Archive for July, 2010

I feel like I haven’t had a vacation in years.  Actually, the last “vacation” I had was in 2008, and I didn’t even take a whole week, so I don’t know if that even counts (although I did do an entire scrapbook about our four days in Missouri, so I guess that makes it official).  Prior to that was Florida in 2003, but that’s another story.  Anyway, back in 2008, our whole family (and then some) went to Missouri for four days, and it was pleasant, but looking back it seems like we were “doing” every day, and I really didn’t take time to relax.  Since then, I have only taken a couple of days here and there and we have not taken any trips.  All of that is about to change.

As a rule, I don’t recommend “separate” vacations, but I am going to take a week off and leave my husband at home alone.  The teens will stay with their mother for the week, and I am taking the toddler with me.  I will be going “on vacation”, but by virtue of being home alone to do whatever he pleases for 7 whole days, so will my husband.  The trade-off is I will be travelling with my mother and my 97-year-old grandmother.  No sightseeing, no plans, just a week at the lake, relaxing, reading, swimming and eating ice cream.  I am really looking forward to the trip since I am sure we will be building some memories that will last the rest of my life, but it will be somewhat bittersweet.  After all, this will probably be the last vacation my grandmother ever takes.  The fact that I will be able to accompany her on this trip is truly a blessing.  I am planning on taking a ton of pictures so that, in years to come, the 3-year-old will be able to look back at the pictures and try to remember his great-grandmother.  And I do have some very specific plans regarding what I want to “do” on this trip.

I want to read and swim and teach my child about feeling the “stuff” between your toes when you swim in nature’s pool.  It may sound somewhat sadistic, but I want to see his reaction the first time the tiny little fish nibble at the ends of his toes while he is dangling his feet in the water from the dock.  I want to see how he behaves in a boat that he can see both the front and back of at the same time.  I want him to understand the greater cosmic meaning of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”, and truly wonder “where you are”.  I want to sit and just “be” with no expectations and no deadlines (Mother suggested bringing a clock with us, as there is not one at the cabin, and, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why).  I am so close in my mind to this vacation that I can smell the scent of the pine trees, feel the dappled sun on my face and hear the loons calling to one another in the twilight.  The countdown has begun.

I read with interest a story in today’s local paper.  It was all about the latest computer technology advance out of India.  International demand for the Apple iPad has hardly slowed since its initial introduction, despite its hefty price tag.  Unfortunately, the Apple price point is simply out of reach for the vast majority of the Indian population, so the demand for less expensive computers is incredibly high.  When the under-$300 PC was introduced, it was a solid hit, but the Indian tech gurus may have knocked it out the ballpark this time.

If you have read any of my previous blog entries, you know that I am often referring to the TED conferences and the innovations that stem from them.  In 2005, Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the MIT Media Lab, proposed a $100 laptop that would be distributed in developing countries like China and India.  The laptops would be distributed in schools to students as a way to aid the learning process and give them more connectivity to the rest of the world.  He called the program One Laptop Per Child.  Ironically, India rejected OLPC as being “too expensive” and set out to create their own computers that would be even cheaper.

Which brings us to the $35 tablet PC unveiled earlier this week.  Of course, $35 is the high end of the price range.  The development team is hoping that they can get the cost down to $10 per unit once they go into full-steam production next year.  It will have connectivity similar to that of the iPad, but it runs the Linux system and operates with a USB-type storage device instead of an installed hard drive.  All of these factors help with the price reduction, but the developers have also shopped the globe looking for companies willing to produce a portion of the system for a low cost.  By farming out the components and using open-source software, India seems to have done the impossible.  And if that were not enough, the Indian government has also said that they will be willing to help subsidize the cost of the tablet computers for students, so they will run around $20 each.  Functionality might be limited on these machines, but if there was a device that could surf the web, bounce out to YouTube, check email and do basic word processing for 20 bucks, wouldn’t you jump on it?

People in the United States used to joke when India first started “stealing” phone support jobs, but with the advent of a variety of modern technologies being produced at a much lower cost that the rest of the world, India is a player to watch.  I know I could swing $20 for a new computer.  I just have to come up with the money to move to India . . .

