Remembering Spaf

With a birthday coming up, and several friends having recently passed on (e.g., been dereferenced), I thought maybe I should write up my obituary for future use. After all, I know my story better than anyone else! So, feel free to use this when the need arises.

And if you have any missing bits to fill in, send them to me — I’ll update this in place.

This is not quite to this level of awesome or to this or to this but I may have a few weeks yet to get there.

Original post 3/14/12; Last update 2014-07-28.

Eugene H. Spafford, noted curmudgeon, died on <date>. It was a stupid accident that was then altered to look like an assassination by a secret government hit squad. But rest assured that he wasn’t important enough to warrant that kind of attention. The medical examiner will officially list the cause of death as “Jello, while interacting with Bambi and Trixie, two performers with Cirque de Soleil, and their pet llama, Julio” — not because it bears any resemblance to the truth, but because it will provide more lulz on Wikipedia.

Although many people believed he was an alien being (after all, the definition of “human” can only stretch so far), Spafford was born in western New York State to poor but proud parents. His birth changed their lives: they continued to be poor, but were never proud again. Two years later, his sister was born, thereafter affectionately referred to by their parents as “our only child.”

Spafford had a largely unremarkable childhood, frequently spending time as the neighbors’ imaginary friend. His parents took him and his sister to many notable and historic places around the country, but unwary strangers would invariably untie him and he would find his way home. In later years he was known to recount some of the happiest moments of his childhood such as having other children finally talk to him (5th grade), and first being allowed to play in the yard without his leash (7th grade),

By the time he had reached high school, he had shown unusual talent for math, science, and getting beaten up for having unusual talent for math and science. Nonetheless, he was named as “school mascot” by acclamation for several years running — until the other students found that despite this status, they could not get him thrown on the bonfire at other schools before football games. It was in high school that he got the nickname “Spaf,” in part because no one bothered to learn his first name.

It was in high school that Spaf discovered girls. Actually, he had known about them for some time, but it was at this time that he first discovered that the majority of them did not actually have cooties. His attempts to be noticed by the young women around him usually succeeded, but only accompanied by finger-pointing and derisive laughter…a pattern that continued through the rest of his life. He fell in love at least twice, but the objects of his affection generally did not return his affections because they had taste and standards…another long-standing pattern.

Upon graduation from high school, Spafford took a few years off school to work to support his family. At least, that is what he always claimed, and the court records are sealed.

Then, Spafford returned to school and completed his undergraduate degrees at SUNY Brockport in 3 years of classes, probably because the faculty voted to resign if he stayed for 4. He awoke in another state after his graduation party, with a note from his family pinned to his clothing, written in crayon, wishing him luck in Atlanta, where they had arranged for him to be admitted. Much to their dismay, “The Ramblin Wreck” was a university and not a psychiatric hospital (although, frankly, that wasn’t always obvious). Thus, he attended grad school at Georgia Tech, where he again showed an unusual talent for math and science, as well as amazingly poor luck with females of any species. After outlasting a department head, dean, two presidents of the university, and several roommates, a clerical error resulted in him getting a Ph.D. despite no faculty member actually serving as his advisor (really!).

As a condition of his immediate and permanent departure, local officials used a rumor of a large trust fund and vast quantities of tequila to introduce a young woman to Spaf, despite her reluctance to date outside her species. After a period of deception, and prolonged hypnotherapy, they were married.

After a short post doc while his thesis committee waited to ensure that the checks cleared, Spafford moved out of state and was hired by Purdue University in 1987 before the stories (and authorities) caught up with him. He spent the remainder of his career there, trying (in vain) to get people to behave nicely online, be kind to each other, and to adopt wearing of bow ties. When informed of his passing, his Purdue colleagues (those who didn’t respond “Who?”) began to chuckle — no doubt from fond and amusing memories, although the mutterings of “At last!” did seem a little too fervent.

Noted for his work in security (primarily as a risk), Spafford was frequently asked to travel long distances to speak — usually requested by whomever was in his near vicinity at the time. A talented programmer as well as researcher, he wrote many large software systems that, (perhaps) regrettably, are in languages for which no compiler or manual exists. This matched his propensity for giving presentations that were in languages unfamiliar to his audiences…and humans, in general. He helped scores of students get their Ph.Ds. — usually by serving as an example of what not to do. He received several “lifetime achievement” awards from professional societies in not so subtle attempts to get him to retire immediately and go away.

It was often observed that Spafford didn’t pay attention to boundaries and frequently crossed them…this was usually noted by others when talking about the fine line between genius and insanity.

In later years, he had medical issues that interfered with his work. Doctors, when not performing unsanctioned experiments on him, conjectured that it was all side-effects of the frequent alien abductions (performed on him, not by him). Consulting veterinarians were similarly puzzled, both by etiology and his species. The diagnoses were all different, but the recommended treatment was always the same: lobotomy. This was never done, because the insurance company refused to cover it, despite the generous and frequent offers of family and colleagues to take up a collection.

