Saturday, November 28, 2009

Newbery Foray #2: The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle

Voyages of Dr Dolittle

While I continue to wrestle my way through Atlas Shrugged (under 200 pages to go!), I also managed to sneak in some (much) lighter reading by finishing another Newbery Medal winner: Hugh Lofting's "The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle", which won the big prize way back in 1922. I finished this a couple weeks ago, but am just getting around to writing it up.

By way of a brief review, I have to say that this was definitely a children's book. Not much in the way of any lengthy story lines, aside from the overarching narrative of Tommy Stubbins meeting up with the good doctor, and after some brief training, taking off on a voyage across the sea. Most of the chapters of this book are a mere handful of pages, and often when a new character is mentioned in the way of "It's been so long since we last saw Chee-Chee", it's only a paragraph or two before that character arrives on the scene.

Compared to "Dear Mr. Henshaw", this one was at a much younger reading level. I was also surprised to find out that it was not the first Dr. Dolittle novel. In any case, it was an okay read.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Informatics: The San Francisco Treat

Last week, I had the opportunity to travel to San Francisco for the Fall Symposium of the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA), pretty much the largest conference of the year for academic & research informatics. I didn't go last year because I didn't really have any funding to go, and had just finished defending my dissertation and had been preoccupied with that. One of the nice things about going was catching up with good friends from school who either have moved away for work, or who I just don't see much any more.

The conference itself was enjoyable and informative as well. I feel like I'm starting to know enough that when the presentation is something interesting to me, I can pay attention and understand a lot of what is said. And I also know enough to know when something is being presented that I don't really want/need to pay attention to. Probably not the best attitude, but with 4 solid days of presentations, you have to pick your battles. In the past, I've struggled with staying awake the last couple days, but this year I only remember dozing off once. I'm sure part of that is due to the fact that the conference was on the west coast instead of the east. Getting up at 7 am Pacific Time (8 am Mountain) is much easier than getting up at 7 am Eastern Time (5 am Mountain).

As the conference goes from around 8:30 until 4 or 5 each day, there wasn't a lot of time for sight-seeing, especially since it was already dark outside by the time things were winding up in the late afternoon. I did manage to get out and do a few things. Some highlights:
  • Saturday night after getting settled in, I ordered take out from the Cheesecake Factory a few blocks away and then brought it back to my hotel room and ate while I watched the Utah-TCU game through the magic of the internet.

  • Sunday at lunch time, I made my way over to a farmer's market where I'd heard that I could find some good Argentine empanadas. I got one with chicken and one with jamon y queso (ham & cheese). Good times.
    Jamon y Queso!

  • Tuesday morning, I identified a couple hours of the conference that seemed the most likely to be not that interesting and headed out to do a little touring. I caught a cable car a block from the hotel and went up over the hill and down to the wharf. It was still early (around 9) so most things weren't open, and I just walked around and took some photos.

    Powell-Hyde Line
    My ride

    Top of Lombard Street, but with different focus
    Taken at the top of Lombard Street

    San Francisco 2009 (AMIA) 031
    I really like the way this shot was framed by the front window of the cable car.

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    Fortuitous shot of a pelican with the Golden Gate bridge in the background.

    I enjoyed watching the sea lions at Pier 39 for quite a while. Then I hiked up to Telegraph Hill, where the Coit Tower is located, and where I'd heard there were good views of the city. Then I walked down the hill, past Washington Square, and caught a cable car back over the hill to the hotel.

    San Francisco 2009 (AMIA) 037
    A sea of sea lions

    This sea lion was busily defending her spot on the floating dock.

    Bay Bridge from the bottom of Telegraph Hill
    The Bay Bridge from the bottom of Telegraph Hill

    Coit Tower
    Coit Tower

    Looking southwest from Telegraph Hill
    I like the way the city seems to rise to a (dull) point at the top of this photo

    Tai Chi?
    Washington Square was full of Asians (Chinese?) doing various things. Tai Chi, aerobics, martial arts, etc.

    This guy seemed to be teaching the world's easiest line dance. To the "Macarena" of all songs.

  • Tuesday night after the conference was over, I went to see Wicked with my good friend Scott. He, having seen the show several times before, was happy to settle for balcony seats, but given my experience on Broadway seeing Phantom of the Opera from what felt like a football field away from the stage, I opted to spend a little more and get good seats. Which, by the way, it was nice to be able to get tickets at face value just a few days beforehand. Apparently San Francisco is not as obsessed with Wicked as Salt Lake.

    Anyway, I ended up on the 3rd row and thoroughly enjoyed the show, which had a cast including Patty Duke and Deedee from the Mickey Mouse Club of my childhood.

    San Francisco 2009 (AMIA) 087
    Hey! It's me!

    Map of OZ
    View from my seat
In the end, the conference was very enjoyable and I really enjoyed catching up with some good friends, and seeing a little bit of the city as well.

More photos here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

So that's what I've been missing out on all these years

As part of normal preventive care for my diabetes, yesterday I left work a little early and headed out to visit an ophthalmologist (eye doctor) for an eye exam. One of the more crappy potential complications of diabetes is something called diabetic retinopathy where damage to tiny blood vessels in the back of your eye can result in you going blind. So yeah, hoping to avoid that. And good news, because my most recent hemoglobin A1c scores came back looking pretty good (5.8, same as 6 months ago).

