TV or not TV, that is the question

Well, it’s tax season again here in the states. I got my W-2 form earlier this week, installed Turbo Tax last night, and had a go at my taxes. Being recently out of school with no real estate or significant investments to speak of, makes completing a 1040 income tax form decidedly tedious but uncomplicated. It also turned out to be rather pleasant, because I’m getting a significant refund.

Now I just have to figure out what I’m going to do with that refund. There’s one part of me, the thrifty part of me, that wants to save it. After all, aside from a membership in the Scotch Malt Whiskey Society, I put the money in a new savings account and it has remained there ever since. Another part of me says that there are still lots of wedding-related things to buy, like wedding rings, and a few extra dollars will be useful in that process.A third part of me, however, wants to buy a TV.

Our current TV is a 20″ or 22″ Panasonic I bought back in ’96. I noticed recently that it is starting to have problems. Whenever a bright white object appears on screen, a green tinted bar appears horizontally across the screen as well. It’s not like this problem makes the TV unwatchable, but, it does tell me that my poor litttle TV is beginning a downward spiral toward its doom. I’ve therefore had the idea in the back of my head that I should at least be thinking about a new one.

Fast forward to today, when Fiancee S. and I visited Circuit City to buy a new hands-free headset for our cordless phone (Fiancee S. likes to say that I take phone calls in “Backstreet Boy mode”) and a special photo inkjet cartridge for our printer. The televisions called out to me while we were there. They had a beauty of a 27″ Sony flat screen (as opposed to flat panel) for a very reasonable price. That, combined with a couple bits of hardware, would make for a very nice upgrade for our home entertainment system.

It would also consume a good portion of my tax refund however. So, I am left wondering, TV or not TV, that is the question.

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my left foot of fury

Just a friendly note: I would like to thank everyone who has the inclination to pass along information about homeopathic cures to my ailment (vinegar, bleach, etc…) I am reasonably aware of these avenues thanks to the Internet and I am not seeking additional testimonials. Thank you for wanting to help, though.

The following contains a few medical details about my life that may or may not sit well with the squeamish. Me, I don’t think it is so awful, but, when all of this described was described to a former undertaker in Fiancee S.’s family, he more or less said “eeeewww. that’s gross.” When a guy who used to work with dead bodies for a living (and many of them in not so great shape), that’s saying something.

Ever see any of those television commercials where they talk about curing thick, ugly, yellowed finger or toe nails caused by nail fungus? Well, I have/had that problem with the big toe on my left foot. It first popped up about 20 years ago, and got worse over the years because of repeated injuries to the nail. I asked a general practitioner or two about it since then, but, lacking the use of certain recently available drugs, there didn’t seem (to me) to be a whole lot to do about it. Fiancee S. has a podiatrist on retainer because of certain athletic pursuits of her youth and encouraged me to find one and let him have a look (I mentioned this briefly in another entry about doctors last July).

As I noted then, my podiatrist, Dr. D., seems to a have a flair for the “surgical option” when it comes to problems. My case is no exception. His initial plan of attack was to remove the nail on the affected toe entirely, thereby exposing the affected nail bed and attacking the fungus with a combination of oral and topical anti-fungal agents. For reference, Fiancee S.’s podiatrist says he generally just prefers to use a longer course of oral anti-fungal medicines (he hadn’t examined me though, so who knows…) In my case, the nail was so ugly looking that Dr. D. felt that even if the pills worked by themselves, the nail would never grow right. It was best, he said, to cut the nail off and start from scratch. It sounded logical to me.

This he did in January of last year. My foot was painful for a few days, but, in general it was kind of nice to be rid of the ugly thing. I had to go back for a few followup visits over 2003, but, the nail slowly started to grow back.

The problems began just before the 4th of July. The nail would not grow back correctly. It kept getting in-grown and infected. I called Dr. D. for the first time for some emergency relief on the 4th of July. He didn’t remember me much at first, but, I became a much more familiar fixture in his office since then. First one side edge of the nail dug into my flesh and become irritated and infected in July, then the other did the same thing right before Thanksgiving. He cut back both sides of the nail to relieve my pain and hope that it would grow in right if given a chance.

Growing back right is not what my nail seems to want to do. I saw the signs of irritation on the first side he cut back earlier this week. Knowing oh-so-well where this was headed, I decided not to wait long and saw Dr. D. yesterday. We decided to surgically remove part of the nail root and nail bed along the irritated side, so my toe nail will no longer become in-grown. If the other side becomes in-grown in a few months, maybe we’ll remove the nail entirely.

