Tag Archive: computers


CI may be of a pre-baby-boomer generation, but that does not mean I’m afraid of computers. I was hand coding in FORTRAN on punched cards for an IBM 360 forty-five years ago. My first home computer was a Kaypro running a CP/M operating system, with two 64 K floppy disks. (Really floppy; no hard drives or even the plastic-cased “floppy” disks then.) I learned HTML in the days when Netscape 1 was state-of-the-art, and the first page I made is still (with some editing but looking much the same) up on the web. I created an extensive website, still referenced, on Shetland Sheepdogs, Border Collies and canine coat color genetics back in the last decade of the 20th century.

At the time I retired, thus cutting off daily meeting with other geeks, there was no such thing as social media, aside from email.

Then I published my first book, Homecoming, with iUniverse.

Left to right: my MacBook Air, iMac, internet screen for iMac, motor for aod GE Mac (pre-USB.) Not shown: G4 MacBook I use if I need to transfer a file from the G3.

Left to right: my MacBook Air, iMac, internet screen for iMac, monitor for old G3 Mac (pre-USB.) Not shown: G4 MacBook I use if I need to transfer a file from the G3. Don’t you hate “upgrades” that leave your files  and programs useless?

I knew that my best bet for publicity, living where I do in Alaska, was the internet. I knew how to make web pages but not how to find a place to post them, and I’d never heard of social media. One of the few iUniverse publicity packages I’ve signed up for that was worth the cost was web publicity.

They set up pages for me on facebook, MySpace, Goodreads, Twitter, an email account (which I didn’t really need; I’ve had email for years), LibraryThing, Flikr, an author webpage and a WordPress blog. Yes, the one you’re reading now.

I have to admit that most of them have fallen by the wayside or get occasional auto-posts. (I discovered HootSuite on my own.) Twitter (@sueannbowling) and facebook get a daily quotation (with a challenge to identify the context.) The two still really active are my author website (the ongoing science fiction story and backdrop to my published science fiction, Jarn’s Journal, is regularly updated there) and this blog.

I’m not 100% happy with the mechanics of the blog, though at least I finally figured out how to get WordPress to send notifications (including follows on other WordPress blogs) to the email address I actually read. What infuriates me is that in order to change the type size (I’d like it larger) I have to get in and edit the cascading style sheet, which is something they invented after I learned HTML. And the latest problem: the option to open a new page/tab has disappeared from links from images. (Things are changing fast here; I did learn how to use an image in my sidebar to open a new window for a linked blog.)

Would anyone like to help me?

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My computer screen lit up with a message Tuesday morning. Your Bluetooth mouse could quit at any time — change the batteries. Fine – I’ve finally figured out how to change the mouse batteries with the computer on, though it does require attaching my old USB mouse to re-connect to the Bluetooth mouse with fresh batteries. (If there’s a keyboard command for find Bluetooth mouse I haven’t found it.) The problem is that I had changed the mouse batteries the day before.

I use rechargeables, and I try to keep some plugged in and charging all the time. Now rechargeable batteries eventually reach the point where they won’t hold a charge, and I think mine have reached that point. I checked them out on the battery tester. The two I took out of the mouse, which just came off the charger yesterday, tested as weak, and I added them to the sack of dead batteries. (I’m not sure dead batteries are actually recycled locally, but I do turn them in separately to try to keep them out of the landfill.) Guess I’d better put rechargeable batteries on my shopping list; I’m going to have problems the next time the keyboard needs batteries. (It takes three.)

Battery tester–good, fresh battery, but my insulin pump won’t accept it.

That was not my only battery problem recently. My insulin pump runs on one AAA battery. This powers not only the pump itself, but also the backlight, the warning beeps and the vibrator if I don’t respond to the beeps, which I generally don’t hear. The manufacturer recommends non-rechargeable alkaline Energizers, simply because the pump is programmed to respond to their power loss curve as they slowly wear out, in order to give me a timely warning. Because I go through so many and have to have them on hand, I purchased a couple of large packages recently. (I didn’t need a twenty-pack and a twenty-four-pack, but I put the twenty-four pack away and then couldn’t find it until after I bought the twenty-pack.) Both had manufacture dates of 2010. Both claimed a shelf life of seven years. Last time, when neither of the two I tried from the twenty-four-pack worked, I managed to find one that my health supplier shipped. Recently I was out of the extras, and tried two more from the twenty-four-pack. Then three from the twenty-pack. The third one worked, but I now have six AAA batteries that show up as good on the tester but won’t work in my insulin pump. (They are working just fine in my anti-mosquito clip-on.)

