Friday, May 19, 2006

Davenport Hall of Horror

I wish I had a photo of Davenport Hall, perhaps I will post one later this week. It was a dark and stormy not really. I do, however, feel as if there is a perpetual cloud over the building and that the clock's hands are stuck on the witching hour.

I've been in a lot of buildings on a lot of campuses. What is it that makes some seem more like sets from B-movies than others? Dear readers, what buildings freak you out on campuses across the country?
I hardly ever become nervous working late at night in the anthropology department at Wash U. Once after 72 hours and no sleep, I saw some floating Coke cans, but that was just my mind and not some metaphysical specter. After that I believed the study about airline pilots going crazy with sleep deprivation, when I had previously thought it was an exaggeration.

The Museum building at Michigan is fairly benign. Come on kids, after the curators' ball who could see it as scary? Yes, maybe some of those cruators go creak in the night, but none of them walk down the hall with the REE-ree_Ree soundtrack playing in the background. When the camera pans to Flankus, we don't expect something to jump into the frame and scare us. I can't think of any of them eating their yogurt with a side of eyeballs, can you? Now, I admit that back 'n '99 there was some freaky stuff going on in that building, still none of it was all that gory.

Something about Davenport Hall in Urbana, on the other hand, just gives me the Willies. Even in the middle of the day I can be walking down a corridor, and I start to feel the walls pulse around me.

Could it be too much chemical fumage, or perhaps breathing in all that prehistoric bone dust? How long do you think weird shit from the past can live in soils and on bones? I don't think I brought back any rodent feces so that rules out hanta, and there aren't any fleas, so no plague. Taos isn't a big risk area for Valley Fever. Prehistoric staph?

Ohhh, Ohh, OMG, it's another premise for Fox's House . This one isn't as good as Dan's where the young grad student measuring artifacts pricks his finger on an Amazonian dart, but it has promise even if we follow the formula. After House has ruled out poison, chlamydia, and some rare form of Cancer, will we find that this is just another episode about Wilson's disease? I sincerely hope not. I vote for botulism from the ling-anth friend whose kentuckian mother's canned goods were unfortunately mis-sealed. Your right, botulism is too predictable, and too easy to diagnose. How about bird flu brought back from Syria by a professor named Henry. We didn't even know Henry was sick, because his immune system is so hard core that he only showed slight symptoms before recovering. While visiting the dying student, Henry and House can talk about bikes. We learn that House not only speaks a little Chinese but also a little Arabic. OMG, House is sooo hot! In this episode, Cameron reveals that before her marriage, and before med school, she considered being an archaeologist, but that the ability to change the world and help people was just too limited......No, Cameron does not moon over Henry as she usually does to visiting scientists.

Yes I am a freak, and sometimes a hypochondriac, but regardless there seems to be something wrong with Davenport. If not the structure itself, perhaps it is the work I do there. On glassware-cleaning-acid-bath days, my heart rate stays up for hours, and as many of you know, I can think my blood pressure to 150 over 90. Is this the source of the claustrophobic-like meanderings of my mind? Last time I went to the doc, my diet and exercise had helped the BP. It is getting more difficult to keep it up by thinking panicky thoughts, and my resting heart rate has finally gone down to 85bpm (from the hummingbird rate of 100). So, yes, while it could be my occupational nervousness, I just don't think it is.

The hallways also are very long, which is not unusual in campus buildings, but there is something about the length to width ratio that just sets off my spooky meter. Maybe something bad happened there in the past and I am picking up on it. I don't really go in for that kind of thing, despite loving movies about heaven and hell. Finally, I don't think it is the one-armed janitor, he is very nice, and not at all urban-legendy, well mostly not.

I have been feeling weird in Chambana since I arrived. It could be the mounting pressure of working 12 hour days 7 days a week, for 13 days..... and only having 36 collagen and apatite samples prepared (when I proposed over 150). Stan says that now that I've got the system down, I don't have to be dependent on him being in town to work. This means that I could come back almost any time to finish the work. I am sort of hoping that my class in St. Louis doesn't make, then I could stay and finish up. If not, I hear it is pretty common to get extensions on NSFs.

On a side note, there is fresh blood in the lab this week. A very nice student from Wisconsin. David says he is used to working long hours. We will see how his time here compares to what he is used to. He is only staying for about a week, and I don't think you can break a person in that amount of time, especially if he is already a good worker......Unlike me who instantly doubled my sluggish 6 hour work days.

PS - the spellchecks number one replacement choice for NSF is "nosebag," wtf is a nosebag?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Ragu de Mort

So besides being crazy busy in the lab, I had a pretty miserable weekend stomach-wise.

