Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I'll Side With Santa

This morning, I saw an egregiously offensive TV spot that cast Santa as a Christmas grinch who ends a nasty tirade with the words, "I don't do poor countries." So who's responsible for the commercial?


Guess what? I no longer do UNICEF. I'd rather side with Santa instead.

I considered posting a link, but I find the commercial to be so bilious that I chose not to do so. If you want to see it for yourself, search on Youtube. It's still there, for now at least...

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas...

Tonight I found myself truly moved by the Christmas spirit for the first time this season.

It's been a somber December; various matters have conspired to make it difficult for me to look beyond the immediacy of the moment, to experience something broader than right now. I haven't ignored Christmas, but it hasn't become a part of my life the way it used to so many years in the past.

Tonight, though, I put Comic Shop News #1282 to bed and decided this would be a good time to wrap presents for some of my friends who'll be gathering at the store tomorrow evening. And it was the wrapping paper that truly reminded me of the joys of Christmases past.

The red and green striped paper with a gold filigree pattern overlaying the green--I bought that paper at Belk's in Rome in happier times when we had the Horseleg Creek farmhouse, when Mom and Dad were still in active and healthy, when Cole and Jess were younger and filled with that mixture of sullenness and silliness that typifies childhood, when Kim's laugh filled the holiday house at Marchmont, when Dad would sing along with every Christmas song, and when the den of their home was so packed with Christmas gifts and knicknacks and decorations that maneuvering through the room was at times challenging. I wrapped DVD's for Dad in that paper; I gave Mom a replacement remote for her favorite GoVideo dual deck VHS unit, and it was wrapped in that paper.

The blue paper? Kmart paper from the now-defunct Kmart in West Rome. Kim's computer was wrapped in that paper, and I remember the startled look on her face when we gave it to her.

The heavy, extra-wide roll of NOEL paper in burgundy and gold and hunter green? That came from Costco, when Costco was relatively new to Kennesaw; it has wrapped wall clocks and sets of dishes and sheets and so many other oversized gifts over the years... and I can remember the smiles and laughter and "Oh, you shouldn't have," the sincere gratitude and pleasure that makes gift-giving so wonderful.

So many rolls of paper--a few date back more than a quarter century, fragments that go back four houses now, from our Carillon home to our Milstead home to our Horseleg home all the way to Sumit Wood Drive, the first home we ever owned. I remember wrapping gifts in that paper in the vaulted ceiling living room, with starlight visible through the skylight if I turned off the living room lights... or was it the reflection of Christmas tree lights instead? It was starlight in my memory, so starlight it is...

Gift boxes with tags written by loving hands that are ceased writing tags far too soon. Tissue paper used and re-used so many times it is almost limp, but there's still a little more holiday happiness to be drawn from its holiday pastels.

And I remembered all those Christmases, all that happiness that comes with giving a gift that truly means something to the recipient. I remember the fretful days of worrying that the gifts weren't good enough, or there weren't enough of them.

It's the love, not the gift, that we recall most of all.

And those richly colored rolls of paper overwrap more than gifts. They wrap up moments of happiness so intense that they have embedded themselves in the fibers of the paper, and every time I spread a roll of paper on the floor to trim a piece just the right size for a book or a bottle of perfume or a DVD or a framed photograph, the memories are released.

And it's Christmas again... every Christmas... and every loved one is still there. They haven't left--they're just hiding away, waiting to pleasantly surprise me in an unexpected moment.

And I am overwhelmed by the Christmas spirit, and I truly remember what Christmas joy is...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sad But True But Sad Still...

Ever since I read this installment of Crankshaft back on November 27th, it's haunted me... because what Crankshaft (or more specifically, creator Tom Batiuk) is describing here is precisely what I saw happen to Dad as his world grew smaller and smaller with each passing year. Apparently it's far more symptomatic of old age than I ever realized. Even so, it makes me sad to realize that so many of the people who were so independent throughout their lives face a diminishing world as they get older... (Strip copyright 2011 by Tom Batiuk and King Features Syndicate)

Monday, December 12, 2011

POP Doesn't Go E-Mail

For the past two days, my / POP email account has failed to work. I can't connect to check mail. I know that mail is coming in, because I can log in via iCloud or IMAP service and read the mail. I could forward the e-mail to my Gmail account, but Apple still has an archaic 200-emails-per-day limit, at which point they cut off your account, so I'm just having to let emails pile up in the box, respond to the most urgent via IMAP, and hope that Apple gets this fixed sometime soon.

