Thursday, August 29, 2013

How Many Bubbles In A Bar Of Soap?

Two stories today, two sides of one of my favorite themes: stupidity. One is about being more stupid than necessary, the other about somebody else needing to make you feel stupid.

On the job, we often pick up specimens to take to a large central lab for processing. One important piece of information we need is the proper temperature to keep the specimen at while transporting it. The wrong temperature can damage the specimen or at least invalidate test results. It may need refrigerating, freezing, or to be kept at room temperature.

The term of art for the latter is ambient. You would probably think that a trained clinical lab worker would be familiar with the term. After all, we are. It appears on our instructions occasionally, and where appropriate. However, temperature is not always specified, and it is then our duty to ask the person at the lab where we pick up for the proper temperature for transport.

I am continually amazed at how few of the people handing me their specimens actually understand what I'm asking when I inquire if it requires ambient temperature.  While it's remotely possible their puzzled looks are their surprise that I understand and use the term, and I'm trying to be generous here, my favorite dumb reaction is, "Oh no, room temperature is just fine."

*    *    *    *    *

Yesterday was a reminder of how many folks need to make others feel stupid in order that they can feel superior. It was the 50 year anniversary of the March on Washington, and at least one of the speakers referred to difficulties placed in the path of black would-be-voters 50 years ago in order to deny them the right to vote. It's a timely reminder, as the recent SCOTUS decision opens the door for states to install new laws with the same goal.

Those state laws are designed and defended more subtly these days, using code words and problems which don't exist to justify them. They aren't as egregious as previous laws from the Jim Crow days. The most famous of those was a so-called literacy test which required the black people - never whites, they were assumed competent to vote by their color - to answer impossible questions like, "How many bubbles in a bar of soap?" Nobody has ever tried to count them, and even if they had, conditions would change with every bar and every user.

After being reminded again yesterday of that infamous question, I spent a bit of time yesterday imagining trying to come up with a question, or an explanation of the parameters, even faking a number as an answer to that on a test. Of course, the whites requiring an answer would mark every answer wrong, no matter how obtained, how well reasoned, how researched. I'm willing to believe there was no "right" answer it was possible to make, no key somewhere to judge against. Any answer or no answer, it all just proved that the black person trying to answer was just too stupid to vote.

And yet a little consideration yesterday gave me the only possible answer. It depends, of course, on the question being asked just that way. The answer is... ZERO. None. Zip. It's a trick question. You can stare at a bar of soap for a hundred years and never see a bubble. Hold it, unwrap it, rub it, toss it, put it on a shelf. Ivory, Dial, Zest, Irish Spring, motel mini-bar, whatever. There are no bubbles in a bar of soap until you add water! And that question doesn't ask about soap and water. Just soap. Hence, no bubbles.

I might even get away with that answer, being white.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Another Cute Ad

You know I pull no punches when it comes to awful ads. But I can also give kudos when I think it's earned. This time those kudos are earned by the ads using Paul Bunyan, and even Babe the Blue Ox, for promoting the new MNSURE campaign promoting what many call Obamacare. The theme is land of 10,000 reasons to need health care.

You see a (mock) statue of Paul in a variety of accidents. Skiing results in him on his back straddling a tree, or walking into a tree and falling over backwards. He's on crutches with an IV tube and in a hospital gown, and on and on. By far my favorite involves a pile of sawdust at his feet caused by a woodpecker whittling away at his head. They are clever and funny. There may not be 10,000 of them, but there are a lot, and each makes a point.

Apparently, they are also controversial. The Mayor of Bemidji has taken offense. Bemidji claims Paul and Babe as its beloved mascots. It seems they are also sacred, untouchable, and never to be taken lightly as they are in this series of ads.

Really? Seriously?

Could that umbrage really be directed at the fact that the ads are working? I could almost suspect I smell a Republican.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Dark. And Silent.

The topic for the radio show was about the few places left on the planet where you can get completely away from light and noise pollution. The guests and callers discussed their experiences with both, including one fellow who, after spending 4 weeks alone in the BWCA, finally heard the slow, low pulsing sound which the Native Americans he knows call the heartbeat of the earth. It was almost intriguing enough to make me want to try it.

