Monday, May 30, 2016

A Science Guy’s Almanac: Catheters, Pus, and Buttermilk: Three terms you don’t want in the same sentence!

A Science Guy’s Almanac #25. Year 2. May 30, 2016
Catheters, Pus, and Buttermilk: Three terms you don’t want in the same sentence!

It's Memorial Day. 
Thank a veteran for her/his service.

I had to stay in the hospital after my spinal fusion for eight days. They would have discharged me earlier, but I developed a low-grade fever and wanted to make sure it didn’t spike before they turned me loose.

I got home. Things went well… for a short time.

Either the second or third day at home, I needed to tinkle. I carefully pushed off the arms of the chair in which I was seated and negotiated to the bathroom. What came out was not pure urine.

A stream of pus and urine cascaded into the toilet. It burned as it exited. I called my mom.

An Aside
I suspect that mothers would do whatever necessary for their children, even if they had to read the giant list of probable events they might experience before they delivered. But, this was one of those times that I was glad she hadn’t seen the list!

Mom came in, quickly diagnosed a urinary tract infection, probably the result of the catheterization early in my hospital stay. She called our family doctor. He gave her the name of the urologist he recommended. We went to the urologist the next morning after several more burning man experiences.

By the time we got to the urologist’s office, there was a steady burn in my bladder. Urinating spread the burn. It was uncomfortable sitting, standing, and lying down. Get the picture?

The urologist was a female.

I’m just gonna let that sentence hang there.

After a brief—thank goodness—examination, she prescribed an antibiotic. Before she left, she added a non-prescription compound to my treatment regimen.

“You should stop by the market on the way home and buy some yogurt or buttermilk. You should be eating or drinking that two or three times each day until the antibiotics are gone.”

Backstory #1. 
I had my first taste of yogurt at UCSD before my surgery. I was starving one day. All I had was a quarter. The only item at the satellite cafeteria I could afford was a container of yogurt. Plain yogurt. Vintage 1968 plain yogurt. There was no way I was going to eat yogurt two or three times every day.
Backstory #2. 
   On television at this time was a commercial for Knudsen Real Churned Buttermilk. In the commercial, a frontier couple was featured. The man was cutting firewood. It was a hot day. He was shirtless and sweating profusely. He mopped his brow periodically with a towel. It was obvious that he was suffering greatly.
   The woman was seated on the porch of the cabin in which they lived. She was churning butter. Not a drop of perspiration could be seen. See example below.

   Just when the viewer was certain that the woodcutter was about to black out from dehydration and exertion, the butter-churner left the porch. She carried a BIG class of buttermilk to the man. The man stopped working. He chugged the entire glass of buttermilk. Within seconds he was back splitting logs with renewed strength and a huge smile on his face.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

My mom and I left the office. As we neared home, I informed my mom of my choice for the non-prescription compound.

“Don’t forget we need to get buttermilk.”
“Are you sure?” Mom asked. She had a kind of grimace as she asked.
“You bet!” I related the backstories above to her.

Biology Aside.
The term antibiotic means “against life.” Antibiotics kill bacteria. Unfortunately, antibiotics kill all bacteria they come in contact with.
“Well, that’s good,” you might be thinking. If you are, you’re wrong.
I suspect you’ve heard of Escherichia coli. It’s usually referred to as E. coli in the media. E. coli is a species of bacteria. If all you know about E. coli is what you’ve read in the paper or seen online, there’s a good chance you think it’s a deadly killer. And, you’d be right.
But, you’d also be very, very wrong.
E. coli occur naturally in your large intestine. Their job is to help for your fecal material into a solid mass. Without E. coli, you’d have a continuous case of… diarrhea.
Before you panic, the inside of your intestine is outside your body. If it wasn’t, your own immune system would attack E. coli. And you’d have a continuous case of… diarrhea. Think of the situation as a tunnel through a mountain. Your intestine is the tunnel. Your body is the mountain.
Whether you know it or not, you know that E. coli are not inside your body. First, you don’t have a continuous case of… diarrhea. Second, if your appendix ruptures, the contents of your large intestine are released into your body cavity. The result of this dump of waste and bacteria into what was a sterile cavity is a serious infection.
I was unaware of the importance of E. coli at the time of the buttermilk purchase. When I started taking the antibiotics, my own E. coli were killed. Both yogurt and buttermilk have non-E. coli replacement bacteria in them. And, that’s why the urologist recommended the consumption of one or the other.

