July 29, 2005

Fun with case reports

O always says I'm such a science geek, and part of the evidence of this is my subscription to the Annals of Improbable Research (AIR) magazine, brought to you by the same people who hold the yearly Ig Nobel prizes for weird science. Besides some feature articles, each AIR magazine includes many citations of actual, published papers which are noted due to the bizarre or mundane study that was conducted, humorous names of the people conducting the study, curious titles, etc. As I read through the short descriptions or titles of these papers, I mark some of them to look up at work later. I work in medical commmunications, for a large medical and science publisher, so I have access to a wide range of journal publications (I've worked there long enough to guess [usually correctly] whether one of the citations in AIR is from a journal I have access to at work. I know, it's sad.)

In one of the AIR issues I was reading recently, there was a citation for a case report from the journal Burns, which was titled "Frostbite of the gluteal region." There weren't any further details in AIR, just the title, which is too bad because the story of how the frostbite occurred is quite worth telling. To quote from the article:
Four patients were referred to the regional burns unit in Birmingham [UK], with frostbite on their buttocks. All patients were contestants in a radio-station 'drop-out' competition and were asked to sit on non-insulated dry ice (−74C). The winner was the person who sat on the dry ice for the longest period, and the prize was a pair of tickets for a pop concert. Each of the four contestants sat on the ice for about 90 min, until the competition was stopped, because one of them was experiencing pain.
The 4 contestants were 3 girls and a guy, ranging from 15-30 years old. The 15-year-old was actually the smartest and wore 10 layers of pants and underwear. She had mild frostbite and was treated as an outpatient. The other three were not so lucky.

The other three were only wearing one pair of pants, which got wet as they sat on the dry ice. They took 11 weeks to 3 months to heal, which included treatment in the hospital and surgery.

A good case report wouldn't be any fun without photos. Oh yes, there are photos. They are very not pleasant photos. But I'm gonna share them anyway for those who are curious. I'll at least put just links to them so you don't have to see them if you don't want to. I wouldn't recommend looking at them if you have a weak stomach or have just eaten. No, really. I wouldn't if I were you. I've been feeling queasy just putting this post together. Thank god the photos are at least in black and white.

The burn only a couple of hours after sitting on the ice
Two days after the injury
Three weeks after injury
Four weeks after injury
Beginning to heal
Day of discharge from hospital

I'm sure this was worth some concert tickets. And I think we've all learned that sitting on dry ice for an hour and a half is a Bad Idea.

Just be happy that I didn't have access to the journal that published the paper "Colorectal foreign bodies": "A pictorial review of colorectal foreign bodies and their extraction."

Next move

After the initial idea and some pondering and some dreaming and, finally, eventually, some research, I have decided that I really would like to go on a working holiday visa for 4-6 months to Australia or New Zealand. I've been wanting to go to either country for quite some time now, and this is the perfect way of doing more than travelling, but not moving permanently quite yet. In most cases with these visas, you have to be under 30, so I have to do it now while I still can. So I've been quite excited about the idea over the past couple of days after I did research online into what was possible for Americans. Though I'm already worrying about getting stuff sorted out, especially financially, but I tell myself that I've done this before, when I went to England for 6 months, and I was only a student then, it should be much easier to save up now.

I haven't decided yet even which country to go to. There are pros and cons about each visa and each country, but that decision can come later. I fortunately know people in both countries who can give me tips and possibly a future floor to crash on. I think it will be awhile before it all happens, my initial plan is to use the next year to gather info, save money and plan, and then actually go sometime in 2007. Keep watch for developments...

July 28, 2005

Strangest (work-related) thing I've done today

I was entering names into Outlook and someone's name was German and had an umlaut in it. Rather than try to figure out how to insert an o with an umlaut, I hopped over to Google for some help (which, by the way, is back; amazingly Google had been restored while I was off on holiday. I didn't have faith that that would happen, so it was a surprise), trying to find an o-with-umlaut to copy into Outlook. What page should be my help but a Wikipedia entry on heavy metal umlauts? That Wikipedia has everything. In case you couldn't guess from the title, the article is about primarily heavy metal bands adding umlauts to their band names or album titles to give it a German look. Many examples are cited, especially for artists that use them gratuitously.

