30 April 2009


Photojojo has wonderful camera things

How the heck did I not know about Photojojo and the Photojojo Store before? Such awesome stuff!

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28 April 2009



It's a cliché that without health, we have nothing, but clichés exist for a reason. Here are my kids when they're healthy:

L in the Focus

M in the Focus

This week has been a bit of a worry because our younger daughter (top, in yellow) has been home sick for a couple of days with a vague malady (nothing like swine flu, fortunately), while yesterday, our older daughter (bottom, in fuchsia) tripped during gym class and made a total face-plant on the school gymnasium floor, leading to a doctor's visit to rule out a concussion.

(Coincidentally, two other kids also hurt themselves during the same gym class, even though they weren't doing any oddball activities—one gashed his head, the other just banged his leg and didn't have to leave school.)

Of course, I'm often laid up with side effects from my cancer medication, and this week even my wife had to ice an ankle she twisted a little while ago. So we've seen an inkling of what it could be like if we were all out of commission. I'm glad that's not the regular state, at least for the other three members of my family.

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27 April 2009


Worrying about Mac security

Last week's TidBITS has a great set of tips from Rich Mogull to evaluate Mac security claims, as to whether they're worth concern. (Some are.) Not sure how I missed it when it came out, but John Gruber highlighted it. The basic questions:

  1. Is the Story Based on a Vendor Press Release?
  2. Is the Story Really New?
  3. Is the Security Issue Really New?
  4. What's the Mechanism of Action?
  5. Does the Story Defend Mac Security Based Solely on History?

While a lot of claims of Mac vulnerabilities, exploits, viruses, and trojans are questionable, Mogull notes that, "The latest version of Windows (Vista, not that most people use it) is provably more secure in the lab than the latest version of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard."

Incidentally, TidBITS is turning 19 this month—it is one of the very oldest Internet publications that has continued to operate that entire time. It remains a valuable resource for techies in the know. I can't even recall when I first subscribed, but I must be somewhere around 15 years as TidBITS a reader myself.

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26 April 2009


Taking photos doesn't make you a terrorist

As far as I know, no actual or suspected terrorist has ever scoped out a potential target by walking around or in it in plain view, with a big camera and lens, and taking pictures. The 9/11 hijackers didn't, the U.S.S. Cole attackers didn't, the bombers of the London Underground and Madrid and Bali didn't. The FLQ kidnappers in 1970 didn't. Ahmed Rassam didn't. Suicide bombers in Israel and Iraq and Afghanistan don't.

So ads like this one, postered at SkyTrain stations here in Vancouver as the 2010 Olympics approach, bother me:

Photography is not a crime in Canada, you know

The theme of the ad campaign is "report the suspicious, not the strange." It's an odd slogan. What's the difference between, "Hey, that's strange" and "Hey, that's suspicious"?

And the examples it gives are ridiculous. In this particular instance, if you see a camera floating in mid-air with a translucent, ghost-like figure beneath it, you should apparently call a paranormal investigator. But if you see a man with a DSLR taking photos of the security camera in the station, report that to the Transit Police, because he could be a bad guy.

Here's the thing. Taking photographs in public places isn't illegal in Canada. (Is a SkyTrain station a public place? Interesting question.) Neither is it illegal in the U.S., nor in Britain—though laws are more restrictive in the U.K.

A U.S.-based lawyer has put together a quick PDF card about photographers' rights, and it's also interesting to note that TransLink itself has responded to photographers' concerns about the campaign:

Specifically, the image of the photographer is not intended to say photography and photographers are bad. It's intended to say that a person who is intently making records of specific transit security elements like cameras should raise a flag as suspicious activity.


They're taking pictures of wiring, pipes, electrical panels. Well, I'm sorry, not many people go around doing that.

Really? Sure about that? Hmm?

The problem, of course, is that while TransLink staff and police may understand that intention (I hope!), the implication is that if members of the general public see a photographer taking pictures of something other than friends and family, they should be suspicious and report it. In short, that they should be afraid.

There's a more general message in these types of campaigns, and the way some reporters and photography enthusiasts are treated by authorities, too: that big cameras with big lenses are particularly evil, as this satire notes:

I don’t want to be too technical, but the focal length of the lens is directly correlated with hatred of America. It goes something like this:

You have a a cell phone camera, point and shoot, or 20mm wide angle lens: you are a red blooded American who wants to celebrate our national heritage by taking pictures of popular tourist locations.

