Saturday, October 10, 2015

The war on science

The video above is from ASAP Science, but it’s unlike their usual stuff. Rather than explaining a scientific concept in a way that’s friendly and accessible, this video talks instead about the war on science. It’s a good video.

While the particular video is indirectly related to the Canadian elections (the ASAP Science lads are Canadian), what this video talks about is applicable to many countries, most especially the USA. Denying science is a recipe for disaster, and something that, left unanswered, will lead inevitably to a new Dark Ages—at best.

We can change that. We can support science and science funding, and we must reject politicians of any party who deny science. It turns out, ordinary people get this last part in particular.

According to a new poll, 87% of Americans think that “candidates running for Congress or president should have a basic understanding of the science that informs public policy decisions.” Absolutely they should!

Instead, we see American politicians puffing out their chests with pride that “I’m not a scientist” as they deny mainstream science on climate change, vaccines, diet and nutrition, health and medicine, the environment—the list is endless. If scientific literacy was a requirement for elective office, maybe we’d finally see more sensible public policy, more reason- and fact-based debate, and less crude and crass pandering grandstanding by politicians who come across as anti-intellectual buffoons.

Anti-intellectualism is a growing problem in the USA, as most people know. Patricia Williams wrote an article for The Guardian back in 2012 showing how that typically plays out in the USA. Not much has changed. And, by the way, not all American anti-intellectualism is not all rightwing.

We can all be outraged about the politically-motivated revisionist history books made for Texas that describe African slaves brought to the USA in chains as “immigrants” and “workers”, and we should be outraged. But how much more goes on that we never hear about? How much bad policy is written and implemented because of politically-motivated denial of scientific evidence? How much bad policy is made because of mere ignorance of scientific evidence?

We can change that, too. We should encourage strong STEM education in our public schools so that the kids who grow up to be politicians have at least some very basic understanding of the scientific concepts they’re not just bloviating about, but also legislating about.

This is an area in which we all have a responsibility to act. Like those clownish politicians, I’m no scientist, but unlike them, I know how vital it is to humanity that those who are scientists can get on with the work of science. Politicians come and go, and whether humanity does, too, will depend in large part on whether or not we support science.

We must win the war on science.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Recovery mode

Sometimes recovery from something like surgery takes longer than expected. When it’s major surgery causing problems, it can be quite debilitating. But when it’s something relatively minor that’s causing problems, that can be quite surprising. As I’m now finding out.

I haven’t felt well the past couple days, and it took until today for me to put the pieces together: I’m still in recovery mode from my periodontal surgery. This has never happened to me before, which is why it took me two days to figure out.

What I noticed first was profound fatigue: I’d get up in the morning after 8 or nine hours sleep and feel like I got two, maybe three. I eventually woke up, more or less, but the weariness didn’t leave.

Then, today, I started feeling pretty yucky, similar in some ways to the way I felt when I had the Terrible, Awful Cold: 2015 Edition, and I thought it might be a relapse/new affliction. And then I remembered back to Tuesday.

I said that the surgery on Tuesday hurt a lot, and boy oh boy, did it ever. But I’d forgotten that at one point the periodontist was using a tool to scrape—rasp?—the tooth, and he was holding the outside of me head so he could apply more force. I was aware at one point that he was also pressing against one of the glands in my neck, and that hurt. At the time, I was a bit preoccupied with possible other (and much worse) pain, which is why I’d forgotten about it.

When I left the office, I also felt strange, kind of lightheaded, for lack of a better word, and I was a bit disoriented; I left the bottle of Savacol on the reception desk (and had to buy one later). I need to bathe the affected area for one minute, twice a day, as part of my post-op treatment, so it was important. And I forgot it.

Yesterday, that feeling returned, as it did today. This puzzled me, and I was still thinking it could be a new cold (because I felt the same way when I had the cold). But Nigel put it in perspective: Anaesthetic, he reminded me, just fools the brain into thinking nothing is happening, but the trauma of surgery is still actually happening, and the part of the body being operated on still experiences the trauma. He’s absolutely right, of course.

Add to that the fact that this surgery was the most intense of all of them, and also with a great amount of pain, both actual and feared, and it was a far more traumatic experience all round than I’d realised at the time. No wonder I was feeling off colour for a couple days afterward.

It all came as a surprise because I didn’t experience anything like this with any of the previous surgeries, so it never occurred to me that recovery would be slower. But, then, previous surgeries weren’t as big a deal. I can’t remember how my recovery went after general surgery (or whatever the term is for when they operate on your innards…), but I think it may have been kind of similar.

