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Apr. 15th, 2015

Pensive

Forty-Three Years Forty-Three Years Forty-Three Years

Delia and I married on April 15, 1972, the sixtieth anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Today we celebrate forty-three years together. Today we celebrate one hundred three years of the Titanic being sunk. Both 43 and 103 are prime numbers.

Other people celebrate their anniversaries on years 1, 2, 3, 5, 10, 20, 25, 30, and so on. I was trained as a mathematician, so I tend to celebrate on years 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41 and now 43. If fortune really favors us, we may also celebrate on year 103. I would like that.

Everybody who knew us predicted our marriage would fail. They all doubted it would last three years. But, hey, when you have a good thing going, why stop? The priest who performed our marriage ceremony, Father Kennedy, had tried hard to convince us not to go through with it. After Panama, he was assigned to Rome for several years, then to Massachusetts. I was able to get his Massachusetts address and wrote him to let him know we were still going strong, with no thoughts of ending the union.

Legally, none of the above is true. Panama has no marriage licenses. To be married in the church we had to have a civil wedding performed first and that marriage registered with the Panamanian authorities. Our civil marriage took place on December 16, 1971, my thirty-first birthday. I had the certificate translated and registered and we had an early January date set with the Church. Then Delia came down with pneumonia and wound up in the hospital. We had to re-schedule. Open dates were hard to find: we had a choice between April 15 and some time in August. Neither of us wanted to wait until August. Neither of us really thinks of December 16 as our anniversary.

Our civil ceremony took place in Balboa, Canal Zone by Judge Baker. The Canal Zone was a U.S. territory by treaty with Panama. When a new treaty came into effect, the Canal Zone ceased to exist. Our church marriage took place in Guadalupe Church in the city of Panama, Republic of Panama. Our children were born in Balboa Heights, Canal Zone. Our civil marriage and the birth of our children took place in a place that doesn’t exist now.

Each morning, when I wake up, I think about the things I am thankful for. Today, our marriage stands out in my mind. We have no plans for an overt celebration of our union, but both of us are aware we have achieved a new milestone. I am not healthy enough to party. We don’t need a party to celebrate the really good things in life.

But if you see me today, know that I am partying on the inside.

Dec. 11th, 2014

Pensive

Why Don't Things Just Work

When I was young, we expected things to work. Computers have changed that. Now we expect failure.

Not only would things work, they pretty much worked the same way each time. Now, even when something works, it rarely seems to work the same way. I run a program the same way I ran it yesterday but today there is no cursor. I may have to stop the program and start it again or I may have to turn the computer off and then back on to get my cursor back ... if I am lucky. Or I may have to cycle the wireless access. Or wait a few hours for the program that was just updated to be updated again, to fix the problems the new version brought. I get one kind of failure when the weather is hot and another when the weather is cold.

And adding something new is just asking for problems.

I found an old video camera in a box of old stuff. It used to work. I plugged it in to the USB port. Nothing happened. My Mac Mini couldn't tell the camera was there. I wanted a new video camera so I could connect Skype to more than one person at a time. I mostly use Skype from my smart phone or one of my Android tablets. A little bit of research told me I could only connect to one other person from a smart phone or Android tablet or even Linux. I had to connect using either a Windows device at 7, 8 or 8.1 or an Apple computer with a fairly recent operating system. I don't have a current Windows computer. My Mac Mini is up to date, running the latest software version but it couldn't see my WebCam.

More research revealed that the computer industry had moved to a new standard for video cameras. Older cameras that didn't conform to much of any standard would not be recognized. I needed a camera that would run on a Mac and that conformed to the new standard. There was exactly one such camera available from Logitech. It wasn't too terribly expensive, so I ordered it. It arrived in two days.

I plugged the new camera in to the USB port. Nothing happened. The computer knew there was something there but didn't know what to do with it. In fairly short order I located and downloaded a driver. Suddenly I could see a window. My image was at the edge of the window. I moved the camera until my image was centered on my monitor. Now to try it with Skype.

None of my contacts were on line. I sent out a message. My daughter, Cathy, responded, inviting me to call her.

