Monday, December 03, 2012

Mischief in the Apple Store

This summer my daughter and I went into the Apple store at the Streets of Southpoint Mall.  I thought it  would be cool to see how many devices upon which I could put an Elvis face before we got thrown out of the store.  I managed to only do two before my daughter put a stop to it.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

20 Years of Thanksgiving at Sunset Beach

Since the year after my folks passed away, my family has been getting together with my sisters and my brother and two of my cousins and my uncle along with kids and wives and husbands and extended families and friends over the years.  This year marked the 20th year we've done this.  More pictures can be seen by clicking on the picture above including the creepy doll at the mailbox.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Odd Juxtaposition

Recently, my wife and I ventured to Iowa for a wedding and the annual visit with the in-laws.  On the morning of the wedding, we went over to the church in Hull, Iowa to help set up some things for the wedding.  On the way my wife noticed a sign placed in a rather odd place.  Later in the evening, on the way to the wedding, I rolled down the window and took a picture.  Kind of let's you know how they feel about their dead out in Iowa.

As it turns out, there is a dumping place for yard waste just behind the graveyard.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Visit to the ER

It was an interesting day.  Monday morning I went over to the Toone lab to use their prep HPLC. It was bright outside.  After injecting my compound and coming back to the lab, I walked over to Dave's hood and looked at his computer.  I mentioned that the other Dave downstairs had sent him a text message.  Upstairs Dave said that he was ignoring downstairs Dave.  Then I went over to my desk to check email and look at a journal article on my computer screen.
As I sat down and looked at the screen, I noticed something wrong, or WTF, as they say.  I couldn't read the screen.  There was this weird distortion on the screen.  I immediately rubbed my eyes and it didn't go away.  Being a scientist, I immediately started doing experiments to see what the hell was happening.  Close one eye, distorted!  Close the other eye, still distorted.  There seemed to be a ring of distortion with a clear undistorted space in the middle.  OK, that's weird.  So I close my eyes and cover my face with my hands to keep out the light.  Damn, it's still there.  Except that everything is black and there's this ring of small scintillating polygonal shapes.  It's somewhat like what happens when you look a a bright light and then look away and the image stays with you.  Except that it was different.  More defined by distortion and less by intensity.  And it wasn't going away.
I open my eyes and tell Yazan, a grad student standing by my desk that there's something wrong with my vision.  He looks at me with that what the heck are you talking about look.  In the meantime, I'm doing this constant check of the rest of my body.  Did I just have a stroke?  Numbness, weakness, pain?  Nothing unusual.
So, focusing the clear center of the distorted ring on the computer, I look up webMD and start typing in symptoms.  First head, then eyes, then blurriness, no drugs, no infection, sudden onset.  WebMD tells me to call 911 and get my ass to a doctor.
So I call on Brittany, another grad student in the lab.  Brittany volunteers as an EMT with a local emergency services organization, so she's seen a lot of stuff and anything she hasn't seen, she's had.  She basically tells me to "Man up" and quit whining.  Not getting any sympathy in the lab, I call my wife and tell her about it.  She insists that I go see a doctor, maybe via a first trip to the optometrist.  About this time Tim walks in and I tell him what's going on.  He seems concerned and walks away.  Then Dave walks over and asks what's going on.  I tell him my eyes are doing weird shit and it won't go away, sort of like a visual version of his ear ringing that showed up after his nose job.  Brittany and Dave run me through the stroke assessment routine that they learned from EMT training.  I seem to pass.  Tim shows back up.  He called his wife, a doctor, and she thought I should see a doctor  maybe via my GP first.  I can't get anyone to answer the phone at the optometrist and my GP just retired and the one I was thinking of going to can't get me in this afternoon and suggest going to Urgent Care.  My wife calls and says she talked to Amy, another doctor, and she thought I should do something but not to bother with Urgent Care.  Just go to the emergency room.  Urgent care would send me there anyway.  Dave, whose head got smashed with a soccer ball about a year ago and who wasted two hours at Urgent Care, only to be sent to the emergency room anyhow, concurred.  By this time, the distortion was starting to go away and everyone had arrived at some diagnosis.  The favorite seemed to be a psychedelic flashback from drug use in my youth and an intense inquisition on my drug use in high school ensued.  The final opinion was that I should go see a doctor and that the fastest way was to go to the emergency room.
Brittany, who has visited the ER on numerous occasions, usually to deliver people, volunteered to go with me.  So we took off for the ER.  We tried to get there by only going through air conditioned buildings but eventually we had to go outside and around to the back of the other side of the hospital to get into the ER.  Entering the ER is a lot like going onto a plane.  The first thing you see on entering is a conveyer belt and a walk-through metal detector.  We toss our stuff into the box on the conveyor and the guy asks if we have any knives.  I give him my knife and he gives me a receipt.  "Use this to get your knife on the way out", he says.  That's different from the plane.  You never see your knife again.
We got in line and when it was my turn I told the person at the desk that I had a sudden attack of blurry vision.  It seemed kind of puny.  I would have felt more like I belonged there if blood was spurting out of me.  She told us to have a seat and wait for my name to be called.  Brittany knew the routine pretty good and kept me informed of what was going on.  While we were waiting, she mentioned that maybe I had a TIA.
Eventually, I got called to a Triage room where they got my vitals and asked a few questions about why I was there.  I related the vision thing and what webMD told me.  One of the nurses said "I hate webMD. It causes half the visits to the ER. Anybody that looks at webMD suddenly thinks they're suffering from everything imaginable."  Now I felt even worse about coming.  Why couldn't I be holding a severed limb or something?  My bp was 130/80, a bit high for me. 
When they got through, they sent us out the other side of the room into a hall and led us to an eye exam room.  On the way Brittany ran into a guy she knew from EMT work.  "Are you OK?" he asked.  "Yea, I'm fine.  I brought over a coworker."
In the eye room, two ladies, a nurse and a nurses assistant came in.  The nurses assistant walks in and looks at me and then says "Hey Brittany. Are you OK?" "Yea, I'm fine.  I brought over a coworker."  They ask a few more questions and I relate the vision thing again.  Then they leave and nobody comes in for about an hour.
Out in the hall, a janitor is relating some story about a big fight he had with somebody, maybe a girlfriend.  It's difficult to tell just what he's saying but he's pretty pissed about something.  As his story builds to a loud, though largely unintelligible crescendo,  a young intern walks in and closes the door.  Oddly enough, he doesn't know Brittany.
"So, what's up?" he asks.  I go through the vision thing again and he does a thorough stroke exam, having me push and pull with all my limbs and watching fingers move.  I think he's trying to see if something works better on one side compared to the other, a sure sign of stroke.  But nothing.  Next comes and eye exam.  20/30 in both eyes. It used to be a lot better when I was younger.  Then he leaves the room to get some numbing drops to do an eye pressure test, a test for glaucoma.  While he's gone, a woman comes in to explain the charges and get my insurance info and credit card.  I should have looked before coming.  $250 deductible for an ER visit.  The intern comes back after a while and does the eye pressure test and, some time in there, the nursing assistant gets another bp and a drop of blood for glucose levels.  So far, all normal.  Then everyone leaves the room again.
After a few minutes, the intern comes back in with the attending physician.  The attending physician looks at me and then looks at Brittany and says "Hey Brittany. Are you OK?" She replies, "Yea, I'm fine.  I brought over a coworker."  He then explains that they don't see anything wrong with my eyes and yet, I don't seem to have symptoms that suggests a neurological problem.  "Maybe it was a TIA," he says.
They suggested that, for sure, I should schedule an eye exam and maybe, but not necessarily unless it happened again, I should see a neurologist.  They gave me a number to call if I needed it.
The lady with my credit card came back in and I signed the sheet just like in a nice restaurant.  The original nurse came back in and went over everything again and they took my blood pressure one more time and told me I could go.
So Brittany and I said good bye to everyone, dropped by on the way out to pick up my knife and walked back to lab just in time to go home.
I haven't seen the fuzzy stuff again, so far.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