A 50mm lens: you are also, by and large, a good American, but you have a disturbing interest in “understanding” the terrorists and why they attack us.

An 85mm lens: you loathe your own country and secretly admire the 9/11 hijackers for giving us our comeuppance. You are not a terrorist, but your camera should probably be confiscated and your pictures deleted, lest they find their way to al Jazeera message boards. Your middle name may be Hussein.

A 200mm lens: you are an al Qaeda henchman actively scouting for security vulnerabilities.

A 300mm lens: you ARE bin Laden!

This approach, of course, is the very opposite of sensible. If terrorists really were checking out a target, they would probably work to be as surreptitious as possible. Use small cameras, like the camera phone I used to photograph the ad poster. Memorize things and sketch them out later. Steal plans. Not plop down a big-ass tripod out in the open and carefully compose an image with a huge DSLR and a monster chunk of lens mounted it. At the very least, all that gear would make it hard to get away quickly and unobtrusively.

You know what I think has really prompted this security theatre? Spy movies and TV shows. That's where you see the telephoto lenses in the hands of the bad guys, and the good guys, for that matter. (Then again, James Bond prefers small cameras.)

What this approach fails to notice is that those are fiction.

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24 April 2009


The neighbourhood of weird signs

Most of the street-name signs in Burnaby, the Vancouver suburb where I live, are the standard metal stick-out-from-the-post type, like this one:

Normal sign

However, a couple of decades ago, just up the block from us, the city installed this one, entirely vertical in design and mounted on a girder rather than a post. And I haven't seen another like it anywhere in Greater Vancouver:

Weird sign

It's not genuinely bizarre—it's still white on green, and if all the signs were like that, things would work just fine. I just wonder why it's different from all the rest. (UPDATE: In the comments, visitor RentingSucks provides the explanation, which is funny, and logical.)

Across the street from those two is this masterpiece, which I still consider the most confusing road sign ever:

World's most confusing road sign

Maybe there's a secret road sign experimentation division down by Burnaby City Hall that I don't know about, and our street is its main lab.

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23 April 2009


Videos that are scary-dumb

Example the First: I stumbled into this fine satire of a climate change denial video the other day. It's hilarious, with its ironic attempts at hipness, images of the world exploding, and with-it clip art youth proclaiming "Shut up!", "What the hell?", and "No way!"

Except, um, it's not a satire. It's an actual, serious video from our pals here at Vancouver's right-wing think-tank the Fraser Institute. I think it may very well be the "Gathering Storm" of anti–global warming videos—so ridiculous it's laughable.

Example the Second: Via Phil Plait, I found this astonishing record of Texas congressman Joe Barton, yesterday asking the U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu (also the winner of a Nobel Prize in Physics, by the way) where all the oil in Alaska came from. Chu is obviously puzzled at why Barton would ask something so basic, but as the congressman continues his question, Dr. Chu realizes that Mr. Barton apparently doesn't have the first clue about geology or plate tectonics:

Wow. Even more depressing, Mr. Barton thought he'd stumped Dr. Chu, and said so on his Twitter account! The rest of the Twitterverse (me included) quickly corrected the congressman. Since Dr. Chu only had six seconds to respond, and was obviously so aghast at Mr. Barton's lack of knowledge, he couldn't formulate a proper response. Given a minute, he could have said:

Hundreds of millions of years ago, when Alaska was in a different place on the globe because of continental drift, trillions of microorganisms lived and died there. Immense heat and pressure converted their bodies, buried deep underground by geological processes, into simpler hydrocarbons, like oil. That’s why they’re called fossil fuels.

Not an Example: As a relief from those, here's something amazing (via Tim Bray and kk+):

That's more like it.

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Big bugs and more

Photo Synthesis is a new blog started this month that will showcase science photography from around the Web. Right now it's almost all insect macrophotography (close-ups), but I'm sure there will be different stuff soon. At least I hope so—many people get creeped out by giant close-up pictures of ants, no matter how cool they are.