Spafford had a near encyclopedic knowledge of useless trivia, bad jokes, and stupid movie plot lines that he often shared spontaneously — this led to him spending a great deal of “alone time.” Besides his hobbies online, he enjoyed gardening, good whiskey, and target shooting — which might explain many missing neighborhood pets and the vigorous growth of the tulips in the back yard. As a lover, he was known to make women swoon…or would have been known, had any of them overcome the nausea at the thought so as to assent. And, he is memorialized in several dictionaries: the words “athlete” and “Spafford” are found together in a sentence under “cognitive dissonance.”

In his final years, Spafford spent a lot of time reminiscing about his childhood as an imaginary friend, and wondering what his life would have been like had be been born human.

In accordance with his wishes, his remains have been freeze-dried, adorned with a bow tie, and mailed to a random address as one last bad joke. He is survived by his wife (who will shortly be disabused of the rumor of the trust fund), a daughter (an only child, because his wife refused to repeat the trauma and horror … not of childbirth, but conception), sister, niece, nephews, the contents of several petri dishes with biohazard labels on board some UFOs, and basically everyone who is reading this. I mean, you can’t read this if you didn’t survive, right?

Donations can be made … oh, who are we fooling? Just go blow the money on chocolate and bourbon.

My Angry Posts

Yes, my tweets/posts recently have had less overall humor and a bit more anger. Sorry — that’s just me reacting to recent events.

I don’t suffer fools and the venal very easily — especially when they are fools who should know better.

Take vaccines. History shows that the single greatest killer of people is disease. Smallpox, TB, polio, diarrheal diseases of children, typhus, malaria, plague…. Measles also makes that list. We have some effective tools to limit…or even eradicate… some of those diseases, as we did with smallpox. Instead, as a species we have people who reject decades of experience and scientific study, who are letting some of these diseases persist. Polio is one horrific example, where semi-isolated groups are using religion and politics to prevent children from getting the vaccine. We are so close to eliminating that terrible scourge and there is evidence the disease is making a comeback.

Measles is still endemic in much of the world, killing many every year. It and smallpox were two highly contagious and deadly diseases that swept through new populations of indigenous peoples when introduced, often killing more than half of the population, and sickening the rest. (See this for some historical context.)  We were able to eliminate smallpox completely.  With will, we should be able to do the same with measles.

Why is it a concern?  Measles is not simply a rash. In a percentage of people it is crippling…or deadly.  I had a relative who went completely deaf before she was 10 because of measles; she was born before the vaccine was widely available. One of her friends died from the disease.  Those are terrible — and not rare —  outcomes. It’s worse when you consider that those who refuse to vaccinate also endanger the lives of children and adults in whom the vaccine did not gen up full immunity, or who cannot be vaccinated because of underlying medical conditions.  I had measles as a child and I still remember how terribly sick I was.  I would not wish that, nor the horrible potential side-effects, on anyone I cared about.

Someone sent me an article that had statistics showing that (effectively) early vaccinations were not understood as requiring a booster, and maybe not as effective for life-long immunity as having the disease.  He was implying that this was somehow “proof” of something…that the vaccine shouldn’t be used, perhaps?  That was the implication.  Instead, it is simple statistics and medicine that can be understood with minimal effort, and understanding that correlation does not prove causation.  However, to a paranoid, everything is proof of a conspiracy, and everyone who disagrees is part of the conspiracy.  Facts are simply attempts to fool the naive into believing there is no conspiracy.

Conspiracy?  To do what?  Protect people from a potentially crippling and deadly disease?  Yeah, right, that’s evil.  I can see hundreds of thousands of people signing on to actively promote that as a conspiracy.   Some no-nothings said the same kinds of things about the smallpox vaccine, and the polio vaccine.  It’s easy for them to switch to measles now because they haven’t seen the widespread devastation those diseases caused.  They never knew people — friends and family — who had to spend the rest of their lives in an iron lung, or who died from measles-caused encephalitis, or died gasping for breath as a result of pertussis.

Think about it: someone refusing vaccination for their children is basically saying “I’m going to gamble with their health and physical safety, and that of everyone they encounter, because I believe that vaccination causes … well, something.”  The link with autism has been thoroughly debunked, as has every other myth I’ve heard about.  It’s a terribly selfish and anti-social attitude with no foundation.  Tens of millions of people have received the vaccine over the last 50 years, and there has been no correlation found with anything…other than being less likely to get measles.  And here’s what someone with autism has to say about all this.

One of my favorite high school teachers had a withered arm from polio.  I worked with someone who had a useless arm caused by polio because his parents didn’t get him vaccinated.  They both managed okay with only one good arm, and they were thankful that they hadn’t died, but it was a life-long loss.  My aunt became a recluse because of her loss of hearing.  And to think of all the heartbroken parents who lost children to a preventable disease….  The human loss (and potential for loss) is heartrending.

As a parent, I am deeply concerned about my child, even thought she is now an adult.  What angers me is that people are willing to endanger others — including her and the rest of my family — because of paranoia and willful stupidity.  If it was only them, natural selection would help take care of the problem, but they pose a danger to me and my family, too by rejecting standard vaccination: our immunity may not be sure, and will likely degrade with time; there are also succeeding generations who may be at risk.

Of course, most of them have been vaccinated against measles and they are only willing to make the choice to endanger the next generation…they are safe, and hypocritical. They should eschew all medicines for themselves, including antibiotics, flu shots, and tetanus inoculations, too.  Those things have “chemicals” in them and are advocated by the “medical conspiracy.” Expose them to rabies and TB and cholera and malaria while we’re at it. Let’s speed up that natural selection a little…it’s the closest we can (legally) come to getting a little chlorine in the gene pool.

