< More Coffee Please >
Passive resistance cat resists passively

(Not our cat. But likely representative of our cats’ potential reactions to the treadmill.)

It’s the limp, folded-over front paws and the back paws juuussst barely keeping up that really get me in this one. Bwah!

  • Comments Closed
Random neat stuff from RSS feeds – Thu May 14, 2009
  • Comments Closed
Ow, my back

Last week I did something to my back.

For the first couple of days, I could barely move without insanely excruciating pain shooting up my spine, stopping my breath and making me gasp. It reminded me of back labour, except it was even more painful. I was creeping around very gingerly, holding my lower back and making grumbly-gaspy old-lady noises whenever I had to stand up or sit down.

What did I do to myself? Well, the last time I did something similar (although much less severe) to my back, it was right before I went to Bermuda. The only possible similarity in the circumstances between then and last weekend: shaving my legs for the first time in months. I did nothing unusual other than that in either circumstance. So I am forced to conclude that I’ve been totally disabled by a shaving injury, and not even the exciting dramatic kind with spurts of blood and bandages and things. I don’t even get a good story out of it.

Pathetic.

I have, in the past week, had a chance to experiment with and review pretty much all legal methods of pain relief, and so for public benefit and scientific interest here are my experiences with the many forms of back-pain analgesia. I measure pain terms of a typical pain scale from 0 (no pain) to 10 (excruciating, can’t think of anything else).

Aspirin: 1 point of pain reduction
Tylenol: 1 point of pain reduction
Ibuprofen (Advil): Zero. No pain reduction at all. Very disappointing and a bit surprising.
Naproxen (prescription): Zero. This really surprised me, since naproxen is usually good for physical/anti-inflammatory/muscle-y stuff — it’s great for arthritis.
AC&C (aspirin, caffeine, codeine): 2 points of pain reduction. My usual over-the-counter treatment for migraines wasn’t as useful here as I had expected.
Robacexet (Tylenol + methocarbamol): 3 points of pain reduction. Be sure to buy the coated version of any methocarbamol-containing product, because it is as bitter as quinine. Blech.
Robacexet (Aspirin + codeine + methocarbamol): 4 points of pain reduction. You have to ask the pharmacist for this stuff; it’s hidden behind the counter. Millions of thanks to Twitterer height8 for this tip.
A535 Dual-Action patches: 2 points of pain reduction. The patches really do last for four hours, and are less awkward than a hot water bottle stuffed down your pants if you need to be out and about. Plus you end up smelling kinda minty, which I’ll consider as a plus. And you can use this in combination with some sort of drug, so its 2 points of pain reduction are more useful than it initially appears.
A535 lotion: 1 point of pain reduction, and it doesn’t last long — maybe half an hour? Side note: it’s always bothered my scientific self that rubbing something on skin can do something useful for bone stuff like arthritis, but damn, the stuff does work for the arthritis in my hands for whatever reason (I’m sure it messes with how nerve endings interpret information or something), so I thought I’d give it a try for this too. Not really worth the bother in this case.
Hot water bottle: 3 points of pain reduction. How I love my hot water bottle, despite its annual dramatic structural failure and need to be replaced. However, there is only so much you can do that is productive while lying face-down with a hot-water bottle on your lower back.
2 glasses of red wine (an accidental discovery): 5 points of pain reduction.

Why? Why does red wine work well when normal drugs don’t, and when it doesn’t work at all for any other kind of pain? It is a mystery. Also, it’s deeply impractical — while two glasses of wine aren’t enough to be seriously impairing, they are enough to fog one’s brain a bit and they certainly aren’t the sort of pain solution you can deploy repeatedly throughout, say, one’s work day. At least not in my line of work (and I have lovely colleagues who, when they discover me lying flat on my back on a boardroom table to rest my back, skip the WTF? reactions and launch more-or-less directly into work-related conversations).

Anyway, one week later my back is feeling significantly better. Still, I’ve had a reminder about the immense respect I have for people who live with chronic pain — pain is one thing when you know or think it will be temporary, but quite another when it is likely to be long-term or permanent. It takes immense guts and determination to live a semi-normal life, to think through the fog that pain puts in your head, and to not be intensely crabby all the time. I bow to you all.

Random neat stuff from RSS feeds – Mon May 04, 2009
  • Comments Closed
On the flu and the choice to panic (or not)

I’ve been doing my best to restrain my usual cynicism about the hysterical media coverage of health issues in the case of the swine flu, as until quite recently there have been too many unknowns to do much other than shrug and say “we’ll see”.

