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Friday, April 11, 2008

The Incredible Vagueness of Being Microsoft

Once more we venture into another rant about MS products. This time, not Vista, which I have so far managed to avoid, but MS Office 2007*.

I received a new machine at work, fair dinkum, quad core 2.4 Ghz 3 GB machine. All is wonderful 'cept I had to re-install all me apps, but it gave me a chance to clean up my desktop and bookmarks and update a bunch of stuff so that was OK. However, the pre-installed Office "package" is really a lame chihuahua when I was used to a greyhound.

Vague Windows I call 'em. These kind of ghostly soft-edged pastelly boxes with Outlook, Office, Excel etc. inside. They do not inherit the desktop theme from the OS! Why not, you b*stards! Isn't that the rule of UI, do what the user wants and has come to expect? At my advanced age (100 at least), I do not want to be pleasantly surprised by your UI designers hoopy new ideas. They are really bad for the upgrading user, and I haven't a hope of explaining it to my non-computer literate folks.

I have at least dual 21" monitors and I often have 20+ windows open at the same time so your app is not the only focus of my attention, even when I'm typing in it. It is constantly annoying to be unable to distinguish the border of the window and to accidentally click on the wrong thing. Aack! I did try changing the office theme, and it went from vague grey to pastelly blue to a kind of washed out black. Sigh. I'm surprised the freaking things don't come with doilies and antimacassars. Design can be a lovely thing when done well, when done badly it's worse than no design (or the old design anyway).

And don't even get me started about the "ribbon" thing and moving familiar landmarks and tools of the expert Word user to new and unexpected places.

I truly think this UI is an abomination. Open Office for me, I think.

* Pay no attention, I'm taking antibiotics and feel horrid.

A fella writes...about dog by-products

In mild hysteria here in the frozen wastes, the white stuff is melting...Don received this on one of his boating forums in response to someone mentioning that the first bikini siting would be a sign of Spring:

...But,truth be told,the bikini is only the
first sign of Summer, not Spring. Around here, it is common
knowledge that the only real sign of Spring,which I define as the
moment no further snow will fall,is when the soft warm winds carry
with them the not altogether pleasent ordour shit.Yup,
that's right folks, the lowly dog poop finally being released from
decades(in doggy years) of its' snow and ice prison. Like the
Siberian wooly mammoth, these un-collected artifacts from mans' best
friend begin to rise from their frozen lairs like blackheads on a
teenagers face.Tickled by the ever warmer rays of the sun, the
microbes and bacteria various,which had once cuddled up close to the
turd for warmth, begin to eat their way through this impressive
buffet of un-used doggy nutrients.Although I doubt these microscopic
creatures have ever eaten a bowel of genuine Texan 911 chili sauce,
you would never know it judging by the thunderous flatulance
festival produced,en masse, by thses critters.Ah yes.....many has
been the warm Spring day when I have silenced my inner voices,pushed
the beer bottle away and listened to these rude expulsions
emminating from orifices most tiny.A veritable miny sphinctoral
orchestra(in D maj,for the music fans amongst us),apparently without
a conductor and whose symphony pollutes the very air we breath.
That is when I willingly open another beer,tilt my head back,stare
into the sun,momentarily go blind and raise a toast to Mother
Nature, the giver and taker of all things living and say," Thanks


Peter "Bat Ears" Lenihan, busy with interior finish details and
looking forward to the bright splash of eye focusing summer spandex
colours disguised as bikinis.........

Movie review: Compare Harold and Kumar go to White Castle with Bachelor Party

For inexplicable reasons, I recently watched these two movies almost one after the other.

"Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" is definitely aimed at immature teenage boys, so I fit right in to their market demographic. However I found it hilarious. Well worth watching for a bit of a laff. A couple of scenes I classify as IWM¹ funny. Kind of Cheech and Chong for the current crowd of wannabe drug-swilling hetero nerds. Mostly formulaic and predictable (except for the appearance of Neil Patrick Harris as a degenerate pervert called "Neil Patrick Harris", and the controversial use of the "goto" instruction²) but it struck me that this film illustrates the current state of censorship (perhaps self-censorship) of Hollywood. Lots of references to violence, soft drugs, and "strong language", but very little nudity (a few bosom flashes only) or serious sexual references. Acting was strong, scripting pretty good and the plot, FWIW held together. Production is actually pretty good.

I contrast H&K with "Bachelor Party", the 1984 film that was one of the first big-screen appearances by Tom Hanks. In this movie, pretty well aimed at the same age group of teens, there is a lot more nudity, sexual situations, orgies, S&M, bestiality, hard drug use (admittedly mostly by a donkey) and depictions of prostitutes³. The acting (apart from Hanks) varies from bad to seriously bad (his leading lady appears to be made from some kind of sap wood); the first half is more or less unwatchable. You won't lose anything by skipping to the middle. I would guess it was a very low budget film at the time.

Perhaps I should have watched "Cheech and Chong" alongside H&K, but I think we are can say from this experiment that teen movies have cleaned themselves up as far as sex is concerned. Disappointing, really. The last part of BP is kinda fun.

One constant between 1984 and today is the design and structure of North American school buses. How can it be that these are the only vehicles that remain unchanged in 25 years?

¹ IWM: I Wet Myself
² Sorry, but I do make programs for a living & don't get out much
³ This is therefore literally "pornographic", pedant.

The Post-Modern 7 Dwarfs*

I wrote this about 15 years ago to cheer up an acquaintance. When I asked him how he was he would always respond "Crappy!" When he was obviously worse I sent him this...

How are you Steve?

I'm not well right now. I feel like the post-modern* 7 dwarfs:
  • Crappy,
  • Lousy,
  • Smelly,
  • Dirty,
  • Nasty,
  • Horny and
  • Richard Branson
(Also rans: Filthy, Scummy, Itchy, Rummy, Scratchy, Huggy, and HRH Prince Charles.)

* or perhaps that should be pre- post-modern neo-colonial brutalist, I'm not much aware of architectural movements.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Dealing with seasickness

I have done a lot of small boat sailing in my life. I love it, yet I get very seasick. I am often asked how I deal with it, so here is what works for me.

The knowledge that you will get seasick can be daunting. You may already know if you are susceptible to seasickness; if you got car-sick as a kid or if you find it nauseating to read a book on a bus or in a car, you will probably get seasick in a small boat. For everyone else, there will probably be times that you get seasick. There are a few robust individuals who appear immune, but even Don has been known to spew in the cockpit (admittedly immediately after chugging an entire can of soda pop).

Preparation: before the trip
Do not eat a hearty, rich, fatty meal before a voyage. Not even the night before. The stereotypical sailor's meal of pizza and beer is exactly the kind of thing that will ensure a "Roman incident". Have a light meal of some bread and fruit. Drink water or watered fruit juice.

Do not drink alcohol at all before or during a trip. After you have the hook down, fine. Same for any other recreational drugs. You want your head clear and your balance to be as normal as possible.

Get lots of sleep. It's a very busy time provisioning, loading, doing last minute repairs, weather routing, chart planning and so on. Try to build up a "sleep surplus" - even if you are not seasick it will help out on those first night watches as you get used to life at sea.

Prevention is way easier
There is a theory that explains seasickness thus: your brain detects signals from your ears (balance) and eyes that disagree and thinks that you have been poisoned, thereby triggering a vomiting reflex to remove the toxic substance that it thinks you have eaten. Whether this is so I don't know. However, it is certain that seasickness is the cause of a lot of anxiety and unhappy crew members. For some reason, in my experience, women are more susceptible than men.

Take your medication for seasickness well before you start sailing. Usually two hours before. Follow the directions. It is a lot easier to stop seasickness before it starts than to interrupt it once it has got hold, in my experience.