It isn’t only the stance on vaccines that make me angry these days.  The sanctimonious pinheads who are elected to office (and the no-nothings, bigots, and lazy who vote for them, or who don’t vote at all) also add to my anger level.   These are the people who blame the sick, the elderly, and the poor for their bad luck and disadvantaged environments.  Despite too many of the rich having way more of everything (except compassion) than they will ever need (and those same people claiming to follow a religious figure who instructed his followers to give everything to the poor), the hypocrits continue to pursue policies that further disadvantage and hurt the most impoverished among us.   These same jerks seek to exclude and injure others because of their skin color or heritage, although they use indirect terms to pursue that goal.  They seek to deny happiness to people who are born with different sexual orientations, and they treat women as less than even second-class citizens through oppressive health and employment regulations.  So many of them claim to follow religions that command they love one another, yet they pay no attention to people dying in other countries …and often they are eager to send our military to kill even more.  These are the people who, in the interests of making yet more money for the uber-rich, refuse to take actions that will help address climate change and reduce the pollution in our world.  These are the people who seek to destroy knowledge and spread falsehoods because they know the facts do not support their world view (I’ve blogged about this here, before).

I have spent much of my life trying to provide education to those who want it, to help them succeed and make the world a better place.  I have family and friends, including many who will long outlive me.  I want them to have a world where human life and dignity are valued — for everyone.  Where they do not need to fear preventable disease.  Where they are allowed to worship — or not — as they see fit, and to not be subject to physical harm because they do not share someone else’s beliefs.  Where they can love who they want, without criticism because of skin color, or body shape, or background. A world where if they fall ill, or a natural disaster befalls them, they do not need to make a choice among food, shelter, or health care, because they cannot afford more than one and they have no other options.  I hope for a world where knowledge is valued above myth and superstition.  I want those who follow after to have heroes based on something they can aspire to other than fame for a big butt or speed on a sports field.  And I want them to live in a world where their leaders are actually concerned about their welfare, rather than the interests of the monied few.

Recent news has not done much to make me believe that world is within reach, and each day is one less I will have to see a change.  It brings despair that my efforts have been for naught, and concern for the future they will inherit.  So yes, I am angry.  You should be too.

A Medical Scare — Protect Your Vision

[Updated Feb 8]

This year has gotten off to a lousy start.  It began with a stomach bug that wouldn’t go away for several weeks.   Luckily, I have avoided the flu (so far), and managed to keep all my New Year’s resolutions (so far),  so I guess things could be worse.

Wednesday (Jan 14), however, brought something really new to me, and I’ll share it here because therein is a caution for all of you — especially those with a little bit of “advanced wisdom” that signifies a bit more age.

Over the last few weeks, I have been mildly annoyed by a new “floater” in my left (and dominant) eye.  This is something that many people experience, and is generally only an annoyance.  They are caused by a little collagen tissue that has worked loose inside the eye, or perhaps a few blood cells leaking into the vitreous humor.  They are inside the eye so you can’t focus on them to see them, but they block some of the incoming light so they make a shadow on what you do see.  If you have yet to experience one of these, it is (in my experience) as if you have a smudge on your glasses (if you wear them) or a slight shadow that obscures something in your field of vision in brighter light.

Some floaters are absorbed after months or years, but in almost all cases they cease to be an issue because the neural circuitry of the eye/brain “learns” they are there and edits them out.  You also learn to move your eye (unconsciously) to pull in a picture from “around” the floater — our visual systems really are quite adaptable and amazing.  Thus, the floaters “go away.”

Having a mostly working brain, by Wednesday I had basically adapted to this new addition to my vision.

Sometime that afternoon, I noticed little black specks moving rapidly across my visual field.  I don’t recall that I consciously was thinking about them — they matched the behavior of a small fly, so it wasn’t really foreign.  I remember idly thinking it was curious that there would be a fly in my office on a cold day in January, but I was inside where it was warm, so maybe?  I was busy with visitors, so I dismissed it from my thoughts and focused on what I was doing.

Later, I had to leave to go pick up my car being serviced, and as I left, I noticed some sparkling “things” out of the corner of my eye.  When I would turn, whatever it was that I thought was moving wasn’t there.  Odd.  And then the loaner car I was driving appeared to have some defective windshield glass, with a wavy texture when I was looking at it sort of from my left side.  Strange — a BMW shouldn’t have wavy glass, right?

At the dealership, as I waited for my car, I noticed more “bugs” and other strange things, including curved lines, especially as I turned my head.  It looked like rather strange artifacts I have seen in bad video.  It was now quite clear to me something was wrong.  If I covered my left eye, my vision was fine.  If I covered my right, I saw the effects.  It was definitely my left eye.

There is a range of things that can cause visual phenomena such as this.  I knew it wasn’t drugs, because I don’t take any that could cause that and it wasn’t both eyes.  It wasn’t a migraine, because it wasn’t the aura/tunnel effect that describes a classic ocular migraine, and I’ve never had one of those.  It probably wasn’t a classic stroke, both because it didn’t match what I know about strokes, and I had no other symptoms.  (NB: everyone should learn quick triage for if someone else might have a stroke, using FAST.)

