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Oink, Oink, Cough, Cough

June 4, 2009
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The test results came back. Not mine, of course. No money and no insurance. But since I was the only sick person my boss was exposed to, it stands to reason that he got it from me. Survey says: We had influenza strain H1N1 — swine flu. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, you heard it here first. I survived swine flu and all I got was this lousy blog entry — well, that’s not entirely true. I get to feel terrible that I gave my boss the swine flu, as a result of which he developed mucus plugs in his lungs because he doesn’t have the strength to cough effectively. We’re calling it a “pulmonary phlegmbolism.” Yay for gallows humor. There’s nothing wrong with his immune system: the flu in and of itself affected him no differently than it did me. The major concern is the breathing trouble he’s been having as a result of all the mucus and phlegm. He’s been in and out of the hospital several times now. It’s a real roller-coaster ride. He seems greatly improved, comes home, and a few days later he’s rushed back. For other friends of his who are learning about his status via this blog, there was a bit of a serious scare yesterday, but that crisis is past and he’s being watched with eagle eyes in the ICU. His father is confident that he’ll get through this one way or another.

Now that I’ve finished hijacking this entry: All this panic over swine flu for nothing? I wouldn’t say for nothing. H1N1 is brand-new as far as the human immune system is concerned, and we had no idea what to expect. I don’t think it was completely irrational to be scared. We essentially lucked out that H1N1 turned out to be similar enough to the flu strain we’re more familiar with that its actual impact fell far short of the worst-case scenarios we fearfully imagined. Yes, they were reporting fatalities, but influenza in general leaves a certain percentage of fatalities in certain demographics. I don’t think swine flu will be statistically worse. I’m just lucky that I and my friends are in the flu’s non-fatal demographic. Heck, even Patient Zero, a five-year-old Mexican boy, has recovered and has returned to life as usual. My boss’s brother, who also got sick, is back at work now, and my boss’s father somehow didn’t get sick at all, despite his close and lengthy exposure.

I’m reasonably sure I’ve never had the flu before, and almost positive I missed my flu shot this past autumn, so I’m vaguely amused (in a purely intellectual, after-the-fact sort of way) that my first experience with the flu was this. Based on what I’ve heard influenza can be like, it seemed relatively mild. Yes, I had the fever and the fatigue and the body aches (not to mention the headaches and the eyeball aches) and the depressed appetite, but I didn’t feel as though I’d been hit by a truck, as I’ve heard it described. I had a brief bout of diarrhea, but to be honest, I had a far, far, far worse bout a couple of months ago after eating something that seriously disagreed with me. And unlike that miserable experience those months ago, I did not have any vomiting. The closest I came was a bit of retching after a serious fit of coughing, but that’s an entirely different mechanism and doesn’t count (it wasn’t nausea but deep, heavy, protracted coughing that engaged the stomach muscles that triggered the retching). The thing that gets me the most about my illness is that while the coughing was the first symptom to appear and is tenaciously being the last to go away, the excessive nasal drainage started late and ended early. Almost every cold I’ve ever had was accompanied by far more nose-blowing than this swine flu was.

I also managed to recover in about seven days without the benefit of prescription medication. On the advice of a nurse I spoke with at a clinic, I took some vitamin C, echinacea, and Cold-Eeze (the active ingredient of which is zinc), and kept up my fluid intake. (On a side note, Sundown brand echinacea comes in openable capsules, which can be poured out and brewed as a tea. It tastes pretty good, although since it doesn’t dissolve, it requires frequent stirring.) The only question remaining to me is where the heck did I contract swine flu? I haven’t been to Mexico; I haven’t even been out of state. I calculate my date of exposure to be Sunday, May 17th, when I was at a large baby shower. The only person there who I know had been sick was the mother-to-be, but she insists it was just a chest cold. There certainly were enough people there that someone could have been sick without my knowing it. Crowd magic, I guess.

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I Am A Disease Vector (And So Can You!)

May 28, 2009
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Spring is in full bloom. Temperatures have been in the 60s and 70s. Flu season is tucked safely behind us.

Call me ambitious, then, or out of step.

