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November 27, 2007

Chicken or the Egg?

I got an email from a dear old friend in which she told me she had a dream in which she was reading a story I wrote.

I dreamt I was reading a fantasy novel you had just published. It was somewhat like Harry Potter and The Hobbit. The main character's name was "John" and was styled after you. I really enjoyed the story and couldn't wait to tell you how impressed I was!

Last night, not feeling particularly well and unable to fall asleep, a story idea I had been percolating slowly bubbled to the surface and became a realized concept. It naturally fit into the mold of the above, and it seemed to be just "right" to use 'John' as the main character and partly model him after myself (as they say, write what you know). The story plot is the most fully formed idea I have had in a number of years, and this morning I have been spending some time writing down the plot points (in an outline, my mother the English teacher would be so proud), general character points, main themes, etc.

Now, I know that this idea in some form or another was down inside me and struggling to get out. Did my friend's email prompt my thoughts to realize it in this particular direction, or was her dream prophetic and tapped into the direction I was starting to go with it? Or did she plant the seed that completely changed the direction of my thinking and cause me to head down this new path?

I have a feeling it was the latter rather than the former. I say this because, both in high school and in college, I made some extra cash writing short stories for people for their English classes. What I would do is ask them for a) 2-5 names that were important to them to use as character names, b) what their favorite sport, activity was, d) something personal (like, did they have a divorce, alcoholism, a death in the family, etc.-- something that would make it seem much more like them writing), c) and what general genre or direction they needed the story to go for their class. I would then write for them a story using those general guidelines and always achieved an A (although one guy only got an A-... the teacher's assistant graded me down for being "too wordy").

It feels good to be getting the ideas out on paper. I am realizing there are some points that I can't quite remember from last night, and I'm not sure how to connect some idea points to the main plot, but overall it has the making of decent teenage adventure story. We'll see what happens with it as I continue its development.

November 26, 2007


Due to a snafu between my mail-based pharmacy and my doctor's office, I was not able to get the refill on my Enbrel (rheumatoid arthritis) medication prior to leaving for Saint John. I last took Enbrel on Saturday the 10th, as my new schedule for taking the medication is the 1st, 10th, and 20th of each month. So, rather than taking it on the 20th, I have gone without.

It has been an interesting time, seeing how long I could go without using any back-up medications to help with the pain, stiffness, soreness, and discomfort brought on by my RA. I made it until the 25th before I just had to take some Prednisone. My feet and hands, especially my left wrist, were getting very swollen and stiff, and that wrist was downright painful and I was having trouble holding or lifting items.

I took 30 mg of Prednisone yesterday, and by the end of the day my pain was mitigated and the majority of my swelling was down. Today I stepped it down to 20 mg and am continuing to be okay. Tomorrow will be down to 10, and then 5 the following day.

What is nice about this inadvertent test is that I am seeing how much healthier, in general, I can be without the immuno-suppressant drugs in my body. I have felt much healthier, livelier, and energetic during this time. However, that feeling was mitigated by my steadily increasing pain/discomfort level with my hands, feet, lower back, neck, and knees. It's a trade-off for me, these days; do I want to be less sick less often, but in constant pain and discomfort to the point of affecting my daily life, or do I want to be able to do more active things but feel sicker all the time?

Trust me, that is not a simple question to answer. Of course, part of the reason we are shifting from a once-a-week dosage schedule to every 10 days is to see if we can better balance my general health with my pain levels.

I was able to move my shipment date on the next prescription of Enbrel to arrive at my office on the Monday following my return to SoCal. Until then, hopefully this one dosing of Prednisone will be enough to get me through the rest of the week.

November 25, 2007

Friends and Lovers

Of course I love my wife. I wouldn't marry her otherwise.

What surprises me is how much I like my wife. She's a good friend, a confidante, and we have similar interests in many things. Makes things easier. Also, we fill many gaps for each other, so we don't step on each other's proverbial toes (she often stubs her actual toes on mine, however).

November 7, 2007

Lions Redux

Well, now that the team is 6-2 and beat a couple of quality teams, press is finally starting to ask if the Lions are a decent team and if they have a chance. Yay. However, many of the pundits are still doing it slightly tongue-in-cheek and with a bit of surprise.

I'll take it, though. I'm hopeful that they win just 2 of their remaining 8 games, go 8-8, and do not have a losing season. Anything beyond that (and I think you argue for 4 more legitimate shots at wins) would be considered gravy, in my book.

Boss Bailey is quoted as saying he thinks that Matt Millen deserves credit for this. I disagree with that. If Millen had taken the same approach any of the first 5 years of his career as GM as he has last year and this one, the team likely would have had success earlier. Last year, he finally brought in a coach and allowed him to help shape the team, accepted his input on players to target for acquisition and those who should be let go, and also listened to his input for needs-based drafting during the NFL draft. Prior to Marinelli, Millen did not allow that same level of interaction. He forced players onto coaches, was not willing to listen to the coach's input, and drafted what he felt was needed, regardless of the coach's approach to the game.

I also think that having Mike Martz, who is surprising many with his willingness to change his normal routine and run more, has been a key. Marinelli makes a better head coach, guiding the entire team to success while Martz can focus all his attention where he is best suited-- offense. The Lions are doing a lot of good things on offense. And the defense is, so far, remaining healthy; thus allowing them to lead the league in takeaways and be effective.

