Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Sidewalks, Pupils, Lasers, Canadians

The walk to work has been extremely treacherous lately. After several thaw/freeze/slush/freeze cycles, the sidewalks have become encased in thick ice, especially those which had not previously been well-shoveled. Some property owners have done an admirable job of attacking the snow and ice, but many have not bothered, and those stretches are like inclined skating rinks. The streets, in contrast, have been well-cleared, salted, and sanded, and are all down to dry asphalt. I suppose it is no surprise, in our automobile-centric society, that every city plows the streets but leaves the sidewalks to fend for themselves. During one shuffle to the office, though, I wondered what it would cost the city to clear the sidewalks as well as the roads. With a traffic lane being maybe 10ft wide and a pedestrian "lane" being perhaps 2.5ft, I figured it would add about 25% to the municipal snow-removal budget. Obviously this would be unthinkable, so I quickly abandoned the idea as patently un-American pinko nonsense.

Over the weekend I headed to Vermont. I spent the night Sunday with friends J. & Z. The River Doctors and some other friends came up the mountain for dinner; yet another ice storm rolled through, turning the long, steep driveway to icy Teflon. The lowlanders were trapped on the hill late into the night until a heroic sand-truck guy made it up close to midnight. The next day J., Z. and I travelled to Montreal for LASIK (J., who has 20/15 vision, was our "designated driver".) We had a routine worked out for the border crossing. When the Canadian agent asked, "What is the purpose of your visit to Canada?", Z. was to shout "I'm here to get healthcare!"; I was to shout, "I'm here for political asylum!"; and J. was to shout "I'm here for Club Super-Sexe!" But as it happened they didn't really ask, so we didn't tell them. Still, I had hopes of finding someplace to drop off my asylum application during the visit.

As it turned out, I did not have the laser surgery. The docs at Laservue were astounded with my super-human pupil size, which (combined with my significantly poor vision) is a notable risk for having night-vision problems after the surgery. They were sufficiently impressed with my pupil diameter (8.5mm) that they asked if I was a methamphetamine user (uh, no...) They were willing to go ahead with the procedure, but they used words like "50/50 chance of..." and "You are a sitting duck for..." So I decided to do more research and/or wait a while for age-related pupillary constriction to set in. Meanwhile Z., who has little 5.5mm pupils, did have the surgery (which I watched, and found fascinating). She is ecstatic with the results.

The difference between 5.5mm and 8.5mm doesn't sound like much, but I got to thinking about the difference in actual circular surface area. Since area = pi x radius squared, in dark conditions the light-admitting holes in my eyes cover about, while Z.'s cover only 24sq. mm. In other words my eyes let in over twice as much light as hers. This might explain why she's always complained a bit about her night vision, while I've never wanted a night-light and always have trouble sleeping in rooms that weren't completely dark.

Anyway, back at the hotel in Montreal, we watched the local news. There was a breaking story from the nearby town of Huntingdon which was having a budget problem and, as a cost-cutting measure, had introduced a new "do-it-yourself sidewalk shoveling plan". This was considered a major break from usual procedures. People had written letters of complaint to the major. The mayor responded with a letter labeling the complainers "crybabies" and suggesting they should move to Mexico temporarily, which caused further outrage. The news crew interviewed several furious citizens, filmed impotently hacking at sidewalk ice with various improvised implements. There was a general sense that the new policy was endangering children, the elderly, and was patently un-Canadian. At the conclusion of the story, the news anchor reassured the viewing public that NO such policy was under consideration in the metropolis of Montreal, were the city would continue clearing the sidewalks as usual.

So, yet another thing that seems better north of the border. Though I have to remark, the sidewalks in Montreal were not in such great shape, either.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Communication Breakdown

A funny scene this morning en route to the post office. A guy was trying to parallel-park a rather large van, backing it into a rather small space of which he didn't have a good view from his mirrors. Another man, a passerby, was kindly trying to help guide him in. The second man was elderly and apparently did not speak English all that well. He was making emphatic, encouraging hand gestures, clearly indicating "Come on! Come on! You've got plenty of space!" But at the same time he was shouting "STOP! STOP! STOP!" The driver was visibly perplexed.

