Archive for August 2006
It’s the return of the PlaneMash! More will be uploaded, I just need to convert some images to JPG format.
It’s been a while since I’ve had anything to say about Multiple Sclerosis, mostly because nothing has been happening on that front. There’s a small chance that I’ve been misdiagnosed, but I know that that the MRI results and the symptoms I have still point that way. The only other known cause for nerve damage of this type – pernicious anaemia – was ruled out by blood tests.
What I have is best classed as “benign” MS, and while the symptoms continue to fall into the “annoying” category, they aren’t going away. I’m not quite as steady on my feet as I used to be, and find myself taking extra care around the home and office. On the other hand, it’s not stopping me walking to and from work, which puts about 32km (20 miles) on my shoes per week, and often more on weekends.
Benign MS is not getting as much attention as the more severe forms, which is quite understandable, but a new research paper from Italy is informative. Full details are here, but the opening and conclusion are the most reader-friendly part, which I will quote from here.
The trend to start disease-modifying therapy early in the course of multiple sclerosis makes it important to establish whether the benign form is a real entity. In previous studies, measures of magnetization transfer (MT) ratio (MTr) have been shown to provide good estimates of the amount of tissue damage occurring in multiple sclerosis brains. Thus, with the hypothesis that if benign multiple sclerosis patients were really benign, sensitive measures of subtle tissue damage would be less pronounced in these patients than in very early relapsing-remitting (RR) multiple sclerosis patients.
We carried out conventional MRI and MT imaging in 50 patients with benign multiple sclerosis [defined as having Kurtzke Expanded Disability Status Score (EDSS) <3 and disease duration >15 years] and in 50 early RR patients selected to have similar disability (EDSS <3) and short disease duration (<3 years).
We conclude that lesional and non-lesional MTr values can be significantly less pronounced in benign multiple sclerosis than in a cohort of RR patients at their earliest disease stages, suggesting that brain tissue damage is milder in benign multiple sclerosis than in early RR disease. This can be due to an extraordinary beneficial response to demyelination of benign patients and may represent the evidence that benign multiple sclerosis truly exists and might be differentiated from other forms of this illness.
The part that speaks loudest to me is the choice of patients who have had benign MS for more than 15 years. Other sources I’ve read stated that benign MS was a temporary phase that would almost inevitably lead to RR or Progressive MS. If there is a significant population of people who have lived with benign MS for 15 years or more, that is definitely a positive sign for me. In particular, if what I have can be medically classified as benign MS, and it is recognised as a separate condition that does not inevitably lead to disability, that should serve to allay the concerns of potential employers. I need to do more research, and consult my famous neurologist again.
Ever since my last boyfriend tried to kill himself, robbed a store, and shot at a guy, before disappearing off the face of the earth, (Mom) wants to meet everyone I date.
Claire Fisher, in Six Feet Under, inviting her new boyfriend to Christmas dinner. I’m halfway through Series 2, and eventually expect to see it through to the end, in Series 5. I already know how it will end but, as a self-professed connoisseur of Black Humour, I have to say this is about as good as it gets on TV. It helps that it was made by HBO, the cable-only TV channel in the US, who don’t have to answer to the FCC Broadcast regulations, any more than they did with Sex and the City.
More black humour arrived yesterday in the form of a book, Blood, Sweat & Tea, created from the author’s blog, Random Acts Of Reality. It’s quite hair-raising stuff, based on the author’s daily work as an Emergency Medical Technician in Newham, London. I’m only about 1/5 of the way through it, and the author has already had a HIV-positive patient blow chunks in to his mouth, necessitating two months of “prophylaxis”. So far it appears that most ambulance calls are the result of age, alcohol, and a surprising number of people in diabetic shock, possibly due to being overweight.
