Tuesday, February 28, 2006

This is the sex post I warned you about.

So, if you want to avoid it, you can skip out now.

Breakfast of Champions

It's big.

Or so I've been told. But the amusing thing, the thing that makes this a story, is that I had no idea ... not until I was 34 years old.

I have small feet, and I have small hands. My arms are shorter than they should be for someone my height, and so the cuffs on any jacket or shirt often extend down to the thumb knuckle.

I'm extremely thin and always have been. In college, a girl thought I was an anorexic. When you saw me walking down the street with my (gorgeous) long hair and emaciated body, you didn't say: "I bet he's got a big one!" You said: "There goes yet more pale, stringy, tofu."

As a kid, I spent many years being not only the shortest boy but the shortest person in my class. And I was skinny. And nerdy. And socially inept. And nasty. And dumping in my own pants until I was 14.

So you can see how that adds up to a whole lot of feeling inferior. That inferiority was mixed in with a nasty feeling of superiority to everyone else.

Girls didn't like me. And with excellent reason.

I didn't have sex, or play sports, or party in high school. I had almost no friends (though I did have a few who celebrated a freak like me). What this means is that no one saw it and I didn't get a look at anyone else's. The P.E. locker room was a place to hurriedly change and scurry out of, trying to avoid both seeing and being seen. I never showered, which is possible when you weigh less than 90 pounds and are still years from puberty -- you don't perspire much. Then, due to the blessings of Howard Jarvis and California's Proposition 13, P.E. became elective in my Sophomore year, and I never took P.E. again.


Like you, I get tons and tons of spam email for super hot stocks, online pharmacies, internet business opportunities, Viagra, Cialis, and other things that would make it stiffer. My wonderful wife gets those spam too. She turned to me recently: "Is this a problem? I mean, like a widespread problem?"

Who knows.

The other thing in spam is constant offers to make it bigger. This preys on a natural insecurity of men. It's unfair. Everyone knows who has big breasts, it's apparent. But when it comes to men, no one can see who has a big one. They have to fall back on the big shoes myth.

I did too. Considering my lowly origins, I quite naturally assumed that I was inferior in all respects, including this one.

Non-coital anecdotes regarding gullibility

I had my first girlfriend in college. We didn't have intercourse, but things did happen which may help explain to the reader why I disregarded what I was told by the women with whom I later did have intercourse.

This first girlfriend set her limits: She wanted to make out on her bed, and allowed heavy petting, but only above the waist. She set her limits, and though I would have wanted to go further, I obeyed her rules.

We would spend the late evening and some early morning hours making out on her bed, and I would walk home, usually after midnight but only once or twice as late as three AM.

The weather was cold then: There was frost on the windows. One time after we'd been making out for a while, and as I was about to leave, my hand happened to touch her pants down in the thigh area. They were soaking wet, and cold, as if someone had poured a full glass of ice water on her crotch. "What happened?" I said, confused by the unexpected. "Don't worry about it," she said, reassuringly. And I didn't. I didn't think about it or wonder about it. I forgot it. It was only many years later that I remembered the incident, and understood it.

I was very good at ignoring or overlooking things that didn't fit my expectations, a prowess I think I inherited from my mother. I was capable of living in an invented reality. On the other hand, if I had read about this incident in a work of fiction, I would have wondered about it and then come to understand what it meant. But since it happened in my own life, and since I was asked not to concern myself, I didn't.

The other incident with the first girlfriend happened by accident. We were making out on the bed and I had my hand on her knee, again just about to leave. My hand slipped off her knee by accident and the edge of my palm struck her right where the clitoris is, alarmingly hard. She writhed and convulsed in an extended way that scared me. She gasped a bit but was generally silent. She seemed to be having a very intense reaction. I was very worried that I had caused her pain, like the pain of being hit in the testicles.

"Are you OK?" I said, worried.

"I'm fine," she said. She hugged me to her one last time before I left. "You're very..." she began and I expected a compliment like "romantic," but what she said was utilitarian instead ("physical"), and I was slightly hurt.

I didn't immediately forget about the struck-and-writhing incident like I did the wet-pants incident, probably because I felt shame that I might have hurt her. But again, I did not put two and two together. If I had read about this incident in a book I would have definitely known what happened. It was, to my knowledge, my first time. But I only realized that many years later.

Still guilt-stricken, I apologized to her remorsefully and sincerely the next time I saw her. She may have expected this, because she told me, as clearly and completely as she could, that no harm was done and I had nothing to apologize about -- that I should just forget it.

As a kid, I read a lot. I read a lot of poetry as a teenager. I wrote some too. I thought about women a lot. I imagined how devotedly I would make love if I ever ... (ever!) ... got the chance.

I didn't get the chance until I was 20. At one point, she said "Look at all that!" I rolled my eyes and said "Come on!" I thought she just was trying to give me some positive self-esteem. I thought it was a mere verbal gesture.

In this post, I have scrambled the order in which I discuss the women who I am supremely grateful to have had the honor to sleep with. They're out of order, and their details have been altered where necessary. Also, I say nothing whatsoever about my loving wife's reaction or opinion. She's a miracle, and has given my life its meaning. I respect her, and I love her, period.

By the way, I did discuss the idea for this post with her, and she neither encouraged me nor stood in my way.

...The 'next' woman I was with said "You're big." Again I gave her the oh-come-on reaction. "Well, it seems big to me," she said, defensively. But I blew it off, despite the fact that she was way, waaaaay more experienced than I was.

She kept a vibrator by her bed, and when she showed it to me I mused, "Why do they make them small?" I figured it was just more versatile that way.

Despite that as a boy and teenager I was a supreme egotist, by the time I was a young man, my whole thing was humility. I was trying to grow out of my arrogance. Believing that I had a big one was just not on my scope. It was a trope typical of the frat boys and other 'winners' who I detested, the ones who were always trying to prove that they were Alpha Males -- always, in every conversation, in every single sentence -- trying to prove to you, and to other guys and gals listening, that they were smarter, more hip, more glib, had more testosterone, and were bound for greatness.

Women flocked to these jerks, and they still do.

Data about average size is not pervasive. I recall that in high school I read some book (and cannot now recall which one) that said that the average circumference was 1.5 inches. This may be completely wrong information -- how would I know? But I did mention it in passing to a buddy of mine in high school. "That sounds about right," he said, walking away. I followed: "Maybe they mean diameter, not circumference?" I said. "No, that sounds about right," he said in a clipped way which meant: Shut up about this already. I did.

The only other conversations I had about size were after age 20, with women. I continued to ignore or dismiss their testimony.

My approach to romance was kind of restricted, but in a healthy way. I thought that sex and love were really important. I still do. I thought that romance was a zone where all the pretense fell away, and people were honest and real with each other, creating a kind of personal utopia. Boy, was I naive! I didn't know that most people scam their way through romance with a series of poses and lies.

I didn't sleep with a lot of women. In part, it was because I was socially inept, and clearly not an alpha male. The other reason was my code of ethics. I thought, for example, that if you were with someone, but attracted to someone else, you were ethically obliged to break up with person A before you ever even hinted to person B that you were interested. I didn't realize that most people get with person B, using drugs or alcohol as an excuse, and then break up with person A.

So I was not 'a player.' I had this idea that women didn't like being hit on all the time, and you should leave them be. I also had the idea that it was wrong to romance women you work with. That last rule, I violated several times.


No tale of sex would be complete without an STD. Mine was HPV, or Human papillomavirus. It makes warts on your equipment. As I've said, I was not a 'player,' but to this day I don't know who gave me HPV. I recall the woman, but not her face.

She had this border of small, flat ovoids around her labia minora. They didn't looked diseased or disgusting or anything. I now know that they were warts. At the time, I just figured: "Huh! Everybody's body is different." I said "Hey, these little pearls around the edge are pretty. What are they?"

"Just part of me, I guess." she said. That response, particularly the "I guess" part, now makes me think that she suspected something was wrong, but didn't want to know.

Yes, we used condoms, but juices being what they are, I was exposed.

It could have been any one of three women. I talked to them all about it, and all denied the possibility.

The people at the clinic got rid of my case by burning off the warts with salicylic acid. It didn't hurt much. They say that the virus never completely goes away, and you could get new warts at any time. You have to inspect yourself for new warts, which can be quite small, sometimes discolored, like freckles or moles. Fortunately, her tests show that I haven't transferred it to my courageous wife, despite the fact that we conceived two children.

According to Wikipedia, "It is estimated that 80% of sexually active adults have been infected with one or more genital HPV strains at some time. The vast majority of infected people suffer no ill effects and never even know that they have been infected, but may be able to infect others."

