Category: About Me


Avi-Kaplan-152x152I have to admit, this entire post I owe to Pentatonix and especially my personal favourite member Avi Kaplan. And not just because he looks like my son (No, really, follow that link). Though, if not for Avi, I would not have had such an awesome chat with my son tonight.

We were (as is common in our house) watching Pentatonix videos (and some episodes of Superfruit). We watched “Thrift Shop” and I had no choice but to go to Avi doing the line on Helium. I (like many others) thought of the potential horrors of what it’d be like to hear Avi on Sulfur Hexafluoride. For those unfamiliar… most if not all of us know that helium makes us sound like cartoon mice… or Verne Troyer. This is predominantly because Helium is 6 times lighter than air and the air from our lungs as a result travels across our vocal chords differently. Sulfur Hexafluoride (SF6) however is 6 times heavier and effectively has the opposite effect on the voice. It gets lower and almost demonic in sound.

So, we’re looking on YouTube at SF6 videos and Aiden spots one about a Koosh ball in Liquid Nitrogen. So now we are onto Science Part 2.

I take Aiden out to dinner and we talk about the boiling ‘water’ and the exploding Koosh ball.

We talk about Solid, Liquid, and Gas. I really have to credit the science he is learning in school already. He has a good understanding of the three states, their differences, and how they transition. He also explained gas by mentioning the O2, CO2 exchange between animals and plants. (Not in those terms,but he understood the basic idea)… So we talked about Nitrogen being lighter than Oxygen on the periodic chart (yay iPhone app) and steel being lower on the chart. And as a result (for the most part) Lighter elements melt and ‘boil’ at different temperatures. After awhile he asks why water isn’t on the chart and I tell him that water is made up of different elements from the chart. I tell him that there is an Oxygen and that an Oxygen is so “large” that it can fit 2 “Hydrogen”. Much like the Carbon is so big that it can fit 2 Oxygen. (Yes, I am well aware, thank you)… He understands what “Di” means from what we’ve discussed and from the word “DiOxide” I explain that Oxide means that the oxygen is working on something else. (Yeah, I know)… He works out that Water is Dihydrogen-oxide. I am very proud that he understands this. I don’t think he will remember these details for school.

At this point I explain that all of this is Science. The Helium, the voice change, the gluing elements together to make molecules, the Nitrogen and how it can be a liquid and boil so fast and why they HAVE to wear gloves. I tell him that there are SO MANY different sciences. Chemistry, Organic chemistry (anything with Carbon), Physics, Biology, etc. He is gobbling it up. I explain that science is effectively learning and finding rules. We talk about di, and tri, he volunteers tricycle. I explain that I have an automatic quadrocycle. He figures out I mean a car. He points out that he isn’t allowed to drive because he’s too young. (We’ll skip the scary math where he joyously and I terrifyingly realise that at 8 he is half way to driving age) I explain rules. I tell him that the time has gone by quickly and the next eight years will go even more quickly. He doesn’t buy it.

At this point he asks me if I know so much because I am a TimeLord. (Something I purport to him regularly. I love the fact that he doesn’t buy into Santa Clause, but he carefully scrutinises the possibility that I am in fact a TimeLord. (Which between you and me… is in fact true 😉

I explain that of course I am a TimeLord and will demonstrate it for him by controlling time and making it go more quickly. We are at FiveGuys so of course… peanuts. I tell him to carefully watch me. I want him to take in everything I do. I remove a peanut, I carefully shell it, I peel back the paper wrapping around the legume. I pop it in my mouth. He even volunteers that I took a lot of time doing that. I took out 3 more peanuts and put them in front of me. We talk about science some more and how the whole restaurant is filled with science. While we’re talking I eat the 3 peanuts. I don’t rush through it. I ‘take my time.’ As I finish the last one… I interrupt him and show him the pile of shells. He is agog.

“How did you do that so fast?!?!” I explain… TimeLord and I’ll teach it to him when he’s older (as he sure isn’t going to grasp perceptual time as an 8 yr old)

As we head out, he says that he loves being around me because I make things. I know Science. And I answer questions. He says he also loves being around Mommy because I make things out of electronics and she makes things out of paint. (I add: And wire, and boxes, and any other clutter she can find :) I explain to him that there is one thing that she and I made together that I consider the greatest piece of work we have ever made. How we started on it about 9 years ago and finished it just a few months over 8 years ago. We love the work, we look at it every day, we take care of it, we hug it. And with this Aiden realiees I mean him. He said he thought that I was initially talking about something electronic or artistic. I told him, I was.