This map of  North Carolina was recently published by WRAL on its web site.  On the real map, you could roll your cursor over the county and see the actual number.  I'll just say that that the burgundy counties were less than 50% YES and the Green were more than 50% YES.  My current county was 85:15 NO, the highest NO vote county.  The county where I grew up was 85:15 YES, the third highest YES vote county.

Maybe that's why I moved.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Flying Around

Recently I had some troubles with my computer.  It would occasionally just quit working.  It was like the hard disk quit working.  So I would reboot it and sometimes it would work and sometimes it wouldn't.  It always did eventually.  But the failures kept getting more frequent.  Eventually I convinced myself that it was the hard disk.  So I made an appointment with the Apple store and took the computer in for a chat.  It's long out of warranty so they told me it would cost $250 for a new 500 GB hard drive and another $99 to transfer my files.  Not a horrible price for the work.  However, the guy at the genius bar suggested, sort of under his breath, that I could probably do it myself.  I knew I could get a 1 TB drive for about $100 and I was up for the adventure.

I borrowed some suction cups from my boss.  You need suction cups to remove the front glass and he has broken the screen of his iMac twice.  So he invested in suction cups to avoid the expense of having Apple do it.  I eventually convinced him to buy a mac mini and quit hauling his 27" iMac back and forth to his beach house.  That's when it got broken.  Anyhow, I looked up about 5 different instructions on how to swap out the hard drive, purchased a set of small torx screw drivers and after about an hour had the job done.  I'd show a picture but it looks just the same.