Some interesting trivia bits I picked up from the article:
-"In 1988, Jim Henson and General Foods released a breakfast cereal, Cröonchy Stars, based on the popular Swedish Chef muppet."
- "In the mid-1980s, cartoonist Berkeley Breathed parodied the heavy metal umlaut in the comic strip Bloom County with the fictional group Deathtöngue, fronted by the depraved and unwholesome singer/'lead tongue' 'Wild' Bill Catt and infamous for the songs 'Let's Run Over Lionel Richie With a Tank', 'Clearasil Messiah' and 'U Stink But I Love U'."
- "Gay heavy metal band/cabaret act Pink Stëël have two consecutive gratuitous umlauts, the first such instance in a band name." (That's quite the descriptor of the band, but in the next sentence it gets better. There's the band, Blöödhag, described as being a "library/scifi metal band." Rock on. But very quietly.)

July 27, 2005

They're not gonna try to blow them up, are they?

In a news story from Portland's KATU news, Seaside, on the coast, has been innundated with tons of dead, stinky anchovies. The town's mayor says the plan is to wait for the tide to take them back out to sea. This is an infinitely more logical plan than the infamous story of an Oregon coast town in 1970 deciding to get rid of a beached whale by loading it with dynamite and blowing it up. All this succeeded in doing was to spread bits of the smelly whale all over the town. One large piece of blubber landed on a car, denting its roof. At least we can assume that in the anchovy case, it would be too much work to load them all up with dynamite.

July 26, 2005

Bored. Soooo bored.

And soooo procrastinating. I couldn't help but open up Internet Explorer one more time, to read anything online rather than work, and popped over to Tomato Nation. What should Sars' latest essay be about but procrastination, heh. What timing. Though the end of the essay is just painful: "Find something to write about besides 1) how it's so hot that 2) I can't write anything." Oh, to be hot. It's a long-ago dream, fading away with each passing fall-like day. Yet another Dutch summer sitting around waiting for the actual summer. And in the meantime back in Portland it's in the 90s, and not meant to be below 80 for awhile. It's so cruel.

In other news, I've won over O's protests that he doesn't like playing games (except for those times that we, you know, played games, which somehow was the exception to the rule) by getting him hooked on one of the card games I bought in the States. It's a very silly game where the players are all roommates and must deal with the rude people their roommates bring over, try and have fun despite a lousy job and no income, and occasionally try to get some sleep. We've played it about 5-6 times in two days, heh. And we still have two other games to try out...

July 17, 2005

Notes from Chicago and Portland

So, some stories about what we did in the US... Photos from O still to come, though on his site he's put up a photo or two from the trip already. I have a lot of restaurants to rave about, but I'll do that on my Virtual Tourist page, at some point.