Here's hoping the much-maligned and recently woeful Lions can keep some success going for the rest of the season and get some excitement back into the Motor City.

November 5, 2007

Google Search bar Tips/Tools

I just became aware of some "hidden" features you can do using the Google search field.

ADDED 11/15/07: Definitions
I just discovered that if you type "define: word" where word is the item you want a definition for, it will display a page with definitions from the web and links to those definitions. Makes for a faster dictionary than even going to online.

define: guru
define: ardent

If you want to check the current time in a city, type "current time city" or "time in city" where 'city' is, naturally, the name of the city. For example, if it is 1:08 pm in California and you type "current time saint john" and press Search, the first entry displayed will show you that it is 5:08 pm AST in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada.

current time in Tokyo
time Wichita
time in Atlanta

Similarly, if you want to check the weather in a given city, type "weather city" or "weather in city". The first entry it will display will be its known weather for right now and a brief 5-day for that city.

weather London
weather in Moscow

You can enter math functions and calculations into the field and get the results. For example, you could type "3*4(1+5)/6" and it will show you the calculation and the result (in this case, 12).


You can enter conversion criteria to see what an actual amount is or what the current exchange rate is for a type of currency. For example, type "1 usd in Canadian dollars" yields the current exchange rate (about .944). Or, you could type an actual amount you need to know (say, for a purchase) and get the exact conversion, minus any fees that might be charged.

You can enter height, weight and other conversions as well. For example, type "1ft in meters" will show you the conversion amount.

1 usd in gbp
1 usd in Canadian dollars
10.49 in yen
1 lbs in kilos
8.5 ft in meters

File Type Search
Let's say you are looking for a PDF on presidents of the 20th century. You can enter your search (presidents of the 20th century either inside or without quotes) and then follow it with "filetype:pdf" and Google will limit its search to only PDF files that fit the search criteria. You can use other searches, like DOC, XLS, and other doc types.

presidents of the 20th century filetype:pdf
"presidents of the 20th century" filetype:doc

Site-specific Search
Let's say you are looking for information on presidents of the 20th century. You remember reading something on a blogspot/blogger page about it that you hope to find again. You can enter your search (presidents of the 20th century either inside or without quotes) and then finish it with "site:". Google will limit its search to only the criteria entered and only sites on You can also just enter the extension you want, say ".gov", to limit the search to only sites that include ".gov" in the address.

presidents of the 20th century site:*.gov
"presidents of the 20th century"

I've actually known about this one for some time, but I am often surprised at the number of people who do not use this feature or do not know about it. You can use quotes to specify exact keyword matches. For example, let's say you are looking for the brand "air" in hockey sticks. If you were to enter "air hockey sticks" you would achieve a lot of results for "air hockey" as well as "hockey sticks" but may have trouble narrowing down to Air-brand hockey sticks. If, however, you enter 'air "hockey sticks" ', the search engine looks for any occurrence of the word "air" with the phrase "hockey sticks" and you very quickly have narrowed down the search and can find what you need.

air "hockey sticks"
"air hockey" sticks

Combining Features
A few of these features can be combined. For example, you can use the quotes with any search feature listed here or just in general on Google (and some other search engines). You can combine the filetype and site-specific searches.

"presidents of the 20th century" filetype:doc
air "hockey sticks" filetype"PDF

November 2, 2007

Troubleshooting Woes

I understand that IT and QA professionals never know what quality of individual they might be dealing with from one issue to the next, so must start with the bare-bones and work their way up to the more complex. I also understand that these people deal with a lot of idiots on a daily basis and get a bit jaded and negative about things.

That being said...

I am having an interference problem. My cable, internet, and phone are all provided by Cox Communications. I have been quite happy with them over the years I've been in this apartment, and they have helped me quickly each time I've had an issue. I've even pointed out problems that they were unaware of at their end (one time the gain was turned up way high for a couple of channels and, according to the service rep I spoke with, I was the only one to make them aware of that and someone had just hit the switch and upped the gain to 100% and not noticed).

The interference problem started during the fires and has continued since. My guess is that something somewhere between my apartment and their offices is loose, dirty, or damaged and the intermittent interference I am seeing is caused by that. It has happened before. It manifests into visual interference lines of static on the TV and, at precisely the same moment and for precisely the same length of time, as buzzing/scratching on my phone line.

For example, I had the TV on while talking with M last night. At exactly the same moment as the picture got the interference on it, the phone had static. Since M could not hear the static, it was entirely on my end.

I contacted Cox customer support with that problem. I was very specific about the interference being on both at exactly the same time. They asked me to check my connections (which I had already done). What I received back was two different work orders-- one for line static and one for cable static. All of the questions were asking me about separate issues and telling me that representatives will be contacting me from each of the separate divisions. The problem is that the problem is affecting both-- so it is something that is in conjunction with both lines.

Replied back once again telling them of the simultaneous issues, but also replying to each unit's separate questions. Hopefully someone will see the connection at some point. However, I am now not as confident that they will resolve the issue quickly and efficiently if they continue to insist that these are separate problems.