Saturday, November 13, 2010

Hendersonville ER

The important stuff: Lara is now fine, and not yellow.  A few weeks ago, we were visiting friends in Asheville.  It was great to see friends who now live several hours away.  It was relaxed.  Lara took an afternoon nap.  She woke up jaundiced.  She looked like she had a bad spray tan - $50 of spray with 50 cents of training for the operator.

These are some observations take while waiting on her to get a diagnosis and get well.

We have been trained to call the insurance nurses' line, then go to the urgent care doctor, and then lastly the ER.  The urgent care people (literally) looked at her and said, "You need to go to the ER." So we ended up in Pardee Hospital in Hendersonville, where the urgent care center was open later in the day, instead of Asheville, where all of our friends were.  The eventual diagnosis was medication induced liver damage.  It was temporary damage and started clearing up when she stopped taking liver-metabolized medicines.  It's rare, but we are lucky that way.

Hendersonville, NC is the not the same as Henderson, NC.  -Ville is near TN and -- is near VA.  Lara says it is the Durham of Asheville. I don't know for sure if that is a complement to either.

Upon entry to the ER, we are asked if we have a pocket-knife or weapon on us.  Our version of this question at Durham Regional is a metal detector.  When I point this out to the nurse, she says that would be a good idea, but she is required to ask the question even though she acknowledges the silliness of it.  This sounds like the product of a special sub-committee on regional hospital security coming up with a 5-part plan to improve safety while using no resources (excepting the considerables costs of the committee itself).  However, she said it actually prompted one woman to turn over a gun, peacefully.  Security retrieved it. I don't know if you would get in trouble if you turned the weapon over when asked for it.

Lara gets her IV successfully inserted on the third try while the background music is playing "Stayin' Alive." This seems like a good sign for health.

Many of the people in the ER waiting room know each other. This includes the janitor, who has a long conversation with a patient.

At 1 AM, 10 hours after my last meal, that 24-hour Krispy Kreme by the interstate is calling my name. It's only five or ten minutes away, but the essence of ER waiting is not knowing if the next fifteen minutes will be mind numbingly boring and a good time for chores

It's was supposed to an acceptable wait time when we checked, but 3 or 4 ambulances came in, including a car accident.  A girl whose Mom was in a wreck was sobbing in the waiting room.  The last time we passed by, she seemed to be doing better, so I hope her Mom is okay.  It looked like she came from a play, so it was hard to do that ignore her pain to give some level of privacy in a full waiting room.  Lara said the dress of the very white girl looked Indian (Mumbai Indian not Oklahoma Indian - is there a good way to more easily clarify that?), not a sarhi but still Indian.  She watches the Bollywood movies while I can't stand to be in the room while they are playing, so I'll have to trust her.

When it seems like we might be here longer than we expected and our carpool buddy needs to go home, I started looking up rental cars. What else to do? is down for maintenance.  It's midnight, but who goes down at midnight Eastern Time?  That not really wise for all of the Californians who are awake then.  Switching to a California-routed Internet connection didn't help, so I guess people don't book cars on a Saturday night.  The next day I am able to contribute my knowledge of car rental rates to friends who start researching them again to figure out how to get home.

I figured out how to watch the OU game in the waiting room. It wasn't online, but my computer in Durham picks up the antenna signals of ABC there, and it sent the broadcast to my laptop in Hendersonville.  It was my first real outside of the home use of the streaming capability from, which lets you take videos and broadcasts from your TV card on your home computer and watch them somewhere else.  Our Internet connection does not have the fastest upload speed, so it was blurry, but it worked!  A victory for the evening.  After we got to a room, I continued watching on the laptop for a while before noticing the small TV up in the corner.  It got better reception, but the game got worse.  We lost, but losing is a distraction.

We first get taken up to the third floor.  Lara gets in the bed, and the nurse looks at her and says, "You're not an 80 year old named Edna."  We move down to the second floor where we are really supposed to be.  Earlier in the night, someone came to the admissions desk looking for part of another's patient's chart.  The nurse handed her Lara's chart because "this one looks pretty thick."  The missing information was located and removed to the proper chart.  Problem averted (did the missing sheet ask for 16 rabies shots to be administered?).  And a doctor asked about her prior gall bladder removal.  She still has a gall bladder.  It turns out doing some imaging tests differently fails to pick it out on the scan.  Medicine's not perfect.

The nurse and nurse's aide on the floor are very friendly.  The doctor on the floor is the nurse's family doctor.  Again, everybody knows everybody.  The nurse's aide very much wants to give everybody a hot blanket.  They are nice and warm, like those hot towels they give you at nice restaurants (or at least I see them giving to people in nice restaurants on TV).  Lara refused the towel.  I eventually felt obliged to take it after he switched out my chair for a recliner.

It's a little warm in the room.  They bring us a small fan.  The nurse's aide is very happy that it is complimentary and that we get to keep it.  It makes me happy too, at 4:30 am.  Apparently, once they open the fan box, it's not sanitary to use it on another patient.  This is a little strange since toilet seats are constantly reused. I guess toilets bleach clean while fans do not. I'm not complaining. The insurance company is buying thousands of dollars for this, so I'm glad to have a souvenir.

There's a nurse on the second shift called the vampire.  I thought this was insulting, but it turns out that she is really good at putting in an IV needle.  This part of the experience can be quick  and easy or long, miserable, and memorable if it takes multiple sticks.

The place is flooded with senior volunteers.  They serve at the nice cafe, take you in a wheelchair to your card, and provide free valet parking (nice but not  perfect- overheard: "This is you car, right? Sometimes we get the wrong one.")  Our friends also volunteered heavily with lots of visits and a lot of driving to help us keep a car while Sarah returned to Durham (thank you Brett!).

Lara emerged with her lab tests going in the right direction and looking better.  But when we stop at the CVS, the pharmacist asked, "Are you having liver trouble?"

