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Countdown to Fifteen


Category: General

I met with my new cardiologist and he took me to heart when I said I wanted to be very scientific in my approach to treatment. He showed me the statistical model used to adjust the treatment of persons with my condition. For men my age with the same condition and treatment there is a ninety-seven percent mortality rate within fifteen years.

Well, that was a little more of the harsh science than I was expecting. My first thought was that fifteen years only takes me to the age of sixty. Then I had the happy thought, "I don't have to save up for retirement!" Then, that passed.

What the stats really say is that, based on historical data, if you gathered one hundred men my age and condition, it is likely that in fifteen years there would only be two other than myself. To be honest, I can probably take them out too. Of course, historical data doesn't take into account the latest technologies and discoveries. When we factor in all the things that may develop in the next decade and a half, I probably do have to save for retirement.

When you see a number like that applied to your life expectancy, it definitely set one to thinking. Just what should I do with the next fifteen years? I don't really have the general sense of malice to become a super villain. I don't have the resources to spread my DNA like Genghis Khan. My acting skills suck sufficiently that I have no chance in becoming a renowned actor. Don't ask me to sing. No really, don't ask me to sing.

One might think that it would be a good time to tighten up on healthful living. The prescribed diet is the same as recommended for everyone else, just slightly less of it. The prescribed exercise is the same, but just a touch more. Even then, the internals may decide to fail for unknown reasons. The trick then is to make a good effort at the healthy living, with just enough cushion to keep life enjoyable and interesting.

After thinking a bit, it occurs to me that I should probably tighten up just a little, but otherwise keep with my current plan. I'll finish grad school and decide where to go from there. In the mean time, I will continue to learn and experience things I always wanted to and never did. Up until now, I've never been one to fit the normal statistics; why should I start now?

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Category: General

Nightmares are those terrible dreams that haunt our sleep. Some people get them occasionally; a few get them constantly. The psychiatric profession uses them to treat other problems. For most of us, though, the question is: what constitutes a bad dream?

There are the obvious dreams where one is being chased by some fiend, known or not, and feel the mortal terror of being caught. The other extreme has us frozen in a situation where we are powerless to move or to change that which goes on around us. Even with the trousers at home for the big calculus test and the hot breath of the beast steaming against the back of our necks, these are still fairly tame.

What bothers me more is the pleasant dream. Monsters run from me, and I haven't enough shame to worry about the location of my trousers in a long time. The pleasant dream is insidious though. It doesn't attack you in your sleep, it waits until you are awake to do its harm and then it has you for the remainder of the day.

How can it do such a thing? Easy, it shows you the path you didn't take and all the things that could have happened if you made the other decision. It doesn't matter that there is no proof that the other choice would have worked out as shown in the dream, it still takes you to lofty spaces. Then the alarm clock sounds and dashes you against the very real opportunity costs of the choices you made. In the grey light of dawn, knowing that you chose strawberry ice cream over glory rips the bones from your soul to leave you a gelatinous mess.

When the creatures come in your next nightmare, you can take comfort in the fact that they are at least coming at you in honest fashion. They aren't setting you up to fall on the sword of your own folly. You can fight the monsters and, at most, they keep you from a restful sleep. They don't dig their long, cold fingers into your day.

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You and Your Buddy and the Economy


Category: politics

You and Your Buddy

Imagine that you and you buddy each have five dollars. Now, you build something neat out of scrap lying around and sell it to your buddy for his five dollars. You have ten dollars, your buddy has zero dollars and something you built that may have some slight value.

As a group, your overall increase is just the value of the thing you made. It may or may not be a great increase in overall wealth. The group's overall change in cash was zero; there is just the same ten dollars.

Now your buddy cleans your house for you for five bucks. This is a service instead of a physical thing, and you cannot sell the results of that service, so it can't be seen as adding to the group combined wealth. Even though money changed hands, there is zero wealth building for the group.

At some point, your group will be hungry. Neither you nor your buddy have food, so you must find an external source. You find a food vendor and you purchase and eat ten dollars worth of food. Once eaten, you cannot trade the food for anything else, and all of your cash is gone. The group's total wealth is the thing you made and sold to your buddy earlier. Since you will probably want to have food again,

The only way you will build your wealth is to make things and sell them, or to sell your services. Neither of you have any wealth to trade, so you have to find outside customers who have something to offer and who want what you are selling. Unless you can find someone who isn't also selling services, you are in bad shape.

The Country is your Buddy

This is one of the big problems facing the American economy right now. When we say "Buy American", it is like when we buy from our buddy. It does pass the cash around and is good. We produce enough new goods, like when making something out of scrap in the above example, that we can build some wealth, but it is slow. What we need are external customers.

For a nation, external customers are other nations. We need to export our products to spur faster economic growth. Unfortunately, most countries in the world are in as bad a shape as, or worse than, we are. They are in no condition to buy from us.

South-East Asian markets were growing very fast, but they stumbled a bit and, in their panic, reacted poorly. It will be a while before they become strong markets for our goods. African markets have never been that strong to begin with. China is having the same trouble we are having, so they aren't ready to resume buying our stuff. Our big hope would be in industrialized Europe.

Europe is a special problem. Some years back they decided to get one currency that all the countries would share. Most European countries use the Euro, but they still handle their internal economic policies internally. That means that if one country has a really bad economy, they pull the rest of Europe down with them. That is what has happened to Europe, and it keeps them from being good customers.

The larger, more stable European countries have made great strides to help the smaller ones, but they have limited legal strength to do anything. Countries like Greece, where strong socialist leanings had loud-mouthed citizens demanding no austerity measures until recently, consistently refused to do the things needed stabilize their economies even with Germany and France willing to forgive debts and refinance remaining debts. Every time Greece did something new and stupid, the European markets would shake and the American stock markets would panic.

