Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Just when I was looking forward to the long weekend...

...a late afternoon email and a subsequent flurry of phone calls have put me on the brink of heading down to the Gulf Coast to assist in the hurricane relief efforts. It will be a two week mission and things should be finalized one way or the other by tomorrow afternoon. Departure date: uncertain (other than asap). Departmental clearance for two weeks away: uncertain. Mission: uncertain, other than talk of cholera, typhoid, and mosquito-borne diseases. A health crisis, indeed.

And people think a career in public health is boring. Ha!

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Not your ordinary ol' migraine

For the second evening in a row I've suffered a bout with ocular migraines/cluster headaches. Each incident lasted about an a hour, which seems much longer (days and days longer) when you're in bed with a pillow over your head and wishing for any relief no matter how slight. The only silver lining to such occurrences is the almost euphoric high one experiences after the headache passes. Gotta love those endorphins.

If you've never had a cluster headache/ocular migraine, I strongly recommend you try having one. Certainly an experience you'll never forget as the pain is like nothing else you've probably ever experienced. A throbbing, unbearable pain in and around the eye. You break out in the cold sweats, you may get sick to your stomach. Light and noise become intolerable.

And the statisitical record suggests a rather alarming rate of suicides as a result of this class of headaches. This is creepy and unfortunate, but I can understand the rationale behind this phenomenon....sort of.

I began having this class of headache back in the beginning of 2001. Because of the sheer intensity and the focal point in and around the eye (and I kinda need these for lab/microscope work) I went to the eye doctor who ruled out such things as glaucoma. The eventual diagnosis was ocular migraines/cluster headaches, which was a relief of sorts. They occur infrequently (I had occurrences in 2001, the summer of 2003, and this week), but when they do, individual bouts may come on nightly or daily (or several times a day) for a few days to a week or two and you're totally immobilized until it passes. You have little warning when one is coming on either. And the really vexing part is that NO over-the-counter painkillers even begin to phase these headaches. My sister also suffers from these on occasion (so maybe there's a genetic predisposition here?), but was long ago wise enough to get prescription meds, just in case one comes on.

I should follow her lead.

Saturday, August 27, 2005


I awoke early this morning (as usual) and since I was out of cigarettes I went for a walk around the neighborhood, the path of which passed a local convenience store on the way home. So this morning was a combination of healthy (walking) and unhealthy (buying cigarettes) activities. And the stop at Starbucks on the way home? More than just a healthy activity. A requirement for life.

Other than this afternoon's research, there's not much on today's agenda. Coming in the middle of the day as it does (noon to five), the the timing of fieldwork excludes participation in most other time-consuming activities. I have to plan my day around the research and though this is somewhat frustrating, it's important to keep in mind that it's an impermanent thing. The field season will cease in October and depending on the quanitity of data collected this year, it will most likely be completed by next summer.

I'm looking forward to the fall semester starting next week. I'm taking 9 graduate credit hours, six of which are research credits and three of which are for the advanced parasitology lab techniques course previously mentioned. It's going to be a rigorous semester, particularly with the parasitology course, but that's ok. I look at it as an investment for the future, which makes it all worthwhile. And besides, it's going to be a lot of fun.

It's also an exciting thing to consider that this time next year I'll preparing to transition to the next stage of life, whether it be PhD school, the Peace Corps, or some other form of international humanitarian endeavour. Practically everything I've done with the career and school over the last five or six years has prepared me for the next big step. There are so many possibilities, all with risks to one degree or another. But risks--calculated risks-- are worth taking if they ultimately result in the greater good. Of course I still have a lot to learn, but this is all part of the process.

Of course, there's always the option of just staying put where I am and buying a house or condo. I have a comfortable career and this would be the most comfortable option, certainly moreso than giving up everything for something like two years of volunteer work with the Peace Corps or becoming an impoverished PhD student for the next four or five years. Or, sequentially, both. Yet these latter options have so much more appeal than simply settling down and settling for the easy route. If I were to do this, I would probably regret it years from now.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Six Rules of Hermithood

First of all, I want everyone to know that I adjusted the comments setting to require the "word verification" for comments. Of course I really don't want to do this, but the number of recent spam comments was getting quite out of hand. I may change it back sooner or later, but for now I'm going to use this feature.