I summed up our three day adventure in an e-mail to friends:
We've been a little bored although it's part marriage retreat, spending almost all of the day in a small room two feet next to each other.  It's a good marriage, so it's a good retreat:)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Who Does Google Think I am?

For the record: I love the ladies, my lady in particular.  She would not love it if I were to help another lady with her pregnancy pledge to create yet another little lady.  My love of the ladies is from a distance - I don't want to be a lady or sound like one. [To be PC, every word in that sentence should have a footnote of "Not there's anything wrong with that."]

Google targets its text ads based on the content of your e-mails.  Facebook does similar things, based on your profile interests.  FB advertisers can target people who like a particular sports team, based on on demographic data they have collected on those fans.  Google's automated practice of reading your mail would probably result in a privacy panic if other companies did it, but we trust Google.

First there was the targeted Google Ad for with the Pregnancy Pledge, where I could price myself genetically and then apply to contribute genetically to furtherance of the species.  Or maybe they thought I was the woman who wanted the "vials," which gets us to:

I just got the text ad "Transgender Voice Surgery - - Travel To Korea For Cutting Edge Voice Feminization."  Not my thing.  Not really physically possible, I think.  I would be their great white male whale.  My voice would have to go up four octaves.  Maybe I'm wavering when I think of it.  Two octaves could enable me to speak at a normal volume.  Imagine the bass on the car of a guy who has the entire value of what would be his 401K installed as hardware in his car.  My head resonates with itself like that bass.  So anyway, my voice sounds loud to me.  But it also sounds male, and for a guy who can barely do one pull up, the little things take a difference.

I still remember a friend's horror as a teenager, as he described receiving some sample feminine products in the mail because some database decided he was female.  He threw them in his sister's room and ran.

We're fragile, Google.  Respect our masculinity.

The Wall Street Journal just did a long series on how web sites collect huge amounts of data and cross reference it with more data to effectively target consumers.  If they know what they are doing then I don't know me.  Or if I do know me (and I spend a fair amount of time with me), I have effectively created a privacy shield so dense that no marketer can truly apprehend me.  If I weren't me, I would pay to be me.  It would be a monthly fee to someone who would keep the Z-list paparazzi out of my life. 

In the end, I'm sure I'm making it worse by clicking on all of these weird ads to find out what's going on.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Fire Safety

It's time to update those fire stickers on windows for present-day sentiments.  The International Global DanPark Labs has developed such a notice to help firefighters save what is most dear to us. Slap this is on your window and the fire department will know your priorities.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Quick Pics From the Trip

We haven't had a lot of wireless opportunities, but here are some picture before we start to head home tomorrow.

Sandy Neck  Beach, MA

Rhode Island parks don't have free showers or correct punctuation.

In Rhode Island, the rain got inside the tent.

Waterfire in Providence, RI. Wooden fires are started on platforms up and down the river.

Monday, June 28, 2010

These are everywhere up here!

New Port Bridge

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Camping Pics from CT

New Haven, CT

New Haven, CT

We visited New Haven on our second day in Connecticut to see Yale University and the Mother Theresa exhibit at the Knights of Columbus Museum. I expected a small college town with some nice architecture.  With so many tall buildings, it didn’t feel small.  New England towns seems to like density even with countryside around them.

Yale was Yale; I’m not sure how else to describe it.  I will brag that the Yale Chapel was more like a medium sized church instead of the impressive Duke Cathedral style.

The art museum had a lot of strange art, which shows my lack of appreciation for Ivy League quality. I’ve included a few samples below.

What is this?

The caption explains what it is made of, but not why it was made, not what it means.

Vaseline, really? Frozen Vaseline? An A for creativity.

Next is the guy loitering on the floor.

I didn’t understand why he was there until I looked closer.  Amber actually went and told a guard that there was a guy on the floor, and she explained that he wasn’t real.  An A for creepiness.

The Knights of Columbus Museum was a little more uplifting.  It followed the life of Mother Theresa from Albania to India.  It spent some time on her feelings of disassociation from God even while doing His work. She didn’t share these publicly.  She did come to some peace with what she called “the darkness.” A few quotes from her writings:

Today--my God--what tortures of loneliness.--I wonder how long will my heart suffer like this... The parish priest...came to bless the house.  Tears rolled and rolled. Everyone sees my weakness.

There is such a terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead. It has been like this more or less from the time I started the “work”.
He does not want me --he is not there ....the torture and pain I can't explain.

There is so much contradiction in my soul.  ...and yet not wanted by God-repulsed--empty--no faith--no love--no zeal.
I did not know that love could make one suffer so much. That was suffering of loss, this is of longing, of pain human but caused by the divine.

How terribly empty my soul is - but I am not afraid.  ... How my soul longs for God.

With joy I accept all to the end of life, and I will smile at Your Hidden Face - always.

For the first time in 11 years - I have come to love the darkness.

The greatest poverty is being unloved, unwanted, and uncared for.

(what she called poverty of the heart)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

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Hartford, CT

We are far enough East that it gets dark before 9 and morning light is
around 4:30. You definitely don't need a flash light by 5:30.
Fortunately, it heats up more slowly here, so it's not 90 degrees 5
hours after the sun is up like in Durham. Sleeping in a tent makes it
hard to ignore the rising sun. If you ignore the rising heat and the
sun, around 8 am the kids come out, making motorcycle noises on their
bicycles, which are ubiquitous. I like the sound of kids having fun,
so it is a nice alarm clock.

We drove in toward Hartford, first seeing the Magellan castle, one of
the homes of a popular play actors when theatre was king. He built
his own mini 3 mile railroad. Yet I have air conditioning, and most
of the castle does not. It was nice, but the highlights of the day
were great seafood at the USS Chowder House IV and the Trash Museum.
Durham is only a couple of hours away from the coast, so we have fresh
seafood, but here it tastes like they caught it just after you ordered
it. I'm especially a fan of

The trash museum has a standard museum and gift shop, but it is also
an active recycling center. You can watch as trucks come in and out,
creating and consuming mini-mountains of trash. It's like construction
and trash, two of little boys' passions, at the same time. It has had
a fun walk-in 3D collage of trash and scavenger hunt, including things
like records, 8 tracks,toys, and other actual trash.