Almost. Perhaps if I were twenty years younger.

But I was reminded of the times I came closest to pure dark and pure silence. Just not at the same time, at least not so I noticed.

Dark was found in Wyoming on a camping trip back in '95. Paul, Steve and I were traveling with a car and a tent. Steve knew a cheap campground where his father had taken him many times, with the barest of amenties, part of the National Forest campground system. In this case amenities were a campfire spot, a fairly flat space for the tent, a picnic table, and an outhouse a ways away. We were up out of Alpine, along the Grays River, clouded with snow melt at the end of June. Sunset brought elk down out of the wooded areas into the meadow, and we sat for a long time just watching. Our neighbors were few, and kept to themselves. There was no electricity anywhere since we left town, and that was miles back. With mountains rising on all sides, there was no light whatsoever once the sun went down and the campfire was put out.

About 1:30 in the morning I woke, needing to use the outhouse. I couldn't find my flashlight in the dark, even though it was right where I put it. Perhaps I was just impatient, under the circumstances. I had shoes to put on, after all, before leaving, and tent zippers to manage. But I had my new Timex watch with Indiglow, and that was quite sufficient to light the path and locate what I needed. I remember stopping a couple times in awe of the stars in the sky, clear and moonless at the time. Being a country girl, I thought I knew what a dark night sky was, but this was well beyond what I'd ever known.

Silence was a different thing. It was early on a winter Tuesday morning. I noted that after the fact as a reason for the stillness: people at work or school, not up and about yet along the tourist routes. And that's what this was, driving through the Wupatki National Monument in the high desert of Arizona, a side trip on the route from Flagstaff to the Canyon. I didn't want the main ruin, though I'd swing by later for the restrooms. The place I picked to visit was the Wukoki ruin, an offshoot of the offshoot road. I stopped the car, got out with my camera expecting a visual experience, and instead - or in addition - found the profound silence.

There were no cars passing by for about 20 minutes, nobody stopping by chattering and kicking up dust on the trail. There wasn't even a ranger posted there like there is now. There wasn't a breeze yet, and not a bug buzzed by. No birds called. Not even a jet overhead for about 20 minutes. Just the silence, so profound it was stunning. I hated to shatter it with even my footsteps, though I did. I'd pause every few steps to take it all in. I wondered if the inhabitants knew the silence of that place, being a community with all the noise people generate even when they're quiet. Or was the silence their legacy?

The ruins perched tall on a huge rock, defensible from all but the centuries. Behind me the San Francisco Peaks rose in their snowy glory. In front the desert floor dropped gradually away towards the Colorado River and the Painted Desert, well beyond my view. Sage and salt bush dotted the wind-carved red sandstone landscape. In that small chunk of time, before a jet finally passed overhead and a carfull of noisy tourists drove up, this timeless place was all mine, and sacred.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Left Sock, Right Sock

Somehow it had just never occurred to me that it might be desirable or even necessary to designate socks as left or right. Of course I know that feet are so designated - I'm not an idiot. But for all the rest of my life, all the hundreds of socks I've worn, any sock is a sock is a sock. They all seem to have fit just fine, as long as I pick the right size, meaning ever-so-slightly snug. A wee bit loose means bunching and blisters. But you knew all that already.

So why the switch?

I buy my socks in the sporting goods store. They have to be thick so my shoes don't rub and my dermatographic uticaria doesn't kick in. (Allergy hives to the uninitiated, caused by pressure, irritation, pinching, rubbing, and resulting in itching like hell. Kinda like under the bra on a hot day, if that's not TMI.) The only place which supplies proper socks is the one which sells to hikers and hunters, and of course they are only in the men's department. Nevermind, because that's the only place I can buy proper shoes too, is the men's department.

The sporting goods store doesn't have motorized shopping carts. They do sell on-line, but I want to feel the actual sock to know what the thickness and quality is. Of course, the socks department is at the far wall of the store. And the store is not tiny. As a result, once I get there I am NOT in a mood for browsing. I only go every two-three years, when the last batch has worn out, and I go determined to buy the best thing I can find quickly, in an acceptable color and price, and about a dozen pairs of whatever that turns out to be.