I’m at home today, on Vicodin, and trying to take it easy. I can’t sit up for too long without my toe starting to throb, and, the drugs make me a little vacant and rather mellow. Programming and document writing are rather difficult on Vicodin (you don’t know how many typos I’m correcting as I write this — and this isn’t even hard to write.)

Questions are running through my head. Since I more or less picked out Dr. D. out of the “in network” list for my insurer, did I choose the right podiatrist? Would I have been better to just go with a longer course of drugs at the start? Being a professional myself, I know that there are often several approaches to solving the same problem. Dr. D. evidently likes to reach for the surgical option sooner than some others. Thanks to good employee-provided health insurance, this hasn’t cost me much out of pocket. It’s mostly only cost me some pain and a little discomfort. But I still ask myself if this is the right thing to do?

Yet Dr. D. says the nail is still fungal. It’s definitely MUCH better than it was, but, it seems a shame to go through all this and not have a better cure. The Hippocratic oath says, in part, “do no harm”. Really he has done none. I guess I’m frustrated that we’ve tried everything and it still hasn’t quite worked out.

Fungi are tremedously resilient organisms. I guess they’re very hard to kill, especially when they like to hide under somthing like a toe nail. I would like there to be a magic bullet, and, there seems to be none, despite what the commercials say.

Oh well, I should count my blessings. A toe nail is nothing to be seriously worried about. There are worse things, far worse.

spectator sports with parked cars

One particular sport that Fiancee S. and I have been up to lately involves two parking spaces in the garage for our apartment building. We have an indoor parking area in our building, you see, with assigned spots. Two of these spaces are assigned to a fellow we call “Corvette Guy” who lives one floor down on the other side of the building. Every day we arrive home and wonder what we’ll see in those spaces next.

At first, it was only Corvette Guy in his blue-green, late model Corvette. Corvette Guy is a rather tanned, lean looking fellow, who looks like he should have been an extra in the movie Boogie Nights. At first, I imagined him as some kind of retro-70’s suburban gigolo; the kind of guy whose fashion sense looks like it is just about to graduate into a leather Member’s Only jacket and Isotoner leather driving gloves. Corvette Guy doesn’t look like he adds up to much, but, always leaves you kind of wondering if there is something you don’t quite imagine lurking just below the surface. That he was always seen coming and going at odd times and left his Corvette backed in across two parking spots just fed my ridiculous fantasy that he had a beeper and needed to make the quick run across town to service his bored suburban female clients at a moment’s notice.

That fantasy was quickly dispelled when the Corvette began to take up only one space. The first guest in that other space was a monster diesel truck belonging to a tile contractor. Oh how boring, just another working joe who saved his money to get a blue-green example of Bowling Green Kentucky’s finest automobile. At least it was good to finally know what Corvette Guy did for a living, and who we could call for an estimate should the shower need renovation.

After the contractor truck began to show up regularly, the Corvette spent less and less time in the garage and began to be replaced by other vehicles. The weirdest is this used late 80’s/early 90’s Cadillac Seville. The first time I saw the Seville in question, it was parked in front of the building with a man (who was not Corvette Guy) furiously attempting to work a coat hanger in around the passenger side window to unlock it. While I paused in the lobby of our building to puzzle over whether or not I should report this activity to the police or at least ask the man for his name, Corvette Guy rolled up, parked his car, and started helping the guy. I remember remarking to Fiancee S. that should the police start coming around asking about auto theft, at least we would know where to direct them.

Auto theft turned out to not be a problem. Evidently once Corvette Guy and his faithful Sancho Panza had managed to get the car unlocked, they decided to roll it into the garage and into one of the two spaces that the Corvette used to occupy. There the car has sat since, motionless.

How do we know the car has not moved? Well, it had four completely flat tires the day after it arrived in the garage. Corvette Guy was sometimes seen working on the car. Floor jacks appeared under the car for a while and I saw Corvette Guy armed with a can of “Fix-A-Flat” trying to inflate tires. This evidently only partially worked because the car had two completely flat tires for at least a month.

Finally, Fiancee S. and I noticed a contractor’s truck of sorts parked in front of the building when we got home one night not long ago. We also noticed that there was a long hose stretching from the truck into the garage. Who was seen handling that hose, but Corvette Guy… We noticed the very next day that the Seville was sitting on four inflated tires in the garage for the first time, ever.