No matter who you are, if you read this blog, ask your doctor to give you a test for HPV (and HIV and every other STD you can think of).

HPV can be dangerous: It has been linked to cervical cancer. Fortunately, the FDA is currently considering approving a vaccine that has been tested 100-percent effective against HPV. That's great news, a miracle drug, really. I don't think it will clear up HPV after infection, but it's guaranteed to protect against infection. Certain Republican Christian groups are lobbying the FDA to block approval of the vaccine, because they say it will encourage promiscuity.

There were a couple of instances where really attractive women were obviously trying to get closer to me, but I balked. I recall this one gorgeous female whose apartment I arrived at, unannounced, when researching a news story for the paper. Come in, sit down, let me get you a beverage, do you like this TV show, I love it. I didn't watch TV, and my girlfriend at home was expecting me. My reaction was that I wanted to be taken seriously as a reporter, so I evaded her social angle.

All these years later, I'm glad I didn't make a play for that woman, but some part of me looks back on the episode and says: Chump!

There was one lover who didn't call me big. She'd been with a guy who was witty, urbane, articulate, smart, handsome, well-dressed, muscular, and hung like an absolute horse. He was, I was told, so big that sometimes it wouldn't fit in. In that case, the asset is a disability.

This guy was the anti-me. He looked like an alpha male, but -- he wasn't a jerk (to me, anyway). He was my friend. He was 'a player,' though, and he's had, literally, thousands of women. His reputation preceded him.

Meanwhile I toiled on, unheralded. Or too stupid to hear the heralds.

A leggy, very flexible vixen came to my place, declaring that she wanted to have sex with me (she was a good friend). But she didn't seem turned on, and I felt like I was going to strike out. She told me later that she almost went to sleep on me. However, at one point -- I now think she noticed my distinguishing characteristic -- her whole attitude changed in an instant. She became a voracious feline. I had never witnessed such a dramatic turnaround. "Brainhell: Who knew!" she kept saying. I figured she meant: Who knew we'd have such chemistry?

Another friend, this one with vast, vast experience, said once, something along the lines of. "I'm sure other women have told you that you're big." I looked at her with total confusion. No. Part of the reason for my confusion was that me getting lucky was such a rare, singular event. "It's ... wider ... than usual," she said, and dropped the subject.

When fully deployed, it's 5.625 inches long and 5.5 inches in circumference, but kind of flattened like a slab, so that the distance across is 1.8125 inches. I provide four-decimal precision for accuracy, or maybe because that's how my calculator renders 13/16. The schematic here is generalized and lacking in detail. The width is accurate (1.8"), but the depth is an approximation not based on measurement.

Why provide specifics, and a schematic?
I've always been somewhat disrespectful of conventions that people use to put on airs. I'm also a bit 'radical' in that I sometimes deliberately break the expected social rules.

For example, when I worked at one consulting company, we were supposed to keep our salaries secret. We were being bought out by a larger company, and they didn't want us to know what people in comparable positions in the larger company were making, or what differences existed among those of us in the smaller company. The differences were vast. And unfair. They actually threatened to fire anyone who shared salary information, in part because they'd heard that I was already telling people my exact salary.

I made a point of sharing it in hopes that others would follow suit and we'd burst one bubble of corporate control. It didn't work. Only one other person, a talented programmer imported from the Philippines, told me what she was making. It was less than half my salary. We did the same work. They rooked her because they could. That's business.

There is lots of posing and faking that goes on, particularly on the part of guys. They tend to make vague or misleading statements about their salaries -- and about what studs they are. Most of it is bluster and part of it is defense. No one should be compelled to say how much money they earn, what their IQ score is, or how large is their equipment. I respect that.

But for my own part I have that rebel urge to destroy the tradition of bluster. I don't like bluster, I think it belittles the people who engage in it, and I find it tiresome.

So, in the interest of truth, and being non-fake, I publish these exact measurements, and a diagram. Perhaps it will become a new standard on the internet, similar to my failed NEC contract. Next time you see some guy hinting vaguely about his equipment, you can challenge him to meet the standard defined here. Never happen.

You might think that I had an unending chain of lovers. But I spent a lot of time alone, feeling lonely. I once went for a year and a half between female company, despite looking constantly. That's why I laugh when female bloggers complain that they've gone two whole months without sex(!).

I had a mindset that prized quality above quantity. But I wanted that quality every single day. It would have added up to a lot of quantity. I feel blessed, honored, and grateful to have been with the fantastic women I was with. There is a reason some early religions are based around worship of women. Women, and their eros, are just so awe-inspiring.

There was the absolutely delectable Jewish woman from New York, with the accent and everything. She was 10 years older than me, beautiful, and very passionate. "So big you are!" she said. I said no, it just looks big in comparison to my abnormally skinny frame. "Are you saying all the men I was with were midgets?" she demanded indignantly.

I figured she didn't have enough data.

I am friends with all my old girlfriends and lovers, except one. Some are like sisters to me now. My wise wife knows them and likes them.

It was the one who I am no longer in touch with who finally drilled the truth home to me. Over the years I had experienced trouble with those horrid condoms. They always bunched up and pinched, often becoming so stretched and tight that it was an ordeal, not a sacrament.

The first time I was with the now-estranged girlfriend, she assessed me and said: "That's nice to see. My friend Dave has that problem too, so I think you should use this large condom."

That was the end of pinching and stretching and crimping. In a subsequent conversation, she patiently explained my situation to me.

Did I go wild at that point, visiting every swinging disco bar, reference library, and DMV office in the state? Hardly. You see, for a couple of years I had been trying to get my special wife to marry me. And around this time she agreed that we should move in together. Eventually, yada yada, and here we are: blessedly married, a nice house, two great kids, and me dying of ALS while writing the history of my distinguishing characteristic.

It's not a faith or belief, but I have a sort of gut hunch about blessings and curses, fortune and misfortune. My hunch is that everything balances out, for the individual. Among individuals there is great unfairness in dispensation, but for a given individual, fortune and misfortune tend to balance out.

You might think that the distinguishing characteristic was a blessing given to me to offset the looming misfortune of my ALS. I don't think so, and not just because I never knew.

What I worry is that my life has been so rich and rewarding personally, professionally, and artistically -- and in terms of marriage and children -- that the Lyme disease avenue will turn out to be a dead end. The universe will look at me and say "You've had SO MUCH luck already, you can't have this too." That's what I fear.

Left grip is 27 pounds (25, 24, 27), right grip is 76 pounds (74, 73, 76).


Monday, February 27, 2006

Flight 93

On 2/25/06, I noticed this Ted Rall cartoon, reproduced here without permission and in total violation of copyright, I just bet. Unless some fair use condition can be met because I have so few readers and make no money from this blog? But leaving that aside, the cartoon says "The 9/11 Commission says there's no proof of a passenger revolt -- and that they never entered the cockpit."

OK, it's just a cartoon, but I like Rall's artwork, I appreciate that he's edgy ... and I'd like him to be right on his facts.

The report of the 9/11 Commission directly contradicts Rall on both counts. This section begins on page 13:

We can't know what happened on Flight 93, but I think the passengers fought back and got into the cockpit. And the 9/11 Commission agrees.

It may not matter to some of you that Rall was wrong on this point. But it matters to me. It bothered me on 8/8/05 when he published a cartoon citing internal Pentagon documents counting 9,000 US soldiers dead in Iraq (many of whom were excluded from the official count of 1,800+ because they don't die in country), but I was unable to find any news stories about the allegation...

As I said, I often like his work, though I don't always agree with the message. I just wish he'd pay more attention to the facts.

Speaking of facts, here's a quote from Rall's 2/21/06 column, in which he reproaches the loathesome Ann Coulter:

Coulter is entitled to her opinions, not to lie about the facts.

I'm not saying Rall is lying about the 9/11 Commission, but he's got his facts wrong, and I'm curious as to why.

Left grip is 25 pounds (23, 24, 25), right grip is 81 pounds (75, 73, 81).


Sunday, February 26, 2006

Will in the World

I recently finished reading Will in the World, by Greenblatt, given to me by my wonderful wife. It's pretty good, and worth reading. The author mentions only briefly that some people think someone else must have written Shakespeare's works, but aside from that comment, the whole of the book assumes that Shakespeare was his own writer. I have in the past found the arguments of the Shakespeare doubters compelling, and may again in the future, but it was worthwhile to read a book predicated on Shakespeare being a genuine genius. It's not impossible, by any means. Greenblatt works over every single surviving piece of evidence about the mysterious playwright, I think, and builds an interesting portrait of a life. I like that Shakespeare was apparently moneywise, and not prone to indulge in bouts of drinking. If he had been a drinker, we might not have seen any of his plays.