To view the entire Associated Press article, click here.

I got off work early last Saturday.  One of the local hospitals just completed a multi-million dollar, multi-year construction project, and was offering tours, so I decided it would be interesting to check things out.  I must admit, my motives were rather self-serving.  As a parent of a child with severe food allergies (he has a whole list of things that will cause anaphylactic shock), I wanted to see the new facilities designed specifically to hold the Children’s Hospital.  I hope I never have to see them again, but it is comforting knowing they are there.  I also took the three-year-old with me.  He has lived most of his life with “If you eat that, you will have to go to the hospital,” and I wanted him to have a familiarity with the facilities in a non-threatening situation.

The tour took a little over an hour, and we walked forever, but we saw some of the most amazing things!  All the patient areas where a child might be a patient are accessible only by a key card issued by the hospital, so no one can get in without pre-approval.  On the one hand, it might be a bit much.  I mean, the reason children being snatched from hospitals makes such big headlines is it almost never happens.  On the other hand, when it happens it makes big headlines, so I can understand the hospitals wanting to err on the side of caution.  Anyway, because of the key-card access limitations, once the new building goes into use, none of these spaces will ever be open to just look at again.

The tour started in the lobby, then went to the top patient floor and worked its way back down.  We did skip one floor – the second – which the hospital has left as an empty shell, in preparation for future expansion.  For the time being it will not be used.  And we did not get to see the roof with its two new heliports, but you can see it on the website.  (SPOILER ALERT – The audio was not properly synced with the video when I checked out the virtual tour last time, so you see stuff before you hear about it.  It is really annoying.)  The 6th floor will be General Pediatrics, kids who are hospitalized for this or that or the other thing.  When the three-year-old was in the hospital for the flu, General Peds is where we stayed.  All the rooms are private, so the kids have space to spread out, and there are empty picture frames on the walls that have openings in the top for kids to drop in their own artwork.   There are two Child Life Centers – AKA playrooms – on each children’s floor, one for teens and one more geared toward littler kids.  All of the Child Life Centers are designated as treatment-free, meaning that they will be a safe zone for the kids, away from needles, or medications, or vitals checks.  They also have classrooms where the kids can catch up on homework and assignments that they are missing while in the hospital.

The 5th floor is an adult cardiac unit.  In addition to all the things you would expect on a cardiac floor, the hospital has also installed an internet network that is accessible in every patient room, so that patients and their families can keep up with their online life.  This floor does not have the key-card requirements, like the child floors do, but there is a check-in area just outside the elevators where visitors will have one last stop before they see the patient.  On this floor, there is a difference in the ventilation system, as well.  On on the children’s floors, the air-flow in the rooms is designed to “blow” out through the door, so any germ in the room are moved away from the smaller patients, who may have compromised or not-fully-developed immune systems.  On the cardiac floor, the ventilation is reversed so the air “blows” INTO the room.  This helps keep any germs a patient may bring into the hospital with him or her, rather than spreading to other cardiac patients.

On the 4th floor Pediatric Critical Care Unit, each room has a movable pillar suspended from the ceiling.  In these pillars are all the connections you would normally find on the wall near the head of the bed.  The pillars allow for the rooms to be “rearranged” for kids who may be spending a longer visit in the hospital and would otherwise get bored with their rooms.  Special rooms for child cardiac patients and the St. Jude patients are also located here.

The 3rd floor is the new Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit.  The NICU is massive compared to the current facilities.  Where currently there are 6 incubators to a room, the new unit will have one incubator per room and a sofa bed for the parents if they want to sleep in the room with their baby.  They also have additional “bedrooms” for the parents just down the hall, in case they want to sleep for a while away from the machines, or if the parents want to “trade off” – one in the patient room while the other sleeps in the bedroom.  The NICU will be able to house up to 60 infants at a time in seven different “neighborhoods” that are color-coded to help parents and loved ones find the right room more quickly.

