Movie review and random updates

Just got back from watching the movie Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, at the local art house cinema. I thought it was very good--I was mostly expecting a dry, Frontline-style documentary for the most part, or maybe something a bit more shrill and pedantic. Instead, I felt like I got a good feel for the leadership of the company--the out and out lying that they did (contrasting the recorded conversations and memos with congressional testimony) was pretty brazen. It left me shaking my head about not having confidence with, well, large corporations and the business world in general, to be honest.

It did have one of the more incongruous scenes that I have seen in a movie all year. One of the Enron leaders (Lou Pai) went to strip clubs after work all the time, charging it to the company expense account. The narration described how he was concerned primarily with the money and the numbers at the company. So that segment showed strippers gyrating on stage to Einstein on the Beach (Knee 1: One, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three....). Man... doing a strip club act to Philip Glass... that's definitely a new one for me....

Incidentally, this guy divorced his wife and married his stripper girlfriend... one of those, "How can anyone think this situation is going to end up well?" cases.

All in all, I thoroughly recommend this movie if you get a chance to see it.

As a random other thought, moving to another country required me to entirely restock my pantry. As a result, I have a very good idea of how much of various foods I consume in a given amount of time. I concluded that 1 8-oz container of chili garlic sauce lasts me for about a year.

I guess that's an argument not to stay for a PhD--I will be finishing up this second container about the time I'm wrapping up, if I take two years for the Master's. On the flip side, at my current rate, I might have enough trash bags to last through a PhD.

Tried out a new Thai-Vietnamese restaurant in Waterloo--had the fried shrimp on sugar cane skewers, and a nice bowl of pho with beef and meatballs. It was pretty good--assuming that the meatballs are always supposed to be rubbery: this has always been my experience. Someday, I will be adventurous enough to try pho with beef tendon or tripe--cuisine from places where they value the animal enough not to throw out a good portion of it. I've been meaning to try one of the Vietnamese places in Kitchener, but have been warned that some of them could be on the show Who Wants to Have Some Serious Gastric Distress.

Classes are going all right--I really haven't buckled down and started studying yet, which is making me nervous--only the occasional panic attack right now. Once I start hammering down some work, I think I should start feeling better about the term. I am nervous, though, because a week-long work trip to Vancouver is being scheduled the week before the midterm in the concrete class.


Even more fun than Deliverance

Spent this weekend on a short canoe trip up in Massasauga Provincial Park, about 3 hours north of Toronto, near Parry Sound. Went with three other guys--somebody I know through school, and two of his friends.

The park was spectacular--it is the first time I have ever been canoing. It was a really neat experience--there are lots of times when I have been either hiking, or just stopping by the side of a highway, and thought, "It would be cool to just be able to wander around that lake, hopping up onto that island if there was something interesting, and then paddling off to another part." Well, that's how canoing basically works.

Like I said, a short trip--drove up on Saturday morning, rented canoes, got on the lake, did a short portage (~300 m), and paddled to our campsite. We set up our tents, switched into swimgear, and wandered around the lake. Perfect weather--short sleeves and shorts. We practiced some drills of dumping the canoe, and then righting it--pretty easy if you have one other canoe upright (canoe over canoe recovery). We also dumped after a race, involving the guys trying to tip the canoes over. Cooked dinner, stayed up late drinking whiskey. It was a short trip, so we brought canned goods. However, between the bunch of us, we did not have a can opener. Sadness. I demonstrated what you could accomplish with a screwdriver and a set of locking pliers ("crack open and pull apart the tough shell to get at the tasty innards....")

Didn't see too much wildlift (a beaver, and a crane)--didn't see any Massasauga rattlesnakes, which are common in the area. We did the return trip the next day; unfortunately, the brief period of rain that day was when we were paddling back and putting canoes on the roof. Suck.

One interesting but slightly uncomfortable point of the trip was that the three others have been close friends since high school, so they have been on many trips like this together. I have noticed that when I hang out with circles of friends from past periods of my life, my behavior often bends towards the character I was during that time. No different with these guys--they definitely reverted to more juvenile behavior. This included giving wedgies to each other the night before we left (hearing underwear getting torn in the dark). While hiking, they found dried deer scat to start throwing at each other. Canoeing turned into ramming and tipping contests (my canoe-mate managed to tip the other guys). We finished a 1.75 of Canadian whiskey between the four of us that night, and I wasn't drinking that hard; the night devolved into them tunelessly yowling classic rock ballads (including Def Leppard and 'American Pie') across the lake.