Left grip is 26 pounds (25, 24, 26), right grip is 73 pounds (73, 70, 67).

Saturday, February 25, 2006

He doesn't have to

As a small kid, I didn't do many chores, but in one epoch, I was helping my mother clean. I was cleaning the bathroom sink in the bathroom of of the bedroom she shared with my father. There was a small pile of little black flecks in the sink. I asked what they were, and she said they were my father's whiskers. I recall seeing him tap his shaver in the sink to clean it. Each of the next few times I helped her clean, I had to rinse away the whiskers. "Why doesn't he just wash them down the sink?" I asked. She paused only briefly. "I guess he feels he doesn't need to." Most things mystified me as a kid and so did this response. It was only years later that I realized his habit annoyed her.

Ted Rall's cartoons are often very funny, and often deeply distrustful of the powers that be. The one I saw today alleges that there's no proof a a revolt by Flight 93 passengers. I try to keep Ted Rall honest, just like I do for the crowd at Hooah Wife. So today I sent him this email:

But Jackson, I read the entire 9/11 Comission Report and I don't recall it saying there's no proof of a passenger revolt, or a lack of evidence passengers entered the cockpit. Did YOU read it? How do you source this cartoon? I think that the families got to hear the cockpit tape, which includes sounds of passenger voices in the cockpit.

Yes, it could all be a vast fiction. But that's hard work.

Sometimes he replies to my emails. Let's see if he does this time.

Left grip is 25 pounds (25, 24, 24), right grip is 71 pounds (64, 71, 71).

Friday, February 24, 2006

98th percentile

Every mother loves her son, so I don't put much weight on the IQ test my mother gave me when I was in high school and she was in graduate school to get her master's degree in education. She was supposed to learn how to give the tests. The score was 150, the first time. I and my sister took so many of those tests as she learned them that she complained we had gotten 'test smart' -- grown accustomed to testing methodology and able to achieve artificially high scores.

I place more weight on the cheap, computer-based IQ test I took in the early '90s, which put me in the 140 range. Wildly grabbing some 'facts' from the web, I assert that only 5 percent of the US population has an IQ higher than 125, and only 1 percent has an IQ higher than 135.

I don't know what the definition of 'genius' is, in terms of IQ, but I ran across it once and it was absurdly low. I think it was about 130. This means that I am a genius, as is most everyone in my social group. What that means is that usually when we say 'genius,' we mean a super-genius, like Leonardo, Einstein, or Joni Mitchell. But apparently 'genius' is a rather ordinary term to describe ordinary, common people.

Yes, I am familiar with the critique of the IQ scale, and I accept much of it as valid. Yet, there is some association, however weak: Smart people tend to score higher on IQ tests.

While blogging, I corresponded with a woman whose IQ was 160+. That's what I consider a genius. No, she's not running a major corporation, or building a super-bomb. Many very bright people lead ordinary lives.

I've read the book 'The Bell Curve,' and while I think the attempt to tie IQ to what we call 'race' was ill-advised and insupportable, I did find much of the rest of what the book had to say about IQ to be interesting. Birds of a feather. My wife is brilliant, for example, and probably has a higher IQ than anyone reading this blog, or writing it.

My kids are brilliant too.

Intelligence is not the same as wisdom, however, a truth which I have painfully learned from watching myself commit obvious errors of judgment over and over.

I didn't get straight A's in school. My sisters did. I said then and maintain now that straight A's are a sign of conformity, a lack of creativity and imagination.

I had a perfect score on the 'verbal' section of the SAT. Another student was awed by that. "How'd you do that?" he said in wonder. I told him honestly that the whole section was easy. I may have gotten one question wrong, but that was because the test-makers made a mistake. It was one of those "A is to B as yacht is to regatta" questions. I saw the answer they expected you to give, but I chose the other answer, knowing that the first appeared correct but was mistaken. In the analytical and math sections my score was much more toward the average.

Despite my ability with words, I wanted to become a computer programmer, and use those average analytical and math skills. I worked with many highly-talented people who were much better than me at programming. I got in the habit of knowing that no matter how careful and correct I thought I had been in coding something, I most likely had made an embarrassing mistake. I made it part of my process to assume I'd been stupid and try to find out where.

Here's how I know I'm smart: When I took the GRE, the test you have to take to get into graduate school, I scored in the 98th percentile. That doesn't mean I got 98 percent of the questions right, it means that of all graduating college seniors and others attempting to enter graduate school in the US that year, only two percent scored higher than I did.

Left grip is 25 pounds (23, 21, 25), right grip is 75 pounds (75, 69, 65).


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Lower animals

My sister in the middle was whiney and neurotic when we were kids. She's a grownup now, but back then she was overwrought, irrational, and ... cruel when she had the chance. We were a sick family with odd parents, so it's understandable. I was pretty messed up too, as a kid. I wouldn't want to raise a kid like me. But I have this impression (now) that if you left me as a kid in peace, I would leave you in peace too. We didn't like my middle sister's hysteria, I think.

She also liked to put on airs. One such air was her constant refrain, over the years, of "girls mature faster than boys." This was delivered with a wry delight, a joke between those in the know. It annoyed me.

One day she said this yet again in front of myself and my mother and father. I must have been about 12. She would have been 15. My brain and my mouth started working at the same time. I said the most brilliant thing, and delivered it in just the right tone (scientific detachment): "Yes, all the lower animals mature faster than humans."

My sister looked shocked and insulted and may have said something interrogative.

I continued: "Mayflies, insects, dogs, cats, monkeys -- they all reach maturity faster than people."

She hissed: "I am NOT a 'lower animal!'"

I knew at the time that what I had said was intellectually dishonest, but it was very effective: She never once after that repeated that girls mature faster than boys.

I didn't often score such perfect goals as a child. I wish we'd had loving, supportive childhoods, but given what we did have, that is my favorite memory of taunting my sister.

In response to my 2/20/06 post "Mr. Safety," Femi and Lefty had a few things to say, and they seemed disappointed in my brief response. Here, because they are worth it, is my fuller response.

Reply to Femi and Lefty
Blogging is a new format for self-expression that, I think, adds new dynamics to writing while bringing along many of the traditional benefits.

On one hand, a blog such as mine is 'private' -- just the collected thoughts of one person, a sole sovereign. But on another, it's a public exercise, involving responsibility, similar to publishing a newspaper column.

Since the topic of the blog is usually me, or at least, my opinions, that makes me particularly unsuited to be the judge of my own flaws. Fortunately, I am blessed with readers, many of whom are willing to comment. They can help me see errors of my own that I've overlooked.

In your comments, Femi and Lefty, you said many things I already knew and agreed with, and have said myself, if not in the blog then in conversation. The persuasive tone of what you said made me think that you think I am missing something, overlooking one of my faults, blind to it.

Femi, you more or less said (going from memory here) that I was being misogynist. I said I wouldn't dispute your right to say so. Lefty, you had some things to say, and I thanked you for your input.

Both of you expressed disappointment at the brevity of my response. You both said that I'm prolific when arguing. That's true. I'm not aware that we are arguing. If we are, let me know.

Lefty, you brought up my meticulous critique of your post about the AB body-slam story. I know that my action then was confrontational, and I respect your right to turnabout (I'd be honored). I hope that at the time I did it, I was appropriately apologetic -- aware that I was intruding where not invited. I hope I didn't seem like I was arguing for fun -- taunting a bug in a jar for amusement.

You've read Kafka, I bet. You're familiar with 'The Trial.' Rather than make that mistake, and given my own acknowledged inadequacy in diagnosing my errors of attitude, I ask you both, since you were not satisfied with my responses, to let me know some options regarding what I could have said in reply, that would have been better.

I know that this puts work back on you, but we're all writers, and presumedly we enjoy it. I thank you in advance for any options you may write up, respecting that you don't owe me anything, and I am honored that you read this blog and care about me.

The GP gave me a green light for the port installation surgery. My weight is up to 133. My blood pressure was 146 over 90, but I've found that it varies greatly each time it is measured.

Left grip is 24 pounds (22, 24, 23), right grip is 74 pounds (72, 68, 74).


High wire

As recently as a few weeks ago, walking across a flat, clean floor felt as perilous to me as walking on a high wire. I have acrophobia, fear of heights (strikes me at the edges of in tall buildings, but NOT in airplanes -- I have faith in airplanes). I was so unsteady on my feet that ordinary ambulation seemed very dangerous, if I didn't have a wall or something else to prop myself up with. I haven't had that feeling in a while, though walking is still quite dangerous. I have to remind myself not to get cocky. My goal is to avoid falls until the port is in.

