Screw you, Passage of time! 54th Birthday

Today was my birthday.  For my birthday, I bought myself a chance to take a photo with the cast of a webseries I like called Critical Role that streams a Dungeons and Dragons game that I really like.  I've watched those guys play like 400+ hours of content so going to see them is like meeting up with old friends who have no idea who you are.  The human brain isn't really evolved enough to deal with the internet.

Anyway, I write about it because EVERYONE I encountered today was INCREDIBLY nice.  The 7-11 guy who sold me a bottle of water was happy.  The parking attendant was cheery.  The taxi drivers back and forth to McCormick place were pleasant and friendly but not overly so.  I passed a very pleasant homeless guy with a cat called Angela (I gave the cat $5).  The Critters I met were all very friendly and happy and no one had stereotypical body odor issues.  An Oakton student who I invited to come along for the picture seemed happy and didn't roll her eyes too much when I suggested doing "jazz hands" for the photo (see photo).  As we were being herded out I bumped into Sam Riegel's chest (after the aforementioned ill-conceived photo) and somehow got/gave him an awkward hug. Okay?  Everyone was smiling and welcoming.   The young lady behind us in line was a roller derby/professional singer/business major called Ashley who subsequently went with me to the panel discussion afterwards and was charismatic and friendly.  The C2E2 working the event were kind and friendly.  The Critical Role cast seemed tired by the end of the panel but were unerringly pleasant and polite.  Afterwards I drove to Portillos for a Birthday Italian Beef and a GIANT chocolate malt.  The checkout lady asked if I wanted something that big and I said, "Why not, it's my birthday!" and she gave me a free piece of chocolate cake.  I spoke briefly with my same-birthday'd bnf (best nerd friend) Lauren for birthday wishes and then drove home and was welcomed home by all my sweet cats, most of whom had not vomited on my bedroom rug.  All in all, a perfect day.   Thank you, world.  This was fantastic.  <3

Me and Oakton Gamers' Club DM Mary Schore with the cast of Critical Role!&nbsp; The face I am pulling is due to my inability to stop laughing long enough to take a proper photo; further proof that I had a fun time on my 54th birthday.&nbsp; Front Row Left to right: Liam O'Brien, Taliesin Jaffe, Me, Mary Schore, Marisha Ray, Laura Bailey.&nbsp; Back Row Left to Right:&nbsp; Travis Willingham, Matthew Mercer Sam Riegel&nbsp; Everyone in this photo is better looking in person.&nbsp;

Me and Oakton Gamers' Club DM Mary Schore with the cast of Critical Role!  The face I am pulling is due to my inability to stop laughing long enough to take a proper photo; further proof that I had a fun time on my 54th birthday.  Front Row Left to right: Liam O'Brien, Taliesin Jaffe, Me, Mary Schore, Marisha Ray, Laura Bailey.  Back Row Left to Right:  Travis Willingham, Matthew Mercer Sam Riegel  Everyone in this photo is better looking in person. 

Today's word: edubation (etymology - Critical Role Campaign 2 Term)

Meaning: To have extreme pleasure while learning.


The other day I was driving and saw the following license plate:

MARS 9 - What does it mean?

MARS 9 - What does it mean?

I've never been an enthusiast of having vanity plates myself;  my mom always said a vanity plate is like shouting to the world that you have more money than you need and so "please come rob me".  Besides I have stickers all over my car anyway so I can find my car in parking lots.  Sure it makes my car look insane, but after getting into other peoples' car two or three times by accident (I can't believe how many people don't lock their car doors) I decided it was better to have crazy stickers.

Anyway, I like reading vanity plates to figure out what they mean.  But this one confuses me.  MARS 9...

Is this person a fan of the Space program?  Do they want to go to Mars and "MARS 1-8" were taken?  Or maybe they like Mars candy bars?  Maybe they're fans of the Veronica Mars show.  Or they might be a Hellenic pagan;  I hear they're making a comeback.  Perhaps the driver is a spiritualist, or an astrologer, or an Aries, born in the House of Mars.  Or maybe it is an oblique reference to Iron, since Mars is the alchemical symbol for iron (I only know that because I was in Alpha Chi Sigma in college and history of alchemy was part of the initiation ritual... nerd!).  Or maybe it is someone who really likes men a lot...  you know, "Men are from Mars, Women are from Michigan". 

So not really a helpful license plate if the intent was to tell me about the driver.

And then there is that "9".  Sure, it might just be a random number.  But what if it stands for the German word "nein" (meaning "no")?  In that case, the driver is trying to tell me, "No, enough money spent on the Martian expeditions!  We should terraform our own planet before we go to Mars.  Let's reclaim the Sahara and THEN get to work developing a Green or Blue Mars (excellent book series by the way). 

Or maybe, "No!  Mars and the other Roman Gods were a lie.  Only <insert deity of your choice> is/are our true Lord(s)/Goddess(es)!"

Or "No!  Screw you, Mars Co.!  I invested in Hershey and Nestlé!  You can go to the hells!" get the drift.

So MARS9... wherever you are...  you have failed miserably to communicate your passion with your license plate.  You might consider adding a bumper sticker addendum to clarify.

Quote of the Day: "When you're going through hell, keep going." -Winston Churchill.




Gun Control: Things I think about in the shower #6

So, let me start with my usual disclaimer.  I'm a member of the ACLU.  I don't own firearms but  I'm a member of the NRA.  Because I believe we as citizens should never lose rights to our government, because seriously, look who is in charge.    That being said, I don't see any reason for the average citizen to own a tank or an AK-47 or a rocket launcher.  But even if we get rid of all that stuff, we will still have mass violence.  I mean, look at our entertainment:

Deadpool shoots 3 guys in slow motion.&nbsp; Awesome!&nbsp; I mean...&nbsp;

Deadpool shoots 3 guys in slow motion.  Awesome!  I mean... 

... who hasn't seen some of these movies where the crowd cheers, laughs and applauds when people have particularly over-the-top gruesome and gory deaths?    I think it's cool in a movie too.  I love me some comic book crazy violence.    I hate it in real life.  So much so that I can't watch figure skating competitions because I can't sleep if someone falls on the ice.  But I'm 54.  Can a 14-year-old make the distinction between a movie and real life?  Didn't a bunch of kids die because they were trying out stunts from those Jackass movies?  

I remember as a kid that there would be warnings on TV when there would be something graphic or upsetting about to be shown, and in comparison to today's standards, it honestly wasn't that graphic or upsetting.  I vaguely remember my parents talking about Vietnam and how they would show some photos from the war on the late night news...   Now an eight-year-old can go anywhere on the internet and not see only pretend movie violence, but also "reality tv" type actual violence and death and horror.  Gah.  

I don't think there is a way to put all that back into Pandora's box.   And I get that people wish we could be a bit more like other countries ... more open about sex and less forgiving of violence... but face it, America isn't like other countries.  We just aren't.  We're the country that historically is the place people go to when their own countries suck.  We're the melting pot of losers and outcasts whose lives were so awful that we were willing to give up everything and move to a totally new place to start over.  We're different.  We're weirdos.  We aren't like other countries, by definition.  Maybe in a hundred years as the world continues to shrink we'll start being more like other places...  but we're our own thing.  

Of course, I do understand our desire to DO SOMETHING after the school shooting.  Back in 2011 a sociopathic Norwegian supremacist (he didn't just hate brown people, he hated non-Norwegian people) called Anders Breivik killed over 70 people, mostly kids who were playing at a summer camp.  Norway has spectacularly taut gun control laws.  But he still managed to get the weapons he needed from abroad to commit the worst act of mass murder that country had ever seen.  The Norwegians took that guy, gave him a 20-year-prison sentence and while he's there he's getting a degree from University of Oslo.  (And he still complained his sentence was too harsh.)  

If it makes folks feel better to ban assault rifles and such then fine.  It's really not going to affect me;  I don't own a gun.  Guns scare me.  I can't use a glue gun without injuring myself;  handling an actual gun would almost assuredly result in me shooting myself in the foot at the very least.  I know a lot of gun owners and plan to hole up with them during the early days of the zombie/robot/sentient animal apocalypse.  I have thought about getting a shotgun "for home defense" but again I just have a feeling I'd accidentally shoot the cat or something and it would be awful.

