October 2011


Tomorrow starts National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo and even more shortened to NaNo. The idea is that writers tend to be overwhelmed at the prospect of writing a novel. However, it is much easier to write a novel if one actually sits down and writes.

Many people, including me, love a challenge. We will take up a project just because it is a challenge. Many people, including me, hate to fail. When we say we are doing something and we don’t manage to complete it, it is a giant red X in our lives.

I have signed up for NaNo. What I am supposed to do is write 50,000 words during the month of November. It is not supposed to be publisher-ready when I see December on the calendar. It is supposed to be ready for editing during the following months. What I am going to do (“Do or do not; there is no try.” – Yoda) is write 50,000 cogent words and have a place to start.

I have no idea if I will ever actually finish a novel. What I want to do is try writing fiction again. Once upon a time in a place far away (whoops, that is Star Wars again) … A long time ago, I wrote a serialized fiction work and posted it to my website. I would daily add another few minutes to read. I’m not sure anyone besides me ever read it.

At my writing forum, we came up with a place for characters not being used by their Bosses, aka authors, to meet and live during the hiatus. There, the characters could evolve into who they would have been had they had competent or more devoted Bosses. As a group, we had been writing flash fiction, very short stories, about all our characters and posting them in various threads on the forum. We managed to gather them together and published a book of these flash fiction stories. I have a dozen shorts in that book.

Most of my stories centered on Cassie and my serialized work had her as my main character (MC). I do not plan to have Cassie as my MC for this undertaking but I do plan to use the concept of what we called The Station but in my story will be called The Depot. I have been told by others at the writing forum that I am free to use the idea.

I think I’m supposed to have more of an idea of where to go with the story than I currently have planned out. I know the beginning and I think I know the ending. At least, I have a spot out there that I believe will be the way to make the story have those three basic parts – beginning, middle, end. My Cassie story had a bit of a problem with ever having an ending.

I don’t know if I can actually do this, as I have never tried anything like this before. However, there are many things in my life that I have mastered even though at one time, I had never done them before. Some are natural. I walk even though I wasn’t born able to walk. Same with talking, and boy have I mastered that. I can remember giving a person an injection for the first time, or starting my first IV. I successfully taught my first class. I have moved around from place to place even though the first time I moved away, I thought I would cease to exist.

Even more staggering and far more important, I became a parent without having any prior experience. Somehow, both kids survived me and I am quite please with the eventual “product” they have turned out to be. Of course, I had quite a bit of help in this particular endeavor.

I need to write 1,667 words per day to make my goal of 50,000 words by the end of the month. However, I much prefer round numbers. I also know that every-single-day is difficult but most-days is reasonable. So, I’m planning on a word count of 2,000 per day to give me some wiggle room, especially during the Thanksgiving weekend.

I’ve been advised by those who have done this in the past that it is easier to get ahead of the game at the beginning of the month and shooting for a higher word count in the first week or two will help me be successful in completing the task.

I know people who have done this even though they have full time jobs and a young family. There really will be no excuses for me. I have all sorts of available time, I just usually waste it in various inane ways.

So here is my declaration. I’m doing NaNo for 2011. Please wish me luck. And also, please understand if I’m not around quite as much during this coming month.

I’m wearing my Halloween t-shirt to work today. I have one more Halloween thing, a scary vest with all sorts of appliques on it, that I will wear on Monday.

I bought all these seasonal type outfits when I was teaching. Kids really like to see their teachers dressed for the season. At least they commented on the stuff, so I assume they liked it. But adults – not so much. I wonder if we just lost all our wonder, became too blase or jaded.

Wouldn’t it be sort of thrilling to look at the world each day and find all the neat stuff laying around, just waiting for us to appreciate it?

Just think of all the really neat stuff out there. Right now, there are terrific striated light to dark gray clouds piling up outside my window. But they aren’t covering the whole sky, so there is sunshine reflecting off the houses and the shadows of trees on the roofs. It’s quite a pretty picture.

For breakfast I had some organic vanilla and almond granola with a handful of dried cranberries thrown it. It was delicious. Crunchy and tasty. And even more, it was relatively speaking – healthy.

I stumbled out of bed, half asleep and made my way to the shower. I got the water to a nice steamy hot temperature and by the time I got out of the shower, I was awake and ready to face the day. The wonderful man I married had a fresh brewed cup of coffee waiting on the breakfast bar for me and I could enter the day clean and sipping on my coffee. Perfect.

The day has hardly begun and yet I have a small list of wonderful things to appreciate. Not that I would have done any appreciating if I hadn’t started to write this. I had looked at the sky, eaten my breakfast, and even sipped my coffee without much thought.

But instead of mechanically going through the day, maybe I should give thought to all the great things available to me in this time and place. There are myriad opportunities to be amazed, to be thrilled, to be engaged in the world – savoring all the goodness found therein.