Thanks again today to Greta for allowing my polluted thoughts into her blog.

Left grip is 23 pounds (20, 23, 20), right grip is 75 pounds (70, 70, 75).

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Feel good

Yesterday I felt really good. Not sure why, but all day I had energy. Sure, my body is still weak and clumsy, but yesterday I felt like a normal, healthy person who just happens to be inside weak body. It was that good feeling you have after you've recovered from a cold or flu.

My metrics are still going in a straight line, which is reassuring. I am currently on my week off of creatine, and won't get back on until the 25th. I wonder if that has any effect on my metrics.

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers will seek quick action in Congress to block a deal under which a state-owned Dubai company would manage major U.S. seaports, they said on Tuesday.


Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has defended the deal, saying the administration approved it after a classified review and included provisions to protect national security.

New York's other U.S. senator, Democrat Hillary Clinton, said last week she planned legislation to ban companies owned or controlled by foreign governments from acquiring U.S. port operations[...]

If the man who protected us from Katrina says it's safe for a Dubai company to run security at US ports, that's good enough for me. I can't stand the opportunism of that Hillary trying to score petty political points when our president is at war to protect us from terrorism. Can you spell 'treason?'

Left grip is 26 pounds (22, 26, 24), right grip is 75 pounds (75, 67, 65).


Monday, February 20, 2006

Mr. Safety

One of the topics I meant to blog about concerns my practices intended to enhance information security. I sometimes jokingly refer to myself as Mr. Safety, especially to those people who find my precautions annoying. Here's one that didn't inconvenience anyone, that I had planned to blog about: In my cell phone, I stored everyone by last name only, in order to protect the women in case my cell phone was ever stolen. I didn't want some thug going through my cell directory for names like "Crystal" and "Laura, " and calling them up pretending to be from the electric company to find out their address, then rob or assault them. Honestly, that's how paranoid I am. I was going to blog about that, and apologize for being so paranoid. And then I lost my cell phone in the mall. I suspect that whoever picked it up threw out the chip and sold the phone. But if they had looked t the address book, all they got was last names. Yay me!

Left grip is 23 pounds (20, 23, 21), right grip is 65 pounds (60, 65, 61).


Sunday, February 19, 2006

Flies and lies

In the kitchen, Mom made sandwiches for our lunch, and I watched her. But before we could eat them, we had to go attend to something in another room.

"Won't the flies get the sandwiches?" I asked.

"We'll put this wax paper on top," she said, arranging it hurridly. We were in a rush, or at least she was.
From my vantage near counter-height, I could see that the tops of the sandwiches were covered, but the sides were exposed.

She took my hand. "Let's go."

"Won't the flies land on the side?" I asked.

"No," she said. "Now let's go."

"How come they won't land on the side?"

"Because they can't. Now let's go."

For many years, some part of my mind believed that flies were incapable of landing on a vertical surface. This belief was not a conscious thought, but part of my internal storehouse of knowledge. I never compared it to the evidence before my eyes of flies landing on the wall.

Left grip is 22 pounds (22, 21, 19), right grip is 70 pounds (70, 64, 60).

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Doorway to yesterday

Sometimes I play this mental game with myself where I pretend that I can look back into the past. Like, I'll be sitting with my daughter, looking at books, and I'll pretend that I have five minutes to see her again at age three, hear her voice, look at her bare feet, even stroke her back. Or five minutes to wrestle with my son. Or a moment to hug my wife ... just the way things were ... way back then, in 2006.

Left grip is 26 pounds (26, 23, 23), right grip is 68 pounds (66, 64, 68).


Friday, February 17, 2006

Port date

I am scheduled to have the "port" for the IV antibiotics put in on March 2. It's an outpatient procedure (they send you home afterwards) but it does involve general anesthesia for about 40 minutes. The bad part is that I'll have to abstain from all food and water from midnight the night before, until after the procedure is done at about 3 PM. I have a high metabolism and get very hungry very quickly. We plan to hydrate me and pour lots of those Benecalorie meals into me the night before the surgery. Hopefully that will tide me over.

I am also supposed to have a general physical from my GP the week before. And I am supposed to go to the "pre-op testing" department at the hospital on February 27.

The people at the vascular surgeon's office tell me that I am allowed to eat pretty much immediately after the procedure, so I'll have my heroic wife bring me some Ensure and Boost. (I guarantee under the terms of NEC that I am not being compensated for these product mentions).

Left grip is 29 pounds (24.8, 29, 24), right grip is 72 pounds (72, 69, 64).

I was very pleased by the 24.8, and surprised by the 29. But the 29 was genuine, and not a measurement error.


Thursday, February 16, 2006

Data trend

On January 24, in my post entitled "Ruler," I plotted the trend in my grip strength metric data. The data, despite daily fluctuation, conforms well to a downward slope that would hit zero about 950 days after diagnosis for the left hand, and 1300 days for the right.

Since I went to see Dr. Quack on January 18, I have been taking 100 mg of minocycline twice a day, and I have resumed doing my metrics, which I had abandoned.

The data now appear to support a straight line, a leveling off. They go up and down on a daily basis, but (to my eye at least) the trend appears to be flat.

Minocycline is not a beta-Lactam antibiotic, so, if it is helping me, it would not appear to be due to the enhanced glutamate transport protein mechanism described in the January 6, 2005 article in "Nature." A leveling off associated with minocycline (if there has been one) would seem to support the notion that I have Lyme, not classic ALS.

Yes, I know there's not much data since January 18, and yes, this might have happened regardless of the minocycline (John, I think, has mentioned that people with ALS may experience plateaus).

If we look at similarly short periods in the data prior to 1/18/06, however, we can find places where there were other apparent levelings that look a lot like this recent data.

But I like what I think I see in the data.

Yesterday I went and bought another cell phone, a used one, for $86. I sat down on the bench to test it, then put it into my new pants (the very ones I fouled the day I killed the old cell phone), and stood up to go to my car. That must be when it fell out and landed quietly on the bench. By evening, whoever had picked it up had presumedly removed the chip, because my my calls to the phone went directly to voicemail with no ringing.

Left grip is 20 pounds (20, 19, 19), right grip is 66 pounds (65, 66, 66).

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Hysterical rectum

I woke up at around 12:30 AM Monday morning with that piercing pain in my rectum. I think that the thing just clenches and keeps clenching. It hurts. Let's put it this way: My devoted wife said I sounded like a woman in labor. I'd woken her up by asking for two ibuprofen. The pain seemed to go on and on. It seemed like 15 minutes, but I bet it was only five. I was drenched in a cold sweat and I let out a series of short curse words. I asked for a vicodin, left over from the time I had my lower wisdom teeth out in 2003. But just about the time I was trying to figure out how to get the huge pill down, the pain crested. I chose to take a third ibuprofen instead. After a while, the pain was gone, and we went back to sleep. But I'd like to thank the one who took care of me: My wonderful wife.

Left grip is 22 pounds (21, 22, 21), right grip is 74 pounds (64, 74, 71).

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Wiki update

Amazed by the childish vindictiveness of the Wikipedia vandal administrator, I decided to try to make things better. I applied to become an administrator myself, and was laughed out of town -- due largely to my inexperience. I also filed a complaint against the vandal admin.

It turns out that within the all-volunteer Wikipedia community, there is a process to remove the administrator status of a user. At my request, one of the volunteers who helps other users looked into the issue. I think it's important to recognize that these people are all volunteers. They sit in their socks an gym pants in front of computers just like you and I. They have jobs, maybe even pets. It's not the United Nations. I'm grateful to the people who create the encyclopedia and the community.

After he looked into the case, the helper posted this to the vandal admin :

brainhell has posted a request for AMA assistance concerning why he was blocked by you. It does appear that you then recognized that you were stressed and have taken a Wiki-break. Okay. I would suggest that, when you return, you reread WP:BITE and WP:CIVIL. You did bite the newcomer, quite hard. I have not researched the details of the speedy-deletion of his stub. However, what I do see is that he was making a genuine, although poorly worded and petulant, request for advice. The next time that something similar happens, I have a few suggestions. First, rather than blocking an unfamiliar user for a personal attack, caution him to read WP:NPA and WP:CIVIL. Second, if he persists, post a request on WP:ANI or WP:PAIN rather than blocking him yourself. Using your admin power when you are an involved party is seen as misuse of power. (I am not saying that it was misuse of power, but that it is seen that way.) Third, if you block an unfamiliar user for similar behavior and he has no previous block history, it should be a 24-hour block.
Also, when you do come back, please post a second apology on his talk page. I hope that this clears things up.

