Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Looking Forward To Friday Night

Sorry to be so tediously boring. I don't think I'm going to have much else to talk about until this stops.
It's reassuring when charts and graphs confirm what your fallible senses have been telling you. In this case: that we normally get about 5cm of rain during the month of June, but this June we've had close to 20cm. What the graph doesn't show, though, is all the additional days this month where it's been overcast, foggy, and barely spittling rain-- not enough to add appreciably to the accumulation total, but enough to make you look outside and say "FUCK. It's raining AGAIN."

Friday, June 26, 2009

Really? Really?

Not that you care, or can do anything about it, but after two weeks of rain the current forecast is really unacceptable. Please send sponges, mops, desicants-- whatever you got.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Trail Name?

I'm sure everyone has heard by now of South Carolina Governor Sanford's disappearance, how he reportedly was out solo-hiking on the Appalachian Trail, but turned out in fact to have flown to Argentina to perpetuate an extramarital affair.

It doesn't really bother me much, his affair. It amuses me, since he comes from the political party that is so affixed to "family values" and attempted to impeach Bill Clinton for being morally corrupt. In comparison to the carryings-on of various foreign politicians, a little tryst in South America well out of the public's eye seems downright trivial.

What irks me, though, is that he used solo hiking on the A.T. as his cover story. I thought it was really cool that he was doing that. I thought, this Governor Sanford, he's my kind of guy-- getting outdoors without his Blackberry, soaking in some natural beauty, probably meeting some interesting people on the trail. But he wasn't. Dorkhead.

As you may know, there is a long tradition of A.T. hikers adopting pseudonyms known as "trail names" along their trek. Often these are bestowed or suggested by others based on observed traits or behaviors. One friend, for example, was dubbed "Librarian" by fellow hikers because she carried so many guidebooks at the start of her through-hike. So I think it fitting that Gov. Sanford should be given a trail name reflective of his behaviors while "on the trail". Any suggestions?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Carbon: Facts and Lies

I was reading "Natural Home" magazine in a waiting room the other day. It's a slick publication full of articles like "Our Favorite 10 Green Gifts" and "Simplify, Redesign, Go Green". In general it purports to show you how to lower the environmental impact of your life and home, albeit it in a rather yuppie-oriented way that usually seems to involve buying expensive, nice-looking things.

Anyway, flipping through the pages, I came across this sidebar tidbit which instantly puzzled me:

This says that the leaf-blower emits 513 times more carbon, per hour of use, than the car. And it implies that this is carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas which is usually under consideration when people talk about "carbon emissions" and "carbon footprint".

But neither of these is remotely true. Machines are not magical carbon-creating devices. You can't produce more carbon from a combustion process than you put in as fuel. If the blower emitted 513 times the carbon per hour as the car, it would be using 513 times the gas. You would need roughly an 80 gallon tank just to run the thing for ten minutes. You don't see this in practice.

In reality, leaf blowers use very little gasoline. The Husqvarna 225B, for example, uses 470g of gas per hour-- which is 0.17 gallons, or about a half-liter. If we assume that the "light-duty vehicle" being driven at 30mph gets 22mpg, we find that you'd need to run the leaf-blower non-stop for four months to produce an equivalent carbon consumption (and, hence, emissions.)

So how does Natural Home magazine come up with its pronouncement? I suspected the answer, and confirmed it by reading the actual California EPA report. What the leaf-blower actually produces much more of is not net carbon, nor CO2, but unburned hydrocarbons (and, to to a lesser extent, carbon monoxide.) This is true of most small two-stroke engines; about 30% of the gas you put in gets emitted unburned. Four-stroke engines, such as in most cars, spill very little unburned fuel (and, for better or worse, their catalytic converters transform most of the CO into CO2 before exhausting it.)

Now, this unburned gasoline vapor is, of course, probably not great for the environment either. But that's a whole different story. The fact is that a gallon of gas put in a leaf-blower produces the same amount of carbon as a gallon of gas in a car. And, if you want to be technical about it, less of that gallon of gas gets turned into CO2.

I don't mean to be an apologist for leaf-blowers. I think they're ridiculous. And don't even get me started on the noise. What pisses me off is the careless misrepresentation of facts. And what scares me is that there is probably more than one person who read this magazine and thought to himself, "Wow! By just leaf-blowing a tiny bit less, I can drive my SUV a whole lot more!"-- and is now proceeding to do so.

(P.S. In case you were wondering-- yes, my scooter has a 4-stroke engine.)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mandatory McMansions

I was browsing a real estate website and came across a listing for a two-acre piece of land near the shore a bit south of here. It was described as "attractive, well-wooded, on a private road, and close to the beach." The photo was appealing:The land is not cheap, of course. But I thought to myself, well, you could buy that nice spot of land, but build just a very small, inexpensive house there. Like maybe a Tumbleweed Tiny House.

But as I read further, I found this would not be allowed. There is some sort of homeowner's association which stipulates "minimum home size of 3,000 sq.ft." No joke-- if the house you're planning to build isn't sufficiently monstrous, the neighbors will block it.