Back in the Fisher family funeral home, meanwhile, Christmas dinner is a non-starter: besides Mrs. Fisher’s employer Nikolai, stuck there with two broken legs and a lot of painkillers, there’s a biker funeral that threatens to go on all night, complete with airbrushed casket and cases of JD. What else? Oh yes, it’s the anniversary of the death of Nathaniel Fisher, the first of many cadavers we meet, who refuses to stay down where they put him. Why should he, when there’s so much happening to his family up top? Rest in Peace? Like Hell.
The move to a new site, still going on at the moment, is going to cause some disruption to other people, too: those who had set up direct links to items on this site, mostly images used on other sites. People have been taking some of my work and using it directly from their pages. When someone loaded their page, it included a direct call to my site for the image, which then appeared on their site.
I didn’t mind this, because the amount of traffic didn’t exceed the limits I was paying for, and it was interesting to see all the MySpace users with my pictures as their backgrounds. Well, that is still possible, but I don’t have the same “flat” image storage that I used to have, any more. If anyone wants to keep doing that, they will have to go to the image gallery, find the picture they want, and get the new link from there.
I haven’t yet figured out what to do with the “b3ta bodges”, the modified images and animations i put together for b3ta.com. They’re mostly animated GIFs, which Picasa Web will not allow me to upload, probably for reasons related to the patent on the LZW compression used there – even though there has been no need for concern for two years now. Lawyers…
I may up putting them on a static page, uploading each file to WordPress individually, but that will not be quick, and will not put the pictures at the same locations as before.
(I wrote the following as a comment to an article lamenting the decline in fertility in the developed countries. Like many respondents, I’m not convinced it is a problem. Other comments have noted that attempts by countries such as Germany to import skills have been a failure: the immigrants tend to use more resources from the social system than any benefit they brought in – which is not an anti-immigrant opinion, just a demographic fact. I’m an immigrant, after all!)
Isn’t it a basic point that any given country or region is limited in the number of people it can support? NB: by “support” I’m factoring in everything, including politics & aid – factors that will change the numbers, drastically, but don’t invalidate my basic point. When the land can not support the people, they will starve, or leave; as this point is neared, costs soar, and people can’t afford to have large families any more. I see this here in Dublin, too – one colleague of mine is being so badly hammered by the care costs, for his one (1) child, that a second is out of the question, unless they move to a cheaper country (ideally where the in-laws are).
My take on this: in any mature society, the population will stabilize, because some resources are fundamentally limited – such as land to build houses on. A country like Japan has gone just about as far as it can down this road. Yes, the balance is currently on the side of the elderly, and the young are bearing the burden of caring for them, but is that the way it’s always going to be? To be blunt: more of the Baby Boomer elderly will die per year than normal, which means the resources they use (esp. property) is freed up more quickly, restoring the balance eventually.
So, in a stable society the supported numbers are stable, and the population can adapt to them, eventually. (Oversimplification, I know!) In an unstable society, the number of people a country can support can change suddenly, due to factors beyond the control of the people. Zimbabwe is a great example: people are starving because of recent politics, not because of poor land or lack of natural resources, and there is hope that that can be reversed.
But in other parts of Africa, where countries & regions have been poor for generations, I would say the supported population is stable at a level well below the actual population. I really do not understand why women continue to have large numbers of children – or why men continue to force repeated pregnancy on women. They KNOW most of the children will die, but they still have them, and we get badgered by charities to “save the children”!
I think we don’t need more people: we need better people, which means dedicating more resources to each of them. Which means lower fertility is a good thing, in my opinion.
I’m taking some time, slowly, to upload some older blog entries, so don’t be surprised to see posts from 2004 popping up. It’s a manual process, cutting-and-pasting HTML from flat files in to the WordPress HTML editor. Timeconsuming, but I don’t mind, since I can vet the posts as I go.
I could automate this with some kind of HTML -> XML Translation, but I’m leaving out some old entries that look out of place or embarrasing: yes, I’m not above a little personal revisionism.
