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Archive for December, 2012

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I happen to like edges. As a child, the black crayon was always the first to be worn to a stub because THINGS NEEDED OUTLINES. (Illustrations of people also NEEDED NOSTRILS, but that is a different story.)

I got over that, but not the desire to see clear distinctions between This and That. After those were established, for whatever reason, I then felt perfectly free to ignore those boundaries, but I wanted to see them.

In grad school, it took me several years to find an opthalmologist who was able to translate my repeated complaints that “things are all grey” and “things don’t have edges” into “I have astigmatism, damnit” and gave me the proper correction.

Edges!

I was ecstatic. The world popped into three dimensions and I spent the next few weeks staring at EVERYTHING.

Periodically the ‘edges’ go away, the far-sightedness increases, and I need to talk with the latest opthalmologist.

But because I am used to making sense of things, and I’m really good at guessing what I’m looking at [see “dyslexia”], I am able to read eye charts. I can complain all I want about how I’m seeing three rectangles of light through the silly eye evaluation machine, but as long as I recite a plausible string of letters, I’m told my prescription is “correct”.

This time I added some numbers, which seemed to get more attention. Sure, it could have been a B, if I really imagined it carefully. And chances were good that no one has added vibrating semicircles to the eye test, so probably those were Cs. But 8s and 0s make for better statements of distress.

But even then, I needed to complain — what I think of as “a person’s face in proper focus” is apparently several levels of magnification stronger than what the glasses fitter thought was necessary.

I wonder: is this all a side effect of having machines that can assess the curvature of eyes and retinae, but completely fail at knowing what my personal ‘vision’ is really like?

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There are other things that have happened, dreadful things, and I don’t have anything terribly insightful to add at the moment.  Plenty of other people are trying to sort things out and patch whatever is left back together again.

But framing is important: how does something get presented? what goes before or after it? whichconnections are activated and enhanced, and which other ones are set aside? Do you want to emphasize the looking at or do you want to emphasize looking through?

Is the family drama the “point”? Is changing laws? Is admitting that humans in x concentration tend towards dysfunction going to get us anywhere useful? Training people from an early age that if you are feeling like killing someone, don’t leave yourself for last?

Just so many places not to go right now. Waaaaaay beyond me.

So some thoughts soar into the heavens, praying for balm to get from Gilead to where it is most needed, and other thoughts skitter to smaller topics that might yet be commanded, controlled, made at least somewhat satisfactory.

Do these eyeglasses hide my eyebrows?  Will there be enough glass for my prescription to fit properly? If I choose semi-rimless frames, will the lens quality be sufficiently changed that I’ll notice a difference in optical quality? Does this place take my insurance? Will I look too much like other members of my family wearing these?

Trivia. First world problems.

And I am surrounded by sleeping cats.

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Or, “No, we aren’t there yet!”

Let me natter for a moment about the state of an art — trying to solve a public health problem from the basic science side.

You gather your scientists, and have them do the equivalent of laying out all of the cool things in their magical backpacks: “I’ve got a +10 tissue culture”, or “He’s just rigged up this sweet new potion of protection that we’re pretty sure will work because the 6 unicorns we tried it on haven’t turned to stone yet”, with a side order of “I’ve captured 6 nearly-identical Scrolls of Power, but I think they do different things….who wants to chant them out with me?”  After all the presentations and side discussions, you consider how far you have come in having new techniques to thwart or slay the Dragon.

Except even if saving rolls worked in these cases, there would be public protests over the ethics of using dice.

Ahem.  There’s a big gap between what we can easily study and what we really need to know about. Yes, we can grow some cells on nice agar plates, or in nutrient broths, and learn quite a lot.  About those cells that are willing to endure living on agar plates….

But, as modern genomics is telling us, the average human being is actually a conglomerate of multiple species of organisms — there are more cells in your body that are NOT you than there are cells with your genetic signature in them.  All those other bits of life — bacteria, yeasts, commensal and pathogenic organisms — are doing things — eating, multiplying, seeking to make their environments ‘just so’ — and some of those things really make a difference to human health.  But we don’t know for certain which things do what, nor what happens if you tweak the environment in x way, because we don’t know how many things change with each tweak. We’ve run through the biologic systems that only have a few variables; all the problems left to us are the big messy ones!

The basic scientists ‘solve’ the problem by owning it.  They stick to trying to isolate a very few variables and then tinker with those under controlled conditions.  And that tells us lots about a small number of things.  We can, to a certain extent, build with those small understandings, and we can certainly learn a lot about what we shouldn’t bother trying in more complex scenarios.

But public health issues are notable for NOT being controlled conditions: people are walking around with their individual genomes, and microbiomes, and perhaps not eating diets that promote healthy internal flora, or maybe washing so frequently that the external flora that human skin evolved in concert with cannot survive…Humans drink alcohol, they have sex [in lots of creative ways], they find inappropriate ways to express their anger or frustration —  all of these activities change the functions of the other systems involved, and yet we can’t yet model all those things in a laboratory.  Humans do things that make the best in vitro model look like a 2nd grade cigar box diorama made by aliens.

…People are still waiting for a cure, or a preventative, or a way to intervene, SOMETHING….

So the scientists soldier on.  Some wag will pipe up to insist that more research gelt should go to his flame-proof cape project, and the rest of the assembly will point out that this violates the Conflict of Interest forms everyone had to sign at the beginning of the seminar.

Sometimes the social scientists get to point out that “Hey, I’ve noticed that those extreeemely territorial Night Demons seem to only be active after dark: could we perhaps just travel during the day, then?  That would reduce mortality by much more than any of the other methods described so far…..”

For some reason, that’s generally rejected as a option.  Humans want to go wherever, whenever, and a subset of them seem to always be itching for a fight.

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The MacClay Leather company makes a variety of splendid objects.  I’d originally wandered by the booth to consider whether there might be lighter briefcase than the one I typically carry, or something that might be the right size to carry some writing essentials for a new writing gig.

Word is the person who really saw the potential in the smaller bags, pointing out that one not only had room for wallet and journal, but even had a compartment for holding a water bottle, and didn’t I always need to have my menthwasser handy?

She had a point.

Mr. MacClay was pleased — he had noticed that women were carrying water bottles, and thought that if he designed a bag that clearly was meant to carry them, they might sell. [He was clever about other things — he had cardboard models of tablet computers and notebooks to show what objects fit best into which of his products.]

I was pleased — the world is way too full of objects that seem totally divorced [that is not the right word, really, because that implies that at some point in the past there had actually been any relationship at all] from practicality, and yet here was a Thing that could Solve Problems.  But it took a bit of convincing for me to get it — I am not accustomed to finding non-food things I actually want to purchase…. [Anyone who’s been with me to traditional shopping venues knows that I can become a stressy hypoglycemic wreck by the end of a trip just from the mental burden of all the things I DO NOT WANT.]

So I have the creature, and it is remarkably handy. But I’m not used to it yet.  Not owning a purse very often in past decades means I find myself sometimes still calculating the assorted small objects I need to have close to hand while running errands or commuting, bobbling the things in my hands and actually saying out loud “You know, it would be really cool to have… like having a …like a bigger pocket, but sturdy, so I could carry all this….”

Word just looks at me with infinite patience.  I am grateful for her forebearance…. and for Mr. MacClay’s attention to detail.

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