To me, the helper said:

I see that [VandalAdmin] has taken acknowledged excessive stress and has taken a break. It would appear that he realizes that he lost his temper. I have posted a message to his talk page asking him to re-read a few Wikipedia policies.
If you really want me to go ahead and request to have him de-adminned, there is a procedure, and I can help you do that. I think that would be a mistake on our part that would be comparable to his mistake in losing his temper. Please let me know what you want to do.

I replied:

Thanks. I see that [VandalAdmin's] user page now says only "Vacation time..." and displays a stress meter. His user talk page says "Wikistress is building. I, therefore, have left the building for a brief time." I see no acknowledgment that he realizes that he lost his temper. This is your inference. But even were that true, and despite his apology to me, and his promise not to delete my posts (without addressing what he'll do to the posts of others), he has shown himself temperamentally unsuited to administrate. It's quite likely to happen again. I respect your view that "I think that would be a mistake on our part that would be comparable to his mistake in losing his temper." However, I disagree. This administrator is a hazard to the Wikipedia community and I request that you go ahead and request to have him de-adminned, according to the procedure.

Later that day, I received an email from the vandal admin:

Thank you so much for the continued attack. I thought we were over our misunderstanding. I see I was wrong. I'm saving you the trouble of pursuing this matter any further. 20,000 edits and six featured articles...and one guy comes along and completely ruins the experience. Have fun since I am quitting Wikipedia.

I posted the email to my talk page and the helper's talk page, opining:

Nonetheless, I think the user should be de-adminned. Whether he chooses to continue be involved is up to him. I would welcome him, as long as he's no longer an admin.

I know he's supposed to be an adult, but during this whole episode he has seemed like a child. Now he's "quitting." After he "quits," and if his admin status is still intact, he'll change his mind again, and come back. To beat up on more new users.

I know that it's a volunteer effort, and no one gets paid (or fired). But perhaps because it is voluntary, and because Wiki is defining a new paradigm that will shape the future, I feel that it is important not to carry forward retrogressive dynamics of the past.

There's been nothing but silence from the helper since then, so I figured the helper was thinking: "Hayzoo! This angry troll killed one of our most dedicated administrators, and now he wants me to desecrate the corpse?! I'm not going to do that. I'm going to ignore anything the troll says from now on!" That's his right, but in that case, I thought that we might hear the angry little feet of the vandal admin tiptoeing back to abuse more newbies.

The tiptoes grew suddenly very loud. On 2/12/06, I found out that I was 'indefinitely' blocked from editing Wikipedia. The vandal admin left a note saying so.

The helper who was looking into my request for assistance no longer seemed to exist in the Wikipedia system.

So I sent this email to info-en@wikimedia.org:


I need help, because I am blocked. I can't leave any edits on talk pages to resolve the issue. So I send this email.

I am user Brainhell.

I was in a dispute with [VandalAdmin] (feel free to review the history -- it's all spelled out on my user talk page which he has erased, leaving only this message:

"That comment on your user page regarding hobbies, cars and political leanings on other user pages did it for me. I refuse to be taunted by you any further. You are off this site for good. I tried to help you; you chose to rub my nose in my error and have continued to do so. The Wikimedia Foundation is aware of the situation. If you have any further questions, talk to them."

My user page now says:

"This user has been blocked indefinitely from editing Wikipedia, per ruling of administrators, Jimbo Wales and/or the Arbitration Committee. See block log."

In the earlier dispute, I made a request for assistance, and [Helper] was helping me. Now, when I check, [Helper] no longer seems to exist.

I'd like to work this out and continue to pursue whatever avenues are open to me under Wikipedia culture.


Here is the text of my user page, which is marked, "preserved as evidence of his abuse and personal attacks:"

brainhell is a Wikipedia contributor.

According the "What Wikipedia is not" page: "Wikipedians have their own user pages, but they are used for information relevant to working on the encyclopedia." Further: "The focus of User pages should not be social networking but rather providing a foundation for effective collaboration." So I'll not post information here about my political leanings, cars, or hobbies. That's in my blog [1].

I believe that administrators and users should adhere to the procedure on what to do if an article is perceived to be an advertisement or other spam: "List on Wikipedia:Articles for deletion (WP:AFD)."

If you're considering a speedy deletion, keep in mind that the guidelines say: "Note that some Wikipedians create articles in multiple saves. Try to avoid deleting a page too soon after its initial creation, as the author may be working on it."

In browsing through the pages devoted to Wikipedia culture and expectations, I have gained a sense of what is meant by "attack." In Wiki-land an "attack" is commentary of any kind about someone else as a person, or their motives, during a disagreement. The way Wikipedia solves the "flame" problem so common on the internet is by having a rule that no one is supposed to comment about anyone else's motives or person during a dispute -- at all. This I know: Commentary within the Wikipedia system should never be directed at a person or their motivation. I can abide by that expectation.

If I were an administrator, I would be conscious of the fact that new users may not be aware of the Wikipedia definition of "attack," and would attempt to gently educate them if they commented on someone else.

Pursuant to the There Is No Cabal principle, it's important not to taunt new users into rule violations for the purpose of disciplining them.

The next morning, I read the reply by a volunteer who answered the email:

I have reviewed this situation and determined that the block appears to have been unjustified. I have removed the block. While I think you could have handled yourself better than you did, I did not see anything in your conduct that merited a block at all, let alone the blocks you received.

Indeed I was able to edit pages. I wondered how long it would be before VandalAdmin blocked me again. When I tried to go to his page, Wikipedia claimed that it doesn't exist. If the vandal admin is gone, then good riddance. But I suspect he'll be back, and get up to his old tricks.

On the user talk page of the admin who removed the 'indefinite' block is this comment from the vandal admin:

Brainhell unblock
I cannot believe this. Take a look at this guy's user page and at his notes to [Helper]. If he stays, I go. It's as simple as that. - [VandalAdmin] 06:35, 13 February 2006 (UTC)

The one who removed the 'indefinite' block wrote:

I'm sorry you feel that way. 06:57, 13 February 2006 (UTC

He replied:

Yes, I do. Please not that I have deleted my pages. I only came back to see whether or not my talk page has remained deleted; apparently it has not. No matter.

On the page of another admin, he posted:

this Brainhell's entire user page is a personal attack. I blocked him over a 3RR and the guy went absolutely nuts. I listed my hobbies, my cars and (at one time) my political affiliations. If this is the kind of user we want here, you don't want me. That's it. - 06:38, 13 February 2006 (UTC)

Left grip is 24 pounds (24, 24, 19), right grip is 75 pounds (65, 75, 69).


Monday, February 13, 2006


And ye shall find.

Left grip is 22 pounds (18, 21, 22), right grip is 67 pounds (66, 67, 63).

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Peace be upon him

The beautiful Saaleha recently blogged a bit that is translated from the Quran:

"Goodness and evil cannot be equal. Repel (evil) with something that is better. Then you will see that he with whom you had enmity will become your close friend. And no one will be granted such goodness except those who exercise patience and self restraint.' (The Quran 41:34-35)"

Years ago when I was young, hostile, and sarcastic, I would sometimes respond to someone who was being an absolute jerk by praising them. The more of a jerk they were, the more I would praise them. I intended that they would pick up on my irony and realize that I thought the exact opposite. But twice what happened was that the person believed me, and stopped being a jerk to me.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

So long little friend

The Evil One threatened, so in accordance with my new Zero Tolerance policy, I took a laxative yesterday morning. Sure enough, at the expected hour (two o'clock), Dresden lay in flames.

I picked up my darling daughter from preschool, noticing as I did so that tall young women who wear skirts, and t-shirts that celebrate cleavage, have vast expanses of skin that appears soft, uniform in coloration and texture, and completely devoid of little red or purple spots, white nodules, tiny scars, or hairs. Their skin is like some kind of ultra-fine canvas, four million threads per inch.

Anyway, back to the farewell story, which began around five o'clock. Here's the procedure for what to do if you get the runs, but you can't run, and there's some doubt about how much longer you'll be able to walk: You mess your pants on the way to the bathroom. While you are in there, you discover that your ALS-addled hands are unable to unbutton your newly-purchased pants. You slide them down over your hips, because they have some elastic in them. Dresden lies in flames.

Your courageous wife, who has a sinus infection and is on antibiotics, has very little energy and is sensitive to noise. The kids are both cranky and are yelling at her in overlapping turns. You focus on getting yourself wiped, thinking how, in moments like this, your focus narrows down to taking care of the simple things, and that you are forgiven for focusing on yourself alone.

Little footsteps come up the stairs, confront the closed bathroom door. "Mom! I need to go pee!"