This past week has been interesting, in the proverbial sense. Last Sunday I didn’t have a care in the world. I blissfully attended a friend’s baby shower, joyfully mingling with all the guests and contentedly partaking of the edible offerings there. The next day I developed an oddly dry cough, which I blamed on the dry air in my apartment. The day after that I experienced some unpleasant gastro-intestinal events, which I blamed on something I’d eaten the night before. And then I started feeling lethargic and sore all over. I tried to blame that on a lumpy mattress, but things were starting to add up and if there’s one thing I know, it’s arithmetic. Besides, an uncomfortable night’s sleep will not make your eyeballs hurt.

It wasn’t until my boss sent me home with a fever of 100.4°F that I started to consider the possibility that I was sick. Unfortunately, this came after several hours of wild coughing. I went to bed early that night, intending the next day to find a low-cost clinic and get checked out there. I did find one clinic (although I don’t think it was low-cost because the question of insurance provider was raised) and managed to get a free consultation from the rather thoughtful and sympathetic nurse practitioner there. Her opinion: flu.

When my fever shot up to 102.4°F that night, I called my boss to reluctantly inform him I wouldn’t be coming in to work the next day. I got to bed early, slept in late, and later discovered that my flu had fulfilled its biological imperative and passed itself along to my boss, who ended up spending a few days in the hospital — thanks to his muscular dystrophy, respiratory diseases hit him harder than they otherwise would. It’s been a week now, and most of my symptoms are gone and I’m feeling much better aside from a lingering dry, hacking cough which is my body trying to expel the corpse of the virus.

My boss, on the other hand, is back in the hospital because his flu turned into pneumonia and he was having trouble breathing. He doesn’t have the muscle power to cough effectively, and this means he can’t clear his lungs and airways the way most people can when he becomes a snot machine. Meanwhile, I’ve been complaining that all my coughing has made my throat raw, over-exerted my abdominal muscles, and kept me up at night. Nothing like a little perspective to make me grateful for that stitch in my side and the taste of my own blood in my throat.

Three for Thursday, Plus Two! (#2)

May 21, 2009
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This week I thought I’d respond to a writing prompt put forth by the LiveJournal community The Friday Five. As before, I did cheat just a little bit by picking and choosing which prompt I wanted to respond to. But you don’t mind, do you?

 

School!

  1. What was your favorite class/subject in school?

    This has varied over the years. It started off as reading. I’ve been able to read since I was two years old. In nursery school, I was already reading fluently (that is to say I was reading “with feeling,” not just jerkily sounding out words), although I hadn’t yet learned to read silently, and so I often ended up conducting my own story time without even realizing it. In first grade, my teacher put me in charge of the reading circle for a few days when she had laryngitis. THAT was a proud moment for me!

    Flashing forward to high school, I remember having a lot of fun taking a class they called “Forensics,” which was essentially a theatrical speech class. I’ve been interested in acting since I was very small, and that was my opportunity to do something related. Later in high school, I was completely taken in by a psychology class. As a social worker, my father would often regale me with psychological concepts and theories while I was growing up, and thus it seemed natural that I would find the academic subject fascinating.

    As for favorite college classes, I’ll get to that in a later question.

  2. Who was your favorite teacher?

    There were a number of teachers I had a particular rapport with. I loved my first grade teacher because she was very warm and nurturing. I recall she had some flowery-smelling hand lotion in her desk that she often let me use. And of course there was that time she put me in charge of the reading circle. My freshman year of high school, I befriended my French teacher, and at the end of the year I organized a surprise baby shower for her after she’d announced that she wouldn’t be coming back on account of impending first-time motherhood. In college, I had a calculus teacher I’ll never forget. He looked a lot like David Crosby, was a huge fan of the Beach Boys, and when he had one of his famous brain farts, would fill time by explaining that he took a lot of drugs in the ’60s. Yet despite his laid-back, easy-going nature, he did not suffer fools and he was a very effective instructor. What I appreciated about his grading style was that he always took the time to carefully follow my work on a problem to see where I went wrong, and when it was clear that I’d simply made an unfortunate transcription error, he would give me credit for what I’d done right not just up to that point, but after it as well.