When we got back to the campground, I spent some time on the beach.
We watched the sunset and then the moon shining off the water again.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sunset on ct beach

Traveling to Connecticut

The drive up wen much better than expected. I ran all the numbers and
talked with people and decided on I-81 to I-84, which avoids I-95
almost entirely and eliminates and the drive through DC, Baltimore,
Philadelphia, and New York City. On the way back, we will use 95 and
go through all of these. Having grown up in DC, a disaster causing a 5
hour interstate closure always looms large on the horizon. There was
in fact such a problem on I-270 in Maryland when we left Wednesday
morning. One crash can cause miles of 5 MPH driving.

As part of that number crunching to plan the trip, I ended up with a
lot of data. If you punch in the address directly, the GPS and Google
Maps will take you straight up 95. So I had to enter multiple segments
into the GPS to try different routes. Google Maps makes it easier to
try different routes, but you can't import the routes into my GPS and
the time estimates are different. Anyway, all those numbers gave me a
12+ hour estimate from my parents in Manassas, Va to Hammonasset State
Park in Madison, Ct. Somewhere I double counted, and the drive was
only 10 hours with stops and a few slow downs. We arrived at about 5
PM. The temperature was already cooling down, which is completely
different from Durham, where it's still 80+ degrees after dark.

You are a genius Lara! You found a beach with comfortable camping.
The campground is very large. There are some trees, but you don't
have the private alcove afforded in NC mountain camping., so we are
much closer to our neighbors. Sound wasn't a issue at night. Unlike
Lake Powhatan last week, we didn't hear anyone at 11 PM discussing the
merits of urinating in the shower: "Dude it's got a drain." and "Dude
I'm going to use that later" then "just rinse it off."

Instead I saw a beautiful full moon glistening off the water. I also
found the ice cream vending machine in case we get hungry at night.
I'm more practical than romantic.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Road trip to New England

We now switch gears back to our vacation trip with our friend Amber to Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.  Our trip route is at, at least 1550 miles.

I appreciate people's efforts to lower oil consumption, but Summer's not the time. (It's not just America - you'll see legions of cars lined up along the beaches in Europe, too).  But at least we will be HOV with 3 people.  Along the way, we'll briefly visit family near DC and Philadelphia. We'll be taking the trip over ten days, driving through the mountains on the way up and urban I-95 (uggh) on the way back.  To keep it affordable we'll be camping which allows us to keep both lodging and food costs down. We hope it won't be hot nor wet. Our bodies are tuned to North Carolina weather, so almost anything will seem cooler.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

We should then remain silent

What can we say when things don't make sense?  Especially after an end to a tragic life?  Below there is a valuable passage from a new book that addresses this subject.

Some Background:
Dr. Hauerwas, a Duke professor of Theology, has written a memoir that includes theology, his career, and his family.   It's much more readable than a standard theology text, but it still delves into theological issues.  Some of the most heartbreaking but valuable lessons come from his relationship with Anne, his first wife and the mother of his son.  She had a very serious case of bipolar disorder. Her family put up with the abusive behavior that the disease provoked, but eventually she initiated a divorce and moved away.

There is no chapter in the book titled "Anne."  The story is somewhat abruptly interwoven into other stories, I suppose the way traumas tend to exist around the rest our lives.  Even while waiting on the results of a loved one's surgery, you still have to return to mundane life as you wrestle with the hospital vending machine to outwit it so it will  take your dollar bill for dinner.

From Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir By Stanley Hauerwas, see Page 207 for the full original text.


Anne has been dead for almost ten years.  Like her mother, she died in her late fifties of congestive heart failure.  She had been living in a controlled living arrangement that allowed her some independence....After she had died some days passed before her body was discovered.
The way she died served only to make me acutely aware of how lonely her life had been.  That her loneliness was self-imposed does not make it any less sad.  What possibly can be said about life so lived?

I am a Christian theologian.  People assume I am supposed to be able to answer that question.  I have no idea how to answer that question.   If anything what I have learned over the years as a Christian theologian is that none of us should try to answer such questions.  Our humanity demands that we ask them, but if we are wise we should then remain silent.... When Christianity is assumed to be an "answer" that makes the world intelligible, it reflects an accommodated church committed to assuring Christians that the way things are is the way things have to be.
Faith is but a name for learning how to go on without knowing the answers.  That is to put the matter too simply, but at least such a claim might suggest why find that being a Christian makes life so damned interesting.

One area where I would differ from the text is the idea that Anne's loneliness was self-imposed.  Chronic disease is really its own agent, here bringing on consequences for which the self would never wish.

The ability to come clean and confess that we don't know what going on, probably a lot of the time, is difficult in a society of rapid knowledge accumulation.  But coming up with a contrived answer can be more hurtful than admitting ignorance.

Many Christians reject the "health and wealth" gospel - do the right things and God will bless us materially (think of the promises of "Prayer of Jabez").  But a lot of us were trained in a "know and go in peace" gospel, where God gives us answers, peace of mind, and a clear path when we do the right things.  We hope for such a blessing, but we shouldn't expect it.  Followers as noble as Mother Theresa very often felt the absence of God more intensely than the peace of God even as they passionately served to bring peace and good news to the world (that Mother Theresa's situation was only revealed in writings released against her wishes after her death may point to embarrassment  in not meeting our expectations of peace and guidance from God).  Removing that expectation allows us to long for meaning and peace of mind while freeing us to love even if we don't experience those good blessings.