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22 April 2009


Morbid linkage on Earth Day

Blossoms 4I don't scour the Web for cancer news. Having cancer myself means the topic is enough on my mind already without reading too much more about it, and I don't seem to be the type to leap wholeheartedly into cancer advocacy as some do. Yet interesting stuff still comes my way.

It's also easier to read that stuff since my last CT scan was more encouraging than usual—even if today I'm having a worse-than-usual bout of side effects from my medication. I've been sitting on our recliner couch most of the day, and have to stay close to the bathroom all the time. (Hey, minimal carbon footprint!) So, some of my reading today:

  • First, my friend Alistair sent a link to this comic, which reinforces that "curing cancer" isn't a realistic goal, because cancer isn't one simple thing. It's a bit of a bummer, really, but also a good reality check.
  • Speaking of bummers, this series of photos (via Kottke) of a young cancer patient who kept herself going so she could get married to her high school sweetheart, but died five days later, is wonderful. Tremendously sad, yet uplifting too.
  • I know this is a Big Pharma ad, but the Pfizer "Be Brave" commercial slays me every time.
  • A couple of years ago, when I thought I might die soon, I posted about what I'd like to happen to my body once I'm dead. Now, I seem to be carrying on, but that stuff is still worth considering for anyone, and I discovered recently that it's surprisingly easy to donate your body for anatomical study and medical research at my alma mater, UBC. They even have a consent form to download right from the site. Unfortunately, "advanced metastatic cancers" may prevent a body from being useful for what they need, so that's a bit annoying. Maybe donating just my skeleton somewhere would be better. Fortunately, it looks like I have some time to investigate this stuff now...
  • My Flickr pal e_hoogie has a rare genetic condition that makes her prone to all sorts of different cancers, and she's been treated for five different kinds, but she's still going, five years later. Inspiring.

As for me, I expect the side effects to calm down this afternoon or evening. I may go take some pictures in the yard right now. Maybe tomorrow I can get out and snap some more in the sun, and then go see one of my daughters read at her school for literacy week.

This is my third spring with cancer, and I'm glad to see it. Here's hoping for a bunch more.

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21 April 2009


Derek the fanboy

My daughter M and I just calculated that over my computer-using lifetime, I've owned 35 out of the 114 or so models of computers, iPods, and input devices that Apple has released since 1976 that appear in this collage image (via TidBITS). It doesn't list printers and some other accessories, and there are a few missing (I don't see the Apple ][ Plus, Power Mac 7100, or Power Mac G3 desktop, for instance) so I've actually had a few more in my house since 1982.

I guess I fall into the fanboy camp, right? Especially because I could pick out the missing items off the top of my head.

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20 April 2009


Win $155 worth of Aveda body products from my wife's podcast

My wife's podcast Lip Gloss and Laptops is giving away two $155 Aveda Earth Day gift packs of various cosmetics and body products. The draw is open to Canadian residents only, and you have to enter by the end of Earth Day, Wednesday, April 22, 2009. If it sounds like your kind of thing, the details are over at the LGL site.

What's the Earth Day connection? I haven't read the press info for the bundle, but I can tell you that the packaging is definitely green in colour, and you get a really sturdy canvas shopping bag if you win too.

Incidentally, I've never known how to say Aveda (or AVEDA, as they sometimes capitalize it). Ah-VEE-dah? Ah-VEY-da? AH-ve-dah? Anyone know?

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Photos from the Sun Run

18 April 2009


Join me and The Neurotics at the Sun Run tomorrow

UPDATE: Here are the latest photos from the 2009 run.

Neurotics onstage at Flickr.comThe biggest shows I've ever played with my band The Neurotics have been our annual performances atop a scaffold, at the starting line of the Vancouver Sun Run. Tomorrow, Sunday April 19, 2009, marks the sixteenth time the band will play at the event, and is the tenth time I'll be there on drums. (I left the band for a few years in the '90s, and missed 2007 because of chemotherapy.)

Anyway, it's quite the crowd—last year more than 55,000 people ran past our stage, which is like playing for a sold-out B.C. Place Stadium. Sean, one of our guitarists (turning to the left in the photo) calls the gig a "heads-up hockey" show: there are lots of stops and starts, usually without much warning, as run organizers make announcements and start each wave of the run. There are few if any breaks. We have to be hyper-aware of what's happening for several hours in a row. But it's lots of fun.

