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Week of 4 May 2009

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Monday, 4 May 2009
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08:14 - We're batting two out of three on the new series we've been sampling from Netflix.

Breaking Bad, a story about Walter White, a high-school chemistry teacher who learns he has terminal cancer and decides to start making methamphetamine to build up a nestegg for his wife and son, is very well done. The science is about as accurate as I've ever seen on a mainstream TV drama program, and the series presents scientists as normal people who just happen to be very, very smart.

Bones, an autobiographical tale by the author, forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs, about her alter-ego, forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan, is also reasonably well done, but very annoying at times. It requires a significant suspension of disbelief to watch Brennan supposedly doing about six different people's jobs, including the SOCO, forensic pathologist, and medical examiner. Not to mention the FBI investigating ordinary murders, for which they have no brief. But the most annoying part is that the series presents scientists, including Brennan, as complete dorks who utterly lack social skills. David Boreanaz, playing Brennan's primary FBI contact, repeatedly refers to scientists as "squints". And the series catchphrase is Brennan, any time someone makes a pop-culture reference, saying "I don't know what that means."

And then we have Big Bang Theory, which despite excellent reviews has to be one of the worst series I've ever seen. Barbara and I got about three minutes into the first episode before we wrote off the series. The incredibly intrusive laugh track alone is reason enough not to bother watching any more of it.

And I spent some recreational time last night taunting the true-believer lefties over on Greg Laden's blog, where women are women and men are women, too. It's not really sporting. They're so easy to get cranked up. Just mention libertarianism and they start frothing at the mouth. I didn't even have to trot out the phrase "global warming alarmists".


Tuesday, 5 May 2009
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08:31 - Several people have recommended that we give Big Bang Theory another chance. I don't doubt that it's an excellent series, but the best writing, acting, and production in the world isn't going to make the laugh track tolerable. The laugh track simply makes me cringe. And I'm not alone. Do a Google search for "Big Bang Theory" and "laugh track" and you'll see what I mean. I don't understand why the DVD doesn't offer the option to play the episodes without the laugh track. I've seen other DVDs that do.

Several readers have recommended we give The Wire a try, so I added series one to my queue. Frankly, I'm not a big fan of realistic cop shows, but Barbara may like this one.


Wednesday, 6 May 2009
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08:22 - Barbara's sister called me last night to ask for advice about buying a notebook system for her husband, Al. Frances said they looked at netbooks and notebooks at Costco and elsewhere, and concluded that netbooks are simply too small. Al needs both a larger screen and a larger keyboard. Their target price range is $500 to $800, although they can go higher if necessary. An entry-level system is fine. It'll be used only for email, web, Skype, and so on. No video editing or other demanding tasks. And Al is bigger than I am, so anything that weighs less than an anvil or a boat anchor is fine with him.

It was two years ago this month that Paul Jones called me on his cell phone from Best Buy. Mary was just about to take off on her around-the-world run and they needed to buy her a personal notebook system quickly. Paul stood there in Best Buy reading me the specs and prices of the various notebooks they had. I was stunned even two years ago by how much notebook one could buy for how little money. Mary ended up with a $600 Toshiba notebook with pretty impressive specs.

So I told Frances that it shouldn't be a problem to find something well within their price range. I visited Newegg and after some searching I tentatively settled on the Lenovo G530-444623U. It has a 15.4" WXGA display, which should suffice. They'd no doubt prefer a larger display, but 17" notebooks are out of their target price range. It also has Intel graphics, which is a plus. I wanted to avoid anything with nVIDIA graphics, given the ongoing problems with nVIDIA mobile graphics chipsets.

Finally, they run Ubuntu on their home desktop system, and wanted a notebook that could also run Ubuntu. I did a Google search on "Lenovo G530" and Ubuntu, and the only problems I found were that the built-in web cam and modem weren't supported (although they may be supported by the current version of Ubuntu). They won't be using dial-up for Internet access, so the non-functional modem isn't a problem. It'd be nice to have the webcam working for Skype, I suppose, but that's a very minor issue.

So, before I tell Frances to go ahead and order this notebook, along with accessories like a mouse and headset for Skype, is there anything I should know? Is there a better option? I'm not a notebook guy, so any advice, cautions, etc. would be appreciated.


Thursday, 7 May 2009
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08:55 - We were under a tornado warning until 2100 last night and a tornado watch until 0400 this morning, but nothing came of it. There were lots of funnel clouds spotted, but none touched down. The TV weather people were talking about EF2 and EF3 tornadoes. People in the Midwest sneer at those, but they're pretty serious storms for around here.

We kept the TV news on with the sound turned down until the storms appeared to have passed, although the watch persisted through the evening and early morning hours. I came back to bed about 2230, when everything appeared to be settled down. We discussed what to do about Duncan if a tornado was likely to hit near us. In that case, we'd head for the basement.

My lab is also our storm shelter. The wall between it and the rest of the finished area in the basement, which is open to the back yard, is made up of alternating 2X8 studs and steel lolly columns on 12" (30 cm) centers bolted into the joists and the concrete floor. There's a layer of 3/4" (19mm) yellow pine (an extremely hard wood) sheathing on the finished side and 3/4" plywood screwed to the studs on the lab side. It's not exactly bullet-proof, but it's a reasonably good storm shelter, particularly if we sit on the floor, which adds a layer of cabinets to the protection.

We decided that if a tornado was about to strike, Barbara would take care of everything else and I'd carry Duncan downstairs.

I'm thinking about giving up writing and starting to practice medicine. Wake Forest University Bowman Gray School of Medicine thinks I'm qualified, and nothing I can do will change their minds.

