Monday, 23 December 2002
8:49 - Heads-down writing again today.
Barbara and I are having dinner tonight with Paul and Mary, and then returning home for a planning session for the Messier Marathon. Robert may join us for that. I have the basic sequence worked out for the February practice session, along with the first half of the schedule. If things go as planned, we'll have 55 Messier Objects logged (that's half) by midnight. I even have a break to warm up from 2130 to 2200 and a two-hour nap scheduled from midnight until 0200.
My mother has been having pretty much constant pain in her right leg for some time now. She's never been one to overmedicate, so she's been using Alleve routinely and only taking the hydrocodone when she really needs it. Lately that's been every evening. Barbara and I can tell when she's been taking hydrocodone because it changes her personality. She's normally sweet and not prone to complain. When she's been taking hydrocodone, she's argumentative, thinks everyone is out to get her (including Barbara and me sometimes), and can be positively nasty. It also affects her memory. I told her to ask for the hydrocodone when she really needed it for pain, but otherwise to avoid it.
Last night I talked to the nurse about the ongoing pain. She suggested giving my mother the hydrocodone more frequently (she's allowed to request it as frequently as every four hours) in order to "load up" her bloodstream with the drug. The nurse made a good point, which is that if mom waits until she's hurting badly, the hydrocodone is less effective than if she takes it well before the pain becomes severe. The nurse also mentioned a morphine-based "pain patch", which delivers a low dose of the drug transdermally and lasts for three days or so. She's noted in her book to ask the doctor about prescribing a 25 mg patch to start, with the possibility of upping that to the 50 mg patch if needed.
We'll see. I'm not really concerned about the possibility of my mother becoming addicted to morphine, in the sense that that doesn't matter as long as she has a continuing supply of the drug. I'm more concerned about the side effects, including the mental impact and particularly the fact that opiates are constipating, which is that last thing my mother needs. When I visit mom this morning, I'm also going to suggest that she ask the doctor about putting her back on prednisone. I'm fully aware of the downside of steroids, but they do help relieve her rheumatoid arthritis pain. She was for a long time on a low maintenance dose, something like 2.5 mg twice a day. According to the doctor who was caring for her then, that dose is low enough that the side effects are minimal.
Wouldn't it be nice if there were drugs that were entirely benign? Alas, there aren't, but sometimes the advantages outweigh the drawbacks. I think my mother is probably under-medicated right now, so we'll have to see what the doctor thinks. Personally, I resent the fact that our stupid laws require the doctor be involved at all. My mother is rational and informed, I am rational and informed, and there's no reason that we shouldn't be able to play with her drugs and dosages until we come up with something that works.
Tuesday, 24 December 2002
10:44 - Barbara still isn't fully recovered from her illness last week. Last night, she started feeling ill again just after she went to bed. This morning, she decided to call the doctor to see if anything could be done. She was able to get an 8:50 appointment, although her regular doctor is off today. She wants to avoid being ill on Christmas Day, if possible.
Barbara and I met Paul and Mary for dinner last night at Mi Pueblo, just up the road from us. I don't eat Mexican often, and I never have any idea what to order. So I just waited for Barbara, Mary, and Paul to order and then told the waiter "I'll have what he's having". I don't know what it was or even the name of it, but it was good. During dinner, Mary mentioned that she wasn't going to come over to our house after dinner to help plan the Messier Marathon practice session. She's allergic to dogs and recently had a pretty severe allergic reaction, so she decided discretion was the better part of valor. We would have just met at Paul and Mary's place, but I had all the planning stuff on computer, so Paul, Barbara, and I met at our house to do the planning. Here's the schedule/sequence we came up with:
The "YRMM" in the column headers refers to Harvard Pennington's book, The Year-Round Messier Marathon. According to Pennington, only the first 104 objects are achievable in February. We extended that list to include #105, Messier 75. Although the sky will be brightening by that time and M75 will be very low on the horizon, it happens that M75 is located very near Venus that morning. By using Venus as a guide, we may be able to get M75. The last five items, M55, M72, M73, M2, and M30 are completely impossible. The "Binocular (easy)" in the last column refers to the fact that these are easy binocular objects under normal circumstances, but certainly not when they're low on the eastern horizon with the sun rising.