Now you are no longer focused on just yourself. But thankfully there is a plastic potty downstairs. You get out of the pants, which is tricky when you have ALS, you wrap up the underwear inside the pants, wash your hands fervently, and lurch into the master bedroom with a towel around your waist. There, you put on clean underwear and pants.

Your carry the smelly wad of pants down to the laundry room, take the rags out of the dryer, put the wet items from the washer into the dryer, and then put the disgusting underwear and pants into the washer. You set it going on its longest cycle and with lots of detergent, then go upstairs to use that button hook to button the clean pants you have put on. You douse your hands in alcohol-based disinfectant lotion, and prepare to rejoin your family and help out your generous wife.

Reflexively, you pat your pocket to check for your keys and your 2.8-ounce cell phone.

So long little friend.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Dorman again

After leaving Iraq, Dorman saw some friends in the US, and responded to my oft-repeated request that he define some concrete steps that we should take if we grant for discussion his assertion that Islam is "obviously dangerous."

His plan, and my response, are in the comment left on his blog:


Thanks so much for doing me the favor of reprising here.

However, I don't think that your prescription comes near to dealing with the full scope of your diagnosis. When you wrote that Islam is "obviously dangerous," you did so when you were serving in Iraq. I assumed, perhaps wrongly, that your comment was intended to relate to not only Iraq, but the entire Global War On Terrorism. In your argumentation supporting your belief that Islam is "obviously dangerous," you cited global (and historical) events, including contemporary terrorism.

But your three steps here appear to relate only to changing attitudes in the United States, or at most, among Americans. They appear to have little relevance to the GWOT.

> step 1, stop the blind destructive PC ideal of "tolerance" and see it as it displays itself.

This change in attitude would seem to be limited to the U.S,. or Americans, wherever they may be. But it's not an action.

> step 2, maintain our laws as equal as possible to all and not allow ridiculous litigation to flood our courts...eg, burka wearing women on Florida license photos.

This is two actions: a) maintain equal application of law for all parties, b) prevent 'ridiculous' litigation. The 'ridiculous' litigation of the kind you mention is not a 'flood.' It is very rare. Our courts are instead flooded with street crime, child support, divorce, tort law, and various business law cases. So I think that rather than "flood" you probably meant something like "mock."

Your goals in a) and b) are naturally somewhat at odds, as equal protection under law means that even veiled Moslem women have rights. The legal channels as defined by the Constitution permit the free pursuit and expression of religion.

But in any case, this would be a purely domestic American change and would have little impact on the GWOT. For example, the 19 hijackers who performed the 9/11 attacks were not Americans. How would this step have prevented that? Again, perhaps I was mistaken in thinking that your view that Islam is "obviously dangerous" was meant to have any relevance to the GWOT.

> step 3, RE-establish the idea of American nationalism in which any and all are welcome to come here through LEGAL channels and assimilate to our established american culture. This means the end of the self-destructive idea of multi-culturalism. Want multicultural? Come to Europe. Each culture has a country for a reason.

Disregarding the reference to "nationalism," by which I think you simply mean "the ... nation", this step seems to break down to a) ensure that immigration is legal and b) promote assimilation, not multiculturalism.

The 9/11 hijackers all entered this country legally and using their true names, so I don't see how a) helps us.

While one problem with b) is that we would first have to define what the standard culture is that others should assimilate to, this point seems to have even less relevance to national security or the GWOT. The 9/11 hijackers 'assimilated' by going to gyms and strip clubs, so perhaps assimilation is not the answer?

When you wrote that Islam is "obviously dangerous," you were no doubt aware that the vast majority of the world's 1.2 billion Moslems live outside the U.S. Your prescription for changing American attitudes and culture would not increase our national security, nor would they have much impact at all on the vast Moslem population spread around the globe, or the GWOT.

I think that in writing that Islam is "obviously dangerous," you were just blowing off steam, speaking in an angry way with no practical implications.

My contention at the time you made the assertion was that you were helping to confirm Moslem perceptions that Americans are hostile to Islam, and thus providing a tiny bit more fuel to those elements that seek to misuse Islam to promote violence.

I support your free speech right to assert that. However, I maintain that you are merely venting frustration without proposing a way to improve the world.

He replied:

BH. I speak on a societal and human level. not on GWOT which is a joke, as we all should know. Like a war on poverty or the war on drugs. Jokes.

I spoke TO americans but it applies to all. Look at the danish right now. Europe stands stronger than america by telling the dirty bastards in words and actions to go screw themselves, fear tactics won't supress our cultures. Not in america where we pre-emtively self-defeat in the name of PC.

To which I:

Thanks for elucidating. Your prescripton seems mostly about attitude change. I'm wondering whether you can name any specific actions that you hope such an attitude change should bring about.

In other news...

WASHINGTON - A former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney told a federal grand jury that his superiors authorized him to give secret information to reporters as part of the Bush administration's defense of intelligence used to justify invading Iraq, according to court papers.

I think we can confidently expect a wave of character assasination against "Scooter" Libbey now, like the ones against Joe Wilson and Richard Clarke.

Add this disgruntled wacko to the list, too:

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A former CIA official who coordinated US intelligence on the Middle East has accused the Bush administration of "cherry-picking" intelligence on Iraq to justify a decision it had already reached to go to war, The Washington Post reports.

The newspaper said Paul Pillar, who was the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, also accused the administration of ignoring warnings that the country could easily fall into violence and chaos after an invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

AND this guy, despite the fact that he did a "heck of a job:"

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former federal disaster chief Michael Brown told a Senate panel on Friday he had warned President George W. Bush that New Orleans was facing catastrophe the day before Hurricane Katrina struck.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Lesbian Pulp Fiction

I finally finished reading "Lesbian pulp fiction," a collection of sample chapters from various books published from 1950 to 1965. Despite one's expectation that each selection would feature hot girl-on-girl action, the sweaty grinding of sweet flesh, quite a few of the selections had no sex at all. My favorite of this subset was a chapter in which a young woman is trying very hard to become romantically involved with a man who is a jazz musician. She visits him at the jazz club where he is playing, and meets the owner, a striking woman in a silvery dress. The young woman then begins thinking exclusively about the owner -- not sexually, just absorbed by how interesting and funny and attractive she is. After an extended period of these reflections she finds herself getting into the musician's car, to go to his place. She recalls suddenly that she had been eager to tryst with him.

The first selection in the book was pure literature, and the last three were pretty literary as well. The selections in the middle were often hack work, stuff typed out on a deadline to make a buck. I guess the editors knew that a good beginning and a good ending can carry a mediocre middle.

The three-year-old girl has an ear infection and is on antibiotics. She woke up two hours early today and began raging and fussing. My loving wife, who is in practical terms the only one who keeps this family functioning, has a cold that is making her feel bad. The boy is also cranky. The greater sense of stability I recently reported departed by yesterday morning. After dropping my son off at school, while preparing to get back in my car, I had a slow-motion, comical fall that happened in stages. Three times I thought I had saved myself, but I wound up on the ground in some leaves and mud. It was only that night that I noticed a small swollen pained area on my left hip.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Navy ships are helping patrol the international waters off Yemen to try to recapture al Qaeda prison escapees if they try to flee by sea, the Pentagon said in a statement on Thursday.

Notice how the people who are shocked -- shocked! -- that someone leaked the illegal wiretap story, claiming that it let the bad guys know our methods (which would have been assumed anyway), are quite happy to announce operational details of a plan to catch bad guys?

The admirable Hooh Wife (Greta) has permitted one of my thoughts to appear in her blog! I see my post as an OPFOR for her largely pro-Bush audience. Hopefully, rebutting my post will make them better, stronger, more rational Republinoids. Or, they may just whip off their underpants and wave the surrender flag!

Left grip is 21 pounds (17, 21, 19), right grip is 70 pounds (65, 70, 65).

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Not viral marketing

My fantastic wife bought me a Norelco shaver in 1998. It lasted until late 2005, dying of a battery or charger problem, at which point I bought a newer, cheaper Norelco. These are the shavers with the three rotating heads, advertised as "lift-and-cut." The new shaver died of a battery or charger problem within a few months. So I went online an bought a factory reconditioned Braun shaver for only $50.

Let me pause to introduce a binding, one-party contract I have invented. (No doubt someone else has really invented this and there is already a standard for it). I'll call it the Non-Endorsement Contract. Under the terms of NEC, I pledge that I have received no compensation, monetary or otherwise, in exchange for the product review I make in this post, and will not receive any such compensation within one year after this post, and that this pledge is a contract between myself and all readers, such that any reader(s) who can prove in a US court that I am in breach of the pledge is entitled to $10,000 US in damages from me, at which point the contract is void and no other parties have standing, which limits my liability to $10,000 total.