Types of medication:
Dramamine - available as pills, liquid and suppositories, branded as Gravol in North America, this is quite good, although it does make me a bit sleepy.
Scopalamine - this is available as Transderm Scop, the famous transdermal patch that has helped a lot of sufferers. It is also available as Scopace, which is in pill form. I have found it quite effective, although the side effects of extremely dry mouth and weird giddyness are disturbing. It is a very strong drug and smaller people (especially women) report many weird psychological effects. The 3-day patches do stick well but in a very warm climate (where you sweat even behind the ears) they may come off.
Meclizine - branded as Bonine/Antivert, in the form of pills. Didn't help me much but it may help you. It is said to have fewer side effects.
Cinnarizine - branded as Stugeron these pills are very effective for me. Unfortunately they are not sold in U.S. You can get them in Europe and Canada.

Other remedies:
Chewing very hard. Funnily enough, although I am not an alternative remedy kind of person, I do find chewing ginger helps. I am not sure if this is because of the strong flavour or the chewing action, or because it has some drug-like action. I find that chewing beef jerky or anything really salty also helps. I have not tried chewing gum. The very strongly flavoured bright red salted semi-dry ginger slices sold in Chinese food shops are very good. Or Tamarind. I've been addicted since childhood.

Bracelets - some people swear by the elasticated bracelets with so called "accupressure" plastic knobs on that press into the the tendons on the inside of the wrist. I think "Sea Bands" was the brand name. Hey, I wore them, and a scopolamine patch, and chewed ginger, and didn't get seasick so they obviously work...

Aromatherapy - on occasion a strong whiff of a pleasant perfume or essential oil has appeared to avert the start of seasickness. I keep a few vials of the stuff around. It worked one time for me and not another time. Although I'm sceptical, it can't hurt.

During the trip
If the weather is calm, many folk do not get seasick. However the long gentle swells that come from a distant storm are actually worse for me than more violent waves. For example, I was fine over the course of many hours with the 3 metre waves we encountered on Lake Ontario probably because they were close together. A long 2 metre swell in the Atlantic made me feel sick within an hour.

Avoid leaning down below, or being out of sight of the horizon unless you are lying down. Try to keep in a fresh flow of air. Get something to do, like navigating or steering the boat. Sit on deck in the wind and look at the horizon (fasten your safety harness to the boat. You are wearing your safety harness above deck, aren't you?) Avoid strong greasy smells (like lasagna cooking on the stove, or diesel fumes). Try to avoid listening to other people puking as this can set you off as well.

Once I start to get seasick, the first signs for me are a headache and mild nausea. Then immediately before the first vomiting attack, a rush of saliva in the mouth. You must get to the rail or over something impervious to fluid or you will be wiping up puke from the carpet. If you make someone else do it you will not be popular. (Fortunately no serious cruising boats have carpeting.)

If you are like me, you will vomit a number of times until you have emptied your stomach. Then you will vomit some more. And more. For me it's every 10-20 minutes. It is exhausting, but do not give up, try to serve your watches. The danger here is of dehydration. Once my stomach is empty, I carry around a bottle of water and a large cup. The cup is for vomiting into (nothing much left inside so it is big enough) the bottle is for taking a few swigs whenever I can bring myself to. With practice you can almost work normally for 19 minutes out of 20. Not pleasant (for others either), but it will pass.

The seasickness stops in one of two ways, for me. Either I get my "sea legs" and it just stops (after about 2-3 days), or I get tired and dehydrated and collapse into a whiny, incapable, self-pitying mound of misery and lie down in a corner to die. Warn the other crew members that this is to be expected, tell them to bring you a cup of water once in a while (every couple of hours) and perhaps a slice of fruit to suck on. You will probably reject their offerings with hideous moans and curses. If they are really good friends tell them to bring you anti-nausea medication in the form of suppositories and get them to make sure you use it.

