Monthly Archives: January 2011

On how I did surgeries

In my last post, I mentioned that I had performed surgery.  It’s a somewhat interesting tale that may make you wonder about me a little more than you already do.  Ok, so where to start?  I entered college pretty sure of myself.  I wanted a job that made great money and was intellectual and all that crap that high school seniors think is important.  I also had no interest whatsoever in dating or romance or ever having a girlfriend, so electrical engineering seemed right up my alley.

Within weeks, it was clear to me I had no idea what college was all about though.  I didn’t want to be an engineer and I didn’t mind the idea of a date now and then.  The first semester passed (and I shall speak no more of it here) and I knew I did not want to be an electrical engineer.

I met Emily during the first week of an honors philosophy class we both were taking (I also learned I did not want to be a philosopher).  We weren’t anything but acquaintances at that point.  I was minding my own business in the library during finals week, probably studying for that very class, when Emily and her friend came over and sat down.  Emily declared that I had studied enough and invited me to her dorm room for some hot chocolate.  I didn’t like hot chocolate but she was far too cute to let a little hot chocolate come between us.  It took 6 months of drinking hot chocolate before I finally worked up enough courage to kiss her.  Well before that, however, I knew I wanted to hang out with her more…so I decided to become a psychology major!  Yeah, if you know me, you know I don’t like people that much…not a smart move.  Anyhow, we graduated with degrees in psychology and prepared for graduate school.

We ended up at Western Kentucky University (we called it Western but they frown on that now) where I studied retinal physiology of zebrafish.  The neuroscience program was technically a part of the experimental psychology program which was technically a part of the  regular psychology program so I was legit.  I wrote software to do the data analysis and drive the data collection mechanisms which we used to study fish eyes.

I really thought I liked that a lot so after finishing at Western, we decided to head to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.  I enrolled in the PhD program in neuroscience at Vanderbilt where I studied brain anatomy and physiology in rhesus monkeys (and other creatures to a lesser extent).  The work I was doing was pretty sexy and unusual at the time.  Most anatomy and physiology work requires a short future for the animals involved.  They are always treated humanely at Vanderbilt, but it required an extreme commitment from the animal subjects.  My lab, however, was unusual in that we did surgeries to implant sensors in the monkeys’ brains and then woke them back up and did various tasks on which we had trained them.  They had long and nearly normal (lab animal) lives .  While they did their tasks, we could collect data from the sensors.  Truly, it was amazing work!

As I mentioned, the sensors were implanted in the brains (and eyes…I did not mention that) of the monkeys.  As students, part of our training was learning how to do both types of surgeries on the animals.  We used a sterile, human-grade operating room with human-grade tools and all of the “stuff” a surgeon would use on people if ever there was a need to put eye and brain sensors in a human (remind me…there is another story there).  Monkeys, of course, have many similarities to humans so it truly was an amazing experience but incredibly terrifying.  Every surgery we did was so stressful and I didn’t even have to worry about a human life or any sort of litigation.  Ok, I digress.

I eventually decided I did not like monkeys any more than I liked people so I ended up leaving Vanderbilt and monkey research.  I did like writing the computer software that we used at Western and Vanderbilt to collect data and drive the machinery.  Upon leaving Vanderbilt, I enrolled at Middle Tennessee State University where I earned a masters degree in computer science.  I am much better suited to this gig…I get computers and they get me.  It really is where I needed to end up, even if it was through a roundabout path.  The coolest part is I still get to spend lots of time with Emily!

A day off

Does it get much better than a day off in the middle of the week?  And now, don’t take this wrong, but I have the day off…alone!  I don’t want to have all of my days off alone, but every now and then it surely is nice!  So, what to do today?  I am currently in Panera eating way too much sweet breakfast food!  Panera is my favorite place to eat.  It’s not that it’s an amazing place or anything.  It’s good but it just seems to hit my palette just right…that and free wi-fi.

I have to take Abigail to the orthodontist this morning.  That will take an hour or two and I enjoy hanging with her as she waits.  She doesn’t get nervous but I am certain that she would rather be in school.  Now, Isaac, on the other hand….I think he would rather get teeth pulled than be in school.  It’s funny how different kids can be.  Emily and I are both the oldest in our families and were/are high-achievers (are you allowed to say that or is it arrogant?  Oh, like I care).  Usually younger kids are a bit more “flexible” (though both of our siblings are high achievers too).  With Isaac and Abigail, it’s the opposite.  Isaac wants to do as little as he possibly can to get by while Abigail cries if she misspells a single word on a homework paper.

It’s so nasty outside that I may just go home and work on the house after I return Abigail to school.  I think that is what I like most about days like these…I can do anything I want.  I suppose I am pretty thankful for my life too.  I am pretty thankful to have been given the ability and the opportunity to do many different things.  Related to the surprise that I mentioned yesterday, I was talking to a friend who is a part of the surprise.  We were talking about things that used to seem hard until we learned what “it” really required.  She said, “well it isn’t surgery”  I sort of laughed and replied that I had done surgery…several times in fact.  You may think I am full of it, but I have in fact performed several surgeries in real operating rooms with real anesthesia and sterile instruments, etc.  You’ll have to wait for another day to hear that story though.  Pique your interest any?  I hope so!  See you tomorrow.  I have goofing off to do today!

