Thursday, December 02, 2004

coming up for air

First, thank you to Candy for the birthday wishes. I did put photos up from the party--they're here. Have a zillion more to get processed and up -- sooner or later.

Been busy busy busy. Launched Westport Benefits Group a couple of weeks ago and have more to add to that site. Working on Time and Timing, which is scheduled to launch very soon. Also working on another huge site, which I had hoped would have launched by now but it has mushroomed a bit. Need to launch a placeholder page for an artist. And more. Feeling very overwhelmed, but mainly because I have this nasty cold that makes me feel like I'm encased in cotton and very stupid. But the cold will be over soon. And I love the stuff I'm working on now, so that helps.

My youngest sister bought a tiny house in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. I guess you would call it a starter house. It's a nice, solid house built in, I think she said, 1928. Two bedrooms, one bathroom. Stanley and I stayed with her the week we went to Michigan for my parents' golden anniversary shindig. So, it was a tiny house filled with my sister, her son, Stanley, me, two dogs, and three cats. One of the cats loomed larger than life. My father named it Uday, as in Saddam Hussein's evil son, because the cat is vicious. A beautiful cat, but the meanest creature I've ever encountered.

Cat Two is my nephew Brian's kitten Little Bit. Little Bit is tiny, yet ferocious. When our golden retriever got too close to Little Bit, the silly little kitten hissed at the dog and tried to swat it away. After my dad's birthday party, we had leftover prime rib, green beans, and carrots -- I had set the box down on the counter for a few minutes. Little Bit attacked the box, getting it open, and gobbled the green beans, most of the carrots, and then began working on the prime rib. It was amazing to see this little thing go to work:


My sister has a wonderful bedroom. It's lavender and very restful. One evening all of the cats and Stanley disappeared, so I went looking for them. Here you can't see the third cat, Uday, but he is also in here:


Below is a picture of my nieces. Kate is on the left, and Kristine on the right. It was great to see them hanging out -- Kate lives near Boston and Kristine lives near Detroit, so it's rare that they're together. Kristine is in college majoring in , I think, criminal justice. Kate is in high school majoring in getting through high school. She'll be 16 on the Winter Solstice, which means she can learn how to drive, which makes me very, very nervous.



Kristine is engaged to Matthew. Matt is in the Michigan Air National Guard and currently stationed in Iraq, in Baghdad. He was home on leave in October for a too brief couple of weeks. We're hoping he'll get to come home in February, if not sooner, since that will be about a year he's been deployed Kris is nervous that they'll extend his stay. This is a picture of them on his last day of leave, taken by Matt's parents.

Back to work ... after "ER," anyway.

Well, maybe back to work tomorrow. Watched "ER," -- I think I've seen every episode of this series. Carter doesn't seem to be grieving too much any more over his now-departed back to Africa girlfriend. This show jumped the shark such a long time ago I'm amazed it's still on. Now the war is on Nightline. We need to see more of the war during Prime Time, maybe it'll get real again.


Salon had an interesting though disheartening article, "The New Pentagon Paper," about what it is we're not doing re: the war on terror. A Pentagon committee released a report about it all in September, but somehow, it's just getting out now.

"There is no yearning-to-be-liberated-by-the-U.S. groundswell among Muslim societies -- except to be liberated perhaps from what they see as apostate tyrannies that the U.S. so determinedly promotes and defends. (Original emphasis.)" Rhetoric about freedom is received as "no more than self-serving hypocrisy," daily highlighted by the U.S. occupation in Iraq. "Muslims do not 'hate our freedom,' but rather, they hate our policies." The "dramatic narrative since 9/11" of the "war on terrorism," Bush's grand justification, his story line connecting all the dots from the World Trade Center to Baghdad, has "borne out the entire radical Islamist bill of particulars." As a result, jihadists have been able to transform themselves from marginal figures in the Muslim world into defenders against invasion and attack with a growing following of millions.

