Random Firings of Neurons

The rest of your life is going to be spent getting back up after life has knocked you down again. You might as well just get used to it.

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Location: Round Rock, Texas, United States

Sunday, October 23, 2005

An excuse posing as an update

Yeah, yeah. I know. I haven't put much up since my brilliant coffee post.

I'm going to use my hand as an excuse for that, even though it really isn't all that bad. I now have a feeling, more often than not, in my little finger, and the half of my ring finger that was numb isn't quite as numb as it was. But, my elbow (where they operated on) usually feels like I've been stabbed with an ice pick. And, every now and then, my hand decides that the sensation that it is going to send to my brain is "just got run through a hydraulic press". So, the good news is that I am, slowly but surely, getting feeling back. The bad news is, I'm getting feeling back, but, I'm getting about six months worth of damaged nerve feeling back. I'm not sure which is more important to me, right now....

Anyway, one of these days, I'm actually going to put up one of a couple of posts that have been banging the inside of my head, just begging to get out. If y'all want, you can tell which one you'd like to see first. They are, in no particular order:

Truths that must be realized.
Why theocracy is better than democracy.
A defense of fundamentalism.

Until then, I'll just give you a quick comparison/contrast of Texas and Wisconsin. It will be short, but, these are things that I have noticed, since I moved to the great Republic of Texas.

Texas is better because:

60 degrees is considered chilly.
50 degrees is considered cold.
90 degree temperatures in the middle of October don't even get commented on by the locals.
50% humidity is considered "muggy".
Locals reacted with horror at the thought of snow on Halloween.
Locals weren't too keen on the idea of rain on Halloween.
Locals were pretty sure they didn't like the idea of sub-70 degree temperatures on Halloween.
People will actually let you in, when you are trying to merge onto the highway.
You are looked at like a weirdo if you do NOT talk to the person behind the counter.
What-A-Burger.
Gas stations went to "pre-pay only" when gas prices hit $2.60 per gallon.
No state income tax.
7.5% sales tax.
Only two areas of Texas: Texas, and Austin. Wisconsin has no less than FOUR different areas, and people from each area don't trust the people from the other areas.

Wisconsin is better because:

Unified Department of Transportation offices. In Wisconsin, you don't have to go to two different buildings, or even offices, to get your car title AND driver's license changed over. You can do it at ONE counter, and even have a handy-dandy computer thingy at the entryway to tell you what forms you need to fill out for each.

Unified county services. I was here for three months, before I finally asked what the heck a "constable" was. Imagine my surprise when I found out they just serve court papers...a function county deputies do, in Wisconsin.

Better roads. Strangely, because Texas weather is so nice to roads, they don't repair them as often. A road has to get pretty darn bad before they do any repairs on it, down here. In Wisconsin, they just assume the road needs to be repaired after about three years, and actually get around to it, after around five. I have seen a road, in Travis County, where they just put up a "rough road" sign, rather than do any repairs to it. (Parmer Road, east of I-35, in case anyone was wondering)

Actual, life sized deer. I've seen the whitetail deer down here, and locals don't believe me when I tell them that a whitetail can look a 6ft man in the eye, in Wisconsin. Down here, in this area at least, they are slightly larger than dogs. Most of the ones you see on the side of the road barely go past your knee.

Water, water, everywhere. I have been down here for almost five months, and have yet to see a lake. I've seen a couple of rivers, but, I had to drive quite a ways to see them. I've seen about 8 creeks, though. They are small right now, but, when it rains, they'll flood a street. Didn't believe it, until I saw it. They actually have signs up, on certain roads, telling you not to take that road after a hard rain. Not is so many words, but, the locals seem to know the meaning of the signs.

Country living. I moved to the Austin area because I'm a cityboy, but, I'm a WISCONSIN city boy. Austin is a bit too large for me...at about 600,000 people. That's the size of Milwaukee, WI. And Austin is a "small" city, for Texas. Round Rock, where I live, would be one of the Top 15 largest cities in Wisconsin, at 60,000 plus change people. And it's a suburb of Austin. I liked being able to be anywhere in Madison, and drive 30 minutes, in any direction, and be in farmland. Much harder to do here.

Lest one think, from looking at my list, that I actually MISS Wisconsin...perish the thought. I moved here because the weather is warmer, and, other than Austin, the state is pretty conservative. The things I like about Wisconsin are things that would make Texas a slightly better place, not things that would actually change Texas to Wisconsin.