  3. Why was your favorite teacher your favorite?

    In the end, my favorite teacher was my high school chemistry teacher (who also happened to teach that psychology class). She was one of those personalities everybody respected if not loved — everyone addressed her as Mama rather than Mrs., and I still think of her in terms of that affectionate title. On the first day of class she told her life story: As a young girl, she had suffered a terrible fever that killed her younger brother and left her hemiplegic. She walked with a stiff limp and her right hand was frozen into a tight claw that she was always stuffing the chalk into after writing on the blackboard. She told us that growing up, everyone always underestimated her because of her disability. When she studied chemistry in college, she was directly told that she could not do it because of her disability, and every single “You can’t do that!” drove her all the harder to prove that yes, she could, and better than anyone else. She was tough but fair, holding everyone to high standards and going out of her way to help them achieve those. Chemistry was not my best subject, and she would always hold after-school tutoring sessions for anyone who needed them (which included me, frequently). She even allowed me to come back after school if I needed more time on an exam. Thanks to her, I passed chemistry with a decent grade and never developed a hatred for the subject.

  4. What would you have liked to major in in college? Or what will you major in if you go to college?

    This is a story in itself! I was fascinated by the psychology class I’d taken in high school enough to decide to major in it in college. I had a lot of fun studying the subject, and even enjoyed the related (“cognate” was the term they used) classes in anthropology and sociology I was required to take. After a while, however, I decided that although I loved the subject itself, it wasn’t a career path I wanted to go down. At around the same time, I was taking a required linguistics class that was way beyond me. Apparently there were some pre-requisite classes I needed that they didn’t tell me about and didn’t enforce. I was lost. Hopelessly adrift. Nothing made sense. This precipitated a personal crisis. I couldn’t continue taking psychology classes, but I didn’t know what to do. For about a day, I considered dropping out.

    I was convinced to stay in school and, desperate to find something I could do, changed my major to public relations. (I’ll admit, the fact that it seemed easy was a large factor in my selection.) I enjoyed those classes for the most part, reveling in my ability to write a term paper on Dilbert for my Business Communications class. My biggest challenge was the art class I had to take. Between having no talent and OCD, that was one class that was far more stressful than it should have been.

    Having graduated with a major in public relations and a minor in psychology, I had trouble finding work. The university’s idea of a job placement program was a room full of binders that listed employers. I went on a few interviews and got nowhere.

    Web design appealed to me, so I took some Java programming classes at the local community college. I knew less about computers back then than I thought I did and was horribly naïve in my approach. I hadn’t realized Java and Javascript were not the same thing, and besides, good Web design was more than nifty baubles on a page. I came out of that with the lesson that I do not have a programmer’s mind. I did, however, get a job tutoring on campus: math and ESL (English as a Second Language). After a while of this, it occurred to me that I needed a better paying job. And how was I to acquire the skills needed to land a better paying job? Back to school again!

    Tutoring math gave me the notion that I could teach it. After all, how hard could it be? It was only math. Teaching at a college seemed to be a good gig, which meant I needed at least a master’s degree. Tutoring ESL made me fascinated with linguistics and gave me the notion that I wanted to invent my own language. So I started at the new university double-majoring in math and linguistics.

    It was right toward the end that I started having trouble. I hadn’t realized math got so abstract. I failed the last two required courses in a flaming ball of burn-out. I was tantalizingly close to a major in math, but was forced to graduate with a major in linguistics and a minor in math. At least I had a lot of fun in my linguistics classes. They were easily my favorite classes I ever took, as evidenced by the way I will wax geeky about the topic at the drop of a hat.

    All that said, I do wish I had a clearer idea of what I wanted to do with my life before I spent all that time and money in school. Although there was one good thing that came out of my second degree: It was there I met my sweetheart, Dan.

  5. Would you rather go to a small, medium, or large college, if you had the money to go to any of the three?

    Short answer: small college. The smaller the school, the smaller the classes and the better the instructor-student ratio. It’s nice to be able to talk to an instructor whenever you need to and know that you’ll be remembered as a person, not just some random student from out of the teeming mass of bodies packed into the lecture hall.

My turn now! I’ll ask five questions and you respond to them. You can post your replies here or at your own blog or journal. If you post elsewhere, be sure to link back to this entry.

 

Sick!

  1. Do you have health insurance? What kind is it? (HMO, PPO, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, etc.)
  2. How well are you covered? Are there things you think or know you need that aren’t covered? What kind of co-pay do you have?
  3. What was the worst illness and/or injury you’ve suffered? How long until you were better? How badly was your life disrupted? Did you lose time off work (school if you were a kid at the time)?
  4. Have you ever been to a free/low-cost health clinic? How would you rate the treatment you received?
  5. What do you think is the biggest problem with the American health care system? What do you think needs to be done to fix it? (If you’re not in the US, what are the pros and cons of the health care system in place where you are?)