I assume the gun enthusiasts in the country are all stocking up furiously right now and that anyone planning to go on a shooting rampage in the next ten years already has their hands on the weapons they are going to use.  So I don't expect anything to change anyway for a while.  I also expect that if you want to go shoot an AK-47 for fun that will still be possible at licensed shooting ranges.  I also expect that gang members and drug runners will still have those super ultra automatic weapons, probably from the same place Anders Breivik got his.  But changing gun laws isn't going to keep the occasional sociopath, fanatic or poorly medicated psychotic from opening up on a crowd.  Besides, if there are no assault weapons, there are always bombs, poisons and bioweapons around to destroy lives.  

Have a nice day?

Today's Murder Term: Sarin Gas
Use Sarin Gas in a sentence: Sarin Gas is an irreversible acetylcholinesterase inhibitor that causes cholinergic crisis. It was used in the 1995 Tokyo subway attack that injured 1000 people and killed a dozen, instigated by the cult of Aum Shinrikyo.



More than one chord

I've started listening to country music.  Wait, all my suburban/urban friends, hear me out.

I took a look at my iTunes playlist.  The newest song there was the closing title from the IronMan3 soundtrack.  I'd given up listening to popular music a while ago.  (When I say popular music, I mean anything accessible, including straight up "pop" and anything they play behind scenes in TV shows these days, as well as alternative, electronica, dance, rap, metal; whatever isn't experimental or concert music). Around 2005 my playlists had Britney Spears, Nickelback, Breaking Benjamin, Black Eyed Peas, Delerium, Sarah MacLachlan Barenaked Ladies and of course old NSync and Duran Duran.

I blame two things for my loss of interest in mainstream English-language music.

First, after I took music theory with Michael Adamczyk I realized how boring and repetitive popular music was.  So although I still love music for working out or singing along while I do housecleaning, it doesn't fire me up like it used to.

Second, I get the sense that a LOT of music is composed on LogicPro or whatever GarageBand-like program people use nowadays and I'm not convinced that younger composers know how to easily change the damn chords.  I sat one afternoon listening to some pop on Pandora and it's all the same chord.  Worse, the songs are all one note.  Don't believe me?  Go listen.  (Okay here's a song from top of Billboard called "Bad at Love": Oh, sure, sometimes the chorus is two or even three notes.  

Oh, I also hate hate hate autotune.  Case in point: Shakira.  Listen to her Spanish language song  "Ojos Así"... why would anyone autotune that voice?

There are a few exceptions: in dubstep, I liked some of Pendulum, which I attribute to the live drummer that made every measure a little different.  

I liked Eminem's Recovery album, not for the lyrics but I think he's particularly good at using his voice as a percussive instrument;  most other rappers I've heard emphasize their words over rhythm.  I mean, it's beat poetry, I get it, I'm not that interested.

Otherwise I tend to purchase individual songs I find interesting, or have some secondary meaning for me, or that remind me of the video I liked, or that I've found by accident, and then concert music.  And weird shit like the Trololo song.  Don't judge me.

ANYWAYS, for just listening to the radio I can't listen to talk radio as Rush Limbaugh lost his frickin' mind after the 2016 Election and is just boring.  NPR has similarly become unbearable.  Music-wise, Master Chief Steve Downes retired from 97.1FM The Drive so I can't listen to him talk about Cat Chow and Stevie Nicks anymore.  So if i want to hear Chicago radio, and if I'm in the mood, I'll listen to banda (Mexican polka music) on 107.9FM LaLey (  Banda music always sounds happy even if the words are sometimes depressing.  And I can understand most of the commercials (thank you, two semesters of Oakton Spanish!).

In the last month I've started listening to BIG 95.5 FM New Country music (   I have to assume the composers are writing on their guitars, and strumming one chord is boring, so they are using at least 3 chords.  Usually more.  Big improvement.

And the lyrics.  They are so much less "I suck, let's kill cops then get all rapey" or "hey look at my butt and use me also go women power (?)" and more "let's kick up our dusty boots and love each other, whiskey, Jesus, America and pickup trucks."  It feels more positive and less confusing.

Anyway, this isn't meant as a complaint against more mainstream music (or butts).  I think there is some interesting modern stuff.  Over the winter break my son is introducing me to Persona5 on the PS4 and the soundtrack is a really weird mashup of all different styles.  It just doesn't feel inspiring.

I just would love to find a new band that I really loved and could get excited about.  Any language, it doesn't matter!  It would be cool to be anticipating a new album like in the old days.

Okay, I'm gonna go listen to some old Delerium and empty the dishwasher.  I'm living on the edge baby!

PS:  If you know any pop composers, I've included this handy circle of fifths chart.  It can help them learn how to use more than one chord.  Share with your friends.  Let's wipe out monochord songs once and for all! ;-)

The circle of major fifths is the outer ring (going clockwise).&nbsp; It will get you back to the first chord you start with(try it!).&nbsp; You can cheat and take a shortcut; as long as you only skip one section.&nbsp; Always go back to the chord before the chord you started with but keep all the rest in order.&nbsp; So if we start with C, always end with -F-C.&nbsp; But go clockwise from C as far as you like, then end with FC.&nbsp; It will be great.&nbsp; Try it!&nbsp; &nbsp;Do... C-G-F&nbsp; Aha!&nbsp; Now...&nbsp; C-G-D-F-C&nbsp; Now&nbsp; C-G-D-A-F-C.&nbsp; &nbsp;Now laugh maniacally!&nbsp; (PS:&nbsp; The inner circle is minor chords).

The circle of major fifths is the outer ring (going clockwise).  It will get you back to the first chord you start with(try it!).  You can cheat and take a shortcut; as long as you only skip one section.  Always go back to the chord before the chord you started with but keep all the rest in order.  So if we start with C, always end with -F-C.  But go clockwise from C as far as you like, then end with FC.  It will be great.  Try it!   Do... C-G-F  Aha!  Now...  C-G-D-F-C  Now  C-G-D-A-F-C.   Now laugh maniacally!  (PS:  The inner circle is minor chords).


Today's Norwegian Word:  å slipp  (to let or release)

Used in a sentence:  Slipp ingen inn, la ingen se

("Don't let anyone in, Don't let anyone see" -fra songen <<La den gå>> from the Frozen soundtrack)



No Need For Driving

The eclipse happened today. I ordered some glasses recommended by the NASA website and I'd planned to drive south to get into the path of totality...  but the forecast called for clouds all down route I-57 so... meh.  

That being said, the sun did peek out in and out of the clouds and I had a lot of fun running around the block sharing my glasses with folks I caught outdoors.  I had two pairs and gave one pair to a bunch of guys working on the sewer line on the street.  Only one of them spoke English, but I saw them all taking turns looking through the lenses and they seemed really stoked about the eclipse so that was good.

I also filmed a meh video about drug naming.  Not a super tough topic but it was the eclipse so why not?


Norwegian word of the day:  Sun  =  Sol

Example:  "The sun is hiding."  "Solen gjemmer seg." 

Almost dead, but not

I just woke up, about 4 am, absolutely unable to breathe, choking on something or another (I strongly suspect, despite having zero evidence of this, that a spider crawled down my gullet, as I once read spiders crawl in peoples' mouths when they are sleeping and spiders are my arch-nemeses).  Obviously I lived.  However, I am sad to report that as I struggled to cough out whatever was blocking my trachea my final thoughts were not of how my death would affect my family, or who would take care of my pets, or whether the department would be able to access my gradebook for the semester, or even the most basic thought that I should get up and summon the police with my handy police-summoning Xfinity home security gizmo.  No, my final thoughts were that I wasn't wearing one of my nicer nighties and I was going to be found dead not being very fashionable.

I feel like I should just turn in my Modern Independent Highly-Educated Woman ID badge and join a reality TV show where I complain about my makeup and whether The Bachelor-of-the-moment likes me better than Amber or Sparkles or whatever other empty-headed goofballs are on those shows.  As a proud member of the ACLU, I completely support their right to be empty-headed goofballs.  But that's supposed to not be me.  It's like I don't even know myself anymore.  I'm seriously disappointed.

Also, I hate spiders.

Today's Early Morning Norwegian Word is "Edderkoppen" which means "The spider" as in "Edderkoppen dreper meg." [The spider is killing me.]


Mom's Advice: Things I think about in the shower 5

(Preface:  I'm noticing that I mostly think about upsetting philosophy and modern society in the shower.  That's pretty weird, I think, because knowing me I'd think when my mind drifts I'd think about kittens or space battles.  I have to think about what this means...  anyway...)