So I put in the Install Disk from the last OS and verified that the installation went OK and set out to install all the old stuff back.  I won't go into all the details but it was a nightmare.  It had to do with messing up the permissions when bringing in old data using Time Machine.  Anyhow, after a lot of work installing all the old stuff again and figuring out the permissions thing, I decided to install my old flight simulator and take some time with a tutorial and learn to fly again.  I had a bigger hard drive now (1,000 GB vs. 320 GB before) so I installed all the scenery (6 DVDs worth).

Tonight I was practicing turns somewhere off the sourthern coast of Spain when I spied an aircraft carrier just off shore.  So I decided to land on it.  Just as I was about to land it took a sharp 90 degree turn, but having learned how to do turns without losing altitude, I whipped the plane around and got back in line to land.  I dropped the flaps and slowly ascended down to the deck of the carrier.  As the radio was shouting "wave off", which means "get lost", I neatly touch down on the deck.  While I was there I got a picture.   Here it is.  As you can see, the plane has the markings from the flight training school.  OK, maybe you can't see them.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Last Post on my Old Radio

I never got around to doing an autopsy on my old radio, the Advent Model 400.  So today, when I was making a trip to the recycle center to toss out some cardboard and paint, I decided it was time for it to go.  It will probably be bundled up and sent to Asia where some poor street urchin will tear out anything worthwhile to be smelted down to release it's valuable heavy metals.  Here it is saying goodbye from the electronics recycle bin.

So long old friend.  Bon Voyage.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Jobs for Chemists

Over the last decade, long before the recession hit, the job situation for organic chemists, especially those who ply their trade in the pharmaceutical industry, has been miserable.  Outsourcing and off-shoring have been the order of the day.  And, of course, when you try to outsource the most creative part of your enterprise, you get the expected results.

 I've lived a sort of nomad career during that time, having been laid off with two site closings by the big pharmaceutical companies Lilly and Pfizer.  So I was somewhat interested when I got an email from the ACS (American Chemical Society) Medicinal Chemistry division via Linked-In with the title "3 Jobs".  However, when I opened the email....  well a picture sort of says it all.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


I saw this graphic and thought it gave a pretty good perspective on the return on investment that we got with the Bush administration.  That's all for now.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A New Friend

The only thing I can say is that if I die, I hope my wife grieves a little longer before replacing me.

Anyhow, the good news is that I replaced my old friend with a close copy.  In the last blog I lamented the death of an old friend, my Model 400 Advent radio.  I still haven't performed a full autopsy on the old boy but the silence in the garage was too much for me to wait.  So I did some research again.  I typed "best radio" into Google and the Tivoli Model Two showed up.  It was more than I wanted to spend so I went hunting and found the Tivoli Model One for $149.  And guess what?  It was designed by the same Henry Kloss that designed my old Advent Model 400.  So I ordered one from Crutchfield and when it came in, I put it in the garage.  It sounds great.  You might notice that it looks similar to the other radio.  It has that same 5:1 analog Vernier dial for the tuner.  And, of course it has only one speaker.  It's got a real wood cabinet too.  Kinda Retro, don't you think?

Here's another shot of it in the garage and a picture of Henry. He died about 10 years ago.  Do a Google Image search of "Henry Kloss" to see a lot of his inventions.

And finally, here's close-up of that Tiki god that watches over all the going-ons in the garage.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Death of an Old Friend

Yesterday, I lost an old friend. I had known him for almost 34 years. He had served me faithfully for all those years. And just like that, he was gone. He was fine in the morning, delivering Car Talk with his old familiar clarity. But when I returned in the afternoon, there was only silence. There was nothing I could do to revive him. I guess after 34 years it was time to let go. What am I talking about? Why, my old Advent Model 400 FM radio.

First a little history. Back in 1978, I was just starting graduate school in chemistry at Cornell and in need of a radio for my lab space. I had acquired something of a poor man's golden ear by that time and so I was looking for good sound for not a lot of money. So, being in graduate school, I did some research. The Advent Model 400 was a mono, not stereo, FM radio that consisted of a little receiver unit and a separate speaker. It was somewhat reminiscent of the KLH Model 20 stereo, probably because it was designed by Henry Kloss, the stereo pioneer who had gone on to start Advent and introduced the famous Advent Loudspeaker. Anyhow, all the reviews said that it was probably better, in the price range, to have one good speaker than two crappy ones and almost all agreed that Kloss had designed the perfect radio, with no more and no less than was absolutely necessary.

At that time, I had worked for a couple of years as a chemist and so I had saved a little money before going back to school. Early in the fall of 1978, I still had some of the money left, having not yet blown it all on beer. So I sprang the $139 for the Advent Model 400. Back then it was still a good deal of money for a radio, especially one with only one speaker. Remember, we were just getting over the quadraphonic binge of a few years earlier. However, everyone who heard it agreed that it sounded better than their crappy stereos with 2 speakers. I've kept it for all these years and it has served me well. It has spent the last 21 years on the shelf in the garage, blasting out NPR on Saturdays as I puttered around the garage or as I grilled hamburgers for supper.