However, I wasn’t sure what else it might be.  I also knew from my days as an EMT that such phenomena should not be ignored in hopes they disappear.  They usually mean something.  And it could perhaps be a precursor for something worse, perhaps be a tear in my retina, or bleed in the eye, or some kind of unusual stroke-like incident.  I am highly dependent on my vision, so needless to say, I was now deeply concerned.

Of course, my regular optometrist was gone for the day by the time I determined all this, so I cancelled out of a phone conference, called my wife to tell her to hold dinner, and drove to the urgent care clinic on the way home.  The place was full of flu patients, so I had to wait over an hour. (Oh, and I kept away from most of the people in the room.  I sure hope I kept far enough away!)

The good news from the doc (finally): not a stroke, and not an intraocular bleed.  There was something observable in my eye, but the doctor on call didn’t know what it was.  He didn’t think the retina was involved.  He urged me to see an ophthalmologist ASAP the next day.  I went home, and left a message for my optometrist; he called me a little later, and after hearing me describe the symptoms, he reassured me that it was probably not damage to my retina, but he would arrange for me to be seen by a specialist the next day.

Yesterday (Thursday), I spent 3 hours at the eye clinic, mostly waiting.  Pictures, dilation, exam, and testing.  Then more exam.

The diagnosis is something called posterior vitreous detachment, or PVD.  This is not uncommon in people after about age 50 (me), and more common in people with severe myopia (also me).  It is when the vitreous pulls away from the retina, and bits of connective tissue and other cells get into the gel.  The increase in material, and the physical changes, lead to an increase in floaters, visual distortion, and phantom flashes of light.  Apparently, I am now more likely to have it in my right eye, too — not as a result of it happening to the left, but simply because it shows I have a tendency for it.

The good news is that I have no damage to my retina, but I have to watch it (figuratively) carefully for the next few weeks for symptoms of a tear developing.  I also got a clean bill of health for several other issues, such as macular degeneration and glaucoma — also good.  My vision is going to be poor for a while, however, so reading and working at the computer may be a bit more of a chore.

Here, however, is where the warning for you comes in, dear reader:  In about 10% of these cases, the separation also results in a tear of the retina, with about 40% of those being a complete separation of the retina.  This is bad news, and can lead to permanent loss of sight.   The good news is that most of these tears and separations can be fixed with a laser or a cryoprobe — but the longer it goes unfixed, the less likely it can be fixed: diagnosis and treatment are optimal if in the first 24 hours!

So, I had an adventure (I seem to have many of those), but in the end I merely have an inconvenience.  I’m writing this up because many of my friends and relatives are adding to their accumulated wisdom and laugh lines, and that translates into older eyes.   I urge you — if you see a sudden increase in floaters, something that looks like a big curtain or cobweb suddenly over your vision in one eye, or flashing lights and wavy lines in what you look at — see an ophthalmologist ASAP!  The exam doesn’t hurt, and if there is underlying damage, a quick response may save your vision.  No matter what you see on TV, there are no artificial eyes or transplants: take care of the eyes you have, so if nothing else you can continue to read my occasional blog posts. :-)

Updated Feb 8

It appears that I had another detachment event yesterday, as I had a big increase in the number of floaters.  My vision in my left eye is now full of cloudy things moving around.

Over the last few weeks I have been challenged with this in a major way.  Most of what I do during my regular day is read — either papers, or online.  Even before yesterday, this was a huge challenge.  I read for 30-45 minutes and develop a headache from trying to focus my eye.   I also find my concentration affected, because I keep noticing movement that I don’t expect to be there.  I tried covering my left eye, but my right eye is my weakest eye, and that resulted in significant fatigue as well.

I’m going to put up an autoresponder on my email to let people know there may be a delay in getting back to them — I am operating at only a fraction of my usual capacity.  However, it is difficult to be too upset about this — I can still see (sort of), and I am thankful for that.

Oh, and this doesn’t unduly affect my driving, so you don’t need to avoid me on the roads…unless you did so before this happened. :-)  I can see well enough to drive.  It is only when I want to focus on type or small things that the effects are most noticeable.

Be It Now Resolved…

It is almost that time of year again, to reflect on goals and resolutions — resolutions past, and new resolutions.  It’s the start of a new year!

I have managed to keep all my 2014 resolutions (although I still have a few hours to break #4 — ladies, I’m keeping my phone at the ready; heck, I’ll keep it on all next year, too!).   I also seem to still be keeping my 2013 resolutions and 2012 resolutions, although not everyone will agree that I’ve kept #17 from 2012.

For 2014, I’ll probably keep all the resolutions from the last couple of years, but add some new ones simply to challenge myself.  I’d challenge someone else, but no one listens to me anymore, so this is the best I can do.