Monday, February 11, 2008


I got in the elevator at my office building this morning (not my usual habit, but the door had just opened for someone else and I was in a hurry). On the second floor, the elevator stopped and a man in a wheelchair rolled in. He and the woman I was riding with exchanged a co-workerly greeting. Then the woman said, "Lot of snow this past week, huh?" And the guy in the wheelchair said, with enthusiasm, "Yeah! The skiing has been fabulous!" This made me smile all the way into my first appointment.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


I recently became a "Big Brother" (through the Big Brothers / Big Sisters organization). My own (real-life) little brother is pushing 40 himself (sorry man), so it's been quite a while since I had any real "big brother" duties, and I feel rather rusty. In particular I was expecting that I might have to field some questions about "the ways of the world", and prior to my initial meeting with Little, I had given some thought about how to answer them. But each time I thought we were heading for a serious man-talk, I was mistaken. The conversations often went like this:

Little: Turbo, can I ask you a question?
Turbo: Sure. What's on your mind.
Little: I was wondering. Do you think we could turn on the radio?
Turbo: Uh, sure.
Little: Turbo, I've been meaning to ask you something.
Turbo: Okay-- what do you want to know?
Little: I was trying to remember if it's Wendy's or Burger King that has the Whopper.
Turbo: I think it's Burger King.
Little: Turbo, I've been wondering about something for a while.
Turbo: What's that Little?
Little: Do you think the ducks in the park go inside for the winter, or do they fly south?
Turbo: To tell you the truth, I'm not sure.

So, I was a little off guard, tonight, for this one:

Little: Turbo, I was going to ask you a question.
Turbo: Go ahead Little [Yes, you can have a glass of water? No, I don't have cable? Yes, my car has a sunroof?]
Little: When cats or dogs make love, is it the same as when people do?
Turbo: Uh... how do you mean, "same"?

A Sign For Nine

I was thinking this morning how very much I miss 9. Over the course of breakfast the cloudy shreds of the latest snowstorm moved on, and the sun came out. Glancing out the back door, I saw something amazing: a bright cross, in a bright circle, lying on the snow right over the spot on the grass where 9 passed away. I've lived in this house for six years, and have never seen this phenomenon before. It seems like it must be reflecting from some object somewhere, but I can't figure out where it came from.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Update On TurboFizz (2.0)

I've completed the modifications routing the CO2 hose into the cabinet under the kitchen sink, with appropriate extra valves. Fizzy water can now be produced in full view of astonished dinner guests.

I tried making tonic water. It was horrid. If anyone else would like to have a go at it, I have 0.98 lbs of quinine bark that you can have.

Some people have asked whether the CO2 released by my developing fizzy habit might be contributing to global CO2 emissions (rather than reducing them, which was part of the goal behind not drinking fizzy water trucked from elsewhere.) Well, technically, I suppose it is. But it's a trivial amount. My 15lb tank of CO2 should keep me in fizzy water for at least a year or two. Meanwhile, every gallon of gas through the car puts out about 20lbs of CO2. In fact, just being a living human being contributes about 15lbs every 10 days. And cows put out a lot more-- so avoiding red meat is probably more important than avoiding fizzy water.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Ethical Dilemmas In Private Practice Shrinking, Part I

1) You have a bipolar patient who has been depressed and unable to work for months. You've been putting a lot of extra work into his care. You've been seeing him for about half your usual fee, but you know that even this isn't really affordable to him. After a while he switches to hypomania and is able to get back to work part-time. He comes in for an appointment and hands you a check that is not only larger than his usual reduced fee for that session, but in fact larger than your normal fee. He thanks you for putting in extra time in helping him and says the extra money is to compensate you for that. What to do?

2) You are seeing a woman whose brother (who lives out of state) pays for her treatment. She often cancels appointments less than an hour in advance. After letting several such incidents slide, you review your cancellation policy with both the patient and the brother, sending each a copy. The following week the patient cancels another appointment. At the next visit, the patient reports back that the brother called her to say that missing appointments is very expensive, and she had better get to all of them (he was not aware she had already missed another). She relates that she assured her brother that you would be "lenient" in applying the policy and wouldn't bill him for the missed appointment, because you know that she has a serious psychiatric problem and sometimes has difficulty leaving the house. She relates that her brother "will really let me have it" if he is "billed for nothing". What to do?

3) A therapist across town refers a teenage girl to you for medication evaluation. You've seen her several times (once with her mother) and feel you have a good rapport. You receive a phone call from mom, saying that she feels her daughter's therapy with the current therapist is "not going anywhere" and she would very much like you to see her daughter for both meds and therapy. You need the business and think the patient would be rewarding to work with, but you don't want to step on the toes of the person who referred her to you in the first place. What to do?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Expensive Water, Con't.

Speaking of exorbitant prices for bottled water-- the vet prescribed Stanley some over-the-counter eye drops called "Muro 128" for his corneal edema. When she described this medication to me, she euphemistically referred to it as "5% NaCl solution", probably not realized that I was a Geology major and could readily translate this into "salty water". I think she was trying to make it sound sort of fancy, so that I wouldn't be so shocked by the price when I got to the drug store.

But I was shocked. A 15ml bottle of this salt water was $19.99. This works out to $5,117.44/gallon. Or, in just in terms of the "active ingredient", this is buying table salt for $26.65 a gram.

Okay, so it is sterile and all. But still.