This year we're taking a different approach than usual. Every other year we've had four musicians on the scaffold, but this time we'll have six, adding an additional percussionist and a singer. We'll be just as silly as usual, however, so if you're heading down to the Sun Run, wave hi. I'll be on either drums or percussion when you come by. Alas, chances are I won't be able to see you in the mob, but you never know.

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17 April 2009


Cannon Beach days

Haystack HighwayMy wife, kids, and I have spent quite a bit of time in Cannon Beach, Oregon, where we took our summer vacations several years in a row. We like the place: it's in the United States, another country, yet it's part of the same sort of coastal ecosystem as we have here in British Columbia. So it's familiar, yet foreign, and one of my favourite places.

Today my parents, who are returning from a road trip to San Diego, have happened into staying a night in Cannon Beach too. They phoned me tonight as they had a light dinner and wine on the patio of their motel, watching the sunset. Today is also their 44th anniversary. They like the place too.

Incidentally, after they checked in, my mother realized that, decades ago, she had stayed at the same motel with her longtime friend Erlyne.

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15 April 2009


Links of interest (2009-04-15):

Most of these come via Jason Kottke or John Gruber:

  • Nine science words that came from science fiction. See the (inevitably snipey) comments for some others, like robot, cyberspace, waldo, grok, avatar, and the delightful thagomizer.
  • "I can’t think of a way that the entire [computer] desktop metaphor can be overhauled without either everyone in the world switching over at once (which won’t happen), or becoming a 'data island' like the Newton or Classic Mac OS."
  • The MythBusters have a regular column in Popular Mechanics.
  • "If you're married to page views, never assume that I am. If you're angling for 1,000,000 Twitter followers whom you pretend to read, never assume that I am. And, if your project is based on generating compulsory year-over-year growth vis-a-vis market domination and fiduciary responsibility, never assume that I am."
  • Rush Limbaugh's 10 dumbest remarks.
  • Stephen Colbert won't get a space station module named after himself, but he will get a space treadmill instead.
  • Our pal Kris Krug takes great photographs of people, and is enormously prolific in publishing them online, and Miranda and Reilly Lievers make amazing wedding pictures. But when my other friend Alastair Bird, who's made his living as a photographer for many years, publishes the occasional portrait online, there's something about his shallow-focus work with a medium-format camera that I find just astounding.
  • A nice summary by "Bad Astronomer" Phil Plait of Jerry Coyne's book Why Evolution is True.
  • I am a photic sneezer, and it runs in my family (my grandmother did it, I think my dad does it, and one of my daughters does too). I'm glad to read an explanation.

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14 April 2009


Decent cancer news from my CT scan

I don't write as much about my cancer here as I did a couple of years ago. That doesn't mean it's gone, or going away—I still have nine malignant metastatic tumours in my lungs, but my treatment has turned into a routine, something of a drudgery. I take a small but nasty pill every day, and have side effects that keep in me in the bathroom for an hour or more every night or two. Every two months I go to the B.C. Cancer Agency and lie down in a big doughnut-shaped machine for a CT scan, and then a few days later I meet an oncologist to get the results.

And today, for maybe the first time ever, the news is relatively positive. I usually walk into the clinic expecting bad news, such as that the tumours would have grown substantially. If that had been the case, I planned to stop the current drug and take a break, then try something else in a couple of months. Yet there aren't a lot of something elses anymore, so that would have been a bummer. Still, it's what I expected, since it has been the pattern. I had asked my wife to come with me, expecting I'd need her support.

But instead, today the doctor told us that there has been no measurable change in my lung tumours. No, they haven't shrunk, but they are no bigger either.

Apparently there is one lymph node they had noticed before (though I hadn't heard about it) which has grown a bit, but overall he called it called it "no change," i.e. the cancer has been stable over the past two months. That means the cediranib pills are probably doing something, at least keeping the tumours at bay, and while the side effects aren't fun, they're manageable. Otherwise, I feel pretty good.

So, more of the same treatment for now. Pills, and side effects, but a livable life. And we'll see how things are in two months. I'm encouraged: this is the first time that the lung metastases haven't grown significantly between scans. I can plan for the summer and maybe ride my bike some, and we can do our thing here at home. That's good enough for me today, and I have some spring in my step this afternoon.

Plus, it looks like I may see the Olympics come to town after all.