Now the Corvette itself has not been seen near the building for quite a while. Last night, it was replaced by rather shabby used Ford. This only leads to further speculation. Has Corvette Guy lost his dream ride in a nasty divorce settlement? Only time will tell.

Republican family values

Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.

Matthew 5:37, New American Bible

I was recently reminded of something I heard a couple weeks ago from one of Fiancee S.’s cousins. This cousin works for an agency that works closely with the U.S. Parks Service. As such, he has a lot of contact with employees of the Parks Service.

It seems that the Bush Administration has slashed the operational budgets of a lot of the “second tier” parks in the National Parks System. That is to say that you will always be able to find a large, well operated Visitor Center at Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, but not so at some of the smaller, lesser-known parks. While I do not necessarily agree with this, it is something that the current Administration has the power to do.

Where the policy of the current Administration really begins to cause my bile to rise is that a policy directive on the subject from the Department of the Interior tells U.S. Parks Service employees to deflect or redirect questions on the matter. Failure to do so will result in penalties that include suspension and job termination. The impression created within the Parks Service is that the Administration wants Park Rangers to lie when a visitor to a smaller park asks why the Visitor’s Center is closed.

I was reminded of this policy this morning when I read the following quote from Paul Krugman’s Op-Ed piece “Red Ink Realities” in this morning’s New York Times:

In fact, many government agencies are severely underfinanced. For example, last month the head of the National Park Service’s police admitted to reporters that her force faced serious budget and staff shortages, and was promptly suspended.

This brings me back to the quote at the start of this entry. If Republicans are going to be so full of “family values” and Fundamentalist Christian principles, let’s start by putting the ideas of Jesus into action. Jesus did not tell us to tell the truth except when it may remind voters of uncomfortable political realities. If the policy of this government is to cut back spending to certain ideologically unfriendly agencies, let us not try to cover it up by asking employees of that agency to lie.

If one chooses to make budget cuts that require staff and service cutbacks, it is the politically prudent and honest Christian thing to simply say so.

yes, yes, yes, we do! we’ve got Spirit! how ’bout you?

It’s probably been bugging Fiance S. a bit, but, I’ve been enthusiastically following the progress of the NASA Spirit and Opportunity rovers on Mars. The reasons behind my enthusiasm are threefold: I actually interned at NASA for a summer back in the mid-90’s and worked in a lab next to a team who did locomotion software for planetary probes like this, one of my best childhood friends is an astrophysicist at JPL where the probes are made, and for a kid who wanted to be an astronaut as a child, this is very cool stuff.

I also had to feel a certain amount of sympathy for the controllers of the Spirit rover when it malfunctioned last week. One of the things that kept a paycheck coming for me during my years in graduate school was a job for a project that collected weather and ocean data funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research. Part of this job involved keeping data flowing from a variety of instruments into a central database.

Dealing with problems at instrument sites was always a pain. The instruments were often a good many miles away, and, stuck in locations that were difficult to get to. We used to access them via a network of radios (similar in concept and technology to the wireless ethernet available for homes now) that were usually pushed to their limits and a bit flaky. If we were lucky, there would also be some kind of leased phone line to a nearby site because someone else was also interested in instruments located there.

Problems would happen a lot, too. The equipment sat in locations that weren’t ideally hospitable for computers. Sheds would warm up to over 100 degrees F during the day. Salt air had a tendency to corrode everything. Storms would knock down antenna poles. Some sites had flaky power connections and used backup batteries that would leak. I can remember being warned not to kneel on the floor of one particular shed where we kept equipment; battery acid was slowly eating through the wood floor and would ruin a pair of pants by the time we got home if we knelt on it.

So I had to spend more than one afternoon trying desperately to communicate with a computer sitting out in a shed on some isolated rocky beach or near some desolate rock trying to restore the flow of data from there to the project’s database. The computers were often several years old, and the methods communicate with them (radio or modem) were frequently slow as molasses. Failure would mean “a site visit”. Instruments were often originally set up by someone at a partner institution, and, a site visit would entail scheduling a time when I could go with someone from that institution to visit the sick computer in question.

The people driving the Mars rovers don’t even have the luxury of a site visit, uncomfortable as it often was. I can only imagine what it must be like to have something go wrong with equipment that is 100 million miles away on a nearby inhospitable planet. The sense of panic must have been especially pronounced, given the number of Mars probes that have just disappeared over the years. The sigh of relief when Spirit finally did check in last week must have been equally palpable.