I know the pump is picky, but only one battery out of seven? Shall I call Medtronics, or Energiser?

Are we getting too dependent on batteries?

Most of the Twitter quotes for the past week have been from Hogfather, a Terry Pratchett book that satirizes (among other things) the commercialization of Christmas.

Actually the Hogfather, like a good many of the things we connect with Christmas, is associated with the winter solstice, which is today. Here in Alaska, it’s 8:30 this evening; if you live on the East Coast it’s 12:30 tomorrow morning. The book has been made into a DVD, which I reviewed yesterday. Happy southern Solstice!

“Three million dollars could buy a lot of no questions.” Thoughts of Downey, the head of the Assassins’ Guild, when the auditors offer that amount to get rid of the Hogfather (the Discworld’s equivalent of Santa Claus.)

“Everything starts somewhere, though many physicists disagree.” The opening sentence of Hogfather, though unless this is a reference to the old steady-state universe theory, now pretty well debunked, I’m not sure why the physicists would disagree.

“Real children don’t go hoppity-skip unless they are on drugs.” Susan Sto Helit, rebuking Gawain for stepping on the cracks to bring the bears so she can go after them with the nursery poker.

“Education had been easy. Learning things had been harder.” Susan, considering her past life and education.

“Wizards wouldn’t be wizards if they couldn’t see a little way into the future.” In this particular case, the wizards of Unseen University are apprehensive, with good reason, about the hangover cure being mixed by Mustrum Ridcully in hopes of curing the oh god of hangovers.

“Clever isn’t the same as sensible.” Susan to the oh god of hangovers, after she has said that the wizards of some of the cleverest men in the world.

“Idiocy is not a communicable disease.” Ridcully’s comment on the idea that Hex (the Unseen University computer) might have caught something from the burser (who is more than usually unusual mentally.) In fact Hex is confused by something done by Death, who is filling in for the Hogfather.

“Freedom came even before survival.” Bowling, Tourist Trap. Roi is commenting on Timi’s mindset, and how it differs from his own.

Continuous Glucose Monitors (CGMs) are a relatively recent development in diabetes control. They are still controversial with many insurance companies, though prevention of even one high-cost ambulance trip to the emergency room should make them cost-effective. But they do have problems.

There are three devices that I am aware of, worldwide, and others in development. The best, according to users, is the Navigator – but it has been withdrawn from the US market. This leaves the Dexcom and the Medtronic sensors. My own experience has been entirely with the Medtronic sensor, but all three work in basically the same way, on interstitial fluid, and all are subject to the same problems of time lag.

Medtronics transmitter (white) and the visible part of the sensor (clear) with a U.S. quarter for scale. I use IV 3000 to hold everything in place.

The sensors available today consist of some kind of reusable transmitter, a receiver, and a disposable needle which injects a small disposable sensor under the skin. The sensor is then connected to the transmitter, which lies against the skin.

The sensors are expensive. The price today at the Medtronic store is $42 a sensor, with an official life of 3 days. (Most people actually manage to use them longer, and in fact I find they are most accurate on days 3-5, though I rarely get one that lasts more than a week.) The big advantage of the Medtronic system is that the Medtronic insulin pump (the kind I have) acts as the receiver, though separate receivers are available. The official life span on the Dexcom sensor is 7 days, though I understand they are correspondingly more expensive. Comments from users of the Dexcom are solicited!

A continuous sensor is extremely useful in that it allows you to see how your blood glucose varies between finger sticks, and also allows you to see whether it is rising, falling or staying reasonably constant. The Medtronic sensor allows you to choose whether to see a 3-hour, a 6-hour, a 12-hour or a 24-hour graph of your blood sugar, or download values about 5 minutes apart to a computer, and I believe the Dexcom sensor is similar. On the negative side, CGM accuracy is highly variable, and it needs regular calibration with a finger-stick meter. There is a further problem (at least with the Medtronic system) with alarms.

I used to eat protein bars for breakfast. They had a good balance of protein, carbohydrate and fat, they took no weighing, and they were consistent day to day. They also produced a considerable spike in blood sugar in the hour after breakfast, easily identified on the CGM graph but missed in finger-stick testing. When I switched to Greek yogurt with fruit, also a good balance of protein and carbohydrate but without the fat, my blood sugar graph leveled out. In fact, the CGM has allowed me to identify many regular meals as causing spikes or delayed rises in blood sugar. (The fat in the bars was not the problem; in fact fat delays the absorption of carbohydrates, but much of the carbohydrate in the bars was fast-absorbing sugars.)

