Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Blowing in the Wind

This morning, at about 5:45, the first wave of a surprisingly severe February storm moved through. It was short in duration--only about thirty minutes for the storm itself, followed by another forty-five minutes to an hour of intermittent rain--but the damage it brought with it was immense.

In our neighborhood, there are scores of trees down; some of them were so large that their falling blocked a major roadway that runs alongside the subdivision. Power was out for tens of thousands of homes in the metro Atlanta area; some homes were totally destroyed by the winds, while many sustained roof damage.

It took me about fifteen minutes to get from my house to the store this morning; it normally takes about five. I did much better than Brett, though, because I knew a few back roads that he didn't; it took Brett about 45 minutes to cover half the distance that I had to cover because he got caught in the diverted trafic as residents tried to find a way around tree-blocked main roads.

Getting from the store to the FedEx Freight warehouse was much more demanding, because a tree had fallen on part of the interstate, throwing traffic flow into near-gridlock. We knew enough residential backroads to get to an interstate ramp below the fallen tree, and the rest of our drive was fairly uneventful--but it still threw us more than an hour behind schedule, all considered.

We were lucky personally; no trees down, no damage. Not like the summer of 2000, when a freak windstorm took out three trees--followed by another freak windstorm four months later that felled another six trees. I grieved for those trees; you don't realize how much you take tulip poplars and oaks and pines for granted until that first day after they fall, when you see bleak, unfiltered sky.

This Story Has Legs

Yes, I'm still having problems with my right leg. No, they're not as severe as they were, but the muscle pains and exertion cramps are still present, particulary in the outside of my thigh and in the back of my leg (both thigh and calf). Fully extending my leg to lie flat in bed is painful after a very short period--but lying on my side also becomes painful after a while because it puts a great deal of pressure on the outside of my leg.

I'll be very glad when all this is a distant memory...

A Cool Newsbit

This story offers a look at some data that has dismayed the science-as-a-social-cause global warming movement; it appears that the Earth has cooled significantly in the past year or so, in a period that coincided with a reduction in the amount of sunspot activity and the subsequent solar cooling.

Lots of scientists have, for the past few years, cited hard scientific data to point out that the hue and cry over global warming was every bit as premature as the cries about the coming ice age that were so prevalent thirty years ago. There simply wasn't enough data to draw a global warming conclusion, many prudent scientists and meteorological experts pointed out--but for the most part, they were excoriated for not falling into line with the groupthink in favor of global warming as an impending disaster.

...Kenneth Tapping, of Canada's National Research Council, who oversees a giant radio telescope focused on the sun... is convinced the Earth is destined for a long period of severely cold weather if solar activity does not pick up soon.

"The last time the sun was this inactive, Earth suffered the Little Ice Age that lasted about five centuries and ended in 1850," Gunter writes.

"It's way too early to claim the same is about to happen again, but then it's way too early for the hysteria of the global warmers, too."

It's nice to see that he's not as quick to jump to a conclusion as the other side was.

Remember, scientists also told us in grave tones that nothing would grow in Hiroshima for 75 years... and they turned out to be wrong by--well, by 74 years.

Scientific conclusions are only as valid as the data going in (check out this site for some interesting insight into questionable placement of weather stations)... and there's been a lot evidence tha the data going in was skewed. Now, perhaps some people will begin to wait for the evidence before presenting the conclusions...

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Walking the Walk

I'm continuing to get better... I think.

Not a whole lot better, unfortunately; it's not a quick recovery. I still have pain when I walk, I still can't lie flat on my back due to severe thigh pain that it causes, I still can't do some of the exercises I've been doing for years and thus am having to modify my routines to get the same health benefits while allowing my affected leg muscles time to heal.

From what I've read and from what I've been told, it's not a "right-away" sort of thing, but the fact that I've seen some improvement in the first week off simvastatin is a positive sign that I should continue to improve gradually.

I had no idea a week ago how much I'd look forward to things like walking normally, sleeping in my bed, doing bench weight exercises, and just standing still without pain.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Getting Better

The leg problem is improving slightly. I haven't taken a generic simvastatin since Saturday night; tonight, for the first time in several days, I'm not seeing a continued deterioration in mobility, nor am I experiencing the escalation in cramping and pain that has been the norm for several days.

At this point, I'm going to take "not getting worse" as an improvement. I'm curious to see if a couple of more no-simvastatin days continue the trend.

Then, of course, I have to deal with the whole cholesterol problem... but I'm going to find that much more workable if I'm actually able to walk without constant pain.

On the Move

The leg pain that I wrote about yesterday was acute enough to interfere with sleeping last night; it's also migrating. It began in my right hip, moved into the outside of my right leg (particularly involving the tendons just above the knee, making it almost impossible for me to lift my right leg sideways more than an inch or so), and by last night it had moved to the back of my leg, creating severe pain in that area when I fully extended that leg. I'm still having sharp muscle pains about six to eight inches above the knee as well, and now there's some pain involving the calf and the shin.