Book Review: Twilight

May 14, 2009

In ancient Greek mythology, there was a man who offended the gods by stealing their nectar and ambrosia and later serving his son to them for dinner. His punishment was to spend eternity standing in water up to his neck surrounded by trees bearing luscious fruits. When he got thirsty, however, the water would recede, and when he got hungry, the branches would blow away. His name was Tantalus, the origin of our word to tantalize, meaning to promise without delivering, to entice without bringing satisfaction.

I finally caved and read Twilight. After all, I had railed strongly against those who criticized Harry Potter without having read it. I wanted to be honest and make my own informed opinion, rather than blindly throwing myself in with the detractors simply because the idea of sparkly vampires makes me very, very sad. Yes, I went into it with a strong bias, fully expecting to hate it, scrutinizing every sentence for evidence that it was indeed a festering heap of twaddle. Having finished the first book of the series, I’m forced to admit that it wasn’t that bad, but neither was it as good as the fans make it out to be. It’s horrifically over-hyped and doesn’t deserve the recognition it’s received.

For starters, it’s a romance novel. A teen romance novel. A teen vampire romance novel. I’m not trying to put down romance novels; Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind are examples of how romance novels can be good, solid pieces of literature. And it’s not because Twilight involves vampires. Two vampire romance series I would love to recommend are the Real Vampires series by Gerry Bartlett and the Undead series by MaryJanice Davidson. The brilliant thing about these series is that they’re written as humor. There is so much you can get away with in humor that just flops otherwise. It didn’t take long at all before I grew first tired, then sick, of the constant, repetitious descriptions of how divinely gorgeous Bella thought Edward was. It was a monotony that drove me crazier with every gratuitous gasp. Yes, I get it, Bella thinks Edward is über-hawtt. That style is typical of modern romance novels, which is fine as far as it goes, but it also rather disqualifies any book that uses it from being considered anything more than entertaining escapism. The hype surrounding Twilight implies that it’s more than that, better than that, and it’s simply not. Twilight tries both to be serious and to model itself on the bodice-ripper, and given how chaste the main characters are, it fails spectacularly.

The book reads like it was written by a slightly precocious and very hormonal 13-year-old before being polished into a superficially professional form. The basic mechanics were mostly solid, although there were times I wanted to throttle the editor for terrible proofreading errors that slipped past (“dust moat” for “dust mote” and “unloosened” for “loosened” disappointed me to no end). The exposition is competent and the dialogue is uninspired. There was exactly one truly good line in the entire book, about halfway through, although it was followed up by a truly terrible one that completely ruined the effect for me. The bit of dialogue in question involved Bella encouraging her father to go ahead with his fishing trip. In a brilliant stroke of casual sarcasm, Bella remarks that they’re “getting dangerously low on fish — we’re down to a two, maybe three years’ supply.” But that’s followed up with:

“You’re sure easy to live with, Bella.” He smiled.
“I could say the same thing about you,” I said, laughing.

That just struck me as terribly insipid.

The characterization leaves so very much to be desired. Bella is without a doubt a Mary Sue. She’s the newcomer everyone instantly falls in love with. Hers is the only mind Edward can’t read. She’s smart, she’s tidy, she’s not proud that she (gasp!) took one sleep aid. Her disability-level clumsiness does not qualify as a flaw to balance her out. Flaws are of the personality nature, and she has those only when convenient to the plot, such as the way she’s stupidly unafraid of vampires and insists on being transformed, despite the warning that it involves three whole days of agonizing pain, pain she experienced a small sample of when the hunter bit her hand. And speaking of which, what was the point of initiating the transformation only to halt the process? (Although I have to admit I’m vaguely amused that she now has a tiny spot on her hand that’s several degrees cooler than the rest of her. I wonder if it sparkles in the sunlight.)

The tantalizing thing about this book is that there really does seem to be a pretty good story in there, somewhere. There were sections that actually pulled me in. Twilight is a potentially good story that’s rather poorly written. On the whole, there were just too many things wrong with it to let the good story shine through. If it weren’t for the hype, I’m sure many people would just shrug it off as the amateurish attempt that it is. If Stephenie Meyer had revised a few more times, envisioning her teenage audience not as a teeming mass of shallow teeny-boppers but as thoughtful, intelligent readers, then she could very well have made a worthy contribution to the paranormal romance genre. But as it stands, the mismatch between the actual quality of the work and the hype it’s generated lets me down in a big way.