I am not alone in finding trends more useful than absolute numbers. A high blood sugar (within reason) is not really a problem if the blood sugar is decreasing, nor is a moderately low reading with an upward trend. On the other had, a high reading going up or a low reading going lower is cause for immediate finger-stick confirmation and treatment if the reading is confirmed. A low reading at night or if I’m planning to drive is always reason for finger-stick confirmation.

What the sensor actually measures is a slight electrical signal, and this must be calibrated with a finger stick measurement to get the actual blood sugar reading. The calibration constant changes over the life of the sensor, and can drop very fast toward the end of sensor life. Consequently the sensor must be calibrated a minimum of twice a day, preferably when your blood sugar is fairly steady, and may give a lot of false low alarms near the end of its life.

Another problem is that the sensor measures the glucose concentration in the interstitial fluid, that is, the fluid between the cells. While this follows blood glucose, there is a significant time lag. My blood sugar can drop very rapidly, especially during exercise, and as a result CGM measurements during exercise can be much higher than my actual blood sugar. This time lag alone makes me very dubious about using this type of sensor for any closed-loop artificial pancreas.

My biggest complaint with the Medtronic system is the alarms. Ideally, to be most useful the CGM system should wake you up if your blood sugar starts to drop. In fact, the alarm is so low in volume and so high in frequency that I almost never hear it unless I am in a very quiet environment and there is only a layer of cloth between my ears and the pump, not a down comforter. This is partly my hearing, as others will sometimes point out to me that I am beeping. Yes, it does start vibrating eventually if I do not respond, but I feel the vibration only if the pump is tight against my skin. I usually feel it driving (well after I start going low) but often not at night.

Is it worth it? Yes, for me. But it definitely needs some improvements.

This is my 500th post, and I’m celebrating by announcing the results of my drawing and posting a few of my favorite pictures. Thanks, all, for making this blog as successful as it is.

Lately I’ve been trying a post a day, with different themes for different days of the week. Monday I talk about the local weather (which at the moment is unseasonably cold, even by Fairbanks standards — we set a new record low a couple of nights ago.)

Tuesday I review something – a book, a DVD, a tourist attraction, a class I’m taking – anything goes.

Wednesday I give the contexts for the quotes I’ve been tweeting the previous week from @sueannbowling. Can you guess the book and context from the tweet? Mostly I quote from fantasy and science fiction, since that’s what I write, but this week I’m quoting from a non-fiction book, one I’ll probably review next Tuesday.

Thursday is random. Could be a poem, a bit of fiction, a rant – whatever comes into my head.

Friday is the backstory for the world in which my science fiction is set. Right now I’m giving (actually writing as I go) entries from the fictional journal of an alien stranded on Earth about the time modern humans were evolving.

Saturday is something related to science or health, so since this is Saturday I figured at the very least I should explain how I’m doing the drawing..

Sunday I give a six-sentence snippet from something I’ve written. Right now it’s the first book of a trilogy I’m trying to polish.

Oh yes, the drawing. I’ll give the results later; I’m not closing the drawing until midnight November 18 my time, by which time I should be in bed. So the actual drawing will be about 9 am November 19. This post will go live at 8 am, so I’ll edit it to give the results as soon as I have them.

How am I doing it?

First, I’ve made a list of everyone who’s commented on any of my posts since I announced the drawing, and put them in an Excel table. As I said, up to five comments per person are allowed, though only one comment per post. There were 33 entries.

Second, I’ll have Stat Trek generate a random number table, using the number of final entrants with no duplicates allowed. These random numbers will be put in the next row of the excel table.

Third, the person who lines up with random number 1 is the winner. The people who line up with random numbers 2 through 5 are the runners-up. It is possible, of course, that a person with multiple entries will get more than one of the 3 winning numbers. In that case, the placing will go to whoever lines up with random number 6, or in the unlikely case that the same person gets several placings on this round it may be necessary to go as high as random number 10. (This didn’t happen.)

The results? (Drummroll.)

The Winner: Candace Coghill.

The Runners-up: Lee Shapiro, Christine Warner, Karysafaire and Krystal Wade.

I will post the results here and on Twitter, and will try to contact the winners by e-mail. I will need a physical mail address for the first place winner. Again, first prize is winner’s choice of a softcover version of Homecoming or its sequel Tourist Trap. Second through fifth places get the same choice, but in PDF, or an unpublished story in PDF.