Don't know for sure what's causing it, but there's been no change in exercise routines, no injuries, etc., so I have to suspect that generic simvastatin might be a contributing factor. I went to Doctor Mike's office to have some bloodwork done today, and I'm going to discontinue the simvastatin for a couple of weeks to see if there's any improvement. Of course, if there is, then I'm left with a bit of a dilemma: what do I do to help reduce bad cholesterol if I can't take statins? I'm already limiting my diet and exercising, but the statins had been a part of that routine; without them, I suspect I'll see a rise in bad cholesterol levels. Even so, I might have to live with that option, because if it turns out that the simvastatin is causing this severe pain, I'd rather go without statins and be able to exercise and function pain-free.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Without a Leg to Stand On...

The past few days have been troublesome for me--although as Susan reminded me, some of the early symptoms may have begun a couple of weeks ago.

I began to notice a little stiffness in my right leg and my right hip a while back, particularly when I first got out of bed or got up from a chair after sitting for a prolonged time. I didn't think much about it, writing it off as one of those things that happens when you're over fifty. I'm still in pretty good shape for an old geezer, and I exercise twice a day (I wrote about that a little while ago...), so I figured maybe it was a little bit of arthritis.

This past week, though, the problem escalated to severe pain in my right hip. It would hurt a pretty good bit until I walked a mile or two, at which point it would begin to loosen up. I was a little more cognizant of it, but not too worried.

By yesterday, though, I found it difficult to do parts of my weight routine because many of the exercises I do with my arms still require some tension in my legs--and that caused shooting pain in my right thigh. Today, it was so severe that I had trouble finishing my pushups--and I even found that it took some maneuvering to finish a couple of hundred situps because of the pain on the outside edge of my right leg.

I can't lift my right leg to the side more than an inch or two without severe pain. I have trouble walking with a normal stride, at least for a while (after a couple of miles, I manage to walk through it a bit). And standing still or lifting heavy weights is very uncomfortable.

I'm wondering if I'm having a reaction to the generic simvastatin I've been taking. I started on Zocor back in 2000 and have taken it regularly since then; a few months ago, they switched me over to the generic, simvastatin. I had remembered Doctor Mike telling me to let him know if I began to have unexplained muscle pains and weakness, so I did a little research and it seems like a lot of other people have the exact same symptoms I'm experiencing.

It's too early to say for sure if that's the problem, but I'll call Doctor Mike's office tomorrow and see what they think. I've been spoiled by my ability to walk long distances and do my daily routine without pain, and I'd really like to get back to that state as soon as possible!

(And yes, I'm still exercising... it just requires a little more forethought to accomplish the same results without a lot of pain.)

Household Chores

Ever wonder just how superheroes and supervillains take care of mundane chores like cleaning the house, buying groceries, and the like? Well, here we have at least one example...

(This charming piece of imagination is one of many fascinating things you'll find at this site.)

What's Up? Doc!

You gotta admit, he looks pretty good for a 75 year old guy...

Doc Savage is 75 years old today... sort of. The official release date of the first Doc Savage pulp magazine was February 17th, 1933--which means that Doc as a concept reached the three-quarters-of-a-century mark today. Of course, Doc as a character is (like Superman and Batman and James Bond and other popular culture heroes) ageless, so he'll always be in his mid-30s...

I discovered the Doc Savage novels in 1965, thanks to Bantam's reissue program. These books, with their stunning Jim Bama covers, reintroduced the intrepid adventure hero to a new generation of readers. Once I tried one of the books, I was enthralled; Doc and his assistants were a non-super-powered team of heroes reminiscent of the comic book heroes I loved, but their period-piece adventures conveyed the vital energy of a decade that I knew only through old films and comics.

One friend of mine once described Doc Savage novels (and Perry Mason novels and Shadow novels) as "literary popcorn." They're lightweight, fluffy, can be consumed quickly, and are pretty much always the same--you know what you're getting. I agree with him to a degree, but I always found Doc's adventures to be a bit more satisfying than either Perry Mason or Shadow novels. Perry Mason books were too dry and lifeless for me, and Shadow novels are great at conveying mood, but the stories themselves are usually unfocused. Doc's adventures, though, were taut, fast-paced, plot-driven, and filled with fantastic elements--thanks in large part to the deft literary craftsmanship of Lester Dent, who wrote most of the Doc Savage novels. (I'm aware they say they're by Kenneth Robeson--that's a house pseudonym, but Dent did all the really good Doc Savage novels.)

Nostalgia Press is bringing back the Doc Savage books in double-adventure collections; unfortunately, only a few of them have featured the Jim Bama covers that epitomize Doc Savage for those of us reading them in the 1960s. The remainder feature the pulp covers from the 30's and 40's, which depict a much more mundane take on Doc. Even so, I'd rather have 'em in print with the pulp covers than not in print at all...

Monday, February 11, 2008

Gone Too Soon

Steve Gerber left us yesterday.