Last night, after Matt from WordPress kindly fixed the Domain Mapping to point here, I bit the bullet and switched over, by taking out the DNS entries that pointed at my previous web hoster. Here’s a summary of what has changed and what hasn’t:
- Old blog entries are not yet transferred over: that will only happen after I can upgrade the old site to WordPress 2.1, the first version that will support exporting in the XML format used for importing into WordPress.com. (This is a new feature pioneered on WordPress.com, probably because the administrators didn’t want users of the hosted system to have to deal with the MySQL database format used there.)
As before, images used on this site fall roughly in to two categories:
- Incidental images added to normal posts and pages: these will use the upload process provided with WordPress
- Photographs and other large images: these go to the Picasa Web Gallery referenced to the right, from where they can be linked in to posts and pages, or viewed in place.
In both cases I will need to re-upload and relink them all, but I will be using the gallery more. I’ve found Picasa Web so useful, and quick, that I’ve already uploaded all the photographs I had online before, in a matter of minutes, yesterday. The captions are missing, I will fix those over time.
I’ve yet to see if ZIP files are supported for upload to WordPress directly. I suspect not, because a ZIP file can contain anything, and could therefore be used for piracy or other nefarious purposes. There’s a general restriction on file hosting through free services for those reasons, even for little sound files such as the samples I put up for download. If it doesn’t work I will see what I can do, or just do without them.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been peripherally involved in a discussion on the position of the Irish language in Irish society. Peripherally, because I’m not Irish and am therefore not qualified to discuss Irish, apparently. I didn’t buy the Sunday Times today, so I missed an editorial by Sarah Carey, one of those involved in the discussions. I didn’t even know her work had that kind of exposure, but the editorial is now online.
I find myself in total agreement with Sarah here. She makes an important point about the separation of business and culture, and like me questions the need to equate a country’s language with its culture. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t doubt the importance of culture, and the way language mirrors it, but language differences are a barrier to effective communication in a global business market. Quote:
The purpose of language is straightforward, allowing us to communicate with one another. Languages develop in isolation, but once people move around the language spreads.
When they are spoken by small groups of people, in evolutionary terms they have outlived their usefulness and get subsumed by others and die. A marginal language becomes a cultural appendix.
Theoretically, having as many people as possible speak the same language should be welcomed. Like the euro, it’s so handy. You’d think we’d be relieved of the burden of having to learn and translate other languages into one we can understand.
The problem is that in the 19th century, when colonialism was in full swing, people became more conscious of their nationality. When the colonists arrived, language was one of the first targets. Hating the invader’s language and clinging to your own became a weapon of resistance.
The link between invasion and the annihilation of language was forged and this negative connotation is what prevents us from letting go. The fact that people and language can move in both a peaceful and highly productive manner has been lost. Letting go of Irish doesn’t mean letting go of being Irish.
My study of Japanese has much more to do with the culture than business; the possibility of going there to live and work was secondary to that, and not something I had my heart set on – unlike a colleague of mine who I was studying Japanese with, and who is moving there at the end of September to work.
I don’t do much business travel, but I have visited Germany, Portugal, Denmark and France in the last two years. I work in a department with people from seven different European countries: I have joked to a few people that I wished there was a language called “European”. Why? An English-speaking business visitor to Europe can cross multiple borders in a matter of hours, and could not be expected to settle on a single European language to learn, even if he or she was prepared to learn one. The example given by Sarah, of the outrage caused by a European employer’a group deciding to use English, is instructive, but a taste of things to come as the world gets smaller.
Where does this leave Irish? I have had zero interest in learning it, from the minute I landed here. It offers me no tanglible benefits, since I am not a scholar of Irish culture who needs to “read in the original”. It might look charming to tourists to see it on road signs, but that quickly gets old.
Canada is another odd case, with French an official language, some Québécois would call it the only official language. What if I was go there, to and live and work? Watch this space…
Having a lazy Sunday at home, though it’s not over yet, and I may just take my camera out if the sun deigns to make an appearance. My chili recipe needs more work, and I need a bigger pot to cook it in, but today’s was definitely satisfying despite being a little short on heat.