When I was a teenager, my mom sat me down and told me, "When you're making out, don't let the boy get too excited.  If boys get too excited they can't control themselves."  I'm sure she got this wisdom from her own mother in the 1950s when all women pretended to be virgins before marriage.    

I was thinking about this in the shower because I've once again heard this argument that"all men are inherently rapists".

It occurred to me that "boys can't control themselves" and the statement "all men are inherently rapists" are basically the same flawed logic.  If it is a biological failing men have, then who are we to oppose it?  Right?  (I'm playing devil's advocate here.)  It's pretty clear that sexual preference for the vast majority of people is anatomically based.  Would the feminists of the world start an ad campaign saying that homosexual men should control themselves from being homosexual?  Of course not.

If "men are all inherently rapists" then it logically follows that men have a biologic imperative to rape women at will.  Which is clearly bullsh*t.   

I've also read in a lot of places, "Okay, well, not ALL men are rapists..." me that's basically the same as saying, "Okay, well not ALL Jews want to steal your money" or "Okay, well, not ALL African-Americans eat watermelon" and so forth.  The implication is that the speaker is obviously prejudicial against the group in question.  Saying "Okay, well, not ALL men are rapists..." is to me the equivalent of "Okay, well, I PERSONALLY hate and fear men" and I think that's a little sad.

Regardless, you could also look at it the other way.  My mother's assertion is also that she expected that I wouldn't lose control, and therefore would be my boyfriend's keeper.  (So it's also the girl's fault if she can't keep the boy in line.)  I mean, I've lost control in my life a few times.  There have been times where I've done stupendously stupid things while drunk (the few times I've been drunk, another reason I don't drink), or while exhausted, or worse, while in love.  

Women do stupid, horrible things too.  We're all humans.  We all do stupid things and every day we have to wake up and make a conscious effort to do something stupid.   Why is it always about women versus men?  Why not everyone versus stupid?

Anyway, it was a short shower so I'm off to go back to thinking about space battles. 

Heartache = heart injury?

I got this question from a former student: 

Hey doc! I have a random medical question and you're the only person I could think of that could possibly explain it in a way I can understand. What is the physiology of heartache? What causes the physical "ache" or "pain" a person feels in their chest/heart area when they're grieving or experiencing heartache?

I'm really interested in this, actually, because the chest pain I get from the depression is the same as the chest pain I had when I broke up after long relationships.

When Carrie Fisher died, and her mother Debbie Reynolds died the next day, I saw a lot of news reports saying Debbie died of "Broken Heart Syndrome" aka Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy, which led to a number of as-usual-totally-wrong news reports that heartache you get after a breakup is actually a heart attack and will kill you.

First, let's keep in mind that when she died, Debbie Reynolds was 84.  Also the autopsy showed she'd died of a stroke.  So the heartache idea is totally wrong.  That being said, if you are 84, you probably have some narrowed vessels or cholesterol plaques or areas of weakened artery walls (called aneurysms) in your brain and your daughter dying might stress you out and cause an increase in blood pressure and heart rate that might cause one of those weak spots to blow.  Very sad. But not a heart problem.

I spent a little time looking up "Broken Heart Syndrome" at the time and the idea is that stress causes a big surge in norepinephrine and heart rate and blood pressure and this leads to a weird shift in coronary blood flow that can lead to something like a vasospastic angina.  However, EKGs done during a bona fide episode of Takotsubo cardiomyopathy shows signs of reduced oxygenation, like angina or an MI (heart attack).  So yes, severe stress can trigger some coronary blood flow weirdness.  But it's super rare and I challenge you to find someone who has never had heartache.  

But "heartache" doesn't mean "you are dying of a heart attack".  That would be spectacularly counter-evolutionary, for one thing.  The whole point of even having heartache is to encourage you to stay with your mate and clan so they can help raise your (unreasonably helpless human) baby. The emotional pain of losing someone you love is like withdrawal of a drug (love).  Love makes you want to mate, which makes more babies, which eventually leads to your species being in charge and a bunch of crazy weirdos becoming leaders of countries and the planet.

...speaking of chest pain...

Anyway, I've seen some pseudoscience sites say the stress increases norepinephrine (NE) and so of course that causes the broken heart syndrome.  I expect it sounds logical, but then why do I (and others) get that same chest pain when we are depressed?  Surely if constant chest pain for years on end was due to inadequate oxygenation of heart tissue people with depression would eventually get heart failure and die.  (I just coincidentally had a stress test with echo that showed my heart is A-Okay despite years of depression).The monoamine hypothesis suggests depression occurs when there is too little NE, or serotonin or dopamine.  That's why drugs that increase or mimic those neurotransmitters help relieve depression.  So... feeling depressed after a break up is due to levels of NE being too high and being too low?  Doesn't make sense.

Looking around the web and medical websites it looks like no one knows why depression and breakups cause chest pain.  A press release from Emory describes a prospective study of over 5000 adults in North Carolina that showed depressed people have chest pain and it happens in the absence of coronary artery disease. Yeah, duh. 

I've also seen a lot of people quoting a Scientific American "Ask the Experts" article written by Robert Emery and Jim Coan (two PhDs, not medically trained) talking about emotional pain triggering "the anterior cingulate cortex [that] may respond by increasing the activity of the vagus nerve—the nerve that starts in the brain stem and connects to the neck, chest and abdomen. When the vagus nerve is overstimulated, it can cause pain and nausea."

My students know that any reference to the vagus nerve causing angina makes me infuriated.  The vagus nerve slows heart rate.  Any pain or nausea caused by the vagus nerve would have to be referred stomach or esophageal pain.  Not the heart.

So the answer, I think, is that no one knows why heartbreak and depression cause chest pain. 


I expect that folks will keep studying the phenomenon because that chest pain totally sucks, even if you only count the cost of ER visits due to MI false alarm.  And depression is the top reason for disability in America and disability means lost time working and paying taxes.  And our government definitely wants us all to work and pay taxes.  So stop with the chest pain already!

Today's Norwegian Vocabulary Word: hjertesorg
  Pronounced: (yer-tuh-sore).
   (Translation: heart sorrow or heartache)
Exercise: Use "hjertesorg" in a sentence:
Example: Da rotte Smough døde, hadde jeg hjertesorg.
(When my rat Smough died, I had heartache.)




Two legs good, four legs bad (Things I think about in the shower pt. 4)

I have this really cool sweater coat I bought at Lucky about a decade ago.  It's obviously inspired by historical Chinese fashions with wide sleeves and a mandarin collar.  It's gorgeous.  I used to wear it all the time until I heard about "cultural appropriation".  Now I NEVER wear it, and I also never wear in public other clothing or jewelry that someone might claim as their own domain.  This includes some dangling earrings my sister got me in India, or a Mah Jong tile bracelet (although maybe I could argue that they represent my connection with old Jewish ladies, I suppose?), or a Halo T-shirt with the word "Hola" on it, or my Korean-inscribed T-shirt...

I feel really confused by the extent to which "cultural appropriation" is used as an accusation or even a threat in the US now, so much so that I'm afraid to wear anything or do anything someone might see as not of my own heritage (which so far, according to my sister's 23andMe DNA testing includes mostly Scotland, England, Ashkenazi Jew, a dash of Native American and a dash of West African.)  I realize I look like a white Anglo-Saxon (I think I look equally British and Norwegian and would look even more so if only my mother hadn't used all that over-the-counter benzedrine in 1963), so I've been far less likely to buy "ethnic" goods like fair trade fabrics from India. If I wear my African-made earrings of little giraffes is that cultural appropriation?  Will someone call the news about it and get me fired from my pathetic two-hours-a-week job?  

I thought maybe I was taking it too far until an Asian-American colleague at work told me I shouldn't wear mandarin-collar clothing to work because it was insensitive cultural appropriation. So I won't. Similarly I don't want to be on TV getting beaten up because I wore an embroidered blouse for Cinco de Mayo. 

That's the thing I find so sad about it.  I mean, I know in my heart of hearts that I love the fact that in the US we have all different cultures represented, and I know in my heart of hearts that I love my non-white friends and relatives as much as I love my white friends and relatives.  And I know that the majority of people do not give a crap if I wear a mandarin-collared outfit, or a kimono-styled blouse to work.  So I know that I mean utterly no offense by wearing objects I find beautiful.  I know that I will go above and beyond to help my students no matter what their race, religion or sexual identity.  So the only reason I don't wear the giraffe earrings my Korean-American BFF brought me from her two month stint on the African continent is because I don't want to get fired or reported on or beaten up by social justice warriors.  The SJWs of the world seem to think it is absolutely okay to destroy anyone they've decided must be a bad person for the most innocent of acts they've decided are offensive.