On the main floor will be admitting, outpatient testing, a gift shop, and a Family Life center – phones, computers, a kitchen and even laundry facilities for families of patients to carry out some of their normal, day-t0-day activities while staying close.  Downstairs is the cardiac and pediatric operating rooms.  I’ve never before seen the inside of an operating room, but these are really cool – or hot as the case may be.  The cardiac surgical suites can be cooled down to 60 degrees in a matter of minutes to help slow blood flow during surgery, while the pediatric suites can have their temperatures raised to 90 degrees to help premies and other infants maintain their body temperatures during surgery.  Additionally, all the electronics for all the equipment are now just outside the operating rooms, separated by a large plate glass window.  Having the electronic equipment out of the room helps keep the room temperature steady.

Overall, the most impressive thing about the tour was how well-behaved the three-year-old was throughout the whole thing, even not having a nap that day.  The guides kept us moving at a quick enough pace that he didn’t have time to get bored, and almost every time we stopped to get a dose of information, there were places for him to sit down, and lots and lots of play tables!  Several older ladies were in our group, and kept commenting on how good my little boy was being.  They just could not get over how polite and patient he was being.  When we got to the end of the tour and they gave us free t-shirts, he was so excited!  You would have thought it was a big batch of gummy bears.  All in all, if I ever have to be in the hospital again, I hope it is there.  Even if I don’t get a free t-shirt.

They are just turtles.  Fairly low maintenance, just keep them fed and keep their habitat clean.  For our pair of river sliders, that means an aquarium about 75% full of water and an area for them to crawl out of the water and relax under the basking lamp on occasion.  What they don’t tell you is that turtles will continue to grow until they outgrow  the size of their tank, meaning you will have to keep getting bigger and bigger tanks, until you need to remove all the furniture from the largest room in your home and install something like they have at Sea World for the whales.  Thankfully we haven’t gotten quite that large yet, but this week we did “upgrade”.

It all started when a cousin posted online that he had a tank to sell.  Now, this particular cousin has kept salt-water aquariums for several years, and just recently decided to increase to 150 gallons.  He no longer had any use for his 75 gallon tank or the stand for it or the high-powered filter or the water mover that went with it.  We are all friends of his on Facebook, so when his post about having a tank for sale showed up, my husband called the turtle-daddy into the room and said, “What do you think about this?”  Our would-be herpetologist’s eyes began glowing, he started to drool, and was entirely speechless for about 48 seconds before an enthusiastic “Oh, Yeah!” issued forth from his mouth.  After that, it was all the two of them could talk about – would that tank work, where would it go, how would he (translate: WE) pay for it, how would we get it here, would the cousin maybe take a little less for it – you get the idea.   Then it escalated.

This is the point in our little story where I can justifiably disdain technology.  If there were no computers, or cell phones, or communication devices of any kind, we would still be blissfully in the dark about our cousin’s extra tank.  Alas.  As it is,my husband took the opportunity to begin an IM session with said cousin to discuss the finer details of this pending transaction. When all was said and done, all that was left was a matter of making arrangements to get the van, remove the seats, get the manpower and go move this tank and stand.  This is also the point at which I got roped into this whole thing.  I was thrown into white slavery by my husband to become part of “the manpower”.

Most non-aquarium people have never given any thought to how a fish tank gets to where it is when they see it or what it takes to set up and maintain a large-scale aquarium.  The combined weight of the stand, the glass in the tank and the water (approximately 8 pounds per gallon) requires a fish tank to be somewhere that has good structural support underneath it.  The stand only weighed somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 pounds, but being large and awkward, it still took two people to move it.  The tank, on the other hand, with its large panes of tempered glass, was more like 75 pounds.  And each piece was over four feet long, two feet wide, and two-to-three feet tall.  Three adults and a high school sophomore combined their efforts and managed to relocate the tank and stand the 10 miles from one house to the other.  It took two trips, but finally everything was here.  That’s when the fun REALLY began.

