Browse Month: July 2014

Memories of Scout Camp

Last week Zack was at Scout Camp. He and a dozen other boys went to a local lake and spent the week camping, hiking, and learning to wakeboard, kayak, and surf. He had a lot of fun. Heck, I was there for a day and I had a lot of fun too.

The day after he came home, he complained that his legs hurt. We peeked beneath his shorts and discovered that he had a ton of little bites. Laralee actually counted 46 of them, mostly on the back of his legs but also on the front. Here’s a photo of the back of his right thigh:

zack-chiggers

Yikes.

Strangely, they actually got worse over the next couple of days. They were very painful– so much that he couldn’t sit, and had to spend the day on his stomach reading books and such.

A bit of research indicated that they’re probably chigger bites. None of the other boys at camp had any problems like this, so the best we can figure is that Zack either had a bunch of them in his sleeping bag, or he sat down somewhere in the forest and managed to stir up a bunch of the little buggers.

It’s almost a week later and they’re finally subsiding, but it was pretty crazy for a while. Hopefully this isn’t all he remembers about Scout Camp years from now…

Latest artsy photos

Here are a few artsy photos from the latest download from my camera…

Blinkenlights at my hosting facility:

blinkenlights

Peering into the guts of a server:

server-guts

And Skittles!

skittles

Toenail fungus

Over the past few months I’ve made a lot of progress trimming the amount of spam I receive. Every now and then something still manages to sneak through, but it’s nowhere near the flood I used to endure.

Today’s awesome sneak-through message? Toenail fungus cure!

toenail-fungus

I can’t imagine the sorts of people who click through on this. But I suspect it got through the filters simply because I wasn’t filtering for “toenail fungus”. Until now. Mwah ha haaaaa!

Ahh, conference calls

Today we had a conference call scheduled with a client. The purpose of the call was to decide how many opportunities the client’s customers (end users) would have to install a software license before the system told them they’d exhausted their attempts and would need to contact customer support.

Generally you don’t want to give customers just a single attempt, because something might go wrong during the installation process, or they might get a new computer and want to continue using the same license, and so forth. On the other hand, you don’t want to give them tens or hundreds of attempts because that opens the door for rampant piracy. So we knew going into it that the number would probably be in the neighborhood of 3 to 5.

Prior to the call, Ben commented that there really wasn’t any need for us (the development team) to even be a part of the call because in the end, it was a business decision for our client. We could save a lot of time– that’s billable time from us– if the client had this conversation internally and then spent two seconds telling us the number they decided to use. Unfortunately, they insisted we join the call so Ben and Josh spent 55 minutes listening on the conference line (not really even offering input) as about a dozen people at the client site debated the merits of 3 versus 4 and so forth.

I felt kind of bad that Ben and Josh had to endure that, because I came up to them after the call had ended and asked for the two-second summary. Ben said the number they chose was…

here it comes…

wait for it…

3

Ahh, meetings.

Thought-provoking paintings

Pawel Kuczynski is a Polish artist who has just released a series of paintings with clever social commentary. Two of my favorites are these:

tear-down-erect-another

(Especially apropos given the situation in the Ukraine and other places.)

facebook-periscope

The Friendship Chart

It’s a sad commentary on today’s world that so many countries and groups of people dislike each other we need some kind of “friendship chart” to understand the relationships. Not surprisingly, the Middle East is a prime example of this.

Slate just published this helpful friendship chart:

friendship-chart

Note the legend in the top right: friends, enemies, and “it’s complicated”. I also can’t help but smile (in a sad way) about the correction at the bottom of the chart: the editors mistakenly thought two countries were friends, but alas they are not.

From experience with Kyra, I think this friendship-chart technology could also be used to help junior-high girls map their relationships with each other. So I suppose I’m saying, in the end, that the countries and groups in the Middle East are somewhat like a bunch of junior-high girls…

Ants

A few weeks ago we noticed we had some ants crawling around our countertops now and then. We keep a pretty clean kitchen, so it didn’t seem like there was a bunch of food laying around attracting them. Growing up, I remember that ants would occasionally migrate through our house; you’d see a line of them from one end of the house to the other, and after a few days they’d apparently finish their little trek and that was that.

We found that spraying them with vinegar is pretty potent and kills them nicely, but they kept coming back. Laralee did a little research about how to kill ants without the need for nuclear bug spray from a professional exterminator. She learned that ants hate cinnamon, so it forms an effective “wall” to stop them from spreading. She mixed some cinnamon with water and made a little barrier around the area on the countertop where they crawl.

ants2

That seemed to stop them up on the countertop, but we noticed they were also on the floor outside the kitchen. A closer look revealed that they’re apparently living inside the wall. Laralee discovered that one way to kill them is to feed them dry Cream of Wheat cereal. They love it, and take it back to their nest where they all eat it and explode. I guess whatever magic ingredients are in Cream of Wheat react with their little stomachs to produce a bunch of gas (yeast?) and blow up the little buggers.

So she sprinkled a pile of Cream of Wheat at the two points along the baseboard where they apparently live. They went crazy and started coming out of the woodwork (literally!).

ants1

It’s pretty fascinating to watch them. Each ant grabs a tiny grain of Cream of Wheat and carries it back under the wall, presumably presenting it as a prize to the queen. There are hundreds of ants, all very organized and industrious. Within a few hours, a pile this size is completely gone. Laralee has replenished it a few times now.