I also find utterly baffling the apparent desire by (mostly young) Americans of varying cultural backgrounds to segregate themselves from fellow Americans of different genetic heritage.  That they want to get rid of the white people they live with.  I honest-to-god don't get that at all.   I remember rampant mainstream racism from the 1960s.  My WASP-grandparents belonged to a restricted country club (no blacks or Jews allowed). Didn't my hero Martin Luther King Jr die specifically because he was calling an end to the evil of segregation?  I saw a news story that a college student group in Michigan wanted a place on campus that didn't allow whites. Don't they realize that if they get the legal right to discriminate by skin color that the crazy white supremacists will then have the legal precedent to do the same?   And then we'd see students demanding whites-only days at school.  It would be a disaster that I think would spur terrible violence and tragedy.

Back in the 1970s, the message my parents taught me was that in America we should accept all cultures and races and bring them into our own lives with acceptance and understanding. America was the "great melting pot" and as new waves of immigrants arrived we took those cultural influences and made them part of our greater picture.  Each culture had its own national pride, sure.  And each wave of immigrants sadly had to put up with some fear and bigotry...  the Irish faced it, the Italians faced it, the Jews faced it, the Chinese, the Mexicans, the Muslims...  It sucks but it isn't specific to non-whites by any means.  

Here In Chicago the Irish and Polish were big influences when I was growing up, but there was also Chinatown and Greektown and areas of the city where you could go have a meal where English wasn't on the menu.  Those places are still here;  just in the last year I've gone to restaurants where the staff and customers all spoke Lithuanian,  Korean, Japanese and Bulgarian. Do I have the right to take a selfie while I enjoy a meal at a Korean BBQ?  Should I feel scared to tell people I really like a particular Japanese Ramen shop?  I honestly don't know.  And I hate feeling I've lost the right to free speech.  Especially since everything I think usually comes out of my mouth without a filter.  ACLU all the way, baby.

The vitriol on the news and on social networks make me actually afraid I might be offending someone who cannot control their violence or vindictiveness.  I've been teaching at Oakton for ten years and there is usually someone in every class who thinks I've said something typically sexist or racist or whatever (usually because I talk about pharmacology issues intertwined with genetics or gender).  For example, every year I get someone who says, "I looked up BiDil on the internet and what you were saying about it being only useful to African-American patients was actually true!"  

*Insert Facepalm Here*   Why would I make up stuff in lecture that is easily checkable?  Students have such weird ideas about instructors...

Anyway, I was thinking about this whole issue in the shower after watching this video about some protest because white people were wearing kimonos.  The conclusion I came to is to not wear or talk about anything the young SJWs of the world might decide I shouldn't because it just isn't worth getting publicly scorned or beaten because I wanted to wear my dangly earrings. 

If you really want to bring people together it has to be in a loving, welcoming way.  Educating people is far more likely to change minds than threatening ever will.   Trump is a hot mess but I know intelligent, liberally-minded people who voted for him in part due to fear.  Not fear of people of color or Muslims or LGBTQs, but rather fear of those social justice warriors. Because those people are f*cking terrifying.  

The pigs' slogan "Two legs bad, four legs good!" was a powerful motivator on the farm, but it didn't work out at all for the horse.  Just sayin'...

Today's Norwegian Prhase: koreansk grillrestaurant
  Pronounced: (Core-yi-ahnsk greel-fest).
   (Translation: Korean barbecue restaurant)
Exercise: Use "Koreansk grillfest" in a sentence:
Example: Jeg spiste bulgogi på den koreanske grillrestauranten; det var deilig!
   (I ate bulgogi at the Korean barbecue restaurant; it was delicious!)

Another day, another dying cat.

I have the reputation in my family as "the person you call to come and get the dead bird on the patio"...  this is because I used to take care of the rats in my high school biology class with Mr. Holzer, and several years later I had a summer job at the U of Illinois "Biologic Resources Lab" where all the experimental animals for the entire campus were housed.  I was on the rodent floor and spent every day moving animals into clean cages with fresh food and water.  I looked after mice, nude mice, rats, gerbils, hamsters, chinchillas, rabbits and inexplicably: turtles, frogs and two sloths.

An unpleasant part of the job was finding animals that had perished, and with the hundreds of animal cages that happened almost every day.  (At that job I learned how to distinguish what type of animal had died by the smell alone.  I could tell a dead mouse from a dead hamster just by odor.  This, I was disappointed to learn, was not a skill potential employers were interested in.

But because of that job, I became the de facto animal coroner for my mother.  Hence the phone call every time one of her cats murdered a mouse.

Then after med school, when I reported having to dissect cadavers and later pronounce people dead, I became the angel of death for all pets in my mom's view.  Any time an animal was super sick it was on me to make the call.

In December my mother, who at that time lived alone in Pittsburgh, was discovered by her visiting nurse in a very confused state, initially thought to be due to a stroke.  (It wasn't a stroke.  Or a seizure.  Or a UTI.   My own theory is that her confusion is due to a combination of depression and  diabetes for which she was taking either no medication - thanks to Dr Oz for convincing her to use his snake oil supplements instead of metformin - or the wrong dose.

So I went out to Pittsburgh and discovered her cat Bonnie was skeletal and lethargic as my mother had been too sick or confused to take her to the vet.  I talked to her and then I and my youngest sister took Bonnie to be euthanized, which was very sad as I'd known Bonnie for many years.  

Selfie with Honey the Cat. &nbsp;Her eyes reflect oddly for a cat. &nbsp;If she were a human that would be how nuclear cataracts might look... as far as I recall. &nbsp; :-(

Selfie with Honey the Cat.  Her eyes reflect oddly for a cat.  If she were a human that would be how nuclear cataracts might look... as far as I recall.   :-(

Now my mom is too sick for her current place and is moving to a place with a higher level of nursing where she can't have cats.  So I drove out last weekend to get Honey, a 13-year-old tortie. When I got there Honey looked trembly and poorly groomed.  I drove back to Chicago with Honey hanging out in the back seat (being in the car doesn't seem to bother her much) and took her in to see the vet.  She had a battery of tests and unsurprisingly has bad kidney failure.  But she still eats and drinks and walks around so I talked it over with the vet and we're going to switch her to a kidney health diet and I'll give her SC saline once a week and check her again in a month.  He thinks she could have up to a year left if she responds to treatment.  Poor baby. 

Okay, anyway, here's the point.  Just because I had a job where I had to inventory dead animals, and another job where I had to declare people dead, that doesn't mean I like doing that!  Or that it doesn't affect me.  I cried for a week after finding one of the neighborhood squirrels dead after being struck by a car.  (I of course wrapped him in a towel and put him in a box before disposing him in the manner suggested by the local animal control officer because yes I called her because dead squirrel.)  I realize this makes me a crazy person and that I will be one of the first to die in the coming apocalypse, but it is what it is.

Anyway, I mean, maybe other people are different, but I never got used to telling people they were going to die or go blind.  What I did learn how to do is to not be emotional about it in front of the patient.  I mean, it's happened that I teared up with a patient if I was tired or some such and not braced to resist crying. But my old mentor in medical school, Dr. Byron Ruskin, once told me (I think wisely) that when a patient is frightened and getting bad news, their job should not be to comfort their doctor.  I think nurses have it a little easier in this regard.  Nurses work so closely with patients that if they cry with a patient it's seen as a form of comfort and support.  But our job as doctors (at least when I was practicing) is to comfort our patients, not the other way around.  I think that is scary to the patient.  I once saw one of my doctors very upset about my illness and I felt terrible.  I didn't want that guilt... that my situation was wrecking my life was bad enough.  It shouldn't make my doctor cry too, especially when I knew he had done his absolute best for me.  He'd saved my life at least once.  Some patients just don't respond to treatment or get an unintended side effect.  I understand that.  It isn't worth ruining someone else's day.

On a tangential note, it occurs to me that I've also seen a lot of naked people as a doctor.  That doesn't mean I want to see you naked.  Or that it won't bother me to look at the rash on your butt you are trying to show me four minutes after I've met you at a social event.  What I can do is look at your naked body and go into that weird doctor mode where it doesn't emotionally affect me. The same goes for you telling me a revolting story about the time you had that armpit abscess drained just as I take my first sip of creamed soup.   I can go to doctor mode and then make a point of never interacting with you ever again.