Think of U2's "40" singing "I will sing a new song" with the repeated "How long to sing to this [not so new or desirable] song?" which was heavily inspired from  Psalm 40, triumphantly proclaiming,
I waited patiently for the LORD; 
he turned to me and heard my cry.

yet still ending with a plea,

Yet I am poor and needy ,
may the Lord think of me.
You are my help and my deliverer; 
O my God, do not delay.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Pictures for a good week

Here's some happy thoughts for the week and a lesson in international politics and entertainment. Even irritated people can look amusing.  It's not all schadenfreude - just seeing people who are carefully presented to us actually experiencing normal emotions outside of the carefully polished presentations. Speaking of German, here the ultimate SAT word: Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz
(das, 63 letters), meaning "beef labeling regulation & delegation of supervision law" from

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, looking unhappy about Europe's financial woes.  Given German facial expressions she make actually look happy.
President Obama unhappy about oil, I think.  Or maybe unhappy about our reaction to it.  A similar version is here.

And to make this blog entry even more unimportant: Here Bella seems ready to throw up, perhaps over being in love with a vampire.  Edward looks good though, downright tanned given his normal pale demeanor.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The game, the rain, and the mustard

It was Memorial Day weekend.  The Cable Company sent us a coupon to actually save us money on a Durham Bulls game instead of raising our rates: $5 for a reserved seat and a free hot dog. And the weather wasn't going to be too hot.  70% chance of rain, but that still leaves a possibility of good weather right?  As the week went on, the probability of rain for Friday dropped from 70 to 60 to 51%.  Make a straight line graph, the probability of rain on Friday the 28th would be to about 0% on June 3 or so.  It's all about the future, so let's follow that graph and buy some tickets.

I dropped Lara off at the box office and looked for parking.  My family history genetically predispositions me toward coupons (ticket to the game), free food (free hot dog), and free parking (bypassing next door garages).  So several blocks later, where Jackie Robinson drive turns a corner, there is a big lot across from the tall NC Mutual Life building.  People pass the lot because of a sign - No ballpark parking.  But slow down long enough for people to honk at you (transplanted Yankees not locals, I hope) and you see the smaller sign - Except after 6 PM. Brilliant.

Ten minutes of walking later and I was back with Lara.  We met Amber and her family and found our seats, by the third base side, with a clear view of the "Hit Bull Win Steak, Hit Grass Win Salad" sign (picture).

As usual the Bulls did well, and it was a close game.  Amber's family ate before the game, so Lara and I got two free hot dogs each.  We probably spent almost a full inning in line for a hot dog that was eaten before we made it back to our seats, but free tastes good.  But a fully loaded dog is dangerous, and my shorts paid the price: a mustard stain.  I started treating it with water immediately, but I despaired that I had just ruined another piece of comfortable clothing.

So we've gotten several paragraphs in and there hasn't been much about the game here.  I'm sad to say I'm slowly drifting into the group of people for whom the game is just a background for social interaction.  It shouldn't be an either/or.  We should be fully invested in each other and the game at the same time.  It's supposed to be a little brick ballpark utopia revitalizing downtown through people and sports and commerce and food all wrapped together.  If it's only about the people, couldn't we just sit around in that free parking lot space I found and talk? (still bragging about the space).  But we enjoyed each other anyway.

Around the ninth inning, it was clear the Bulls had a very good chance of winning, and that the probability of rain was also very high. Thunder poked at the edge of the city.  The temperature dropped.  Wind blew about.  So normally the faint of heart would leave.  But Friday night is fireworks night.  We even have umbrellas.

The drops come so slowly and so far spaced apart that I turned my head up to the sky and just watched them come down around me, rarely hitting me.  This I can handle.  We'll move to the shelter that's over the sections behind home plate after the game and see the fireworks nice and dry.  The pace of the rain gradually picked up.  The Bulls staff immediately rolled out the field covering after the game ended.  Yet, they still towed a little trailer out onto the field.  This trailer completely automates the fireworks process.  The ballpark lights went dark, and we knew the fireworks were on.  Cheers erupted as the show went on.  Then squeals erupted as the gradually increasing rain became driving sheets of rain..  We were five rows within the shelter, and we still had to get out our umbrellas to avoid getting drenched.  The little fireworks robot worked its heart out, so the cheers and squeals continued.

The fireworks over, we huddled underneath the stadium waiting for the rain to end.  The driving rain now became persistent driving rain.  After several minutes, I decided to bring the car back.  This is where the paid garage across the street looked attractive.  The me of that moment of 9:30 PM wanted to have a conversation with me at 6:30.  The parking was free, it must be good.  Yet, it's far enough way that I could get lost.  I can get lost in your own subdivision, when it's sunny. Too late.  I still had the umbrella, but it ended up functioning more like a visor.  Even after travelling through a sheltered block of the American Tobacco Campus shopping district, I still had blocks more to go.  Summer rain isn't bitter cold, so it was no disaster, but it was like one of those water ride signs, "You will get wet!"

I did get a little lost driving back to the park on the dark rainy streets. I panicked momentarily when I called Lara to come to the car and she didn't answer.  Was I going to have to re-park the car and go back in and find her?  And would I then have to again consider paying for parking?  But she came out shortly.  I have apparently trained her in the arts of cheapness so thoroughly that she did not want to lower her prepaid cell phone balance by answering the call.

End result: the deli mustard, the type of thing that I could not get out with stain remover and a long rinse plus an extended cycle, was completely out of my shorts by the time I got home.  Now that they are naturally, organically, fair trade, locally sourced washed, I will sell the shorts at the farmer's market.
For a more satisfying ending, stop here.

To be honest, the next morning, when I went to wash the shorts, I saw that some of the stain still remained.  My hope had clouded my vision.  But I still maintain that there was some improvement.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

This time it's local. Our taxes at work, or sleeping on the job.

Durham I love you, but you got to step up your game.