It’s been busy…but with what?

We have been pretty sketchy around here lately.  I haven’t found myself into any interesting projects.  I haven’t gone anywhere too unusual or done anything interesting.  I haven’t even licked a bell in weeks.  I can’t figure out what we have been doing actually.  Work is pretty typical.  We have started writing iPhone apps which has been interesting.  I have been writing computer programs for quite awhile but I have to tell you, as polished as Apple’s final products are, their software development tools are an atrocity!  That’s all I have to say about that…  But what else have we been doing?  The kids are into some things but not a crazy amount of stuff.  Oh well…

We have been working on something else since the end of September too.  Well, really we have been mostly waiting since the end of September.  I still want credit though as I have been stressing and irritated through a large part of that time trying to make things happen.  I can’t share any details yet, but when it happens (and it appears that it will happen soon), I will have tons to write about and I am SOOOOOO excited!  Piqued your interest any?  I hope so…

Though I typically hate winter, I noticed that the only saving grace of the season is once again available in stores…Cadbury eggs make life worth living in the winter.  This is one time when I am glad marketing folks jump the gun on holiday preparations.  I also like Reese’s peanut butter eggs.  I would take a picture, but…well….I already ate my peanut butter egg.  Anyhow, does it get any better than this?

The magical medicinal magnificent Cadbury cream egg!

There is not too much else going on friends.  We are still alive here in West-by-God-Virginia and are diligently preparing for the next big mess of snow and ice and what-not-signs-of-the-apocalypse.  We got milk and eggs and bread last night (so we can make french toast if we get trapped in our house, of course) so we will make it through!  I hope all is well in your neck of the woods!  And don’t forget…Ground Hog Day is only a week away!

100% Kindle enabled

On Christmas day, 75% of our family was connected to the great bookstore in the sky…  Emily and the kids each got kindles for Christmas.  I think we were all pretty skeptical when we first started thinking about this evil magic but Emily’s mom and my mom each got kindles and they seemed to like them.  The kids begged to read on theirs each time we saw them so we thought it might be worth a try.

Emily opened hers on Christmas morning and sort of gave a scowl…much like when I gave her a frying pan for Valentine’s day.  Rats…I blew it again.  Still, she turned it on and started reading the book that I had bought and installed.  She came out of hiding a day and a half later!  Maybe a kindle was better than a frying pan!  Isaac did the exact same thing so I knew his gift was a hit too!

Before Abigail had a chance to even turn hers on, I commandeered it and downloaded a bunch of books and hid from her while I read.  She finally tracked me down and insisted that I return her kindle so she could use her Christmas present.

Dang kids who read…well, I had to order my own.  Yesterday I received my kindle from the kind UPS driver and moved all of my stuff to it.  Of course, I had to take all of my stuff off of Abigail’s kindle.  She finally got it back right before bed last night.  Was that mean?  I think it will make her appreciate being able to use her Christmas present even more today!

Well, we do read a lot and I guess you could say we are 100% kindle enabled finally.  Thank you great bookstore in the sky.  Thank you for giving us cheaper books at the touch of a button.  But please great bookstore, please make it just a little harder to buy a book…we are becoming addicted and the credit card on file doesn’t seem to know how to say stop!

Why are we off today?

I was tucking Abigail into bed last night and reminded her that she could sleep in and enjoy her morning.  She remembered that it was Martin Luther King, Jr day.  She asked, “Jr means there was someone else with that name.  Who was that?”  I told her what I knew about her father and how MLK Jr was also a Southern black preacher (like his father) who led a movement to gain civil rights for black people 50-60 years ago.  We talked about Rosa Parks on the bus in Alabama and how brave she was to remain seated in her seat.  We talked about how badly some white people treated black people, abusing or killing them for a stray look or a misstep or just for fun.  I think she knew a lot of the information we discussed but we talked pretty plainly about how important it is to celebrate the bravery of the white and black pioneers of the Civil Rights movement.

I love where I grew up and I am proud to have come from a small town.  It’s funny though…we were monocolor and in some ways were so incredibly far apart away from race issues.  There was no diversity though so it was not an issue.  While I never saw race riots or first-hand discrimination or anything even close, I heard plenty of racial slurs and stereotypes and if anyone had ever even seen a person of color, it might have been different.  I didn’t really think much of it at the time as I knew not a single non-white person until I was in high school.  But for Isaac and Abigail, they don’t even comprehend racism.  That is not to say that it does not exist today, but I am so thankful that in their lives and experiences in their school, it seems to be absent.  I truly think that they no more understand hating someone for the color of their skin than hating someone because they are left handed or blonde.