This is an image from a children's book I picked up in Norway. &nbsp;The scene depicts the main character's pet cat Mimmi's death after being struck by a car. &nbsp;Awwwww...ahhhHHHH!  &nbsp;Culture shock, right?

This is an image from a children's book I picked up in Norway.  The scene depicts the main character's pet cat Mimmi's death after being struck by a car.  Awwwww...ahhhHHHH!

 Culture shock, right?

What was the point of this entry?  Uhhhh...  oh, right.  Don't call me to take away a dead animal (or person) because I hate that.  

Today's Norwegian Vocabulary Word: dør
  Pronounced: (due-r).
   Translation:   noun: door
   verb present tense: die (to die= å dø))

Exercise: Use "dør" in a sentence:
Example: Katten dør.
   (The cat dies)

Because Ohio

Last known photo out my dashboard. &nbsp;(Cortana, protect us!)

Last known photo out my dashboard.  (Cortana, protect us!)

I couldn't make it to Pittsburgh as I'm just too sick and exhausted.I'm going to hang out here at the well-lit Towpath service plaza on the Ohio Turnpike for a while and maybe catch a nap. This seems like a bad idea; the kind of thing my mother would warn me about being murdered by drifters.  I called a few nearby motels with no luck.  I'm stuck here at least a few hours until I'm awake enough to drive and not vomit.  If I go missing I blame Ohio.  Lauren can have my signed-by-Ben Farscape peacekeeper rifle. Linda C. gets my Byzantine necklace.  Georges gets my Buffy Scythe (and Gambit pages). Tony gets all my money, savings and other stuff in the deposit boxes and first dibs on all my other stuff provided he takes care of my pets the way I would until they die of natural causes.... Mwahahaha!  Vivi gets my musical instruments and music books so she can start a band in high school.  Lilly gets my drawing/painting/ceramics and other craft stuff and glass animals.  I don't know what all the three year olds would want of mine... maybe my vast Barbie collection?  Hmm... Weirdly I always think of my hobbies as pretty childish... Maybe not so childish three year olds would want that stuff.  Meh.

Anyway, I expect my other nerdy friends will have to divvy up my nerdy action figures and collectibles via armed combat (totally reasonable) and the rest of my possessions should be sold off on eBay and the money used to hire lawyers to file a class action lawsuit against Dr Oz (obviously).  It's what I would have wanted.

My remains (if any) should be set adrift Viking-style into Lake Michigan in a fiery boat (along with my Xena sword, Heinlein books and high school diaries and Star Wars fan fiction I wrote at age 13 that I still have for some reason and should definitely not ever be read by anyone).  Oakton can have all my Pharm teaching materials (Tony can get at them on my Google Drive).  I think that covers all the important stuff.  I'm also sure a blog written at 3am on an iPhone is totally legally binding.  Yay murder by drifters in windowless vans!! 😊🚗🇺🇸😬 

UPDATE: It was too scary at the rest stop so I texted my sister I was tired and would just power thru and then Siri messaged me to put down the iPhone and take a nap. (?!)  Not wanting to anger the Apple Overlord A.I., I just kept taking breaks and drinking caffeine.  I eventually got to my sister's house, turned off the engine and instantly fell asleep in my car for two hours. ...In front of my sister's house... for two hours.  Asleep at the wheel (probably drooling) like that YouTuber who lives in her car to save college money...

Some days I think my life would make a great sitcom.

Today's Norwegian Vocabulary Word: samling
  Pronounced: (sohm-ling).
   (Translation: collection)
Exercise: Use "samling" in a sentence:
Example: Jeg har en actionfigurssamling.
   (I have an action figure collection.)



It's a man's life, Playing with tiny dolls on a big grid

Today I went back to GamesPlus for their weekly Pathfinder Society meeting, hopefully to play with people over age 13.  As before, the GM was a jovial and enthusiastic young man who was clearly there to give everyone an interesting and good time.  There were evidently too many people there for one table, so I got split off with two other guys to play (luckily with the same GM) a scenario where we played pregenerated characters that were like level 7 or 8.  The thing is, this was my third game ever, and I got this super complicated character with tons of powers.  Which might have been interesting, but there were palpable waves of disapproval and impatience from one of the other players, who was dumbfounded that I didn't know even the basics of melee combat!  INCONCEIVABLE!

I'd probably feel worse about it, except the player in question was a burly ginger with a giant beard with two braids in it like it as seen in Lord of the Rings. I mean, I've known a lot of folks who don't dress like a "normal person" (whatever that is), and have, on occasion, been in public looking a little weird.  However, beard man didn't crack a smile the entire time.  We played for over five hours.  Because evidently this was a super serious game and we all need to take the endeavor extremely seriously.  It seems to me that if you're going to metaphorically shriek at the world that you're a little weird by wearing beard braids and you want to be accepted despite your weirdness, than at least you should be an affable and jolly fellow.  I mean, that's my excuse!  I'm a bit odd, but at least I'll try to make you laugh.  Well, who knows, maybe his dog died earlier.  

...because sometimes you just want to eat brains.

...because sometimes you just want to eat brains.

Regardless of grumpy players, the thing that troubles me a bit is that I had a better time playing a scenario with the 13-year-olds than doing the same with people in my own age range.  The kids were having a great time playing.  There was almost continual giggling and jokes and laughing but we still played in character and the mission was successfully finished.  These older guys today didn't seem like they were having fun.  The other, non-braided, player was a fellow I played with last week who seemed pretty laid back and was eager to explain stuff to me.  But he also appeared to not be having fun.  

And, like, I mean, how could you not have fun playing this game?  I mean, we had secret missions, we were working for an evil syndicate, we had to investigate an illicit drug-making facility and get evidence about all the wrong-doing and evil.  And I was a shapeshifter. Shapeshifter.  Like Mystique.  I mean, shapeshifting AND pharmacology?!  It should have been a barrel of laughs for everyone.  And about two-thirds through the run I freed a creature called Aogg (pictured at right) who, in gratitude for my freeing him, chomped off my head and ate my brain. Then I got to play as Aogg!   Yeah, Aogg's pretty cool. He can hover.  Yeah, pretty cool...

Anyway, I tore the end-boss in half with my green pincers and ate his brain.  I WIN!

The win was tempered a little as the other players began immediately packing up their stuff the moment I ate the bad guy's head (awesome)...  I don't get that.  If you're treating the experience like it's an onus, and it's a game, then why do it at all?

Sigh.  I realize I'll be happier once I can find a home game to play, or find a group that wants to  enjoy themselves, or even just find a group of folks to hang out with outside of work.  The main problem, as I see it, is that I mostly meet folks at work, mostly fellow instructors, and most ladies my age all are way too busy to go turning into a giant brain-eating crab monster every weekend.  They're working and/or have kids or a spouse and they spend their solo free time sleeping so they don't die.  And I can't be friends with men at work because prior experience indicates that men think you want to have sex if you want to meet outside of work.  Totally don't.  Just want to have some fun and diversion.  I don't mind playing with slightly younger or older folks as well.  

Ah well, I won't let one dwarven-wannabe ruin the experience.  It's still fun to just go out and spend time with other humans doing something completely ridiculous without feeling foolish about it.

Anyway, I have to go to sleep;  the four hour game totally set off my migraine thing and I'm still dizzy and nauseous as hell four hours later.  Hmmm... Maybe I need to cut down on all the flying and brain-snacking.  Teehee!  


Pathfinder Rules of the Day: Action Types

   Translation: Stuff you do in the game while pretending to fight a mean thing using rules even though you're an adult but you don't care because it's awesome.

   Exercise:    Translate this sentence from the Rules for Pathfinder:

"In a normal round, you can perform a standard action and a move action, or you can perform a full-round action. You can also perform one swift action and one or more free actions. You can always take a move action in place of a standard action." **

  Answer: Huh?

The sort of thing that only happens to me

So as I wrote before, I decided to get back into tabletop RPG because it's something fun where you meet a lot of people.  Since I haven't found a home game yet, I've been doing D&D Adventurer's League and Pathfinder Society since those are groups you can drop in and out of at will and just enjoy a nice afternoon of gaming while being in public and interacting with humans without committing to said random humans.