I realized there was a new problem. My old speaker system was too weak at just 1/4 watt, so I had ordered a new 10 watt speaker system, which, after a number of tests, I left installed on my ChromeBox computer. I had to find and install the feeble old speaker set on the Mac Mini and hope I could hear it.

I called Cathy. Her image filled the screen and I could hear her. We had a pleasant chat but I still didn't know if I could talk to multiple contacts simultaneously.

A couple of years ago, we had gotten a Magic Jack device for Delia's sister, Stella. The Magic Jack requires an annual renewal because Delia doesn't want to commit to a five year plan. I had just renewed but we were unable to connect. This morning, Delia called Stella using the Magic Jack and asked her about Skype. Stella had been talking to Cathy on another phone, and both of them agreed to try a multiple Skype connection.

I turned on my computer. It told me I had no Internet connection. That was a falsehood. I could connect to the Internet but the Skype program couldn't see it because the last time I connected to Skype from a tablet I had ended the connection by telling Skype I was off-line. Frantically running around, uselessly disconnecting and connecting my wireless device did absolutely nothing. I finally realized what had happened, though, and told Skype I was now on line. That solved the problem. I was finally able to connect to two people at the same time. I invited Delia to talk with her daughter and her sister so I could eat my breakfast. Almost immediately, Delia called me to come help. There was no problem with communication. She just thought our grandson was so cute that I should watch him with her.

I eventually got to eat my breakfast and drink a cup of coffee.

Being able to communicate the way Delia wanted didn't come easily. It did, in fact, take several days, a lot of work, an extra equipment purchase and several puzzles solved, to make it happen. But it did happen.

And now Delia is pleased.

That wasn't the only problem I've had during the past week. Some got solved but others didn't. But problems seem to come with increasing frequency and solutions don't last as long. When I was a kid, nobody had computers and things seemed to work -- and to work the same way as previously -- most of the time.

Stephen Hawking predicts that a superior artificial intelligence would doom the human race. He assumed that such a device would design new versions of itself that would make us superfluous. Modern computers may be growing in power exponentially ... but their ability to screw things up is growing even faster. Once things advance to the point that humans can no longer fix the problems that computers create, the computers themselves may be doomed.

Let's wait and see.

Dec. 8th, 2014

Pensive

December 2014

Yesterday was December 7, Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. Today is Panama's Mother's Day. In eight days I will celebrate my 74th birthday.

Physically, I am a wreck. I haven't been outside of the house for a long time. When I have gone out of the house, it was usually to see a doctor. My lower right leg is covered with ulcer sores, now healing. Some doctors claim that the problem stems from poor circulation, venous insufficiency, but I suspect malnutrition and toxic foods. About last March I developed a clot deep in my right thigh. That clot has spawned fragments that enter my lungs and interfere with my breathing. The latest episode was a couple of weeks ago, but the clots have mostly been quiet since last April or May. A pinched nerve in my neck caused the nerve to my right arm to malfunction so that my thumb and first two fingers tingle and the arm lacks strength. It was weaker at first. I am regaining strength and feeling but when I squeeze my little rubber exercise ball I am reminded that I am not there yet. And I don't really have a handle on my intestinal problems.

They called it Celiac Disease, even when they insisted I didn't have it. Celiac Disease is supposedly an autoimmune reaction to gluten, found in wheat, rye, barley and perhaps oats. There is sort of an epidemic of Celiac Disease, if that is what it is. Some people are starting to say it is the first bad effect of glyphosate, the primary ingredient in the world's most popular weed killer, Roundup. Others claim it derives from our tinkering with the genetics of the foods we eat. They may both be right. It manifests as damage to the small intestine that leads to deficiencies in many vitamins and minerals, to damage to the thyroid gland (which the immune system confuses with gluten), and to brain damage. But it is somehow related to exposure to bromine or to aluminum in our foods. Foods themselves become toxic. A whole class of foods called FODMAPs (fermentable sugar-like materials), anything that causes gas when you try to digest it, becomes highly inflammatory. Nor is it limited to gluten: all grains and some dairy pose new threats. And it also seems to be a side effect of the warfare between different kinds of bacteria that inhabit the gut; I must continually supplement with the good bacteria, the probiotics, to keep the bad bacteria in check.