We didn't both to set specific time goals for the Coma/Virgo Cluster, which most astronomers call the Coma/Virgo Clutter. The problem in that region isn't seeing the objects. There are hundreds of galaxies in an area of sky that you can cover with your hand at arm's length. The problems are identifying which specific object you're looking at and avoiding getting lost as you "galaxy hop" from one to the next. Lots of would-be Messier Marathoners have been brought up short by the Coma/Virgo Clutter. We hope to avoid that.
Wednesday, 25 December 2002
9:43 - Barbara is off to her sister's house today to celebrate Christmas Day. I'll stay home and read or work. My brother is coming over from Raleigh, so the two of us will visit my mother. I expect he'll have dinner at the nursing home. I'll probably just have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or something.
Christmas has always been a problem around here, because Barbara loves it and I hate it. This year Barbara decided to take the rational approach. She's celebrating the holiday with her family and leaving me out of it entirely.
Thursday, 26 December 2002
8:40 - I ended up taking yesterday off. I visited my mother for a couple of hours in the morning, and then spent the rest of the day reading and doing some planning for our Messier Marathon. My brother came over from Raleigh in the afternoon, and headed over for a long visit with my mother while I swapped his laundry loads in and out. It was a boring day for the dogs, but they behaved pretty well. They were happy when Barbara got home, though. She spent the day at her sister's house and got home around 8:00 or 8:30.
I need to make the mom visit and then get back to work. I'm not going to make the 50% completion deadline on 12/31, but I want to get at least two or three more chapters in before then. That means I'll be working heads-down between now and year end.
11:01 - What is going on here? Google censorship? On my Journal page for Saturday, 16 November, I posted a response to a message from a reader. That response included a word I'd just made up, "Heimatsicherheitshauptamt", or "Homeland Security Main Office". Also on 16 November, Jerry Pournelle posted a message from me that included the word Heimatsicherheitshauptamt.
The following Monday, I wondered if I'd actually made up that word, or if someone else had used it first. So I did a Google search for "Heimatsicherheitshauptamt". That search returned only two hits, one my Journal page for 11 November, and the other Jerry's Mail page. I didn't think much more about it until a couple of weeks ago, when I decided to run the search again to see if anyone had picked up on it. This time, Google returned zero hits. Nada. Nothing. Zip.
The subject just came up on the messageboard, and so I checked again. Google returned zero results, although a reader has this to say:
Friday, 27 December 2002
8:58 - Steve Childers emailed me yesterday afternoon to say he planned to head over to the soccer field for a short observing session. Barbara and I were both feeling better, so I asked her if she'd like to go over for a little while. Since AstroTruck wasn't packed, we decided just to take our 90mm refractor, a couple chairs, and so on. Paul Jones had gotten a 14mm Pentax XL eyepiece for Christmas. I knew he'd be itching to try it out, so I gave him a call. Barbara and I got over to the soccer field about 7:30. Paul showed up a couple of minutes after that. Steve and his son Sean arrived a few minutes later.
There were a few clouds and transparency wasn't great, but it was nice to be out under the stars again after a long period of clouds. Paul tried his new 14mm Pentax XL in our 90mm refractor and Steve's 10" Dob, and pronounced himself satisfied. Barbara added two Messier Objects to her bag. M1 was surprisingly easy last night. It was easy to locate, because it was within a degree of Saturn. What surprised me was that it was relatively easy to see. M1 has low surface brightness, and ordinarily under less than dark skies you can be looking at it and not see it. It didn't exactly jump out last night, but it was clearly visible in the eyepiece despite the haze and light pollution. Orion was well up, and as Barbara checked over her list she found that she'd never logged M78, a small nebula just off Alnitak in the belt of Orion. So she used the Telrad on Steve's Dob to orient it properly to the background stars, and there was M78. Again, it didn't exactly pop out at us, but it was clearly visible. I was surprised, as M78 is another object with low surface brightness, and I wouldn't have expected it to be visible from suburban Winston-Salem.