If one lives in either Milwaukee, WI, or Madison, WI, and likes the town, but, ain't too fond of the weather, Austin, TX is the place for you. You'll fit right in, and will have almost no culture shock, or acclimation time.

Conversely, if you live in the Austin area, and actually LIKE Austin, but, would like to see snow more than once a decade, Milwaukee or Madison would be great places for you to live. And you will have the same experience as the reverse move.

Anyway, that's all I have. I had to put something up, lest my blog start pouting from neglect.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Another Update That Doesn't Say Anything

It has been...three? weeks since my surgery, and things are still up in the air. I have feeling back in a small portion of my hand, but, I have LOST feeling in part of my elbow. So, I'm taking that as a good sign.

As you can see by the post following this one, I can now type for a bit longer. I did have to take a couple of breaks during that post, and I'm going to spend the rest of my day manually extending my little finger, due to the clawing that post caused, but, it didn't hurt, and my hand and arm didn't cramp up during it. My hand did get fatigued, but, hey? What did I expect? There aren't any muscles left in my hand. Was I expecting God to miracle them back into existence?

Other than that, not much has changed. I have been trying not to get worried, or impatient, sometimes with success. The nerve was pretty badly damaged, so, it's gonna take a while for it to heal. In fact, from some hints that the surgeon and neurologist dropped, it could be six months before I even know if the surgery was successful! So, back to waiting....

Have I mentioned that I hate waiting? I'm not very patient.

The Most Important, Super-Duper-Super Secret Public Service Announcement, Ever

Okay, I've been sitting on this for way too long.

There is a crisis in America, and it has been worrying me for some time, and I have finally decided to break my silence, and do my part to stop this crisis.

Just what is the nature of this crisis? Glad you asked. I'm going to tell you.

Life is just too damn short to drink the crap that passes for coffee in this country. It's either hot water with a hint of coffee, or, it's so bitter that Andrea Dworkin seems chipper and cheerful by comparison.

People, there is a solution to this problem, and I am going to tell you what it is, so you can stop drinking that crap that someone told you was coffee. (They lied, by the way.)

Don't let anyone in retail stores know this, but, your choice of beans for coffee really doesn't make much of a difference. With one (known by me) exception, the overwhelming majority of coffee beans that are sent to America are crap. We don't get the good stuff, we get the stuff that is left over after all the good stuff has been sent to coutries that know better. So, stop spending five hours looking for the perfect type of bean in the grocery store or local coffee shop. It ain't doing any good.

The one exception I mentioned is a little known bean, that, for several years, was one of the most expensive beans out there. (not THE most expensive. that's the still-grossly-overrated Blue Kona, if I remember the name correctly. I know it's a bean from the Land of Grossly Overpriced Tourist Crap Hawai'i, though) Now, since there are enough people, like me, in the US who have discovered its joys, the price has dropped down to the same price as all the overpriced crap coffee. That bean is Kenyan AA. Don't forget the AA part. From what I understand, the repetitive letters at the end signify that the beans are NOT the crap that is left over after all the good beans have been sent to people who know better. The letters mean that those beans ARE the good beans that are sent to people who know better. Take the hint, people. Be one of those people who knows better, and buy coffee that has two repetitive extra letters at the end.

Now, for another segue on the topic of beans....French Roast Coffee, and its evil younger sibling, Double French Roast Coffee. People, people, people....if I EVER catch you drinking that crap, I will slap you stupid. You won't get hit too many times, because, by drinking that crap, you already are most of the way to stupid. Just because it has the word "French" in the name, does NOT mean it is superior. In fact, as is usually the case, it means it is INferior, and covers its shame by associating itself with the most famous worthless cause that brags about its uselessness: fwance. You see, "French Roast" means they burnt the bejesis out of your beans. "Double French Roast" means that burning the beans once wasn't enough, so, they burnt them again. You are drinking burnt coffee. Stop it. Cripes, that's almost as bad as some Louisianan burning the crap out of someone's dinner, and charging them extra because it's "Cajun". It's burnt. Stop putting a dress on a pig. Jeez.

Anyhow, on to the important stuff. The actual construction of good coffee. (It has been pointed out to me that I don't 'make' coffee, I 'construct' it, because it's that darn good.)

After the beans, you need to have good water. Stop laughing. It makes a difference. Don't buy bottled water just for your coffee, because your tap water is more pure than the bottled crap. Trust me. In some areas, bottled water is EXACTLY the same stuff that comes out of your tap. So, buy a water filter. If you just don't have the spare scratch lying around to plunk down $20 or so for a water filter, don't worry about it. Filtered water makes a difference, but, not THAT much of a difference to justify paying for something you can't afford. But, filtered water tastes better than tap or bottled water, anyway, so....you may be able to justify it to the Spousal Unit on those grounds.