Without further ado, I hereby resolve in 2015 to:

  1. Not make any movies about assassinating crazed despots…unless I get the millions in advance.
  2. Cut back on 2nd breakfasts…when anyone is watching.
  3. Not to become a Belieber.
  4. To not get caught again performing unauthorized experiments on undergrads. (NB: I resolve to not get caught, not to stop the experiments.)
  5. Obtain no piercings or other body modifications, especially those that set off the TSA’s magnetometer at the airport. Again.
  6. Not to let slip the secret that Dick Cheney is secretly a Brony.  (oops!)
  7. Not to exact my revenge on that certain someone…especially when approximate revenge will do.
  8. Not to exceed the speed of light…when anyone is watching.
  9. Drink a little less coffee each day, at least to the point where I don’t constantly hear those damn bees.
  10. Under no circumstances contract Ebola, or anything else that would cause me to bleed out of every orifice, such as  watching anything with a Kardashian in it.
  11. Remember — Death before Dishonor…if we respect alphabetic order.
  12. Go to the gym at least 2 times a week.  Sometime before next December, go inside, too, just to check it out.
  13. Be understanding that Jennifer, Adriana, Alessandra, Kate, Candice and the rest are really, really busy and simply have not yet been able to whisk me away.   (That must be the reason, right?)
  14. At university events, pretend to be chalant and gruntled.
  15. Overcome my cravings for cat bacon.
  16. Groot.  Often.  Except when anyone is watching.

Best wishes to you all for 2015!

The Growing Tide of Anti-Intellectualism

There is an undeniable, politically-supported growth of denial — and even hatred — of learning, facts, and the educated. Greed (and, most likely, fear of minorities) feeds demagoguery. Demagoguery can lead to harmful policies and thereafter to mob actions.

I’ve written on this topic here before. I also have cited an excellent essay from Scientific American about how the rising tide of anti-intellectualism threatens our democracy and future (you should read it).

What prompts this post is a recent article about a thinly-veiled political probe of the National Science Foundation, combined with the pending national election in the US. (Some of these issues apply elsewhere in the world, but this is a US-centric post.)

This view is also reinforced by my current experience — I am on a combined speaking tour and family vacation in Poland. I recently visited a memorial to the Katyn massacre, remembering when Soviet NKVD killed 22,000 captured Poles, many of whom were included because they were educated “intelligentsia.” Later today, I am visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau, where intellectuals were taken as well as Jews, Romani, the handicapped, and other undesirables, over a million of whom were subsequently executed. The Cambodian killing fields were filled with the bodies of educators, scientists, and doctors — even simply people who wore glasses — and their families, because they were viewed as enemies of the ruling belief system who could point out inconvenient facts and fallacies in the pronouncements of the leaders. History is filled with examples of shuttering of universities, burning of books, banning of lectures, and mass executions of the educated. The death sentence on Socrates is a canonical example of the problem.

I will admit to my own partisan (in the US) leaning here — which is steadily increasing as I observe prior cutbacks to NASA, NSF and basic science (e.g., here), claiming made-up medical evidence to attack women’s health choice issues (e.g., this and this), denial of climate change (e.g., here), denial of evolution, attacks against the EPA in favor of big-money polluters, promoting incorrect history books in for secondary school education, rhetoric about shutting down the Department of Education, perpetuating predatory student loan rates and other examples.

There is a clear and growing bias against education and even basic facts, primarily promoted by the GOP. Worse, they are finding widespread social support for these biases. Hiding behind claims of saving taxpayer money (so it can be spent on the military) and promoting religious freedoms (but in practice, only a select set of religions) has become their standard practice; those involved who don’t promote it either tolerate it or attempt to justify it. by picking a few counter-examples or cases of ignorance by other political entities.

For instance, if you read the above examples and were mentally making a list of “That citation is biased” or “All politicians are equally bad” or “But what about when that Democrat said….” then you are almost certainly part of the problem — denying the bigger picture by cherry-picking counterexamples. I won’t debate individual items, because that is to ignore the very clear overall pattern.

Socially, we are seeing the impact — for example, the popularity of Fox “News” stories that continue to present false information, candidates who are lying publicly despite being called out on it because the electorate doesn’t respond (Colbert’s “Truthiness” was a brilliant way of labeling this), the rise of one-issue deniers….

The recent scare-mongering and reactions to the spread of Ebola shows a combination ignorance of science, a political motivation (the GOP claims to want an “Ebola Czar” to make it look like they are doing something, but has been blocking the appointment of a Surgeon General and cutting funds to NIH for years), and even a racial component (1 death and 2 infections in the US is a crisis; thousands dying every week in West Africa merits not a mention).

Another case of malleable facts for political ends? Arguments for voter ID laws are specious and even evil (a veteran GOP US judge called it), but are being justified by made up facts so as to help keep voters disenfranchised who might threaten GOP candidates. (Look at the history of such laws — they are always proposed and passed in GOP-led state legislatures).

I don’t mean to condemn everyone who leans towards the Republicans, nor am I absolving any Democrats of their many peccadillos and faults. Politics tends to breed a certain level of corruption, and people with nuanced views are often unelectable.

However, I am deeply concerned with the direction in which we are headed, spearheaded by one political party, where dumb is considered “statesmanlike,” facts are inconvenient, religious mythology trumps science, and any observation of this is treated as if all views are equally valid. As Neil DeGrasse Tyson is alleged to have responded when creationists demanded equal time to present their view after the airing of Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey on TV: “You don’t talk about the spherical Earth with NASA, and then say let’s give equal time to the flat Earthers. Science is not there for you to cherry pick.”