 

It’s sign-up time for OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) classes again, and how I missed the ice cream social signup a couple of weeks ago I don’t know. I always take a few science classes, just to keep up with things, and since I write science fiction I have to keep up with changes in what we think we know. (I also have a weakness for ice cream, and thanks to the insulin pump and lots of blood sugar testing I can occasionally indulge.)

Of the five classes I wanted to take, though, two were wait-listed – my fault for being so late. I’d hoped to take the one on using  iMovie because I’ve been thinking of making video trailers for my books, but that one’s full. The other wait-listed class is on evolutionary biology, and I really hope I can get into that one. Looks like the origin of life, current atmospheric research, and Mesozoic Alaska are all still available, and I’m especially excited about Mesozoic Alaska. Sarah Fowell and Patrick Druckenmiller have taught two previous classes on paleontology, and they are marvelous instructors. I’ll have to do some blogging on Alaskan dinosaurs. (Yes, they were up here, and yes, Alaska was at an even higher latitude than today, so they had to cope with long, dark winters and probably with temperatures that at least occasionally dropped below freezing. How? I’m hoping to learn more about the latest thoughts.)

I’m tempted by “Falling and Not Falling,” but it’s wait -listed too, and I’ve already taken it once. It really wasn’t very helpful for my type of loss of balance, which I’m pretty sure is related to the stroke I had some 13 years ago. It was a brainstem stroke, and I think it affected the part of my brain that controls balance.

You know the test they use to determine sense of balance? Stand on one foot (I’m hopeless) stand with one foot directly in front of the other (I can manage about 3 seconds) stand with your feet side by side but touching (only with my arms out for balance.) For me the main point is knowing how to avoid falling (difficult, since I can’t see my feet and where I’m going at the same time) and getting up once I have fallen. (Roll over, walk my feet up to my hands, and slowly and carefully stand up. It probably looks pretty funny, but it gets me back to my feet.)

Actually, it’s the helpful spectators who need instructions. I took a pretty good fall last Saturday at the Farmers’ Market. I was walking toward a display of ripe tomatoes when someone pushed  a stroller (the kind with low wheels out front) right in front of my feet. I didn’t even know what had caught my feet until I rolled over and sat up. Of course everyone was saying, “Are you all right? Do you need help?” which was fine.

What was not fine was that they wanted to pull me back to my feet at once. Not so fine. Anyone can break a bone in a fall, especially someone my age. Give a person who’s fallen time to take inventory and make sure everything’s there and unbroken. And then ask for instructions on how best to help her. In my case, people grabbing my hands and trying to pull me up from the front prevented my rolling over and getting myself up until I finally asked them to release me so I could handle the situation. Certainly they meant well, and I appreciated their efforts to help, but their actual help – wasn’t.

Anyway, I suspect I’m beyond class-work on not falling. I just have to remember and when possible avoid the situations that are most likely to land me on the ground, and how to get up without sounding ungracious when they do.

And enjoy the more academic classes.

When you stop to think about it, it all comes down to balance. Not just standing up and walking, but keeping a balance in your life. I can’t write if I don’t continue to read and learn, and the OLLI classes – two months in fall and another two months in spring – are an important part of that. Hooray for adult learning!

Before Computers

There was a time when digital data recorders did not exist. Data was recorded on strips of paper with grids on them, generally wound around a slowly turning drum while a pen marked them. Trying to do anything with data of this sort required digitizing it.

My first job as a research assistant at the Geophysical Institute involved doing just that.

The process was called scaling, and involved a device that was moved along the paper, lined up with the ink trace at specified intervals, and a button pushed. The eventual result was a string of numbers for one component of the magnetic field. This was done for both horizontal components.

I then had to plot these numbers on an x-y graph, connecting the dots in time order for a number of stations and events. Plotting in those days used millimeter graph paper, with points entered and connected by hand.

Today, it would take five minutes on a computer — but this was 1963. It took a small army of graduate students (SAGS was actually used as an acronym) just to get the data in a form in which it could be analyzed. (SAGS are still used, but these days it is generally in collecting the data, not in doing things a computer can do better.)

All of this was carried out in the basement of what is now the Chapman Building, which looked then very much as it does today, except that it had a dome on the roof. Eventually, we found that the disturbance in the magnetic field during a sudden impulse was elliptically polarized at high latitudes, and my first paper was actually written on the results of that study.

