Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Not that Nascar will accept help from the federal gubmint...


    (a) In General- Subparagraph (D) of section 168(i)(15) is amended by striking `December 31, 2011' and inserting `December 31, 2013'.
    (b) Effective Date- The amendment made by this section shall apply to property placed in service after December 31, 2011.

From: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/F?c112:4:./temp/~c112OLNKF9:e60102:

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Geek Cruising

So we’re back from a great trip, and I’m struggling with how I’ll to respond to the “how was it” questions on returning to work. Elaine has already spoken to two of her siblings at length and seems more sure than I. In fact there’s enough surety that she’s composing an email about our trip. I hope she sends it to me!

But I want to get a little of this down so I’ll remember what a great time we had and, more importantly, why it was such a great time.

So the questions. Where did you go? Why there? What did you do? Was it what you thought it would be? Isn’t that a long way? And from my family – what did you eat?

Oosterdam at Circular Quay
We went on a cruise. We sailed on Holland America’s Oosterdam from Sydney up the east coast of Australia to the Barrier Reef, then through the coral sea during a solar eclipse, weekended in New Caledonia, then back to Sydney. No sea sickness, though the catamaran trip to the barrier reef and back certainly came close. We’ve never been on a cruise before, unless you count the overnight ferry ride from Piraeus to Chania we took on our honeymoon, or the subsequent Heraklion to Santorini jaunt that taught me the dangers of mixing ouzo with high seas, which is one reason we’ve avoided cruises this long.

The other reason is our resistance to demography. Isn’t a cruise for the newlywed and nearly dead? Sure, we’re old(er), but not that old. We want to explore on our own! We would rather travel alone than go with the crowd. Explore the byways not the highways. But in the course of resisting the typical sales pitch I was psychically roped into a cruise by an even stronger demographic pull – my geekness.

Jaccaranda Tree outside
Sydney Town Hall
As the byline of my blog attests, I’m a husband, father, physician, geek. But those of you who know me well know that this isn’t always the order of priority. So when I became aware of Insight Cruises (insightcruises.com) MacMania cruises via my favorite podcast network (twit.tv) I longed to cruise China in the company of fellow geeks. That didn’t work out. Neither did South America and Cape Horn. Job, money, life got in the way. But I heard tales from those who went, saying things I wish I could say. Regret is a powerful teacher, and I’m a quick learner. Or at least susceptible to targeted marketing.

So when MacMania 15’s itinerary was announced to be an Australian/New Caledonian/Solar Eclipse cruise I put down our deposit and for a year resisted every reason (and there have been a *lot* of reasons) to cancel. All the old reasons were there, and added to those were family. Without revealing what’s not mine to reveal, I’ll just say there has been serious illness in my family in the past year and many would put family first. Let’s just say many in my family have put family first, and if not for them I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go.

We visited Sydney in all it’s Fall (springtime) glory. We learned what a Jaccaranda tree is, that Ibises are Australia’s pigeon’s, bushy-tailed possums it’s squirrels, and the Melbourne Cup it’s Kentucky Derby. It’s a gorgeous city of neighborhoods that’s utterly walkable, with a great transit system too. We know because we used it a lot going back and forth to the airport to retrieve the bags we left there. The ferry system around the harbor is world class and cheap, even if little else in the city is. But you don’t have to pay to listen to birds you’ll not hear in the states, nor to see plants you’ve never seen before. It’s odd to walk among an utterly recognizable cityscape with an utterly foreign flora and fauna.

Nov 13, 2012 Eclipse Collage
as shot by Tom , our cruise mate
Eclipse stories are legend, and now I know why. Despite knowing exactly what’s coming, it’s startling to actually see it with your own eyes. If you want to see what we saw, view Steve Sheridan’s videos on youtube. The first is the eclipse as seen from our vantage point on deck. Steve was shooting right behind Elaine and I. He is also geek enough to have set up a gopro video camera shooting the onlookers, which is the second video. We’re visible at the 4:29 mark, left side of the field, between and distant to the man in shorts and man in long white pants, me in light blue jeans and navy fleece, Elaine in a purple fleece and blue jeans. Proof we were there. The collage of the eclipse by Tom above was shot by a fellow cruiser and retired Orthopedist from Washington State. Best part of watching it was the recognition that you could see the best part of the total eclipse with your naked eye. We used eclipse glasses for the rest of it. Looked silly, but worked.