So it's Friday evening and I'm being a total hermit. A few friends mentioned going out for drinks or just hanging out, but I declined. Just not in the mood for socialization beyond the barest minimum tonight. It was a long, long day at work and I have research tomorrow and Sunday, so I'm just in the mood to do my own thing tonight, to enjoy my own company.

Based on documented habitual behaviours, I have discovered several cardinal rules one must follow if they wish to progress along the path to Hermithood. I've practiced these for many years and will now share the Ancient Secrets:

1. You don't open your apartment door when someone knocks because you're not expecting company and don't want to be bothered. I'm rather bad about this most of the time and it's something to which new friends always have to adjust. I'm certainly not being rude (OK, maybe a little rude) it's just that I'm not fond of people dropping by unannounced. A simple call beforehand is sufficient. It's a courtesy thing, mind you.

2. You don't pick up the phone when people call. OK, I'm bad about this too and it kinda defeats the purpose of the "courtesy call" in #1. But then again, if I'm not answering the door OR picking up cell phone calls it means that I want to be left alone. And the home phone? Pfffffffft. Try to call that one. I never pick up anyway. Damn telemarketers.

3. Even if a friend offers to buy the alcoholic refreshments, you decline to go out because you'd rather stay home and read. This doesn't happen all that much, but there is historic precedent for this phenomenon.

4. It's late in the evening and you're sitting in the living room listening to music or watching a move. You hear someone coming up the stairs of the apartment building. As you live on the top floor, it's someone for either you or your neighbor across the hall and she's almost as much of a hermit as you are. A 50:50 chance someone is going to bother you. So you hit "pause" or turn the volume waaaaayyyy down in hopes that they'll think you're not home and go away. You listen to the steps as they climb the final flight to the landing. Are they heavy or light? If keys jingle, it's just the Hermitess across the hall. If they knock, see Rule #1.

5. You've managed to evade calls and people knocking on your door. You sign on to AOL to check email or catch up on the news. As soon as you hear "Welcome" and "You've got mail," you instantly enable your "away" message to avoid unwanted IMs. It's a competition really, as some friend familiar with this phenomenon will try to to beat you to the punch, to squeak a message in before the "Be Right Back," "I am away from the computer," or "Go away!" messages pop up.

And lastly....

6. It's Friday evening and you're sharing online the Great Mysteries of Hermithood.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Random Things

Perhaps I shouldn't have made a pot of coffee this late. I've just now finished a rather large and strong cup and am beginning to feel a wee bit too wired for this late in the evening. I foresee a late night. But at least I'll be able to get some reading in before I doze off to sleep sometime between now and Sunday.

Woe is me.

If I'm a total insomniac tonight, I'll probably do some online tire research as I'm planning to buy new tires for the Jeep sometime over the next few weeks. I'm certainly not going to get huge mudding tires (they can look too goofy and besides, I don't want my fuel economy to drop to 50 feet per gallon), just something slightly larger and wider than what I now have. This could still turn out to be an expensive venture since I'll have to get rims and as well as a full size spare.

Ah well...the price of coolness.

Woe is me.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The best laid plans.......

.....are easily ruined.

Ruined by a little black contrivance called the "emergency pager." Yep. You guessed it. Just as I was preparing for last night's dinner social, the emergency pager sent me scurrying out of the apartment in response to one of the most complex issued I've faced in my current position. Nearly six hours later I returned home and was left with no time to cook and, thus, the housewarming dinner thingie was cancelled.

Ah well. Such is life with the health department.

As "plan B," all those involved in the housewarming went out to the best Mexican restaurant at the oceanfront for dinner and margaritas. Not quite the same as cooking at home, but enjoyable nonetheless. As I still had with me the Infernal Contraption (the pager) I was mindful of alcohol consumption and had but one margarita which I nursed over the course of the evening.

