News and Views

From my kids accomplishments, to my heretical perspective of the world

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Spondylolisthesis

March 25th, 2017 · 2 Comments

Gisele recently had surgery for Spondylolisthesis, “the forward or anterior displacement of one vertebra over another”. In her case when she bent forward or back the vertebra would slide forward or backwards over the one below. There was also degeneration of the disks, but simple disk replacement wouldn’t keep her vertebrae in line, so surgery was the only option.

Her symptoms were: Increasing numbness in her feet when she walked more than a few steps, a developing weakness in her legs and feet, and pain in her hips and back. She was on track for painful confinement to a wheelchair within a few short years.

For surgery she went to the Barrow Neurological Institute, which Wikipedia states, “is the world’s largest dedicated neurosurgical center and a leader in neurosurgical training, research, and patient care.”

The surgeon, Dr. Steve Chang, fused the L4-L5 and L5-S1 vertebrae together, installing screws and rods from both the front and back, on two separate days. Fusion can often be done just from the front, but in her case the spine was so unstable that the vertebrae needed to be supported both front and back.

The surgery was completely successful, with one caveat: Her vertebrae are so soft that until he x-rayed he wasn’t sure the screws were going in correctly. He described it “like screwing into butter”, hopefully an exaggeration, but still indicating advanced osteoporosis. Her recent bone scans had only shown osteopenia, so this is a disturbing finding. She will be seeing an endocrinologist specializing in osteoporosis to try to improve her bone density.

She is home now, 15 days later, and slowly recovering. The best news is that all her symptoms are gone — numbness (except for a little residual amount in one foot — probably from permanent nerve damage), and the pain and weakness. Pain from the surgery is still significant but improving all the time.

She has to wear her “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” back brace for about 3 months whenever she is out of bed. Since she can’t put it on by herself that means that hubby has to get up in the night with her each time she has to use the bathroom. Small price to pay to ensure proper healing!

I was going to put a picture of her in her brace, but she didn’t think that was a good idea. Here is what it looks like worn by a model.

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San Francisco Travel Documentation

December 7th, 2016 · 1 Comment

In the interest of documenting my travels for later reference, we just got back from 4 nights in San Francisco. We usually stay with Angela, but since she has mice and not much room, we stayed this time in a motel just a 10 minute walk from her apartment.

We flew. Had a connection cancelled in Los Angeles for mechanical problems, but then they brought in another plane and we arrived a couple of hours late.

That’s all. No comments solicited or expected.

Map

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Hawaii 2-Island Conclusion

November 14th, 2016 · 3 Comments

I already posted about Oahu (Wahoo!). We only spent 3 full days there, but we were on the Big Island and Maui for 6 days each. Here are some high points.

Here’s the kind of paradise I usually think of as Hawaii:
Lush

or this, on the Hana Highway in Maui:
Lush2

But there are places that look like this (driving up Mauna Kea on the big island):
Mars3

and this recent lava bed near Hilo on the big island:
Lava Landscape

We loved our house on the Big Island, right across the street from a nice little beach. This picture of the sunset:
Sunset

was taken through this window:
Window

One thing made us a little nervous living here. Each time we drove down to our house next to the beach, we passed this sign (but it looks like the person is running towards the water…?):
Tsunami sign

The volcanic action on the Big Island was really neat. Here’s where lava was spouting up into the air out of a lake of lava:
Fire

Here the lava was running out into the ocean generating this huge cloud of steam:
Steam

And here it is flowing underground:
Lava

I love watching big waves crash against the shore (north-eastern Maui):
Waves

We also visited the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut packaging plant near Hilo. Not worth making a detour for, but if you are passing by, why not stop in.
Mauna Loa

I went snorkeling off the coast of Maui. Gisele took these through the windows of a “glass bottom boat”. The water was clearer than it looks in these pictures — the glass wasn’t very transparent. Lots and lots of colorful fish that I could get within a foot or two of.
Snorkeling1

Snorkeling3

Snorkeling

And I did a little ziplining on Maui. This was a very tame ride, but easy to get to and didn’t take too long.
Ziplining on Maui

And back on Oahu, here’s a picture of the Kualoa Ranch where most movies that take place in Hawaii are filmed. This tree is from the first Jurassic Park. The doctor and kids hid behind this when the T. Rex was chasing the Galomimus.
Jurasic Park

Two weeks was a good visit. Long enough to see the three islands, I think. Maybe someday we will go back and visit other islands, but there are lots of other places in the world beckoning to us.