I wonder, if I built a 200 sq.ft. house with a 2,800 sq.ft. deck, would that suffice?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Laws Of Nature

Turbo's Law Of Psychiatric Appointment Keeping Probability (loosely translated from the original Danish):

"The more urgent is a person's expressed need for an initial psychiatric appointment, and the more accommodating the psychiatrist is in arranging said initial appointment as soon as possible, the less likely the person is to show up for the appointment."


"If the person calling to arrange the appointment is not the patient for whom the appointment is made, the probability of the patient showing up for the appointment approaches zero asymptotically."


"If the person calling to arrange the appointment uses any phrases such as 'I need', 'You need to', 'We need to', 'You can', 'Tell you what', or 'Couldn't you', the chance of the person showing up for the appointment approaches zero asymptotically."

Massive Chaos! Social Unrest! Revolution Must Be Televised!

We haven't had a TV at the Turbopalace for the past four or five months (previously we had a little one on loan from Stay Of Execution, but she needed it back.) Haven't really missed it, much. But on very rare occasions there might be something worth watching, such as the PBS documentary on Neil Young that was going to air this past Wednesday.

On Tuesday, we were taking a walk around the neighborhood (this is what people without TV's do after supper) and saw a tiny little tube-type TV sitting on the curb. We stopped and gazed at it. A man came down the driveway and urged us to take it away. "It works fine", he said. "But I can't give it away." We debated, sort of the way you might debate if someone was urging you to adopt the cute little boy from The Omen. But in the end we decided it would be okay. We'd just watch Neil Young, then consider putting it back on the street.

Back home, I plugged in the little set and affixed my old rabbit-ear antennas. Unfortunately, I couldn't bring in PBS. Or anything else, except one channel, barely. Then I remembered that all but one local station had already switched over to digital broadcasting. You need a little "decoder box" to get reception on an older TV. I was well-aware of this (and of the government program which heavily subsidizes the purchase of these boxes, and of where to get the vouchers for the subsidy, and of where to buy the boxes) but it had slipped my mind, because it didn't really affect me.

This is the point I was trying to get to: I, a person who almost never watches TV, was well aware of the switch-to-digital and decoder box program. I've been well aware of it for at least a year. Far more aware of it than I care to be. News about it has been plastered everywhere. The few times I've watched TV at friends' or hotel rooms, there have been "public service" announcements about the program at least every hour. It's been in the newspapers, magazines, all over the web-- unavoidable.

But, apparently, the publicity has been insufficient. The original transition date, February 17th, was pushed back to today (by act of Congress, no less.) The date change was urged by various groups, including Consumers Union, which warned Congress that "millions of at-risk consumers, including rural, low-income and elderly citizens across the country, could be left with blank television screens". At risk for a blank TV screen. Oh, the horror. Wouldn't it be more accurate just to say, in the immortal words of Gil Scott Heron, that they "will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out"?

Anyway, with four extra months added to the transition, there seemed to be plenty of time. But, apparently, chaos, suffering, and unrest are still feared. MSNBC today warns that "Confusion expected as analog TV signals end", and "shutdown likely to strand more than 1 million unprepared U.S. homes". "Strand unprepared households"? Isn't this language a bit hyperbolic? There's also a slightly amusing photo, with the following caption:

"Community educator Ali Radheyyan, middle, shows Hussian Ali, right, and Wafa Nuaiman, both from Iraq, how to switch over to digital television at the Immigration Refugee Community Organization in Portland, Ore"

It is of course delightful to see someone helping newly-arrived residents figure out how to live here. But somehow it's just sad to see what that consists of. It almost looks as though Mr. Radheyyan is just going to plug the new immigrants into the Digital Reprogramming Machine and leave them to be electronically brainwashed into our superior culture. "When the machine detects that your brain has begun to crave an SUV and a McMansion, the buzzer goes off and the operator will unplug you. Later a Community Educator will come to your home to ensure that you have your digital TV reception operating. Please make sure that it is, otherwise you will have to return for another session at the Center."

Thursday, June 11, 2009


I have a compost pile out in the side yard which, historically, I've pretty much just ignored. It's just a circular cage I made with chicken-wire. I throw stuff in it and walked away.

But lately I've taken a bit more interest in it. Last month I bought a bag of worms from Uncle Jim's Worm Farm and tossed them in. Then I ordered a "real" compost bin through a Smallish City program. That came with a crudely-made tool for stirring and aerating the compost-- a steel stick with a folding barb on the end. You poke it deep down into the heap, then pull up. The barbs unfold, pulling up on the compost, and (I found) splattering the operator with glumps of half-rotten vegetables.

I was distracted from being having half-rotten vegetables in my hair by the observation, after I stirred it, that the old compost pile was steaming hot. Amazingly hot. It was like a Yellowstone hot-spring of compost. I was actually sort of frightened it might catch on fire, though objectively that seems unlikely. It was really pretty cool.

I guess when this sort of completely normal natural phenomenon impresses me so much, I should take it as a sign that I've become a bit too citified.