Anyway, I think it's been since elementary school, or maybe my pre-mission physical, since the last time I had to look into the box and read a line of letters, and even though I don't have any complaints with my vision, I was still a little nervous that they'd tell me I needed glasses or something. Thankfully, I'm happy to report that I'm still sitting at (around) 20/20. I would have to guess that I probably missed one or two letters off that tiny bottom line, but apparently not enough to lower my score below normal.

In addition to reading small letters, I also got to prove that I'm not colorblind by reading the colored number inside the differently colored circle. Then there was a machine that showed me a red balloon first in focus, and then it blurry, which apparently checked something in my eyes somehow. Also, I finally got to do the "Which one is better? Number 3? or Number 4?" test I've always heard about. Most of the time it was clear which was better but there were a couple tricky ones in the mix.

Finally, after all that preliminary stuff, I finally got to the big show where I got to actually meet the ophthalmologist. All the previous stuff was done by an assistant of some sort. He explained that a technician would be in shortly to anesthetize my eyes and check the pressure in them, and then would put stuff in them to dilate them. Then he left and a lady came in and did just that. Then the doctor came back and looked deep into my eyes. Literally. With a magnifying glass and everything. It really didn't take that long and at the end he gave me a clean bill of optic health and told me I was lucky I didn't have to study for a big test that night.

Why did he say that? Because as part of having your eyes dilated, suddenly everything up close is out of focus. I was pre-warned that for several hours afterward I wouldn't be able to read things up close, so I was somewhat prepared for the results, but not for the weirdness of it all. It felt like when you just open your eyes, or come out of a dark room into a bright room and things are kind of blurry for a second until your eyes adjust. Except for four hours. Everything distant looked pretty normal, but then trying to read anything up close, and it was just a blur. Also, I felt like Mr. Anime with the gigantic size of my pupils.

Driving home was no problem, but when I got there, I wondered what I was going to do that didn't require reading anything for the next 4 hours or so. I had some laundry to finish up, so I got the dryer going and then went up to my room to fold stuff that was already done.

While there, I stopped to look at my computer. I could tell from a desktop icon that I had some new emails and was able to open up Gmail and see I had about 7 unread messages, but couldn't actually read anything. I tried leaning way back, or just using one eye, all to no avail. I could see shapes and stuff, but couldn't read any text. This must be what all of you people with glasses feel like all the time. Sorry.

Eventually, I was able to navigate to and get an episode of "The Ruins" going (it's a long story full of ingenuity but probably still too boring to tell here), that I could see pretty well from back on my bed where I was folding laundry. I also took Homey (one of our dogs) for a walk, and everything looked so pretty with the impressive prismatic halos around all the car headlights and most of the lights on houses.

After the walk, I remembered that Ctrl+ (Ctrl + +?) makes text in your browser window bigger, so I went back to Gmail and Ctrl+'ed that thing until it was sufficiently ginormous that I could actually read my email. Accessibility options FTW!

By 8:30 or so, things were pretty much back to normal which was nice. But it was definitely an interesting experience to realize how much I take my vision and literacy for granted.

Friday, November 06, 2009

No Ifs, Ands, or Mights about it

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Just got home from the They Might Be Giants show. And. It. Was. Awesome. Ears still ringing. Voice still hoarse from singing along (and maybe a bit from lingering illness). Despite some difficulties surrounding who'd be using my 2nd ticket resulting from someone's illness, someone's under-21-ness, my own absent-mindedness and in the end going to the show by my lonesomeness. And yet, how can you feel alone when the CD you listened to hundreds of time during a formative time in your adolescence, Flood, gets played in its entirety as part of a 20th anniversary tribute show? With classics like "Bird House in your Soul", "Istanbul", and "Particle Man", and many other less known, but equally beloved, songs, Flood has always been my favorite TMBG album, so to hear them play it all was ridiculously cool. How often is that going to happen?

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As Flood only runs about 40 minutes, the Johns managed to throw in a variety of other songs, including some personal favorites like James K. Polk and New York City. They also came out for 2 encores, including a grand finale version of the "Fingertips" medley from the end of Apollo 18. Great show, guys.

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A few vids:


Particle Man!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Welcome November!

Today's Happy Monday News:

#1: Look at this next few days of weather (via ForecastFox in my browser):

Sunny forecast

You can't see the actual temperature predictions (Do you really need them?), but mousing over each day reveals a current temp of 49 (at 10:30 am) and predicted highs of 62, 65, and 65. After how cold it got last week, that's a nice prospect. Maybe Homey the Dog will get to go on a few more walks with me before I give it up due to my face freezing.

#2: It's quite possible that this weekend's TMBG show will be a special 20th Anniversary Flood tribute show where they'll play that album (the first CD I ever owned) in its entirety. Information on the venue's website would indicate so. Another website did not confirm this, so I won't get my hopes up all the way, but wouldn't that be an awesome surprise?