So I bought a bottle, because I want the vet to think I'm a good owner and not diss me if I need a reference for the shelter or something. But if Stanley needs a refill, I will be seriously tempted to mix it up myself on the kitchen stove. Heck, I bet it would work even better if I carbonate it...

So Not My Week

Ack. Tonight I deposited some checks at the ATM, withdrew $80 cash, took my card, gathered up my receipts and made some notes on them, and then somehow walked off with taking the money. I realized this about forty-five minutes later when I noticed no twenties in my wallet. Of course I went back to the ATM (what else are you going to do?) but of course there was no sign of my money. Sigh.

This is another interesting "judgment exercise". What would you do if you went up to an ATM, after the bank closed, and found $80 sticking out of it? I've given it some thought tonight, and have come up with the following options. I'm ranking them in order of ethics, from lowest to highest:

1) Take the money and run.
2) Take some of the money, leave the rest.
3) Leave the money right where it it.
4) Move the money to somewhere else in the ATM cubicle where it is not in plain sight, but where a person returning to look for it might find it.
5) Put the money in an envelope with an explanatory note and slide it under the bank door.
6) Take the money, but leave a note saying, "If you lost something here the night of Feb. 4, I have it-- please call and describe."
7) Take the money, and bring it back to the bank in the morning.

In addition, the absolutely most saintly thing to do would be to take the money and wait by the ATM for a while, to see if anyone came back looking for something.

I'm afraid that (1) is most likely what has happened. If so, may you rot inside the carcass of a dead buzzard in the afterlife, you scoundrel! Preferably alongside the guy who smoked up my car last night. I'm still holding out for the possibility of (7), but it seems a long shot.

To The Person Who Rifled Through My Car Last Night

I appreciate that you:
1) Didn't make as much of a mess as the last guy who rifled through my car at night.
2) Didn't steal the radio that I spent many hours installing.
3) Didn't steal my collection of ski waxes, which was the most valuable thing in the car.
4) Took away all the pennies that had accumulated in the ashtray, especially the pile of Canadian ones.

I feel sort of neutral that you:
1) Stole the rest of my highway toll change, amounting to about $2.00

I am seriously pissed off that you:
1) Took all the little screws and plastic fasteners that were mixed in with the spare change, and which I need to put certain parts of of my car back together when I finish the projects I'm working on.
2) Left my car stinking of cigarette smoke. For this I'd like to smack you a good one.

Fourth time my car has been vandalized in the Smallish City. Maybe it's time for me to move out to the suburbs, like every other doctor I know.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

TurboFizz 1.0 (Beta)

I love me some fizzy water. There's something about carbonation that turns plain, unpalatable water into a delicious, refreshing drink. I like to have some waiting in the fridge at all times. But I don't, for various reasons. (1) It's about $1 for every two-liter bottle; (2) It's a pain to lug multiple two-liter bottles home from the market every week; and, most importantly, (3) Bottled water is an all-around environmental travesty. (According to one source, 38 billion-- BILLION-- bottled-water containers hit the landfill every year. According the the "Fun Facts" webpage of the PET plastics trade council, the average U.S. family "generates" 42lbs of PET plastic bottle waste annually. PET plastic can be recycled, but not indefinitely. Glass recycles better, but is enormously heavier to ship-- not inconsequential when you consider the millions of gallons of fossil fuel burned to ship & truck plain old water to North America from from far-flung places, such as Fiji.)

Sorry for the tangent. I'm on a bit of a crusade against bottled water, as you might have noticed. In particular I've been trying to sway my friends 518 from their daily addiction to glass-bottled fizzy water shipped from Italy. But with what to replace the Pellegrino? What is the suboxone to the imported-fizzy-water heroin?

Enter: home carbonation. It's not that hard. With a bit of web research, a couple purchases from ebay (carbon dioxide tank and regulator), a trip to the hardware store (hose and some fittings), and a visit to the local welding supply shop (to fill the CO2 tank), I can now produce two liters of high-grade fizzy water at home in about two minutes. The upfront capital outlay was about $100, but after that, the cost per liter will be about three cents (about one cent for the tap water, and two cents for the CO2.) Experimenting with the process has been fun-- trying different pressures, different water temperatures, etc.-- and has been a delightful opportunity to revisit physics (Boyle's Law, Henry's Law, and other old friends.)

Moving the system out of beta and up to version 2.0 will involve drilling some holes in the floor, so that production can take place in the kitchen while the tank & other hardware remains in the basement. Also, I'm excited about the nearly limitless options for carbonating everything in sight-- apple cider, half-bottles of champagne that have gone flat, Stanley, etc. I have aspirations to make my own tonic water, too-- a one-pound sack of powdered cinchona bark is en route to the TurboPalace for this purpose.

(If you want to set this up at your Palace, read more than you could ever want to know here. Or shoot me an email for details.)