"Thus," the report concludes, "the critical problem in American public diplomacy directed toward the Muslim World is not one of 'dissemination of information,' or even one of crafting and delivering the 'right' message. Rather, it is a fundamental problem of credibility. Simply, there is none -- the United States today is without a working channel of communication to the world of Muslims and of Islam. Inevitably therefore, whatever Americans do and say only serves the party that has both the message and the 'loud and clear' channel: the enemy."

If I remember, I will upload the report, which is named "Report of the
Defense Science Board Task Force on Strategic Communication," and published in September 2004, but until then you can get it from the Pentagon website.

posted by lee on 12/02/04 at 07:18 PM
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Saturday, December 04, 2004

Mystery Image


Guess what this is ...

Actually, it’s probably pretty obvious.

Just kicking the tires of this installation of Expression Engine. First, get it all working and, so far, it hasn’t been too very painful. Next step is to do the style I have in mind and get rid of this default template.

The import from Movable Type went fairly well once I realized I had to split the import in two since a 1.2 MB text file was too big for PHP to process all at once. At least, as it’s configured on our server.

But for now, I’m hitting the hay.

posted by lee on 12/04/04 at 11:18 PM
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Sunday, December 05, 2004

Ok, the first step is done

I managed to figure out a basic layout that works in both IE and Foxfire. Now I just need to apply the template to the other pages, get the search stuff working, clean up some of the old code. And then twitch and twitch the stylesheet until I get it all right.

black beauty oriental lilyWe managed to steal an hour and get some more shrubs and bulbs in. Stanley planted some forsythia (sticks) and a lilac. I got a bunch of bulbs in. I put in some Black Beauty oriental lilies.

Since it’s supposed to snow tomorrow, and be wet and cruddy on Tuesday, the next chance I’ll get to plant more pumilim asiatic lilybulbs is on Wednesday when it’s supposed to be sunny and get up to 50 degrees or so. I thought at a certain point in the fall you couldn’t plant bulbs any more, but I was told by the gurus at Dave’s Garden that most bulbs can be planted until the ground freezes—and the ground is a long way from that here. When I do get back out there, I’ll plant the other lilies, such as this pumilum siberian lily, plus some glad bulbs and lots of allium.

posted by lee on 12/05/04 at 06:57 PM
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Tuesday, December 07, 2004

comment spammers should all die

It was not my intention to launch this version of neurotwitch until I had all the templates set up and everything working the way it should be.

However, comment spamming on Movable Type blogs—for those of us still stuck on 2.6x versions because 3.0+ versions are either too expensive or inadequate—has gotten so out of hand that today some comment spamming moron hitting a MT blog on our webserver caused our server to go down.

So, I decided I can’t risk using MT any longer and, while I COULD just turn off comments, I really don’t have the time to shut down comments on more than 600 entries. Adam ripped mt-comment.cgi right out of his configuration. Because I had already exported everything to Expression Engine, I knew I wouldn’t lose any comments if I just turned off MT and turned on neurotwitch v2 and THEN ripped mt-comment.cgi out of my configuration.

Comment spamming isn’t supposed to be a problem with EE because a human has to enter the letters they see in order to post. If, for some reason that stops being enough of a barrier, I can choose to require registration or to moderate comments, or both. There are also controls where I can set the interval required between comments from the same source (which I did). So we’ll see how it goes. It’s not like I get a lot of comments, anyway.

Will just have to work faster on getting this all working right. I hadn’t planned on it until the weekend since I have a lot of work to do. dammitall.

posted by lee on 12/07/04 at 04:55 PM
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Thursday, December 09, 2004

save money on drugs

Consumers Union launched a Consumer Reports website for prescription drugs. Best Buy Drugs only has a few reports right now: statins, arthritis meds, and heartburn / acid reflux meds. It’s a start. I’ve always been shocked at how much a friend of ours pays for Lipitor—I’ll print out the statins article for her and see if it will help her save some money.