Living with OCD

May 7, 2009

I was talking for a bit about disabilities and Tourette Syndrome, and I’d like to continue that thread with a discussion of one of the ways that affects me. As I mentioned briefly in my two-part essay, part of my Tourette’s is obsessive-compulsive disorder. Now, I’m not really sure how my particular brand of OCD should be classified. The description of obsessive-compulsive disorder as it’s most commonly thought of doesn’t resonate with me all that well, but the description of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder seems to fit me only just a tiny bit better, as it conveys a sense of severity and pervasiveness that’s rather at odds with my own experience. The thing is, it’s OCD, not OCPD, that’s the documented co-morbidity of Tourette Syndrome. So I’ve got OC-something, that’s for sure. Beyond that, well, does it really matter?

The most notable thing about my OCD is that it’s inconsistent and it fluctuates. When I say it’s inconsistent, I mean that not everything will bother me to the same degree, or even at all. I can stuff my clean underwear into the drawer without a second thought, but all my pens must be capped in a certain, precise way. When I was a child, it would drive my mother crazy when I followed around after her as she set the table, straightening the place mats and napkins and orienting the glasses relative to the plates, and yet my bedroom was a mess. And when I say it fluctuates, I mean that sometimes the sense of compulsion I feel is weaker, sometimes stronger. There are days when I have to check, double-check, and triple-check all the lights to make absolutely certain they’re off before I can leave my apartment, and there are days when I don’t need to check at all to be confident enough to go. There have been times in my childhood when I would stand at the top of the basement stairs in my parents’ house, peering intensely into the darkness to make sure that there wasn’t a hidden light that was still on.

I don’t have the same kind of anxiety that seems to be associated with OCD. Mine is the same urge associated with Tourette tics: It needs to be done for its own sake and I feel antsy if I don’t do it. I don’t touch things five times to prevent my boyfriend from becoming ill, I don’t think something terrible will happen unless I hop every third step. I don’t have the ritualized behaviors that seems to be typical of OCD as distinct from OCPD. When I double-check the lights, it’s more a matter of a glitch in my processing where the knowledge that I turned them off fails to stick in my short-term memory. There does seem to be a bit of illogical, almost magical, thinking in place, as when I scan the darkness for errant lights. It’s almost like my hiccuping sensory memory is battling it out with my intellect. I know I turned the lights off, but at the same time I can’t trust that they’re off.

My OCD expresses itself in a strange variety of ways. There’s the relatively “normal” inability to put a stamp on an envelope any way but perfectly straight, but then there are the forays into germophobia and trichotillomania (hair plucking). They’re relatively mild: I’m nothing like Nikola Tesla, who couldn’t stand to touch other people’s hair and who brought his own silverware to restaurants, which he then polished with nine cloths; and only occasionally will the left side of my left eyelid become bald from my pulling out eyelashes. I am, however, somewhat neurotically more careful than average about what I touch, and occasionally use my sleeve or shirt bottom to open a door. It takes me a bit longer than it should to wash dishes or to shower, because I feel the need to scrub thoroughly, even if it’s grossly out of proportion to what’s necessary.

My biggest OCD issue is symmetry. I’m not quite as bad as Monk, who’ll mix pots of regular and decaf just so they’ll be even, but anything that touches my body like my socks or my hair must feel the same on both sides. Sometimes after scratching an itch I’ll scratch the analogous spot on my other side so the sensations will be symmetrical. Occasionally, when going down the sidewalk, I must alternate which foot steps over a crack, and since most sidewalk squares are not to scale with my stride, this makes for some odd footwork on my part to make sure that my right foot steps over the first crack, my left foot over the second, my right over the third, etc.

As bothersome as my OCD can sometimes be for both me and whoever’s with me, on the whole I’m glad that my symptoms, like those of my Tourette’s, are relatively mild. I’ve heard stories of people who have it so bad that they can’t function at all, trapped in an endless feedback loop of ritualized behaviors. Me, I’m just a bit quirky.

Political Correctness

April 30, 2009

Political correctness. At first blush, it seems like an okay sort of idea. Most people will agree that it’s just not nice to run around offending people all the time. But in practice, it gets a bit ridiculous. You can’t call this group of people by this name, or you can’t greet this other group of people with this phrase. And Heaven forbid you show that image to that group of people! The burden of responsibility gets shoved onto the speaker, and the listener has license to take offense at the tiniest perceived slight. One offensive word is replaced with a euphemism which, in the end, really means the same thing. Pretty words are bandied about and all the real issues get shoved under the rug to fester. Are we really accomplishing anything, other than making people walk on eggshells all the time? And this trend, along with the mentality behind it, is showing no sign of slowing down.