Still, the main thing about all this is how unexpected it is. If I’d experienced it before, I doubt very much I’d be mentioning it, even in passing, let alone blogging about it. But it was a surprise, and it’s coming at a terrible time, when I have so much work to do.

Yet, there it is. I’ll get through it and recover (no sign of infection, by the way). Next time, I’ll know better, but for now, I guess I just have to muddle through while I’m still in recovery mode.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

I had to endure, toothfully

Dental surgery is, under the very best of circumstances, something to be endured. Maybe, if things go very, very well, it can be tolerated. Today was a bit more: It was a test of endurance.

Today I had what I hope is the last major periodontal procedure, more “soft tissue flap surgery”, this time on back teeth on my lower jaw. It began, as it always does, with injections of anaesthetic (as usual, I didn’t feel that). At the last minute, he gave me another injection to help reduce bleeding because by then my adrenalin levels were going up due to stress.

So, on he went, scraping, grinding, and scraping and grinding. Some of it hurt, and hurt a LOT. I had my hands folded, fingers meshed together, on top of my stomach. When the pain was most severe, I’d tighten my fingers against each other and concentrate on my breathing: Slow, steady, deep. I endured. Just like last week.

Generally speaking, when he was grinding away at the roots and moved to an area that hurt, I was better able to handle it than the couple times when he started straight in at a painful spot. In those cases, the surprise seemed to make the pain worse.

I didn’t ask for any more pain relief because I knew it wouldn’t last forever—though, since I couldn’t see the wall clock, I kept thinking to myself things like, “I wonder how much time has passed?” and “I wonder if it’s been at least a half hour yet?” and so on. It eventually did end, of course, and went well, though it was apparently a bit of a challenge for the periodontist.

Before I left, he had me take a couple Voltaren (a brand name of diclofenac) and a couple Panadeine (Panadol with codeine). I was a bit worried about the latter because I know it makes me feel a bit loopy, and I had to drive home. I also wanted to pick up a few things at the grocery store on the way, and I worried it might start to take effect before I got home.

So, I went to the grocery store nearest the house because I knew that if it did start to take effect while I was in the store, I’d feel safer knowing I was so close to home. In the end, it didn't take effect until well after I got home, and I didn’t feel loopy until a good hour after I’d taken them. In retrospect, this is pretty normal for me, but I’ve also never had to drive after taking it before, so my concern was understandable, I think.

I was originally supposed to have today’s procedure a week ago Friday, but I was sick at the time with the Terrible, Awful Cold: 2015 Edition and had to reschedule. I think this worked out better.

I’ll see him in a week for a check to make sure it’s healing well, and I’ll get a better idea of when I can see the dentist, and also what comes next. Among other things, he has something he can to so the front tooth that’s dropped down won’t get in my way as much. Which means, in a sense, that it will be the first step toward fixing my smile, which is where this whole journey began. Small steps.

Ironically, the last two procedures have been the most painful, but I’m proud of myself for enduring them, and for several reasons. First, I was always terrified of going to the dentist, but all these intense procedures have helped me find a way through that (basically, I adopt a certain mindset and go for it, not giving myself a chance to really think about what the hell I’m about to do). I’m even glad that I could endure the sometimes terrible pain, because the fear of pain was one of the main things that kept me from going to the dentist regularly. But most of all, I’m proud of myself for “feeling the fear and doing it anyway”, because I just may have found a way through it all (finally!).

So, these Tooth Tales posts have documented my journey through the wonders of periodontal medicine, but along the way, the whole thing has helped me move past some very real fears. Next, I’ll see if I can apply these lessons to other areas of my life. They’re unlikely to get their own series of blog posts, though.

At any rate, I passed the endurance test today.

The image above is a reproduction from the 20th US edition of Gray's Anatomy, and is in the public domain. It is available from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Today in viral videos: That Auckland plumber

This video is a travelogue of sorts by Auckland-born Plumber Logan Dodds showing scenes from his three months backpacking around Europe with his Go Pro camera. The video has been quite popular, leading to all sorts of breathless mentions on the Web.

Posted late last week, the video has been viewed on Facebook more than 1,140,000 times so far, and 285,000 on YouTube (the version above). Much of the appeal has been Dodds himself: “This Hot Tradie’s Travel Video Is Going Viral Because People Are Thirsty AF”, BuzzFeed headlined their post. Closer to home, The Edge radio station headlined their post, “This hot Kiwi tradie has officially broken the Internet”

To be sure, the video features some very attractive menz (and probably some attractive women, too…), and in many of the shots Dodds himself is a bit of alright, I think. Clearly many other people quite like the look of him.