I've had a couple of interactions in the past few weeks that confirm those stereotypes where competence isn't the number one goal of government. Maybe that wouldn't be a problem if there were another obvious and important goal.

Number one: Durham county keeps forgetting the reproductive capacity of my cats and tries to charge me $150 for the honor of owning them.  (1a Durham county cares about and keeps records on the reproductive capacity of our cats).

Number two: A city employee decided to estimate water usage instead of reading the meters.  Four months later, the city caught him, without announcing any form of prosecution and even protecting his privacy.

Situation 1: Cat Fertility
First, friends ask, why do they tax cats at all?  Because they can.  Cable Internet doesn't get taxed because Youtube is a public service.  But, my indoor cats suck city services like they slurp water from open toilets, and a few hundred dollars in property taxes a month can't be expected to cover those services. $75 is the annual charge for reproductively enabled animals, so $10 a year for neutered pets seems like a bargain.

This is the second instance in which the county tax collector has lost its documentation that our cats are spayed.  The first time, I had to find proof and fax it to them. They admitted data had been lost when the tax duty was transferred from the animal people to the tax people.  Oops.  They were friendly, but their belief that it was my duty to repair their mistake was bizarre, bizarre enough to not make it worth challenging.  You don't argue with the homeless guy who thinks he is Napoleon. You just ask him how the latest battle is going.

But the second time, enough was enough:

Bill 5553289
Owner ID 5555845 
Animal ID A555756
The cat in question is spayed.  Examing receipt 5556153 on your own web site will show the same cat was spayed last year. We have not performed any reproductive surgery to bring her kitten producing abilities back to life.  She is available for inspection to confirm this claim.  She is very friendly, especially if you bring treats.
This is the second time I have had to address your loss of data on a cat.  Please fix your systems. Please mark our cat Carolina as spayed and resubmit a bill.  Also subtract $5 from the $10 tax to reflect the value of my time the last two times I have had to address this issue.

I  wrote them Friday.  We'll see what happens.

Situation 2: The Hope of A Good Toilet Valve

I installed new toilet valves in all three toilets to correct some dripping issues. A little dripping can use a lot of water. One involved some drilling upside in a confined space for several minutes to get a stuck screw undone.  So when I got a bill that covered two months of water usage, and it asked for only $30, I was overjoyed to know that my clumsy projects had accomplished something.  I was saving money and saving the city from another drought.  I was a good citizen.  My toilets were good citizens.  Each flush was a source of pride.

Then a letter from the city arrived.
It has recently come to our attention that water meters in some of our districts may have been misread, resulting in lower or higher than usual or water bills.

No explanation was given on why my hopes were being dashed, but I knew, in my heart, that my achievements had been a lie.  But the citizenship of my toilets was now in question.  My cynicism lead me to recall a story from our friend Lori, a nurse.  She ran into a nursing assistant at a certain prominent hospital (whose name may be present in the title of a show with a car called the General Lee) who was casually touching a patient  and then writing down a number.  It was supposed to be a pulse reading.  The assistant just decided that it was less effort to write down a random number than taking 10 seconds to read a pulse.   I didn't know if a meter reader had just decided to guess, but the lack of an explanation made me suspicious.

Then Sarah forwarded an email from a neighborhood group with information on the water problem, including

So laziness was the culprit.  If this were a business, they would be embarrassed and not make people pay the higher (if accurate) bills.  But alas.  To have replaced toilet valves and lost is better than to have never replaced at all.

I think I'm in with Shemeecka [sic] from the web story, who now has to pay higher bills to cover the water not previously billed.  Lower bills while the fraud was on helped keep it going. I was perplexed, but I wasn't going to call in, waste my time, and wade through departments to get an answer when the bill was in my favor.  Now, if he had done it the other way, people would have been "outraged" at the beginning.

The fraud prevention technique for the city would have involved an advanced statistical technique called Microsoft Excel (do you pronounce ex-seal or x-ull?) This program averages and totals so you can see that one route increased usage 5% while another decreased 38%. You can even compare the same route year to year if you employ the super-happy-plus version with multiple tabs.

The employee is apparently protected by privacy laws.  I don't think that should protect him from prosecution. Fraud is fraud and abuse of the public trust is a big deal. And failing to manage employees should be a big deal for the water department.

In protest to lower my water bill, I shower and wash my clothes using water from fire hydrants. If you hear water flowing from your hydrant, just look away. It's not embarrassing to me; it's embarrassing to the man, man.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Creativity (and Gasoline) Power This Country

First, Maria Vargas, an official with the Environmental Protection Agency, which helps runs the Energy Star program, assures us there was "no fraud."  So don't lose faith - no harm, no foul.  No incompetence, no lack of trust in our government.  This is a story about raw creativity, not bureacratic failure, right?

The center piece of the story, which I heard about in a Wall Street Journal Editorial, is the Energy Star approval of a gasoline powered alarm clock.  Details from the other end of the ideological spectrum are also at the New York Times, if as Stephen Colbert says, you haven't immediately used it to line your bird cage.

The Government Accounting Office created fictitious devices and submitted them for Energy Star approval, and they all went through.  This means that little sticker you rely on to feel good about a big purchase might not mean as much as you think it does. (In fact, a lot of products without the sticker are just as efficient).  Even discounting fraud, some standards have always been a little strange, like allowing certification for TVs that don't sip too much energy when turned off, regardless of how much power they slurp while in use.

From the NYT:
Watchdogs within the Environment Protection Agency and the Department of Energy have reported in the past that Energy Star has taken some claims of energy efficiency on faith. Yet the new study suggests that it often does so on remote control.
The Energy Star program claims that actually human beings are involved in the process. I'm thinking Creed from The Office. He does, um, stuff, really.

There were other items:
The GAO obtained Energy Star endorsements for 15 bogus products such as a gasoline-powered alarm clock, an "electric office hammer" and a "room air cleaner" that was a feather duster attached to a space heater.