This probably comes across in writing as being an awful experience, but I looked at it with the detachment of an anthropologist, and with a good amount of amusement. More importantly, they were just a bunch of guys having a good time, and they were definitely having fun. They were being completely friendly with me; it's just that there's a certain level of interaction between them that I was not (and didn't particularly want to be) a part of. One example of the difference of my circle of friends and them: I don't think I've ever been on a camping trip before this where we brought booze. I'm not judging in either way--it was fun to have a few drinks there, but it was never a priority with my friends on the trips to Saguaro, Yosemite, or Big Bend.

Anyway, on the way out, I noticed this particular example of advertising co-branding:

The front of the vending machine reads: PEPSI Discover Your True Nature (Pepsi Cola Canada is a proud sponsor of Ontario Parks). Well, I guess it gives money to the park system, and it's not like they're putting up billboards on the lakes. (up next, "A new life awaits you in the Off-World colonies. The chance to begin again in a golden land of opportunity and adventure...") If I was in a particularly vindictive mood, I'd like to make a hacked version, keeping the same lettering, and replacing the photo with a shoreline littered with soda bottles.


Okay, so I'm a sucker for marketing

Y'know, I'm not a big fan of video games. I haven't really played them since them since the Mac Plus days (don't suppose any of you remember Crystal Quest?) My time is a resource that is valuable enough that I see no reason to trade it in for eyestrain and improved computer reflexes (and a working knowledge of down-down-left-A being the reverse howling backspin kick).

However, when I was grocery shopping, I couldn't resist buying this ceral (which I often buy, anyway) for the CD of free Atari games. Dood. So retro. Nope... haven't gotten to try them out yet. Hope Centipede is on there.

As for other things, I spent this morning with my advisor and chief grad student, who were doing a building consultation on Our Lady Immaculate Church in Guelph, Ontario (about 45 minute to the east of Waterloo). Holy cats... what a gorgeous church... you look over at the hilltop that it covers, and it's right out of a European painting. It's experiencing some masonry cracking, and some consultants are going nuts (i.e., the wooden trusses will fail catastrophically... we need to remove the towers completely)--things that are likely an overreaction. Despite my lack of religiosity, I appreciate the beauty and work put into these buildings, as well as the long term generational aspect of cathedral building. I read a book by George Nash (Renovating Old Houses), and there was a quote that really struck a chord with me:

I’ve often thought that if it were possible to choose another life, in another time, I would be a master builder of a medieval cathedral. In the Middle Ages, builders coordinated an undertaking that involved the spiritual and financial resources of an entire community for generations. In our age, only the devotion of the military-industrial complex to the myth of the Cold War has come close to that shared undertaking. For us, tradition has disintegrated like the mortar of an old chimney: The moral order has been replaced by the technical order, intuitions by institutions, beauty by bureaucracy. Left only with the shards of private mythologies, we build our cathedrals in our backyards and find transcendence in vegetable gardens and remodeled kitchens.

The photos on the church website (e.g., the front elevation) give some indication of the scale and beauty of the building. We were up inside the attic spaces above the pews (looking down about four or five stories), as well as up in the front towers. Lots of ladders. Man... I really don't like heights. Anybody have any recommendations for phobia treatment programs?


Random updates; a belated birthday gift

If any of you are wondering about my coworker who had a seizure on the jobsite, he is doing well now. He had an opinion from a second neurosurgeon, and they decided to operate immediately (last Tuesday), instead of waiting three months to let the AVM heal up for a while. So they did a craniotomy (yes, cutting the scalp and opening up the skull... yikes), and removed the growth. And he flew home this past weekend. The entire concept of surgery has always amazed me--take a living organism, cut and rearrange a few parts, stitch it together, and it works better. Think of the degree of random reconnection involved in, for instance, bypass surgery--we're going to take parts of your leg vein, sew it into your heart, and it'll all work. Wow.

He did have some incredibly kind words about me in an email to the rest of the company:

I will say that when I became aware of everything he did in what must have been an extremely stressful situation, I was very, very impressed, and I owe a large debt to K. that I have now idea how I can ever repay. I hope none of you ever has to go through a medical emergency, but if you do, K. is the guy you want with you when it happens.

Anyway, he is now up and about; he can't drive or use ladders (for obvious reasons), but considering that they removed the AVM, chances of any type of recurrence are typically pretty low.