All that aside, I liked the palm “slap” as the marker for transitions; I don’t think I’ve seen anyone do it quite like that before. His pacing and structure are also very well done, including both the opening and closing shots. And, the Go Pro does take nice action videos—which figures, since that’s what it was intended for.

Mostly, this is just a bit if fun, and a bit of Internet fame for a Kiwi lad. Reason enough to share it.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Bella’s ‘birthday’ is today

Today is our cat Bella’s birthday. I should make that “birthday” because it’s completely arbitrary. We have no idea when she was born, since she was a stray who chose us, so we gave her a birthday that was six months after Jake’s. When Sunny came along, her birthday was halfway between the two. Meant to be, clearly.

That much I’ve discussed before, but I only once wrote a birthday post for Bella, and that was in 2013. I must’ve forgotten in 2014, and I have no idea why—maybe the exhaustion after the end of the election campaign? A couple weeks later, though, I posted a couple photos of her. That’s something, I guess.

Today I posted a photo of Bella and me to Facebook (at right). She wasn’t all that thrilled, I don’t think, though she kept purring throughout her ordeal. She actually seems to kind of like posing for photos. But not all the photos I take of her are posed (or posted), so up top is one of her yawning. She woke up when I entered the room, so I took some photos, and in this was one of them.

Below that is a photo I took a couple days ago of Jake and Bella on the sofa, lying right next together. They’re not exactly best friends—Jake’s leery of what we call Bella’s “sharp fingers”—but they’re hardly enemies, either. Mostly, they tolerate each other. Sometimes, though, they do play, usually initiated by Sunny, who’s great friends with Bella (Sunny’s best friend when she was young was a cat named Toy).

Bella’s birthday today was quiet, apart from the photo sessions. I think she likes it that way.

Happy Birthday, Bella!

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Colour film: Made for white people

Colour film was made for white people, and the video above from Vox explains how that worked. It also explains why changes were made. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t because film manufacturers suddenly realised they’d been racist all those years.

I never developed film or made photo prints, so I’d never heard of a Shirley Card until I watched that video. Even so, I worked with problems caused by the same technical flaw in film that the video describes.

For the first 15-20 years I worked in the printing and publishing industries, I worked exclusively with black and white photographs (full colour was too expensive). When a dark-skinned person was in a colour photo and we converted it to black and white, that person’s features would disappear, apart from their teeth (if they were smiling) and the whites of their eyes. This is because they started out much darker than any white person in the photo (there are some photos in the video that show this), and it became worse when we converted the photos to black and white.

In the days before digital page makeup and photo re-touching, we used manual techniques called dodge and burn. This involved taking an irregularly-shaped piece of card stock that was either white or black (or red) taped to a thin stick. By waving the thing very fast on top of the photo while the camera was shooting the halftone, we could either lighten or darken particular areas of a photo (white to lighten, black or red to darken). This was trial and error to get right, and sometimes we just couldn’t get it right.

This became much easier when the digital age arrived. Since RGB photos have a wide gamut, we did big adjustments to the RGB photo, such as adjusting shadows and highlights, and then covert to black and white (or, later, colour for printing). As digital cameras became better, the number of touch-ups required dropped for all skin tones (and became more about photos that were over-exposed or under-exposed, sometimes only in certain areas).

Now, there are no issues with different skin colours and tones in the same photograph. The problems now are merely people forgetting to use the flash, not focusing—the usual sorts of things that have always been true.

It surprised me to learn that photographic film was created for light skin. Since I wasn’t involved directly in photography, I really had no reason to know that, I guess, even though I had work challenges because of that flaw. Still, it’s one area in which things are so much better now.

A small victory, and miniscule change, but positive nevertheless. Even small progress is worth noting sometimes.


Ever read a blog post and think, “I wonder how that’ll work out”? Or maybe it’s an old one, and, “I wonder what ended up happening?” Sometimes updates are necessary to correct information or impressions, and sometimes it’s just kind of interesting. Whether necessary or interesting or not, this post is an update on several earlier posts.

The green water

Back in July, I wrote about how we’d started adding some green stuff to our furbabies’ drinking water to help them fight dental disease. I mixed them in empty (and washed…) 2 litre milk bottles, and that worked well for a long time. However, I recently noticed spots forming on the inside of the bottle, and from the outside the spots look like mould (photo up top). Looking inside the bottle, they don’t seem to be mould (it looks like reside of the green stuff), but I won’t take any chances.

