Home Sick

I’m recovering from some sort of virus. As I lay down to take a nap on Monday I felt perfectly fine, when I got up from the nap I felt poorly. I worked a half day on Tuesday, then went home and huddled under a pile of blankets for the next 24+ hours, sweating and shivering. Because I had slept so late Wednesday, I didn’t get to sleep that night until Thursday morning – after I would normally be at work, though I still feel rather crappy. I woke up at 6:30 AM because I forgot to turn off the ringer to the damn phone before I finally got to sleep. I stayed awake because I want to call work to tell them I won’t be in today. An hour later my mother-in-law is _still_ on the phone, so I figured I’d put out a blog post to kill time and update my reader(s) on what has been going on.

Three weeks after I started my new job, back in May (I was hired onto overhead in April, so got nearly a month paid before I was back in the vault), the agency I work for announced that they were no longer going to support the product I was working on. At that time, the prime contractor (yes, it is a rather silly way to do things, as a tax payer I am mortally offended at the waste) said that we had enough funds to last at least until the end of October, most likely until the end of December, given how fast the rats were likely to abandon the sinking ship. As such, since we were in the middle of refinancing our mortgages, I decided I’d just sit back and let my new company try and find me another position somewhere. That lasted for about six weeks, then we got a ‘correction’ in what they meant to say was we would have until the end of September. Since it can trivially take 4-6 weeks to switch to a new job even after acceptance all around (what with clearance transfers and whatnot), I decided I couldn’t rely just on my new employer any longer, so revived many of my previous job search contacts. I have had some positive steps, but no official offers yet, so may get to be unemployed all over again.

Regarding the refinances, we are supposed to sign those docs on Monday (which is 5 days away as I type this). Though tings didn’t work out entirely to our expectations (the appraisal of our house in the Va countryside wound up significantly lower than I had expected, fortunately we could get a much higher loan-to-value rate on our house in Maryland to compensate) the end result is satisfactory. We will wind up with just two mortgages, about $500 more expensive each, but no other debt at all. All credit cards, student debt, etc. all paid off in two interest deductible loans. Of course, that also means we will be paying our Va mortgage until we are 81. However, at 3.5% actual interest rate, closer to 2.4% once interest tax deductions are factored in, I figure we are far and away better off putting any money we might have to prepay the loan into investments.

Refinancing dramatically reduces our fixed monthly expenses, by over $4K, which makes my job search immensely more flexible. According to our budget spreadsheet I could take a pay cut of 60% and still cover all our bills. Since I was making only 35% less when I was last working in the uncleared world (yes, there really is a 35% premium for putting up with this nonsense!), that means I have the potential to find a job on the ‘outside’ if things don’t work out on the ‘inside’. Of course, I’d rather keep my current pay, our plan is to put that extra money into investments so we can retire in 6 years. Six _long_ years…

After the refinance seemed in the bag my wife allowed me to schedule a professional editor to go over my first book. He is busy (beware professionals that aren’t!) and won’t be able to look at it until mid Sept, so I probably won’t get feedback until Oct. It is ‘only’ $750 to give a detailed appraisal of my work, including the most important to me: is it worth a damn. Depending on his feedback I should be able to make a clear decision on whether to pursue this dream (fantasy) or not. I’ve approached nearly 30 agents with none asking to view the manuscript. I’ve also submitted the manuscript to Tor/Forge (one of the few mainstream publishers that will consider unagented submissions) and got rejected. Now, it might be simply that my writing is crap, despite the encouraging words I’ve been given, but it also might be I’m selling my work incorrectly, for instance by targeting the wrong genre. The editor should be able to help sort that out as well, and perhaps even provide some input on my ‘query’ letter, maybe that sucks as well.

Though this post wasn’t triggered by any specific article I’ve read, I did read a couple recently I think my reader(s) might find interesting. This one:

Growing Organs on Apples
The future of regenerative medicine may be plants.
http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/07/growing-organs-on-apples/493265/

Is quite fascinating as it talks about some ‘low tech’ ways of engineering organs for humans.

On a more political note is this one in a theme I’ve ranted about a few times before:

FBI Agent Goaded Garland Shooter to “Tear Up Texas,” Raising New Alarms About Bureau’s Methods
https://theintercept.com/2016/08/09/fbi-agent-goaded-garland-shooter-to-tear-up-texas-raising-new-alarms-about-bureaus-methods/

Yes, it really seems that, on purpose or not, the FBI is involved in ‘false flag‘ attacks on our own nation.

