LXII

62

That’s how old I am today.  I’m afraid I can’t find much interesting to say about that number–no good songs seem to include it.  What I did find out:

  • 62 is the only number whose cube (238328) consists of 3 digits each occurring 2 times.
  • The great rhombicosidodecahedron (see below) has 62 sides.
  • Louis Pasteur developed the first rabies vaccination at age 62.

(All of these I learned here.)

This is a great rhombicosidodecaherdron, for your entertainment:

U28_500[1]

The only one of these things that I find truly fascinating is the notation about Louis Pasteur.  You may know him as the man who makes milk safe to drink; but when I was a child, one of the books that my brother and I shared was titled Great Men of Science (it may have been this one).

One of the chapters in that book that most struck me was the story of Pasteur as a boy, witnessing the attack of a mad (rabid) dog, and the subsequent sufferings of the infected.  He grew into the scientist who tested vaccines on himself and eventually came up with the cure for rabies.

If you read the Wikipedia entry, Pasteur does not come as well, does not come off in quite the same way, but my brother and I were given every encouragement to practice and revere science through books like Great Men. And we did.  Today, my brother is an anesthesiologist, and I, a reformed social scientist, still teach the underlying principles.

And we both still revere science.

And that is one of the reasons why, 62 years old now, I refuse to believe that the world is ending.  I think that Great Men and Great Women of Science will find a solution to COVID-19.  It will take time, but there will be a solution found by them.

And who knows?  One of them might even be my age:  LXII.

But at the same time, look at what COVID-19 hath wrought.  Look at the sky, breath the air, listen to the quiet.  This is the quietest birthday ever I have had, and that’s not entirely a bad thing.

62.  Hmmm.  Maybe it’s just a start.

 

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Knocking on Heaven’s Door

This is a Dylan song that was one of the very first things I learned to play, back in the late ’70s.  Still messing with it:

https://1drv.ms/u/s!AuPnagvp2hqIq-M5jXYU12uYC5ZMgw?e=4G7kn2

(It’s kind of a weird, no video sort of thing.

 

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No Particular Place To Go

DSCF4899

Please take a look at my bike.  Notice that it is equipped.  It has fenders.  It has a headlight and a taillight.  In addition to the perpetual spare tube and tool kit under the seat, it is equipped with panniers and a handlebar bag (which I messily failed to close before taking this photo).

This is a bicycle that is intended to go somewhere.  It might be an overnight trip, it might be just a jaunt to the store for a sack of flour.  Today, there was nowhere particular to go.

With the rise of the corona virus, almost everything in my part of Connecticut is closed.  If you want coffee, you need to call ahead and pay by credit card.  I could go to a grocery store, but I did that the past few days (and I actually now have some flour–made some good cookies the other night).

But today, mid-March with temperatures in the mid-50s (F) it was too nice not to go outside…and there was no place to go.  A week or so ago, I might have ridden my bike to Legal Grounds, my favorite local coffee spot.  I would have sat curled up with a book.

But a week ago, I would not have had the afternoon off.  I would have been up to my elbows in preparing for next week’s cases–which are, by the way, no longer next week’s cases.  In addition to coffee shops, the schools are closed.  The universities are closed.  The churches are closed.  The courts are closed.

So I’m riding around/with no particular place to go.

This is hardly the worst part of the virus situation.  But for me, it’s an indicator.  Life has changed and it’s probably never going to be again quite what it was.

 

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Dear Mr. Fantasy

 

Do you ever imagine that you’re someone/somewhere other than who/where you are?  Do you ever put a coat of “fantasy opaque” paint over your drab everyday existence?

I did.  Sometimes I still do.

I think that it began when I found myself an outsider in elementary school.  At some point in third or fourth grade, our teacher would read to us from the White Mountains trilogy, and in those days I wore a wool headband out to the playground in winter.  That headband became my false cap, a gift from the vagrants to hide me from the Tripods.

Sometime around then I encountered Star Trek (the original series in its first run), and the shirts that my mother bought for me—almost but not quite turtlenecks with buttons running along the top of the left shoulder—quickly turned into Starfleet uniforms.

In junior high school, I went to a school that had an unusual design.  The main entrance was in the middle of a long  glass hallway.  To the right was a single-story circular building, the music wing.  To the left, the rest of the school.  In my mind, the circular building was the launch silo for a sleek black rocketship (which corresponded closely to an Estes-based model I had built), the school proper a launch control complex.  Most of my classes could be adapted to play some kind of role in the story—poring over maps in science class was locating landing sites, for example.  When my brother and I went to restaurants with my parents, I was experiencing the strange food of other planets.  When I was diagnosed with diabetes, the daily injections were to prepare for space flight.