On Monday, I had two very nice deliveries to my door. First of all, my laptop came back from Fujitsu: they replaced the entire mainboard, no charge. They even replaced the touchpad, which was shiny from use. Fujitsu service officially now rocks again, in my book.

Second, I got a belated birthday present from Paramecium Woman (those who know her will know who I'm talking about; those who don't... well... it won't mean anything either way). The photo shows (left to right), a very nice marble, an OXO grinder with flax seed, and a wooden egg.

Wow. What a wonderfully random and entertaining set of things to get on a Monday.

Bike Rides and Outlet Malls

This weekend, I did a ride down to Cambridge, Ontario (~30 miles round trip)--I biked there in April and wrote about it. It was beautiful weather for a ride; I had been meaning to do this because I have been exploring new routes and trails to get down there. My current route keeps me off the main roads (except for one stretch crossing over the 401 highway), and cuts my time down to about 1 hour (from 1.5 hours last time).

While I was down there, I ran across the Southworks Outlet Mall--an old foundry building from 1874 that was converted into retail space.

I have mixed feelings about this mall ... it's wonderful that a great old building like this is still being used, as opposed to being razed in favor of a tilt-up concrete box store complex. Some could view this as a tribute to and demonstration of the adaptability of buildings over time, which I also think of as a great thing. And it has moved from being a smoke-belching, toxic-foundry-sand-producing element in the center of town to a much 'cleaner' use.

But I find the fact that the use has changed from heavy industry to an outlet mall a bit depressing: the evolution of this building has taken it from the production of real goods to creating an upscale retail shopping experience. Our buildings, and perhaps our lives, are becoming more and more trivial in purpose. It's like that wag that the U.S. economy will soon be composed entirely of importing things from China and selling real estate to each other (Anybody know the source of that line? Google hasn't helped me there.)

I guess there's a reason why shopping malls in general give me the willies. Too much concentrated 'shopping experience' for me, thanks. Also, I've read too much about how malls are designed to extract more money out of consumers. E.g., the clear glass handrails let people on different floors see, "Oh, there's a store I should go to." And the floor layouts are deliberately confusing, so that people will spend more time wandering and impulse shopping. I believe that info is from Coercion: Why We Listen to What "They" Say by Douglas Rushkoff.

Anyway, on a less philosphical note in regards to outlet malls, see this Cat and Girl strip.


Batman and the Magic Dumpsters

One nice thing about having our group's test exposure hut in the backwater part of campus (near the fields of parking lots and the credit union) is that we are over where they park the dumpsters when they're offloading lots of garbage and scrap. Therefore, my walk to the hut often includes a peek into the various rolloff containers. You can probably see where this is going--I have long been a fan of dumpster diving (a.k.a. Grueszing)--don't knock it; I've rescued a table saw from a garbage pile.

Lately, I've been noticing some odd coincidences about what shows up in the dumpster. For instance, the test hut really needed some more chairs (we were dragging around durisol blocks as seating.) A few weeks later, a dumpster filled with metal stacking chairs showed up. A few weeks after that, a fleet of rolling office chairs showed up next to another dumpster.

I've become a big fan of putting our bulky equipment on casters, so that we have a bit more flexibility when we need to work in one part of the hut or another. I looked in the dumpster one day, and it was filled with five sets of rusty but serviceable 4" casters. So I had to climb into the box to retrieve them.

I started thinking about building a bicycle trailer, to further reduce my car use (typical uses would be getting Home Depot runs or moving my toolboxes to the test hut). The very next day, the grounds crew dumps off their load of unclaimed bicycles, and I managed to salvage a pair of wheels.

Finally, I was thinking that we needed some storage lockers at the test hut. I was putting together a plan to buy some materials, when I noticed that there was a set of perfectly sized lockboxes in the magic dumpster. Wow. Retrieved them, put casters on them, and they're good to go.

Man. I think I'm going to wish for a pony next.

BTW--Bird--they seem to drop off rack mount cabinets once in a while. Need a new rack mount?

Jen--how much is it worth to you for me not to retrieve a rack mount for Bill? [grin]


And the term begins...

So the term has started up for me: I am taking one class and sitting in on another one.

I am sitting in on a finite element class: I use finite element simulations as one of the many items in my working toolbox (both thermal and moisture simulations: THERM and WUFI). I thought a better understanding of the calculation engines behind them would be a good idea. In the first class, I thought I appreciated this prof already: he has an entire section of "how your simulations can go wrong and not reflect reality at all" (as well as the fact that many commercial packages out there have this problem in their code). Although the major assignment is going to be writing your own finite element software, I understand why he wants to do that as a teaching tool.