The good news is that, for the moment, I seem to be getting better, due in part to eliminating all grains, sugars, FODMAPs, dairy, fast foods and packaged foods from my diet, limiting myself to natural meats, vegetables, fruits, fermented foods and other natural foods similar to those prescribed by the Paleo diet plan. I eat those foods that help keep me alive while avoiding those that are attempting to kill me (and nearly  succeeded in doing so). I have managed to shed a few pounds but have a long way to go to get out of the category of morbidly obese. My hair, once nearly white, has been getting darker. I can once more stay awake all day long and sleep soundly for a good part of the night.

I now have a grandson, Richard Alexander Dekok, who will be three months old the day following my birthday. I had very little to do with it. My daughter, Cathy, did all of the hard part. Delia spent a few weeks in Tucson, Arizona, helping Cathy adapt to caring for Richard. They will probably come to visit for Christmas and stay through the early part of January.

Three decades ago, while we were still living in Panama, I switched from sending Christmas cards to sending a single page summarizing our year. Eventually, writing that annual letter became I task that was beyond my capability. But now I have Facebook and a variety of blogs. Writing this short note reminds me of those annual letters I used to send out. So now I've replaced the Postal Service with an electronic equivalent.

Look for another one in about a year.

Jul. 31st, 2014

Pensive

Too Many Wires

My Pebble watch buzzed me early this morning. I couldn't figure out why but the temperature display on the watch face showed question marks.

The Pebble is an Android Smart Watch. It talks to the Internet through my Android phone. I was able to connect to the Internet on the phone, even able to use Skype, but not from the Pebble. I tried to connect to Skype from my tablet. Things got stranger: I could get messages but I couldn't use voice or video. I looked into the hall closet, a small coat closet where I get my Internet connection. The lights were off on my wireless transmitter.

There was a real rat tangle of wires. If I pulled on a random wire, sometimes the wireless would light up briefly and sometimes the cable modem would go dark. I started trying to untangle wires. My back gave out, so I had to get myself a chair. I probably spent over an hour sorting out wires and devices. When I gave up, I still had my cable television, I had restored the cable modem and wireless, the Pebble once more showed the local temperature, and I had an extension cord and two wall warts left over. I have probably disconnected my local cloud storage, but it has been down for months. A couple of lights are lit, one red and one yellow. Some day I'll figure out which wall wart belongs to the cloud drive and get it working.

Before I finished, Delia asked if I could give her a Skype connection to our son in London. I was able to send him a message via Skype but I couldn't connect with the tablet at that time. I had to make the connection using my phone, which bypasses my wireless system. He was busy and could only spare a moment to talk with Delia. Still, it was nice to be able to pull my head out of the hot closet while they spoke.

I'm going to have to stick my head back into the closet to figure out how to connect the wireless hard drive. I don't feel up to it today. But, when I do get around to it, the extension cord and the wires from the two wall warts are nicely coiled up, ready to go.

Jul. 28th, 2014

Pensive

Day Three on Steroids

Things are never as simple as I expect them to be.

Yesterday I was convinced that the doctor was right, that the pain in my arm was coming from my neck, due to a pinched nerve and inflammation. Now that only seems partly right. At least some of the pain and inflammation in my arm is due to using a mouse. The mouse pain is concentrated just below the shoulder while the neck pain is lower, close to the elbow.

What has changed?

Before, my whole arm hurt. Now it is more localized and I can feel different parts of the arm hurting differently. Right now, with pain that originates in use of the mouse, my thumb and ring finger on the right are tingling and the pain is concentrated below my shoulder. All I feel from my neck, apart from an occasional twinge when I turn my head, is a mild pressure on opposite sides of the neck, as if somebody were resting their thumbs there but  not pressing hard.