“Make sure it’s Knudsen buttermilk,” I called after my mom as she went into Valley Farm Market—see the penultimate Almanac post for a reference to it and the Wienermobile. She came out with a quart of what I was certain was the nectar of the gods. I don’t remember if was Knudsen, but I suspect it was.

We picked up the prescription at Valley Pharmacy—see the last Almanac post for more on that entity. Minutes later we pulled into our driveway.

I rushed into the kitchen and grabbed a big glass.
I pulled the carton of buttermilk open.
It smelled terrible!
“Whoa, Mom! You’ve got to take this back,” I said while fanning my nose. “It smells rotten!”
Mom came over and took a whiff.
“Smells just like buttermilk,” she said.
I wonder how that woodcutter in the commercial could stand this smell, I thought. But, he loved it. It must taste really good.
I began pouring the elixir into my glass.
Glorp. Glug. Plop!
Hunks of something cascaded into my glass along with the liquid.
“Mom! Hunks of crud are coming out of the carton. This batch has to be bad!”
Mom returned. She looked down into the glass.
“Looks just like buttermilk,” she reported.
You’ve got to be kidding me. The woodcutter must be blind in addition to having no sense of smell. Still, it did wonders for him.
I began to chug the buttermilk.
Ackk! Hack! Mom! This stuff tastes evil!” I managed to gag out as I let the small amount that hadn’t been swallowed drool out of my mouth. “Eh haa to be baa!”
Mom dipped one index finger into the now half-full glass. She put a very small amount on her tongue.
“Tastes just like buttermilk.”

For the next ten days, I drank—AKA gagged down—a pint of buttermilk daily.

But, I gargled with Pepsi Cola after each session. That’s the only way I could get the taste out of my mouth.

Next Almanac post: I haven’t decided yet. Y’all—or all y’all—come back and find out!

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Monday, May 16, 2016

Secrets of the Sequenced Symbols. A response to Prompt #1727 Cryptanalysis from The Writing Reader.

This is a continuation of the post in response to Prompt #1720 The Voynich Manuscript--5/9. This is the second installment of what has become a serialized story with sporadic additions. It is my response to  Prompt #1727 Cryptanalysis from The Writing Reader. The working title is

Secrets of the Sequenced Symbols

  Marin and Lincoln deliberated for more than an hour. Conversation and argumentation alternated with silence as they studied, pondered, and pontificated.

  “I see some patterns in these symbols,” Marin stated without inflection. “Look. She pointed out three occurrences of the same group of symbols.

  “I agree. And many of the groups of symbols end with this,” Lincoln pointed. “It looks a bit like a wriggling snake.”

  “It’s a code,” Marin decided.

  “Perhaps. But I’m not willing to go there yet. I think it’s a method of communication.”

  “Seems like a lot of work to go through unless the message is important.”

  “Have you any idea of the number of these books in this library?”


  “I don’t know the exact number. But, I want to show you something.” He stood and extended his hand in a gesture of assistance. She frowned but accepted his hand after sliding her chair back from the table.

  He led her through a doorway behind the long counter that divided the open space into a large area with tables and chairs and a smaller area with table-like wooden structures that had room for only a single chair.

  Each of the table-like structures had an ancient electronic view screen sitting on its surface. Many had metal and plastic towers below the desk. Lincoln assumed them to be some form of electronic storage site because a cable connected them to the view screens.

  The doorway had no door. Marin hesitated when they reached the opening. Beyond the doorway was shrouded in darkness.

  “I see no value in exploring what is essentially an artificial cave. Did you bring any electronic torches?”

  “We won’t need those,” Lincoln assured her.

  He stepped through the doorway. As if by magic, light sources in the ceiling illuminated.

Marin gasped. There must be over one thousand books in this room!

  “Are you all right?” Lincoln asked as he moved back to her side.

  “How did you find this?” she asked.

  “It was quite by accident, he assured her. “But, it is where the books are stored. Did you ever wonder where the new books came from when your visited and the book placed on the stand was not the one there on your last visit?”

  Marin nodded.

  “I trade them out each week,” Lincoln confessed.


  “At first, it gave me a purpose. Now, I do it because I hope people begin to wonder why the ancients had so many books. I know I do.”

  And, now I do, too she thought. She asked, “Can I touch them?”

  “Same rules as out at the tables,” Lincoln intoned in his best officiant’s voice.

  Marin smiled at him. She went to the first row of wooden book holders and removed one from its place.