According to Scott Adams, Clinton now has a ‘master persuader’ in her own camp, which is why she is no longer getting roundly beaten in the court of public opinion. This doesn’t mean that she is a shoe-in for the elections, though, as the difference is that Trump is his own advisor, so will always take his advice and Clinton is likely to ignore her advice at some critical juncture. While I buy into Adams’ master persuader hypothesis, I’m rather upset that the only way to win an election now is to start enough fires to burn down the nation. This idiot nonsense with Trump ‘dog whistle‘ of encouraging gun toting morons to go after Clinton and any SCOTUS appointments is pure and simple idiocy. With the two sides working so hard to make the other into non-human aliens who aren’t fit to exist, it seems like any success will result in half the nation actively working against the winner. I had expected Trump to moderate his attacks and go back to show that the Main Stream Media (MSM) had misinterpreted his earlier inflammatory comments, yet he seems to be doubling down. Of course, if you go look at his actual quotes they are no where as inflammatory as reported, yet in the vast majority of the cases he is perfectly happy with the MSM interpretation. For a while I thought I might get off the fence and vote for Trump just to see what would happen, now I’m starting to think of voting for Hillary because I hate so much how Trump is dividing the country. Not that Hillary would be a ‘good’ president, we are well and truly in the situation of ‘death by hanging’ vs ‘death by firing squad’, all outcomes are going to suck.

I’ve spent an hour writing this post, so my mother-in-law has been on the phone for two hours and seems to be going strong. I had to use my cell phone to call in to work!

Now that I seem to be awake, I may get something to eat and watch some Olympics before going back to bed…

Whazupwitdat?

Three months! Wow! Quite a few things have happened, this will be another long and rambling post…

First, some good news: My patent was officially granted on Dec. 29, 2015. You can see it in all its glory here:

http://patft1.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?patentnumber=9222130

Of course, it is still worthless and we’re still paying for it. One friend insists, though, that the simple fact that I have a patent will make some employers more interested, only time will tell…

I’d been looking for a new gig for a while. My last job was really interesting right up to the point where they told me to stop working on it. Then, despite a number of promises, no further work materialized. I’d been bored out of my mind before (which is what got this blog started) so decided, after a couple of months of waiting, that I would look for something else. I found something else, back with an old employer (ironically, the one who was employing me the last time I was keeping the chair warm), but it took over 9 weeks to transfer my clearance. I’m ‘lucky’ that way, for some reason.

I was to start the new gig on Jan 4th, but, less than 2 hours before I was to start, I was contacted and told not to show up. The only explanation I ever got was this very blog. Fortunately my new/old company put me on overhead while they tried to get me a different new gig, but after 5 weeks without any success, they had to cut me off. To think: if I could just accept being bored I could have kept my old job and none of this heartburn would have happened (as I type this I am still unemployed. Very stressful, since we’ve been diligent about spending every penny we’ve earned on that silly house).

Speaking of the silly house, we have officially passed the final inspection. Not quite 5 years after we got started. I have yet to update the web page with the latest pictures, etc. If you’re curious, though, I stuck three pictures of the pool here:

http://sol-system.com/koxenrider/property/greenhousepool/poolpics.html

Now, if I could only get another job, we can finally refinance and pay off the credit cards we’ve run up to the limit to pay for the construction and maybe put some bucks in the bank. Of course, there are still little things to do, lots of them, and the aquaponics hasn’t started yet, but we are close. Too bad, as an austerity measure, we’re not going out to the place for a month or so. We’ll save a couple of hundred a month by staying in MD.

I have yet to get any interest from an agent for my book(s). I ‘finished’ the third, mostly I ran out of enthusiasm. I got 60K words out of an intended 85K. I slapped it into some sort of shape and am asking a friend to take a look. She might be the only one to read it, the lack of interest is starting to weigh me down and I’m getting to the point I’ll just stick them on my web site where no one can read them, just like this blog.

I’m trying to motivate myself to complete my attempt at turning my first book into a screenplay, but I’m starting to suspect that activity will fall by the wayside as well. While it is feasible to find interest in a screenplay totally independent of a book, I figure the competition is probably higher and thus odds are even more against. Then again, I may get enthused once this job situation is ironed out and things are back to normal. I’m nothing if not dully persistent…

Well, this turned out to be a shorter post than I thought… Maybe I really don’t have anything to say, so perhaps the silence wasn’t so bizarre after all.