I'm sure I should immobilize my neck as soon as possible. I'm also sure my decision not to drive yesterday, when the muscle relaxants were making me drowsy, was a good one. I don't think I should drive today either even though I have not felt drowsy so far today. I just don't feel up to it yet. I still feel badly balanced when I try to walk.

One good sign is that I have been sleeping well the past couple of nights. Despite Delia's protests, I have continued taking GABA before bed and taking the muscle relaxant three times per day, including just before going to bed.

Jul. 25th, 2014

Pensive

My Arm Hurts ... But Not Because of the Arm

My arm hurts. It has been hurting for five weeks, gradually getting worse. For the first time in several years, I have had to use Acetaminophen to control the pain. I started with the maximum dose, two tablets, early in the morning. After four hours, I took another two tablets, then two more in another four hours. I took the final two tablets just before bed. I woke early in the morning in severe pain. The second day I followed the same pattern but an hour later. I woke an hour later in the morning in severe pain. The third day, I stretched the interval to five hours, with similar results. The fourth day, I waited as long as I could stand before taking a dose. I only took three pairs of tablets during the day. I was not comfortable.

This morning I got up an hour early, did my health recordings, bathed and dressed, had breakfast, and went off to the doctor. I had seen a doctor about the same problem two years ago and I was prescribed four months of therapy. The therapy only helped slightly with the pain but it taught me several techniques for getting past the pain, techniques I had been using without a lot of success in my current problem. This doctor, an osteopath, listened to my symptoms and did a few simple tests, then informed me it was my neck that was causing the problem. Specifically, a pinched nerve had gotten so inflamed it sent inflammation down my right arm.

Oh, neat! I get to wear a foam collar, a cervical support, for a couple of weeks.

I also get to take a program of steroids, starting with six tablets the first day and taking one less each day. Half an hour or so after each tablet I have to measure my blood sugar. It will climb but I don't know how much. It may have other effects, too. I'm also supposed to take a strong muscle relaxant daily, so I can sleep. I already seem zonked out most of the time. Now I'll really resemble a zombie.

Delia has been reminding me for months that we are supposed to attend a party tomorrow. I am deathly afraid of parties now because I always get poisoned with gluten and other toxic foods. I've been telling Delia for weeks that I might not be able to go but she interprets that to mean that I might be able to go, just the opposite of what I tried to convey. Now it is absolutely certain that I can't go without unreasonable risk to my health and life. Delia still insisted I get a haircut today, so I'll look nice at the party. She took me to Fantastic Sam's, the first time I've ever gone there. They left plenty of hair, so I can have a fresh haircut at a real barber's in a few days to correct it.

I tried to find a cervical support collar at a pharmacy near the place they did the Samson bit on me. The clerk couldn't find one. I did my own search and found a piece of trash that didn't inspire me. I was too tired of being in pain to try either of the other two pharmacies in the area. I came home, dosed up and had lunch, two pork tamales, late in the afternoon. Now I'm going to hydrate for a few hours, to get enough water into my body to justify a trip to the bathroom.

Today was hot and humid. I got rained on. We had gone to Costco to fill the prescriptions and it was raining when I came out. I waited until the rain stopped before trying to walk to the car. It started coming down hard before I got half way to the car. I was hot and wet, then.

Today was filled with pain. I can't turn my head without my arm hurting. I can't do much of anything without my arm hurting.

I don't want to stand up ... but I have hydrated enough. I have to stand, and walk ... .

Jun. 30th, 2014

Pensive

Change in Health

Today, for the first time in two weeks, I watered my plants.

I have always had back problems. For the last few decades, the pain has limited the amount of time I can stand still. The pain used to go away if I walked for a while, but this is no longer always the case. More and more often I've simply had to sit down for half an hour or so before the pain would diminish. This year, even that hasn't always helped. It got to the point that an hour or two of walking would be followed by a day or two that the pain made walking impossible.

Two months ago, my doctor told me to double my intake of magnesium from two 400 mg capsules to four. The problem got worse. After a month, I was in pain all of the time. But I realized that the pain was different from what I had suffered earlier, it was due to my muscles spasming and binding up. The pain came from a multitude of small cramps. Using my muscles made the cramping worse and more general. Now the pain originated at the backs of my knees and spread to the middle of my back and sometimes one or both shoulders.