Beliefs may be equal, but science and history are not “beliefs.” You can choose your beliefs, but you cannot choose facts.

If you have read this far, you are likely educated and capable of thought. You should be concerned about the trends, too. Don’t buy in to “All political parties are the same” because some research into this issue will reveal they are not, at least on this topic. Don’t excuse anti-intellectualism as simply “ conflict of competing belief systems.” Understand it for what is is. Speak out about it. If you are a fan of the GOP’s views on smaller government, immigration, or defense — fine, speak out in GOP forums on issues of science and truth, and make those a priority in your decision-making.

Perhaps more importantly, vote. Urge others to vote. Support candidates of any party who do not deny science, do not belittle education, do not make up their own version of the facts. Get others to vote, and educate them about the candidates. We want the smartest, best-educated people leading the world — not the dumbest, most biased, and most dishonest. Don’t vote solely by political party, although I encourage you to think about the above pattern if you don’t have any other information at hand.

Pastor Martin Niemoller is credited with the famous saying “First they came for the Sociaists, and I did not speak out….Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.” Let us not be the ones left, for whom there is no one left to speak. Let us seek to ensure that our descendants live in a world where knowledge is valued, truth — even difficult truth — is sought, and idiots are not given public acclaim.

And don’t forget to vote!

(Update: a few hours after I originally posted this, Borowitz came up with an appropriate news parody article in the New Yorker.)

Results of the Spaf’s Bow Tie Auction for Charity/Non-profits

The auction closed yesterday.  My sincere thanks to everyone who participated.  I was unsure how much interest it would generate, and somewhat concerned about whether it would generate anything significant for the organizations.  Pleasantly, a number of people responded with generous pledges.

Here are the winning bidders, bids, and destinations for each tie:

  1. Jon Loeliger, $175, the Breast Cancer Resource Center of Austin, TX
  2. Bryn Dole, $150, Purdue University/CERIAS
  3. David Elliott Bell, $300,  Purdue University/CERIAS
  4. David W. Baker, $350,  Purdue University/CERIAS
  5. Henrik Kramshøj, $150, UNICEF
  6. Karen Lopez, $501, Purdue University/CERIAS
  7. Bryn Dole, $150, Purdue University/CERIAS
  8. Aaron Lepold, $150, American Cancer Society
  9. Linda McGlasson, $125, Purdue University/CERIAS
  10. Lynn Terwoerds, $150, UNICEF

Additionally, Paul Rosenzweig pledged $100 to Purdue University/CERIAS.  If that bid had won a tie, he was going to donate it to a worthy grad student.  (Paul is a regular bow tie wearer, too.)

As per the “goodies” offer in the original post, Bryn, David. David, Karen, Linda and Paul will each get a CERIAS challenge coin.   Bryn, David, David and Karen will also receive a CERIAS-logo item.  And Karen will get treated to dinner and a bow tie-tying lesson from me if we manage to determine a shared location sometime before too long.  No one made a $1000+ pledge, so I don’t need to reveal what I had in mind for that. :-)

Additionally, although I didn’t disclose this in the original post, I made a personal commitment to ensure that all the charities I listed get something out of this.   Therefore, in addition to whatever I may donate at year’s end, I donated (from personal funds) $150 to each of:

Thus, the total amount raised for these organizations from this mini-event comes out to $3051 — and no one was required to dump anything on their heads!

If you would like to toss in a donation as part of this overall effort, please do so!  These are all great groups and worthy of support.  I will honor my “goodies” offers for any donations made through the end of August!  Contact me for details.


Charity Auction — Some of Spaf’s Bow Ties!

Total bids + 6 pledges (no tie):  $3051 – Auction closed!

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A Family Vacation, Part II

This is a continuation of the story begun in a previous blog post, of a vacation misadventure in 1997.

Travel — August 1

I awoke at 10:30am, a bit bruised and stiff. If you are ever in a car accident, you discover that you tend to pull and strain muscles from the involuntary bracing. Once the adrenaline wears off, you discover you have sore spots where you didn’t even know you had spots. That was my state.

I got up, took some ibuprofin, and then typed a report about the accident into my laptop. I then faxed the whole thing, including the accident report case number and other information, to my insurance agent. I’ll let him worry about it from here. I’m on vacation. To relax. To reduce stress. Yeah, right.

We got packed up and loaded the car. We checked out at 1pm and went to a delayed brunch at a nearby restaurant that was not a pancake place. The only notable thing about this was that Elizabeth really had a nice lunch, and then a fantastic dessert: “Cup of Dirt.” This was a bowl of chocolate pudding, covered with a layer of crumbled oreo cookies (sans filling), with several big gummy worms intermixed. It looked disgusting, so she loved it.

After that, we drove south to Fort Myers Beach, where we have a suite in the Pink Shell Beach Resort, on Estero Island (near Sanibel and Captiva). We directly overlook a beautiful beach on the Gulf of Mexico. It was lovely.