First published today at RGQ:

There are unseen and possibly unforeseeable consequences to our actions. We do things and find out later that our best intentions have led to some other disastrous results.

In ancient times, disease could spread rapidly. Even today, in remote areas without sanitation means, diseases are spread via contaminated water. One of the reasons we are so disease-free is because of our sanitized water supply.

However, there may be a problem with our disinfected water. There are disinfection byproducts (DBPs) that are unintentionally formed during the process of cleaning the water. In fact, over 600 DBPs have so far been discovered. Some of these are toxic and 11 are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Science Daily reported on Michael Plewa from the University of Illinois. He and his team have found a cellular link to a range of neurological issues and these DBPs.

He is not claiming that drinking water will cause Alzheimer’s, wreak havoc with pregnancies, or cause cancer. There are some neurological problems that do seem to be associated with the processes we currently use to clean water.

It seems one of the problem byproducts is haloacetic acids (HAAs). The EPA has regulated HAAs for 15 years. Until this study, it was unknown exactly how the toxic substances worked.

It was thought HAAs directly damaged DNA but that was proven wrong. So the next step was to look to neuroscience. Plewa’s graduate student, Justin Pals, found something astounding.

Pals found iodoacetic acid, a particular HAA, reduced the amount of nutrients and oxygen in neurons by inhibiting glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPDH).

Apparently when studying the amount of GAPDH available to neurons, that number correlated with a number of different health markers.

“All the pieces of the puzzle fell into place in an instant,” Plewa said. “We had discovered our cellular target – GAPDH. Never before had this type of research been done with this level of precision and associated with a large body of adverse biological impacts.”

This means that HAAs are interfering with the production of ATP and this causes oxidative stress. This stress leads to damaged DNA. So the HAAs aren’t directly harming DNA, but instead they inhibit GAPDH and that leads to the oxidative stress which does cause disrupted DNA.

As an editorial note: the article mentions possible deleterious effects during pregnancy and the risk of Alzheimer’s. There is no mention of autism in the article. None! Please note this is my speculation.

However when I was a kid, there were just a very few cases of autism. Perhaps our diagnosis is better or our definition has broadened. However the number of cases is ballooning so maybe there is something else. Perhaps there is some connection between our water supply, the toxic substances in it, and our increased incidence of neurological problems.

Do you use unfiltered tap water? (By the way, there was nothing in the article to lead me to believe that filtering would help remove HAAs.) Do you know how your water is treated? Have you ever heard of these substances before?

Do you drink bottled water? Do you know it is treated prior to bottling and if there is any difference in the amount or types of toxins in it? Do you know what type of plastic it is put into and if that is safe?

First published today in Really Good Quotes:

As a student of history, I remember tales of those clever guys in the past who thought they could turn lead into gold. Or else they believed they could develop a perpetual motion machine. Either way, they were going to save the world in some manner by defying the laws of physics.

Actually, deep within the Earth, substances can turn from one element into another. But we can’t reproduce those special circumstances here on the surface. We are stuck with the laws of physics as evidenced here without all the excess heat and pressure available to the laboratory that is the core of the Earth.

On October 28, the world is going to change. Or it isn’t. But it might. On October 28, Andrea Rossi will test his E-Cat device. He actually prefers to call it “Low Energy Nuclear Reaction” but the rest of the world calls it cold fusion.

The term E-Cat means Energy Catalyzer. What Rossi hopes to provide is a way to produce energy after a short period of heating which then creates steam that could power a Stirling engine or any other steam powered device.

If it works, it will make energy so cheap, it wouldn’t be worth metering, according to Forbes. Instead, we will all have our own little E-Cats and be able to produce all the energy we want or need.

The reason this would revolutionize our world is because we are currently a power consuming planet. With this invention – should it work – our dependence on the Middle East and their oil products would be limited. Our own supplies of petroleum would be enough to produce all the plastics we could want. (I also saw a TED talk about actually economically recycling plastics, making our need for oil even less.)

If we converted all our mobilizing devices – cars, trains, and planes – to steam engines we could move about without burning fossil fuels.

All products’ costs should plummet because the expense of running a factory or powering a service provision center would fall as energy became inexpensive.

We could have one of these handy devices in our homes and heat and cool our residences to whatever temperatures we wanted and not have to worry. We could power all our appliances and electronics – all for very low cost.

Well, that would be if it worked.

And that would be after we converted all our current systems to run on steam rather than gasoline, etc. There would be a market blip as companies raced to see who could adopt the new technology and provide cheaper products and gain market share. There would be disruption in some services as conversion took place.

World politics would be in a tizzy as world markets tumbled or rose. There could be even greater issues in the Middle East as their one export all of a sudden became less desirable – this is always a risk with a one or few export economy.