I make this pledge because a certain working girl frequently mentions a certain brand-name product in her steamy blog, and I always wonder if she is being paid to do so. I'm not, and I back that up with the NEC contract. I urge her to do the same.

Anyway, while I waited a week for the Braun shaver to arrive, I grew a short beard. Always in the past when I've grown a beard, due to camping for example, it has hurt to shave. My skin burned and felt tender and raw.

I shaved the week's beard with the Braun, which uses a strip head, not rotary blades, and it didn't hurt a bit. Not at all. I guess "lift and cut" is another way of saying "pull and punish." Marketing often labels a drawback as an asset. (For example, illegal warrantless spying on Americans is marketed as a "terrorist surveillance program.")

And the Braun is much easier to clean than the Norelco. I just pop off the screen and tap it in the sink, then briefly turn on the shaver and discharge the whisker bits into the sink as well. The rotary blades of the Norelco require using a brush, and the whisker bits tended to accumulate within the complex housing for the triple heads regardless.

Norelco bad. Braun good. Guaranteed by NEC.

Left grip is 21 pounds (20, 21, 19), right grip is 73 pounds (60, 73, 58).

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Vascular surgeon consultation

To be treated for Lyme disease on an ongoing basis as Dr. Quack intends will require a "port" -- a little piece of hardware installed on your skin that allows drugs to be infused into your veins.

On Monday I went and saw a vascular surgeon who can do the installation. You get put under for about 40 minutes while they do it. He says he can do it with about a week and a half's notice. He says the operation is best done on a Wednesday or Thursday. This fits my schedule.

He would install a "Sims Deltech Porta-Cath." Dr. Quack wanted a "Mediport." I'm checking with him to see if the Porta-Cath is OK.

Sunday afternoon I noticed myself putting the trash bins back in their usual places after collection, and then ambitiously picking up a 12-foot length of pipe, and later a six-foot piece of 2-by-6, sliding these through the gap in the project room window, then stowing them in the garage. And then I put the laundry from the washer into the dryer. It seemed to me as though I was feeling energetic, at least based on the work output. Also, I had a slight sense that I was incrimentally more stable and coordinated than usual. This feeling was so subjective that I almost didn't mention it here. But the feeling of a slight increase in energy and stability persisted yesterday as well, despite how feeble and staggering my walking is.

It's possible that this is the effect of the twice-daily oral minocycline. It's possible that it's just a minor fluctuation due to other factors -- though it's the first time I've felt this way. It's also likely to be purely psychological. Who knows.

Left grip is 22 pounds (18, 22, 21), right grip is 70 pounds (67, 70, 66).

Monday, February 06, 2006


In December I started dabbling in Wikipedia. It's an internet-based encyclopedia that anyone can edit or contribute to. You'd think it would be filled with garbage, or very thin, but it's robust and self-correcting. Notice, I didn't say 'perfect.'

I bounced around a bit, fixing typos and adding a few articles which were called for in the most-wanted list.

I got some helpful feedback on my early efforts from volunteer editors. My conclusion from randomly hoping around the place was that though there were very few constraints, and a lot of room for improvement, the overall result was impressive.

On Friday, I thought about an author I like, and searched for the author. There was no entry. I decided to create one. I started with a small stub about the author's four published volumes, then added a link to the author's website, and went to add the author's picture.

When I got back from uploading the picture, I found out that the article had been deleted as spam. Thinking I was up against a snotty little vandal, I recreated the article and added a note to the discussion page behind it: "This is a published author. Are you?"

The stub was deleted three times in all, and recreated three times. It turned out that an administrator of some sort had been doing the deletions. In the 'talk' pages behind the scenes, I had defended the article and objected to the vandalism. I was told that I had an attitude problem and was "nasty" and "threatening" and might be "blocked" if I continued. The admin appealed to another admin:

Need a bit of administrative advice. A new user, User:Brainhell, insists on posting what seems to be little more than link spam to an author's website. I'm trying to be helpful; guy is being nasty. Sure enough, the article is back...and there isn't any biographical info on this individual to expand it beyond what it is. I don't want to get in an edit war, but I really don't appreciate this guy accusing me of vandalism when I'm trying to help. Thanks.

The other admin backed him up.

Y'all know the brainhell way: I used no curse words and made no threats, but I was very clear in my opinions.

The condescension and taunting from the admins was apparently exempt from the same analysis that determined that I had an attitude problem. They didn't use any curse words either, but should someone who just deleted your article three times really call you "bubbie?"

Here's one of my typical comments:

Thanks for the apology and the praise.

No doubt there is a lot of link spam. But no doubt many contributors of good articles start small and then build the piece in layers. That's completely human and completely understandable. The better recourse would have been to insert that tag about possible deletion, rather than deleting within such a short period of time. I had just created the stub. I am new to Wiki and perceived that I was up against a vandal. Indeed I was. How much more disturbing to learn that the destroyer has some form of administrative rights.

I'm new here, and it's not a paying job, clearly. I'm not sure I want to learn the ropes of Wikipedia politics and egos, as the obvious value of Wikipedia is compelling enough, and the ugliness of personalities warped by power within a volunteer effort is unhealthy to that effort. The impulse to characterize someone who stands up for their contribution as "nasty" or "threatening" ... the see-what-I-mean response to a contributor not aware of the emotional satisfaction some may draw from arbitrary deletions, from deliberately provoked confrontations to assure themselves of their own power, is sad. All my foregoing comments no doubt cements some of you more firmly in your smugness and self-satisfaction. Regardless of the barnacles that cling to its hull, I assert that the Wiki concept is, fortunately, apparently more powerful than the base human dynamics it nurtures -- but does not ultimately tolerate.

I am asked to let it drop. I don't claim to be a Wiki expert, but I bet there is a complaint procedure. Anyone care to point me in the right direction? The article stub was summarily deleted three times, but after that, the vandal chose to insert an alert of possible deletion instead. This indicates to me that the proper procedure was not followed the first three times. What's the complaint procedure? My further complaint will be regarding the dynamic of portraying someone who stands up for themselves in a reasoned and civil way as having an attitude problem. That's probably the most corrosive thing to a volunteer effort.

After much bluster from the admin and energy spent on my part defending the article -- energy which would have been better spent on the article itself -- I managed to get a chance to fill it out to the full extent I had planned. The comment from the admin was that the article was excellent, and that it would have been better had I written it all first and then posted it.

That overlooks human nature. I can see from the large number of stubs littering Wikipedia that I am not the first person to start small. Aggressive deletion of stubs will poison the experience of the very users on whom Wikipedia relies for its existence.

Fortunately in this case, after the first two admins backed each other up, a third came in and removed from the stub the tag warning of possible deletion, commenting that an author with four books seems worthy of an entry.

I'm not getting paid for this, and it's a small part of my life, but I have asked what the procedure is for filing a complaint. One part of the complaint would be about the aggressive and unwarranted deletions, but the other half would be about the snide, clubby way the first two admins reinforced each other's perception of my 'attitude problem.' That's got to be poison for Wiki.

I went to the page within Wikipedia where the vandal admin describes himself. Two items at the very top proclaimed:

  1. This user is a dedicated supporter of President George W. Bush

  2. This user supports the U.S. Republican Party.

According the "What Wikipedia is not" page: "Wikipedians have their own user pages, but they are used for information relevant to working on the encyclopedia." Further: "The focus of User pages should not be social networking but rather providing a foundation for effective collaboration."

There's also some procedure on what to do if the article is perceived to be an advertisement or other spam: "List on Wikipedia:Articles for deletion (WP:AFD)." Notice that it doesn't say "Delete three times."

There is a process for speedy deletion too. It says "Note that some Wikipedians create articles in multiple saves. Try to avoid deleting a page too soon after its initial creation, as the author may be working on it."

When I went back to Wikipedia after asking about complaint procedures, there was a message for me from the vandal admin:

That's it. You're taking a one-week time out from further editing. Next block ''will'' be permanent.

The page announcing my block provided a link for getting help from admins. I sent an email to one of the admins. I also sent this email to the vandal admin:

I read up on the complaint process, and it seems that there is an arbitration process for dispute resolution. It says that asking for arbitration should be your last resort. Are you willing to explore other avenues before I resort to the last resort? I'd like you to remove the block and any record of the block.

By the next morning, this note from the vadmin was in my mailbox:

I'll remove the block on the condition that you drop this petty argument once and for all. I have no dispute with you and this whole thing isn't worth the effort of either of us. I will assume good faith and unblock you right now. I can't remove the comments from the edit history, however. If you still have problems editing, please let me know. The system has an occasional hiccup that doesn't always recognize unblocking.

