April 2011


The first time I worked for money outside of my parents’ home I was 12 years old.  The Morongo Basin Ambulance Association hired me and my best friend John to move a pile of gravel from one spot to another with shovels.  I think we got paid a dollar an hour.  It was summer in Joshua Tree, and so around 100 F (maybe 45 C for Canadians), and the pile of gravel was huge.  After a couple hours I still could not see that we had made a dent in the pile and I complained that we would never finish this job.

John was bigger and stronger than me and remained more in touch with his logical faculties.  He said, “It doesn’t matter if we can’t see a dent.  As long as we keep shoveling gravel, we know that we are making progress, and that we will eventually be done.”

It is hard to argue against that, so I am thinking of John while I am working on my Formal Client Presentation, which is the Master’s thesis of my Couples and Family Therapy program: a monster paper incorporating all of the theory and practice that we have learned in two years, plus a presentation of video of me using all of that during therapy sessions.  It is going so slowly that each time I come back to it, I feel as if I had made no progress. But I know as long as I am typing new words each time I must be making progress, and that means eventually I will be done.

Thanks John!

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Fair warning: This post is kind of gross.

I went swimming with Akira tonight and in the locker room I saw an elderly man with shocking feet.  This guy’s feet were crusted with fungus. His toenails were thick and white, and extended way past the ends of his toes. His skin was briney and cracked, and the cracks were bristling with fungus.

I think, “Darn. Not a good day to forget my flip-flops. I have to walk on the same floor as him.” I’ve been pretty rigorous about wearing flip-flops in locker rooms ever since I caught a fungus in the Eugene YMCA many years ago. (At least I think it was at the Y. How can you really tell?) It was a crappy case because it was exacerbated by sunlight, which is unusual. I could not go barefoot in the sun for years without it flaring up. And I love going barefoot in the sun. I went to a dermatologist in Springfield who said, and I quote, “I have never heard of that. I cannot help you with that.” I eventually cured it last summer with this wearying routine: I bought every topical antifungal I could find (tolnaftate, clotrimazole, miconazole nitrate, terbinafine hydrochloride, and butenafine hydrochloride) and used them twice a day, morning and night, rotating the medication every four days, until there had been no symptoms for 30 days. No flare-ups since then, even barefoot in the sun.

So I was walking around the locker room, feeling creeped out about invisible fungal spores everywhere, and it hit me that the place was teeming with people who were not wearing flip-flops. No one was wearing flip-flops at all. And I imagined that no one else was thinking about fungus, just running around, taking showers, getting dressed. Locker room stuff. I think, “These people are probably not going to go home with a fungal infection, and I’m probably not either, but this guy did at some point, and so did I, and what’s the difference?” Did that guy have feet like that because he’s old and has had a long time to collect crazy fungi with them? Is it because his immune system is not functioning in some way? Is it because his skin is extra-susceptible for some reason? Why him and not these kids? Why him and hopefully not me?

I don’t watch my blog site stats like I used to, but I still feel happy when they cross a (n arbitrary) line like this. I had 2,024 hits in March, more than twice as many as last March, and four times as many as the March before that. Should I hope for breaking 4,000 in March 2012?

I’ve been a commute cyclist since 1992, biking between several hundred and a couple thousand miles a year, mostly in 15-30 minute chunks. I’ve also been a lap swimmer since the mid-80s. In October of 2010 I was diagnosed and treated for a sacroiliac sprain, which basically means that one of my pelvic bones had gotten stuck, rotated backwards compared to the bottom of my spine, called the sacrum. Part of the treatment was refraining from all exercise except walking for several months, while the joint healed. A big change. In January I started adding exercises back in, and last month I started biking and swimming again, slow and careful.

In the meantime, I had been paying close attention to my posture, and doing a lot of physiotherapy for my spine and hips. My experience the effects of biking and swimming is quite different than it used to be. The bikes that I’ve tried now feel badly designed. They make me lean forward too far, hunch my shoulders, round my upper back, and jut my neck forward. And after biking even a few minutes, my low back feels all crunched up, especially in the L5/S1 region, and my psoas muscles feel tight. Swimming feels good while I’m doing it, but afterwards my shoulders are rounded forward and my thoracic curve is exacerbated. Both exercises feel like they are working against the progress I’ve made with my posture.

Can anyone recommend some stretches or exercises to specifically counteract the negative effects of swimming or biking? (I mostly swim freestyle/crawl.) I’d appreciate the help!

My friend Tilke sent me a link to this short film depicting synesthesia, writing “This is what it’s really like.”

Folks with synesthesia experience what those without it might call a mixup of the senses–seeing sounds, feeling colors, that kind of thing. The most famous way synesthesia shows up is with the alphabet: A synesthete might see letters in different colors. It’s not that they associate colors with letters, they will actually see an “N” as inherently brown, for example, or an “E” as red. Numbers can have colors, too. Imagine how different your experience of reading or math would be if words and equations had color schemes!

At first I was fascinated by synesthesia in terms of what might cause it–maybe it’s the result of incomplete synaptic pruning, for example. In a lecture by Dr. Ed Awh in his Cognitive Psychology class a few years ago, though, I realized that synesthesia is more like a super power than a problem. Here’s a slide from the lecture:

 

Difficult, slow search for most of us, because we have to look at each digit to determine whether it’s a 2 or a 5. A synesthete with colored numbers does not have to do this, because color is what cognitive psychologists call a primary-search quality. Differences in color jump out at you. Imagine the same field of 2s and 5s, except the 2s were blue and the 5s were red. You could pick out the 2s immediately, like I saw Tilke do. A superpower!

In a part of the new Seminar About Long Term Thinking, “Deep Optimism,” Matt Ridley talks about the ethics of buying local. Apparently, the amount of fuel used to ship an object to a store in the US from a factory in China is on average ten times smaller than the fuel you use to drive to the store to buy it. There are other factors in the ethics of buying local, of course, but it may be that how you get to the store is a more important decision than how far away the object you want was made or grown. It makes me wonder where buying mail-order falls in terms of fuel efficiency. Will we see Amazon asking us to buy from them to protect the planet?

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