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Wahoo!

October 26th, 2016 · 2 Comments

The first time Dennis the Menace went to Hawaii (over 50 years ago), as the captain announced that they were finally landing in Honolulu, Dennis shouted out “Wahoo!”. The flight attendant (they were called stewardesses at that time) said, “Why yes, that’s right Dennis. It is the island of Oahu.”

Oahu was lots of fun. We had a hotel near Waikiki Beach, though we were surprised to find that they only had valet parking at $22/night.

We really liked Kualoa Ranch, where we took a new tour of movie sets. This tour rides in air conditioned vans, stops at more places and takes about an hour longer than the old movie set tour, so we got to see a little more, in comfort. I was quite surprised at all the movies and TV that had been filmed, and are being filmed at this site. At least two of the Jurassic Park movies, Lost, Hawaii 5-0 (less of a surprise), King Kong, Jumanji (they are filming a sequel right now; we saw some of the sets as they were tearing them down) and lots, lots more. We saw several sets for many of these, many that I recognized.

Here’s a partially concealed skull from the not-yet-released new King Kong movie, Skull Island or something like that.
Kong Head

We also went to the Polynesian Cultural Center. We paid for a upgrade, but that was a mistake. Not worth it. Without the upgrade, it would have been an interesting afternoon anyway.

Another intersting adventure was hiking up to Manoa Falls, only about 20 miles from Waikiki Beach. We especially liked this area shown below, with the lush creepers wrapping the trees; everything was so green!
On the trail to Manoa Falls

We left Oahu on Monday, flying to the Big Island which will merit its own post.

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The Dunning-Kruger Effect

October 9th, 2016 · 2 Comments

David Dunning and Justin Kruger of the department of psychology at Cornell University in 1999 performed experiments measuring how well people evaluated their own competence. The result was that people who knew very little about a topic generally greatly over-estimated their competence, while experts tended to correctly or slightly under-estimate themselves. It was only after being trained on a topic that those lacking skill began to realize their own incompetence.

As Dunning himself put it: “If you’re incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent.… The skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is.”

Dunning here discusses how this effect applies to Trump supporters, and in fact probably to Trump himself. Trump probably doesn’t understand how grossly unqualified he is for the job. (This article is worth reading.)

This effect is apparent everywhere, and in fact is a major weakness of Democracy. Voters are passionate about their choices, but often based on limited or incorrect understanding of the issues. Many people have strong feelings about economic policies, but really understand almost nothing about economics. Stimulus? Balanced Budget? Deficits? Raising or lowering taxes? Are these things always good or bad, or does it sometimes depend on the situation? People knowing nothing about Climatology are convinced that climate change is a hoax, throwing a snowball into Congress as proof the world is not warming.

I think a reasonable approach is to listen to the experts when they agree, such as with climate change. On a topic such as economics, we should probably go along in the cases where most economists agree, but when the experts disagree it is foolish to be sure you know the right answer.

There are some interesting quotes showing that this is not really a new discovery:
– Confucius “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance”
– Bertrand Russell “One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision”
– Charles Darwin “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge”
– Shakespeare (As You Like It) “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool”

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South Dakota

October 2nd, 2016 · 3 Comments

We spent a week in South Dakota in mid-September. It was even better than we had expected.