On the way home he notes that it’s night. I explain that the quickest way from night to morning (when he gets to open his lego advent catalogue) is to sleep. He asks me the ever wonderful question “Why do we dream?” This one I have to improvise on. I explain that the body does not shut down when he sleeps. He takes “body shutting down” to be death. (not entirely wrong). Then I explain autonomic functions. (Breathing, heart beating) Effectively the brain doesn’t sleep. It runs the automatic processes. One of which is to sort thru the whole day. (Yay myelination) I explain that the briain sort of sifts through all the experiences and knowledge and observances like when he sifts thru his lego. Sometimes he gets an idea and scoops a bunch of different pieces together and tries building something but then takes it apart because it wants to move onto something else. He asks why he can’t remember them. I explain that the brain cleans up to make room for the new stuff coming in the next day. “You need more room… so you can get more stuff” – Carlin. I explain that’s why I ask him to clean the room. I even explain that the brain throws things out to make more room. It makes sort of a reference to it, but doesn’t keep the details. He remembers the vacation when we took the picture that’s on my phone home screen. He knows he was a baby, but doesn’t remember anything about his baby pictures. I explain that I don’t remember more than a picture of two from when I was his age. I further it by explaining… I have something like 46 years of stuff in my head. Under my breath I say, “Not ‘like’ 46 years… actually literally 46 years. Sigh. Then we move onto the next question… What about nightmares. He posits that the brain wants to scare the boy and enjoys it. I follow the metaphor with how sometimes the brain finds something it doesn’t understand, or like, or scares it. And it goes into the little structure and you don’t realise how scared you were of it… so it makes for a scary dream.

We get home and he looks at me and asks “How do people make their voices higher and lower?” I tell him, this is a very good question and he should go up and change and I will show him when he comes down. He asks if it’s going to be a video (hopehopehopehope) I say no (awwwww) but I will do it right in front of him. He heads off and I go looking for a rubber band. (Gum band *shiver* for the locals around me) I am unable to find one, but I find string.

Aiden comes down and I show him the string and pluck it. I tighten it and it gets higher. I shorten it, it gets higher. Aiden knows that you breath against your vocal chords to make sound. Now he understands that shorter means higher and stretching means higher as well. The Helium and SF6 make more sense for him as well. I also tie the string into a circle and stretch it like guitar strings. I pluck one and the other vibrates. I also try to demonstrate why singing and speaking on an inhale really don’t work. And then… the coupe on the grass. (sic) I show him the biggest set of vocal chords he has ever seen. I have a huge set in a huge wooden box. I keep 44 pairs of vocal chords. We look into the piano. Aiden notices the short end and the long end. He realizes that the low notes are at the end where the longer strings are. I talk to him about Avi and how his vocal chords are very long and very loose. I explain how stretching your vocal chords in warm ups is like stretching the muscles and loosens you up, so your voice drops. I also explain that since he is growing, so are his vocal chords. And then it’s onto the PeterBradyesque manner that his vocal chords will readjust one year. Likely in about 4-5 years.

By now it’s bed time and I’m enjoying what we talked about…

No… you know.. my thoughts on this kind of a conversation with my son…

 

“This is freakin’ awesome!”

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post-opHello to all you wonderful people.

It is now 24 hours since I went under the knife. I didn’t post yesterday after the procedure for obvious reasons. Lynne, you were so very right and at the same time very wrong. You said that after the Versed went in I wouldn’t really care about what they were doing to me. Not only didn’t I care but about 10 seconds after the Versed went in I found myself in the recovery room. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Looker” from the early 80s; that is truly the feeling of time hiccupping.

Admittedly, the other effect of the time skip is the realisation that first you are dizzy and mildly disoriented. Secondly, there is great pain in your belly. It took me until today to realise that the pain felt like I was about to have a small creature ‘bust’ out of it and start singing ‘Hello my baby.’ About the time I woke up they administered some painkiller into my IV. Once I went from a 6 to about a 3 or 4 they sent me out of recovery back to a room.

In my room I waited for about 5 minutes before my glasses, iPhone and most importantly a Heather followed me. I was very happy to hear that Heather had broken her revulsion of Facebook long enough to post the news that I was fine and in recovery. I realise that everyone knew I was going to be fine. I knew (intellectually) I was going to be fine. But then there is emotional “Theatre of the Mind” which can think of unending terrors to eat away at intellectual reason.

The day was spent pretty much on the reclining sofa in the living room bouncing between unconscious and eating while pretty much consistently in pain. I was so out of it that I slept through 2 episodes of Doctor Who. I have an ice bag for my tummy, which has an amazingly deep navel now. People were wonderful in helping me get things, as standing up is a horrid strain on my body. Just being in a standing position is absolutely a horrid and burning thing. I finally realised what this specific pain felt like.