I finally made the connection. I hadn't noticed the pain for a long time because it was always there but varying in intensity.When I used my muscles, the pain became more intense and spread to new locations. It had become noticeable when I increased my magnesium intake. The day I finally made the connection I could barely stand enough to make it to the bathroom, even supporting myself against the wall all of the way. After a day without my magnesium supplements I was able to walk by occasionally leaning against the walls. The second day, the pain started to diminish and I could walk comfortably for short distances and even stand comfortably for a few minutes. Today I could stand well enough to water my plants, which were sadly in need of such refreshment. Well, the plants that survived needed water. I'm pretty sure I've lost at least one tomato plant.

I had been taking a single 400 mg capsule of magnesium for several years. Before that, I was taking an ounce or two of magnesium chloride solution, Delia's concoction, for years. I also chose to eat foods high in magnesium. It worked well for me. I think I'm ready to go back to the one capsule dose, taken late in the afternoon. I'll resume the supplementation when I feel well enough, perhaps tomorrow.

I missed out on Cathy's party because of this problem. Delia and Cathy were both happy following the party but they were also both worn out. I hadn't been able to help in the preparations, either. I have been told my absence was noticed and commented on. I didn't plan not to be there. It just happened.

After the party, Cathy and Tom packed the truck, a little trailer they have and Cathy's Honda with most of Cathy's stuff. Cathy drove the truck with the trailer and, I imagine, the three dogs. She was still weak from having the stitches from her surgery removed a week early, so Tom did the heavy lifting. They left here after midnight and arrived in Tucson before 09:00 following a short nap on the road. Tom called in to take today off. They will probably sleep until tomorrow.

My hair used to be a medium brown. Then it got sprinkled with gray in gradually increasing amounts. As the white hairs populated my head, the number of hairs diminished. My hair grew coarser. I was in danger of my head being capped with a layer of snow. Then it reversed itself. There is more hair, finer hair, and the white and gray are disappearing. People have remarked on it spontaneously, without prompting. That tells me that my pseudo-Paleo diet is working for me.

I still need to lose 120 pounds and get my blood pressure down a bit.

But, for the moment, I'm thankful to be nearly free of pain with the hope of actually getting better.

Jun. 28th, 2014

Pensive

Back and Leg Pain

For the past few months, I have been suffering a variety of pains. I have several different problems that cause my body to hurt: gluten allergy, several food allergies, low thyroid function, assorted vitamin and mineral deficiencies, arthritis, and inflammation. I've had to figure out what triggers each problem and how to treat it. Many things trigger the inflammation including inflammation in different parts of the body. Many of the pains are similar enough to be indistinguishable from other pains but there are whole families of pain: burning, nerve pain, cramping, dull generalized pain, stabbing or electrical pain, and so on. Some pains come on slowly, others rapidly. Some disappear promptly, others linger.

My new pain would hit me whenever I managed to get in a bit of exercise. That aspect was getting progressively worse. The pain would come on about 24 hours after exercising and would take up to five days to go away. The more exercise I did, the more intense the pain was. Cramps usually involve a whole bundle of muscle, with calf cramps being among the most common. These felt like individual strands of muscle cramping and, when in spasm, unable to function. It became difficult to walk. I could stand up easily enough but as soon as I tried to take a step the muscles would freeze up. And I couldn't work through it.

I thought that if I did just a little exercise, the pain would be light enough that I could work through it. On Wednesday, I walked for a little bit. On Thursday, the pain was light enough that I could walk again, about half as far. On Friday, the pain was so intense I was having problems getting to the bathroom; going out was out of the question. Previously, the pain would diminish after I took a few steps. Now the pain remained until I sat down. Lying down, which previously had allowed the pain to diminish, now triggered the pain. Only sitting brought relief, and that only briefly. The pain began starting up all by itself. On Thursday it started at 06:00, on Friday at 03:00. It was the early pain on Friday that got me thinking about magnesium.