- In terms of typically touristy things, here's what we did: Millennium Park, boat tour on the Chicago River and the lake, Shedd Aquarium, Grant Park and Buckingham Fountain, up to observation deck of the John Hancock Building, a lot of wandering around the Loop, and walking up and down Michigan Ave more times than I'd recommend any human being doing.
- We went to Wired's Nextfest, which was on Navy Pier. It was a cool exhibition of expensive toys and things that might one day make our lives easier - or just remain too-expensive pipe dreams. The exhibit was divided into areas like space exploration, transportation, medical, entertainment, etc. Some of the cool things I remember: a game that used 6 people working together, blowing into a cup equipped with a fan, to make a hot air balloon move around in a game; a game where two people faced each other across a table and strapped on headbands that measured certain brainwaves and the person with the quieter brainwaves won (a ball rolled across the table toward the person with the higher brainwaves, and you lost when it reached the goal in front of you) (I was crap at it and lost 3 times to O); a NASA guy talking to someone about the airplane he had a hand in designing that was meant to fly around Mars (I just found it amazing to hear directly from someone who was actually designing something like that about the obstacles they'd had and have and about how it worked, etc.); a young guy, who'd lost 1 arm and both legs, demonstrating his high-tech artificial limbs that were more human-like in response than ever. I found one section of Nextfest pretty funny: a place where supposedly forward-thinking products were shown that are already available to the general public. I found it funny because one product on display here was the Senseo machine, all touted as being all the rage in Europe, heh. Also on display was a Smart car, with a similar "popular in Europe" announcement. All the Americans were probably wondering what the hell you'd want with such a small car.
- We went one day to a tourist office to get a transport card for unlimited use of the buses and El. We were helped by this young Hispanic guy with long hair who didn't hide his boredom with working in the quiet office on a Sunday. But after helping us, he noticed O's shirt with a panda under attack and asked in a suddenly sad voice why they were throwing bombs at the panda and just kept looking at the shirt and going (in a rather girly, high-pitched voice) "awwww. Poor panda." It was hilarious.
- We hung around one afternoon at the Millennium Park fountain which was swarming with mostly kids finding some relief from the heat. I usually am peeved at kids, but this time I just felt really happy watching them frolicking about, being happy for a summery day, standing there looking at the skyline of Chicago in front of me. The fountain consists of two really tall rectangular pillars that project video of faces of random Chicagoans. It goes through a cycle of being calm, then suddenly a massive jet sprays out of the pillars, looking as if it's being spit out of the mouth of the face being projected, then it stops only to be replaced with water pouring off the top of pillars. The brave kids pile around the bottom of the pillars waiting for the water to coming pouring out, which looked very forceful, I'd imagine like standing under a rather tall waterfall. For the less adventurous, or those not seeking to get soaked, the area between the pillars is covered with a layer of water. I took off my shoes and padded about in there. Various kids however splashed through there or rolled around in the water. Some adults rolled around with them. I loved watching two 50-something grandparents with their little granddaughter, who was at a just-walking age. The granddad was running around after the kid, I think hoping she wouldn't fall into the water and get all wet, and the grandma was standing at the side with the stroller laughing her head off.
- We salvaged a hot afternoon when we went up to bum around Wicker Park but got too hot to walk more than necessary. We saw a 7-Eleven and stopped in for slurpees, then went over to the actual park of Wicker Park and found these bear statues in the playground that sprayed water into the air. A slurpee to my forehead (and a bit of an ice cream headache) and a blast from those bears: Lovely.
- We're big fans of Threadless t-shirts (I have about 3, O though has like 9) and their office is in a suburb of Chicago, which we got to visit so O could exchange a shirt that they sent in the wrong size. Actually, we'd already met some of the guys at the Nextfest cuz they had a contest for shirt designs for Nextfest, so they were there selling the shirts. But it was cool visiting their office and seeing all the people we recognized from the modelling photos on the website. We first stood near the door as Jef (the big guy) got O's correct shirt and got me the adorable Pillow Fight shirt. But then Jef said to us that if we were interested, we could have a look through the shirt warehouse and take any shirts we wanted, for 10 bucks as opposed to the $15 price when you order through the website. Awesome. I didn't get any other shirts, but O came away with two more. It was great though to see where they store and pack up the shirts, and to listen to the Threadless crew as they worked, someone particularly talking about the trip he was planning to Las Vegas. How cool it would be to work there (and they're now hiring!).
- I loved Chicago, esp all the water and the architecture, both new and old. But it did seem a bit stuck-up and rich, at least where we were in the downtown area, esp being so near to all the posh shopping on Michigan Ave. Nothing but luxury cars wherever you turned. And limos! Every other second you saw another goddamn limo. It became a joke between O and I; we'd see a limo and say, in a very bored, droll voice "oh look, a limo." Cuz when I first saw one when we arrived, I did point it out in an excited kind of way, which I felt lame about later when we saw that half of Chicago has one.
- When we went up the John Hancock building, we planned it so that we could see fireworks from up there that were being set off from near Navy Pier. That was awesome to watch, having a totally clear view of them all, and being so far away and in a building, but still slightly hearing the booms of the fireworks going off.