  She stepped away from the book holder to gain access to more light. She opened the book’s cover.

  “Oh, Lincoln! Look at this!”

  Two long strides brought him to her side. She held out the open book. He looked and inhaled sharply.

  “May I turn this page?” he asked.

  “If you don’t, I will,” she answered.

  With reverential care, he turned the page.

  Two sharp inhalations were heard.

  He turned the page back.

  “It appears to be a, um…”

  “I don’t know what it is,” Marin said. “But, it looks like each page has some significance for the single symbol it displays.”

  “I concur. Let’s take this book out to where we were looking at the other.”

Back at the table they’d occupied previously, the duo opened the book to the first page. What they saw was an enlarged version of two single symbols. Beneath the symbol was the picture of an apple. Below that was a sequence of symbols with the enlarged one in the first position.

  “This picture is an apple,” Lincoln said. He immediately apologized. “I don’t know why I said that. I didn’t mean to insult your intelligence.”

  “I take no offense. Notice that the one of the single symbols occupies the first position in the sequence beneath the apple. That must be significant.”

  “But, the symbol cannot represent apple, can it?”

  “I’m not ready to commit to any supposition at this point. Turn the page.”

  Lincoln complied. The two facing pages had a layout identical to the first page. But, the two symbols, the picture and the sequence of symbols under each picture were unique to that page.

  “Look!” Marin’s excitement flared. “One of the symbols on the first page appears on both of these pages as well!”

  “Yes, but notice in the picture of the water vessel on the second page, the symbol from the first page is in the third position in the sequence.”

  “What is this picture?” Marin asked as she pointed to the third page.

  “I don’t know,” Lincoln admitted after several seconds of brow-furrowing concentration. I thought I had a memory of such items, but—”

  “Remember the archival images from The Day the Earth Shifted?” Marin interrupted. Her eyes sparkled with anticipation.

  “I do. I do! That’s very good, Marin. There are vast numbers of these items lined up along the strips of tarred surfaces. I’ve heard they were a form of transportation.

Marin frowned. Although there are wheels on these items, there are no horses to pull them in any of those images. She ignored the thought and focused on the sequence of images below the picture.

  “See? Here is the crescent moon-like symbol in the first position. But the same symbol from the first page at was in the first position for apple and the third position for water vessel is now in the second position.”

  “Excellent observation. Shall we make a prediction for the next pages?”

  “At this point, I prefer to call mine a guess,” Marin said. “I think that because they were on the first page, one of those symbols will be on each and every page.”

  “I find merit in that and am willing to consider it a prediction. Will you do the honors of turning the page and testing your—”

  Guess!” she said.

When she turned the page, her face fell. Neither oversized symbol from the first page appeared on either of the newly exposed pages.

  “So much for my powers of prediction,” she grumbled.

  Lincoln bit his tongue. He studied the two pages for several seconds before he spoke.

  “The picture on this page is a dog. But, I have no idea what this represents,” he added as he touched the picture on the fifth page of the book.

  “It appears to be some fictional animal,” Marin observed. “It has four legs and what looks like a tail.”

  “I see those, but if these are ears,” he said as he pointed at the picture. “They are horribly out of proportion.”

  “I agree. It’s as though a child drew this. Look at what is in the nose position.”

  “Long and gray, like a snake. You may be right about your child artist.”

  “Look carefully,” Lincoln encouraged. He pointed at the symbol is the second position in the sequence beneath the dog.

  “What? Oh, wait. That symbol is in the second position under the water vessel.”

  “Yes,” Lincoln agreed. “And, look. Several symbols from the first page sequence appear in the long sequence under the child’s drawing.”

  “But the sequence lengths vary—almost as much as the position of repeating symbols in the sequences.”

  There was silence for a full two minutes. Neither member of the pair was willing to admit defeat. Yet, neither was willing to turn the next page, either.

  Lincoln sighed.

  “Darkness approaches,” he said. “Let us leave now and avoid travel on the strips of tar without light to show the cracks and broken pieces.”

  “I feel like we’re close to something. Something important,” Marin mused.

  “The books are not motile. They will be here in the morning.”

  “I know.” She stood.

  Lincoln closed the book.

  “I wish I was more like you,” Marin said as she walked beside Lincoln outside the library.

  “I cannot imagine why you’d want that,” he replied.

  “I know you’ll sleep well tonight. On the other hand, I will lie awake thinking. I’ll drift off just before sunrise and wake up in a foul mood. You. You’re never in a foul mood.”