Now, if you are like me, at 6:00 AM, there isn't enough coffee in the world to make your morning any better, but, for good coffee, you need to rein that in a bit. You need to make LESS coffee, not more. Yes, you heard me. Less coffee.

Um...guards? Can you..um...move the lynch mob a bit further away from me? They're making me a bit nervous.

Thanks, guys.

Okay, where was I? Oh, that's right. Less coffee. Stop howling! You'll see the point in a minute.

You make less coffee, rather than more, because, frankly, you probably bought a crap coffee maker all those years ago. You bought a coffee maker that was too big. Yup. Too big. Yes, I know I'm a guy, and I just said something is too big.

Um....guards? The...um...crowd? Can you move them back a bit? The pitchforks scare me.

Thanks, guys. I owe you a cup of coffee after this.

Anyway, somewhere along the line, someone convinced Americans that a 10- or 12- cup coffee maker was better, because it was bigger. They lied. The simple fact is that after the first 4 to 6 cups of coffee, everything that comes drips down into the pot is acid. Acid makes your coffee bitter. In addition, you have the same amount of caffiene, and same amount of flavor, but, diluted with an additional 4 to 8 cups of water. Diluted coffee is BAD. VERY bad. Horridly bad. The rest of the world knows this. And, now, you do, too.

You don't need to run out and buy a coffee-snob 4 cup coffee maker, like I did. All you really need to do is stop filling your pot all the way to the top. Just fill it to 4 or 6 cups, and make your coffee with that amount.

Now, you may be saying to yourself, "Self, if I use less water, I can use less beans, right?". Sorry, but, wrong. You need to use at least close to the same amount of beans as you normally would. Using enough beans for 12 cups to make 4 cups of coffee is a bit...excessive. Even I'll admit that. But, I use enough beans for 6 to 8 cups of coffee for my little 4 cup coffee maker, and I have yet to hear someone complain that my coffee is too strong.

After your coffee is done brewing, you need to do possibly the most important step: pull the damn grounds. Immediately. Like, about 1 minute after the pump stops working, PULL THE DAMN GROUNDS OUT! I cannot stress this enough. Pull.the.grounds.out.IMMEDIATELY. Got that? Pull them. Now. Before now.

Why? Because of the aforementioned acid. Once the water has all run through, the grounds are still damp. This means there is more coffee hiding in the grounds, right? Nope. Sorry. What is hiding there is acid. Acid, as mentioned, makes your coffee bitter. If you like bitter, go to an ANSWER rally sometime. It's cheaper than ruining good coffee, and, it means that I may be able to purchase the coffee that you aren't ruining. If you are going to ruin coffee, stop it, and let me buy it. Don't worry, I'll drink it, if only to stop you from continuing to ruin coffee. God doesn't want you to ruin good coffee, and the Bible says so. I haven't found the verse yet, but, I know it's there. And, if it isn't there, it should be. Except for French Roast coffee. That is already ruined. You can do what you want to it. You can't make it any worse than it already is. But, I know that won't stop some of you from trying.

Now, on to some Advanced Coffee Construction tips.

If you have a couple extra dollars, and a couple of extra weeks, find a gold coffee filter basket. If you have a 10 or a 12 cup coffee maker, you shouldn't have too much trouble finding one. The local Wal-Mart here has them. But, if you are a coffee snob (and if you aren't, why aren't you?!), like me, you have to do some hunting. And possibly some special ordering. A gold coffee filter basket has two important benefits. The first benefit is ease of dumping the grounds. All you do is pull the handy-dandy handle up, and the filter comes out, and you can dump the grounds, and replace the filter. The other benefit is a slight (VERY slight) difference in taste. Paper filters have chemicals in them that minorly affect the flavor of your coffee. It doesn't matter if you are using white (bleached) filters, or brown (unbleached) filters. The chemicals used to make paper that thin don't taste good. Nor should they, because they are toxic. But, you aren't going to consume enough of the chemicals to really have to worry about toxicity, and, if you aren't energetic enough to hunt for a gold basket filter, it doesn't make THAT much of a difference in the taste.