Right now, I’m reeling at the news that Israel is re-naming “swine flu” as “Mexican flu.” Why? Because it’s distasteful to utter any pig-related word. That’s right. Now, it’s one thing for Kosher and Halal laws to declare pigs to be ritually unclean and unfit for consumption. And it’s perfectly reasonable, within that belief, to think of pigs as being bad in general. Correct me if I’m wrong, though, but isn’t disease also a bad thing? Since when was it offensive to call a bad thing a bad thing? And of course this re-naming is offensive to Mexicans. Well, if we can’t name the disease after its origins, whether biological or geographical, what can we call it that’s nice and inoffensive? Some have suggested “spring break disease,” after the method by which it’s being spread, but I believe chlamydia has already claimed that euphemism.

So many serious issues, so many sides to every issue, and so many people taking offense at how they’re dealt with. How do we keep everybody happy?

Well, maybe the problem with political correctness isn’t that it’s gone too far. Maybe it hasn’t gone far enough. Let’s take it as far as it can go. Anything that’s the least bit controversial, let’s eliminate it from the public consciousness. I mean, we’re a pretty large and diverse crowd, and the larger the population overall, the greater number of minority groups whose toes we need to take care not to step on. We’ll fill the gaps with reality TV and other mindless, sanitized pap that will keep everybody vaguely contented without having to think or worry too much about anything upsetting them. We’ll get rid of books that deal with dangerous ideas. We’ll get rid of TV programs that promote anything of substance. News programs will only talk about happy, fluffy things that will make people feel good about themselves. That way, everyone will be merrily ensconced in their own little cocoons, safe in the knowledge that they’re being protected from anything offensive or upsetting. There’s a war on? What war? That makes me sad, and that’s a bad thing. Let’s change the subject. Hey, did you see the latest episode of Popular Program? Can you believe what Popular Celebrity is wearing?

But will that be enough? We’d better work on leveling the playing field, so that people don’t have to be plagued with worry that they’re not good enough, or jealousy that others are better than them. It’s been said that all men are created equal, but that’s just not true. That guy down the street can run faster than you. Your co-worker can type faster than you. Some of your friends are smarter than you. You have some advantages that others don’t. Jealousy breeds anger and resentment. It’s hard to bring people up to higher levels (we don’t have the technology to realize Gattaca, after all), so let’s bring everyone down to a lower level. In addition to only teaching easy, simple facts that anyone can remember, let’s keep the smart people distracted with grunt labor so they don’t come off as smarter than anyone else. And while we’re at it, let’s keep active people occupied with sedentary busy-work so that they don’t outshine the less athletic among them. And let’s not forget naturally attractive people: We should forbid women from wearing make-up and make all of them shave off their eyebrows so that more homely people don’t feel intimidated by them.

Everyone’s happy now, right? There’s nothing left for anyone to be offended by. Offensive ideas are gone, offensive comparisons are removed. Oh, wait. This whole modest proposal is rather offensive, isn’t it? Well, for those of you who skimmed past the tags at the top of this post: Yes, I was being sarcastic, satirical. I took my ideas directly from Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury and Harrison Bergeron, by Kurt Vonnegut. (The scary thing about those stories is that we do have the technology to realize them. Certain aspects of Fahrenheit 451 have already come to pass in our society. Now that’s really scary.)

My point here is that not only is it impossible to avoid offending people, it’s the wrong way to go about remedying the situation. Rather than putting the burden of being perfectly inoffensive on the speakers, it’s high time the listeners started taking responsibility for their own responses. If I intentionally insult you, that says quite a bit more about me and issues I have than it does about you. And if I don’t mean to insult you, but you take it as a slight, then that says quite a bit more about you and the issues you have than it does about me. Either way, we’re getting nowhere. But we’re so thin-skinned, giving words more power than they ought to have, that we’re willing to get ourselves worked up over minutiae and make things into far bigger deals than they really are, often at the cost of dealing with issues that are more important.

If humanity wants to grow and move forward, we need to get our priorities straight and learn that you can’t communicate when you take away all the ugly words. Pretty words by themselves are pretty empty. It’s what we do, not what we say, that matters.