After arriving, I crashed for 45 minutes and took a nap. Then we went in search of food. We ended up at a small restaurant in a marina. The place was called the “Rusty Pelican,” which I thought (and still think) is a great name for the beach, and had wonderful food. I had grouper and Kathy had mahi. Elizabeth said she wanted chicken, but then refused to eat any. In fact, she refused to eat anything. She dropped her napkin and silverware on the floor, spilled her water on the table and on Kathy, spit out some of her food on the plate, and started crying. Then she really began to misbehave. Clearly, the excitement of the past few days had caught up with her. We had to leave without dessert, but even with all that, we still had a table full of strangers come over and compliment us on how pretty and well-behaved Elizabeth was. They did not appear to be angry, sarcastic, psychotic people — they seemed quite sincere. I shudder to think about how their children must act!

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at the grocery store and got some basic supplies for the kitchen in the suite.

August 2

Arose earlier than on previous days. Had breakfast in the room. Then, we applied lots of sunscreen (but later learned we missed some sensitive spots) and went down to the beach. This was Elizabeth’s first experience with the beach, but she loved it (after a few minutes). The Gulf has warm water, gentle waves, and nice sand. She enjoyed sitting at the edge of the surf. However, this necessitated me taking her out into deeper water every 10 minutes and shaking about 10 pounds of sand out of her suit, introduced through the surf dragging her bottom through the sand. We spent an hour on the beach, and then adjourned to the pool for a while.

We returned to the room to rinse off, give Elizabeth a snack, and sort through some items. We also called my Dad and found that we had a new nephew, Liam, born Tuesday. Apparently, the day we left (Monday), my sister went into labor. The next morning, she gave birth to my latest nephew, Liam. Everybody else in her family is ill at the moment, so it has been a somewhat trying time. My brother-in-law, trying to juggle everything else going on, couldn’t find my cell phone number, so he called and left a message on our answering machine back home. Of course, Kathy and I haven’t been checking that…because I’d been carrying the dang cell phone around for the past week, getting it caught in every ride at Disneyworld and restaurant chair I sat in as we awaited the news. (It was an age when cell phones were really large and bulky.)

After lunch and a nap, it was back to the beach at low tide. Elizabeth wanted to look for shells and swim again. However, her approach to gathering shells was to pick up every piece of shell she sees, whether it is whole, a fragment, a rock, seaweed, a bottle cap or whatever. As soon as her hands got full, she dumped the lot in the water, and started again. Needless to say, this is not terribly productive from the point of view of a discerning collector, but it is mildly interesting to watch. It actually is a metaphor for how some people live their lives, I guess (except for the bottle caps). At least she had more fun than searching for the “perfect” shells.

After a quick dip in the pool, we returned to the room, shower, and dressed. Rather than tempt fate too much, we decided to play it safe and not go anywhere for dinner. Instead, we called a local pizza place with a good recommendation by the management. I ordered two salads, a small cheese pizza for Elizabeth, and a “deluxe” for Kathy & myself with green peppers on only half (of the pizza, not Kathy) — green peppers and Kathy don’t seem to get along very well. With that, we turned the TV on to Nickelodeon for Elizabeth.

A half hour later, there was a knock at the door. It was our pizzas. However, there were no salads. We pointed that out, and the delivery guy headed back to the store to fetch the salads. Elizabeth dived into her pizza and declared it “yum” — thankfully. Kathy and I opened our pizza to discover that they put green peppers everywhere. However, in a unique twist on this usual Murphy’s Law result, they have put only green peppers on half of the pizza — no cheese! The delivery man, when he returned, was as perplexed as we were. However, his manager was not on duty, so the best he could offer was to give us a coupon for half off our next pizza order…as if we were there at the beach to keep ordering pizza! Anyhow, Kathy proceeded to pick peppers placed on her pizza (tomorrow, she will sell seashells by the seashore). Then we all went to bed early. (And, to add that special touch to my vacation, Kathy has developed terribly sore bruises across her abdomen where the seat belt got her. She is unable to bend at the waist, or even tolerate even so much as a gentle hug from either Elizabeth or myself. Put your own punchlines here.)

August 3

Absolutely nothing terrible happened today — what a relief. We arose late, had breakfast, and played in the surf and then the pool for several hours. (Well, Kathy was too sore to play, actually, but she did wade.) We made up some lunch in the room (Elizabeth had more cheese pizza), then headed out to a nearby Walmart to get some sunburn lotion, some beach toys, and some additional grocery items. After that, and a short nap for Elizabeth, we headed back out to the beach while Kathy did some laundry. The tide was going out, so after a little swimming, Elizabeth and I walked down the beach a ways, picking up shells. Then we played some with her new beach toys. For her, this basically meant picking up sand and dumping it in the water, then filling her bucket with water and dumping it in the sand. She found it great fun.

Kathy finished the laundry and came out to join us. All three of us walked out through the water to a sandbar, now exposed by the low tide. On the way, the water never got above my waist, where earlier in the day the water was above my head; it was a considerable tide. On the sandbar, we joined lots of people (mostly kids — this is a popular family resort) looking for shells. I guess I’m particularly good at this — I dug up a clam, found over a dozen small hermit crabs and two blue crabs, several anemones, a jellyfish, and two sand dollars. (I released all of them afterwards.) One of the kids who was watching me pull these up found a brittle starfish. Elizabeth displayed her usual focus on such interesting things — by digging up sand and dumping it in the water.