If something could compete with the eclipse it’s the Great Barrier Reef. Though the area we snorkeled (Hardy Reef) was clearly heavily trafficked it was still amazing to jump in the water and see a scene from National Geographic or a Jaques Cousteau special. The pontoon we snorkeled from was anchored to the reef, with ropes set up to guide snorkelers and divers. Good thing too. The current was strong, and looking up from the ocean to see nothing but horizon was anxiety provoking, especially given the history of reef snorkeling trips and americans (see this story about Tom and Eileen Longergan). If that weren’t enough to concern me we wore “stinger suits”, silly as they look, because you don’t want to mess with jellyfish in Australia. Of course mine was black. Made me look like a seal.

île des Pins or Louisiana?
Beach, 10 yards to right of the tree
lined street to the left, île des Pins
île des Pins reminded me of Louisiana, if not as hot or humid. Oak looking trees shading a remote road only feet from a pristine beach. Only missing the spanish moss. Easo on Lifou was, frankly, what I’ve seen in my head when I think of cruising. Nice enough, but not my scene. And Noumea, the capital on the big island had all the heat and humidty of Louisiana. And Mississippi. And Texas. You get the idea. All the shops were closed as it was Sunday, but we were able to visit an open Marché long enough to see that their selection of bordeaux was better than our local wine shop. The highlight for me was visiting the memorial to US soldiers who fought on New Caledonia in WWII a few hours after getting an email from my mother reminding me that her uncle (my great uncle) fought there.
Elaine at Easo, Lifo, Loyalty Islands
New Caledonia

The MacMania conference was great, offering a chance to hobnob with fellow geeks from around the world and learn from some of the best. Highlight, learning automator from Sal Saghoian, Automator product manager from Apple. Bonus: Steve Jobs stories and some insider hints you couldn’t get from anyone else. Steve Sheridan’s wife Allison (of Nosilla Podcast fame), Don McAllister (of ScreenCastsOnline) and Leo Laporte made for a great crew. Good drinking buddies too. 
Our room, at dock in Sydney

How was the cruise? The food was good. Not great, but good. Except for Bar H in Sydney our last night in town, which was outstanding (see prior facebook post). Our stateroom was ok.  It’s nice to have stewards answer your every beck and call, though quite frankly we didn’t beck or call much. Biggest gripe? Internet by satellite. It’s expensive and slow. $250 for 1100 minutes of 328bps speed, when it worked. And the ship’s entertainment? Let’s just say our fears about what a cruise would be were confirmed by the one show we went to. 

Geek Lunch
The best part of the trip wasn’t the ports of call, conference, or food. It was the new friends we made in sharing a common experience. Aussies from Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Gold Coast patiently explained cultural minutiae. Foster’s beer isn’t sold in Australia. Vegemite is made by Kraft foods. Spread it thin (very thin) on buttered toast.

Would I do it again? Sure!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

My new computer is a car

After seven good years my Mini Cooper is gone, replaced by a 2012 Ford Focus.

Good things about the Mini: fun to drive, easy to find parking.
Less than good things about the Mini: premium gas, 21 actual MPG city, run-flat tires (stiff harsh ride and expensive to replace), no spare tire, rear seating a suggestion more than a reality.

Good things about the Focus: regular gas, 28 actual MPG city, computer on wheels, nice ride, more space, parks itself, american made, very competitive pricing.
Less good things about the Focus: sync interface by Microsoft.

When my wife got her Prius in 2004 I was amazed at how easily she could walk up to a locked door, open it, get in and push-button start the car without taking a key out of her pocket. Not only that but her bluetooth phone automagically paired and worked with the handsfree system. At the time there were novel features. Now I can finally do the same and much more. Go Detroit!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Recipe for pain

Start by overeating. Blend in two glasses of wine. Elevate to 6200 feet above sea level. Put on an elliptical machine for 30 minutes or until done, whichever comes first.

I now have an inkling of what Jon Krakauer was talking about in Into Thin Air.

Back to sea level tomorrow.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


So this is what bolted in the garden last week. How to cook it. That was the question.

So I checked my favorite recipe sources and the consistent recommendation was Kale with Cannellini in one variation or another. But most called for lacinato kale (also called tuscan, nero, dino or variations of all). But we have red russian kale, which I learned only by googling some images. Apparently we chose it for it's less bitter taste than the more common curly Kale, at least that's what Elaine suspects. It grows earlier in the season also. But I couldn't find specific recipes for russian kale so I did what I've learned to do. Don't look at the specific ingredients, look at them as placeholders for a class of ingredients.

