Sunday, December 02, 2018

Snow Angels

Toward the end of Duquesne's 51-6 loss to South Dakota State in the FCS playoffs during a winter storm yesterday, the beleaguered Dukes defense finally made a play and recovered a fumble. With no hope for victory, a couple of senior defensive linemen said "what the hell" and did snow angels to celebrate the fumble recovery and the end of their college careers. The refs threw a flag. Of course they did.

I really hate the choreographed NFL end zone dances, which are rehearsed and tiresome. This was different. It was spontaneous and harmless and fun. No fun allowed, 15 yards.

The great thing about FCS football is everyone who has a remote chance gets into the 24-team playoff field. Thankfully no Herbstreit droning on and on and on. And on and on and on. If we did have an FBS-style "debate," the Jacks would have been pleading with the committee to ignore its stinko loss at Northern Iowa and give it a top 3 seed. Instead they were seeded #5 and will have to win two road games, likely including one in Fargo, to reach the final. (Lesson to SDSU: Don't lose to UNI. Lesson to Georgia: Don't lose to LSU and Alabama.) Not ideal, but the Jackrabbits will decide their own fate on the field, which next week in Kennesaw, Georgia will probably not be snow angel-ready.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

We are doomed

I had an oversized letter to mail today so I went to the nearest postal station which happens to be at the customer service counter in a grocery store. When I got to the counter there was a sign that said the system was down. I had this delusion that they could still weigh it and figure out the postage manually. No such luck.

"The system is down and we can't do anything." "Can't you just weigh it?" "They told us not to trust it."

It is believed the Earth was hit by a massive coronal mass ejection from the Sun in 1859, frying telegraph lines across the U.S. and Europe. Scientists warn that if our modern world gets hit by a solar event of comparable magnitude, it would fry all of our electronics and send us back to the stone age. No more GPS satellites, no computers, perhaps not even any functional vehicles made after 1975. Since our economy is now almost entirely dependent on electronic technology to function, mass starvation seems to be the unavoidable result. We don't have an analog backup for most of our digital world. It's not like we can seamlessly revert to using 1859 steam locomotives.

I took the letter home, weighed it on my analog food prep scale, slapped two Forever stamps on it and stuck it in the mailbox. Disaster averted, for now.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

I have found it!

The greatest stuntwoman in history, Kitty O'Neil, died last week at age 72. That caught my eye, not only because we shared the same last name, but because the place of her demise was Eureka, South Dakota.

In addition to being acknowledged as the greatest stuntwoman, Kitty also holds the world land speed record for women of nearly 513 mph. She had her own Mattel action figure and a biopic movie. Stockard Channing played her in the movie, but she did her own stunts. She overcame much adversity in her life, including deafness from a childhood illness, meningitis which ended a promising Olympic diving career, a couple bouts of cancer, and various injuries from her risky profession. She retired from that lifestyle in 1982, and in 1993 moved to Eureka. She was a native Texan, but apparently she moved there with a fellow named Ray Wald who had some ties to the area.

[In a side note, South Dakota native Jessi Combs (Rapid City), has tried to put together an attempt to break the land speed record, which Kitty set in a three-wheel vehicle. Combs already holds the women's record for a four-wheel vehicle, 399 mph. Combs is best known, at least to me, for one season on Mythbusters while Kari Byron was on maternity leave. Kitty publicly supported Jessi's plans.]

Some of the news coverage of Kitty's passing included bewilderment how a famous Hollywood figure could end up in a tiny little town deep in flyover country. According to the Hollywood Reporter, "I got tired of living in L.A.," she said. "I don't like the big city, too many people. So I moved here and fell in love with it. The people are so friendly."

According to the Washington Post, “How and why they (her and Wald) settled in Eu­reka probably still has a lot of people scratching their heads and a bit baffled,” said Barry Lapp, president of the Eureka Pioneer Museum, which features an exhibit on Ms. O’Neil’s life.