So it's a bit sad that one part of our government can't read.  But it's extremely cool that another part of the
government came up with a gasoline powered alarm clock and an electric office hammer.  At first, I was in ecstasy because I thought the GAO had actually found such a product.  But upon further reflection, "bogus submissions" meant not only a fake certification, but a fake product also.

But enter more creativity!  Here from is an idea of what one could look like:

I imagine the purr of the engine would act like one of those gentle ocean sound noise machine that help you sleep well.  The fumes and carbon monoxide would also probably work better than Tylenol PM. And eventually, it would earn a true Energy Star label, when the hybrid version came out.  This thing gets 100 minutes to the gallon, man!

It's not just the bureaucracy here. Laws like Cash for Clunkers and Cash for Caulkers mandate that working products like cars or refrigerators be destroyed and replaced by items with the right sticker.  Doesn't the energy involved in creating a new refrigerator instead of reusing the old one count for anything?  We fret about throwing away paper towels instead of reusing towels, but we can destroy appliances and feel good about it.  Are people who already have fuel efficient cars subsidizing a new car purchase for  people who previously bought gigantic trucks?  Should the government pay for any part of my refrigerator in any situation, especially if I can afford a new one myself?  Does Mommy have to give me some extra cash so I'll buy the right toy?

Neither side of the aisle would fear big government in all its forms, from defense to energy to social security, if competence were more cherished and achieved.  It's not just little things. The Defense Department loses billions of dollars, and they don't know where it goes.  The Social Security Administration knows it is heading toward bankruptcy.  Neither of these government agencies use the accounting regulations that Congress forces on businesses. If they did, and politicians and the people cared, we might take a strong look at the current situation and change some important but difficult things to avert future disaster.  But for now, efficiency and effectiveness swim in a system that threatens to drown them with inertia.

But again let's remember, the power of ideas to inspire is unlimited. When I looked up the NYT article, I was surprised by another creative delight.  I think I had heard of this before, but the placement above the Energy Star article was ingenious.  Take a classic.  Add Zombies.  Everyone is happy.  USA! USA! USA!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Yeller Pollen - Get a Room!

Basketball is not as big to me as the yellow pollen covering everything while announcing Spring.  I am only the only person in the state to feel this way at this moment, at least in Durham. 

The pollen touches you and your throat all day long, more time than any basketball game.  And there's something a little tawdry about all of this plant canoodling going all around us.  Everyone's car windshield is like a teenage makeout point.  Every street is an 80s movie.  The air is filled with the flirtation of a junior high dance.

We need some pollen abstinence.  True allergies wait.

Thank you Costco for making allergy pills for less than 2 cents a pill. I need a lot of them.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Global Transpark: Improved Absorbency For Excess Cash

A word from our sponsor,
 The International Global DanPark: Questionable Investments, Unquestionable Progress.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: The International Global DanPark's competitor, the Global TransPark, is bleeding red ink.  This could cement the IGDP goal of being the only Global SomethingPark around. But we may be stymied yet.  The state may one day pour enough cash down the toilet to stop it up.  North Carolina knows that more money brings more success, automatically. Also, companies truly desire to set up shop in rural North Carolina, if only they are given enough money to overcome the shortage of views, the presence of more pigs than people, and the lack of economic viability.  More money is like rock in paper/rock/scissors - it always wins.

At the end of day, we don't want to be bitter. So send some money to:

State of North Carolina: Global Transpark Authority
2780 Jetport Road
Kinston, NC 28504-8032

If you don't have the time or postage, just right NCGTP  on your cash and flush it down your own toilet. The government will direct it to the right toilet.  They're very efficient that way. Except they don't take checks or credit cards yet.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Durham Regional ER 10 pm and the Stud Finder

Durham Regional ER 10 pm Thursday
Durham Regional is owned by Duke, but it is Durham's hospital and not America's hospital, as Duke would, for some good reasons, think it is. We walked through a metal detector on the way in and there wasn't hardwood finishing and extra glass everywhere, the kinds which pour out over Duke. They had the metal detector turned up higher than at a domestic airport, but they were friendly and didn't make me take off my belt. The waiting room seemed to have a lot of people using the ER because they didn't have access to primary care. I guess I should explore Duke's ER and see for sure that I'm not overextrapolating since our last visit. Rex Hospital's ER in Raleigh didn't have metal detectors.

But we want it the Regional way. The Duke ER experience involved lying on a cart while a resident got some practice drawing spinal fluid with a long needle. Some would consider spinal taps the definition of pain, maybe a category or two below giving birth and passing kidney stones. Four attempts later, we decided the risks of the disease were worse than the risks of diagnosis. We went home. She didn't die, so it worked out by some measurement.

It's not like residents are always "practicers." Some have more recent experience and better results with routine procedures than their mentors. But I suppose to really know, you'd have to ask the resident at each point of the visit, "How many times have you done this, successfully?" And there is, not always but certainly not never, the Duke attitude of "I am super doctor, and you are lowly patient. So I don't need to listen to you."

Durham Regional has residents, but it doesn't back right up to the Duke campus. This time it's much simpler, with less to wory about: a severe stomach flu, but it's hard to shake off that Duke experience. And Regional has free parking by the front. When you come out in the middle of the night, you don't have to remember which floor of the Duke garage contains your car.

Emptying your stomach out a lot is the subject of college and other lore, but if it goes on long enough, your body runs out of water. I can't imagine what it would be like to be in the third world without IV fluids or a even sewage system. It must be a painful, humiliating way to die. Not the best thing to focus on right now - I'm just thankful for what we have. I don't mention it to anyone there; I am learning a little bit of discretion.