The switch to WordPress.com as my web provider, is definitely on, but it’s not going to happen just yet. They have approved my request, and I now have a “Domain Mapping” option, but I want to be able to migrate the main WordPress content from here to there, a facility not quite yet available in the standalone version. It’s due real soon now, and I will have the luxury of testing it before I make the final DNS change, taking out the entries that point at my current hosting provider.
I have no travel scheduled in the near future. After five trips and twelve flights so far this year, I’m quite happy with that. The glamour and excitement has finally gone, though I’ve not quite joined the world of the Accidental Tourist, the business traveller who aims to reduce the impact of travel to the point where it feels like you never left home. I like seeing new places, but flying has become more of a hassle as it has become cheaper, and the latest terrorist-driven restrictions are seriously putting me off unnecessary trips.
As long as the current sitution lasts, I’ll put off my tentative trip to the Shetlands. It’s not the best year for it, being at the bottom of the solar cycle means that Northern Lights are not going to be likely. A flight to Aberdeen is not much more than an hour by Ryanair, but the alternative methods look awful. From Glasgow to Dublin by bus-ferry-bus took eight hours,when I did it back in 2001. It may be possible to shave a couple of hours off that by using trains, but the train from Glasgow to Aberdeen is another three hours on top of that. (I always prefer trains to road travel, since I have been known to get carsick in stop-start traffic!)
Apart from that, there is not much news to report. Things are happening on the job front, but I’m not being affected as yet. It is fairly clear that I have no career path in my current position, and while it might be possible to find a different position in the company, that is complicated by my lack of formal qualifications and lack of experience specific to what is required. These days Sales and Marketing are getting all the attention, while functions related to … actually doing things … can be done more cheaply in other countries.
Ireland was once the “other country” – that is the reason I am here at all, a reason that is fast disappearing. Not that I’m complaining: as a place to Live, Ireland has been a seriious disappointment to me. I’d like to think I can live (lower case) anywhere, and I probably can, but it would be nice to have a Life, somewhere.
- I will not cease from Mental Fight,
- Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand,
- Till we have built Jerusalem
- In England’s green and pleasant Land.
So ends William Blake’s poem And did those feet in ancient time, which was probably not intended to be taken literally. “Jerusalem” was more likely an idealized state, a Utopia, a goal worthy of the loftiest efforts.
In all the debate on the current madness in and around Israel, there is a proverbial “elephant in the living room” that few commentators seem willing to tackle head-on: the continued existence of the state of Israel in its present location. We have, of course, the pronouncements from Iran, stating that Israel should be wiped off the map, then suggesting that Israel be moved to somewhere in Europe. I’m not suggesting, for a minute, that it could ever be that simple. Speaking as an atheist, however, claims of “divine right” to land appear unsupportable, especially when contradictory.
It is worth reminding ourselves that Israel, as a state, is a relatively recent creation; less than sixty years old at time of writing. Leave aside, for a minute, religious or ethnic considerations, and consider the land alone. Three major religions all claim Jerusalem as holy ground, but it is Islam, as a rule, that places the heaviest emphasis on owning specific pieces of land, and Jerusalem is one of those. Never mind that its claims on Jerusalem are based on much less history and authority than the Jewish claim: it is considered fundamental to Islam, and the religious enmity is the next problem.
Under the 1947 UN Partition plan, Jerusalem was supposed to be a neutral zone, a religious free city under UN government, but that never happened, and has not been discussed recently. Even if that was possible, what about the rest of the country? A simplistic analysis of Israel’s geopolitical position makes the region look like one of those computer or board games, where a single piece surrounded by enemies stands little chance in the long term. Territory gained, territory lost, supply chains bolstered by foreign supporters.
So, here we are in the year 2006; one more border clash, one more ceasefire to come, during which both sides will re-arm and prepare for the next one. The word “disproportionate” is being bandied around by short-sighted commentators when discussing Israel’s response, and while they might be right in the short-term, it seems clear to me that the Israeli government is thinking in the longer term. It is determined to do as much damage to Hezbollah as it can, hoping for results that last beyond the ceasefire, that deter more than just the enemies they are fighting today.