Or else, October 28 will come and go and nothing will change. The fantastic device will not work and there will be no paradigm shift.

I’m not much of an energy expert. I don’t know what the actual thing has to do in order to really work. I do know that cold fusion has been a dream for a while and as yet, it is unworkable. So I don’t know if there have been enough breakthroughs to make this a viable notion or if this is just a pipe dream.

With free or nearly free energy (after purchasing the device – one would assume), perhaps there would be less of an economic divide between the First and Third World countries. Perhaps this would help us all become more free. Or maybe not – maybe it is just one more way for someone to control those without a voice.

It will be interesting to watch and see if Rossi is successful.

Do any of you scientific type people out there have any insights into this? Do you imaginative people out there have visions of what life would be like if this were to come true? How disruptive would a new power source be? How would governments, businesses, and individuals handle this?

My Mazda’s remote locking system hasn’t been working properly. It has been faulty since we bought the used car. We got the car at Stokes Mazda in North Charleston. The key works and then it doesn’t work. It is random in its functionality. I washed one of the remote key chains and it didn’t work any better or worse than the one I didn’t launder.

It was, to say the least, annoying. Having to use the key isn’t the worst thing in the world. However, Dick doesn’t always hit the button enough times to unlock the passenger side of the car. There is no keyhole on that side of the car, so even if I had my own key – there were times when I couldn’t let myself in.

We have taken it back to Stokes once before and of course, the key worked for them and since they couldn’t reproduce the issue, they couldn’t fix it.

My key worked this morning. Dick’s key didn’t. Curtis, the man who was helping us, thought perhaps it just needed a new battery. We knew that the battery was relatively new and had to be no more than 15 months old at the very oldest, since that is how long we have had the car. But we didn’t argue because that is stupid and we aren’t stupid.

Curtis put in a new battery and it still didn’t work. Then he noticed that the contacts were flattened out some and that seemed to be the issue. While he was messing with Dick’s key, I tried to use mine again. Nothing. But it was just the two of us there when it didn’t work.

Curtis finished finagling with Dick’s key and we went out to test it. Success. I showed him how mine didn’t work. The one that had worked for him ten minutes before was now dysfunctional. I couldn’t get it to work; he couldn’t get it to work. The light was no longer glowing even though it had been doing so when we first arrived.

Curtis took my key apart and the contacts weren’t touching either. So he lifted them and reassembled the key. Now, everything works. If they don’t stay functional, we may have to spend about $400 to buy new ones, but for now Curtis fixed our problem. For free. He was helpful, pleasant, and made my problem go away. Every time I have had the car in there, Curtis has been working the desk and each and every time he has been wonderfully helpful.

From there, we went to the bank (Bank of America). We had run out of deposit slips and the woman at the drive through window was very helpful and cheerful. She acted like she actually cared if we were satisfied with our banking experience. She helped us make the deposit even though we didn’t have the proper paperwork with us. Another wonderful service experience.

Since it is Friday, it is our date morning. We went to Perkins for breakfast. Jonathan was our waiter. He was efficient, pleasant, and provided just the perfect amount of hovering to make sure everything was okay, but not too intrusive. The bill arrived without our having to get impatient and we were able to get ourselves back home and get busy with our day.

Three places all with great service. I don’t know the teller’s name or I would have included that. I even mentioned to Dick as we were enjoying our breakfast (and if you have a Perkins near you, go and try one of the pumpkin muffins – it was fabulous) how our day was going. Three stops; three wonderful, helpful, pleasant people to help us with our day.

As we were leaving, Jonathan was at the register, but another woman was actually doing the transaction. She asked if everything was satisfactory and we told her it was. And she looked at Jonathan and teasingly said, “Well, except for your waiter.” I knew she was teasing and so did Jonathan. But I also knew that we had been having a splendid morning and I made sure that she and Jonathan both knew how great it was to offer good service and how appreciative we were for their efforts. (And we left a nice tip to make sure he knew we liked it, too.)

I have used this space to complain about poor service in the past. Today, I want to use this space to thank all the people who helped make my morning so pleasant.

Service providers, we service consumers really do appreciate a warm smile and a helpful attitude. Keep up the good work.

First published at Really Good Quotes.

I’ve never been bothered by allergies – right up until this past couple weeks. Luckily, they are just seasonal allergies to all the killer pollens out and about in my neighborhood.

Others, are not quite as lucky. Some people have terrible allergies to a number of things. One of the most up and coming allergies isn’t really new, but the frequency and virulence of the allergic reaction seem to be on the rise.

Peanuts can cause an anaphylactic reaction in some people who are allergic to the lowly peanut. I used to work with someone who had that response and this was about 20 years ago. So the whole idea isn’t new. Even so, schools have gone so far as telling their entire student population that peanut butter sandwiches cannot be brought to school because of allergies among some of the students enrolled.