I haven't figured out what I'll do with it yet. Maybe I'll take it apart and see if I can figure out what's wrong with it. Is it the speaker or the tuner/amp that died? I can get the electronic schematics on line along with some other info. Maybe I'll get out the volt meter and do a little diagnostic work. Maybe a simple repair with the soldering iron will bring it back. Or maybe I'll just say a little prayer for a dearly departed, faithful old friend and bury it in the back yard.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Another New Lawnmower

About two and a half years ago, I put up a blog post about buying a new lawnmower. I had the old one for over eighteen years and did essentially no maintenance and yet, it continued to run until it didn't. So I bought a new mower. If you look back at the old post, you'll see a picture of the old mower next to my new one.

Well, the new mower didn't last nearly so long as the last one. On Monday, while mowing the lawn, I hit a low lying tree stump and completely stopped the mower. Hmmm? So I started it back up and it was making a rubbing sound like the blade was hitting the deck. If I held it just right the sound went away and if I held it just wrong, it made a lot of scraping noise. So I finished the front yard with the occasional odd noise and started on the back. As I went across the back yard, the mower hit a root hard enough to stop again. Hmmm? That shouldn't have happened. So I started again and then I hit a root that was lower than the grass and this time I bent the crap out of the blade. As I dragged the lawn mower toward the garage, the blade was digging into the dirt. On close inspection, it appears that the first collision with the stump had actually warped the deck or tore the engine loose from the deck and the blade was actually at a rather bad tilt. I surveyed the damage and saw that the motor was no longer firmly attached to the deck. It was ruined. Maybe the motor is still good, but the lawnmower as a unit is toast.

What to do? Get it fixed or buy a new one. I decided to buy a new one just like the old one. So I looked on the Sears web site and found that same old mower for $159.98. Unfortunately, they didn't have one in stock at the Southpoint Mall Sears but they did have two in stock at Northgate Mall. Since Northgate mall is a bit further away, my wife suggested that I pick one up on the way home from work.

The next day I checked on the web to see if they were still in stock at Northgate and the web site said no. But they said that you should check the store just in case they were wrong. So I called and after the usual horror of phoning a company and going through their series of robots, I got a human who obviously looked up my question on Sear's web site, just like I did. I asked him if that was what he did and he said yes so he transferred me to the Sears store itself where I got an answering machine. The heck with that.

So I just left work and decided to go to the store and see for myself. When I got there, they told me that the model I was looking for was discontinued and the price was a closeout price and they wouldn't get anymore in. It's odd that on the exact day that I want to buy a mower, the previous day they sold the last mower of a line they've been selling for more than 20 years.

So I asked about the next model up at $179.99. There were a couple of guys waiting that also wanted that model. The sales guy said they only had one in stock, but would get a new shipment tomorrow. I said I couldn't come the next day, but maybe later in the week. The other guys said they would drop by tomorrow and get one. I thanked them. So the sales guy goes into the back and comes out and said that, no, he was wrong and they don't have anymore of that model either. OK, so what about the next model up at $199.99? Yes, they seem to have that one. And unlike the bland grey and black mowers of the past, this one is fire engine red.

When I said salesman earlier, I actually meant three salesmen. There were about 4 or 5 customers with questions about lawnmowers and three different salesmen were dealing with all of us simultaneously. There was one who seemed to be the most knowledgeable, one who kinda knew what was going on and one who might have been a trainee. So the middle guy goes back into the back and checks and, yes, they do have that one in stock. So I go through the check out process and he sends me around to the back to pick it up. I scan the receipt and after a while a guy comes out with the lawn mower in a beat up box. There is another guy waiting for a pickup and the guy with my lawnmower tells him that, as it turns out, the item he just purchased is not in stock after all. So he needs to go back to the sales guy and cancel the purchase.

Sears was bought a few years ago by some super rich business guy who also owns K-mart and is slowly destroying the company by starving it for cash. I think he's taking all the money home for himself. It's kind of sad to watch. I'm not sure how this works, but I suspect these types of financial shenanigans are a part of the problem rather than a part of the solution.

Anyhow, I took the mower home and followed the 5-step instructions (raise handle, tighten a couple of bolts, add oil, add gas) to get it ready. I drug out the old mower for a picture and then cranked the new mower. It quickly roared to life. It seemed a lot quieter and smoother than the last mower and didn't shake as much. Right now I'm thinking that maybe the extra $40 was worth it. My wife, who thought maybe Sears had bait and switched me up a couple of models, did like the red color. I finished off the yard.

So there. Hopefully I won't have to write about mowers for another 18 years.