All the recipes for kale with beans called for sautéing veggies in a fat, then adding spice, liquid, and then beans and greens. Most sautéed a few onions, carrots and garlic in olive oil, then added cannellinis, liquid and kale. Others substituted pancetta or sausage fat for olive oil, added some celery or tomatoes to the carrot, or used other beans (navy, great northern, lima, kidney, black) or other greens (spinach, collards, chard, cabbage). The variations are clearly endless, but the overall approach was the same.

And so this is my recipe, based on what I had on hand and in our garden. One chopped carrot, onion and celery stalk sautéed in a little olive and sesame oil until softened. Then 3-4 finely chopped garlic cloves and 1/4 teaspoon of salt for another minute. I then added 3 cups of chicken stock to the mirepoix, bringing it all to a boil before adding 7 cups of washed, de-stemmed and chopped kale. I then simmered for 3 minutes and added a 1/2 can of cannellini that had been puréed with 1 cup stock and then the remaining  1/2 can of cannellini and 1 can of black beans (it was all we had). A little more salt, some pepper, a bit of chopped thyme, rosemary and sage from our garden and the juice of one lemon to add some taste. Served it with some shaved parmesan cheese and olive oil drizzled on top. Would have been better yesterday when it was raining and 58 degrees rather than sunny and 78. But it'll do. It'll definitely do.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Refusing to cry, refusing to laugh

"My dear Kepler, what would you say of the learned here, who, replete with the pertinacity of the asp, have steadfastly refused to cast a glance through the telescope?  What shall we make of this?  Shall we laugh, or shall we cry?" 

--Letter from Galileo Galilei to Johannes Kepler

Somalis in Minnesota have experienced a higher than predicted rate of measles and resultant excess of preventable deaths in the past year. A similar measles outbreak occurred in 1996-97 in Minnesota in children who were members of a religious group who eschewed immunizations. It also happened in 1977. Same place, same disease, same issue.

California and elsewhere have seen outbreaks of Pertussis (whooping cough) in recent years.

And last but not least Polio continues to win skirmishes in a war thought won 60 years ago.

I personally participated in immunization drives to combat a measles outbreak in Philadelphia in the late 1980's. I've also had the "privilege" of performing a lumbar puncture on a three month old infant with Hemophilus Influenza Type B. 

All of which leads me to struggle with how to respond to those who continue to warn of the risks of immunization. Autism! Seizures! ADHD! Asthma! Diabetes! Death! And worst of all Peanut Allergies! OMG!

Are you as non-plussed by the sensationalism, hucksterism, and general snake oil feel to the anti-immunization fringe as I am? Puh-lease save me your "What your doctor doesn't want you to know...", "We have real qualifications too...", "Just buy this..." and especially your "God doesn't want you to vaccinate...".

Yes, Immunizations are risky. We no longer use oral polio vaccine because of the risk of vaccine associated polio. We use inactivated polio instead.

Yes, Immunizations are not perfectly effective. But perfection is the enemy of the good, and immunizations are much more than good enough, measuring higher even than chocolate or Cliff Lee on the goodness scale.

Immunizations are not a choice between disease and no disease; they are a choice between less vaccine preventable disease and complications (with all the costs that come with vaccination) and more vaccine preventable disease and complications (and all the costs that come with no vaccines.) If you wish to save money, vaccinate. If you wish to reduce overall morbidity and mortality, vaccinate. These choices are not imaginary; they are written in the history of those who've made them before us, and those who forget the past...

Lastly, immunization is a social act. The risks of vaccination are borne by those who vaccinate, while the benefits of immunity are received not only by the vaccinated but also by those who aren't, whether they ask for it or not. The least the un-immunized could do is gracefully and thankfully accept that saner, braver folk are not only willing to tolerate their fear but also work to ensure that it doesn't kill the rest of us. But history also tells me that this expectation is too great. Sigh.

Sometimes my patients ask me "Do I have to take this medicine for the rest of my life?" or, in another version "Should I get this immunization?", and my answer to both remains the same. Yes, until we know  better, or until something better comes along. Knowing better or identifying something better is often hard, except in the case of immunizations. That one is easy. For most of us anyway. So long as we wear head protection.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

We love you Bruiser

Bruiser died today. Suddenly if not unexpectedly. He's been on medications for his heart for years, and could barely make it around the park without getting short of breath, but he still wagged his tail and pranced for joy until the last, like all good dogs do.

He was 11 years and one month old today. Here's a picture of him with his siblings. You can tell why he was called Bruiser. He's the one with the blue collar.

Like all Scotties he thought he was bigger. Here he's playing (and winning) at Frisbee with his cousin Scout.

But this is how I'll remember him - tail wagging and wanting to play.

Good dog.

Good dog.