But it seems now that we do know some things:

1. It’s not terribly lethal, although (like the 1918 flu) it does seem to have a tendency to kill youngish, otherwise healthy people. I’ve seen death rate estimates up to 6% – which makes it several times more lethal than the 1918 flu, which had about a 2.5% mortality rate. That means that if you’re an excitable news type you get to say “200%+++ more lethal than the 1918 pandemic!!!!” because that makes it sound very dramatic indeed. But it also means, if you think about it, that even if you do catch it you stand 94 chances in 100 of recovering. Or to put it another way, a bit better than 15 chances in 16.

We should thank our collective lucky stars that if this genie is as out of the bottle as it seems to be, at least it’s a 6% — or less? It’s early days still, and the rural Mexican experience may not reflect the global experience, particularly that part of the global experience that has ready access to modern medicine — lethal genie with a 1-week incubation and not a 50-80% lethal genie with a disastrously long 3-week incubation like, say, Ebola.

Also, let’s remember that plain-Jane annual influenza strains are responsible for at least 700 deaths a year in Canada (possibly up to 2500). Not to sound callous, as every single preventable death is a horrible tragedy, but this flu may not even push us over normal numbers. (The potential difference which might not be reflected in the numbers, of course, is that we’re more used to influenza killing the very young and very old, not — as in this case — youngish adults.)(Like me.)

BoingBoing reposted this analysis of the 1918 numbers, which is useful in that it takes a sensible and calming approach. However, it also doesn’t tell us much that’s really applicable. Yes, we have good public health measures and near-instant communications now so perhaps less than 1918’s 28% of people would catch the thing. But on the other hand, we now have air travel which totally changes the game. It allows people to cross the globe well within the incubation period of the virus, and this sort of transmission has in fact already happened. No more do we have the leisurely plagues of old, which you could see coming across the world towards you for weeks or months before they arrived. I’d like to see some solid epidemiological modelling of air travel’s potential effects on this influenza virus’ transmission before I’ll be ready to agree we’re comparing apples to apples when we look at 1918. Anyway, it may be a reassuring piece to read.

2. Eating pork can’t give you the flu. Throwing out your pork products is entirely pointless. Enjoy your bacon, folks. It’s fine and it’s actually counterproductive to do otherwise and leave dead pigs moldering about. Better to clean up the pigs’ waste, which attracts flies which are (or seem to be) the actual swine-to-human disease vector in this case. The flies seem to be more of an issue than the pigs, and they are certainly more of an issue than processed pig flesh from the butcher. (If you eat or otherwise consort with flies that regularly feast on pig waste, you may wish to temporarily or permanently cease that practice.)(And look into therapy.)

3. It can be transmitted from one person to another. So the surgical masks are not necessarily pointless, depending on where you are in the world. I’m certainly comfortable taking the Toronto subway without one. In Mexico City, on the other hand, a mask is maybe not the worst idea, at least this week.

It ought to be pointed out that there are many kinds of “surgical masks”. I have not yet seen recommendations about which types are most appropriate for this purpose, so many of the people you see wearing those masks in pictures in the newspaper may not be doing as much as they think they are. Still, even the worst mask keeps you from touching your potentially icky fingers to your mouth and nose, so that’s something.

At this point, though, in Toronto I’d say just wash your hands after you get off the subway (which you probably do anyway). Or ride your bike.

4. It’s responsive to the more common antivirals in our current arsenal.

Keep calm and carry on My conclusion: there’s no need to freak out just yet.

Yes, it’s making its way around the globe, and we can’t stop it.

Yes, it could easily mutate and become more deadly, although this is not generally a successful tactic for viruses; usually viruses become less lethal over time so its victims are better able to spread it. You can’t do much to spread your virus if you’re completely flattened by it, lying alone in your room.

Yes, the flu is a whole lot of no fun — someone online today used the expression “she felt she’d have to get better in order to die,” which well reflects my own experience with it.

Indications at this point seem to be that if you do catch it, the odds are heavily on your side, even more so if you are able to receive modern medical assistance in the form of antivirals and such.

So. You know. Keep calm and carry on, and never mind the excitable media.

But listen to the MOH and wash the heck out of your hands*. Think of it as an excuse to buy yourself some nice hand lotion.

* I’ll insert a corollary plea here: kindly do NOT use hand sanitizers unless you’re somewhere that totally lacks running water. Those things a) stink and b) are helping breed the superbug that WILL kill us all.