Have I mentioned before that I hate shopping? No? Well, I hate shopping!

This latest expedition I lucked into two things: a very helpful store clerk, and some seating in the socks department. Once I found something adequate, there were only two pair of them left in the store. Yes, he checked the stockroom. I grabbed them. So what else might he recommend that were within my parameters? He found several pairs on a display rack that were everything I needed, and I could walk out with as many pairs as I needed to buy.

Just as long as I didn't mind the left sock, right sock thing.

I didn't think I did. How would I know? Hard to imagine they'd be worse than regular socks, especially since they came with "L" and "R" sewn into the pattern near the toes. Even in a half-dark room I should be able to sort those out into folded pairs without a problem.

Well, being awake is part of it, I have discovered, but that's not the socks' fault. I quickly developed a system that makes it nearly brainless. The first sock I pick goes across my leg. The next one either matches it and goes on the pile, or is the mate and the two get folded together and tossed in the drawer. Yes, literally tossed. Who needs neat piles when folding over the tops locks them together until time to wear them?

Being awake is also helpful when it comes to putting the left sock actually on the left foot, I have discovered. Missing it is noticeable. But hey, they are not so tightly woven that it's hard to remedy. And laughing at myself does brighten the day just a tad. Just think: footwear and entertainment for the price of one!

What a deal!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

All the Drama, None of the Excitement

It's been a weather day. For some, a WEATHER DAY. I've been watching clouds grow, darken, spread tops, drop rain, shed lightning bolts, move on. Weather announcers informed us of Tornado Watches, Tornado Warnings, Severe Weather Watches and Warnings, changing timelines, tracking locations, measuring hail, reporting downed trees over power lines.  Yeee Haaa, let 'er rip!

Me? I've spectated. To be sure, it's kept me awake. No yawning behind the wheel. Not today.

I even managed to drive into one severe storm location. Once there, the streets were wet, already starting to dry in traffic areas, with the blackest clouds, the ones still dropping everything they could manage, just north a mile or so, or already off to the east. Not one drip for me to use my wipers on.

When I made my delivery to the nursing home, I arrived when the staff had plenty of time to attend to locating the proper person qualified to sign for the heavy-duty meds I brought. They had just finished getting all the residents back in their rooms after bringing them into the central hall for the tornado warning. It had canceled a few minutes before my arrival.

The next serious wave of storms followed discretely behind me all the way home, arriving politely a half hour after I unloaded the car and sat down with the computer.

I'm trying to decide just how disappointed I really am.

Replace or Refurbish?

It's a very old scooter, at least as those things go. My dad got it after his hip replacement surgery, or at least one of them. Medicare paid. If I had to guess, it might be 30 years old. And it's a monster. None of this coming apart into polite, light little pieces. You can remove the wire basket, seat and batteries, but what's left is still heavy. It takes two to load and unload, and once in the car, it's wide enough to take a lot of space. But it's a workhorse.

Once my dad deteriorated enough that he needed company on his scooter treks, but still enjoyed them as outings, we picked up a second one so whoever went with him could (nearly) keep up. This one is modern, no piece over 30 pounds, and just doesn't quite have the speed of the old one.  But no matter, it still works. And we learned to tape down the speed control on Daddy's scooter to limit his top speed.

When Steve and I honeymooned in Arizona, both scooters came along in the back of the car. It made some of our plans bearable and possible. Without dogs along, both fit. And with both of us to lift and assemble, things were fairly smooth. When I left him in Sun City last winter without a car, the old workhorse took him nearly everywhere he really needed, in range of 3 community centers, the grocery store, pharmacy, bank, and a lovely little Mexican restaurant.

But it got glitchy. Many times it quit on the way home, requiring Steve to push it or get a push. Not helpful. It began to shock him when he touched the key. Not the kind of transportation he needed. It came home with us last spring, and he switched over to the newer scooter for excursions in this neighborhood, including the 4 mile round trip bike trail. At least here there is a car available in the evenings and on weekends, making fishing possible, along with shopping.

Our first thought was to get Steve his own new scooter, courtesy of Medicare. But his (now former) doctor nixed that after sending him on a runaround to get the proper one ordered, which is the main reason she's now his former doc. The plan had been that then we'd offer the old one up on Craig's List cheaply so somebody else could refurbish it. Now it looked like we'd be the ones doing the refurbishing.