It may sound like a silly thing to do, but that discovery provided a small boost toward our understanding of the effect of the solar wind on the magnetic field of the earth — a subject not to be ignored in the design of long-distance power lines. But I’m very glad for computers!

My New Toy — an iPad2

I finally decided to take another step into the digital revolution. I’ve bought an iPad. I’ve had it all (well, not quite all) of three days, so this is hardly a complete review, but I’ve already found some things it does very well, and some that are huge disappointments.

Photograph of the iPod (not a screen shot) with a page from National Geographic.

It’s great for magazine subscriptions. I’ve wanted New Scientist and National Geographic for some time, but I’m too much of a pack rat to throw them away, and I don’t have room to store them. They are beautiful on the iPad, and the subscriptions are far less than paper. I can enlarge or reduce the size as I need—not just the text, but the pictures as well.

Books are in some ways better than on my Nook, especially those with illustrations. I don’t think I am going to be able to enlarge charts, which is the main complaint I have with the Nook. No problem enlarging the reading text, but figures and maps? Forget them. (I should remark that I am one of those people who finds reading on a computer screen easier that reading on paper.)

The only games I have are Shanghai and Sudoku. The latter is actually easier for me to play on my iPhone, but the former is great on the iPad. It helped while away the time in the doctor’s office today quite nicely. (Normal reading with one’s eyes dilated is not easy.)

Disappointments? One major one at this point. One of the reasons I bought the iPad was so that I could use it to carry the Excel spreadsheet I use to track my blood sugars, insulin dosages and exercise to my doctor without having to lug along my laptop. I was assured that the Numbers app could read my Excel spreadsheet. It apparently can’t. I may try having Numbers on my main computer read the Excel file and turn it into Numbers before transferring it, but the heart of the spreadsheet are time graphs of blood sugar, for which I sum date and time of day for the horizontal axis. Numbers apparently can’t do this, so none of my graphs (except the histogram of frequency of various blood glucose levels) can be read in Numbers.

I haven’t had time yet to try adding the PDF of Homecoming (which I have on my main computer), or Word files. The word files are supposedly readable in Pages, though after my experience with Numbers I’m wary; PDF’s on my computer rather than in iTunes might be a problem.

Calendar and Address book seem to have transferred over just fine.

Finally, I’ve had a bit of fun with the Photo booth effects—as you can see.

Sometimes I wish Roi and his Healing ability were real, rather than a creation of my mind. Still, ordinary doctors can do quite a lot.

This week, it was complications of cataract surgery. I had the lens replaced in my left eye over a year ago, with stunning results. A few days after the surgery, distant vision in my left eye was back very close to 20/20, though I still needed glasses to read. I’m getting to the point where my arms just aren’t long enough, but my overall vision was wonderful.

Then, so slowly that I was hardly aware of it, my vision began to fog up again.

I found it harder and harder to read. First, words on paper. I had to use a magnifying glass to read the phone book, but then ordinary type in books became more and more difficult. The computer screen was still readable, but more and more often I was having to zoom the text and set things I was writing to half again normal size. When I started having problems reading my insulin pump and glucose meter, I spoke to my eye doctor.

I’ve had problems with diabetic retinopathy for almost twenty years. The treatment for that is what is called pan-retinal coagulation. The outer part of the retina is killed with pinpoint burns from a laser. Effectively, the periphery of the retina—which gives peripheral vision and low-light vision—is sacrificed to save the inner part, which gives sharp focus and color vision. I’ve had lots of experience with that kind of laser treatment. It’s somewhat painful and vision afterward is blurry and pink-tinged for a while. (The laser is green.)

What I had now was posterior capsule opacity. The eye doctor explained that the laser was less intense than what I was used to, though from my point of view the procedure was much the same—eye dilated, a lens inserted in my eye, and several minutes of holding my head motionless against a frame while I fixed the gaze of my other eye on a small target light.

I could hear the clicks as the doctor used the laser to cut a small hole in the thickened capsule, but I could not feel it. After I was released from the chair, my vision was blurry and pink-tinged, as I expected. What I did not expect was that by the time I got home, about an hour later, I was able to see much better than I could only that morning.

Today, forty hours after surgery, my vision is bright and clear, and if I understand correctly what the surgery did, it should stay that way. Yes, the Healing ability of a few of my characters would be nice—but medicine today can do some wonderful things—if you can afford it.

TASK-COMPLETE BUTTON: A button, usually set well away from the main keyboard, that indicates a computer task is completed. Used to assure that a computer is not shut down by accident in the middle of a procedure, or that any other procedure interfering with the task is not initiated.

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