So the housewarming will be next Sunday. And without having to worry about the pager either. I passed that off this morning to the next manager on the rotation list.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Schmoozing with Politicans

So much for getting started on the cooking last night. The social function I attended as a part of work ("other duties as assigned?") lasted much longer than I assumed it would. It was actually still going on when I left, but I had tolerated as much as I could tolerate. The more formal aspect was over and the dancing/social hour was beginning and the music as this point became painful. I took the horrid selection of dance songs as my cue to leave. And by the time I got home I had a headache (probably from the music), so I headed off to bed not long after walking through the apartment door. So that was my Saturday night: dinner with polilticians and local government leaders.

Once I finish the morning coffee, I'll make a run to the grocery store to pick up the essentials so I can get going on the cheesecakes for tonight's dinner party.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Coffee Break

Back a short while ago from a visit with the parental units. It was a pleasant visit and I came home with more vegetables than I can possibly hope to use unless I and all of my friends become vegan for the next two weeks. Even without resorting to this last-ditch measure, none of it will go to waste. I'll use what I can, freeze what I can, and give away what I can. And there's more vegetables to come next week. Damn their two acre garden.

I should start preparing today for tomorrow's dinner party thing at a friends house. Cheesecakes and bread to bake as well as the main course and various side dishes to prepare. I would start this evening, but I have a local "social" function to attend as part of work. My director bought a few tickets and handed them out various senior staff people. I was fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to receive one, so I'm kinda obligated to go. The thing starts at six and I hope will be done no later than nine, which gives me time to get some preparations in for tomorrow.

I'm rather looking forward to spending practically all day in the kitchen tomorrow. Haven't done a cook-a-thon of this scale in quite some time. Sure, it's A LOT of work with preparation, planning, and cooking, but that's all part of the enjoyment.

Off to get more coffee.


Seems that Blogger has implemented a new "Flag?" reporting system whereby readers can mark/report blogs they consider objectionable. This is troubling in at least two very important ways related to the freedom of self-expression.

First, how does one define "objectionable" in the context of blog posts where opinions and thoughts and world views will range across the spectum? There's a lot out there that each one of us could consider objectionable to one degree or another. In the context of freedom of expression wouldn't it simply be easier not to read something "objectionable" rather than report it to the authorities?

As an example: I am an atheist. The closest thing I have to a "belief" system is an adoption of various, rational aspects of Buddhist philosophy. I grew up in a hardcore fundamentalist Christian home and long ago cast off these beliefs due to their (in Jeffersonian terms) "tyranny over the mind." What happens if I decided at some point to post on what I see as the singular deficiences of fundamentalist Christianity in a rational, Enlightened world. This would be my opinion, yet it would also be an opinion with a "high offense potential" to funadmentalist Christians. I could very well be flagged for this one time or many, yet it's still my own opinion. Should I not post on such a topic out of fear of offending others? Should I post and be potentially damned? Where does one draw the line on objectionableness?

On the self-regulation side of things, perhaps bloggers will be hesitant to post thoughts and opinions (whatever they may be) out of fear of being flagged. The concept of flagging is a slippery slope and the degree of self-regulation will probably depend on how quickly and the degree to which this form of censorship spirals out of control.

Much danger I see in this "flag?" business.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Annual Assessment

My office staff managed to pull one over on me today. Somehow without my knowing (or even suspecting) they not only planned, but executed flawlessly a surprise bithday lunch thingie for me. This was a nice gesture and I was legitimately touched, though I cannot fathom how they pulled the affair off in such a clandestine way. The most surprising part is that I've never let them know my date of birth.

Sneaky bunch they are.

So I turn 34 today. Not a big deal at all, really and I'm quite content to let such affairs come and go with but a minimum of recognition. While I do appreciate the efforts of my obviously Machiavellian staff and various friends who have called, this is about as far as I like to take such things. Perhaps the only logically meaningful thing associated with such annual events is the opportunity for one to assess where they are in life now juxaposed to this point last year.

I'm very pleased with the personal progress made over the last year and I feel like I'm more or less where I want and need to be at 34 years old. Physically, I'm almost where I need to be, as greater attention to diet and exercise have certainly paid off. All of my clothes from last summer are too big and I'm enjoying the newfound self confidence and the joy of reinventing my wardrobe.

The world has also grown much smaller over the last year thanks to the three week holiday in Thailand. I love to watch people and such observations validate many trusths about the basic human condition, irregardless of where you area. I suspect the world will be even small this time next year once I spend time in Central America and return to Southeast Asia this fall and winter.