We tried to do the right thing. The ER is supposed to be a resource heavy and expensive last resort (if you don't need the mandatory free care of the ER). We went to a Duke urgent care clinic first, mid afternoon. It was convenient, with wait times posted on the web site. But 3 hours later, the friendly and confident staff were perplexed. They did tell us it was good we had not waited later to come in. In this case, just half a day of sever stomach trouble puts your health at risk

So we drove to North Durham.
A long wait with screaming babies ensued.
After the waiting room wait:
Tonight, we have been shown that even an experienced nurse sometimes can't find a vein. It's busy so an hour and a half later after we were called back and blood was drawn, an IV inserted but no doctor yet. L has some bruises for the IV attempts that didn't work.

Hey,we didn't get to finish that episode of Psych earlier. The mind wanders. I brought a new book, which was shockingly expensive to me last night (my blood drags me to used books and libraries). Today it seems to be worth a thousand dollars. But I can only keep with it for so long. promises to stream movies from your PC to your phone over wifi, but there was a problem with our internet connection today, and it doesn't work for me.

Oh, the things to think of before rushing out of the house. My primary concern is for L's well-being of course, but I can't stare at her and make it better (Regardless of all those movies - "keep him talking! Don't let him slip away!" As if consciousness were the primary deterrent of death. Who knows? Going to sleep tonight might kill us all). And her situation doesn't make conversation pleasant for her. So we are both bored, and passing the time becomes a big focus. What a week for the laptop to be at the repair depot. Thank you for wifi on the old heavy phone! But after a few e-mails and some minutes on FB, I just end up making this blog post way too long. Boredom breeds blogging. A society of happy, fully engaged people would at least have less blogs. Less literature,too, I guess. Hemingway had many sad,probably boring opportunities. I don't plan on being saddened to his level of achievement. I'm B-list bored.

Hipaa signs and signatures and brouchures abound, but I still know everybody's business. The thin curtain matters more than the thick paperwork. The lady next to us also has bad luck with her IV. Her husband asks, "They make a machine to find the bones. Why can't they make a machine like the stud finder? Y'a know, you rub it along the wall and it beeps and you find the stud. Why can't they make one for veins?

"Oh that's good," L says. "Write that one down."
I reply, "Terminate him with extreme prejudice. No one needs to hear it from him. I want that for my own million dollar idea."

"I got to ask Jesus." A little later, "You got to stop it. You got to stop it."
"Who is she (the nurse) talking to?" I whisper.
L responds, "She's talking to the IV."

I am going to eat better, walk more, and just be more healthy in general. That wouldn't have prevented this sickness, but I still want to avoid the hospital. I can already anticipate the feeling wearing off. Indeed, if I hadn't eaten the big breakfast with hot cakes this morning, I wouldn't have survived the wait until 9 pm for dinner. Oatmeal don't bring it like you need it sometimes.

Okay. Healthy takes a holiday. I'm thirsty and hungry at 11:30 pm and the vending machines don't do healthy. I get a Pepsi. Now I only have fives and a twenty.
Why did I give all my ones to Jenny for the pizza on Sunday? I've almost killed her several times as I drove her across southern Europe (and I heard the screams to prove it). That's some sort of bond. The least of her worries would have been me shorting her 5 bucks. She didn't seem concerned. But I didn't ask.

Aha! The coffee machine takes fives. One hot chocolate later and I have 16 quarters. It took as long to dispense the change as it did to spray the hot chocolate. I got quarters from 6 different states, if you count the Texas one which looked as if it had almost been scratched blank. Someone forgot and messed with Texas.

I returned, just having missed the doctor. A nurse rolled in an EKG cart. "She already had an EKG," I explained. She started putting on electrodes. "It's in the envelope thingy we gave to the first nurse." L affirmed the envelope's existence. The nurse backed off and rolled the cart away. Now both Durham Regional and Brier Creek Urgent Care are in the Duke system, but something didn't get through. Not much at all got through. The same questions, the reciting of the list of medications just given a few hours ago, the same wait on data entry. Somewhere in there is some sort of healthcare cost control and quality lesson. I've had the experience of the same doctor not being able to access his notes on me in the Duke clinic because they were taken in the Duke hospital, which is physically connected to the clinic. Oh, we are too young to know this much about Duke.

A new nurse comes by and administers some narcotics. It doesn't help all of the symptoms; in fact, the headache gets worse at first. It does help her sleep. The nurse worked magic the next bed over,too - the IV resistant woman in severe pain
is quiet as is her husband. The whole place has quieted down. And after some peanut (oops hit the wrong number) M&M's, delectable hot chocolate, and some Pepsi, I'm doing okay, too.

1:30 am
The doctor comes by. L wakes up and feels better, with the migraine gone (that's a big accomplishment - migraines are persistent and med resistant for her). The tests look good and fluid levels are up. Things should improve overnight then she can transition into the BRAT diet, which so makes me crave bratwursts. It has been too long, and it's too late. With a lot of sauerkraut.

They let me push the wheelchair out of the hospital. At Duke, you have to wait up to an hour for a professional wheelchair technician to show up and cart you out, no matter how much you swear you can walk. You fall down on your own time.

Things go better the next day. Much better the second day.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Juror Duty Final Post: Juror #12

Grumbling follows. You can skip to the 14:50 section if you just want the story.

The Whole System

The afternoon is running on.

So why are we all here? 80-100 people stuffed into facilities much less spacious, functional,or even beautiful than Durham's new bus station. At this point, there's a good chance that all of us will be sent home. Durham isn't that big and we are in the center of the county at the judicial building. Everyone is within a half an hour drive. Most people are ten minutes away. We could be at home, acting as productive or at least comfortable citizens until we are called or texted.

So why? Because "they" can. Hearing of a day's wait to buy something at Lowes would send you to Home Depot. But there is no other "they." It can take a half day of waiting for a needy pregnant women to qualify for WIC benefits, a lot of which consists of presenting incredibly easy to forge documents (I'm not suggesting that WIC moms forge the documents, but the process does not prevent fraud and still takes a lot of time, so what's the use. It would be like changing the process at the airport to require a 4 hour wait so an attendant can verify a handwritten note from your mom that says you are a nice person who doesn't cause trouble on planes). But women who need WIC benefits don't have many other alternatives even if the government doesn't value their time. Call Medicare and wait on hold for 30 minutes and then you might be told even the supervisor could tell you she can't help with a simple problem. I was literally told "call your congressman" because they weren't authorized to write a simple letter.