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13 April 2009


My song "Meltdown Man" in a movie trailer

If you watch this trailer for the documentary film Paper or Plastic?, around the 1 min 35 sec mark, you'll hear my tune "Meltdown Man," which the filmmakers licensed from me last year:

The movie about the world grocery bagging championships. Yes, you read that right. I haven't seen the whole film yet, but it looks fun.

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10 April 2009


My review of GarageBand '09

30 - GarageBand 09 on iMacOver the past year, I've put myself forward as something of an expert on GarageBand, Apple's intro-level audio recording and podcasting application. I've been using the program intensively, through every version upgrade, since it first appeared in 2004, and I've kept in touch with Apple (through both formal and informal channels) about it ever since.

Plus you can now buy a comprehensive video course I recorded to show you how GarageBand works.

So you might wonder what I think of Apple's newest version of the program. If so, I've just published a big GarageBand '09 review article over at the Inside Home Recording blog, which should interest you. There's also a link to my audio review from a couple of weeks ago.

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09 April 2009


The terrorists you read, hear, and view

Buzz Bishop has a good point: if you measure the effectiveness of terrorism by the fear it generates and the behaviours it changes—the goals of terrorist organizations, after all—then the biggest terrorists are the news media. We humans, as usual, suck at evaluating risks, so TV, paper, and radio news often take advantage of us because of that.

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08 April 2009


Yes, master

There's been a bit of hype over the new re-mastering of the Beatles music catalogue, for a new set of CD releases and a Beatles version of Rock Band coming in September. The press release says that Apple Corps. (the Beatles record companies) are:

...delighted to announce the release of the original Beatles catalogue, which has been digitally re-mastered for the first time...

(My emphasis.) That's a marketing lie. The catalogue was digitally re-mastered in 1987 for the first CD releases. It had to be. You can't make a CD (or any other digital music medium) out of analogue audio without digitally re-mastering it first. Unless EMI and Apple Corps. consider the 1987 occasion the "first digital master" and the new ones the "first digital RE-master," which is a "that depends on what your definition of 'is' is" kind of semantic distinction.

What are mastering and re-mastering?

Mastering is the phase of audio production where you prepare audio files for their final medium. In the days of LPs, mastering engineers evened out the levels of different songs so their average volume didn't vary too widely, then applied various types of equalization to the master tapes, designed for the way record players were manufactured, and to prevent heavy bass frequencies from causing the needle to hop out of the grooves. Setting standards for those masters were one of the things the Recording Industry Association of America used to do before it turned to suing its customers for file sharing.

There would need to be different masters for cassettes or eight-track tapes, by the way.

Engineers mastering for CDs didn't have to worry about the groove hopping, but for music recorded on analogue equipment (i.e. tape machines), they did have to digitize it into ones and zeroes using what's known as an A/D (analogue-to-digital) converter, as well as still making sure the various songs were of comparable average volume. That's the digital re-master.

Digital and analogue masters

These days pretty much everything is recorded digitally, either directly in a computer or by digitizing signals from microphones and guitar cables right at the source, so for new recordings the digital master is the first one. Re-mastering might be done later to make it sound different—or, with a bit of irony, to convert it to analogue for special LP pressings or DJ vinyl singles. That would be an analogue re-master.

So it's true that these new Beatles CDs (and, with luck, eventually iTunes tracks) will be new digital re-masters, but they won't be the first ones. If you already have a complete collection of Beatles CDs from those 1987 digital re-masters, these new ones will probably sound different, maybe better. But they could sound worse.

Avoiding the Loudness Wars

The trend in the past decade has been to master or re-master pop recordings to sound way too loud, and to crush all the dynamics (the difference between the loud and soft parts) out of songs. That's why listening to a top-hits radio station, or a playlist of current top pop hits, can actually be physically exhausting. Your ears never get a break. It's called the Loudness Wars, and we've talked about it a lot at my Inside Home Recording podcast. While it has seen a bit of a backlash recently, the risk is that EMI's engineers might have succumbed to the trend.

It happened a few years ago, when Genesis released re-mixed and re-mastered versions of many of their albums (even in surround sound). The audio compression wasn't especially extreme, and the re-mastering was useful for some very early recordings and bootlegs with poor sound quality, but many of the band's well-known albums from the '70s and '80s sounded too modernized—and, for die-hard fans, simply wrong, almost like cover-band versions of the tracks, or the "Greedo shoots first" special editions of the Star Wars movies.