I think she’s getting Stockholm Syndrome, though, because now she’s intrigued by these little guys and talks about how cool it is that they work tirelessly carting these little grains around, and how interesting this group is. I hope she doesn’t get too attached and start naming them.

Anyway, hopefully in a few days they’ll all blow up and we won’t see them any more. On the other hand, I warned Laralee that we have no idea if this is for real or if it’s just a clever prank by someone on the internet (I heard somewhere that not everything on the internet is true). We’ll see.

Zing Trivia Night!

Last night we had another Zing company activity… we went out to a local bar for trivia night. I’ve never been to a trivia night, but Josh is a seasoned veteran so he went in with confidence and poise.

First they took our picture for the official blog:

trivia-team

Then we had to come up with a clever team name. After discarding a few ideas including the amazingly original “Jeff’s Team”, we settled on “Team Germany” to celebrate their stunning victory over Brazil in the World Cup that day.

Then we went to work. Trevor, the MC, called out questions or played song mash-ups and cheesy movie lines, and we did our best to answer. Six other teams were there, and competition was fierce. We held steady in third place most of the evening, but in the last round we surged ahead and tied for first.

I have to give a shout-out to Nick, who correctly figured out a question whose answers were “eclair” and “Eau Claire, WI” and put us over the top.

There was a tie-breaker question for all the marbles (and a valuable gift card). It was in Family Feud style, where we had to answer with a number and the closest team– without going over– would win. The question: how long is the Hoover Dam? Both Josh and I have been there, and we agreed it was probably around half a mile across. We guessed 2,501 feet and it turned out we were too high, as was the other team. We were closer to the correct answer of 1,244 feet, so we won the night. Awesome!

trivia-scores

It was a lot of fun, and I hope we do it again.

Bye bye, molar

So today I had one of my molars yanked.

I had a root canal on it a few years ago, and about a week and a half ago I noticed a bump beside the tooth. Some quick research on Wikipedia, the Fount of All Knowledge, informed me that it was most likely an abscess: an infection deep within my gums. It didn’t hurt, but apparently an abscess can flare up within a day and become a massive, painful lump that makes you look like you have a tennis ball in your cheek. Some of the photos are pretty scary.

So I went to a dentist, who charged me $85 to poke at it and tell me, “Yep, it’s an abscess.” Since it was related to my root canal work, he sent me to an endodontist. Until that day I didn’t even know there was such a thing as an endodontist– evidently they specialize in root canals.

I headed over there a few days later, and he told me the tooth had cracked. Apparently that’s not uncommon with root canals, because there isn’t much tooth left after it’s been ground down, rooted, and capped. Also, I occasionally grind my teeth while I’m sleeping, which probably put enough pressure on this particular molar over the years to crack it. That leads to infection, which leads to an abscess. Whee. Anyway, the endodontist charged me $115 to tell he couldn’t help, and I needed to see an oral surgeon.

As I’ve taken this exciting journey over the past week, I’ve learned two things:

1) There’s a surprising number of people who specialize in different areas of the mouth: orthodontists, endodontists, periodontists, prosthodontists, dentists, oral surgeons, and probably a few other -ontists I didn’t have to visit.

2) All of them charge a lot of money for their work.

We don’t have dental insurance, so the dollar signs were racking up as I talked to the oral surgeon about extractions and bone grafts and implants and (eventually) crowns. I could easily buy a decent used car for the cost of handling this one tooth.

This morning I went to the oral surgeon, who took care of business. He did a great job with the local anesthesia, because I only felt little pricks and tugs as he reached into my mouth with a scalpel (yikes!), those silvery pointed things, a drill, and eventually a huge pair of specialized pliers. The tooth came out, and he proceeded to do a bone graft.

Being the curious guy I am, I asked about the bone graft: specifically, where does the bone come from? I had visions of him scraping it off some other place in my jaw, or maybe doing something with my femur or whatever. It turns out that a bone graft is really just powdered bone that’s packed into the holes left by the massive roots of my molar. Although he danced around it a bit with terms like “bone donor material”, in the end I asked him directly if the material came from a cadaver. Of course it does, but he finds that most patients aren’t all that comfortable knowing some dead person’s ground-up bones are being jammed into their jaws. I got to see the little vial of bone powder, and it was even labeled with the donor’s name: Betty. Yep, I now have little bits of Betty in my mandible.

Anyway, a few stitches finished the job and he sent me on my way with a big wad of gauze clenched in my mouth and instructions to fill the four prescriptions for drugs. Peridex is a special (meaning expensive) mouthwash; vicodin is a powerful painkiller, decadron is for swelling, and amoxicillin is for infection. Wow. I asked if I could just take some ibuprofin and gargle warm saltwater, and he agreed that would be fine too.

So far it’s been five hours. The painkillers have definitely worn off because I can feel my lips again, but I’m still waiting for the excruciating pain that should require four drugs to handle. Although it definitely hurts, it’s not even bad enough that I’ve popped any “Vitamin I”. Maybe I’m lucky, or I have a high pain tolerance, or maybe it’s going to hit later tonight with a vengeance that’s going to make me wish I could crank up on vicodin. I don’t know.

So, three or four months from now, everything should be healed up and I can decide if I want to spend another used-car’s worth of money to get an implant and a crown. Maybe I’ll find that missing a back molar isn’t a big deal, and I can go on living my life without it. We’ll see.

To finish this post, I figured I should really include a photo of me with my bloody tooth.

me-and-my-tooth

This kind of stuff makes me appreciate my teeth a little more. Maybe I’ll even floss a little.