When The Psychiatrist Dreams

I was reading a recent post from The MSILF about her deliberations on what medical specialty to choose, and which residency program to aim for. In part of it she discusses comparative "on-call" schedules, i.e., the frequency with which you have to stay at the hospital working through the night.

Medical students aren't exactly encouraged to consider this, or other "lifestyle" aspects of residency programs (such as how much of a stipend they're going to give you) in making a choice. In fact, even asking about these things is (or at least, used to be) a risky move-- there were intimations that this would indicate more interest in your own comfort and luxury than in being a good doctor. And reading the post, I couldn't help but do what all older doctors do to younger doctors-- think "Well, it was worse in my day..." (In that, for example, we started with call every third night, rather that 7-9 times per month, and we had to work both the full day before and after an overnight, rather than going home the next morning after a meeting-- so, sometimes it was 36 hours awake and on-duty.) And of course, my mom certainly had it worse than I did when she was a resident.

But: call sucks. It really does. And it has, potentially, very negative impacts on your own mental and physical health. At its best it can be a collegial, invigorating learning experience. More of the time, it's like being kicked in the head. You get so tired that you could easily doze off in spite of the head-kicking, which would be a relief-- but you also have to wear an electronic device that prevents you from falling asleep. If you want a doctor who has put him or herself through the most rigorous and taxing training schedule possibly available, you may be accepting a doctor who is, or has become, a masochist. And that person may have little in the way of empathy for your minor medical issues.

I sometimes used to come home from call, make a plate of food, and fall asleep before I could eat it. Other times, after having been awake for who-knows-how-many hours talking to people who wanted to blow their heads off or have their children locked up or sue me I would just come home and cry. One OB/GYN resident I knew crashed his car three times during residency, trying to drive home sleep-deprived.

After reading The MSILF's post I had a nasty nightmare. In it, I was starting the first day of residency, on a neurology rotation. As sometimes happened, the first day consisted of taking call on a Saturday. Typically that means arriving about 7am on Saturday and working until Sunday morning. But somehow in my naiveté I thought I didn't need to show up until 5pm. Somewhere around 9am, lounging at home, I realized, with horror, that I was mistaken. I realized the the person who had been on Friday night was still stuck in the hospital hard at work, waiting for me, no doubt exhausted and furious (there was, in residency, no greater crime than being late to relieve a compatriot from call; this was almost unforgivable behavior.) My heart leapt into my throat as I realized I was screwed-- I hadn't even started residency and already I had made an enemy and ruined my hopes of a good neurology evaluation. I woke up in a panic. It took a while to calm down.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Unusual Sight In The Smallish State, Part II

So, this doesn't really compare to the Maybach I spotted near my office last year, but this morning I saw a BMW 750Li parked on my own street. And it had North Dakota license plates. So I just couldn't help wondering, "what's up with that?" I mean, this is a nearly-$100,000 car. Who in North Dakota owns such a thing? And why did they drive it here? And what are they thinking, parking it on the street in my crappy little neighborhood? What kind of people with $100k cars visit people who don't even have a driveway?

These are the sorts of things I wonder about.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Scary Radio

Awoke Sunday morning on the boat, in a secluded anchorage 30 miles from home. Everything was calm, the sky a bit gray, the water smooth and shiny. I turned on the VHF radio looking for a weather forecast. Cutting in to the middle of a report, I heard "... Sunday, high of forty-four degrees, with winds of 45 to 55 miles per hour..." I practically had a heart attack. I think I stopped listening in a panic, picturing the impending whole gale that was, apparently, going to blow in out of nowhere in a matter of hours. Then I heard "This is NOAA weather radio WKZZ41 broadcasting on a frequency of 162.5 megahertz from the summit of Mount Washington..." Yeah. Way to scare the sailors. This is part of a strange trend this year, in which my marine radio is picking up terrestrial weather forecasts, but not marine forecasts.

The day turned out to have very pleasant winds and temperatures. And ended, beautifully, with a bald eagle flying the length of the boat, stern to bow, just above the masthead, as we were making the final leg to home.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Med School: Was For Fun?

Conversation this morning with a patient, who had just glanced at my diplomas:

"So, you have an M.D.?"
"Yep, I do."
"So you're an M.D. who decided to become a psychiatrist, huh?"
"So why did you go to medical school?"

Monday, June 01, 2009

I Spit On Your Scooter

I parked my scooter downtown this afternoon to run in and do an errand. As I was getting off a guy came up the sidewalk and asked if he could "ask me a favor." I asked what the "favor" was. It was, could give him some money, because his car had "just run out of gas"?

I wasn't too impressed. First of all, if you've run out of gas, asking a guy on a scooter to help is probably not the best choice. Since it costs about $1.90 to fill the scooter tank, so we don't usually need to beg significant amounts of money to do it.

More to the point, this particular fellow had "run out of gas" and come asking me for financial assistance more than once before. So, I said to him "Sorry, I can't help you today." I ran in to do my errand. Five minutes later I came back to my scooter and found a huge glob of spit in the middle of the seat.

I'm trying not to rant. I really am. But I'm having trouble with humanity lately.