I had been taking two 400 mg capsules of magnesium each day. My doctor asked me to double that dose. After a few weeks, I started having the pain problems, long enough for me to forget that the doctor had warned me that if I started experiencing pain I should drink a lot of water and cut back on the magnesium. Getting to the kitchen to pick up a bottle of coconut water and then to my chair in the living room was a long and painful task. My legs barely functioned, particularly the left leg, and they felt as if they were going to give out. I sat and drank the whole liter of water. I waited. After a while I was able to get to the bedroom and my bed. This morning I was able to walk. It was painful and slow but I could walk again.

I skipped this morning's dose of magnesium. The cramps still slow me down but the pain has diminished. I have a pain in my right shoulder, at the shoulder blade, but that feels more like my arthritis. I can ignore it. I'll drink a lot of water today and I'll skip my next dose of magnesium. I hope that will take care of the problem.

My daughter drove here from Tucson to attend a baby shower being given for her. I am unable to attend because I still hurt too much to even take a shower.

I don't want to miss out on any other celebrations.

Feb. 8th, 2014

Pensive

Scales

Yesterday my right leg started itching, in front, just above the ankle. I looked at the area but couldn't see anything unusual. There was no redness or sign of problems. The area was painful to touch, though, and when I touched I saw the outline of several scales, each a third of an inch to half an inch long.

I scratched gently.

A few of the scales came off, each leaving a distance imprint of where they had been. I continued to rub the area, eventually producing about a dozen of the large scales. There was also a white powder and tiny white scales, which I've seen before. I had a very little of the powder with tiny scales on my left leg, too, but no more scales, no itching and no pain to the touch.

I rubbed on a skin cream. Today there is no sign of the scales and no more of the white powder.

I guess my skin had gotten super dry.

Feb. 6th, 2014

Pensive

Bad Start

Yesterday I consumed a glass of whole cow milk, about eleven ounces. I haven't attempted to drink whole milk from a cow in about a decade. Delia, too, had a glass of milk at the same time. Both of us promptly started producing gas and feeling uncomfortable. Delia's problem deteriorated into diarrhea. This morning my blood pressure was much higher than usual, my blood sugar was slightly elevated and my weight had increased, probably due to bloating.

Delia asked me to check her email because she wanted to know if her boss had sent a new work schedule. I fired up the email program after I finished recording my health information; it told me it had just updated and had to check all of my add-on applications before it could connect. It eventually found the information it needed and finished loading but it wouldn't connect to my mail service.

Delia started asking me if she had mail from her employer. I tried to explain the situation. She was in a hurry, she said, and couldn't waste time listening to me. But she wanted me to waste more of my time trying to find out if she had mail.

This has happened before, many more times than I would like. The DNS (Domain Name System) information from the server was expired and inaccurate. I had to go into the closet to reset the cable modem and wireless switch.

The wireless switch has developed a new problem: it loses power at random, probably due to a loose connection somewhere in the tangle of wires in the closet. Sometimes just reconnecting solves the problem but at other times the wireless switch problem causes the cable modem to screw up. I had reconnected the wireless switch last night, before going to bed, but I hadn't reset the cable modem at that time. Some day I'll have to get into the closet, throw all of the junk accumulated there out of the way, and find the loose connection. But not today.

Finally I connected to the mail server and started getting mail. Delia was in the shower, so I just printed a copy of her schedule. She later said that was a waste of paper and toner and that I should just have told her she had the message.

Then she asked me to find out where the clinic was for the doctor's appointment she wanted to go to. Her doctor had moved from La Mesa to Chula Vista. My search for that information was too slow for her, so she called the clinic to ask for instructions how to get there. She hadn't allowed enough time and had to reschedule the appointment for this afternoon.

Finally I started to record my health information on the fitness application I use. I looked at my sleep patterns, recorded my weight, made some comments and was about to enter the blood pressure and blood sugar information when I got a message:

Fitbit.com is currently undergoing a little planned maintenance. Sorry for the inconvenience.

I have written this account while waiting for them to finish their maintenance.

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