I haven't heard the Beatles results yet, but I find it encouraging that EMI has also gone to the trouble of making new mono re-masters of the Beatles catalogue as part of the current set. If they're willing to be that retro, I suspect they've probably avoided over-compressing the stereo mixes too. I sure hope so.

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07 April 2009


Drill baby drill

My first-ever filling is done. As I expected, it was pretty straightforward. It took about 20 minutes once the freezing was in, on a beautiful sunny day with a wonderful view of downtown Vancouver from the dentist's chair. The only surprise was how sore my jaw got from keeping it open the whole time, with the dental dam in my mouth.

The local anaesthesia is starting to wear off now, but even that's not too bad. My upper lip no longer feels like a flap of rubber, for one. Unfortunately, I'm having some of those interminable intestinal side effects from my cancer medication now. That doesn't help, but it does make any residual dental pain the least of my problems.

Time to watch Destroyed in Seconds. It's a good distraction while I'm out of the bathroom. Speaking of distractions, I picked a better one to hear on my iPod during the procedure: the always incisive and funny Savage Love sex advice podcast.

I had to turn up the volume during the drilling.

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04 April 2009


20 years behind the kit

Derek as Sticky NeuroticTwenty years ago this spring, I played my first gig as a drummer, at the Last Class Bash for the UBC Science Undergraduate Society. Our band, the Juan Valdez Memorial R&B Ensemble, was a five-piece with me on drums, my roommates Alistair, Sebastien, and Andrew on guitars and bass, and Ken Otter (now a professor of zoology) on another guitar.

We'd spent months rehearsing, but we still didn't know how to sing proper harmonies. Our playlist included mostly old songs from the '60s: "Gloria," "Long Cool Woman," the theme from "Batman." I skipped a final lecture for one of my high-level biology courses to set up for the show in the Student Union Building party room. Our friend Steve ran the rented PA system.

We were relatively terrible, but we were silly, and we had a good time. So did the heavy-drinking audience.

I'm still playing in a later version of the same band. Sebastien is still on guitar, I'm still on drums when I feel up to it. We're still playing some of those same songs. I've spent half my life in this act.

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03 April 2009


Cosmic Bowling

Cosmic bowling at Flickr.comOur older daughter is at a birthday party this evening, so we decided to take her younger sister down to Rev's for Cosmic Bowling.

Little L, my wife Air, and I are all... let's say novice bowlers. In fact, I realized once I got there that I've never in my life played ten-pin bowling, only five-pin with the much smaller balls. We asked to have the gutter bumpers pulled up to get at least a decent chance at a tolerable score.

We had tons of fun, though, as well as dinner at our table at the lane. (They serve booze too!) I think we'll go back.

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01 April 2009



Teeth at Flickr.comI inherited my Oma's strong teeth: when she died at age 91, she still had most of her natural teeth, despite having lived through two world wars, the Berlin Blockade, and a career as a restauranteur. While I had lots of orthodontics when I was a kid, and had to have all four widsom teeth removed in 1990, I have never had even a single cavity.

Until now. When I went to see my dentist this afternoon for a routine cleaning, a bit of sensitivity and an X-ray showed a tiny amount of decay on the front surface of the last molar on the top left side of my mouth. I'll set up an appointment to have a filling next week.

Since my teeth have put up with almost 40 years of abuse so far, I can't really complain. Especially considering how minor a cavity is compared to the other shit I'm dealing with these days. A few years ago I would have been pretty disappointed by tooth decay; now it's almost laughable.

In fact, there's a good chance the only reason I have this cavity is because the chemotherapy and other cancer treatments I've had over the past couple of years are pretty hard on my immune system and the rest of my body, teeth included. My dentist said my gums are actually in surprisingly good shape, considering. My Oma-teeth are still holding in pretty strong.

Not only that, but after all the surgery and stuff I've experienced recently, and all the heavy-duty painkillers and other drugs I've had to take, a bit of dental work is about as threatening as a mosquito bite. I'll drop in for 45 minutes, have my jaw frozen, listen to my iPod, and head home. From my current perspective, it's a piece of cake.

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