My housemate John kindly offered to cook dinner for me. Delicious!!!! Eggplant and pasta with red sauce, mmmmm! Unfortunately, I got pretty sick.

I discovered that he had been eating out of a jar of pasta sauce kept on the pantry shelf for a few weeks. His previous roomie from the Netherlands opened it, and he decided to finish it. I guess they don't always "refrigerate after opening" in France (or the Neatherlands, since who knows how long mystery Dutch-guy kept it open at room temp).

Anyways, I was the only one struck down by the three week old Ragu. I guess my stomach is a lot weaker. Some have suggested my sickness was psychosomatic, but I don't believe you can think your poop into a liquidy state after every meal for three whole days. The dry-heaves, yes, maybe those were the product of my twisted American mind. Thursday and Friday, I felt that if I could just Ralph, or"choke" as my 5-year-old nephew says, I would be ever so much better. No luck, what we had here, was a one-ended path to despair.

All weekend I was worried that I had some horrible bacteria or toxin growing in my stomach. After examining the jar in the recycle bin, I found that although the sauce looked fine to John, the inside of the lid had a lot of blue fuzz. So, what was growing in my stomach? I soon learned that botulism was unlikely. Carol C. Schlitt, Extension Educator, Nutrition and Wellness University of Illinois Extension, put my mind at ease.....well mostly.

"Fortunately, botulism spores only vegetate(grow) in the absence of oxygen. Since you say the can was open, botulism would not develop. And the symptoms for botulism are not flu like but attack the nervous system-- so I would stop worrying about that particular bacterium. Thank goodness it was meatless sauce-- the pH of the sauce is lower (more acidic) than spaghetti sauce with meat making it a less likely environment for harmful bacteria to grow. Food spoilage organisms (such as mold, etc) probably would take over long before food borne illness bacteria multiplied to sufficient numbers to cause illness. Most bacterium that cause food borne illness cause flu-like symptoms -upset stomach, diarrhea, vomiting. And these symptoms can occur as soon as 30 minutes of ingesting up to 72 hours later (depending upon the bacteria strain). I hope this has helped and that by the time you are reading this you are feeling fine. It's true that Europeans do not refrigerate their food as readily as Americans. Many of their food products that we normally refrigerate are aesceptically packed which allows them to be shelf stable. Perhaps he is use to this type of sauce. However, once this type of packaging is opened it must be refrigerated for safety (even in Europe.)"

I felt much better after bland food for three days, and a course of yogurt therapy to regrow my good bacteria (thank God for mango lassis!), Anyways, John has started a new bottle on the shelf, I am timing this one to see how long it takes him to get through. I also won't be eating any more of his pasta. Then again he did help me meet my first diet goal of 152lbs, so maybe on my quest for 144, I should ask him to cook for me again.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Taking a leaf from Jamielc

After seeing Jamie's lovely Poems of San Juan, I couldn't resist.

Oh Isotopes Oh Isotopes, a slow
Process for collagen and apatite.
Rotary tool it grinds and cleans, then lo
sore fingers, hand, and wrist. Goombye eyesight.
My carpal tunnel hurts like hell, and I've
been standing half a day for samples twelve
in number. Singing dust, the fumehood jive!
NPR yawn, in acid baths we delve
the samples and my hand, oh s**t, oh f**k
that hurt a bit. Yikes, baking soda helps
and water too. If I've got any luck
No contamination 'a develops
I hope to load and run them soon, so we
Can see if Taos turkeys Corn-fed be.

Well, I should get off to bed so I can arise early and beat Deepak to the shower, bike in if it doesn't rain, and rinse the NaOH with dH2O eight times so we don't make salt during the next step. After this, I suspect I will prep more samples and have my arm go numb for the rest of the day and night. Stan seems to think if I wore more clothes, I would have less numbness. Maybe I will try a sweater. After living all winter at 55, the UIUC Anthropology department's thermostat set near 70 degrees seems positively balmy.

Tonight, I will wear my brace to bed and hopefully have some arm function in the morning. I have also started taking guggal, an herb used mainly for lowering cholesterol. It also has anti-inflammatory properties, and thins blood. Last time I took it, my arm felt much better. Though after 3 months I had to stop because of slight stomach upset. By that time my arm was in good shape, and my cholesterol rocked! Was it a placebo effect? Perhaps. At that time, I also was supervising 6 undergrads so I didn't dig but an hour a day. Still, a month in the Taos heat with nary a twinge, that's pretty darn good. Based on this bit of success during the summer of 2005, I'll give the platelet-stickiness-reducing guggal another go, because I don't want to do aspirin any more than I have to. If the guggal doesn't work, then I guess there's always the amazing diuretic duo --coffee and beer. Mmmm coffee and beer. Unfortunately, I should only try one remedy at a time, and the guggal can take up to 3 weeks to kick in. Decisions, decisions.