Advice for idle parenting

The Idle Parent

Children actually have an inbuilt self-protective sense that we destroy by over-cosseting. They become independent not so much by careful training but in part simply as a result of parental laziness. Last Sunday morning, Victoria and I lay in bed till half past 10 with hangovers. What a result! And the more often you do this, the better, because the children’s resourcefulness will improve, resulting in less nagging, less of that awful “Mum-eeeeeeeh” noise they make. They can play and they will play.

So lying in bed for as long as possible is not the act of an irresponsible parent. It is precisely the opposite: It is good to look after yourself, and it is good to teach the children to fend for themselves. Our offspring will be strong, bold, fearless, much in demand wherever they go! Capable, cheerful, happy. It is also the task of the idle parent to ensure as far as possible that all members of the family are enjoying themselves here and now, in the present moment. There is far too much emphasis on that imprisoning capitalist abstraction “the future.” There is no point in sacrificing pleasurable todays for the promise of more prosperous tomorrows. So stay in that bed as much as you can.

  • Comments Closed
Random neat stuff from RSS feeds – Mon Apr 20, 2009
  • Comments Closed
M’s new bike



M’s new bike

Originally uploaded by morecoffeeplease.

She chose the red one over the white-and-pink one. I hold out hope that perhaps the pink phase might be nearing its end.

Of course, finding a bell that matched the bike’s frame colour was THE most important thing.

We spent some time practicing starts and stops at the school track. She had one swervy sort of crash in which she kind of forgot to steer while trying to shift and brake simultaneously, but she still managed to avoid hitting the major obstacles — Dad, wall, bench — and nothing got hurt but her pride. We dusted her off and reassured her yet again that everybody falls down sometimes and made her get right back on, and of course two minutes later she was just fine.

Zoom! And many thanks to all the grandparents whose birthday and Christmas generosity gave M such a nice present.

  • Comments Closed
Estonian apple cake, an ongoing saga

Once upon a time I tried to make apple cake from my grandmother’s verbal recipe: “It’s a sweet dough, with yeast and cardamom. Then apples and some sugar and flour on top.” Yeah.

My sister had the rather more practical idea of going over to Vanaema’s place and watching her make it. That sensible approach resulted in this excellent illustrated recipe, which involves kneading the dough by hand.

Since I had visiting parents who wouldn’t mind being guinea pigs, since we were making pasha anyway, and since we’d be visiting Vanaema it seemed like a good time to have a whole Estonian-dessert-making extravaganza and try making apple cake again too.

First attempt, I used my grandmother’s method. I suspect I killed the yeast with milk that was a bit too hot. The dough turned into a liquidy gloop which I poured down the drain. I’ll try it again sometime with milk of the appropriate temperature but it still seems like a lot of liquid (1/2 c water, 1 1/2 c milk, 3 eggs) for only 4 cups of flour. I’d be inclined to reduce the amount of milk by at least 1/2 a cup.

Still, the gloop smelled good, so I gave it another try. Second attempt, I cut the liquid and tossed everything in the bread machine on the dough setting.

Then we pressed out the dough and added the apples and topping as per the official recipe. Success!

On the left, my grandmother’s apple cake. On the right, mine. Applecake

The main difference is that hers has a rolled edge on the crust, a feature which means that when choosing pieces from a serving tray one must be virtuous and choose at least SOME pieces for one’s plate that are edge pieces instead of hogging all the best crust-free middle pieces. My aunt once whispered to me that it was possible to make apple cake without the rolled edge, so while doing so reduces one’s opportunities for public gastronomic virtue my helpers and I decided to take the crustless route.

I had also added a bit of cardamom, nutmeg and cinnamon to the topping mixture. My grandmother agreed it was good, but not correct. Hers, she says, isn’t totally correct either. My mother tried to open the door to innovation, but Vanaema was having none of it:

Mom: “But surely every Estonian mother makes it slightly different–”
Vanaema: “No.”
Mom: “–puts her own touches on it–”
Vanaema: “No.”

So this isn’t the Platonic-ideal-if-Plato-were-Estonian apple cake. I’m sure somewhere legions of Estonian grandmothers are deeply disapproving of the use of a bread machine for the dough (and the lack of the rolled crust edge, and the continued existence of Russia, and my failure to marry an Estonian, and and and.). But it is good.

Vanaema’s recipe, as recorded and illustrated by my sister.