In my former life as a bank examiner, I never went to Eureka per se, but drove just south of there heading to towns further west such as McLaughlin. My understanding is Eureka is a nice little town, maybe even an oasis in the vast expanse of prairie, but it is only 868 people. Aberdeen, population 28,000, is 73 miles away. In McLaughlin, which is near the Missouri River, we asked a single 20-something junior bank officer what he did for fun. He thought about it for a while before responding, "It helps if you like fishing."

When I retired and moved from Massachusetts back to South Dakota, my co-workers thought I was going to the wild frontier. And I'm in a city that has a Costco and Paul McCartney concerts. Eureka is 280 miles deeper into the wilderness. For the last 25 years of her life, Kitty had the blue skies of uncrowded Eureka rather than LA's congestion and brown smog cloud, but I'm sure the writer for the Hollywood Reporter still doesn't get it.

Update: Sadly, Jessi Combs died in 2019 while trying to set the land speed record for a female driver. Guinness recognized that she broke Kitty O'Neil's 513 mph record with a 522+ mph run just before the fatal crash.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Side effect

At my annual eye exam two years ago, I first noticed that the corrective lenses prescribed for my extreme, life-long nearsightedness no longer brought the world into focus. Last year, the eye doctor acknowledged that I was developing cataracts but didn't think it was necessary to pursue treatment at that time. After the past few months when one stoplight became three and I thought perhaps I was becoming a road hazard, I asked my regular doctor what he thought. He shined a light in my eyes, said "cataracts," and immediately referred me to an eye surgeon.

Ten days ago the surgeon removed the cloudy lens from my right eye and replaced it with an artificial lens. Four days ago, the procedure was performed on my left eye. In the six days in between, I was able to compare what the world looked like through a cataract versus a clear lens. Even though I knew the cloud had been reducing the amount of light that passed into my eye, I was surprised at how much brighter everything was. Even more surprising was the color, which I had not noticed was shifting toward the murky. Have you ever seen a piece of aged plastic that used to be clear? It turns yellowish brown, and that was what had happened to the lenses in my eyes.

The audience for network evening news is old people, so the commercials often are for the multitude of medicines that old people need. The sales pitch is followed by the list of side effects, some of which are quite horrendous and alarming. While there are potential negative side effects to cataract surgery, there was one positive side effect I hadn't thought of: I am no longer nearsighted. The implanted lenses fixed it. I've been wearing glasses every waking moment since age 7, but now I don't need glasses for distance vision. I still need reading glasses, but as I'm at my computer typing this I'm not wearing them.

This image of bighorns in the Badlands approximates the difference in my eyes without glasses between the surgeries. Most (but not all) of the blurriness is due to my nearsightedness, so not everyone with cataracts will be this blurry. This actually understates the problem because it doesn't show the triple vision I was experiencing. Click on the image to see a larger version, and welcome to my (former) world.

I started driving again a couple days ago. As I settled into my truck, I noticed with relief that I was able to see the dashboard without the reading glasses. I also noticed the MPG number on my dashboard. I thought Ford was stupid for using a small blue number on a black background which nobody could possibly see, particularly during the day. After the operations, it is crystal clear even during the day. So maybe it was me.

I probably should have started gathering information in late 2016 after I first started noticing that my glasses weren't doing the job. Certainly after my eye exam in late 2017, I should have been more insistent that I needed something other than a new glasses prescription. My suggestion is if your eye doctor ever says it looks like you are developing cataracts, ask about the surgery. It is a relatively safe procedure and I'm unaware of any benefit of putting it off until you see three stoplights where there should be one.

One week later: I used to have a superpower. I used to be able to read the tiniest print by holding it four inches from my face. Now that I'm no longer extremely nearsighted, those days are gone. I suppose now having 95% of the world in focus makes up for it.

Five weeks later: After waiting for my eyes to stabilize and for delivery, I finally got my new glasses today. I'm slightly nearsighted in my right eye, which was planned (monovision), but I primarily need glasses for reading. The new lenses are one-third the thickness of the old lenses. If high index lenses had not been invented, the difference would be more dramatic. Maybe this sounds mundane to anyone who has always been able to see, but for me it still feels like a miracle.