Weekend Almanac #10

Welcome to the new year!  Let’s see if I can start it off with some quality links.

  • A story about a reporter who nearly missed the Great Rose Bowl Prank of 1960.  Here are more details about the prank itself, which involved altering 2,232 instruction sheets by hand in the days before automation.
  • If you like looking at things in the sky like eclipses and meteors and stuff, here’s a handy guide to all of the main viewing opportunities in 2015.
  • I’ve been holding this for a while but the US courts decided that it is not an illegal search if you invite the FBI agents into your hotel room.  Because they’re dressed like maintenance staff.  The maintenance staff you called to fix the Internet.  The Internet that they cut off so you’d call maintenance.
  • In related news, the spy folks responded to a Freedom of Information Act request and released a report of all the policy violations they’ve committed in the past dozen years or so.  It appears that they didn’t want to upset anyone over the holidays.  That must be the reason they released it at noon on Christmas Eve, right?
  • In breaking news, they’ve discovered the tomb of a previously unknown queen in Egypt.  Having had her initial moment of fame roughly 4,500 years ago, she’s in the news again.  Hopefully the Kardashians won’t reappear in the far future, but in case they do I’ll just apologize on behalf of western culture now.
  • To end things on a light note, take a walk on some clear ice.



Weekend Almanac #9

It has been a festive holiday week here on planet Feingarden, so festive in fact that I haven’t done very much surfing.  As a result, the list of links this week is pretty weak.  To make matters worse, I’m making a concerted effort to suppress my cynicism during the holidays so I’m filtering out links about strife, corruption, and basic human indecency.  There’s not a lot left, so … mongooses!

  • Mongooses + ball pit = genius.
  • When you see a headline like “The boat that landed on a roof and saved 59 people” you read the story.
  • “Smarter Every Day” shows why spaghetti never breaks cleanly into two pieces.  This is of interest to me because I always figured I was doing something wrong.

That’s it.  Sorry it’s so short this week but I’m on vacation.

Weekend Almanac #8

Without the constraint of a “theme” the number of links is huge this week.  You can decide for yourself whether that’s good or bad.

  • Huffington Post has named “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” as their Show of the Year for 2014.  If you haven’t seen John Oliver before then you really should and the link ties in to several of his best episodes.  Warning: He’s liberal, he’s profane, he’s sarcastic, and he’s a lot like John Stewart but as Huffington points out he has the advantage of being able to react with more deliberation since his show is weekly.  You may not agree with him but he should definitely make you think.
  • I found a fun internet clock that converts the current time into a color code and displays the color as the background.  The result is kinda hypnotic.
  • The folks at AirBnB put together a single-scene ad that is part model train and part Rube Goldberg machine.  This really deserves a “making of” video.
  • Did you know that the Panama Canal is being expanded?  Yep, it sure is, and this week they started installing the gates on the new locks.  The new gate is 10 meters wide, 30 meters high, and weighs 3,200 tons.  And you thought your screen door was a pain to hang.
  • The story is just coming out that a pipeline explosion in Turkey way back in ’08 was actually the result of a hacking attack.  The story also includes a map showing why this matters to the US, specifically their 2.7 million total miles of pipelines.
  • Having introduced my kids to video games at an early age, and done a few experiments of my own on them, I really found this article about a dad who made his kid learn computer games from the beginning to be pretty neat.

Weekend Almanac #7

Stuff and more stuff.  Not sure why, but I detect a distinct holiday theme this time around.

  • The people at NATS, Britain’s air traffic controllers, have a knack for making cool videos and also a sense of humour when it comes to Christmas.  Put the two together and you have this video of the European portion of Santa’s journey.  (I can’t link directly to the video itself,  but it’s currently the top one on their page.  The rest of their stuff is pretty cool, too.)
  • Some new research shows that bacteria poop might someday be able to help you eat less over the holidays, and not in the ways that “bacteria poop” would make seem obvious.
  • The classic movie “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (as loved by Feingarden as it is hated by Mrs. Feingarden) originally started as a short story by John Hughes titled “Christmas ’59“.  Ignore the post-war-era racism and laugh yourself silly.
  • How do you top the classic YouTube video of the Christmas lights dancing to “Wizards in Winter”?  Let’s see, you could, I dunno, maybe bring in the neighbors?  And add a quadcopter?  With a camera?  Yes, you could do all of that and this would be the result.