I do want to be able to use my hand when I have to measure out micrograms for the machine. It's not as if I didn't have enough to look forward to with the essential tremor. I wasn't counting on ET plus carpal tunnel numbness and pain. My arm will just have to get better.

It can't get much worse.

Well, there was that one summer in a Nebraska poopfield, when someone (a handsome nameless archaeologist who luckily treated me to DQ blizzards or he wouldn't have gotten any at all that summer) had me weed-wacking for 8 hours....and to this day nothing has been that bad for my hand.

Weed-wacking for 8 hours, to survey on my knees for 6 flakes in a poopfield, made the numbness last for was like the energizer bunny of numbness.....oh, sad sad hands.....I wish I had some DQ now.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

My Fitday Journal

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Discover...The card that pays you someone else's money, then loses yours

At the end of March I noticed a $3000 payment posted to my Discover card. Imagine my surprise, since I had only paid $600 and now there was a $2,800 something credit! So I call their customer service, and my month and half long saga begins.

I must say that Discover customer service is one of the easiest to get in touch with. Much easier than Citibank or MBNA. The first time I called Discover, I was routed to their Utah center, 2nd and 3rd times to Arizona, then back to Utah for calls 5 and 6. Some other states for the last 5 calls, but I've been connected to the Utah call center reps most frequently, and they are the most polite. Mormons? Gotta wonder, or maybe prisoners. More likely, what we have is people who went for the snow, and are not qualified to be rafting/wilderness guides in the summer. Poor souls, they now have to work in the off season, performing what has to be the suckiest job ever. Do they get a commission for asking when I call about a problem if I want a balance transferred? I much prefer to think these things through and do it online at my leisure! I can also sign up for their cashback deal of the month online, thank you very much. Don't try to sell me anything, just fix the problem I called about!!!!!

During the first call, I asked Discover if they could tell me where the check was from. It had only cleared the day before according to my online statement. I frequently visit my banking and credit sites daily, so I notice when any unusual activity occurs. Customer service said that they couldn't tell, only that the payment was "mailed in." I find this humorous because its been almost 4 years since I've sent a check to the credit card companies, much preferring online banking. The woman in customer service didn't know from whom the check originated. She asked me if I had done a balance transfer, since these are commonly mailed in.

Yes I had recently done a transfer. The above mentioned $600 was from Citibank because they were offering a really great APR on transfers. I had just charged the overdue Federal Income Taxes to Discover, because you know, Discover is the card that pays you back! Until, we were paid at the end of the month, it was time for some creative money shifting.

So yes, ma'am, I have recently done a balance transfer. But no, it wasn't for $3000 and the $600 Citibank transfer hadn't shown up yet. No, I'm sure I didn't mail in $3000 and forget where it was from. Yes those online bank payments for $60 and $300 are from me!

So after some hemming and hawing, they tell me that they will have to open an investigation to track down a microfiche copy of the check. Come the F on...It's only been one day since it showed up in my account, and it's already on microfiche???!!!????

Discover tells me that once they sort it out, they will send me a letter. But because, I would like to have resolution before 3 weeks, they tell me I can call back.

Two weeks later still no word on where the check is from. At this point I figure it is something that was miskeyed and some poor schmuck (who still mails in his checks) just got a huge late fee plus lots of interest due.

Before I came to this conclusion I briefly fantasized that my father (who still mails in all his checks) had *Discovered* a really old statement and decided to do a Robinhood. Yes highly unlikely, but not completely out of the realm of possibility, since my sister had recently told me that he was worried about our finances and didn't think we would take any help******* Dear reader, our finances are fine, actually they are pretty good for two long term grad students, but I wouldn't be too proud to take a gift from family. *******Yes it was unlikely that Dad was playing anonymous donor, but because Discover had been on the case 3 weeks and still no leads, I had to wonder. So, I asked my mother and she didn't think it was Dad.

Finally, week 4, I see on my online statement -$3000 payment correction. I call them for the 7th time and they can finally tell me that it was a miskeyed account and that they have it straightened out now. Great, Yippeee!!!

The end? I think not!
Now I need to know why the Citibank $600 cleared 3 weeks ago but hasn't show up in my Discover account.

Discover apologizes yet again, and yesterday they began another investigation for me. I do not have much faith in the people who key in payments. I guess this is why I prefer to pay online and not do balances transfers.

They better find my money! Arggg.