There were a few interesting moments in the class. At one point, the prof asked the class to supply an answer to a question he was working on--it seemed completely obvious to me (having run these types of simulations), so I didn't say anything (the system is symmetric, so you make that border zero flow). When nobody else in the class answered, I spoke up. So fine, I know stuff.

Later on, he was explaining the matrices used to create the 'guts' of the simulation (connecting nodes and elements). He started a matrix multiplication example, and most of the class fell over itself trying to provide the answer. I, on the other hand, have not done linear algebra since the 1980's. And I am not familiar with the term singular matrix. So I definitely have to brush up on some math here, if I'm going to be serious about this class. But it just goes to show just how different I am from a lot of the students around here.

The second class is the one I'm actually taking for credit, and I'm really looking forward to it: concrete durability. It's being taught by a young prof, who comes from the consulting world. I knew he was 'my type of people' when he described the fact that, "These bridges are failing, even though all the facts are known in the literature, because nobody has made the information readily available or pushed it into the codes." This matches up with so much of my experience with the energy efficient building field--it's not a science problem: it's a knowledge-in-the-field problem. He helped put together parts of the Texas Department of Transportation codes on concrete bridge design as part of his PhD thesis--pretty cool stuff. It think it's going to be an incredibly useful class.

I guess my attitude towards classes and school has definitely changed since my undergrad days. First, taking a few classes a term lets me concentrate on the material to an extent that I actually understand it, as opposed to the 'learning by triage' experience at the 'tute (yes, some of my classes got black tags). Second, I think I have a greater understanding of what teachers are trying to convey, why the information is or is not important, and how they are using the tools at their disposal (assignments, reports, exams) to do so. This is partially from my real world experiences: I can now see now that the job of teaching is to cram useful knowledge into the heads of students, as opposed to just trying to bust their balls (as per my undergrad experience). Also, many professors are now in my age cohort or younger (my advisor, Dan, Crusher, Elizabeth, Nikho).

Anyway, my amusing photo for the day:

Man... I thought these things were baby carrots, not toddler carrots.


iTunes and Windows: grrr...

I recently downloaded and installed iTunes 5.0, and started getting very interesting errors. When I ran it as my first application, it started up just fine. However, when I tried to start it after anything else had started, it gave me the error "Ordinal 140 could not be located in the dynamic link library MAPI32.dll" Th'fok? I tried repairing the installation, and the same problem occurred.

Fortunately, I have learned that one excellent way to figure out errors was just to do a Google search the error text string. After a few iterations ("ordinal 140 mapi32.dll itunes"), I found this on Marcus Guske's webpage, which is entirely in German except for quotes on fixing this problem. In an effort to increase his pagerank, and to spread useful knowledge on the net, I am mirroring the fix stated on that page, which seems to be working for me.

From: Mark Sicignano
Part I:

I'm getting an "Ordinal 140 not found" error, and when I run fixmapi, as suggested in this and other threads, it replaces MAPI32.DLL and related files with a version that may be older.

Now iTunes will work, but when I run Eudora, it appears to undo what fixmapi did.
So I'm back to square one.

Is iTunes relying on an older version of MAPI32.dll? I also upgraded to Eudora's latest release as well.

Part II:

OK, I got it working again.

I ran "fixmapi.exe" as some suggested. Then I copied the mapi32.dll from c:\windows\system32 into the iTunes program folder (typically C:\Program Files\iTunes).

This gives iTunes the DLL that it wants, since it's going to look first in the program's run folder first, and then use the path to find mapi32.dll.

Then when I run Eudora, it merrily copies it's prefered version of mapi32.dll into the \windows\system32 folder and now both applications are happy again.

So let me get this straight... This was for some kind of Outlook integration? I don't even have outlook loaded on my machine!

Same here... stupid Outlook... stupid MicroSoft.


Fridge flame

Jen pointed me at the website Treehugger.com--an environmentalist information site. Well, I'm afraid that some of what I've seen comes across as environmentalism lite--this is the bamboo flooring that you can install to make yourself feel better, while your house is 3500 square feet.