In the evening, Dinner was light. I skipped Arrow although it is on the DVR and went to bed around 9:30. I wish this had been uneventful.

Bed was unpleasant bordering on nightmarish. First there was the laying down bit. In general, you really have no idea how much you use your abdominal muscles until the thought of them hurts like an ice pick shoved in your stomach. Once actually in bed, you are laying basically flat. This is essentially standing but at a different pitch of rotation. Fortunately with a great mound of pillows I was able to get enough bend that it quieted down the throng of screaming nerve endings. I think they are planning a revolt.

The good news is that there is Norco (Vicodin + Acetaminophen). The bad news is that reaching it on the bedside table is worse than laying down in bed. All it requires one to do is to roll over using and twisting their abs. Heather actually pushed me to roll me. And at that moment I flashed on what being 90 must be like. This made me grumpy. With meds however, I was able to roll a little and sleep. Granted, the latter might be more on the order of passing out from Vicodin aided unconsciousness, but that is neither here nor there.

So for the next day or so… there is recovery, pain and Vicodin. I chatted briefly with my team at work. My manager knew I was doing this and we’d scheduled the time off.

However, in the meantime…

I can not in any way sufficiently show my appreciation for the comments, likes, and support from friends and family through Facebook. Over 7 posts there were nearly 100 ‘likes’ and 90 comments of support. While this isn’t the Academy Awards; beyond thanking everyone there are a couple of people I really have to take notice of:

Michelle Ma… and Erica… two people I haven’t seen in far too long. Both sent me very lovely messages of support outside of commenting on one of my posts. My dearest Carleen, one of my closest friends in college and someone who knew how dearly I crushed for her, Carleen sent a comment that had an image of a bouquet of flowers. I have no idea why this touched me so much, but it just made me smile and the pain subsided for a little.

Obviously also is Heather who cared for me while I was getting ready the night before the surgery and especially for updating everyone when she got the news from the doctor. I do not envy her life in pain, but it makes her so amazing when I am suffering. Both she and additionally Kylie (who helps around the house) have been beyond amazing in helping me as I meander around the house like a 90 year old.

But, I really must give a should out to Michelle Mc… Honestly, I haven’t seen her since a Pennsic that was approximately 15 or so years ago. She and her (now) husband were in the neighboring camp. Michelle talked (online chatted) with me most of the morning while I was waiting for nurses, injections, IV, etc. She was calming, reassuring, and above all else distracting. It was like having a friend in the triage room holding my hand. It was a very special thing to me and I will likely never have the chance to do for her, what she did for me. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try :)

Well, the next Vicodin is beginning to kick in. The number of typos I am making is enough that auto-correct is beginning to scowl at me.

Again, thank you to everyone for the kind words, support, and just mentions of thinking of me. I am so proud and blessed to know about 95% of you personally (There were a couple of friends of friends that were equally nice, but unknown to me :)

Once I can move without pain again, I really would like to offer each and everyone of you a huge hug!

Love to all.

Andrei with a huge belly button divot again.

menacing-bearded-man-angryNote: Comments are mine, unedited, and at times… stream of conscious. Not everything is researched as well as it could be. A lot is based on impression and what I have seen. So I expect people to complain about minutiae more than the spirit behind this posting. I do welcome ALL comments. I will respond to as many as I can. I will potentially disagree… or I may say, quite frankly… I didn’t see it that way. But I have a strong feeling on this and I need to put it out there, even if nobody reads it.

It is November, or as several misguided people are calling it Movember.

From Wikipedia: Movember (a portmanteau from moustache and “November”) is an annual event involving the growing of moustaches during the month of November to raise awareness of men’s health issues, such as prostate cancer and other male cancers, and associated charities. The Movember Foundation runs the Movember charity event, housed at Movember.com. The goal of Movember is to “change the face of men’s health.”

I appreciate the fact that an organisation has decided to be YA (yet another) point of donation for Cancer research. Granted, like many of these organisations of late there are several immediate issues.

  1. Operating costs temper the amount that goes for research The American Cancer Society took in just shy of 1 (B) Billion dollars; over 25% went back into Management and Fund Raising.
  2. The average participant is in it for the coolness factor and not for the donation. This seems like an over generalisation but during this month, walk around your office. See how many men are growing their moustaches and ask them about it. How many really want to talk about Cancer? How many have made a donation? You may be upset to find out. And I’ve done this in past offices. The numbers are worse than some of the charities.
  3. We’ll get back to how this is a spin-off of Breast cancer month and my issues with that.
  4. And the thing that pisses me off more than anything about Movember

What kind of an ass thinks the best way to gain awareness for Cancer is to GROW hair?!?!