They keep sending me mail to invite me to social events, continuing education, and so on.

This all started more than 20 years ago. When Barbara and I were first married, we lived at 811 Miller Street, in the Ardmore section of Winston-Salem, near Wake Forest University's Baptist Hospital. A few years later, I was keeping Barbara company at the library one evening and happened to look at the latest edition of the cross-reference directory. A couple of years before, we'd moved a few blocks from Miller Street to Lyndhurst Avenue. The cross reference directory still listed the resident at 811 Miller Street as Robert Bruce Thompson, but listed his employer as Baptist Hospital. Barbara and I had a good laugh about that, wondering how they'd gotten things so screwed up.

As it turned out, it wasn't so funny. Immediately after we moved out of 811 Miller Street, another Robert Bruce Thompson moved in, and he was employed by Baptist Hospital. Then, in 1987, we moved from Lyndhurst Avenue out to our current address at 4231 Witherow in the Town & Country Estates section of northwest Winston-Salem. (It really is aptly named, by the way; there are sheep grazing about a quarter mile from our house, in a field just across Valley Road from the house where the multiple murders occurred that were made famous by the book and movie Bitter Blood.)

Unbelievably, shortly after we bought this house, the other Robert Bruce Thompson followed us out to Town & Country and bought a house at, if I recall correctly, 4321 Wycliffe. I used to get deliveries intended for him. I'd tell the UPS guy, "No, no! You want the other Dr. Robert Bruce Thompson. He's one street over at 4321 ..." and he'd look at me strangely. I'd sometimes get my own deliveries a day or so later than expected, so I assume he got stuff intended for me as well.

So, a few years ago, he moved out of state, and apparently Wake Forest University glommed onto me as a substitute. Ever since, they've been sending me mail with invitations to whatever medical events they're having. They used to telephone me to beg for money, but at least I apparently convinced them to take me off that list. But despite multiple written and phoned in requests to explain that I'm not who they think I am, they simply won't take me off their mailing list.

11:35 - More on name confusion...

From: Andy Preston
  To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Date: Thu May  7 11:09:45 2009
  Re: name confusion

Interesting tidbit about the name confusion, but I can do you one better.  My older sister's married name is Lynda Coram.   Her husband has two brothers whose wives are also named Linda.  The three Lindas, as they are known, have been known to go shopping / dinner / etc. together and each pay with a check or credit card, just to see if the clerk notices that the names are the same.  On a serious note, when any one of them goes to the doctor they have to demand to see the file, just to make sure that the physician is treating the correct sister in law.

I can see where that would lead to confusion. But, believe it or not, I can do even that one better.

My paternal grandmother was married twice. Her first marriage, to a Mr. Howell, resulted in her having two sons, Arthur and Robert, as well as a stepson, William, from Mr. Howell's first marriage. After Mr. Howell's death, she married my grandfather, George Burns Thompson. They had one son, whom they named William Ewing Thompson, my father.

So, I remember more than once overhearing my Uncle Bob talking to someone and using the phrase, "No, my other brother Bill." When the Bob Newhart show was being broadcast, among the minor characters were three brothers, Larry, Darryl, and Darryl. I was probably one of the few people who saw that show who didn't notice anything unusual about that.


Friday, 8 May 2009
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08:35 - Here's a surprise. Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he isn't opposed to Obama nominating an openly-gay candidate for the Supreme Court vacancy. Maybe the Republican Party is finally beginning to understand the reason for the backlash against it in the last election.

It all started more than 30 years ago, when religious voters overwhelmingly supported Jimmy Carter. The Republicans decided to build bridges to the religious voters, and ended up selling out to the religious fundamentalist nutters of Moral Majority and similar organizations. The Republicans thought they were onto a good thing. These religious nutters make up a small percentage of the population--12% to 15% by most accounts--but they are big contributors to political campaigns, both in terms of money and grassroots organizing.

Unfortunately for the Republican Party, these nutters expect much too much in return for their support. They have forced the Republican Party to adopt positions that are so far removed from the mainstream that normal people are unable to stomach them any longer. In the 2008 election, people voted for change. Any change, even bad change, as long as it was change from the policies foisted upon us by the religious nutters.

Lately, we've started to see some real change, and it has nothing to do with Obama. We've seen several states recently break the logjam by recognizing that gay people have, or should have, the same rights as anyone else, including the right to marry. This causes religious nutters to froth at the mouth, of course, and the more they froth the better. They've already marginalized themselves with their attacks on science, their attempts to force religious beliefs into science classrooms, and their violence against women's health clinics. Perhaps the Republican Party has finally understood that they needn't pander to these wackos. What are they going to do, vote Democrat?

The Republican Party has the opportunity to redefine itself to match the political beliefs of the majority of the American public, which are generally libertarian. If it returns to its roots by advocating small government, low taxes, and noninterference, the Republican Party will be in the position to take control of the executive and legislative branches when Obama finishes what is almost certain to be his one and only term.

And the Republican Party needn't worry about the religious nutters. They were a small minority to begin with, and they're getting smaller. Because the general backlash has been not just against the policies so dear to the religious nutters; it's been against religion itself. The percentage of the US population who define themselves as having no religion has skyrocketed to 15% over just the last few years. That's dramatic enough, but there's more bad news for the religious nutters. Among young people, our future leaders, the percentage who define themselves as having no religion is now between 30% and 40%, depending on which poll you believe.


Saturday, 9 May 2009
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Sunday, 10 May 2009
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Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.