I'd been doing internet searches for groups in the area and found an entry for "Northbrook Pathfinder Society" and emailed the organizer, who emailed me back quickly with a very articulate and friendly email inviting me to play.  I got the impression that this guy was an instructor at the local junior high (where I and my son both went to school, actually), who was getting kids interested in tabletop gaming.  It seemed like a fun, wholesome, easy group to play with, especially as it set of my teacher-spidey-sense.  I love working with kids if I feel I can get them enthused about a topic.  When my son Tony was in school I ran a Junior Great Books group and I also put on a micro demo every year at the school science fair to get folks using microscopes.  Working with kids in the role of a teacher is something I really like (but not enough to do it full time...).

Anyway, today I went to the meeting and found a table with five 12- to 13-year-olds getting ready to play.  I was pleased to see there were two girls there (girl gamer power!).  But no instructor.  Because the person I'd been communicating with turned out to be... you guessed it... another 13-year-old kid.  

I would have bailed, mostly because I didn't want to seem like a total weirdo, but the whole teacher thing weighed on me.  I felt I couldn't say, "Oh, screw this, I'm not playing with kids," as I thought that would be incredibly rude.  I'm sure they wouldn't have cared but... anyway, I sat down and played a four hour scenario with the group.

Fighting the final boss in the scenario today... I was the only one with heals... so I guess it was worth being the super creepy lady sitting on the Sunset Foods balcony with all the young folks? &nbsp;I guess?

Fighting the final boss in the scenario today... I was the only one with heals... so I guess it was worth being the super creepy lady sitting on the Sunset Foods balcony with all the young folks?  I guess?

It actually was a lot of fun.  The group reminded me a lot of those kids on "Stranger Things"; the leader in particular seemed extremely bright.  He reminded me a lot of my son Tony at that age.  And I don't mind playing with kids or young people, actually.  I played a LOT of Halo and videogames with Tony when he was younger and sometimes was in multiplayer with him and his friends.  That being said...  I mean, come on, it's weird to play with a group whose TOTAL age is still less than yours.

SIgh.  This only happens to me.  I just blunder into stuff like this. 

The only consolation was that I think (or hope) that the adults that walked by assumed I was one of the kids' mom, and not like a super creepy lady who lures children to their watery graves.  At one point the leader's grandfather stopped by...  I shook his hand and gave him my full name and afterwards gave the leader one of my business cards to give to his grandfather.


Oh god, the cringing.  So much cringing.  I think it will take at least a week for the cringing to wear off.  

Anyway, I did have fun and was useful as they had no healer and I ended up preventing a TPK.  But I did end by thanking them profusely for helping me learn the game, and said I thought it was probably a little weird to them that this old lady showed up, but thanks again, and if they ever had a medical question they were welcome to ask and then I got the hell out of there.

I remember back around 1979 that I played D&D with some nerdy friends once a week (and then went to Big Boy's for milkshakes and french fries) and our DM was a guy who wore fatigues.   I thought he was MUCH older than us, but in retrospect he was likely only in his early or mid-twenties.  I wonder if he might have been a VIetnam vet and maybe a relative of one of the kids.  He was a great DM so we didn't care.  

Likely the kids didn't care either, but I felt I was intruding on something that should be an adult-free and happy memory for these kids.  

Tomorrow I'm going back to Mount Prospect to try another Pathfinder Scenario with the awkward grownups that play there.  Where we can all be awkward together without anyone calling protective services.


Hey, you know, it gets me out of the house and off the streets, where I'd likely just be doing crime or fomenting a revolution or some such. Everybody wins?  Right?



Today's Norwegian Vocabulary Word: pinlig
  Pronounced: (peen-lee).
   (Translation: embarrassing)
Exercise: Use "pinlig" in a sentence:
Example: Denne ettermiddagen var en pinlig situasjon
   (This afternoon was an embarrassing situation)



Memorization: Things I think about in the shower 3

Every semester I'm astonished when students (plural) tell me they don't know how to memorize.  

Me (left) and my little sister Molly in the 1970s. &nbsp;We had to go outside to play in the summer (no air conditioner in the house) provided we showed up back at home around 6:40pm for dinner when my dad got home from work on the train.&nbsp; If we didn't show up, Mom would call friends' houses or just drive around the neighborhood until she spotted us. &nbsp;No cell phones. &nbsp;Like animals.

Me (left) and my little sister Molly in the 1970s.  We had to go outside to play in the summer (no air conditioner in the house) provided we showed up back at home around 6:40pm for dinner when my dad got home from work on the train.  If we didn't show up, Mom would call friends' houses or just drive around the neighborhood until she spotted us.  No cell phones.  Like animals.

It occurred to me just now as I was washing my hair that when I was a kid no one had a smart phone. Or GPS (maps people). Or a portable phone.  Or a calculator.  Or a PC.  I took a computer course in 1980 and we handed in our programs on punch cards.  Seriously.  Camera film took a few days to develop, and if you wanted video of yourself on vacation, it was usually done on a Super8 camera with no sound.  When I was seven the family got a little cassette tape recorder and we all gathered around it in astonishment...  

Anyway, if you wanted to call someone, you either looked up or usually memorized their number.  In school there were no calculators, so you were forced to memorize times tables.  When I worked at the Renn Faire up in Wisconsin one weekend with my friend Heloise, we had to make change for people using math in our heads.  To do a research paper, you had to go to the library and look at physical books.  You wrote your paper in longhand.  Typing up the paper took forever because it was on a typewriter, so if you decided to move a paragraph you had to retype the whole thing.  

The point is that we HAD to memorize everything, and finding out information was an enormous pain in the ass.  So memorizing was an essential part of our lives.

So... maybe I need to actually teach my students how to memorize.  It might be worth an hour or two of lecture time to do that.

...this also explains why I get so infuriated at students that are too lazy to look up something themselves on the internet.  When a student emails or texts me to ask something like, "What does gynecomastia mean?" I remember sitting on the floor of the public library with all those f****ng reference books looking up information.  Google definitions yourself, chump!  You have no idea how easy you have it!

Today's Norwegian Vocabulary Word: lillesøster
  Pronounced: (lil-leh-suhs-tehr).
   (Translation: little sister)
Exercise: Use "lillesøster" in a sentence:
Example: Min lillesøster heter Molly.
   (My little sister is named Molly)

Looking For Group

My son was nagging me again at lunch this week to be more socially active.  So this week I've looked at a bunch of "find platonic friends" websites and most of them appear in actuality to be "find erotic friend" websites, which is just gross (I'm old-fashioned, I guess?). When it comes to friend groups, to be honest, I prefer hanging out with men.  They're just easier to deal with and you don't have to entertain them or engage in constant conversation.   I think it is since most everyone around me in my student and then medical years were men (because in the old days women weren't encouraged to do science or math because it was the 1970s/1980s). But back then, and even nowadays, if you are a single woman, then the automatic assumption is that you are desperate for a man and a good shag; evidently women, especially divorcees or widows, are motivated only by their starving genitalia (see vagina hats). So single men act awkward and married men's wives hate a single woman's guts.

D and D Adventurers League, May 3, 2017, Dice Dojo

D and D Adventurers League, May 3, 2017, Dice Dojo

Over the last month I've been going to tabletop/RPG events at various game stores and they've been a lot of fun and have mostly populated with men. A lot of middle-aged guys, actually, and I'd say so far the demographic has been about 80% relatively bilaterally symmetric, articulate and educated men between the ages of 25 and 65, and only a merciful few were wearing cat ears or Pokemon shirts.  I find I also really love the RP aspect of tabletop RPGs  (thank you Patti Interrante for the acting lessons). Dice Dojo had an exceptionally welcoming crowd and I'd go back in a heartbeat except the drive each way took me over an hour; the day I went there were more than 50 people there, and I left the game with a migraine from all the noise and movement. I did a tabletop game day (City of Mist) over in Mount Prospect at Games Plus, and the GM was terrific, but alas lives in Kansas City. This Sunday I'm going to a Pathfinder one-shot at Games Plus and there's a Junior High (I think drama) teacher who plays Pathfinder on Saturdays with younger kids, which could be fun and fulfilling (teaching is always fun), but not really a place to find like-minded middle-aged folks.

I fully admit it is my own fault, the whole friend thing. I've always been the kid who would literally rather spend recess in the library reading Heinlein than going outside.  And I'm the worst at being a BFF. I'm that friend who thinks a lot about you all the time, and is very happy to talk if you call, and will even gladly rush over to help you bury a body... but you otherwise will only hear from once a year.  Probably in the form of a text.  