  Oh, dear Marin. If you only knew the troubling thoughts running through my mind. There will be no sleep for me this night. I must confer with those of the Council. I have an uneasy feeling about what those symbols and the sequences they form have the power to convey.

  He intertwined his fingers of his right hand with those of her left.  But he said nothing.

  She looked up at him. He smiled. She blushed. They walked the rest of the way to their living complex in silence.

A Science Guy’s Almanac #24. Duncan Yo-yos and Yo-yo Masters

A Science Guy’s Almanac #24. Year 2. May 16, 2016
Duncan Yo-yos and Yo-yo Masters

The Wienermobile was the highlight of the events in our neighborhood in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The second place event was the visit of the Duncan Yo-yo Masters at the drug store at the end of our street. I’ve recently discovered that the official title for those people was “Yo-yo Demonstrator.” I like Yo-yo Master better, so I’m sticking with it.

An Aside
My family moved to Spring Valley in 1957. From then, until 1971, when I married Leanne Stagner, I lived at 4166 Citradora Drive in Spring Valley, California. Citradora begins at Campo Road and ends about ½ mile North-ish at Camino Paz.

When I was growing up, a drug store/doctor’s office was on the East side of Citradora and a gas station was on the West side of Citradora where it met Campo. Doctors Webster and Contasti were the owner/occupants of the doctor’s office end of that building. I spent many Saturday mornings there following Friday night football game injuries. I spent many other hours in that doctor’s office, too. When I stopped going to Dr. Webster because he wasn’t on the health insurance plan I had, he showed me two file folders. It took a pair of folders, each over 2-inches thick to hold my records.

The drug store, Valley Pharmacy by name, end of the building wouldn’t have the same sign on its roof today as it did back then. The word DRUGS, stood tall and proud in four-foot-tall letters.

Ah, the innocence of that time…

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

I don’t know how often the Yo-yo Masters visited the Valley Pharmacy. I do remember what they did.

 Unless we had money to buy a yo-yo or brought one with us, they gave us all a yo-yo to practice with. This was a masterful marketing ploy. I suspect that Valley Pharmacy sold more yo-yos the weeks of those visits than all the weeks the rest of the year combined.

The masters began by showing everyone how to make the yo-yo go down and back up. That’s sounds like a dumb thing for them to show, but I’ve learned that it’s harder for some people than others to do.
You need to know that real yo-yo strings are really one big loop that’s been twisted into a single strand. Hold that thought.

Once we were all yo-yoing, they worked on what I called the waterfall technique. That began by holding the yo-yo in your hand with the palm down. Next, you rotated your wrist and tossed the yo-yo off the ends of your fingers. You cradled the yo-yo as it returned to your hand as it returned up to it. Without stopping the movement of the yo-yo, you rotated your wrist and tossed the yo-yo. Poetry in motion.

  • The first trick the masters tried to teach us was the sleeper. After waterfalling your yo-yo, if you jerked your hand upward at the moment the yo-yo was motionless at the bottom of its downward flight, you might get it to spin without rewinding the string. That’s possible because the string is really a big loop. Remember that thought you were holding? I was a quasi-master of putting my yo-yo to sleep. In other words, I could get the yo-yo to sleep about half the times I tried. 
  • The next trick up the difficulty ladder was walking the dog. For this trick, after the yo-yo was asleep, you lowered it gently to the ground. When the spinning yo-yo made contact with the ground, it would creep forward, much like a dog on a leash. I was a non-master of that trick. In fact, I never recall a time when I got my yo-yo dog to walk more than an inch before it climbed back up into the palm of my hand.
  • Other trick demonstrations followed. I watched while some of my friends did feats of wonder as they copied the Yo-yo Masters. I resurrected some bad memories for this blog post by searching for yo-yo tricks. This link starts with videos of the basics and goes insane by the end of the Basics video.

You might recall that I told you that Valley Pharmacy sold many yo-yos during and immediately following the Yo-yo Masters’ visit. The cheapest yo-yo you could buy back then was made of wood. I don’t remember if it was a Duncan, but it probably was. The coveted yo-yo of choice was not a wooden yo-yo. It was the colorful, plastic Duncan Imperial.

I did have one of those. So, at least I looked like a good yo-yoer.

Next Almanac post: Catheters, Pus, and Buttermilk: Three terms you don’t want in the same sentence!

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