The local (18 miles away) scooter store has a repairman they work with. We got on the list, meaning about a week wait. Thinking the batteries might be dying, we took them to the Battery Store to be replaced, but they tested fine after a night's charging. That saved about $200 from the anticipated cost.

Last night the repairman showed up. He took about an hour working on it. A couple loose connections were corrected and a pinched wire fixed. The piece causing the shock through the key was moved back a tad, being too close to the key, or the key being too long for it. Whichever.  I had feared a whole new wiring harness would be required, and hadn't even wanted to estimate the cost, just hoping it was less than a new scooter. As it turned out, is was less. Much less. It all came in under the $75 minimum for his house call.


And Steve started a conversation with him about other items which might be available to make life easier, more accessible.  I jumped in near the end to discuss options for camping after I retire, when we want to do some traveling while we still can, especially when Sun City is the main address and we're looking to escape the summer heat, see mountains, visit family. They are available, but we need to decide just what we'll be using before we decide what's needed.

Meanwhile, Steve will have a scooter he can depend on for Sun City living, and I'll have one to get me through the airports when I fly in and out and we both have no car down there, as in Christmas this year.

And a final piece of good news: Steve got directed to physical therapy, a new and much better therapist this time, and has been doing his exercises faithfully. His knee pain has gotten so much better that he's quit taking the "good stuff", those heavy duty pain pills. One day he stood up wrong and needed pain meds again but made it through with Tylenol. That's all.


Monday, August 5, 2013

Hoping For Hope

No, that's not redundant. It's where I am, waiting for a verdict to find out if there's hope, to see if I qualify for a relatively new procedure. If I do, it might mean a diminishment, possibly a temporary end to at least some of the knee pain without the full disability required by surgery for a couple months.

I've known about this for a while. I have a friend, much younger than I am, who's had this or something similar done every six months for years now. It involves injecting some kind of lubricant into the knee to cushion against the bone-on-bone grating which happens after cartilage loss. She swears by it.

However, with no insurance, I haven't even bothered to check it out. My Medicare coverage starts next month, and the evaluation appointment to see if this procedure is right for me is free. I scheduled it for tomorrow. From what I know about the condition of my knees for a couple years now, this is a strong possibility. And Medicare covers it.

There's lots to find out yet. Do I qualify?  Is the procedure itself painful? (I have bleak memories of a long ago cortizone injection for a heel spur, both agonizing and ineffective.) How long do I stay off my feet after? Can they do both at once? Will there be a cost over what's covered? How long might it last? What possible side effects? If I'm a candidate, is it guaranteed to lessen pain? Or just one of those things that works for a group of people indistinguishable from placebo? Just how much of the pain is from shredded tendons and  unaffected by this?

With all that uncertainty, I'm just hoping for hope. I haven't let myself do even that much for a long time.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Finding the "Any" Key

I'm a bit of a technophobe, though I've come a long way. Part of it is knowing - or fearing - that the wrong move will cause a catastrophe. Part of it is trying to muddle through by myself rather than with some kind of training. Sometimes it's a simple as having the worst instruction manuals imaginable.

Here's an example of the latter: Nikon. I just bought a new little camera. 16 megapixels, 22x zoom, internal LI battery, all in a package that fits in my hand. Easy to carry, light, and simple to operate... Oh wait. Not so much, yet.

It took me a long time to switch to digital. I loved my little Pentax K1000. Manual everything, highly accessorized, it could do practically everything I asked of it. And for years, digital wasn't even close to acceptable quality. Eventually improvements in capabilities and the high cost of film and processing, coupled with my penchant to take a bazillion pictures, finally pushed me over the edge. First it was a Sony camcorder. Then an HD Sony camcorder. There was, at long last, a cell phone which included camera capability, then a Blackberry with slightly better (5 vs. 3 megapixels) quality and the advantage of being always in my pocket. I graduated to a SLR digital with accessories, but having grown used to the pocket convenience, finally decided to upgrade once again. That big camera bag takes a lot of room and good muscles, frequently turning Paul into my Sherpa. With plans including over-packed car travel, plane travel where size equals extra fees, and with acceptable quality in a tiny package, it was finally time.