The Case of the Haunted Computer

April 23, 2009
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I had a rather perplexing — and vexing — mystery on my hands this week. My computer seemed to be haunted by a ghost.

Let me start from the beginning. Around 2007, I downloaded this cute little world-exploration game called Seiklus (version 1.4 at the time). Nothing to install, just unzip and go. I played it a few times, enjoyed it, and moved on. Recently, though, I thought it would be fun to play it again, as it had been a while. So I run the program and find the three save slots taken up with old saves: 52%, 52%, 99%. No biggie, I just quit and check the readme file. All I need to do is delete the files seiklus1.sav, seiklus2.sav, and seiklus3.sav that are sitting in the folder along with the game.

Problem solved. I run the program again and there are three fresh slots waiting for me: 0%, 0%, 0%. I select the first one and merrily start a new game. Of course, I can’t play straight through in one sitting, so I save at 14%, quit, come back later for a few minutes, pick it up, save at 23%, quit and shut down. The next day, I fire up my computer, hoping to continue. Except the three slots facing me are not 23%, 0%, 0% as I was expecting, but rather 52%, 52%, 99%.

What’s going on here?

I delete the entire folder and re-extract from the original .zip file. I’m starting fresh, but what choice do I have? I run the program, see three fresh slots, and begin a new game. Again, I can’t play all the way through in one sitting, so I save at 20%, quit, come back later for a few minutes, pick it up, save at 36%, quit, and shut down. The next day, I boot up my computer, hoping to continue. Except the three slots facing me are not 36%, 0%, 0% as I was expecting, but rather 52%, 52%, 99%.

All right, this is starting to get weird.

I repeat my previous course of action, only this time I re-name the folder where I keep the game files. Something silly, like Say-Kloos. I run the program, see 0%, 0%, 0%, and start a new game. I’m starting to get really good at the first part of it. No time to play all the way through, so I save at 30%, quit, and shut down. The next day — aww, you guessed! The original three saved game states stare back out at me, mocking me.

This is getting ridiculous!

I go to the game’s website to download a fresh copy of the game. He’s updated, now offering version 1.7. Surely this will resolve the issue! With renewed hope and determination, I delete the existing folder, extract the updated game, and run the program. Fresh game slots. Regardless, I have a nice chunk of time ahead of me, so I defensively play all the way through in one sitting. I save just before the end, finish, and the game auto-quits.

Well, I got what I wanted out of it. I played the whole game through from start to finish. But I’m still curious. The next day, I turn on my computer and run the game. Do I see 99%, 0%, 0%? Not at all! I see 52%, 52%, 99%. Only this time, because the older game saves aren’t compatible with the newer version, I can’t even select any of them.

Now I’m starting to get just a little freaked out.

On the advice of a friend, I download a program called CCleaner and use it to check out my computer’s registry. Even though there was nothing installed, sometimes the registry still records something. Sure enough, I find one or two files in the registry named “seiklus.” I get rid of the files, I run the game — It didn’t work. 52%, 52%, 99%.

My friend suggests I search my hard drive for stray seiklus files. What the heck, it can’t hurt. And sure enough, there in C:\Documents and Settings\MyName I see seiklus1.sav, seiklus2.sav, seiklus3.sav. Well! This was certainly unexpected. My ghost turned out to be a bizarre idiosyncrasy of WindowsXP.

I run the program. 0%, 0%, 0%. I start a new game and play a little bit, just enough to save at a percentage greater than zero. I quit, check the folder to make sure the save file is there, and reboot my computer. The magic always seems to happen upon reboot. I run the program and ta-daaa! There’s my game, right where I left it at 9%.

All right, I think I have this thing figured out. I play right up to the end and save at 99%. I quit, do other things, and shut down. The next day, I come back to the game to find 9%, 0%, 0%. I quit and look at the size of the save file sitting in the folder with the game. It’s almost as big as the game itself, which is odd. I go up to C:\Documents and Settings\MyName and sure enough, there’s a save file that’s quite a bit smaller. I delete it, go back to the game, and there’s the 99%, 0%, 0% I was hoping to see.

Ah, Windows, you do work in mysterious ways. At least now I know how to deal with it. My only question now is this: Why does a simple, stand-alone game not only look outside its immediate directory for game-save files, but allow these more distant files to override any existing files that are right there?