- I got most of what I wanted to do and see in Portland done. The most important stuff at least. I did a shed-load of shopping. I bought games, CDs, books, a nice light snowboarding shell jacket that was half off, and the requisite food-you-can't-get-here. Well, ok, I didn't get that much food, really, not as much as in times past. The time in Portland felt a bit long in the end, I could have done with a day or two less. But after not being back for 2 years, you think that 9 days can't possibly be enough. Once you get there though, it feels like all the catching up gets old and tiring. I think the only thing to do is be there for less time and have just a taste of the city again, or be there for weeks and really live it. The latter is less likely, so I'll try to stick with the former in the future.
- Our flight from Chicago to Portland just headed directly into the airport from the east, taking us along the Columbia River in the last bit. We weren't on the side of the plane to see the river, but we got a much better view: flying right past Mt Hood on a perfectly clear day. It was so fucking awesome. I swear we could have seen Timberline Lodge from there if we were on the right side of the mtn. And we have nary a photo of it because O's camera was up in his bag in the overhead bin. =P But it was unforgettable.
- Our rental car was interesting: a bright blue PT Cruiser, heh. And this was just from Budget, the cheapest type of car they had. Ok. I could have done with a less visible car, but it was good for a laugh. And I liked its blue.
- It was so beautiful when we got out to my parents' house. We went to the end of their driveway and it was great being out in the country, it was so quiet, except for the occasional car, and the weather was perfect, about 75, clear, actually-blue sky. It smelled good too. We weren't at my parents' long though; because their house is so messy and dirty and smelly, plus they have cats now and I'm allergic, we moved out after 3 nights into a motel that was near both them and Portland. It would have been nice to have stayed in the country, though it would have been far to drive to Portland a lot. And our motel was on a shitty 4 lane boulevard filled with car dealerships and mini malls. But I couldn't stay any longer in their house, and it was nice to be only 20 mins from downtown Portland and have a space of our own.
- We had drinks with a couple of my college friends, and O got hit on by this insane, talkative, loud woman sitting at the table next to us, with a shih tzu that she was very proud of (at one point she was saying it had the cutest butt and made her friend take a photo of the dog's butt). Somehow she and O got talking in French for awhile, then O explained that he wasn't from Portland and the woman said "why do all the cute men end up not living here?" then he pointed out that I was his girlfriend, so she might want to watch out. She then was all apologetic and smiled big at me and shook my hand and said she didn't realize... Too funny. One of my friends had her boyfriend there and he got hit on as well, but by a guy (at that same table). Apparently my friend's boyfriend is often assumed to be gay...
- We went to my aunt's house to get together with the family, and driving there involved going down all these backroads I hadn't been on in years. One or two places had the most amazing views of Mt Hood. First of all, it was a brillant day, like the day we arrived: clear, blue sky, just warm enough. So the view was about as perfect as it could be. Besides the mountain, there was this big valley in front of us that was filled with green, first fields, then so many pine trees and the foothills leading up to the mountain. It was hard for me to keep my eyes on the road. I wanted to go back with O and explore and take photos, but we never found the time, nor was the weather as good as it was that day.
- The 4th of July was a lot of fun. O and I went into Portland around 7 to get a spot on the east side of the Willamette to watch the downtown fireworks. It wasn't too packed yet, and we got a great spot on a little dock right next to the Hawthorne Bridge, on the other side of which the fireworks would be launched. It was different being down at the water level, and out in the river a little bit. We got free beers when a girl came down to the dock carrying a couple crates of beer and asked if we could watch them while she went back to get more. Her friends picked her up in a boat and she went off, wishing us a happy 4th. (How fucking American were we, drinking Bud Lights on the 4th...) Our little dock got more crowded as time went on, of course, but no one around us was annoying or obnoxious, so it was a good area. The weather was again brilliant, and it was so great to watch the sun set behind the Portland skyline across the water from us, and then the lights all coming on. And the fireworks were awesome, so loud sometimes!, you could hear them echo through the downtown buildings, and so close, just above the bridge.
- We went to a cool vintage arcade place called Ground Kontrol. They had all the classics: Frogger, Pac Man, Ms Pac Man, Pole Position, plus a ton of others and a whole section of just pinball machines. I like pinball more since it's a bit more real and physical which I think I do better with, heh, though I did pretty good playing a Simpsons video game as Homer, hehe. My quickest quarter: Frogger. I absolutely sucked.
- I know the 23rd and 21st area can be so overly hipster, but I still like hanging out there, esp since it was one of the first places I discovered in Portland and I have a lot of good memories of going up there. And I still had fun there. We went up one evening, one of those good evenings with everyone out at sidewalk tables, and we went to the 23rd Music Millennium that I've not been in for too long. It was as good as always, esp at that time of night, not long before closing. The employees are getting giddy, the music they're playing is just good (in this case, I was enjoying the Tom Petty greatest hits they were playing), it has that incense smell... I love 'em. I love their CD dividers that, as often as possible, has hand-drawn band logos or silly little drawings. One band's CD had a bat on the cover and they'd redrawn the bat, but then added the bat saying "I'm a fruit bat!" It was too cute. The dividers also cross reference other bands that members of this band are in, or solo projects, etc. They put quite a bit of time/thought into it. I bought a used Minders CD I found, plus a couple of these cute buttons of various animal characters, complete with little bios on the animal, like favorite film, music, actor, etc. I bought one of a scorpion (cuz I'm a Scorpio) and one of a meerkat that loves The Shins. =) We walked out, me with a smile on my face saying that I wanted to give Music Millennium a big hug.
- I finally got to experience Voodoo Doughnut. What an awesome little place, so Portland. We popped in not so late on a Saturday and took away a half dozen doughnuts with us. Unusual ones we got included the voodoo doll doughnut, filled with jelly (blood) and stabbed with a pretzel stick; the Blazers Blunt, shaped like a joint with maple and red sprinkles at the end; and the apple fritter that's "as big as your head", as their website says. All so yummy. And the girl helping us was all patient and helpful and sweet. I made the mistake of asking what was good that had chocolate; she started naming off every single thing they had with chocolate, which was a substantial amount. Every combo of chocolate doughnut and glaze and other chocolate-y things (sprinkles, Oreos, Rice Krispies...) that you can imagine. And we got to see the precious huge doughnut that got stolen one night and is now missing a chunk.