Around 9:00 p.m. we decided to pack up. That took only a few minutes. Toss the folding chairs, table, and tripod in the way-back, lay the scope tube across the back seat, and we were ready to roll. Ready to spin, I should say. We'd pulled off into the grass to park, as we always do. But the inch or so of rain we had recently hadn't drained, and we found we were sitting in mud. Barbara tried to back out, and just spun the wheels. So she decided to pull forward and make a swing around Steve's van. That didn't work, either, and we ended up stuck. So we put it in four-wheel drive and made it back up to the road. Before we drove off, I suggested we ask Steve if he'd like to try backing his minivan back up onto the road, but he said not to worry about it. He lives nearby, but even so as we drove away I had an image of him stuck in the mud. I hope he made it out.
Saturday, 28 December 2002
10:05 - Barbara is off to the gym, drugstore, and mom visit. Barbara is starting her New Year deep clean today, so the Floor Ferrari® will be roaring and the dogs and I will have to keep clear. We were considering heading up to Bullington to observe tonight, but the forecast doesn't look great, so we'll probably not go. I'm still working on chapters, so that's probably what I'll do today. Not much else to report.
I did have one interesting experience yesterday. I'd taken a screen shot of /proc/ide/piix on the Intel/Red Hat box, and wanted a comparison shot of /proc/ide/via from the AMD/Mandrake box. I grabbed the screen on the Mandrake box, but then I was stuck. The image itself was fine, but I had no easy way to get it somewhere that I could use it. I played around a bit on the Mandrake box with Samba, fstab, and so on. I got it to the point where I could see the shared drive on my NT4 Server box, but I couldn't write the file to it.
I'm sure I could eventually have gotten it working, but (a) I don't want to break (or even reboot) the Mandrake box, which is my Internet gateway, and (b) I was in writing mode, not playing-with-Linux mode. So I fired up the ftp client on the Mandrake box, uploaded the screenshot image file to the ttgnet.com ftp server, and downloaded it from there with my Windows box. Kludgy, clumsy, ugly, and embarrassing to admit, but it did the job.
Incidentally, if you've sent me mail and haven't had a response, I apologize. I'm covered up at the moment, and my inbox is not a pretty sight. I'll try to get to mail as I have time.
Sunday, 29 December 2002
10:05 - Dr. Keyboard, aka Chris Ward-Johnson, just posted an interesting piece entitled This is not a blog. And here I thought it was just me. Like Chris, I was posting an on-line daily journal page long before the term blog was invented and, like Chris, I don't consider my journal to be a blog. In fact, if someone refers to this page as a blog, I take that as an insult, albeit perhaps unintentional.
Blogs are generally silly, and in my opinion the word itself is ugly and demeaning. Obviously, there are exceptions. Some of my friends, including Paul Robichaux, maintain interesting and useful blogs. ESR has a self-described blog, and Eric is the antithesis of silly. But those are exceptions. Most of the other blogs I've seen are devoid of useful or interesting content. I think serious journal keepers do themselves a disservice if they refer to themselves as bloggers.
I'm doing the laundry and other regular Sunday chores, and will be off shortly to visit my mother. When I visited last night, I found her sitting in the dark, more or less. She has a light fixture above her bed that has two fluorescent tubes, one pointing up, controlled by a wall switch, and one pointing down, controlled by a pull chain. The pull chain switch was broken, and she had only the dim light provided by the upward-pointing tube. I looked at the chain and switch, but it was completely borked. Mom said it had been that way since just after lunch.
So I walked out to the nurses' station to tell them what was going on and ask them when it would be fixed. They said they didn't even have a report of the problem, which seemed odd since mom's aide had told her at 2:00 p.m. that he would report it. When I asked them when it would be fixed, they told me that mom would have to wait until Monday, because their maintenance staff didn't work on weekends. I told them I'd go home and get a lamp for mom, but they said that wasn't permitted because all electrical devices had to be examined and approved by maintenance before they could be plugged in.
So I asked them if their position was that mom had to go without light for two full days and be unable to read or do anything else to pass the time. They said that she had the upward-pointing one, and that was sufficient. I returned to mom's room and removed the diffuser panel from her upward pointing light, which at least made it a bit brighter, although not enough so for her to read. This morning, I'm taking tools along. There's a reflector panel separating the two tubes. It's secured by three hex-head nuts. I'll remove the panel so mom will at least have direct light from the upper tube.
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