I came across this particularly painful post, conjecting how a window on the front of a fridge would save energy, because people would not open and close the door too often to figure out what is inside. This flew into the face of a lot of intuitions I have, so I spent my Saturday night researching and rebutting this claim, in painful detail. I posted this as a comment to the site, but it has not appeared yet. [Ed. note: as of Sunday, it is now on the site; the administrator actually contacted me via email to thank me. Pretty cool.] To wit, here are my thoughts:

--------Begin post here--------

I seriously have to question any savings with this type of a fridge window. I will break down my response into a few sections: insulation of the glass, the energy cost from opening the door, and the overall energy performance.

Glass insulation levels: To take a guess at the insulation value of the glass in this fridge (Sub Zero 648 PROG), I looked at the description: a triple-pane low-E coated unit. To estimate an insulating (R) value, I looked around for similar residential windows, for a ballpark number. The Efficient Windows Collaborative gives a center-of glass U value of 0.14, which is equal to R-7. However, according to this APS document, a whole window (including frame) is more in the range of R-4 to R-5.

In comparison, according to Home Energy Magazine, regular fridge insulation is about R-15. Bottom line: the window is a hole in the front of the fridge with 1/3 of the insulating value, tops.

Energy costs from door opening: This idea of opening the door clobbering your energy bill has always bothered me, because of the fact that air has a really low thermal mass. E.g., you can stick your hand in a 350 F oven; sticking your hand into a 350 F fryolator is not a good idea. I did a few calculations comparing the thermal mass of the air in the fridge with, say, an equivalent amount of water. The specs say the fridge portion is 18.4 cubic feet, or 0.52 cu meter, or 0.62 kg. The equal thermal mass of water is 0.15 kg, or 0.15 liters, or 0.62 cups. So: if you dumped out all the air from the fridge and replaced it with room temperature air, that's about equal to putting in 2/3 of a cup of room temperature water. So it's some energy, but trying to save big amounts by not opening the door sounds questionable to me.

This is not to say that you should leave the door open, or not repair leaky gaskets--those are continuously dumping cold air that needs to be conditioned. My parents had a Japanese fridge back in 1991 that dealt with this well: it would have a beeping warning if the door was open for more than a minute, and it would shut off the cooling while the door was open, so it wouldn't be wasting power there.

Incidentally, in terms of the lighting inside the fridge, based on the specifications and installation guide, the lights are LEDs, which are not adding much cooling load.

Overall Energy Use: The web description of this model is pretty cryptic: it consumes "less energy than a 100 watt lightbulb." Most refrigerators are described in terms of kWh (kilowatt-hours) per year--they're giving an answer in mph, while everybody talks about miles. If we assume that it means the equivalent of a 100 watt light bulb running all year, that works out to 876 kWh per year. If you go to the Energy Star Appliance website, you can compare this use to equivalent-size fridges. This model is in the ridiculously oversized high end (29.8 cu ft combined fridge + freezer), but Energy Star rated fridges in the same size range are around 590-650 kWh. Meaning: this fridge is a real power hog, as would be expected by the lousy insulation on the front (see previous section).

But, you might ask, what about the fact that it "conforms to rigorous Department of Energy standards for residential use"? I would guess that on one of those yellow Energy Guide labels, it doesn't actually go all the way off the right hand side of the scale. By analogy, when people talk about a house "that is built to code" as an example of quality, I have to reply that a house that just meets the building code is the worst house you can legally build without getting thrown in jail.

Remember to think of fridges the same way you think of cars and houses: if you're buying bigger, you'll be paying more to run it. Ultimately, I recommend a refrigerator that meets Energy Star--see this Home Energy Magazine article on why a even a 1990's fridge should probably be replaced for energy reasons.

--------End post--------

Given the fact that this was my Saturday night activity, I suppose it's pretty obvious why the babes are all over me. [smirk]

On a lighter note...

The experimental house that we were working in is a model home, which was decorated by, well, interior decorators. It ends up being almost a caricature of how a 'beautiful magazine house' should be decorated, as opposed to any semblance of a real, human-occupied house.

The worst excess that I found was the pillow proliferation problem, as shown by the photo above. Man... it becomes real work to go to sleep--you need to excavate your bed from under the pillows/cushions. Don't you need another bed to store them while you're sleeping? Hell, there are enough of them there I could probably rack out on the pile of pillow alone. Maybe I have accidentally stumbled upon the strategic pillow reserve: In case of national pillow emergencies, this stockpile is called on to ease the economic shock to the system of a loss of pillows. The pillows are stored by pumping them into underground salt caverns...