At some point in high school, my interest in fantasy waned, even as I was consuming Dune and Lord of the Rings! I think it was a growing awareness of dating and courtship, and so for some time, I rested my fleet, and experienced the world as what I was.  But this didn’t last too long.

In my first years of college, uniforms brought science fiction back into my life.  If you’re my age (c. 62) then you’ll recall that in the late ‘70s, almost every college student—at least in a cold climate—owned two coats.  One of them was a “mountain parka” (much more about those here).  That was the spring and fall coat.  The other was a puffy down coat with a thin nylon shell, great for the cold of a Minnesota winter.  Each of these came in about three colors—tan (my choice), green, and red.  There were occasional yellow and blue variations, but not many.

The result was that the campus at the University of Minnesota looked, to the casual eye—and what other eye belongs to the fantasist?—covered with people in uniforms.  And given how cold it was and the distances to be traversed, it was easy to see the hooded figures as scurrying over an alien landscape.  That’s how I saw the world for my first couple of years.  Lectures were addressed to Starfleet cadets.  Driving to campus with my dad, wind-driven drifts of snow over the highway were evidence of Lunar seismic activity.

I think, though I cannot be certain, that fantasy was my way of dealing with not belonging.  I had groups I belonged to throughout school, but until I found my discipline—sociology—and with it the whole sphere of the social sciences, and the ability to speculate and theorize within a narrow field—until then, I could not truly say that I belonged, and so fantasy made the world a much more friendly place.  And thus it was that when I became a sociologist at some point in the late ‘70s, I stopped needing fantasy.  While I went to graduate school, met and married T, had kids, dropped out of sociology and went into software, and, ultimately, went to law school.  My real world had become sufficiently fulfilling.

It’s funny to think about that. Because over the past few years, sometimes, before I go to sleep, I am back in that fantasy world.  I am not sleeping in my bed, but in one of the hibernacules on the Discovery, en route to Saturn and points beyond.

Escape is not always a bad thing.

 

 

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Why My Bike Has Fenders

RainRide

Because this morning, it rained.  And riding in a light rain is one of life’s great pleasures.

 

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The Little Things that Count

This is a box of Sleepytime tea.  OK, it’s a picture of a box of Sleepytime tea.

celestial-seasonings-sleepytime-tea-1[1]

What’s it doing here? (Not much! rimshot)

I graduated from college in 1981.  At the time, I was not exactly poor, but I wasn’t exactly wealthy, either.  I lived paycheck to paycheck, I ate a lot of macaroni and cheese, and that was fine.  The year I graduated, I got a grant that let me live happily without working, for the first time since I started high school.  And that was fine, too.

But I digress.

Anyway, my friends weren’t exactly millionaires either.  The day after I graduated, some of them gave me a graduation present that consisted of a sampler box of Celestial Seasonings teas.  Probably cost a couple of dollars.  It had something like three bags of each of four teas.  One was Sleepytime.  One was supposed to taste like coffee (“Roastaroma,” I think–it didn’t), one was (I think) Red Zinger, and I forget the other.  Anyway, I loved the taste of Sleepytime and the cozy bear on the packet.

That summer, I would sit in the tiny kitchen of the apartment I subleased from a friend, drinking Sleepytime and eating yogurt and watching the nameless neighborhood cat lick up milk from a bowl I set in my back doorway.

39 years later many things have changed, but I still drink the stuff.  Not every day, and there are other things I drink (obviously), but whenever I open a box of Sleepytime and take a whiff, I remember my friends–J, G, L–and what they meant to me, back when life seemd so much simpler.

 

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The Tyranny of Numbers

We live in a quantified world.  Almost everything can be reduced to numbers.  But should it?

This morning I heard a show on NPR in which a sleep expert was talking about how a number of her patients were people who used “sleep quality” devices (a lot of smartwatches and similar things) to “score” their sleep.

These people became so obsessed with their sleep scores that they couldn’t sleep.  Literally.

I’ve seen the same thing recently in diabetes forums.  We get so obsessed with keeping our blood glucose value near 100 mg/dl that we forget why we do it.  Or we obsess over our A1c values.