I admit that I'm a bit picky too... I mean, I have friends from all walks of life that I honestly really like spending time with... but the few people I consider my best BFF friends, that I can really relax with (again, that I only call a few times a year because I suck) all have post-graduate degrees in something or other, and are extremely well-read, articulate, creative, compassionate and open-minded. They also have a preposterously strong work ethics and, most importantly, are willing to look past the mood swings that constantly plague me (part and parcel of my chronic depression). 

Anyway, Tony, I'm doing my best to fulfill your idea of "socially active".  That was what I was trying to write.  


Today's Norwegian Vocabulary Word: koselig
  Pronounced: (koh-slee).
   (Translation: coziness/friendship/happiness-ish)
Exercise: Use "koselig" in a sentence:
Example: Gjør det koselig hjemme; lys noen stearinlys!
   (Make a cozy home; light some candles!)

What's with the pet rats?

When I was about 13, I was "the rat girl" in my biology class.  I took care of the classroom rats, feeding, watering, etc.  On my own, I decided to do an imprinting study on baby rats after seeing an article about duck imprinting in my dad's Scientific American magazine.  I took home two baby rats before their eyes opened and hand fed them formula-dipped bread.  I don't think they ever thought I was their mom, but they were friendlier to the students than some of the other rats.

In retrospect, I realize now that my biology teacher, Mr. Holzer, kept the rats mostly to feed his pet owl and boa constrictor, also housed in the classroom.   I was blissfully unaware.

In college I thought I needed undergraduate research to get into medical school.  With my rat experience, I ended up in Sue Carter's psych research group.  Her focus of study was Microtus Ochragaster, the prairie vole, one of only a few known monogamous mammals on the planet, evidently due to a single gene.  My job was mostly to watch time lapse VHS video of prairie voles mating (which they did for 24-hours at a stretch, and to record the time it took for them to mate, or groom, or sleep, etc.  That's a whole 'nuther story.

I spent a summer break changing cages on the rodent floor of the U of Illinois research labs, and handled mice, rats, chinchillas, hamsters, two sloths and a bunch of turtles and frogs.

Young Smough, circa late 2013

Young Smough, circa late 2013

I knew I wanted to get an MD/PhD, as I was inspired by one of the U of I ophthalmologists at the time, J. Terry Ernest (who ended up as my chairman twenty years later at U of Chicago), but didn't know what to specialize in ( especially after being told by the biochem chairman that I should not go into biochemistry - yet another story).  But with the whole rat and vole history, I ended up in Benita Katzenellenbogen's lab looking at breast cancer in rats.  

In all of my rodent jobs, I could never bring myself to sacrifice any of the animals.  I just couldn't. The prairie voles were sometimes quickly and mercifully decapitated when they were due to be sacrificed, but I physically couldn't do it.  I'd try and my hand would just be paralyzed or something.  The best I could do was put them down with carbon dioxide.  Gah.  Horrible.   I ended up working in Benita's lab on cancer cells in dishes;  I couldn't bear to work with the rats or any other critters.  

Boo, about 10 weeks old. &nbsp;This breed of domesticated rats is known as "Dumbo" rats. They are called that because of their lower-set, forward-facing, "Dumbo"-like ears. &nbsp;(Compare with baby Smough, above.)

Boo, about 10 weeks old.  This breed of domesticated rats is known as "Dumbo" rats. They are called that because of their lower-set, forward-facing, "Dumbo"-like ears.  (Compare with baby Smough, above.)

And look, I'm not some sort of animal rights warrior and I'm not a vegetarian.  And right now animal testing is the best we have for a lot of research for humans, and I'm very happy that nowadays research animals are expensive to buy and maintain and they must be housed in the most humane environment possible.  But I understand that right a lot of the benefits of human society require animal sacrifice.  Eventually I hope we'll be doing all research with AIs and eating meat grown in labs.  

Regardless, I figure I owe not only much of my career to rats, but also my life, if you take into account the life-saving drugs I've taken that have all been animal tested.  The least I can do is give some of them long happy lives.

Boo and Salad, six months old, Dec 2016

Boo and Salad, six months old, Dec 2016

A few years ago I took over the care of a bunch of rats my son had gotten as pets.  They were rescued rats from a feeder breeder (who kept the rats in DRAWERS until they were big enough to sell to snake owners - heartbreaking!), and feeder rats are universally horribly sick and short lived. I spent literally thousands of dollars in medical care for those rats, and near the end of their little lives I was giving them daily nebulizer treatments for their lungs.  Crazy.  I dearly loved those rats, each had their own personality (I should write about those ratties) and I felt I'd at least saved them from a horrible existence in a drawer and then in a snake.  I was closest with a rat my son had named Executioner Smough (after an NPC in Dark Souls); he was incredibly clever and affectionate.  Sigh...  I miss that little guy.  When the last of those eight rescue rats died, I decided I had to have new rats, but this time I'd get some pure bred rats.  Just for my own mental and financial health.  

I adopted Boo and Salad in the late summer of 2016.  They are completely adorable and I would have loved to have gotten more than two (when one of a pair dies the other gets very depressed. One of my rescued rats, Ornstein, died three days after his best friend Beep died.  He just stopped eating.)  But the bred rats, especially the "Dumbo" rats like Boo and Salad, are in high demand.  Mostly because they are so freaking cute and bred not to have the genetic problems that plague feeder rats.  Look at that little face on Boo!

They really are wonderful pets.  You can litter-train them, teach them tricks, and they are more affectionate than most cats.  As with all pets, they each have their own personalities.    

...anyway, that's why I have pet rats.  

Today's Norwegian Phrase: rotter
  Pronounced: (lrot-TEH).
   (Translation: rats)
Exercise: Use "rotter" in a sentence:
Example: "Jeg elsker søte små rotter!"
   (I love cute little rats!)

A breadbox, a can opener and a power screwdriver.

Every now and then I come across something that I think makes my life significantly better.  My parents were art majors down at U of I and despite being talented, were poor as church mice when I was growing up.  My mom made all our clothes and the money I made in summer jobs all went to the family.  (I paid for my education with scholarships, teaching and student loans).  So it was always hard to convince my parents we needed something non-essential.  The irony is that my grandmother passed away when I was eight, and my mother took all of the money she inherited to put a down-payment on a little house in Northbrook, a very affluent suburb.  So my sisters and I went to school with wealthy kids.  I've never cared about keeping up with the rich popular kids, but my sisters were less socially awkward than I was, and they felt deprived compared to their friends. 

I have a motto:   "I don't mind spending money, but I hate wasting money." 

Okay, so like designer purses  seem like a waste of money to me.  I think they're important in much of the corporate and financial world and I guess Hollywood? They also seem to be really important to the legions of nouveau riche 30-to-50-year-old women on the North Shore of Chicago who power walk in herds all wearing the same expensive workout clothing with their identical long straight hair in a ponytail, exercising their identical bodies and smiling with their identical faces (I'm pretty sure one plastic surgeon is responsible for all of the North Shore), later grabbing their designer bags to go grocery shopping at Whole Foods so they can brag to each other how they buy organic food for their shelter dog because they care so much.   As a card-carrying member of the ACLU, I absolutely support anyone's right to completely conform with the people around them so they can have friends that they think will make them happy.  But I always feel a little sorry for people that clearly spent more than they could afford for a Louis Vuitton bag in the pathetically vain hopes of impressing the legions of Stepford Wives...  

...okay, I've gotten horribly off-topic.  Jeez, I have a lot of simmering animosity for my probably-very-nice neighbors and their probably very nice dogs.  I probably need to explore that with some sort of mental health professional.  Or a reddit forum.

What was I planning to write here?  Oh, right, things I never needed but I wish I'd known about before.  I figure I'll start a list here and then at some point I will give the list to my son so he'll know.

My new bread box. &nbsp;The bread! &nbsp;It's still soft! &nbsp;I can't get over it!

My new bread box.  The bread!  It's still soft!  I can't get over it!

Item 1:  A bread box.  OMG why did no one tell me about bread boxes?  We didn't have one when I was a kid and I cringe at the thought of all the bread that went stale that I had to throw away.  Right now I have a Jewel-Osco baguette I bought three days ago that is STILL SOFT.  No mold!  It's like magic!  I bought it because I thought it would hide some groceries in my teeny kitchen.  Little did I know I would be so happy with it!

Item 2: One of those handled things you use to open pickle jars.  