I'll post word when the photos get put online. Hopefully we'll make it back to the US next year so it's not such a big gap again between visits. We already know what we want to do the next time: fly to San Francisco and see it for a few days (I've been before), then drive up to Portland, stopping a couple of times on the way up, see Northern California (I've driven through before, but didn't really visit anywhere, and we drove through probably the prettiest bit in the dark), finally go to the Oregon Vortex, and then spend less time in Portland, maybe get to the coast this time... Already looking forward to it.

July 15, 2005

Denied access

In a spat of procrastination this morning at work, I was clicking through some random links and our company's content filter didn't like a link I tried to go to. I've gotten access denied messages before, but they are usually based on sexual content in the page I tried to go to. Not that I'm like purposely seeking out porn at work, I usually can't tell the page will be blocked just based on its URL. Anyway, this time I got a different reason for being blocked, one I'd not seen before:

Your request was denied because of its content categorization: "Tasteless".

Content filters can actually judge the tastelessness of websites? Or sites purposely categorize themselves as such? Either way I felt almost offended for being told by the filter that I was trying to access some crappy, sleazy site. I just need to remember to check it out when I get home.

July 12, 2005

We're back

I am so jetlagged right now. My mind is a total fog. But we are back after a couple of weeks away to the US. We had a great time. Chicago in the end was hot like expected, but still not as hot as NY was, thankfully. Portland was great and we had good weather for most of the time there. Amazingly the weather today in Amsterdam turned out to be nice, though it was totally cloudy when we arrived this morning.

We found a big mess waiting for us in the living room. I had brought in my two plants from the balcony because I knew they'd die after not being watered for two weeks, and I thought it'd be a bit obvious if anyone saw them that no one was around watering them. Well, they didn't just turn brown and shrivel up; one of the two plants, in its death throes, apparently went through a last-minute effort to create progeny and had exploded seeds all over the place. It really must have sprayed the seeds out because, though the plants were on the floor, there were seeds up on desktops and on the top of a storage case thing we have. There were some on the couch which faces away a couple of feet from where the plants were. They really got everywhere in a 5 foot radius. Who knew you can't leave plants alone? Next time they're staying out on the balcony.

I've mostly unpacked and even managed to calculate how much I spent in the US. Not as much as I expected, which is good, though I did buy just about all I planned to, including books, CDs, games and food. There wasn't enough room in the suitcases for it all, so I sent some stuff in a box to myself. I sent it by surface mail though, so I won't get it til sometime in August. It'll be like a surprise by then cuz I'll have forgotten what I put in it.

Anyway, hopefully more stories to come and hopefully O will get his photos online relatively soon. He took at least 500. For now I just hope I can stay awake at work tomorrow.