Keep taking your medication even if you are constantly vomiting. Pills or suppositories.

After the trip
You will live. You will at some point want to die, and this will continue, but you will be OK if you are sensible and the crew help you. It is like magic; as soon as you sail into calmer waters or as soon as you get off the boat you will be cured! You will feel fragile but relieved to be alive. Drink plenty of fluid and get some sleep - unless you have just made Port of Spain and have an appointment with Carnival!

H. Pylori and why it's important

All my life, well, since I was a teenager, I had had mild acid reflux "indigestion" especially after eating cooked plum tomatoes, and food "allergies" to shellfish (mussels, oysters, clams, etc). I lived with it without much thought. If I accidentally ate a scallop in a restaurant I would have a horrible bout of vomiting a few hours later, silly me.

In 2003, after Don had been living with me for 10 years, he got a serious ulcer. He became very ill from blood loss. Our doctor put him on some kind of acid reduction pills and told him to stop eating spicy food and take iron supplements. "Oh the stress of our life is making him sick," we thought. Actually we, and she, were wrong.

When Don got ulcers again a few months later (he recognized the symptoms before he got very ill) we did some research. We found that ulcers are caused by a bacterium (Helicobacter pylori), which can also cause cancer of the stomach and esophagus. It is likely transmitted by water or oral-oral contact, however it is not very contagious. There is a simple breath test for the infection.

Our doctor took a lot of persuasion; she was a technophobe and considered anything we read "on the Internet" to be akin to reading a supermarket tabloid. Don went to see her, armed with a lot of serious references, and she was very surprised. When he went back for the next appointment she had read up on it and, knew everything there was to know :-)

Don was sent to a gastrenterologist who put him on a course of simple antibiotics to kill the H.Pylori, but his post test still showed positive. I went along to his next appointment and suggested that I might be reinfecting him. That doctor admitted the possibility, but also said the organism was hard to kill - it hides in the stomach lining. I was tested and found to be positive, so he put us both on the next level of treatment. This is the so-called triple-therapy: high doses of two different antibiotics and a drug to reduce stomach acid; in our case metronidazole, tetracyclin and pantoprazole, along with use of bismuth in the form of Pepto-Bismol.

I developed a lot of sympathy for people who are on serious long-term drug therapies. These pills had to be taken in a strict schedule, every two hours starting two hours before breakfast (!) and washed down with generous doses of Pepto-Bismol. I came to associate the wintergreen taste of "Pepto-Dismal" with the nausea caused by tetracycline. It was one of the hardest two weeks of my life, although it sounds trivial: "keep taking the tablets." Constant nausea, lowered mental function - I could barely work, even from home. Yuck.

However, a month later we were tested again. We were apprehensive; the GI guy had made the point that there was a third line of attack against H. Pylori - but he suggested that we should sincerely hope that we didn't have to have that. Fortunately we were both negative.

The result is good news; Don has had no more ulcers and I have had no indigestion since. I can eat shellfish again - although I don't see the point of eating tasteless bivalves that live in the sea filtering out any shit that happens to float by. Whether the reflux was caused by H.Pylori (probable) or by other organisms that were offed by the treatment (possible) I am not sure.

I was probably infected when living in Fiji as a child, over 40 years ago - this bacterium is very long-lived and much more common in the Third World. My mother was also positive, and also had reflux as long as she could remember. Fortunately she responded to the simple therapy.

So if anyone still has a doctor that thinks ulcers are a lifestyle disease, get yourself tested. Marshall and Warren are two Australian doctors who got the Nobel prize for medicine in 2005 for this discovery. It is also possible that if you experience constant reflux, chronic indigestion, or weird food "allergies" that change from one year to the next you have this potentially serious infection.

In Ontario the simple blood test for antibodies is free to residents, however the more definite urea breath test costs about $60. It's required after the therapy because the antibodies persist for a long time giving false positives.


St Lawrence Rowing

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