Item 3:  A power screwdriver.  Cordless is extra awesome.   I've built a LOT of flatpack furniture in my life, mostly from IKEA, and I always have dreaded it because of the sore wrist I'd have the next day.   I built a little bookcase thing this morning and it was actually fun.  I wish I'd bought one of these twenty years ago!

Item 4. A washcloth.   Growing up I took showers with a bar of soap and water.  No washcloth.  I heard a comedian making fun of people that mysteriously bathed without a washcloth.  The audience found this hilarious.  So I tried bringing one in the shower.  Cue the heavenly choir.

Item 5.  Parchment paper.  When I cook on aluminum foil the food sticks.  With parchment paper, nothing sticks.  And I've only ever caught the parchment paper on fire once! 

That's all I can think of right now.  Now I'm going to go out and talk to this woman coming down the sidewalk with her dog.  I need to change my attitude... first impressions can be deceiving.  :-)


Today's Norwegian Vocabulary Word: skrutrekker
  Pronounced: (skloo-tlekk-eh).
   (Translation: screwdriver)
Exercise: Use "skrutrekker" in a sentence:
Example: Jeg trenger en skrutrekker; jeg vil bygge et IKEA bord."    (I need a screwdriver; I want to build an IKEA table."

So Many Hobbies

My mother and my son frequently badger me about dating.  I got divorced in 2000 and seventeen years later I am still single. I hate dating, and to be honest I'm pretty picky.  Also, I have all these medical issues which interfere with starting a relationship.  "One second honey, we can go back to cuddling after I puke for an hour."

Anyway, I did once try  My sister actually met her husband there, and they are basically the same person.  So I thought, well, maybe I can find a person like me.  Even if things don't work out romantically I might find a new nerdy friend.  

So I went online, took the survey (I think it is just a two hour Myers-Briggs test), made a totally honest profile and posted some photos and waited.  I got a lot of hits, although no one seemed particularly like me.   Then I got an in-app message from a guy who said he thought we would be a great match and he lived right nearby and let's get together for coffee. 

So I meet him at Starbucks, and he's nice enough looking and friendly and we have a pleasant conversation.  Early in he says, "Hey, I think we would make a great couple.; especially since I'm ALSO bipolar."

To which I replied, "I'm not bipolar;  I just have a lot of hobbies."

I went back to look at my profile to see what made him think I was bipolar.  I think it was the photo below, which admittedly does make me seem a little too happy.  (In my defense, I think that's a hilarious t-shirt.)  SIgh.

My "Aliens Gave &nbsp;My Cat a Beard" shirt, that I got off some website like RedBubble. &nbsp;Evidently other people didn't find it as ridiculously funny as I did.

My "Aliens Gave  My Cat a Beard" shirt, that I got off some website like RedBubble.  Evidently other people didn't find it as ridiculously funny as I did.

So, no, I don't have Bipolar Depression.  I only have regular, boring, Major Depression.   I find a way to get through bad days the best thing is distraction.  Hence the hobbies.

When I first became disabled from my job as an eye surgeon (the coolest surgery there is), I was extremely depressed and spectacularly bored.  I'd been commuting 3 hours a day down to University of Chicago and routinely was down there from 7am to 6pm.  Suddenly becoming a stay-at-home mom felt boring and unfulfilling and only worsened my feelings of uselessness.  So I started taking classes at the local community college, Oakton.  I took classes in all the things I never had time to learn before.  I took:  Guitar, Voice, Acting, Drawing, Painting, Ceramics, Spanish and Graphic Design (don't judge me!).  Early on, I briefly looked into the University of Illinois Masters Program in Medical Illustration, in the hopes of finding a new career, but unfortunately 3D modelling software universally made me vomit (due to the vestibular migraine).  

Anyway, that's why I have so many hobbies.  (I've since gotten rid of the shirt.)

Today's Norwegian Vocabulary Phrase: skjegg
  Pronounced: (shegg).
   (Translation: beard)
Exercise: skjegg" in a sentence:
Example: Utlendinger fra verdensrommet ga katten min et skjegg!
   (Aliens gave my cat a beard)

Mars & Climate Change: Things I think about in the shower # 2

When I was a kid I really wanted to be an astronaut and in those days, according to my dad (no internet to check in those days), I should first join the Air Force.  My mother, who had decided before my birth that I would be a doctor, told me I was too tall to be in the Air Force.  Again, no internet, so I took her word for it.

The point is that I really think the idea of colonizing the moon or Mars is an awesome idea. There's no arguing that our space program has brought a spectacular number of new inventions and other benefits to our race.  And I loved the Red Earth - Blue Earth- Green Earth Kim Stanley Robinson trilogy, are you kidding me?  Awesome.

But all I hear about on the news is about how current climate change will turn the planet into a fiery lava storm in the next 50 years (okay, I've only read the destruction of planet Earth scenario in a few particularly bonkers websites; at worst it would be an extinction event, one that would likely be survived only by cockroaches and Wonder Bread).  So why is the message: "We need to colonize Mars because Earth will be uninhabitable soon" instead of, "Hey guys, let's fix Earth!"

Shower thought:  Let's use the Mars money to cool the earth, THEN go to Mars later.

I realize most efforts are rightly spent now on prevention of man-made climate change (although according to Hank Green even if we all drop dead today the planet is still going to warm up according to ocean bottom sampling), why not work on a solution too?  I've seen a few space-related ideas about cooling the planet like putting up webs in orbit to block some sun or encouraging plant growth to suck up carbon dioxide. 

The main complaint about curative methods is they are expensive.  But isn't terraforming Mars going to be expensive? 

Maybe it's all because I am a mom:  "Sorry, kid, but you can't go have fun on Mars until you've cleaned up your room."

PS:  Here's an interesting graph (link) I found about the cyclic change of planetary temperature according to ice core samples.  So if modern human Adam and Eve were born around 150-200,000 years ago, and the oldest hand cave paintings were 40,000 years ago, YAY HUMANS for surviving the super low temperatures. Go Team Caveman!

Today's Norwegian Vocabulary Word: fartsgrensen
  Pronounced: (yarn-ih-cheer-oolg).
   (Translation: speed limit)
Exercise: Use "fartsgrensen" in a sentence:
Example: Fartsgrensen er tretti miles per time.
   (The speed limit is thirty miles per hour)

Things I think about in the shower

Like many people, I do my best thinking in the shower.  Sadly, the things I think about are usually pretty goofy.  

Shower Thought:  Surely the term "Middle East" doesn't really make sense unless you live 1/4 of the way around the planet to the west?  

The website suggests this portion of the world is the MIddle East (evidently what constitutes the MIddle East is disputed).  So it looks to me like Iraq is about the center.

So this looked like a latitude/longitude problem.  I can never remember latitude v. longitude (which I expect would infuriate my geography expert extraordinaire sister Molly) but I found the public domain image at right that explains the difference.

Okay. So Google says the middle of Iraq is about 33 o N by 43.5 o E.

So Baghdad is 44.3 o E. I grabbed a blank image off and did a quick photoshop to add the numbers. Since right angles are 90o, then perpendicular to Baghdad is 45.7oW. The only named place at around 45oW I could find in this northern hemisphere map is a place called Nunataaq, Greenland.

(Fun fact: according to the Italian Wikipedia, Nunataaq is a village with 2 inhabitants as of 2005. I feel rather nervous that the latest data is from 2005. What's happened in the 12 years in between? Did the two inhabitants go on a quest northward only to freeze in the ice, never to be heard from again?)

How I spent my summer vacation: &nbsp;Well. &nbsp;That's an hour spent coloring and labeling this image that I will never get back.

How I spent my summer vacation:  Well.  That's an hour spent coloring and labeling this image that I will never get back.

In conclusion, if you stand in Greenland (or in the eastern portion of Brazil in the Southern Hemisphere), then it would be correct to describe the Middle East as the "Middle East".  Otherwise you are just confusing our alien watcher overlords on the moon.


The sad part about all of this, of course, is that you would have no one with which to discuss the Middle East in Nunataaq, Greenland, because presumably everyone there has been eaten by polar bears.  

Today's Norwegian Vocabulary Word: for eksempel
  Pronounced: (for eks-emp-ull).
   (Translation: for example)
Exercise: Use "for eksempel" in a sentence:
Example: "Jeg elsker katter. For eksempel, jeg elsker min lille katt Kishi.
   (I love cats. For example, I love my little cat Kishi.)