In case you’re curious, this was the article that triggered my desire to post today:

Mind and Matter
Research suggests that a combination of mental power and conventional medicine may be better than either alone.
http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/45103/title/Mind-and-Matter/

More evidence that the so-called placebo effect is real and subject to harnessing.

Burning to live longer

Study: Can Spicy Food Actually Increase Life Span?
http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/08/05/study-can-spicy-food-actually-increase-life-span/

Would you eat chili peppers 2-4 times a week to live 10-14% longer?

I love the taste going in, but can’t stand the burn going out. Even with bidets, all I get is very temporary relief as the cool water flows, as soon as I turn the water off the burn is at least as bad as before. I like horseradish (wasabi) because it only burns going in.

I only half jokingly like to say: what is the point of living forever if your life sucks?

The paper.

Designer Virus’

Ancient Viruses as Gene Therapy Vectors
Researchers deploy ancestors of today’s adeno-associated viruses to deliver gene therapies without immune system interference.
http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/43646/title/Ancient-Viruses-as-Gene-Therapy-Vectors/

The interesting thing to me is that the _exact same_ techniques can be used to produce a variant for a lethal virus, yet there have been no calls to bury this research.

A hammer can be a tool for building a house, or a weapon for bashing someone’s brains out, but it is still just a lump of metal at the end of a shaft. One interesting thing about this tool is while it is trivial for a non-carpenter to grab up a hammer and kill someone with it, in order to use the techniques mentioned in the article to develop a lethal virus you actually have to be smarter than the people who developed the original tool. That day will come, of course, but it does mean that it isn’t likely to be a tool for terrorists, at least not ones with poor resources. No doubt a bent billionaire could hire the right people to develop such a weapon, but how realistic is that?

Anyway, we are slowly creeping towards a high quality medical system that can fix all sorts of chronic problems. In a generation or two hence these problems will be relegated to the medical history books.

Can’t happen soon enough for me!

Life companions: you and your microbiome

The Sum of Our Parts
Putting the microbiome front and center in health care, in preventive strategies, and in health-risk assessments could stem the epidemic of noncommunicable diseases.
http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/43379/title/The-Sum-of-Our-Parts/

This is a really interesting article that sums up the evolving state-of-the-art regarding the health impacts of our microbiome. I knew that things were rapidly evolving but hadn’t realized that this research had gone from fringe to mainstream. I have discussed the microbiome a number of times and see it as a critical missing element in our health care regime.

Below are a couple of quotes as teasers to try and get you to read the full article. Your continuing health depends on this, though you probably don’t know it, and the health of your children even more so.

Germ-free (gnotobiotic) mice provide a sobering model for what happens to a developing human immune system in the absence of microbiome-based training. When microbiota are absent, normal postnatal immune maturation is blocked, and tissue homeostasis is never fully established. Lymphoid deficiencies occur in both the body’s mucous membranes and its systemic tissues, such as the lymph nodes and spleen. Germ-free mice also develop imbalances among specialized immune cell populations that result in improper immune responses when challenged with injury or a pathogen. Depending on the nature of the challenge, defective host immune responses may include increased susceptibility to certain infections, reduced vaccine responses, and/or inflammation-induced tissue pathologies, such as asthma or colitis.

Given the undeniable importance of commensal microbes in both training our immune systems and serving as a barrier between ourselves and the outside world, one of us (R.D.) has posited that a complete microbiome, seeded at birth, is absolutely critical for a healthful life, an idea called “the completed self hypothesis.” Single-celled organisms from all three domains of life—eukaryotes, archaea, and bacteria—join our mammalian cells to create a superorganism. Inadequate or inappropriate seeding of the microbiome is in many ways the equivalent of being born with a serious birth defect, resulting in inappropriately matured physiological systems. In the absence of effective microbiome-based training, the immune system does not learn what is safe outside of the body, resulting in haphazard, inappropriate reactions to innocuous environmental factors—allergens such as pollen, mold, cat dander, and peanuts. It also fails to properly recognize and ignore internal targets, resulting in autoimmune and inflammatory responses that are misdirected, ineffective, and sometimes never-ending. Such reactions can eventually compromise the function of our own tissues and organs.