Work and school are going very well and I'm rather confident that I'm on the right career path. The future is sill wide open, of course, but that's expected in my field. There are many different direcitons the path may ultimately take and when the time comes to make the big choices, I should have sufficent insight to make the right one.

One thing that I've particularly noticed is that I have become more of an idealist as I get older. This relates directly to career and life-goals. The more of the world I see, the more experience I gain in the public health field (both domestically and on the international level), the more I want (and need) to make a difference in the lives of others. It was not but so many years ago when these things weren't even on the radar screen beyond basic recognition. A career in such an endeavour certainly wasn't even a consideration. But people change (at least some people so) and outlooks evolve over time if one observes, learns, and follows their heart. These three things will open up possibilities innumerable.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Peace Vigil

This evening I attended the Peace Vigil in Virginia Beach which was part of a national string of events this evening in support of Cindy Sheehan's ongoing protest outside of Dubya's ranch. The local event was attended by maybe 100 or so peace activists.

And there were counter-protesters as well. Three of them. But they had four signs.

In the grand political arena such demonstrations probably won't make any difference. But it was nonetheless a good (almost empowering) feeling to unite with like-minded people in the political process.


Home from work at a resonable hour today. Laundry is drying and I'm working my way though a cup of coffee. In other words, a very typical afternoon. It's unlikely I'll wander off too far this afternoon as I have the duty pager this week. Would hate to be off at the Virginia Beach oceanfront sipping margaritas and have the fool thing go off.

I ran across this story in the local paper today and I just had to shake my head. Unbelievable. A stampede and utter chaos over used, antiquated laptops.

Must remember to give my friends in Richmond a hard time about this.

Monday, August 15, 2005


I must be crazy tonight, or the vicitim of too much coffee. Depsite the late hour and early day tomorrow, I decided to try out a new French bread recipe that I discovered tonight whilst presusing cookbooks in preparation for a friends dinner party/houswarming this weekend. The dough has just begun it's first hour of rising and if the process stays on schedule, I'll be finished up sometime around midnight, or slightly later.

What on earth possessed me to start such a lenghty process this late, I'll never know. And NO I haven't been watching Martha Stewart Living again (is this even still on?). I don't have cable, nor can I get regular reception on my TV. So there!

The last time I actually watched television was when I was in Las Vegas back in April (Me: "Oooo. So many channels!") and the time before that was when I was in Thailand back in January (Me: "Oooo. So many channels! And I can't understand a word of what they're saying."). Sure I have a VCR and a DVD player, but even that is limited to the occasional movie. I am out of the loop on so many things and I suppose it wouldn't hurt to bring myself out of the eighteenth century one of these days.

Heck, I don't even have a microwave. This was an intentional choice on my part. When I moved into a new (but very unfurnished) apartment back in 2002, a friend made the point that one simply cannot live without a microwave. I begged to differ and thus began the experiment of microwave-free living which continues to this day.

But even without a microwave, a little modernization wouldn't hurt. I finally got around to getting a cell phone this year, so that's a first step.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Afternoon Coffee

Enjoying a very strong cup of coffee whilst I relax a bit from today's research (both fieldwork followed by the lab work). Both went well, though the field component took longer than usual due to running into my advisor and two of her other graduate students at the preserve. Even this was productive in the sense that we decided on an appropriate class for me this fall: Parasitology Lab Techniques, which is essentially an advanced methods course that will build on what I learned in General Parasitology a few years ago.

As I achieved sufficient caffeination (is this even a word?), I went over to a friend's house last night, then we headed out for dinner and drinks at our favourite Mexican restaurant in Virginia Beach. The margaritas were much stronger than usual, so I limited myself to just one, mainly due to not wanting to suffer through today's research with a hangover. I've done this once before and vowed never to do so again. And besides, the Virginia Beach Police were out in full force on Shore Drive as they typically are on weekends. All the more reason to be mindful of alcohol consumption.