Anyone who has been to Gerber's website knows that he's been struggling against increasingly debilitating pulmonary fibrosis; he has continued to work in comics while trying to get on a list for a lung transplant... his only hope of a long-term life extension. Unfortunately, he passed away yesterday after getting on the list, but before getting the transplant.

I remember Gerber most fondly for his work on Defenders and Omega the Unknown, but the rest of the world will always associate him with his most quirky creation, Howard the Duck. To many, Gerber was Howard... well, except for the feathers, of course. The stories morphed from fairly straightforward superhero spoofs and social satires to surreal commentaries on contemporary life--and along the way, they lost me. But I admired Gerber for making the series so personal that no one else has ever been able to adequately continue the Duck's saga in comics.

I also admire Gerber for continuing to work through his illness, refusing to give in to an all-but-certain fate.

Steve was only sixty. He deserved many, many more years.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Speaking of TV Guide...

... for the first time I can recall, I will not be receiving or reading this magazine in the future.

When I was a child in the 1960s, my parents subcribed to TV Guide, and I looked forward to getting the magazine in the mail on Tuesday or Wednesday. It listed programming for the next week, and I would scour the listings for monster movies I hadn't seen, TV shows I wanted to watch, etc. This was in the days before DVRs or VCRs or the like, so the only way to see a program was to watch it when it aired (sounds barbaric, doesn't it?), which is why I spent a great deal of time making sure I knew the air-times of the shows I wanted to see, whether the episodes were new or rerun, and the like. And of course, I would read the articles for the latest news about television programs I enjoyed, cast changes, cancellations, and other television-related news.

The highlight of the year for a TV Guide reader was the Fall Preview issue, when they offered an advance look at all three networks' schedules (there were only three back then, honest!), along with a concept synopsis and cast listing for each show. I would spend hours going through that issue to determine which shows I wanted to watch.

When Susan and I got married, I subscribed to TV Guide on my own, and have continued to receive it for almost 37 years now. But my subscription expires in May, and I see no reason to renew it.

First off, it's not really a guide any more; it lists general network programming, but it doesn't include a detailed listing for programming on the specific channels that I receive.

Secondly, the content has become a bit more lightweight and gossipy over the years; some of the columnists are actually so simple-minded that it's embarrassing to read their work week after week.

As far as TV news is concerned, there are better sources for that nowadays.

Even so, I feel a little nostalgia for the publication that was once the best-selling magazine in America. If a long-time supporter like me is leaving the ranks, I hate to speculate on how many others must have said goodbye long before...


Somehwere in Stafford, Virginia, lives Suzette Gomez Zaginailoff, a woman who is far more concerned with finding offense than she is with actually understanding how the words she uses work together to form sentences.

Next week's TV Guide includes a letter from her which says, "I do believe that, thanks to Dennis Haysbert's character on 24, people will be more accepting of Barack Obama in office [this is in response to a piece TV Guide ran on 1/21 in their Breaking News section]. My problem is with the fact that you wrote Haysbert played a black president. Haysbert is black. He does not play black!"

Apparently Ms. Zaginailoff decided that grammar was optional, so she opted out of any comprehension of how subjects, verbs, and objects work. For those who are as clueless as Zaginailoff, though, let me explain:

A direct object is, in simple terms, a noun that generally comes after a transitive verb; in effect, it receives the action of the verb directly. In the sentence "Haysbert played a black president," Haysbert is the subject; played is the verb. A direct object is often found by asking the question "subject + verb + what?" Haysbert played what? President. (Remember, the object must be a noun, not an adjective; black is an adjective describing president.)

At no point does this sentence state that Haysbert "played black."

I realize this is heady, intellectual stuff, but let's hope that at some point one of her friends will attempt to educate Zaginailoff so that in the future she doesn't come across as a Jethro Bodine with a chip on her shoulder...

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Didja Miss Me?

Yeah, I've been gone for almost a week now. Well, not gone in the physical sense, but gone from this site. Lotsa reasons why, none of them particularly important.

So what's happened since last we chatted? Well, I picked up an iPhone.

Yeah, I know what I said.

So let's look at the points that I cited when I initially passed on this phone back in June of last year.

First the software issue: since the time I wrote, Apple has created an easy way for users to make their own ringtones; they've improved several software features; and they seem to be making progress on some of the things that should be here, like voice-activated dialing (I'm surprised this one is so late) and text editing.

Then there's the space. They just released a 16gb model, and it sells for less than the 8gb sold for when I wrote my initial commentary on the iPhone back on June 26th.

The plan? Well, ATT offered me a Unity plan, which allows me free unlimited calls to any ATT line, whether mobile or landline, and that covers about 70% of my phone calls. Even better, with this plan, I get unlimited data (except for 200 text messages--while I don't use text messaging, it should be included as a data transfer) and a second shared line for Susan, and I save $60 a month over what I was paying Sprint.

The glass face still worries me, but so far the breakage rate seems to be remarkably low.

And the distribution system has gotten better--I signed up for a plan, got a phone, ported my number, and paid for everything in less than a half an hour.

So count me as one who has succumbed to the iPhone temptation...