We flew into Rapid City, near the south-west corner of the state, and stayed in a beautiful hotel in Keystone. Keystone is just a couple of miles from Mount Rushmore; in fact we could see George Washington and Thomas Jefferson from our room.
Mt Rushmore from room

It was much clearer, though, from within the park. Note the workers on Roosevelt’s head. We’re not sure what they were doing.
Mt Rushmore

We also visited Badlands National Park. Dad always used to say that they don’t make National Parks for nothing; they are always worth visiting. Badlands is no exception.
Badlands

In our drives around the state we saw lots of wildlife along the road, such as Bisons:
Bison

and Pronghorn (note the radio collar on the center one):
Pronghorn

and Big Horn Sheep:
Big Horns

One day we drove into Wyoming to the Devils Tower. It was more interesting than I thought it would be, definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.
Devils Tower

We saw three climbers on their way up the tower; two of them are in this picture. It takes skills that I don’t have to climb something like that.
Climbers

On the last day we went to see the Crazy Horse Monument. They’ve been working on this for many years; I’m not sure it will ever be complete. Eventually it is supposed to be an Indian mounted on a horse; so far they have completed the Indian’s face and carved a hole which will be under his extended arm. After paying $22/car load you really can’t see it any better than from the highway. The only reason to go inside is to watch a movie on the project, and of course the gift shops.
Crazy Horse

While Donna was Googling our location, she noticed that a nearby gulch and road carried our family name:
Lafferty Gulch Road

We also visited Wind Cave National Park. This one might be an exception to Dad’s rule. While it is a long and deep cave and has some unusual formations, in our travels around the world we have seen much more majestic and beautiful caves. Even Kartchner Caverns here in Arizona is a lot more colorful. However, the park above ground was beautiful and worth the visit by itself. That’s where several of our wildlife photos came from. So we are still glad we came.

It was a nice trip. People were friendly, drivers cautious and courteous, the early Autumn weather was pleasant and the scenery was magnificent. This part of the country remains less settled; hopefully it will stay that way so the natural beauty can be preserved.

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Everyone Aiming at Defender?

August 13th, 2016 · 5 Comments

Windows 10 has built-in anti-virus, called “Windows Defender”. It’s nice to have free anti-virus, but I have some concerns about it.

First, Defender doesn’t get very good ratings from independent anti-virus testing labs. (4 stars out of 6 on Protection.)

My bigger concern is that even if it worked very well, it’s an obvious target for hackers. If everyone is using the same AV program, then effort spent finding holes and weaknesses in it are going to pay off big. Every black-hat hacker in the world must be focusing on finding and exploiting flaws in Windows Defender. Based on this, I’ve decided to try an alternative for a year.

It’s not that I have a lot of problems with viruses. I think I’m a pretty safe user, and have never had a significant infection. But I work on other people’s computers and know that malware is prevalent and can be messy. Worse yet are things like ransomware that encrypts your data unless you pay for a key.

Based on independent lab AV-Tests’ results**, only Kaspersky Lab’s AV got 6 out of 6 stars in all three categories (Protection, Performance and Usability). Obviously Protection is the most important category, and several other programs get 6 stars in that category (including AVG and Norton).

Whenever I read about the latest exploit or malware infection, it seems that people are quoting Kaspersky Lab, and they are often the first to find it. They have an excellent reputation in the AV world. Based on all this, I bought a one-year, 3 computer subscription. I’ll see how it goes.

I would suggest that if you are already using the free version of AVG there’s no strong reason to switch since it also gets 6 stars for protection. But if you are depending on Windows Defender, you might want to think about using something else.

** In June, Defender detected 97.3% and 99.3% of two categories of current malware. AVG was 100% and 99.4%. Kaspersky was 100% and 100%. Looking back over previous months, Defender is often much worse (sometimes in the 80’s), while Kaspersky continues to shine. AVG slightly exceeds Kaspersky in a few cases, but on average is lower. And Kaspersky consistently has less impact on system performance than either of the others. That’s a tie-breaker for me.

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Medicare 5 Months In

August 5th, 2016 · 2 Comments

I’ve been on Medicare for 5 months now, and it is so much better than any options I had before. I’m saving about $500/month on premiums, my annual deductible is $166 compared to $6000, after which I pay 20% of better negotiated prices, and many more physicians accept Medicare than my previous insurance.

Gisele is still on her Aetna PPO plan, for another year. We have had so many issues with physicians apparently being “in-network”, but then not appearing on their internal list. It has taken several hour-long phone calls, and I’m not sure it is straightened out yet.