As for the remainder of the day.....ehhhh....really haven't decided yet. I need to do some cleaning and will cook something for dinner a bit later on. But as for now, it's a strong coffee, a cigarette, and few minutes on Blogger.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Where Everyone Knows Your Name

Returned home a short while ago from an afternoon of research. Altogether it was a rather miserable affair since temperatures were in the mid 90s with high humidity and there I was in long pants and a long-sleeved shirt tromping around with a backpack loaded with fieldnotebooks, collection equipment, and assorted sampling gear. I made a mental note to acquire an undergrad assitant to do this sort of hands-on work. I would be on site, of course, perhaps to make sure they don't pass out from the heat as I monitor their progress through binoculars from the air conditioned Jeep.

One of the many benefits of graduate student status.

Not quite sure as to my plans this evening. May go over to a friend's house or I may just play my customary role of hermit and stay home. It will all probably depend on how much caffeine I can get into my system between now and when I have to decide.

Sometimes it's difficult to be a hermit given where I live. As soon as I step out of the apartment building I'm surrounded by the vibrancy of semi-urban life: two coffee shops within easy tossing distance of a Starbucks cup, restaurants, people coming and going, and so forth. In the two years I've lived here, I've made numerous acquaintances (coffee shop "regulars," and other neighborhood residents, etc.) and it's sometimes bothersome to have my comings and goings noted on an all too frequent basis. The population here isn't large enough to confer anonymity and it's also a favourite hangout (and residence) of many of my peers from the grad program and work, so it's like the whole "Cheers" thing: the neighborhood is a place where everyone knows your name, or at least your face.

The upside of this phemenon of familiarity is that it conveys a strong feel of community, a sense of belonging to something greater than just its ecclectic individual components. Over time you learn to recognize the coffee shop regulars and even the respective morning, afternoon, and evening "crowds" (which means that I'm probably there all too often), the regulars at whatever bar or restaurant on a given night, and even the few homeless people who make this neighborhood their "home." Altogether an interesting social phenomemon.

Decisions, Decisions

It's quite remarkable just how fast the summer is slipping by. We're into mid-August and there are so many traditional summer things that I have yet to do, the most paramount of which is spending time on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I may have to take a day off from work sometime over the next two weeks (before the fall semester starts) to make a day trip down there. My Jeep needs to play on the beach!

Speaking of the fall semester, I need to make some decisions over the next week as to what classes I'll be taking this fall. Technically I'm done with all structured classes required for the masters degree, so the logcial route would be to take an hour or two of reserach credit and not have to worry about extraneous things like attending class a few times per week, exams, and associated projects. But I can't let myself off the hook that easily. There are a number of classes that I still want to take and it's a matter of deciding what best fits my schedule and will most prepare me for PhD school and the ultimate goal of international humanitarian/public health work.

A refresher course in statisitics would be a good choice as it's been so long since I last took this (and it's the basis for any work in epidemiology) as would an appropriate foreign language. German was the language of choice for my undergraduate degree, but those two year of study have hardly prepared me for any sort of work in the developing world. Of course back then working in the developing world wasn't even on the radar screen. Spanish would be a good choice for this fall, but I'm not sure how my tolerance level would hold up being in a classroom full of freshmen.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Old Lady Carts and the Weekend

I didn't see any mangled bike or bodies on the way home from the office, so it was an uneventful drive. And most importantly, I got a good parking spot RIGHT in front of my building. This is a rare event. The parking situation is the one thing I dislike the most about living where I do. It's all side street parking here and I have to compete with Starbucks customers and others who frequent the assorted shops and restaurants here in Ghent. Typically I have to park a block or two away which makes things like grocery buying a real pain. More than once I've entertained the thought of buying one of those little folding carts that old ladies use to haul their groceries around, but have always opted against it as such a contrivance would certainly start rumors and deduct what few "coolness points" I may (or may not) have.

I am in a good mood this afternoon. The work week ended on a high note and I have nothing on the agenda for the weekend other than a little research tomorrow afternoon and Sunday morning. As I sit here in my study, I can see dark clouds gathering and hear thunder rumbling off in the distance. A late afternoon thunderstorm would be a good thing as it would break the oppressive heat and humidity we've endured today.

I'm so looking foward to crisp fall days.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


I saw a rather disturbing thing on the way home from work today. In the middle of the four lane road was a crumpled bike next to an equally crumpled rider with body contorted in a very unnatural position and not moving. The police and emergency people had just arrived and were doing their thing. I wonder if this was a hit and run. I don't recall seeing any other vehicle stopped anywhere near the scene.