Some of the older girls who were present were fascinated by the parade of sea creatures I came up with and one asked “Are you a scientist?” Afterwards, I realized I should have answered “Not simply a scientist — a mad scientist” and given my best maniacal laugh. However, Kathy quickly explained that I was not only a scientist, but basically a harmless old fart scientist. When I complained about this, she enjoyed pointing out that had the young lady been a few years older, she would have seen that for herself. Elizabeth’s only comment: “Look, Dad: sand!”

We then adjourned to the pool where Elizabeth had a great time with her new water wings. In fact, it took both Kathy & myself to drag her out and convince her it was time to leave (30 minutes after sunset!). By that time, she was exhausted and shivering from the cold. So, I ended up wrapping her in her towel and once again carrying her back to our room. This is why we got a 3rd floor room with no elevators, of course. A quick, warm shower, and we went out for a late dinner. We ended up, by accident, at a nearby restaurant somewhat off the beaten path. We had a great dinner, with Kathy & I each having scallops with crab stuffing. Elizabeth had most of a hotdog, then pushed her plate away and tried to go to sleep on the table. We took this as a broad hint, got our desserts to go, and headed back to the room.

Elizabeth went right to bed. Kathy & I had key lime pie, watched some TV, followed by news & weather, and we also turned in. I had trouble getting to sleep. For some reason, I kept having dreams of being abducted and held for ransom. Each time, the kidnappers couldn’t find anyone to pay the ransom. This kept waking me up. I didn’t get much sleep.

August 4

Elizabeth arose early, so we did too. After breakfast, she and Kathy went out to play in the surf and the pool. I stayed inside and did the dishes (lots of small ants had found the few dirty dishes we had left out the day before), cleaned up some of the things we had been accumulating over the last few days, and read some e-mail.

At noon I went out and joined Elizabeth & Kathy. Elizabeth was having great fun in the pool. When I got there, we decided to go back to the ocean. We had been there about 3 minutes when a thunderstorm blew in and we had to get out. Thus, I got a long, relaxing swim — not.

The storm blew in some cool weather, so after lunch we shut off the A/C and opened the windows. I decided to catch a nap, and Elizabeth decided she wanted one too, but it had to be with Daddy. So, she grabbed her blanket and stuffed animal, and climbed on the bed where I was trying to nap. She was asleep in about 30 seconds but kept moving about, keeping me awake. Sigh. She’s so cute, and she’s growing up so quickly. She looked so peaceful, asleep with her stuffed doggie. It was a magical moment, but a full bladder trumps magic, so I had to get up.

After E’s nap, we drove to Sanibel and Captiva Islands to look around. Some of the houses were absolutely amazing — similar houses in the Indianapolis area run for $1.5 million (that’s in 1997 dollars). I’m sure the real estate on these small islands is considerably more expensive; some of those waterfront lots probably cost many hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, the beaches there didn’t look any nicer than the one in front of our hotel. In fact, some of them looked rougher. The residents probably can afford to hire professionals to do their swimming for them, so it doesn’t matter.

Interestingly, we first noted at Sanibel and Captiva that many of the street signs are in English, Spanish, and … German? Then we realized that the hotel staff here on Estero Island is bilingual in German, our room has a Yellow Pages book in German, all the hotel literature is in German as well as English, and so on. I stopped by the children’s rec room, and the staff is also bilingual in German, and several of the signs on the wall were in German. There must be some logical explanation for this, but I am unable to come up with it, unless there is a secret base nearby with black helicopters and these folks are somehow related. I don’t think it would be wise for me to investigate further, and besides, it probably means the local beer is worth investigating!

We returned to the restaurant we had visited the night before. This was largely prompted by Elizabeth telling us every 30 seconds that she was hungry. So, we got our menus, Elizabeth said she wanted a hamburger, and Kathy & I ordered seafood. So, what happened? Elizabeth ate one bite and proclaimed herself “full.” Despite all our entreaties, she refused to eat any more, pronouncing it as “yucky.” She then had a meltdown in the restaurant when we told her no swimming unless she ate some of her food. So, we returned to the hotel, put Elizabeth to bed early, and watched TV for the rest of the evening.

I think we’re all ready to head home — I know I need a rest from this vacation. I also think Elizabeth has had too much excitement and isn’t sleeping well. Kathy isn’t sleeping well either, and we’re all sporting significant sunburns in patches where the sun block was put on unevenly or washed off. We don’t need heat exhaustion and car accidents — the dreaded vacation attrition effect is doing us in. Another 3 days and I either explode from boredom, or else give up my university position, learn German, and get a job here on the beach. As we must leave for my uncle’s tomorrow, I think the matter is decided.


We visited my uncle & aunt, then got back home again with no further incidents, other than some additional sunburn. Nothing worth mentioning happened at all, except we had a relaxing and pleasant last few days. I totally burned out on keeping up my vacation diary, so this is the only text about it. But as it was really uneventful, that’s just as well.

Despite the lack of more adventure, I still didn’t get much sleep and returned much the worse for wear. Clearly, the only reason to go on a family vacation is to amuse Elizabeth, because I sure didn’t get anything out of it, and Kathy is still complaining about the bruises and the accumulated laundry. And we are continuing to find sand everywhere.

Looking back, this was a typical vacation for us. Sigh.

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