I know there are variables like how many people will show up and how many cases will settle, but it seems that if someone really pushed, the system could be improved. If nothing else, maybe some of the sitting bored could be sent out to pick up trash or something. But in the end, our being ready quickly is more important than our time. At $12 a day, our time is not valued. That's what the econ guys call moral hazard - underpricing our time makes it easier for the court system to waste it.

This is what you write when you are stuck in an uncomfortable situation by the man and you don't feel like reading because you are tired. You have plenty of time to grumble and write it.

2:50 PM
At 14:50, while I was inwardly complaining about waiting, the call came. 20 or so last names were announced and we filed into a small courtroom. Experience convinced the clerk to spell names, even simple ones, because of the difficulty pronouncing the names of a random cross section of Durham. Near the end, my name was called, and I line end up to move to small court room around the corner.

Do I want to be picked or do I want to go home? The 6 hours of waiting was wasted either way, but I now desired a civic engagement. Remember the oath! Okay, I remember the idea of an oath! even if I have no idea what it was.

Some basic instructions were provided.

12 jurors were seated. Not me. After some basic questions including listing your encounters with the law (most people listed speeding tickets), 1 juror was dismissed because she was related to the defendant. The chances of that happening were unfortunately misapplied to this court case; otherwise with those chances she would have won the lottery. 1 more seated. Not me.

At this point, it became apparent that the public defense lawyer was outgunned. It was very natural for the assistant district attorney. He was Matlock. For her, it wasn't automatic. She struggled with questions and often hesitated. She was lawyer#5 on on episode of Law and Order. I respect public defenders and the hard job they have, but this was going to be difficult with less experience than the other side.

3 jurors were dismissed, and 3 more were seated. Not me. Except for the first lady, no reason was given. Just "jurors number 3,5, and 10 are dismissed."

Juror number 12 was dismissed. I was called. I clumsily gathered my stuff. I am juror #12. I have a name for what I do.

But a few questions and a nervous demeanor later, juror #12 was dismissed. However, the assistant district attorney was impressed about the speeding ticket in Spain.

So I missed out on a 2 day trial on an assault case.

As I gave the paperwork to the clerk, she assured us that it wasn't personal. But anytime you aren't picked, it's personal. From choosing kickball teams to a stranger who passes over your house to buy a different one, you have something invested in the decision.

Like my Dad says, you'd complain if you were hung with new rope. Better to have loitered 6 hours and lost, than to never have received a check for $12 in the mail in 2 to 4 weeks at all.

As I left the Judicial Building for my house, which does not require a metal detector to enter or have bathrooms that smelled like a back alley on a hot summer day, I started to get over the sting of rejection.

As it turns out, dismissal meant I was processed slightly earlier than the crowd who had never been picked. By the way, when you are at the Durham Judicial Building, just take the stairs. You'll see them full of people who know not to wait on the elevators.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Jury Duty, Morning to Lunch

I got one of the two working computers for a few minutes. It looked
like 15 year old technology, Netscape and Windows 95 (queue Start Me
Up, by the Stones. Maybe it was Linux emulating Win95). But, be
grateful, something is better than nothing. Well a little bit. Web
sites have advanced a lot in the past few years, and they don't
display correctly if at all, in old browsers. I couldn't see anything
in Facebook after I logged in. I had to reboot it at one point.

Now me being me, I am tempted to bring an old wireless router and plug
it in to one of the computer outlets to provide everyone wireless.
But they have put the actual terminals 10 ft off the ground. And this
is a building with lots of authority figures, many with guns. So civil
resistance is not advised. That oath we swore or affirmed may have
implied not messing with the technology. There are bibles scattered
around the room to act like the one you'd normally put your hand on.
We just metaphorically touched them and metaphorically said the oath
with an "I do." I can't remember the oath, and it's not posted
anywhere, but it seemed reasonable enough at the time. Instead I
focused on more tangible details like how to validate my parking. The
main thing the clerk got across was to not leave before authorized
because bad things will happen, such as a warrant for your arrest and
forfeiting the $12 for the day.

We got a 25 minute break, so I went outside and discovered a cold
driving rain. You really need to look at the weather more closely
than seeing a high around 60 and thinking yeah! The little clouds on
the screen matter too.

I am counting down the minutes until lunch. It reminds me of college
Physics class, where I would anticipate the tick made by the
mechanical clock and then duly recorded it each minute. It's not like
this room is any less exciting than my normal day. It's the feeling
being trapped, of having less options.

I saw a news station truck, so I started to get nervous. The older
ladies I was sitting with assured me that it was a murder trial where
a women had killed another women who was her man's lover. I told them
that my wife had promised to kill me in that situation instead of the
other woman. They liked that.

After lunch:
I was tired enough that I misremembered the lunch times and show up a
half hour early instead of just on time. I make mistakes like that all
the time, but when you're on the fifth floor of a building with metal
detectors at the entrances, it's not as convenient to go for a walk.

Durham Jury Duty: The Beginning

Jury Duty Hour 1
Filed and started the expected cattle call lines and waiting.
"For network security," no wifi is available in the jury room, and the
computer stations are mostly used as normal seats. McDonald's knows
how to buy a system that keeps its credit card system separate from
wifi users reading their e-mail. The guys with guns can't figure it
out. Maybe they have other priorities, but what about my needs? :)
It was Sam Waterson presentation, but we got some useful information
from a video and from the clerk in person. A merciful break let me
find a fines collection office to get change for a Coke.

3 court rooms of 14 people needed, so with a room of around 100
jurors, we have a decent chance.