The Nikon Coolpix 9500 seemed to fit the bill. So, start learning how to use it before the fall Arizona trip. First step: tear off the back 2/3 of the instruction manual. I will never ever need to know how to be confused in French or Spanish. I can do that well enough in English. Second step: insert battery.

Sounds easy, right? I found the only part of the camera that was the right size and shape to be the battery cover, and it had the right symbol on it. Only... how the heck did it open? No clue of which of the four sides was the hinged part, no clue how it opened. A little discrete tugging, poking, pushing and prying resulted in nothing. Nothing looked like a release. Now, I'm talking as somebody used to inserting and changing batteries, as I always travel with a spare with a charge, and with years now of experience in digital stuff. None of the obvious options produced anything, so, as a last resort, consult the (remaining bit of) manual. Right? Hmmmm.....

No index, so start at page 1 and work through. There's "Taking the Camera Out of the Box. Yep, got that done. List and drawings of parts. Yep, all included. Numbers and names of parts with arrows. Yep, battery slot was where I knew it had to be. Instructions on adding the strap. Already done too. There it was, short and sweet: "Open battery slot cover."

Gee, thanks. I ALREADY GOT THAT PART! How, already?

I put it away for the night. Better to try in the morning. My brain works better then. And sure enough, when I took it up again, I figured it out. Would every step be this slow?

Apparently. Once I figured out how to insert the battery, charging took 3 1/2 hours, according to the manual, and I had to go to work. Another day allowed the date/time inputs in a tiny slot of spare time. An actual picture was taken, and deleted, as I didn't really need to keep a shot of my knees, feet, and TV news in the background just to prove I'd found the right button. A trash can symbol is a trash can symbol everywhere.

I packed the camera to travel with me, in case of spare time at work between runs. (It happens.) An encounter with some absolutely gorgeous flowers led to my taking a few shots - with my Blackberry, since I knew how that worked. I had tried the zoom. Once again, nothing about how it worked, just a referral to the this-is-where-it-is page in the manual, then figuring out how it moved by pushing this way, that. The result was a blur.  A later reference to the manual revealed how to switch to macro. I'll be trying that later. I think I understand, all but the part about the green lights. Maybe when I actually see them....

I also have found out that how I thought the zoom moved wasn't exactly correct, and why it worked for me is now a bit of a mystery. Of course, it only partly worked, zooming in only. Returning to normal position was only accomplished by turning the camera off and on again.

But hey, at least that worked. Obviously, there's more homework for this weekend. I did manage a stop at National Camera for a hard case and a second battery. At least some things are self-explanatory. And now I see how to add GPS data on every picture. Another hour with the menu. And oh hey, there's the bit on the zoom. Never would have thought to look there for the info. But, cool.

I really hate having to relearn technology every couple years. I go way back to when people actually used manual typewriters. Word processors are an improvement, I admit, for somebody who flunked typing class. It was only summer school, fortunately. I am a "key peeker", meaning my top speed never gets above 45 wpm, and includes mistakes. Lots of them. That used to mean typing the whole page over. And over. I love being able to correct stuff with a simple backspace or 300.

Mom, in contrast, typed 60+ wpm error-free, in addition to doing actual shorthand. She was a secretary, in fact the boss's secretary before that got called executive assistant, and drilled into me that I should learn to type (well), because that way I'd always be able to get a job. I hated that thought, never wanting to be stuck behind a typewriter the rest of my life. Luckily I was born at a time when those career roles were beginning to change for women, since I never learned to type well.

But I was able to make the switch over to word processing. Mom couldn't. The "return" key never made up for the carriage return bar, and she couldn't seem to type without waiting for the bell warning you were reaching the end of the line and needed to manually switch down to the next. Coming to the end of the line paralyzed her, waiting for something to happen that never would.