As Abigail and I were finishing our conversation, she said, “Thanks Dad for answering all of my questions.”  (Yes, she said it just like that)  Thinking ahead to her preteen years, I assured her that she could always ask me any question and she would never be in trouble for curiosity.  “Well Dad, there is one more thing then…I have always wondered how cars work…”

The call came at 5:15

That’s 5:15 in the morning.  Or maybe it was even a tad bit earlier.  I am not sure.  You see, I was ASLEEP!  Oh, I complain and all but I am thankful that the school system uses an automated system to call everyone when school is cancelled.  We live in the armpit where WV, KY and OH all join so if we had to watch the scrolling thing on tv, we end up waiting a long time for them to roll back around to WV schools.  Did you like how I used armpit there?  I am not sure how else to describe it.  Let’s just say that border area is a really nice smelling, freshly cleaned (and maybe even shaved) armpit.  Maybe like Sandra Bullock’s armpit or something.  Anyhow, it’s a weird boundary so everyone in all three states watches the same tv stations waiting to see if their school is cancelled.

Ok, back to the call…the call came in at 5:15ish.  Emily normally gets up at 5:30 so she wasn’t too messed up by the call.   I tend to get up an hour later.  It works well for us.  Today, however, when she has the chance to go back to bed, she kept bugging me to haul my butt out of bed early and get out the door so she could go back to sleep.  Snow days for me mean that I get up earlier than normal.

Of course, Abigail was up (because the child never sleeps in) so it was sweet when I was getting ready to walk out the door.  She grabbed onto me and said, “do you have to go to work?  Don’t you get a snow day?”  She really didn’t want to let me go.  That’s pretty sweet and almost worth the pain of being run out of the house early by my wife.

We’re having a pretty good snow right now but I suspect we are nothing compared to NYC and Boston.  Once again, I am glad I live in West-by-God-Virginia!

Guns…and dogs…and trucks

Sounds like a country song doesn’t it?  You know, we lived in Nashville for 10 years or so and came away from the experience with a real interest in country music.  We like most sorts of music really, but country was only added after being around it for so long.

Anyhow, back to the point – guns.  The other two things came right out of my stream of consciousness.  Sometimes I get going on something and I can only tell I have gone off on a goose chase when I see others’ eyes glaze over.  It’s quite maddening really.  See, there I go again – off on a tangent.  So, guns…Isaac got a .22 rifle from Santa (sounds like a country Santa doesn’t it?)  He had been asking for a pellet gun but Santa figured he would outgrow that pretty quickly.  I know some folks might find it horrifying that Santa brought my son a gun but we are in WV and it is a part of the culture around these parts.  And besides that, I grew up in a similar culture so we’ll absolutely know how to properly use and care for a gun.  Rats, another tangent.

Last weekend we found a break in the weather and headed to the rifle range in Kanawha State Forest.  I had always heard that a person should not shoot there unless they are pretty well drunk, and it’s been a long time since I was there.  We took a chance though and found it in full use and very well managed by the folks who were shooting (i.e. it is not managed by anyone other than whoever happens to be shooting).  Everyone did a great job and we had a great time shooting.

We shot some at a paper target but really enjoyed the spinner target Isaac also got from Santa.  It was a lot of fun…until Isaac shot it right at the pivot point and filled the fulcrum point with lead – heck of a shot really.  Anyhow, Isaac now has his first gun and we had a great time shooting together!

Thank you Mr Williams

I may be the only person, but do any of you dear readers remember your Dad or Grandpa with a cup and a brush on the bathroom sink that they used for shaving?  My Dad had one that he used to shave but it always seemed so old-timey.  I started shaving when I was 13 (I think) and there was no way I was going to use that old fashioned mess.  Oh no, I was all about the sleek gel in the glamorous (?) spray container.  It was cool when Mom and Dad were paying for it.  As soon as I got out of college, Emily and I were married and we lived on next to nothing.  I still wonder how we didn’t starve but I felt as rich then as I ever have.

Following my shaving mug

Anyhow, we had no money so we bought the cheapest spray foam shaving cream and liked it (uh…we “liked” lots of stuff when there was no choice).  Actually, it wasn’t bad at all.  The gel made me smell like a girl anyhow so I didn’t mind the cheaper foamy stuff.  Yes indeed, very manly…very manly.

About a year ago, I read an article suggesting that modern guys and their significant others are missing out on something special.  The secret of a really great shave was lost on most people and daggone it, I wanted to recall the olden days when men wore hats and had a proper shave.  Well, sort of.  I don’t wear hats but I was up for getting a better shave.

Mr Williams makes my favorite variety

I searched for a proper coffee mug in our cabinets and bought a shaving brush and some of Mr Williams’ shaving soap and gave it a try.  Friends, I am here to report that the shaving experience with shaving soap is a different experience than using the girly gel or the cheap foam.  I haven’t yet moved to using an old fashioned safety razor, but changing to soap alone makes me hop up in the mornings looking forward to shaving.  Well, I may exaggerate some but I definitely prefer using it to cans of cream.  Call me a convert – a convert who is now a step closer to supreme manliness!