These numbers obsess us because they’re more and more easily available.  Right now I’m wearing a device on my wrist that tells me what my blood glucose is.  It’s wonderful.  But it can also be terrible.

Meter

It’s terrible when the number becomes the goal, rather than having a healthy and enjoyable life.

Some background on reasons that I might think this way:

In 1971, hen I was 13, my parents noticed that I was always thirsty.  They noticed this especially when we were on a fishing trip and I drank all the water we had on the boat and then started drinking lake water.

We got back and they took me to our HMO, where a glucose tolerance test showed that I was, in fact, diabetic.  Within a few hours of the results, I had been given start-up instructions and shown how to draw up insulin in a syringe and inject it.  And I was sent back to school.

I was given a test kit that looked like this:

I was to take this into the bathroom a few times each day, drop (if I recall correctly) three drops of urine and three drops of water into a glass test tube, drop in a reagent tablet, and wait 60 seconds (if I was lucky) or 120 (?) if I wasn’t.  If the highly exothermic (hot!) reaction turned the liquid in the tube blue, I had no sugar in my urine.  The more sugar I spilled, the closer to yellow/brown would the result be.  If it turned green, I had to wait to 2 minutes for the result.

The goal–I was told–was to show a dark green, which you can see next to the blue above.  This represented “trace” sugar in the urine.  Seeing pure blue was bad, because it could mean that your blood glucose was below normal, which can cause immediate problems (like passing out).  Anything above trace was bad, because sugar in the urine can cause, inter alia, kidney problems, and was indicative of bigger problems that could lead to blindness, stroke, etc.

The test kit was eventually replaced by new technology, like Lilly’s Testape, which you could carry in a plastic dispenser in your pocket.  It wasn’t terribly accurate (less so than the test kit) but it was convenient.  Just tear off a bit, wet it, and compare it to the chart on the dispenser.

Annotation 2020-02-18 075032

This was followed by various kinds of plastic strips that you could dip in your urine (I recall Diastix and Ketodiastix).  I used them, but didn’t especially care for them.

By the time I started high school in 1974 (high school began in 10th grade in those days), I had pretty much stopped testing.  I took my dose of insulin, and if I felt shaky, which indicated low blood glucose, I took some sugar (I used to keep packets of sugar cubes wrapped in foil in my pocket.

I didn’t start testing anything again until the early 1990s, after I had become a father.  What I did in between, in no particular order:

Acted in plays

Learned to swear

Dated

Rode my bike for transportation

Got a job (several, in fact)

Graduated high school

Went to college

At lots of chocolate

Went to graduate school

Read that the average post-diagnosis lifespan of a diabetic was 25 years

Rambled around Europe by car and England by train and foot

Learned to enjoy beer and wine

Discovered butter

Went camping

Protested the reintroduction of the military draft

Discovered sex

Smoked marijuana

Went to lots of weddings, including (in 1986) mine

Went to concerts (including a fantastic Grateful Dead show)

Moved to Chicago, and then to upstate New York

Got married

Learned to play guitar and formed a band

Dissolved a band

 

Lots more, too, but those are the highlights.  My point is that between 1975+/- and 1991+/-, I had no idea of what was happening in my urine or blood as regards sugar.  And I didn’t especially care, so long as it didn’t get in my way.

After we had our first kid, T insisted that I ought to test, and she was probably right.  I went through a series of meters that required drawing a droplet of blood.  The first few were pretty analog:  drop the blood on the test strip, wipe off, wait, and read the number.

But the digital revolution was upon us, and increasingly the results came as numbers.  100+/- was ideal.  70 was too low (or 80, or 90, depending on your endocrinologist).  200 was too high, unless it was within one hour (or two, or three) after a meal.  A clinical A1c below 7 was ideal, unless it was below 6, which indicated problems.

It was confusing.

Now, continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) make getting the numbers easy.  I can glance at my wrist and know what’s happening in my blood (getting the data to my wrist is a little bit more complicated, but still).  But is my life any better?

Well, so long as I understand that my numbers are my numbers, yeah.  The problem with numbers is that they tempt us to comparisons with other people, to standards.  Whether it’s sleep or diabetes, numbers tyrannize us if we let them.  We turn those numbers into our goal, rather than understanding that our health is associated with the numbers.  They’re just a measure.

I love being able to tell where my blood glucose is with a flip of my wrist.  But that’s my BG, not yours.  Numbers, like computers, make wonderful servants but terrible masters.

 

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