There is a sidebar at the end that talks about direct manipulation of the microbiome, but we are still in our infancy in that regard. Right now it is tedious and time consuming to get details on exactly what is growing in/on us, when that process has finally become quick and economical we will surely make great strides in determining what is an optimal microbiome.

Take THAT, Creationists: proof of human evolution

Adapting to Arsenic
Andean communities may have evolved the ability to metabolize arsenic, a trait that could be the first documented example of a toxic substance acting as an agent of natural selection in humans.
http://www.the-scientist.com//?articles.view/articleNo/43019/title/Adapting-to-Arsenic/

Really interesting article showing the power of evolution is with us even today, though as a biochemist in the laboratory I have seen proof of evolution many times in the past. Earlier I have blogged about arsenic and some research that initially was dramatically interesting, but then proved to be poor lab technique (lay people might be disappointingly shocked to learn how often that happens and this is far from the only case that made it through peer review and into publication). It is feasible this research won’t stand up to scrutiny, but such is the nature of science. It is an interesting topic, I have to imagine someone will want to try and reproduce the results.

It is all the bacteria’s fault!

Bacteria may give you Type 2 diabetes
http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/magazines/panache/bacteria-may-give-you-type-2-diabetes/articleshow/47514655.cms

I talk about the microbiome off and on here, this is another that shows that the impact of our ‘friends’ we carry around with us can have significant life altering impacts. Now it seems a chronic infection might directly lead to type-2 diabetes. Not clear is cause/effect: does getting fat lead to the staph infection or does the staph infection make you fat? I hope the latter, then I can get a vaccination and shed some blubber without actually having to be inconvenienced 😉

Glow-in-the-dark pee

Next Generation: Souped-up Probiotics Pinpoint Cancer
Genetically engineered commensal bacteria help researchers detect cancer metastases in mouse livers.
http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/43100/title/Next-Generation–Souped-up-Probiotics-Pinpoint-Cancer/

This is a cool kind of biotechnology where you can actually see changes with your own eyes. Most of the experiments I did, in school as well as a professional researcher, required some sort of visualization tool (chemical reagent, spectrophotometer, scintillation detector, etc.) so each fraction of the sample had to be analyzed. However, since this glows in the dark, all you got to do is turn out the lights and you will know what has happened.

Oh, it might also save lives also…

Binge eating = fat belly

Skipping meals could lead to fat gain, research suggests
http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/skipping-meals-could-lead-to-fat-gain-research-suggests-1.2383746

I didn’t get ‘skipping meals leads to fat gain’ from the article, instead I saw ‘binge eating leading to a bloated belly’. I am certainly guilty of binge eating. When I prepare food I prepare as much as I think I will want to eat, then generally eat every bit of it, though if someone else prepares the meal and it is smaller, I can eat that amount and be completely happy. So far I haven’t been able to reliably ‘outsmart’ myself in this regard, though I generally eat ‘dinner’ around 3 and try to avoid eating until I go to bed (around 9).

Buffets have historically been a problem for me. I actually swore them off for years because I could never leave satisfied: either I was in agony because I had ate so much or I felt I hadn’t got my money’s worth. Only years later did I develop the mental stability to be able to have a plate (sometimes two, but often just one) of food and be satisfied with my experience. I am now able to enjoy a bit of a bunch of my favorite foods and not feel the need to stuff myself to the gills. Sadly, this attitude doesn’t carry over to holiday meals where I tend to belly up to the trough multiple times, then, once the agony has subsided, return with both trotters in.

Naturally, being human and American, it isn’t my fault. It is my parents/genes/society/bad gut microbiome/whatever else I can latch onto’s fault!

Firm handshake = longer life

A handshake can reveal how long you will live
How likely you are to die in the next few years could be judged from your handshake, new research shows.
http://www.afr.com/lifestyle/health/mens-health/a-handshake-can-reveal-how-long-you-will-live-20150515-gh273d.html

I doubt this is causative, almost certainly correlative (meaning a firm handshake doesn’t cause longer life, just reveals those that are healthier), but it does give an easy way to test to see if someone is on the way out. An interesting next step would be to take those with wimpy handshakes and give them extra health counseling and encourage them to exercise, then if that group lives longer than the control group (uncounseled wimpy handshakes), then it becomes a very handy and simple health metric.