Reflection, digestion, and ingestion

OK, I now have gotten a chance to think a bit more on the whole incident with my coworker in Chicago. I got some very nice feedback from my friends on handling the situation--my buddy psycho security guard, who has been through First Responder training, put it pretty well. He said that the teachers say, "You'll probably leave the class knowing 90% of what we taught here. If you can actually put 70% of that to use while you're in the field, under pressure, you're probably doing ok." I guess my problem is that I know what soldiers, firefighters, and police officers say all the time: in crisis situations, the training takes over, and it becomes almost instinctual. In my case, in a crisis, training takes ove.... um.... y'know, all I've ever taken was a CPR class. Everything else I know is random reading and talking to friends who know more about this.

So one priority out of the event: take some kind of first aid or first responder class. Also, having emergency contact information with people you're travelling with is a definitely a good idea. Perhaps they might think it's morbid, but I was the guy who watched the scene in Black Hawk Down where the Delta soldiers were taping blood type info to their boots, and thought, "Man, that's a good idea."

I guess one thing that really sent my 'scare-o-meter' spinning was when I jumped down to check out my coworker, turned him over, and saw the look on his face. He is a great guy, really smart, and good to work with. His face was contorted into a look that crossed somebody in the agony of drowning with your worst 7th grade impressions of 'a retard.' It was at that point that I realized something was really, really wrong (as opposed to really wrong). The other thing that threw me was how quickly the blood was spreading around his head--I now know that scalp wounds bleed like a mother, and direct pressure probably would have done a job on it (if I had something to apply direct pressure with). With the speed of the bleeding, my first reaction was, "Oh my god, has his head cracked open or exploded?"

Anyway, I spent my last evening in the Chicago area at a hotel near Midway Airport. I don't know how familiar most of you are with Midway Airport, but it is right in the middle of a pretty marginal neighborhood of, well, people who couldn't afford to move somewhere not on the jet approach path--the planes are right over the rooftops. If you would permit me a moment of urban planning geekery, the area has really wide roads with fast cars zipping by, resulting in the sidewalks principally being used by the indigent and mentally ill. Not a pleasant place to be.

A few blocks south of the airport on Cicero is Midway Hotel Center: an 'oasis' of hotels and chain restaurants for visiting suburbanites, surrounded by a moat of parking lots to make them feel at home. You can really see just how different it is compared with the local area in this Google hybrid view of the area.

Instead of having dinner at the fine mass market options of on-site dining at TGI Friday's, Dempsey's Irish-American Grill, the Great American Grill and the Courtyard Café, I decided to venture out. Across the street is the Jalapeno Rock Mexican restaurant--a total no-atmosphere, hole-in-the wall place that serves pretty good, cheap Mexican food. Nowhere near as good as Anna's, but a pretty good dinner for under $10. As a plus, there were great big windows on the front, so that if the place was getting held up, a passing police cruiser might see us all holding our hands up. [smile] No food poisoning resulted--all fine. Anyway, remember that your gastrointestinal tract is outside of your body, topologically speaking.

However, I did succumb to the forces of mass marketing: it was clearly time for a beer or two, and the TGIF was within staggering distance of the hotel. It was an acceptable end to the trip: writing postcards, a beer, and a Long Island Iced Tea the size of two fists.

Don't worry: I caught my morning flight without a problem.


Work trips and head trauma

Holy crap what a day. I want to get this written down while it is fresh in my mind; details and analysis will come later.

I am currently on a trip for my former employers in Massachusetts; my coworker A. and I are in the Chicago area. After a morning of work and coming back from lunch, we were headed back towards the test house, hopping up onto a 2' retaining wall. I climbed up just fine, took the computer bag from A. so he could climb up easier. I waited for him to climb up, but he just stood there on the sidewalk, and stood there, and stood there....

"A.--what's up buddy?"
"Hey A.--you there all right?"

Then his eyes then rolled back in his head, and he fell down backwards to the sidewalk. I jumped down from the wall, and saw a pool of blood growing under his head. Oh shit.

Bat's hindsight error #1: If I had been a bit more responsive, I might have jumped down earlier to shake him or check what was going on, in which case the fall might not have been as bad.

He seemed to be having a seizure or something; he was twitching, and his face was distorted in a complete grimace. Nobody was within earshot, as far as I could tell; I made the call to run to get help.

