffet.

At this low point with the TP, people might bypass that stall, if there are other choices with fuller rolls. They will, however, use it from necessity, unlike the lonely HDs. Unless... there has only been one roll all along with the second one being blocked off until the first is completely consumed. Then otherwise sane people turn into bears and rip apart the machinery to get at that untouched roll of "newer, better" paper. TP dispenser makers should just let go of the idea of full use of that final roll, and let people at the 2nd roll when the first hits 15%. It would save a lot of savage destruction, which eventually leads to that 2nd roll being always available but hard to dispense, or completely inaccessible.

With the genius breakout size of the enormous roll for public bathrooms, you'd think it would be solved, but no. Because when do you change it out to minimize waste? So they made dispensers with a large roll and a small roll for the leftover. You'd think this would solve the problems of running out, reducing waste, and not damaging dispensers, but no. They don't put the world's greatest minds on toilet paper changing duty, at least not for long. So you get people who see that the enormous roll is down to less than half, into the "beginning undesirable" region, never mind that it still holds more paper than 4 double rolls for a home dispenser and someone will check it again in 4 hours, so there's no risk of running out, especially since no one has touched the leftover roll yet, and still they change it out and try to cram it into the too small leftover sections. This leaves two overstuffed rolls that no one can get any paper from because they're wedged in so tightly they can't turn and those claws at the bottom tear up your hands before you can get a handful. But if you complain about it or offer as a suggestion to the housekeeping staff that if they have to force the roll on, we can't actually use it and to just let the big roll get down to a smaller size before changing it, you sound like an obsessive compulsive control freak.

Now that the leftover hors d'oeurves are broken into crumbs and I can't get the dratted paper off the roll, maybe it wasn't as interesting as I thought. But it would be interesting to figure out the psychological driver behind this behavior. I think it's from our primordial ancestors. Because you wouldn't have such a prevalence a leftover canapes or destroyed TP dispensers if this wasn't some concept of fair, safe use from way, way back and found in the mamalian? lizard? portion of the brain