Maybe they’ll cover drugs for psoriasis one of these days. The last prescription I had was for Dovonex and, had I bought it at Walgreens, would’ve cost me more than $100 for a tube of the stuff. So I got it from Canada for about 60% of the U.S. price. I’m glad I did that—saved myself mucho dinero. And the damned stuff doesn’t even work for me. It makes my skin feel like I dropped battery acid on it. The Canadian pharmacy I used is Canada Drugs—I liked them. They were very careful, even calling my dermatologist to make sure they understood what the hell she scrawled on the Rx slip.

Speaking of drugs, I think this brouhaha about baseball players and steroids is a bunch of crap. Who the hell cares what some athlete does? He, or she, is an athlete, not a brain surgeon or a bus driver or someone working at a job that actually matters. They’re entertainers, nothing more. Stanley gags on the hypocrisy of all the moaning and groaning about athletes and steroids as we watch prime time television with four ads per hour for drugs. So do I. Especially since the pharmaceutical companies seem to be spending more money on marketing than they do on research and development.

Too tired to rant any more. Off to play Vaults of Atlantis on Pogo ...

posted by lee on 12/09/04 at 08:53 PM
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Saturday, December 11, 2004

skeleton man

Two times I’ve tried to write a review of this book, and two times the browser crashed before anything was saved. The first time, the cat stepped on the “off” button on my laptop. The second time, clicking a link in just closed everything. I don’t know why. But I don’t, right now, have the energy to write the complete review yet again. It’s like there’s a ghost or something. Weird.

Tony Hillerman’s latest book, Skeleton Man (SM), was half good, half disappointing. Starts out great, unravels. Loose threads: so what IS that figure on the pouch? Who was that old Indian?

I love Hillerman’s Navajo novels. I love it when legend and lore and investigation are combined with thinking things through and solving a case—as most of his novels do. This is not one of those. It’s like he was pushed to finish the book just to get it out rather than taking his time to get it written properly. Leaphorn disappears. Bernie Manuelito is kind of forced into becoming the lead character, but not because of her police skills. The ending is implausible. A character appears out of nowhere, in one instance, and wrecks it. This book is more in the Perils of Pauline genre than a mystery/detective novel, that’s for sure. Anybody could’ve been in it.

Will I buy Hillerman’s next Leaphorn/Chee novel? In a heartbeat—I have hope that he’ll return to his usual standards. But SM, and Sinister Pig from last year, are not among Hillerman’s best. I think what happened is Hillerman lost his touch for providing a sense of place in these last two novels—and that’s what I cared about, rather than the story itself. Hillerman used to be able to write so that I felt I was there, that I was lost in the story and seeing the landscape. But not these last two.

posted by lee on 12/11/04 at 02:57 PM
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cablevision: a special kind of stupid

I’ve had an Optimum Online account with Cablevision for a long time, more than five years. I first got it when I lived in Westport. I moved in with Stanley on December 31, 2000 (we moved during a blizzard!) So, for nearly four years, I’ve been living here in Norwalk. When I moved, I called Cablevision to change my address for Optimum Online. They managed to change where they send the bill, but they never changed the service address, always showing my old Westport address. I tried four of five times to get this corrected, but Cablevision never got it right.  They always promised they’d fix it, always reassured me that it would be ok, but they never did get it corrected. I gave up.

Last month, Sean, Cablevision Rep. #758 (888-741-9159) called me to offer a great deal on my Optonline internet fee if I just added cable television to the package. I told him we already have Optimum Digital cable tv service (which was forced down our throat when Cablevision decided to switch to all digital without bothering to let any of its customers know). Sean told me we did not. I sighed; here we go down the rabbit hole yet again.

When I convinced Sean that we did indeed have cable service here, under Stanley’s name, I got a lecture about how I was not supposed to have cable service at a different address than where I was living. It was impossible, he said, how could that be that I was getting service? I posited that it was because I was paying $50 per month for it.