If you ask a physician’s office, “Do you take Medicare?”, usually they will say yes, but in any event they will know immediately whether or not they do. With our other policies, it’s “Which insurer? Which Group Plan? Which network? We’ll have to check…”

Medicare is very similar to the universal coverage that most developed countries have (did I say “most”? I mean every one except the USA). Can we find a way to extend it to everyone?

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Off to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

July 28th, 2016 · 2 Comments

In many ways, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is nicer than the South Rim. There are fewer people, and it’s at a higher elevation which results in cooler temperatures, more rainfall and consequently lusher vegetation. On the downside, it takes a lot longer to get there from here. And though there are fewer people, they are compressed into a smaller area, so it still feels crowded. But it’s not hard to get away from the crowds.

We left Thursday morning. As we were driving out of town, the Lane Keeping Assist on Gisele’s Accord was not working. It would not lock on to the lanes. I was in a panic; Would I end up having to steer the car all they way there? 🙂
But stopping and restarting the car rebooted the system and it started working fine, with no problems the rest of the way. Whew!

We really enjoyed our stay. We were unable to get a cabin for the four nights, so we stayed in the motel the first two nights. It was actually OK — the motel is at the far end of the visitor area, and we were at the far end of the motel, so it was quiet. There was a bench outside our door that looked out over the ponderosa forest, and I spent quite a bit of time sitting there reading.

The last two nights we moved into a cabin, which in most ways was nicer; bigger and quite close to the Lodge. It was very warm (mid-80s) and unlike the motel it didn’t have a ceiling fan, but that wasn’t a big problem. Some of the cabins look out over the rim, but in retrospect I’m glad we didn’t get one of those. There is a trail between the cabins and the rim, so you would have people walking by your front door all day long — 20 or 30 feet away, but still too close for my taste. It was quieter where we were, near the middle of the group.

Cabin

We took a walk about a mile below the rim on the North Kaibab Trail, which is actually part of the Rim-to-Rim trail, and part of the Arizona Trail that Dale has been hiking (and I’ve joined him on a few sections). Having hiked the trail to the river from the South Rim, I can say that the North Rim seems like a more pleasant hike, in that there are lots more trees and it seems a little less steep. The trails down the South Rim are mostly bare rock.

Below the Rim

On the days leading up to our arrival there had been a fire near the North Rim. During the first few days there, scenic roads were closed. The last full day of our stay, they opened the road to Cape Royal and Imperial Point so we took a drive. The views from the lookouts have been captured by better photographers than us, so I won’t post those, but on the way we passed through several burned areas. Here’s an especially bad spot.

Fire Damage

We had always wanted to see Antelope Canyon near Page, Arizona. I almost waited too late to make reservations, but was able to get a spot on a tour on the day we left the North Rim. The tour was for 8:00am, and we were 2 1/2 hours away, so it meant getting up at 4:30 so we could leave by 5:30. But it was well worth it. It’s truly an amazing place, ranging between 5 and 10 feet wide, around 120 feet deep and several hundred feet long. The only disappointments I had was that we had to join a tour, it was crowded, and the guide told us nothing about the history or natural history of the canyon. It was all “See the bear?” and “There’s Lincoln’s face”. I have no interest in seeing faces in random patterns, I want to understand what happened and how it was created.

Antelope Canyon

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Bulb Life, Again!

July 12th, 2016 · 5 Comments

How exciting!

Just a brief followup on the bulb life experiment I started in 2000 (Here and here . My kitchen has 7 PAR30 bulbs in the ceiling. Back when I was using incandescent bulbs, average life was less than a year, so on average I was changing every bulb more often than every year, or about 8 or so total bulb changes per year.

Since finally converting entirely to fluorescent and LED bulbs, I haven’t had to replace a single bulb in 4 1/2 years. They really do last longer than incandescent bulbs, and I’ve thereby avoided about 36 changes over this time.

I kind of wish my fluorescent bulbs would burn out so I could replace them with LED bulbs. I prefer the instant on, but most of my fluorescents take a while to warm up.

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