Apr. 1st, 2015
Mar. 21st, 2015
06:24 pm - The difference a month makes
Feb. 26th, 2015
08:29 pm - The Mayo Clinic
I spent the past two weeks with J at The Mayo Clinic in Florida, getting a second set of eyes on her condition. Having spent much of the last year in Canadian hospitals, it was an interesting contrast. Here is a brain-dump of observations:
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Feb. 8th, 2015
07:44 pm - Life moves in circles
In 1998 the videogame Grim Fandango was released, and it can't have been long after that RH (as she is now called) set us up with a copy. We played the heck out of it. I don't believe we ever finished, but it entertained us for weeks. Now I'm delighted to see that it has been re-issued in a "remastered" version with cleaned up graphics but otherwise unchanged. It's $15, which is a steal.
I've been playing it for the past couple days. Despite the somewhat macabre theme, it's actually of great comfort. Some of the puzzles are dimly remembered, and that seems to be speeding the early chapters. I'm bringing this on my travel laptop to smooth the next few weeks. I'm going to also need a notepad on which to draw the inevitable sketches with boxes and arrows.
Now if only I could get Neuromancer remastered... That one I finished on the PC, probably around 1992. I loved it for its simulated BBS. It was filled with random chatter, but some was relevant to the plot. You could make your own posts, which would sometimes trigger coherent plot-based replies and sometimes launch simple Eliza-like chatbots. I spent a lot of time on FIDOnet those days, and it seemed that if I found the right hidden site I might make my way to Villa Straylight.
Dec. 30th, 2014
05:16 pm - Sagas!
I have always had a soft spot for the Icelandic Sagas, since I first read Egil's Saga in a stained-glass sunbeam in The Treehouse almost twenty years ago. Yesterday, sitting in the ER, I read Kormak's Saga. It does not disappoint, and I would suggest it to anyone looking to explore the roots of contemporary fiction.
Kormak's Saga (aka Cormac in my translation) is a gonzo blend of The Princess Bride and Chasing Amy. It has, in no particular order:
- Skirmishes involving a couple dozen fighters that cry out for miniatures wargames recreations
- Formal duels, where the fighters take turns breaking each other's shields with swords and axes
- Magic swords with complex care-and-feeding instructions
- That guy who keeps on showing up uninvited to your mead-hall to chat up your wife
- The scuttling of a great many boats
- Very much poetry, spoken while waving swords around, that shows you what a D&D bard should be about
- Debt collection
- Depictions of rights of women that may be at odds with your viking preconceptions, including no-fault divorce.
The saga has been out of copyright for 800 years, and so various translations can be downloaded for free. You can also read a fun abridgement here at Sagas for the Impatient. This will make you a better person, with far less of a personal time commitment than Proust.
Dec. 27th, 2014
... so I was not expecting the stubbed toe to be seen before the metabolic acidosis
Triage is weird.
02:49 pm - Christmas on the ER
We are all the heros of our own stories, and the victims of our own disasters. There is someone here in the triage area of the ER with an honest-to-goodness stubbed toe. The mind boggles.
Dec. 25th, 2014
07:26 pm - Hope for sunshine
Dec. 18th, 2014
09:25 am - Living on the beach
One of my favourite books is On The Beach by Nevil Shute. It posits the question: what would you do if you knew with certainty that everybody would die in two years. When I first read it I found it an interesting philosophical question. If the time was a hundred years, you would probably continue with life as normal. If the time was 24 hours, you might spend it in one last party. Two years is in the tricky middle ground: long enough that you still need to grow food but short enough that you wonder at the necessity of educating your children for careers that they will never get to work.
Recently, from a number of angles, I have been struck by a very real variant on this problem. What do you do if there is one person in your life who will die in two years? It's a similarly tricky middle ground. Our lives are filled with people who have only a few decades to go, and we know how to interact with them. If somebody only has a week to go, we're all comfortable dropping everything else to spend time with them. Two years is a long time to be completely selfless, but short enough that it's potentially possible. For added angst, realize that people on their way out may behave badly. How much slack do you grant?
My friend J is blogging his thoughts about his wife's metastatic breast cancer here, and it's a powerful read. My details are very different, but many of the thoughts are the same.
The engineer in me suggests that this may be a solved problem. While Shute's hypothetical is unknowable, humans have been dealing with illness forever. Maybe a literature review is in order...
Dec. 17th, 2014
07:54 pm - More modern alchemy
As I have mentioned before, I like to think of my business as alchemy. We take base materials (copper, aluminum, fiberglass, solder) and with great labour fabricate a small amount of very precious stuff. Over the years that stuff has become more and more valuable. I've built some things (big simple electromagnets) that have sold for about $10,000 / kg. That's about as valuable as saffron. When we got into mechanisms that increased to about $150,000 / kg. That takes us into heroin and methamphetamine territory. Recently we've moved to rugged miniaturized optical systems. They go for $1,000,000 / kg, which is somewhere between cocaine and LSD.
It used to be a truism that an aerospace component shipped with paper that out-weighted it. Now that things are digital, I think a different metric is appropriate: compare the number of bytes of End Item Data Package that ships with the unit to the storage of its own internal computer. I'm in the process of shipping some widgets that have taken the better part of a year to build. The EIDP fills 830 MB, while the combined non-volatile memory of the widgets is 2 GB. So I have yet to reach full-on aerospace ridiculousness!