So, I’m now changing the bottle generally every other week. This isn’t all bad: I’m reusing bottles before I recycle them. But, it did surprise me.

‘Red Peak’ is part of it all

The government moved to legislate under urgency to include the “Red Peak” flag design in the upcoming flag referendum. The design, which has had a groundswell of public support (and opposition, of course…) was included when the Green Party agreed to support adding it to the referendum, giving the government enough votes to get the measure through Parliament. The Labour Party insisted that a question be added to the first referendum asking if New Zealanders even wanted a change, the government refused, and the Greens moved in. Shrewd politics, really, and a popular option will be part of the first referendum.

Browser wowser

Last August, I broke my web browser. Since then, Firefox is better—but I’m still using three web browsers for different things.

Firefox apparently agreed with what I said in that August post and changed their settings to allow users to re-enable add-ons that were “unverified” (there’s since been an update to the password add on, so that’s all good, anyway).

However, one HUGE bug remains: I can sign into my Google account to post to this blog, but then Firefox immediately signs me out again. I can’t use Google’s Chrome because it won’t allow me to edit the HTML of a post (and Google owns both Blogger and Chrome…). So, I write and edit blog posts in Apple’s Safari browser, the only one that’s fully functional for using Blogger.

Neither Safari nor Chrome permit downloading YouTube videos (I’m talking, of course, only about downloading videos that are legal to download). Firefox does. So, I use Firefox for YouTube.

I’ve (mostly) solved the customisation issues with Safari and Chrome, but I’ve found that Chrome has weird performance issues that no other browser has: It becomes unstable at times, and web pages opened in it start responding in a choppy way. The only solution is to quit Chrome and re-start it. Chrome also has a few other performance issues that, while annoying, aren’t important.

Today things change: I’m switching to Safari as my main browser only because it’s the least troublesome one, and this’ll drop me down to two web browsers. I wish things were back how they were, but they’re not. This will have to do.

Spring may be springing

Early last month, I complained about the lack of Spring in our Spring. There are signs that now, as we near mid-Spring, the season may finally be arriving. We’re having more sunny days or, at least, parts of sunny days, and the daytime temperatures are finally slowly going up, though nights are still quite cool or cold.

Still, the way I measure the niceness of weather is by the laundry: If I put washing out on the line and it actually dries, we’ve moved into Spring, since washing hanging on the line for entire sunny winter day doesn’t dry. By that measure, Spring may finally be springing. And I am glad.

There: Now we’re up to date.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Painful, to tell the tooth

Sometimes, things do go to plan, and these Tooth Tales are becoming happy ones. Which isn’t to say this isn’t still an ordeal, of course, just that ultimately it’s going very well.

Today I had the “light cleaning” I mentioned last month, but the flap surgery was delayed until this coming Tuesday. The Terrible, Awful Cold: 2015 Edition hit with full force on the day I was supposed to have the procedure, and I had to re-schedule.

That wasn’t a drama, and the periodontist decided to reschedule the hygienist for January because I’ll see him again in seven months and January will be about halfway. This is an improvement: I saw him again five months after my treatments last year, which means this is another indication of the improvement.

However, today’s “light cleaning” hurt—a lot. The periodontist gave me lighter anaesthetic because it wears off faster, and since he was only working on a small area, this made the most sense. But there were points when the bit was furthest under my gum that the pain was really intense—I felt it into my jaw.

Time was, I would have stopped and asked for more drugs, but I didn’t. I had my hands folded over my stomach, and I closed my eyes and just concentrated on my breathing: Slow, steady, calm. I knew it would pass, that the whole thing would be over before I knew it, and I told myself I could endure it; I did endure it, and it was over quickly.

The anaesthetic wore off after an hour or two, and in the evening my jaw hurt a bit, something that I seldom experienced during the more intrusive procedures, oddly enough. But, it’s done.

I had a very busy day today—running around all over the place—and the short life of the anaesthetic was actually a good thing. Tuesday’s will be more intense.

I’ll check with the periodontist to make sure, but I expect that I’ll be seeing the regular dentist next month. Which means my six-monthly check-up will then be right before I see the periodontist again. I’d like a little more space, but I need to get on a regular schedule.

So, today’s episode was actually pretty subdued, which is fine with me! Tuesday’s will be a little more involved, but the overall arc of this story is positive. I’m very happy about that.

The image above is a reproduction from the 20th US edition of Gray's Anatomy, and is in the public domain. It is available from Wikimedia Commons.