We had the stand, the canopy for the stand, the tank, the tank lids, the filter, the water-mover, but no hoses.  No hoses meant there was no way for the water in the tank to get to and from the filter.  My indentured servitude continued in the form of a trip to Menard’s to buy tubing.  I took a portion of the filter with me, but when I looked for the tubing size the cousin had told me to get, I could not get it to fit properly onto the part I had.  And the local pet store, that specializes in aquariums, was closed that day.  The next destination was a pet store in another town.  The three-year-old volunteered to go with me (he will go anywhere if it involves riding in a car), so we loaded up and off we went.  Of course, that store didn’t carry any of the accessory items to go with our brand of filter.  They recommended we try this pet store in our home town that specializes in aquariums, but they thought maybe they were closed that day . . ..  My husband suggested Lowe’s.

Went to Lowe’s, bought the tubing, brought it home, got the filter all set up with said tubing, and discovered we were missing an 0-ring for the filter and one of the clamps for one of the in-line quick-connect units.  Texted the cousin, he dug around his stuff, and came up with the missing pieces.  Got the missing pieces to our house, hooked everything up, and the hoses weren’t right.  On the phone with Menard’s – turns out I had been looking at the wrong thing the first time I was there.  Back to Menard’s to buy MORE tubing, and finally, 36 hours into this little endeavor, the system was up and running.  While I have never been able to “read” a turtle, they seem happy.  They have a lot more room to swim around and the new filter is doing a much better job than the old system.

Now my husband is drawing up plans for a sort of turtle loft that will sit on top of the new tank, to give them more basking area.  I wish him luck with that.  I’m out.

There is a phenomenon known as “Phantom Limb Syndrome”.  Amputees experience it during the first months after having a limb removed, and, in some cases, it can last years.  The brain perceives signals from the nerves in the missing limb, and interprets them as sensation.  An amputee will feel pain in an arm or leg that is no longer there.  (Until recently, no one knew what to do for these poor people to alleviate their excruciating pain.  In a previous blog, I mentioned a contemporary genius,  Vilayanur Ramachandran.  He has come up with a solution and you can learn about it here.)  In my life I have, thankfully, never been in a position to completely understand this phenomenon, but I recently came close.  While I have never lost a limb, about a month ago, I dropped my laptop.

It was early on the second day of E3 – the Electronic Entertainment Expo.  My husband had been religiously following the proceedings on the first day and had asked to borrow my laptop so that he could view the streaming key note presentations.  “Why not?”, I thought.  No harm in letting a geek borrow technology.  It’s not like he can do anything to hurt the laptop.  Of course, I was right on that point, but it was when I “borrowed” my own laptop back to check my email before heading to work.  I picked it up off my husband’s desk, used it, and got ready to put it back on my husband’s desk when I lost my balance and dropped the whole thing.  I watched it, as if in slow motion, spin out of my hand and slide onto the floor.  Not having time to inspect the damage myself, I left a quick note scrawled on a paper towel (don’t ask) and headed off to work.

It wasn’t until later that day I learned of the havoc I had left in my path of destruction.  Not only had I trashed the hard drive in my brand-new two-month-old laptop, but, horror of horrors, my husband could no longer watch the streaming E3 videos!  He tried everything he could think of before finally acknowledging defeat.  Luckily, I was still under my warranty, but the process of filing a warranty claim, getting the new hard drive installed and getting all of my software took FOREVER.  And in the meantime, here I sat, twiddling my thumbs, without a computer of my own to be able to do my “stuff”.

I was still able to check my email on my phone, and I did borrow my husband’s system occasionally, but for the most part I was an involuntary Luddite for several weeks.  Of course, being in a position to NOT be able to write made me all the more anxious to write.  The longer I was without my laptop, the more I began to miss the freedom I felt (and had taken for granted) with my own portal onto the web.

Now that I am back, I am slowly gearing up to where I was before.  I have been posting to Facebook and Twitter, I have been playing my online-time-waster games, and finally, I am writing again.  It almost feels like I am starting all over again, and in a way, I am.  Today is a new beginning in brand new world.  One where I don’t drop my laptop ever again.