After I explained the whole song and dance about Cablevision’s fuck-up with the service address, he said I needed to put my account into Stanley’s cable tv account and that when that happened, it would save me $5 a month. I said I didn’t want to do this. He said I had to transfer my account to Stanley’s account, that I wouldn’t lose my email address (my primary concern), and that he would take care of transferring the account and closing the account at the old service address and transferring the charges, etc., to Stanley’s account (which Stanley had to say was ok—he did, right on the phone to Sean). All I had to do was sign the work order brought be the technician when he showed up the morning of November 17, then call Sean and let him know that it had been taken care of. Why they had to send someone out to the house for this to happen, I have no idea, but I signed the piece of paper, then called Sean, who said everything was taken care of.

No interruption of service, and my email still worked. Everything was fine. I thought. Until this afternoon, when I received not one, but two bills from Cablevision. One was for Stanley’s account, showing the cable tv charges as well as optonline charges, pro-rated for a month and not showing the amount that should have been transferred. The other was a bill for my supposedly canceled account, showing my billing address here but the service address STILL in Westport, showing a past-due balance for all of November instead of a pro-rated balance and a $50 charge for December.

Well screw that. I immediately called the Cablevision billing department. I spent twenty minutes going through it all with the woman on the phone, who was having trouble grasping it all. She said there was nothing on either account indicating that one account was being transferred into the other account, zilch. Nothing about the account showing my old service address closed.

Cablevision blew it again.

God how I hate this company. I pay my bills on time, have been for the entire five or six years I’ve had service, fixed my own modem troubles since they were too stupid to figure it out (their answer for tech support is to send somebody out—only, if they show up, it’s a fluke.) I’d think that they could get things right for my $600 per year. It was a simple account transfer, nothing unusual, nothing that doesn’t happen all the time, all within the same service area.

The woman on the phone seems to think that I will have to pay for the old account since it was not closed. I don’t think so. She is supposed to call me to verify that nothing will get screwed up (such as losing my email address) when she transfer the modem from the old account to the new account. I’ll be shocked if she actually does call. I suspect that I’ll have to go over to the Cablevision office, papers clutched in hand, and have to spend an hour getting it all straightened out. It’s such a pain in the ass. I just don’t understand why Cablevision hasn’t worked out all of the contingencies in their billing system—it’s had plenty of time to work out all the bugs.

If we had an alternative, we’d dump Cablevision in a heartbeat, get SBC Dish for the television and another service for the Internet. But it has to be cable or better—DSL doesn’t cut it. Unfortunately, there’s no competition for cable internet here. I’m hoping the Supreme Court rules that cable companies must share their internet lines with other ISPs, which would be actual competition. But I’m not holding my breath.

posted by lee on 12/11/04 at 04:10 PM
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Somebody you know is obtaining ...

amended because of this product (the subject line)

The message:

My product cardinal of the international’s most broadly established treat depression drugs; it has been imposed for more than 90 million people worldwide. someone you know is incuring better because of it.

My spamblocker missed this one. Wonder what translation tool they used—it’s so bad I figure it must be Babel Fish.


posted by lee on 12/11/04 at 09:40 PM
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Monday, December 13, 2004

they figured out how to cause psoriasis

Next step is figuring out how to stop it, which looks promising, according to a news story in Reuters today:

They found that it takes a combination of a protein called STAT3 and an active immune system to cause psoriasis, which experts estimate affects as much as 2 percent of the population.

Their finding suggests that psoriasis may start with an over-enthusiastic attempt by the body to heal wounds.

And the researchers at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center made a skin cream that blocked the process that leads to psoriasis in mice.

“We may have found an entirely new treatment option for psoriasis,” said M.D. Anderson’s John DiGiovanni, who led the study.

“We have developed a mouse model that exhibits all the major features of human psoriatic lesions and shown we can reverse those steps.”


DiGiovanni’s team first looked for activated STAT3 in the skin of psoriasis patients and found high levels of activated STAT3 in psoriasis lesions in 19 of 21 of them.

They bred a mouse in which STAT3 is always turned on in the keratinocyte skin cells, and these mice always developed psoriasis.