The other tip I have concerns buying whole beans versus buying grounds. Frankly, using the process above, it doesn't make that much of a difference. Folgers will taste good if you use the above process. And, if you like the taste of Folgers coffee, why bother spending that much more for coffee that you won't like as much? Seriously. Folgers (and all other bulk pre-ground coffee) has several advantages over coffee-snob coffee. For one, ease of use. Pre-ground means less time taken getting the coffee ready. Secondly, mass quantities. Quantity is its own form of quality. If you are just choking down a cup of coffee in the morning, to get the motor running, Folgers will work just as well as any other coffee, and is a LOT cheaper. Third, sealed containers. Bulk pre-ground coffees come in resealable containers, which means you don't have to waste more money buying sealed containers to keep your coffee from going stale. So, you save money twice by buying bulk stuff.

All that being said, I buy whole beans, and grind them as I go. When I make coffee, it's a project, and a weekend ritual that I like. Grinding your beans as you go makes a FAR superior cup of coffee, but, some may not find the added expense and time to worth the better flavor. Your choice. But, if you put me in charge of coffee, it will be ground as I go, and I'll take the extra time to make coffee that is worth drinking.

Now that I've ranted and raved about coffee, I have to give credit where credit is due. Most of this stuff I learned from Harvey, of Bad Example. Way back when, when we goofed off worked at Pizza Pit, Harvey and I used to make coffee that did our work for us. It also rolled over, played dead, and would fetch the newspaper for you. It would also bite you, if you didn't watch it closely. Harvey considered a pot of coffee a complete failure if you could see light through the coffee after brewing. He made Folgers taste good. So, thank you, Harvey, for opening my eyes to the joys of good coffee, and ensuring I never had to drink bad coffee again.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Updates of Sorts

Sorry about the long absence, but, typing has been a bit more...uncomfortable...than usual.

I had my post-op check-up today, and I now have a little bit more information to impart to y'all.

First things first; I am now the proud owner of an $11,000 (plus or minus some pocket change), 5 inch scar on the inside of my elbow. For the past two weeks, my arm had been wrapped from mid bicep/tricep to mid-hand, so, I had not had any chance to see the surgeon's damage handiwork. It's a beauty of a scar. It's very well sutured, and won't be all that bad, once it heals. But, it is longer than all of the other surgery scars I have (three surgeries, seven scars) COMBINED! And it is the most expensive scar I have, by a lot.

I suppose y'all are also wondering about how successful the surgery was. Very successful, based on some important criteria. One: I woke up from it. Due to my rather young age, and slightly better than average health, it wasn't likely that I'd have any complications from the surgery, but, stranger things have happened. Two: My ulnar nerve was successfully relocated, from behind my elbow (the ulnar nerve is your funny bone nerve) to the inside of my elbow. So, no more whacking of the funny bone for me. This surgery may have been worth it, just for that fact alone... Three: It hasn't hurt nearly as much as I thought it would. In fact, the incision only hurt for about 2 1/2 days, and that was without any painkillers. And, of those 2 1/2 days, it was actually only really painful for 1/2 day, the day I got home from surgery. The other two days, it was just really tender. So, all in all, it wasn't that bad.

I've been putting off talking about the whole reason for this surgery: the use of my left hand. On that subject, I guess I would have to say:

So, anyway, speaking of sharks....

So far, the results have been...mixed...at best. On some days, my hand is no better than it was before the surgery. On other days, it hurts, a lot. Like, my hand has been hit with a hammer hurts-a-lot. Some days, I can move my affected fingers freely. Other days, I have to physically grab my fingers to straighten them out, just like before the surgery. And on other days, all of those things will be true, but, based on a hour-by-hour basis.

The surgeon seemed a little concerned by all of this, today, but, he decided (a bit at my prompting) that all of those things were positive signs, because, before the surgery, I felt no pain, and had no control in my fingers. Now, to even have intermittent feeling (even if it is just pain) and control of my fingers is an improvement, of sorts.

I have also gained a small amount of strength back in my hand. The other day, I was, with a little bit of effort, able to use a nail clippers. It may not seem like much to you, but, a little over two weeks ago, that was an impossibility for me.

You also may have noticed that this post is a lot longer than most of my other, pre-op, posts. There is a reason for that. It doesn't hurt nearly as much to type for long times anymore. It's still not comfortable, but, it doesn't cause the massive cramping that it used to.

So, all in all, I'm going to be positive, and just assume that everything is going swimmingly, until someone or something convinces me otherwise. And if you try to convince me otherwise, I'll think you'll find that my right hand still works just fine, thank you very much.

Semper Fidelis: Always Faithful, to God, Corps and Country