My first word processor was an Atari. I hated DOS, and embraced a software program called Paper Clip from a company called Batteries Not Included. It had a "key" you needed to insert in a slot in order for the program to work, preventing software theft. The disc could be copied. The key couldn't. It was such a good program they advertised that the Atari office staff used it instead of their own software. I still miss it. It could do a couple things modern software still doesn't - or if it does, nobody's showed me. I could rotate text 90 degrees on the page so it would print wide. And it would "move" text so I didn't have to go through copy-paste-delete steps: the deletion of text in the old space was just part of the move. I used it to self-publish three volumes of poetry.

Eventually I upgraded to am Imac, that cute little machine with a dome bottom and a flatscreen on a neck. It's still functioning, and is the house backup computer for Richard when he can't afford to fix his PC. With some confidence gained from the Atari, and a lot of help (translation: I didn't do anything myself) setting it up and demonstrating how it worked, plus some Windows experience on a funky old computer that sat on a pedestal in my car for working, I managed to adapt to this upgrade with minimal effort. New stuff still had (has) to be shown to me, notes written down in the peculiar phrases that make sense to me so I can repeat whatever it was the next day or week, and lots of repetition finally making it smooth.

The basics are down. Email, Google, basic word processing, even blogging I have just fine. I even learned once how to do a spreadsheet, though trying again years later showed me I had no retention. It was handy for a while keeping track of bills vs. paychecks, as the two are on different schedules. Now I just muddle through and hope for the best. I've only missed the property tax payment once, if you count completely spacing it rather than remembering a day late.

I learned somewhat how to edit video into a movie, though the part about getting it onto a DVD still gives me fits. There's a lot of unedited tape to work on in a box. I got a MacBook Pro for my pictures. That's all it does. Never got word processing software installed, never allowed it to go online.

Eventually I picked up a faster lighter laptop, used and cheap. It travels with me, having a sturdy outer shell that served well the student who previously used it. All of those upgrades were easy, once I got the hang of my first Mac.

PCs, on the other hand, are still a process for me. I used one in the car, use one to clerk the auctions. If I'm in familiar territory, I can fake it fairly well. I think it took a year to learn to power on, boot up the auction program, and close out properly. It had just always been done for me when I arrived and after I left.

Cell phones are a similar story. I refused to even consider one until the day I was trapped for a half hour in a freight elevator after most of the people in the building had gone home for the week. The first one was just a portable phone, as far as I was concerned. It was still a learning curve figuring out its voicemail and contacts storage, but basically simple. When it was time to replace it, I eschewed camera and texting options, staying with "just a phone".

For the third phone, I opted for including a camera. I was tired of having no options for capturing something that I wanted to remember while keeping my big camera safely at home rather than kicking around - literally - in the car. Only 3 megapixels of quality, but better than nothing. Of course, a new learning curve, but by then EVERYBODY else knew how they worked and somebody showed me. Good thing because the manual was a piece of garbage. Big surprise. The first piece of spam that was texted to me that I had to pay for prompted me to call my cell company and disable texting. I still had not learned to text out.

When work switched to Blackberries, I acquired my first smart phone. I finally had somebody show me how to text. I tried the manual, but.... You know that story. I learned a new camera, sort of. I know there are icons for a whole lot of other apps on it, but ...well... kinda the same old story. I still find my way around strange places by paper maps or calling somebody with a laptop and MapQuest. I can barely manage it as a phone, since I still maintain 1500 minutes a month on the flip phone. Nobody has its number except for texting, so no problem there, really. I can navigate through the work special app loaded on it since I use that 12+ hours daily, leaving me no time nor inclination to explore further.

And thank goodness it's not a touchscreen! Yes, I have seen those. I'm not completely ignorant. I know they can do a lot of stuff. Anything traveling in my pocket is going to get touched meaninglessly a lot, and I don't trust running a work program on something prone to interpreting a bump. I also observe they get crapped up really fast from fingers. That's a lot of time wiping. But I neither have learned  nor wish to learn how to use one, at least not until forced. I'll stick with my keyboard and mouse off screen, thank you very much.

Go ahead, call me a Luddite. Laugh at someone just last year learning how to text. I don't care. I think I've come a long way, even partially embraced the changes. But now I need to turn off the Blackberry for the weekend. No more work: Hooray! And every time, it makes me smile, a little thought I still just can't resist. Because I have come a long way.

"! Turning Device Off. Press Any Key to Abort."

So which one is the "Any" key?