The researchers then developed a solution containing a small piece of DNA called an oligonucleotide, which was designed to prevent STAT3 from activating genes.

It helped clear up the lesions in the mice.

“This study opens the door to a whole new kind of therapy for psoriasis,” said DiGiovanni.

Dare I hope? I wonder as I sit here writing this with crab-claw hands—the lesions are particularly painful today.

Here is the abstract from the journal Nature Medicine, the article is Stat3 links activated keratinocytes and immunocytes required for development of psoriasis in a novel transgenic mouse model

Here we report that epidermal keratinocytes in psoriatic lesions are characterized by activated Stat3. Transgenic mice with keratinocytes expressing a constitutively active Stat3 (K5.Stat3C mice) develop a skin phenotype either spontaneously, or in response to wounding, that closely resembles psoriasis. Keratinocytes from K5.Stat3C mice show upregulation of several molecules linked to the pathogenesis of psoriasis. In addition, the development of psoriatic lesions in K5.Stat3C mice requires cooperation between Stat3 activation in keratinocytes and activated T cells. Finally, abrogation of Stat3 function by a decoy oligonucleotide inhibits the onset and reverses established psoriatic lesions in K5.Stat3C mice. Thus, targeting Stat3 may be potentially therapeutic in the treatment of psoriasis.

It costs $30 to read the entire article, so I’ll pass on it at this time.

I hope they’re finally on the path to a real treatment for psoriasis. I volunteer to test the cream when it goes into trials. It would be great to have an effective treatment since I can’t yet afford to go soak in the Dead Sea for two weeks. Maybe it won’t be a poison. Maybe it will even be something I can afford ...

posted by lee on 12/13/04 at 09:51 AM
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Tuesday, December 14, 2004

what’s even worse is: they’re boring

BadAds provides a list of the corporate headquarters of the movie chains. Why? So pissed off movie-goers can write to them demanding they stop playing all those tv ads before the movie:

You pay $8 for a ticket, then stand in a long line for the privilege of spending ten more dollars on fake-buttered popcorn and over-iced soda. You finally settle into your seat, anticipating the thrills and chills of Friday the 13th Part XVII. The lights dim, and…what’s this? A commercial! You paid almost twenty dollars to watch a commercial?

This isn’t the only site. There’s also Captive Motion Picture Audience of America and Stop Pre-Movie Ads at Shiny Blue Grasshopper, where a list of movie theaters that don’t show ads is being compiled. You can find other links to other sites, and even to a petition, beneath this list.

You can find information about a class-action suit filed to stop pre-movie ads at The Movie Theater Lawsuit Website.

The slide shows with the local ads don’t bother me—I kind of like them because they’re quiet and are local ads, and we don’t have to shout to talk over them and it’s a hoot to see how bad some of them are. And I love the trailers. The ads that bother me are the national ads, like the ones from Coca Cola. There’s also that stupid ad about the online ticket buying “service” where you pay even more for a ticket to avoid standing in a line for five minutes. I hate having them blasted at me after I’ve paid so much for the movie. I hate, most of all, those godawful Jimmy Fund ads then having the usher shove that can into my face. I’ll select my own charities, thank you very much. I hate it when a two-plus hour movie starts twenty minutes after the advertised start time. And I especially hate that the stupid tv ads are warped on the movie screen—tv ads have the wrong aspect ratio for the movies. So I will sign the petitions and send off a letter or two, but haven’t much hope this will change without legislation or legal action.

A week or so ago, there was a series of updates for Internet Explorer. Security patches or whatever, so I downloaded them. What a mistake—now, IE keeps crashing like crazy where it never did before on my XP Pro machine. I’ve been using FireFox more and more because of this, but it’s annoying because I don’t have things like my little handy dandy spell checker that works inside forms (from IESpell, and it’s free) and FireFox just doesn’t handle things as well yet (using the html buttons for EE posting, for example, throws me all over the place instead of just leaving it the way it’s supposed to). Whine whine whine.

posted by lee on 12/14/04 at 10:09 AM
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