My dough variation:

In a bread machine, combine:
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp (8g package) yeast
1 1/2 c milk
4 1/2 c flour
2 eggs
1/4 c butter (plus 1 tbsp)
1 tsp ground cardamom

Use the dough setting.

  • Comments Closed
Lettuce!



Lettuce!

Originally uploaded by morecoffeeplease.

It’s a blurry little green thing! Actually growing!

There’s always such an unsatisfying lag between planting seeds and any obvious result. These lettuces were planted on Friday — five days ago — and already I was (quite unreasonably) getting all tappy-footed about it.

Now I just have to wait for the basil, lime basil, other lettuces, catnip, lavendar, petunias, nasturtiums, peppers and beans to appear… and then wait another month before the frost risk passes and they can go outside…

  • Comments Closed
No training wheels



No training wheels

Originally uploaded by morecoffeeplease.

I took the training wheels off M’s bike on the weekend. A single three-minute riding attempt that same day produced much fussing and wailing of IT’S IMPOSSIBLE and I’LL NEVER BE ABLE and all that sort of thing, but yesterday fifteen minutes on the school track did the trick. (Unsurprisingly.)

The bike itself is now clearly much too small. It was huge back when we bought it two years ago.

Children. They do grow, if you feed them and stuff.

Wisdom

Today I have been playing with my new toy, which is a birthday present from D & M: one of the teeny-weeny little iPod Shuffles. It is perfect for solving a First-World Problem I was having, which is that my usual iPod Classic is kind of heavy to carry about while exercising and also (if stowed securely) it is hard to manipulate its controls mid-workout. No such issue with this new toy, which has the controls on the headphones.

It looks rather like the monolith from 2001:

monolith2001

new-ipod-shuffle-2009-2

See?

It is hard to properly grok the tininess of the thing, but perhaps it’s a context issue: this microscopic thing, this size-of-a-stick-of-chewing-gum thing with no moving parts, has 100x the memory of my first computer. Its Apple-y design yumminess combined with the stick-of-gum resemblance leads me to propose this piece of wisdom for this year:

iPods are not food. Do not eat them.

(edited to add birthday wisdom from previous years: 2006, 2007, 2008)

Random neat stuff from RSS feeds – Fri Mar 27, 2009
  • Comments Closed
So it is.

Quotation of the Day for March 8, 2009

“If a million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.”

– Anatole France.

  • Comments Closed
Random neat stuff from RSS feeds – Fri Mar 20, 2009
  • Comments Closed
Random advice to at least six cyclists in Chinatown last Thursday

CHAIN OIL.

That is all.

  • Comments Closed
It’s a good thing there aren’t many in a package

For some years now various people who’ve spent time in Australia have been telling me about Tim Tams, which are a sort of chocolate-covered cream-filled cookie.

Tim Tams

It’s not their cookie-ness (although they are fine cookies) that makes people pursue them across oceans, though, it’s what you can do with them. The thing to do is to bite off two opposite corners, dip one into a hot drink, use it as a straw as long as possible and then just at the instant it falls to bits, slurp it into your mouth. This is a Tim Tam Slam.

Since Tim Tams aren’t widely available in Canada I decided I’d avoid them. The last thing I need is another junk-food addiction.

Bailey's CaramelBut recently someone mentioned the specific name of a store which carries Tim Tams, and the other day I ended up walking past it and thought I’d pick some up and give them a try. Melle had mentioned something about melty mouthfuls of chewy caramel, and who can resist that?

And so I offer the following recipe:

Take a mug of hot coffee.
Add 1 oz Bailey’s Caramel and mix well.
Open package of Chewy Caramel Tim Tams.
Perform Tim Tam Slam.
Die happy.

Winter may not last forever after all

No idea what these are. Crocuses or irises seem most likely, but they look rather like tulips, although it’s way too early for those. Guess we’ll find out…

  • Comments Closed
Grace in Small Things

1. Extra sour dill pickles.
2. Double-chocolate cherry stout on a cold night.
3. That our local purveyor of yummy food and excellent beer is packed, absolutely packed, every night of the week after 6pm. Despite the recession.
4. Snuggly cats.
5. The whole bed to myself. This is only fun for one night, and tends to be aggressively ruined by the aforementioned snuggly cats, but every so often it is nice to really stretch out (displacing cats as necessary).

(I’m not doing the full every-day-for-a-year version of Grace in Small Things, but I do like the idea.)

  • Comments Closed
Random neat stuff from RSS feeds – Thu Mar 05, 2009
  • Comments Closed