The first experience was not very encouraging, however. Spend 45 minutes on the phone with 2 reps, and both of them basically said, "Hmmm..." followed by "Oh, well..." I was promised that someone at higher level tech support would investigate and find a solution right away, but that hasn't happened. He also said he was sending me a text transcript of our chat, but he didn't--and for some reason, the "email" button that appeared at the end of our chat was grayed out, so I coudn't select it.

Why is this inconvenient? Because, while I use my address as my primary public email address, I actually have a Gmail account set up to check my POP accounts and aggregate the email at one central address. I can respond to each email from the address to which the original mail was sent. I can even SEND email from my POP account, I just can't receive email.

At first the tech rep thought it was a computer problem, but I told him that it simultaneously failed to work on a total of 16 different computers using four different ISPs; it also quit working on my various IOS 5 devices and through Gmail. The rep finally checked and verified that it was NOT working to receive mail, although he had no idea why.

I know that things can go wrong--it's how a company addresses the issue that's a real measure of success. I've never known Apple to leave me hanging for days with a problem like this. I've also never known them to fail to contact me right away when they said they were going to.

Hope I can get this working sometime in the near future. I am currently anticipating a Sisyphusian ordeal whereby I have to call Apple again, wait for a while, explain the problem once again, prove that it's not a local computer issue, then listen to another rep go "Hmmm..."

Come on, Apple--prove me wrong and get this resolved!

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Tooth, the Whole Tooth, and Nothing But...

I have been cursed with bad teeth. I wish that weren't the case, but it seems to be a family thing; both Mom and Dad had dentures because their teeth were so bad when they were younger that they were advised to have them removed and replaced.

Both my sister Kimberly and I have had to deal with frequent fillings, crowns, root canals, etc., over the years. Thursday morning, I'm having to have an extraction and implant procedure done to a tooth that already had had three crowns and a root canal; by the time it's all over, this tooth will represent more than $10,000 worth of dental work and discomfort.

Recently, I've been putting a lot of attention into dental matters, hoping to find a way to reverse this trend; I'm already having my teeth cleaned and checked every four months and still can't get the problem under control. My research has led me to a couple of items: xylitol and glycyrrhizol A. Both of them target Streptococcus mutans, the bacteria that causes dental caries and the subsequent cavities; I'm trying to take an aggressive approach to S. mutans hoping that I can prevent the cavities and save my teech.

In case you want to check any of it out, here's a distillation of the various things I"m using, along with links to some of the articles that led me to give this stuff a try.

As I said, I'm trying xylitol and Glycyrrhizol A lollipops, along with a twice a day baking soda rinse (4 ounces water, one teaspons baking soda) to reduce oral acidity, which is necessary for dental caries) and use of ACT flouride mouthwash and a remineralizing toothpaste. Time will tell if any of this works, but I'm certainly willing to invest a small amount of money and a few months of time to give it a try.

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol extracted from birch bark that has anti-microbial qualities and seems to particularly work against streptococcus mutans, the bacteria that causes cavities--

Here's a good source for low-calorie xylitol mints that offer 1/2 gram of xylitol per 1.2 calorie mint. (The recommended dose is 6 to 10 grams of xylitol per day.) I'm also trying xylitol in crystallized form (use it like sugar--only about 2/3 as sweet, but one or two cups of coffee a day sweetened with xylitol gives you the recommended dose of xylitol).

In addition, I'm using Dr. John's herbal lollipops, formulated by Dr. Wen-yuan Shi. This sugar-free lollipop uses stabilized Glycyrrhizol A, a licorice root extract that has been stablized to eliminate its ancillary tendency to slightly increase blood pressure.

Here's an article extract from a paper that Dr. Shi presented to the International Journal of Oral Science on the benefit of this formulation.

Here's another interesting article by Dr. Shi on oral health and cavity prevention.

This article discusses the benefits of xylitol, offering some pretty strong documentation in support of its positive effects on dental health.

And here's an article that's particularly intriguing and shows a great deal of promise for future developments, as it discusses his work on a targeted anti-microbial peptide (which I suspect is a part of the super mouthwash he is developing).

If you want to know more about that mouthwash, here's the news story that first alerted me to research and development efforts currently underway (and yes, they involve Dr. Shi).

If you want to check out Dr. Shi's credentials, here you go--it's obvious this isn't some herbal-health guru, but a trained professional who knows his stuff.

And finally here's a link to Kiss Your Dentist Goodbye, a book that offers a lot of good info about all of this; it's available in print form or as an eBook.