A Sure Cure for Somnia

I’ve had problems sleeping for years and I’ve finally gotten irritated enough with this that I’ve started doing something about it.  The process of tracking down the source of my insomnia is not as linear as you might think and I’ve just been through one of the stranger steps in the process, which is a so-called “sleep study” to see if I have sleep apnea.  I went in for the initial consultation and to get the instructions for how to collect the data in the comfort of my own home.  I have to confess that I’m probably not the best patient in the world but this process is not designed by any thinking human being.

Upon arrival I’m informed that the test is free and the cost of the follow-up to get results is paid for by our Socialistic public health care system but the “rental of the equipment” to gather the data is NOT covered and costs $190.  I know a money-grab when I see one and this one is already making me a bit skeptical of my eventual test results because the walls are covered with the various pieces of hardware that they sell to cure your sleep apnea should they happen to diagnose it.  Their interests seem a bit conflicted, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

After taking some basic measurements we’re put in a room with other folks being tested (I started to type “testees” but that just sounds wrong) so they only have to give the instructions once per batch.  They start innocently enough with a box that sits next to your bed and a small device you wear on your finger to monitor heart rate and blood oxygen.  It makes the tip of your finger glow and lets you make really lame “E. T. phone home” jokes in the middle of the night when it’s harder to get punched for them.  The device plugs into the front of the box and they show you how to wrap the cord around your thumb and tape it to your wrist so that if you turn the wrong way during the night your thumb will be sliced off before the sensor gets dislodged.

The next sensor they show you is a chest strap that goes all the way around your torso and gets strapped down “tight but not too tight” just below your sternum with the cable plugged into the front of the machine.  It’s supposed to measure your breathing effort.  It seems more designed to actually hinder your breathing effort, but hey, they’re the experts, right?

Next we add the combination microphone and position sensor which gets attached midway between your Adam’s apple and the gap between you collarbones.  This will record your snoring, and presumably any state secrets you may happen to mumble during the night.  I can only imagine what kind of pillow talk they hear when they review the data, but on further consideration I think you probably end up so trussed up that romance is just not an option.  This device comes with its own small adhesive pad which they already know isn’t up to the task so they include more tape so that you can “put an X of tape over the sensor and across your neck”.  Well, I’m here to tell you, their tape wasn’t up to the task either.  Plus, putting an X of tape across your own neck isn’t something you just DO without practice, so I enlisted my long-suffering wife and, for reasons I’m not entirely sure of, ended up with roughly 10 pieces of tape covering the entire lower portion of my neck.  I’m sure … well, I’m pretty sure they were necessary.

Finally you add the piece de resistance (which is French for “the piece you most want to resist putting on”) the nasal cannula, which runs up the front of your neck, over your ears from back to front, and then sticks up your nose.  This will detect your breathing patterns should you actually choose to continue breathing with all this crap on.  It has a handy little slider device that allows you to tighten it under your chin, but this isn’t up to the task either and again the solution is more tape, this time from just below your eye near your nose out across your cheek on either side.

The woman giving us the instructions was one of the sweetest, perkiest women that I’ve ever wanted to punch in the nose.  After going through all of this and showing us how to test each of the individual sensors and start the data recording, she tells us to go through our regular routine and sleep normally.  Without thinking, I blurt out the obvious reply.

“Lady, if I could sleep normally, I wouldn’t BE here.”  Poor girl, she doesn’t deserve this, but she’s heard it before.

“I mean just do the things you usually do and let yourself fall asleep.”

“Okay, forget the ‘normally’, part then.  How’m I supposed to sleep at all with all this stuff on me?”

“Don’t worry, it’s not all that invasive.  You’ll get used to it very quickly.”