You have to admire EMTs and police officers whose duty it is to respond to such situations as this. I know I certainly could not do it, being the first responder and not knowing what's awaiting you and just how messy things might be.

Anyway, just a random observation from the ride home.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Blog: One Year Later

Whilst perusing through my old posts, it occurred to me that I've had this blog now for just over a year. Certainly doesn't seem that long. For the most part the blog experiment has been a positive thing and I've met some interesting people online along the way. Blogging certainly hasn't replaced my very old habit of a keeping a hand-written journal, but it has nonetheless added a unique dimension to the whole process of self-expression.

And most importantly, it's a lot of fun.

Perhaps I have not been as revealingly candid as most (OK...maybe some) bloggers tend to be, but that's just my personality. Whether posting on here or associating with coworkers and some groups of friends, I tend to be somewhat elusive (for better or for worse) and usually compartmentalize the various aspects of my life. Work, academics, friends, and my personal time are separate categories and only in the rarest of circumstances do the boundaries between them blur. But as I touch on all of these various aspects in my assorted ramblings, perhaps this blog slightly blurs the boundaries and offers a snapshot (albeit a somewhat generalized one) as I follow the uncharted road of life to whatever end.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Holiday Travel

Off to take care of some fieldwork in a bit, but thought I'd hammer out a few lines whilst I have my morning coffee and cigarettes.

Yesteray's annual office cookout went very well. Lots of good food, conversation, and overall a lot of fun. Only one employee got a bit trashed and had to be driven home. I was jealous. As it simply wouldn't do to see their manager passed out in the yard surrounded by empty beer bottles, I was mindful of my alcoholic consumption. Ah well...the burden of leadership.

I've been giving some thought as to my forthcoming vacations and am having difficulty deciding whether I want to visit Honduras or go back to Thailand over the Xmas holiday. I have open invitations for both over the holiday season and the real trick, schedule-wise, is going to be squeezing them both in. Of course there's absolutely no way to get them both in over the three week Xmas holiday, so it's going to require some creative scheduling. Option A is to visit Honduras for two weeks in November and then spend the three weeks in Thailand in December. Option B is two weeks in Honduras over the Xmas holiday and visit Thailand for three to five weeks in January or February. I'm tempted to go with Option B as the longer stay in Southeast Asia may allow for a bief visit to Vietnam or Cambodia.

And then there's also the possbility of a week in Hawaii in October.

Of course these trips are still a long way off, but it's time to start getting the flights organized.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Beer Snobbery

Today is the annual summer cookout for my office staff. The affair starts at 1 this afternoon and I may show up early to lend a hand with the various preparations. We're expecting 20 to 30 people and decided to make it as easy on everyone as possible. They don't need to bring anything; everything will be provided and all they need to do is show up. My employee who is hosting the event is providing all of the food and I'm providing all the drinks, alcoholic or otherwise.

I made the beer run after work yesterday and picked up an assortment that should suit any preference, though it turned out that I needed a little help with this. My preferences run towards the "high end," I suppose it could be called: imported Belgian ales and German beer, and assorted offerings from select domestic microbreweries. So I was envisioning an offering of assorted stouts, porters, IPAs, lagers, and so forth.

The one thing I didn't factor into all of this was that people tend to like just plain old beer.

So while loading the cart at the store yesterday, one of my employees admonished me for being a "beer snob" and recommended that I downgrade the list to things like Miller, Coors, and Michelob.

I was stunned. People actually drink that stuff???

Despite the fact that he also prefers higher quality beer, he had nonetheless taken an informal poll among prospective attendees, the result of which was the strong preference for the more pedestrian domestic beers. His logic made sense so I adjusted the acquisitions to suit the lowest common denominator, but included a limited number of things to suit the few with more refined tastes.

So it may be that I'm a beer snob. Never really thought of it this way, but I suppose it may be a valid point. But I make no apologies for this. One of my favourite hangouts here in Norfolk is a place called the Taphouse and their slogan "Life is too short to drink cheap beer" sums up nicely my perspective on such an inconsequential thing as beer.