Then also he sent this:

I've unblocked your account and that of an IP that was blocked as well. Please let me know if you're still having trouble editing. I'm not one to hold a grudge and I am glad to work with you and to put this behind us. I also promise not to delete your contributions as it's clear you plan on expanding them, which I had no way of knowing before.

When I went to check, however, I was still blocked. I sent him an email in the morning, letting him know.

There is a certain adolescent wavering and lack of self-confidence in wanting to "drop this petty argument," in deleting the article three times and then warning about deletion, in blocking me and then promising to unblock. But the vadmin claims on his personal page to have bought a car, so perhaps he's an adult with an adolescent personality.

I checked again in the evening. Still blocked. Mailed him again. It went back and forth several times, but after a few more tries, I truly was unblocked, and was able to create a new article. No one deleted it immediately.

Yes, I realize that this whole thing is a tempest in a teapot, but human nature -- particularly when twisted by 'power' in a semi-democratic environment -- is just so fascinating.

In browsing through the pages devoted to Wikipedia culture and expectations, I did gain a sense of what is meant by "attack." In Wiki-land an "attack" is commentary of any kind about someone else as a person, or their motives, during a disagreement. The way Wikipedia solves the "flame" problem so common on the internet is by having a rule that no one is supposed to comment about anyone else's motives or person during a dispute -- at all. Not knowing this at the time my article was vandalized, I offered plenty of commentary on the motivation I perceived on the part of the pair of admins who were taunting me for their personal amusement. The commentary was civil and intellectual, and summed up to: Abuse of power can't be good for Wikipedia. But it was personal commentary, and therefore, according to the rules, an "attack." The admins who were deleting my in-progress stub never bothered to try to educate me on Wikipedia rules regarding "attacks"; It might cut down on the fun if the mark understands the rules and starts obeying them. But now I know: Commentary within the Wikipedia system should never be directed at a person or their motivation. In the future I can abide by that expectation. My "attacks" may provide the vadmin who blocked me with enough justification for his action. But he doesn't deserve to be an admin and should be stripped of the rank.

Left grip is 24 pounds (16, 21, 24), right grip is 75 pounds (69, 71, 75).

Sunday, February 05, 2006


Jansenist called me yesterday afternoon. Everything went well with his spinal tap. He doesn't have ALS, he just wants to help the researchers with their quest to find biochemical markers that may enable quicker ALS diagnosis. What a guy. To do this, he took time off work, rented a car, paid for gas, and drove over four hours each way. He donated $45 of his $50 participant reward back to the study, keeping $5 to pay for parking.

He said it went very smoothly, with very little discomfort, and no headache. He got up and left the clinic in less than half an hour after the puncture. "You know I like to tease you, Jansenist," I said, "but right now I just want to honestly say it: Thank you."

He's willing to go back for a follow-up visit in six months, at which time they'll probably want another sample. "I had a great time," he said.


Saturday, February 04, 2006

Jansenist craziest

My good friend Jansenist was scheduled to have a spinal tap yesterday to help researchers with data about people who do not have ALS. I haven't heard from him yet, but I'll let y'all know when I do. What a guy.

Friday, February 03, 2006

I wanna get

When I was a small boy I went through that period of saying "I wanna get it." My father would say that it wasn't worth the price. I would enthusiastically aver that it was indeed. He soon used the ploy (which I have since used on my own son) of saying "How much money do you have?" I attested that I had five dollars and some change. He would say that in that case, I could get it. I'd say "Great! Buy it!" He would say that the money would have to come from me. I would say, "No, let's just get it." He would say that I could get it if I would use my own money. I would say that I wanted to keep my money. "Okay," he would say. There would be a pause. "Let's get it," I would say. Him: "If you want to spend your money, you can get it." I recall saying once, "No, I mean our money." This cycle was repeated until I learned the lesson.

Some people never learn. I had one buddy in the early 1990s who kept enthusiastically saying that he wanted to go into business with me. He thought we should open an all-Macintosh gaming parlor where people would pay to play networked games. He said it would only cost $5,000. I had by that point started earning actual, non-newspaper, non-pizza-making money in the computer field. So I would have had the money, but I mentioned that most all game development was being done for PCs, not Macs. He sailed past that and again said we should go into business together. I asked him how much he would be able to put up. "I don't have any money," he said with that sad voice that Homer Simpson uses. This guy wasn't trying to sound like Homer Simpson, but he sure did. That ended that discussion.

Later, he wanted me to join a pyramid scheme that he had fallen into, one that I had been reading about in the paper. The cops and the DA were busting this one. I mentioned this to him and he just said the DA had to be mistaken, because this was no pyramid scheme. Anyway, I decided to bite my tongue and let the months pass. Several months later I asked him how much money he'd made in the deal, assuming that he'd lost a bundle. "Still makin' money!" he said with an enthusiastic grin that I knew hid a lot of pain. The pyramid runners must have trained the marks on what to say in response to this question.

I once saw him yell at his elderly, kind mother.

He used to send around emails with just a URL in them, and no explanation, assuming that you'd click on it and be amused. But I don't like getting friend spam, so I told him that I'm not going to go to a URL with no explanation around it.

One time on the web, I found a picture of human lungs. I sent him the URL, writing in the email that I thought the picture of human lungs was fascinating.

He wrote an angry, hurt email accusing me of hypocrisy. Hadn't I said that I didn't like emails with URLs? And hadn't I just sent one, fool?

He went on for quite a while about how predictable my stupid reactions were. I wrote back that since I was so predictable, why continue to goad me?

End of friendship.

I despise Microsoft's terrible software, but this guy had an unrealistic wishful fantasy that Macs were going to displace the Wintel platform. He was even quoted in the newspaper on this subject, at a time when his company was making products that undercut the Wintel dominance. He used words like "cool" without irony, said he would never work for Microsoft. I had to chuckle a few years later when his company was acquired. By Microsoft.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


Yesterday was basically wasted due to an incident in the morning. I planned to go to the bank to close the account I had abandoned by leaving only 13 cents in it. This post would have been titled The bank wins had it not been for the incident. It turns out that the bank had a policy of charging me fees for a sub-minimum balance. I suppose I could have researched it and fought, or blown it off, but I decided to just cave, and exact my revenge by warning all friends away from this bank. So I paid the late fees of almost $35 and closed the account.

But before doing this I took my large probiotic pill and mineral oil, and the small minocycline pill. I was pleased that the probiotic pill went down, which meant I didn't have to tuck it into my cheek and patiently wait for it to dissolve. So I took the minocycline with some water and that went down as well, though I contained a cough or sneeze at the exact instant I swallowed it. That felt unpleasant and I proceeded to the bank. That must have been about 9:30 AM.

After getting out of the car, I had to spit copiously, several times. My throat was hurting, up by the palate, where the Eustachian tubes are. I worried that I might be getting a cold or flu.

In the bank I felt worse. My eyes were running and my head hurt, I perspired. I managed to sit and talk with the lady, who said I'll get a letter in the mail soon to confirm that the account is closed.

I felt like a zombie getting back into the car. I soaked several facial tissues. I wondered whether to drive home, or to the doctor's office. Once home, the nose, mouth and eyes were gushing.

I developed the theory that the suppressed cough had broken the pill's dissolvable casing and shoved it into my sinuses. That stuff is like a clear plastic before it melts. There were streaks of blood on some of the tissues I wiped my nose with, but not enough blood, I thought, to support my laceration theory.

My throat hurt a lot and I was still gushing and hacking and moaning. My breathing was all by mouth and not always unobstructed. I worried that at some point I might stop breathing, so I called my loyal wife. "I need you," I croaked. She abandoned her scheduled activity and came home.

I wrote her a note to explain my situation. I used a whole box of tissues and filled a large wastebasket with tissues, snot and spit while she watched.

At about 10:50 she made a 12:30 appointment for me, but by about 11:30 things had gotten a lot better and I was no longer gushing, coughing, or moaning. I sat up, and read blogs.

By 12:30 I was able to talk to the nurse, though my sweet wife did me the favor of telling most of the story.

I spent the rest of the day drinking Ensure, and eating chicken soup, and trying to get my energy back.

During all of this, the air in our house was split by the banging of pneumatic and conventional hammers operated by the guys completing the seismic work under the house.

What a wasted day. But I did close the bank account. And my cuddly wife also made an appointment for me to see the paleodentist who will build the palatal lift. No, there is no such thing as a paleodentist but that's what I call him instead of an prostheodentist.

Left grip is 20 pounds (17, 18, 20), right grip is 65 pounds (65, 61, 59).

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Wednesday Hero

Thank you for protecting and raising your children just as you did our nation.
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