How will this cycle end? When Iran builds nuclear weapons and uses them on Tel Aviv? When Israel loses their biggest supporters, the USA, by alienating the voters there into demanding the White House stops propping them up? When moderate neighbours such as Egypt, Jordan or Saudi Arabia listen to their immoderate citizens and use their oil windfalls to build armies, in defiance of waning Western economic pressure? Could the Jewish people remain in Israel, but under an Arab government? Or, should the Jewish people consider rebuilding Jerusalem, in some other green and pleasant land?
Sad as it is to say, we may be coming to the end of a noble experiment, one born of post-colonial folly. The Jewish people kept their religion and culture alive, over centuries in the wilderness of diaspora. Surrounded by religious enemies who have no inherent reason to acknowledge them, who place even heavier emphasis on owning specific pieces of land than they do, they may be called on to re-enter the wilderness. It would be a surrender to irrationality and madness, but it may also be a chance to redefine just what “victory” is, in a war that may have started over land, but extends into politics, race and religion, leaving little common ground to build on.
A quote I vaguely remembered, on the importance of imagination, which I finally found the time to look up:
‘Anne and Paul both knew
“How fair the realm
Imagination opens to the view,”
and both knew the way to that happy land. There the rose of joy bloomed immortal by dale and stream; clouds never darkened the sunny sky; sweet bells never jangled out of tune; and kindred spirits abounded. The knowledge of that land’s geography… “east o’ the sun, west o’ the moon”… is priceless lore, not to be bought in any market place. It must be the gift of the good fairies at birth and the years can never deface it or take it away. It is better to possess it, living in a garret, than to be the inhabitant of palaces without it.’
– Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea
OK, it hardly seems my style, but I read most of the series years ago, and have not forgotten it. Readers focus on the first book, Anne of Green Gables, because of its popularity with girls, but the series follows Anne through adult life, faithfully documenting the late Victorian and Edwardian eras in eastern Canada. At times it touches on real-world politics and changes in society, and even World War I. Two of Anne’s sons go, and only one comes back, the other remaining on the Flanders fields.
As Anne liked to say: there’s scope for imagination in there.
We’ve had a couple of days during which this site was unavailable, and though it was planned, it wasn’t supposed to go on this long. To cut a long story short, I made some changes to the Domain Name System (DNS) settings for this domain, to accommodate a potential new hosting service for this site. They’re offering it at no charge to the first few people who apply, but they haven’t come back with any more details, not even a yes or no. The outage could have been avoided had I done, at first, what I did to get the site back up. I’ll cover a few technical details now, for anyone interested and for my future reference.
When anyone tries to access stereoroid.com by name, that name goes through a DNS name resolution process that converts it to an IP address, so that the actual communication by IP can take place. I was asked to change the DNS servers registered against my domain, to point at the new hosters, who would then change their servers to accommodate my site. I made the change, which means that other computers, when asking “where is stereoroid.com?”, were told “go and ask these new servers”.
Unfortunately, the new servers have not been told to expect this, which is out of my hands, so the DNS requests were being met with a resounding “Huh?”. What I’ve done now, and what I should have done in the first place, was to put the DNS servers of my current web hosters in to the list for my domain, as backup for the new ones. I didn’t think of this earlier because I thought I could only register two such servers, but it turns out I can do many more. After the new servers go “Huh?”, the request now goes to the old ones, who say “yep, he’s here”.
So, we’re back up, and I can bide my time while the guys on the other side to get round to making the changes they need to, or at least letting me know if I’m included in their tests. If I am, the site will look very different at first, and I’ll need to do more work on it and transfer the data. I’m doing it, though, so that I can hand over most of the technical management behind this site to people who are much, much more expert at the software I am using now: the people who wrote it. There will be some loss of flexibility, but I can live with that. It will also mean major changes to the photo gallery, but I can live with that too.