Bat's hindsight error #2: Did I check breathing before leaving? As in A/B/C airway/breathing/cirulation test for CPR? I don't think I could have determined it, based on his spastic twitching; also, what would I do if he wasn't breathing--start CPR and hope somebody showed up?

I sprinted to the sales office, and asked them (as calmly as possible under the circumstances) to call an ambulance/911. Then I ran back to my coworker.

Bats hindsight error #3: I didn't tell them which direction we were from the sales office; we were not within line of sight from the front of the office.

When I got back to him, he was no longer shaking, and seemed to be breathing (although in a lot of pain or something). He was completely unresponsive. I had to roll him onto his side when he vomited (see... living at Tep teaches you things other than how to recognize the smell of marijuana).

Local police were there within minutes; paramedics a few minutes after that (this is a retirement community, so they're used to coming here, although they were not expecting this). He was not responsive to basic awareness tests (date, what is your name, age, etc), although he did look up, and was verbal (when people asked him questions, he said, "Are you talking to me?"). The medics put on a cervical collar, put in an IV, and strapped him down to a backboard. A. was conscious enough to be combative (I think that's another typical head trauma reaction)--trying to pull out the IV and remove the collar. They then sedated him (the paramedics called it 'darting' him).

They medevaced him by helicopter to the nearest Level I Trauma Center (about 30 miles away).

I did not ride with him; I had to call the office to get directions to a hospital I only knew the name of (yay intarnets), and drove there. Once there, as typical for emergency rooms, I just sat around for a few hours, waiting for any information. Not knowing anything sucked--is he not in bad shape, or fighting for his life? I realize that I am not a family member, but I am pretty much the only person he knows in the state right now. However, after asking the new nurse on shift, they let me go back and visit him. As is typical for hospitals, the nurses were super nice and helpful, and I didn't talk to a doctor once. In case you're wondering, I took that photo during the they-aren't-telling-me-anything stage, when all I had to do was stew around, worry, and do logistics crap like extending the car reservation.

He was conscious and doing all right; they moved him from the ER to the neuro/trauma ICU. I stayed with him for several hours, and he could chat, although he was groggy. He seemed to be managing to maintain a sense of humor through this ordeal (e.g., "Well, I guess this is one way to get an afternoon nap..."). They will be doing an MRI on him either tonight or tomorrow; they have stitched up the cut on his head. They are keeping him at least overnight for observation; it is my understanding is this is standard procedure with a head trauma.

I hope that on the scale of things, I generally kept my shit together during this situation. I think I was informative to the police and paramedics on site. I tried to get contact information for his wife and parents to let them know what was going on (however, nobody at the office had that info; it was all on A's cell phone, which was still in his pocket). I dealt with cancelling/extending car, hotel, airline flights, and informing our bosses. I have left voicemail messages for his wife, with A's current status, while she is en route from California.

Now excuse me; I need to finish washing blood and vomit off of my bag (the paramedics needed to elevate his head; they grabbed whatever was nearby; I wasn't planning on arguing with them when they grabbed my bag).

Jean--we should discuss this over a bottle of wine sometime.


Largest Lefty Selection

Really? I would have guessed Cambridge or Berkeley (over Waterloo), myself.

Fresh produce

Being a single guy who doesn't necessarily have time to cook on a regular basis, I've always envied my friends who buy farm shares of local produce. I know that half-shares exist, but I still think that given my odd schedules, a 3 lb shipment of kale would simply mean that the compost bin would be well-fed that week.

However, Waterloo is a town right on the edge of farmland (in fact, farms seem to be getting gobbled up for suburban development in typical sprawl patterns). This means that produce and farm stands are within a pretty close (half hour) bike ride. Found a nice roadside stand; bought the above selection for $6.50. Yes, I realize that the lettuce is iceberg (a poor water delivery system, and little else), but that little money for tomatoes, zukes, red peppers, lettuce, shallots, and scallions is pretty neat. It was one of those places where they say, "Oh, take more scallions--no charge, we're just gonna toss them otherwise." Unfortunately, I found out that the season for the stand ends in September. Pretty sucky timing.

Anyway, one of the neat discoveries on the bike ride was the modern-style windmill up in the cornfields there. I have closer photos, but I wanted to show one that captures what it around it. Not sure if scale is clear from the photo; it's about 5-6 stories tall. Not really sure who owns it, and/or what it is used for (just electricity for a farm, research, etc.) It was moving along at a fair clip that day.

Would be nice to own and run one, someday. A little bit of energy independence.