“NOT?…” I splutter, “Not invasive?!?  Listen, sweetheart, the only way to make the phrase ‘it sticks up your nose” any MORE invasive is to start replacing ‘nose’ with other body locations.”  This does nothing more than create an awkward pause, so I fill it with my next question.  “Where is the extension cord?”

“What extension cord?” she asks.

“The one that will reach from my bedside table to the bathroom so I can drag all this stuff to the can with me in the middle of the night.”

“Oh!  Yes, I forgot that part.  If you have to go to the washroom, you just unplug the power cord, coil up the cables in one hand, put the recorder in the same hand, and then plug it back in and restart the recording when you get back in bed.”

The rest of the session is uneventful and the fun doesn’t get going again until later that night as I get myself connected up.  I realize that I turn from side to side frequently in the night, but I’m not sure whether I go back and forth or round and round.  I’m certainly about to find out because if it’s round and round the best possible outcome is that I’ll wake up screaming with wires pinning my arms to my sides or wrapped around my neck.  I don’t want to think about worse outcomes.  With the patient help of Mrs. Feingarden I get wired up, get everything tested, start the recording and turn out the light.  Surprisingly, I do manage to sleep but it’s more fitful than usual.  Around 2am I get up, put the cables in one hand, unplug the box, put it in the same hand, and shuffle off to the bathroom.   <what happens in there is of no importance to the story and has been removed by the editor>   I sit back on the bed, plug the machine back in and…. the button flashes 3 times, goes out, and an error message appears on the screen.  No, I’m not kidding.  I repeat the process: unplug, plug back in, 3 flashes, error message.  I can’t believe it.  Not after all this.  No.  Please.  I try again.  I try 3 more times.  I try 3 MORE times.

Long story short, I slept much better that night after I’d taken all the sensors off, but I had to go through the whole thing again a week later.   The second experience was… well, I got to skip the instruction session but still had tape everywhere, still had things up my nose, and still slept badly, so it was pretty much the same as the first time around.  And yes, still had to go to the bathroom, but this time the device worked as planned and they got the data they needed.

The last thing you do when you return the equipment is to fill out a “sleep survey”.  When did you start the recording?  When did you stop it?  How much of that time did you sleep?  Was it good?  The last question really tells the story.  “Did you consume alcohol before going to bed?”  The only advice I can offer you if you ever have to take a sleep study is to do yourself a favor and make sure you can check the “Yes” box on that question.

Weekend Almanac #6

The Weekend Almanac pickings this week are as lean as a stripped Thanksgiving turkey carcass.

  • An entertaining description of what it was like to be a female sportswriter in 1992.  I’m not sure that things have changed much.  (Adult content warning.)
  • A lot of talk lately about police shootings.  Here’s a story about a guy who is trying to document them all and the walls he’s running into.  I think the larger question we need to start asking is why the government deserves respect when it doesn’t respect it’s own laws.
  • More space news this week with the first flight of the Orion spacecraft.  A short flight of two orbits and two trips through the Van Allen radiation belts to test the shielding.  All went well.
  • It is December now so you can listen to holiday music and watch holiday music videos  completely guilt-free.  You can also watch the video of oddest duet in the history of Christmas music.  The interesting backstory here and here.

Weekend Almanac #5 (Thanksgiving edition)

Well, American Thanksgiving, to be precise.  No rest for ol’ Feingarden, though, because he chose to live in a strange country where Thanksgiving comes before Halloween.  Tirelessly he marches on, bringing you new links for your reading pleasure.

  • Don’t bother to complain about your holiday travel nightmares unless you had to push your own plane in -52C weather.
  • Neither executive order controversies or complaints about the commercialization of Thanksgiving are new.  In fact, in 1939 the two issues came together to create two separate Thanksgivings.
  • No list of Thanksgiving links would be complete without a few deep-fried turkey disasters.
  • One of the things that I’m thankful for is the music of Pink Floyd, whose album “The Wall” turns 35 years old today.  I still think of it as “the new one”.
  • Those last two items were pretty weak so you can now give thanks that there are no more links this week.