In the case of Movember, they are very clear about the rules (but not about what the Administrative expenses are.)

  1. Once signed up a “Mo Bro” must begin the 1st with a clean-shaven face.
  2. For the entire month each “Mo Bro” must grow and groom a moustache
  3. Don’t fake it. No beards, no goatees, no fake moustaches
  4. Use the power of the Moustache to create conversations about men’s health and to raise funds for prostate cancer, testicular cancer and mental health.
  5. Each “Mo Bro” must conduct himself like a true gentleman…

Let’s start with the spectacle of charity.
In Judaism Maimonides points out that one of the highest forms of charity is:

“…to give to the poor without knowing to whom one gives, and without the recipient knowing from who he received. For this is performing a mitzvah solely for the sake of Heaven. This is like the “anonymous fund” that was in the Holy Temple. There the righteous gave in secret, and the good poor profited in secret. Giving to a charity fund is similar to this mode of charity, though one should not contribute to a charity fund unless one knows that the person appointed over the fund is trustworthy and wise and a proper administrator, like Rabbi Chananyah ben Teradyon.”

Of course not everyone is Jewish, and (at least Orthodox) Jews aren’t supposed to shave… So I guess the attitude of not making spectacle really doesn’t hold water for most. However, this pervasive attitude towards, “Show me something in support” tends to show up as “Wear Jeans if you support, foo” in High Schools. So, whoever didn’t get the memo and wore jeans has just been labeled as ‘in support.’ And when that is “Teach the Christian Bible in our school” maybe you would have preferred not to.

But lets talk about the growing of hair for raising awareness for Cancer patients. Simply, it misses the boat. 100%. How many people have I seen die from cancer? One. How many people have I seen die from cancer? One TOO MANY. Let me tell you… growing hair and conducting themselves like true gentlemen? It’s not on their list. If you want to raise the topic of cancer… let’s shave everything. Including body hair. (And as a very furry man, I know what that would entail) And that means all of it. Or if you like, leave a few clumps. Then try reducing your diet down to about 200 calories a day. People see the happy, fun side of Cancer… Except when people talk about a lost loved one… But those are just stories. It can’t be as bad as they make it out to be.

One of the most supportive things I have seen for a recovering cancer patient is when friends and family shave their heads in support. This isn’t for discussion. This is to show the human being recovering person that they are loved, and should not feel embarrassed or ashamed. Because as corny as it sounds, love and support go further in recovery than ostracisation and embarrassment.

Cancer is a disease. Not a theme. Many of these people have lost parts of themselves in the hopes that they won’t lose more… like their lives. They pray for the words ‘benign’ and ‘remission’. But in the meantime as “Bro’s” once again stand up and say ‘what about us. We’re downtrodden too.’ Lest we forget Breast Cancer; or what has become the pink ribbon brand that far too many refer to as “Save the Boobies”

But this time, instead of being told to grow hair, now we are painting the disease in Pepto-Bismo pink. (I suppose at least this is closer to the cause because Pepto is designed to curb vomiting which for the cancer patient is pretty much the norm. Honestly, if you want a good colour, perhaps vomit olive and beige might be best. But that’s not exactly pretty and of course this isn’t women’s health; it’s more about ‘the pretty.’ (By the way, pink ribbons… stolen from a woman in 1979 who (inspired by the Tony Orlando song) tied ribbons around trees in the hopes that she would see her husband again who had been taken hostage in Iran. So, the next time you see a ribbon… it originally meant, “will I see you again?”

The ribbon isn’t the problem so much as “Once again” it’s using pink and branding the movement, not helping the women who are suffering, losing so much, and dying. Breast cancer awareness is more about getting people talking about Breast cancer than doing something about it and from a high percentage of actual people suffering from Cancer; it’s really not about their welfare. There are some excellent articles
– Wikipedia’s reference on “Breast Cancer Culture” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breast_cancer_awareness#Breast_cancer_culture
– Jezebel.com – Save the women not the Boobies http://jezebel.com/5953952/save-the-women-not-the-boobies
– Jezebel.com – The NFL’s Campaign Against Breast Cancer is a Total Scam http://jezebel.com/5950971/the-nfls-campaign-against-breast-cancer-is-a-total-scam?tag=breast-intentions

For as much as a man may be embarrassed to have to be bald. Women are not afforded the same social grace to be a recovering victim of cancer. Women are encouraged to hide behind wigs because the appearance is more important than the educating of others. And the worst part of all are the throngs of people so insistent on saving the boobies, that the numbers of people who a repulsed or push away a woman who has had to lose a breast. It was said that a fetish is having something one needs to be aroused. It is a sad concept to know the number of people who have breast fetishes.