Hope some of this does some good for anyone else out there who, like me, feels like dental health is a losing battle in spite of multiple daily brushings, flossings, mouthwash applications, etc.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Dan Biggers Passes

Dan Biggers, an educator, patron of the arts, and actor (who, among many other roles, played Dr. Frank Robb in the TV version of In the Heat of the Night), passed away on Monday. As the news has gotten out, I've heard from several people who thought that he might have been my dad. He wasn't; my father was Don Biggers (full name was Donald Clifford Biggers--and yes, I'm Donald Clifford Biggers, Jr., I'm very proud to say), formerly writer, sports editor, city editor, and managing editor of the Rome News-Tribune and a man who served as a county commissioner and who was active in supporting and promoting high school sports. (Dad passed away in 2007.)

But the confusion is understandable; in fact, Dan Biggers and I often joked about the fact that his move to Rome in the 1960s led to decades of mix-ups. Obviously, the similarities in names--Don Biggers and Dan Biggers--led to many mixups. For years, we got one another's phone calls--and even occasionally received one another's mail!

Then Dan Biggers became dean at Berry College, where he was frequently referred to as Dean Biggers. My mother's name was Dean, so she too was Dean Biggers. You can see the many mixups that might have come from that. I remember when they were introduced at one point--"Dean Biggers, I'd like to introduce Dean Biggers. And Dean Biggers, this is Dean Biggers."

I was lucky enough to get a scholarship to Berry College, which I attended from 1971 to 1975; ironically, Dan Biggers became Dean of Students in 1971--the exact same time that I joined Berry as a freshman. I sometimes wondered if the fact that my last name was Biggers might have worked in my favor from time to time when it came time to get a schedule changed or to get in an otherwise full class, even though I never attempted to use the surname to my advantage (although many friends said I should have!).

Our paths crossed many times over the years. At one point, Dan Biggers was hosting a cable-channel local news-and-interview program in Rome, and he asked me to make an appearance on the show to talk about science fiction, comics, fandom, and to plug a local SF convention that Gary Steele, Larry Mason, Susan, and I were hosting in Rome. As always, Dan was personable and very amiable prior to the broadcast, spending about twenty minutes just catching up. When the show began, though, I witnessed Dan's screen personality come out; it wasn't different than his normal personality so much as it was an intensification of the Dan Biggers I knew, as if he has distilled everything that typified him and made it stronger, more concentrated. At that point, I realized that this was a man who knew how to project for the cameras, so it was no surprise that he found a career in acting as well. I was always proud to see him in a television or film role, and happy that he had found such success in something he loved to do.

I lament his passing; he was a good man who did many beneficial things for the Rome community, and I was glad I had the chance to know him.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Life Is What Happens to You When You're Busy Making Other Plans...

It's always surprising when life presents you with unanticipated circumstances that force you to re-evaluate everything you have planned. Not ready to talk about the details, but if I seem distracted or preoccupied, there is a reason...

Kindling Interest...

I loaned my pal Charles my black and white Kindle 3G for the weekend; Charles and I are both avid fans of the printed book, but as I told him, there are some times when the convenience of the Kindle is hard to surpass. A good example of a work that I enjoyed on the Kindle was the new Stephen King book; while I have a printed copy, it's a hefty, burdensome book, and it doesn't balance well on my chest when I'm lying on the floor reading (in fact, my chest actually began to hurt after a while because I kept resting the bottom edge of the spine on my surgical scar, which is sensitive to this day for some reason I can't explain). So I tried 11/22/63 on the Kindle, and found it to be a very pleasant experience. The page width is sufficiently narrow that I don't have to move my eyes from side to side at all--just straight down the page, taking in a line at a time.

Since Charles is now reading 11/22/63 as well, I figured it would be a great way for him to test out the Kindle, too. So I brought him my Kindle and the charger last weekend. He called today and, as I suspected, found the Kindle to be very handy--compact, portable, light-weight, easy to read.

Of course, neither Charles nor I are looking to replace books with Kindles--but it's a nice supplement when you want to take a variety of reading material with you, but don't want to invest in a rolling bookshelf. It's also very handy for public-domain books (thousands of titles right there for your enjoyment, no investment other than the hardware) and I find it to be very useful for non-fiction, where I'm just looking for the information, not the package itself.

I also showed him the iPad, and we discussed its advantages (larger, more detailed screen, color, a more booklike interface that has you "flipping pages" without a black screen in between page builds) and disadvantages (the glass screen is reflective, so glare can be an issue), and it's a little larger and heavier than the small black and white Kindle). If Charles wants to borrow an iPad to test it out, that's easily do-able, too; it's the best way to decide which device meets your needs, after all!

We'll see soon enough whether Charles becomes a Kindle owner...