I hope that nothing else goes wrong.

describing the zebra

I’m a bad American citizen. I didn’t see President George W. Bush fulfill his Constitutional obligation to provide a State of the Union message the other night. I didn’t watch because I figured that it would be like describing a zebra. Our dear President would likely see it as a black animal with white stripes. I would just as likely see it as a white animal with black stripes. We would be looking at the same animal, yet our descriptions would be different on some fundamental level. It just goes to show you that more than beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.

Subsequent experience shows that I was probably right. I almost caught 30 seconds of the State of the Union address the morning after. I had to immediately turn it off. President Shrub was talking about American strength or some such thing. More Republican pabulum for folks who have rifles and American flags on the letterhead of their personal stationary, I guess. I didn’t need to hear it. He was describing the black animal with white stripes.

Back when the 2000 Election season was upon us, I was living in my old graduate school stomping grounds. Ralph Nader was BIG down there in those days. I seemed to hear “oh, the two major party candidates don’t seem different AT ALL” from everybody under the age of 25, almost everywhere. Ya gotta love 19 year old college students; they sometimes have so much passion and so little perspective. I wish I could round everyone who said that up in the same room and scream “SO WHO THINKS THE TWO CANDIDATES ARE THE SAME NOW????”

I can’t believe that Al Gore would have made an ideal President during the last four years, but, I have to believe that if pressed, he would generally agree that the zebra is a white creature with black stripes. I wouldn’t have driven a 90 mile round trip on a work day just to vote for him, otherwise.

Say… if I’m willing to drive 90 miles to vote, I guess I’m not such a bad American citizen after all. I think I just must not like describing zebras.Yeah, that’s it.

yo-ga! yo-ga! yo-ga!

I’ve been having some back problems recently. They started a little over three weeks ago, on the plane ride back from the “land of my birth”. It seems that my back didn’t particularly like being crammed into a “coach” airline seat for a few hours. I compounded the problem by working too hard, under too much stress over the succeeding weeks for it to ever get completely well. The threat of back pain also threw off my fitness regimen, which was already in a tailspin from a rush to meet a development deadline at Company O. and under assault from holiday food consumption.

Well, this weekend I finally decided that I had hit bottom. I needed to make some changes in my life to help fix the problem and get back in the road to a better, healthier body. This meant cutting down on portions of meals and returning to a healthy exercise regimen.

Fiancee S. has lead the way in this for a couple months now; she has joined a popular women’s gym chain and has been going religously for the last couple months (even while we were at the land of my birth — her gym has a franchise there, mine doesn’t). She is seeing results, too. She’s lost 4 lbs already, in addition to losing certain inches (of fat) and gaining others (of muscle). Go Fiancee S.!!!!

So, with new resolve, I went to the gym yesterday and did a light strength training workout. It went moderately well. I did the upper body. Tomorrow I will do the lower body and abs. My goal is not necessarily to do heavy weight, at least not to start. I just want to feel a good, consistent rise in my metabolism and work up a sweat. Of course, I didn’t follow this up with enough sleep Sunday night, or enough low-fat food spread out through the day, so I was generally sleepy as hell the whole day.

Today, I resolved to attempt some moderate cardio training. I also had some time to kill when I first got up, so I thought I would help to placate my miserable torso by doing some yoga to slowly stretch and strengthen my muscles so long abused by inactivity. I dusted off my copy of Yoga: The Iyengar Way and attempted to re-acquaint myself with the mysteries of Warrior Pose, Tree Pose, Box Pose, Prayer Pose, and Corpse Pose, among others (I also took about six months worth of yoga classes back in grad school, plus a few here and there since then… for those of you who cry “a book isn’t enough!” Don’t worry, I have some clue, though starting classes again might be nice.)

All I can say is, ouch! I now understand why my back was complaining. My body is in miserable shape, from a yoga point of view. My muscles clearly resisted the idea of being stretched, be it from stress or lack of use. It also should be said that I am not the most flexible and athletic creature to begin with (as the name Dr. Geek might suggest.)

Still it felt like real progress to get up and do some yoga this morning. I’ve got to keep it up. One thing I’ve learned is fitness is not rocket science. It merely requires time, consistency, and persistence. With enough of both, you too can look great.