Do I speak for any person who suffers from any cancer? No. Do I have any idea what it’s like to suffer from Cancer? No. But what I will do is see through the morass of pathos avoiding commercialism and put my money and time where it will do the most good.

So this year as you put away your pink… In Pittsburgh, there is a fountain downtown at Gateway Center where the water is tinted pink. I often joke that the irony is that the squirrels are likely getting cancer from the dyes. As you trade in your pink for moustache wax…

Stop, and consider just donating the money, spending time helping someone who is suffering or recovering from Cancer. And make the conversation about the people and the disease… and not about seeing pink-soled cleats, buying overpriced merchandise that donates 10 cents on the dollar, or how handlebars really will impress the gals.

I for one… will not be shaving for Movember. But I will shave for a loved one, a friend, or coworker, or just someone who needs the support and kinship. I am fortunate… I grow a full beard in 3 days. I do not have breasts; I have a working prostate and working testicles. There are others who have so much beyond what they are losing or have lost. Make them see what is left that is fortunate so that they don’t spend time suffering.

-=-=-

Dearest Chris… I gladly came to you in the hospital even though at the time the sight of dying scared me nearly to paralysis. At your service I cried for at least 15 minutes. I loved you in my heart more that I could ever communicate and more than you’d ever believe. I see your smile in my heart sometimes when I look in the eyes of my son who carries your name in remembrance.

I wish you’d had the medical coverage and care that would have detected this before it was too late. I’m glad that so many of your friends were around to keep a smile on your face for as long as we could. The number of people who shaved their heads for you; the number of clergy that you taught and guided who wanted to be the one to deliver you communion from masses.

I miss you so much.

Pleygo No More

madLegoAbout 3 weeks ago we were referred by a friend and fellow parent to a site called #Pleygo. An interesting service hailed as Netflix meets Lego. You subscribe and get a stream of lego sets sent to you. Depending on the plan (low, medium, and high) you can pick from different sets. Medium for example would be about $30 a month and sets would be about $85 on the shelf to buy.

Of course, handing a child a lego set has inherent risk. Pleygo advertises that the sets come with a side bag of extra common pieces; sets are completely sterilized between uses; they allow up to a certain number of pieces to be lost when being returned; and of course have a procedure to buy the set if your child absolutely doesn’t want to part with it.

All of this and a one month 30 day free trial!

Except… It didn’t work. It was a complete fail for us.

About a month ago, we decided to hand them a credit card and see what 30 days would bring us. After one week of Aiden checking the mailbox to no avail I called them. They told us that our wish list (viewing queue) wasn’t full and that they fulfill from the list in order of availability. I explained that there was no mention of requiring a full queue and there was no way to know that everything that was on our mostly filled (80%) queue was all unavailable.

While on the phone, I padded the queue to fill it and noted that it would be a STRONG suggestion to let users know what sets are currently available and which aren’t. I was told that I should see a set within the first 7-10 business days but there was a strong back log.

From here I explained that I was on the free trial. I wanted to emphasize that my interest here was “Trial” not “Free” and that I was evaluating their service. That to this point I had to explain to my seven year old why there was no mail for him on a daily basis and no way to know if there was ever going to be any. The person noted she’s take the comments down (but really gave an attitude of ‘this is just the way we work.’

Last evening, two weeks later, I got a general “Aren’t we great, New Sets” email from Pleygo. It saddens me that at this point they’d all but slipped my mind. I made a note to myself to do a followup call this morning. going to the website I was (less than) surprised that the support phone number is no longer there. There is a limited support section that is primarily driven by community postings. There is also a blog that primarily is proudly talking about their tie in to the recent Lego Movie.

A long time ago I might have had more patience for this. But now money is tighter. The idea of having a wealth of (fairly expensive) Lego open up to my child for far less (even though it was a subscription) seems like a fantastic idea. That being said, NOTHING is worth trying to comfort a crest fallen child every day for two weeks for reasons other than, “I guess we just have to wait, I don’t know what’s going on.”

Obviously, I cancelled my “Free Trial” as I take solace in the fact that at least it didn’t cost me financially to know that the service failed the trial. Honestly, I hope in the long run the idea succeeds. But for now… There is far too much broken in the system for a person to join that ecosystem.