Northwestern University has announce they may have found a way out of this particular problem. They are hoping they can solve other food allergies, as well.

They are tricking the immune system that has gone awry. They produce a tolerance to peanuts by attaching peanut proteins onto blood cells and introducing them into the body.

“We think we’ve found a way to safely and rapidly turn off the allergic response to food allergies,” said Paul Bryce, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of allergy-immunology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Bryce and Stephen Miller, professor of microbiology-immunology at Feinberg, are co-senior authors of a paper published in the Journal of Immunology.

This type of procedure has been used in the past to treat autoimmune diseases but this is the first time it has been used to treat an allergic reaction.

But, wait! There’s more. Not only does this seem to alleviate the allergic reaction, but it also has a second benefit of creating a more balanced immune system and increasing T cells. These important cells help regulate the immune system to keep it from believing the peanut proteins are evil. Instead, they are seen as normal.

T cells come in different varieties and the therapy turns off the dangerous Th2 cells that see peanut protein as invasive as well as turning on the good, calming, regulatory T cells. Since we humans are supposed to be able to eat peanuts without dying, this helps to bring the patient’s immune system back into stasis.

In mice, after two treatments, they were no longer reactive to deadly peanuts. After successfully testing the peanuts, the researchers also tried the same experiment with eggs. They were also successful in this experiment.

I got my first pair of glasses when I was in ten and in the fourth grade. I also got braces that same year. Never a beautiful child anyway, these two events did nothing to increase my appreciation of my natural “good looks” such as they are.

The braces eventually came off and I had nice straight teeth, although fewer of them. At least they all fit in my mouth.

When I was sixteen, I talked my mother into getting me contacts. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to be persuasive or perhaps pitiful enough that she permitted me to go that route – if I could pay for them myself. I was working and able to accumulate $120 – the price of contacts way back then (if I am remembering correctly and I was traumatized enough to believe this is accurate). Not easy to do with my low wage, but I was determined.

Back in the stone age, when I was sixteen, contacts only came in one variety – hard. They took a long time to get used to, but with determination, I worked my way up from a couple hours at a time to – finally, after way too long working towards it – all day long.

Over the last 42 years, I have gone from hard to gas permeable – something that was supposed to be better for eyes. I also had a traumatic cataract removed when I was 39 years old and have had weird eyes ever since. But with all that, I’ve been able to see clearly. Mostly anyway.

Years ago, after the cataract surgery, when I couldn’t even read the price tag on sale items as I was trying to shop, I went to monovision contacts. We figured that the eye with the implanted lens after surgery could be used for my distance vision and my other eye could be used for reading. I’ve used this system for about 15 years and it has always worked.

But my vision was less that crisp and my contacts were in need of an update. My old eye doctor moved and he had some weird qualifiers about contacts. So I went to a new doctor. Now she is just as cute as can be and younger, so probably not long out of school. She informed me on the first day that she didn’t fit gas permeable lenses.

I have been trying to work with her on these soft lenses. It took me a while to get the hang of getting them in and out of my eyes. But I’ve overcome that issue.

Each week, I would go and we would try to fix my poor visual acuity. Some lenses were just total losers. Some seem to work and then stop. My astigmatism seems to be the root of the problem.

With the contacts currently in my eyes, my vision finally reached 20/20 for the first time. I could read the fine print on the little reading card. And that is still true – sometimes. But the rest of the time, I can’t see jack shit. They shift or move or rotate or do something and all of a sudden I can’t see anything. I had to have Dick read me the instructions on the pasta today because I was in the not able to see phase and I couldn’t even FIND the instructions on the package let alone read them.

The other issue is comfort. My soft, comfortable contacts are not comfortable at all. I apparently don’t blink often enough and they often feel like steel wool in my eyes. I’ve been given different and various liquids to help with this issue, too. It was a problem I didn’t seem to ever have with my old contacts.

The nice thing is that since these are rather like suction cups on one’s eyeballs, they don’t get stuff trapped under the lens and hurt like hell. Instead, they dry out several times a day and hurt and like hell.

I’m giving up. Tomorrow I will call and see if the prescription she wrote out for glasses are for regular glasses with bifocals (since I can’t read without them) and if they aren’t, I need that kind. I will just get glasses, since why not – why should I care what I look like?  I will have to get just the bifocals as a second pair so I can read the computer screen at work/home.

Then, if I can find an optometrist who will work with me on hard contacts, I can get those and work on building up the time again. Something I’ve not had to do for a very long time. I’m sure glad I tried to modernize. It is working so well for me.

During the writing of this, as I look at my screen, things waver between crystal clear and so blurry, I’m relying on my typing skills since I can’t read a thing. This is annoying as I write, but the same thing happens when I drive. I can’t believe this is the best way to live my life.

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