How Do We Fix It?

With all of this in mind, how do we fix our own economy to encourage job growth and wealth building? We have two primary paths, and will probably have to do a combination of them.

The first path involves patience. That is not an inherent human trait, apparently. Still, we must move along and try to enjoy our slow wealth building while taking care of those who cannot yet take part, i.e.: the unemployed. While we are doing this, we need to do the "value added" thing. Improve education, train people to provide services that are needed, encourage production of useful things, and so forth. Tough times are good occasions to rummage through and get rid of things that are no longer needed.

The Second Path

The second path is more nebulous. Good customer relations involves helping keep your customers in a condition where they can continue to buy from you. We have to do things that will improve the economies of other countries. That gets tricky.

Sure, we could invade a country like Greece and, under martial law, make people behave in a way that stabilizes their economy, but that may strike some as unethical. After all, we have not yet declared war on stupidity. Besides, only some of the Greeks were particularly stupid; most were like Americans who just want to go to work and live their lives. (I'm fully aware that the United States has plenty of morons too; I'm just referring to the majority that is not really stupid.)

Nope, our best bet is to do some of what we do best, advertising. Yep, our advertising industry can convince people of damned near anything. If we can convince people that spraying oneself in horrible stench will result in instant, multiple sex partners, we surely can convince people to take up the measures needed to economically responsible.

Of course, we have a terrible record in convincing Americans to be economically responsible, but that's because our advertisers have seen the populace as customers instead of partners. If we can coordinate a little, we can everyone working together to treat the rest of the world as customers instead. That improves most things.

There are ethical concerns here too, but they are far less concrete than the war angle. The victims in the advertising path are victims wearing the latest fashions, watching the latest programs, eating pleasant foods, and are generally contented. That's appreciable different from living in a bomb crater and mourning those who aren't as lucky.


Therefore, if you really want to fix the American economy at a faster rate, you really need to get our customers into better shape. The best route is through applied marketing. Use our Advertiser Mind Tricks to guide those poor souls to a better way where they have blue jeans and pop music. Do them that favor, and while you're at it do us that favor.

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Complaining About Doctors


Category: General

As a rule, I do not trust medical people. I've known too many of them that weren't worth a damn. Over the years, a few have earned my trust. The neurologist who gets my regular payments for services last year is not on that list.

My cardiologist, who is on the list of exceptional doctors, decided that I needed a sleep study. That's where they wire you up and then watch while you sleep to see how bad you are at it. They found that I average twenty-eight disruptions an hour when I should be getting my best sleep. The solution is a CPAP machine.

The CPAP (Continuous Passive Air Pressure) machine forces air into a mask one wears over the nose when sleeping. It makes breathing more efficient. That way, if you relax to the point that you aren't breathing, or if you have an airway obstruction, you are still getting your lungs filled. The CPAP worked great and I get much better sleep now.

The computers in the sleep study generated a printed listing of the results. This printout also contained the interpretation of the results. When the neurologist explained things to me, he seemed incapable of saying anything that wasn't preprinted on the report. Any question put to him drove him back to the report. He gave me the impression that he was just some guy reading the printout without really knowing what was going on.

I saw the text and graphs on the report. It was very clear and easy to understand. One would wonder if it really required a physician to make sense of it.

True, at one point a team of neurologists, sleep specialists, and compute people got together and created the hardware and software needed for the report. I'm sure they are well worth what they were paid. There is a good chance that the hundred and fifty I pay to the neurologist's office every month (after insurance) is going to pay for that equipment.

Still, when the doctor has to refer back to a simple report to answer a question, one doesn't feel comfortable parting with that much cash. When it is time to be studied again, I may shop around a bit. I recommend that you do the same.

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Baby Food Prank


Category: crafts

First, let me make this point very clearly. This prank is a wonderful HYPOTHETICAL prank, but under no circumstances should you ever actually do this. I mean it, seriously. Do not do this. It could easily result in an unwelcome visit from your local version of Child Protective Services. Of course, that doesn't mean the idea isn't funny.

Imagine that you have been asked to babysit an infant who eats baby food. You know the kind of baby food: strained carrots and such. Naturally, you will want to be diligent and feed the child before the parents get home. This is where the fun starts.

Again, do not actually do this. So, you retrieve from your pocket a small container of non-toxic glitter. Silver glitter works best. Make sure that the glitter does not have sharp sides or corners; you want it round and easy to digest.

You read that right, easy to digest. The next step is to mix the glitter into the baby food. Now, the child may or may not respond to the glitter. That isn't important, as long as you can get the ankle-biter to shove all does his or her gullet. When you are finished, clean all the glitter so the parents won't expect anything.

The bad news is that you may not be there for the payoff. The idea has to do it. Imagine the reaction from the parents the next time they have to change a diaper and see the sparkly payload.

Now, some of you may think that you could hypothetically replace glitter with tinsel. This is not a good idea. There are countless stories of pets that have eaten tinsel. When it comes out the back end, it never comes completely out. Instead, it trails behind, making a mess wherever the pet goes. To complete the removal, the pet owner must pull the tinsel out, often causing a tinsel cut. Think of it as a paper-cut on the inside of your colon that continues out your anus. That is not a pleasant thought.

An associate of mine, whom I'll call D.M (for his own self-respect), has a slight variation on the prank. He suggests feeding the child strained beets without letting the parents know you are going to do this. He further suggests that you casually mention a new form of cholera or similar disease that causes intestinal bleeding. I don't think this is as funny as the glitter thing, but it is in the class of baby food pranks.

Now it is your turn. What theoretical, non-harmful prank can you think of that involves baby food? Put the thought in your head and let is percolate in your subconscious. You know you want to.

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