Thursday, July 23, 2009

Posting Star Party videos

I've set up an ftp account for Star Party videos. If you need it, please drop me an email!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Paparazzi are Out of Control

I can't believe I forgot to tell you the weirdest part of my whole deviated septum experience!

I got my first endoscopy. An endoscopy is a medical term for shoving a camera into an orifice and displaying the results to someone who doesn't want to see it. The word comes from the Latin endo ("viewing") and scopus ("where the sun don't shine").

The tools required for this are a gullible, trusting patient and an endoscope. An endoscope is a thankfully tiny camera with a light at the end of a disturbingly long fiber-optic cable. The doctor feeds the cable into the orifice of choice until he encounters resistance or lawsuits. Everyone in the room gets to watch the whole thing on a high-def LCD screen. The picture quality was stunning.

In my case, it went up my nose, but with that much cable he could have gone in anywhere. In college, I once sat across a cafeteria table from a guy who shoved a piece of spaghetti up his nose, snorted, and pulled one end out of his mouth. He moved it back and forth like he was flossing his sinuses. You can't beat a solid education at a top university.

The results of my personal endoscopy aren't available yet, but I expect you can pick them up on blu-ray by the fall. I did find an image online that looked fairly representative.

The callouts are of course added later, though having an internal pop-up video would be an interesting evolutionary trait.

So it goes up my nose and down the back of my mouth until I'm getting a look at my own vocal chords from an unusual top-down angle. Very sexy. The doctor would say things like "try not to swallow," which is tougher than it sounds when you're trying not to barf.

What I learned was:

  1. Once you get inside, the view from any of your body openings is pretty much the same: pink, pulpy flesh. It's when something else shows up (for example, a rivet) that you have to start worrying.

  2. There is an AMA requirement that all humiliating or disgusting procedures are carried out with an attractive young intern in the room. Mine was named Jenny, and she was very nice even if she wouldn't make eye contact after the endoscopy.

  3. Always blow your nose, clean your ears, floss, and whatever other orifice maintenance you can think of before going to any doctor, just in case they have a new endoscope they want to try.

  4. I didn't see them clean the endoscope either before or after my procedure. I'm sure they got to it before the next person with a nose came along.

And this wraps up another exciting installment of Oversharing Medically. Stay tuned tomorrow for the results from my thyroid checkup!

Monday, July 20, 2009

I think I'll just go Full Bionic

Check this out:

(Click to enlargenate.)

It's the CT scan of my skull. I know you can't tell at this resolution, and also because you don't know how to read the thing either, but what you're looking at, apart from a massive brain cavity, is a deviated septum.

You guys remember my sleep study and CT scan. And now the verdict is in: deviated septum, most likely from my ice skating accident, although I guess it could have been a bike wreck I had on my ninth birthday. (That was epic. Biking down the biggest hill in my neighborhood as fast as possible, then dragging my feet to burn the rubber off my sneakers. I had just learned about friction and wanted to see it in action. I lost control, nearly concussed my fool self, and had some dental damage I'll be carrying with me forever.)

After my doctor visit this morning to look at my scans, I know a lot more about how all this works. The process goes like this:

  • My deviated septum blocks about 80% of the airflow in my right nostril.
  • To compensate, I breathe more heavily through my mouth when sleeping.
  • The air dries out my mouth instead of flooding into my nice mucousy sinuses.
  • My throat compensates by gradually creating more saliva glands. (That explains why I had to constantly clear my spit valve in my marching band days)
  • To make room, my soft palate grows.
  • The larger soft palate flops back when I'm lying down, and rattles as the airflow through my mouth goes by. That rattling comes out as some impressive snoring.

The part that's more serious than getting elbowed into silence at night is that all this blockage drops my blood oxygen level to about 84%. That's not too bad, but they don't like it to get below 90%, and this issue has a tendency to get worse with age. A lack of oxygen in your blood can lead to legions of other problems (including heart attacks and strokes).

So it looks like there's more surgery in my future. The doctor will straighten my septum and cut away the floppy part of my palate. I won't be able to snore if I wanted to. Not sure when yet. Either as soon as I can arrange it or after Dragon*Con.

Or maybe, as Skepchick Elyse Anders said, this is all a ploy to keep my hetero life partner Tim Farley interested. But Tim stood me up for dinner last night and is now considered a fickle bitch.

But just in case I have the option, I need advice in picking the next model nose. I'm considering something sporty, like the 2002 Punky Brewster. I am sick of the 1984 Steve Perry I've been driving. Or maybe a classic model, like the '62 Peck (Special Mockingbird Edition).

So I'm looking forward now to the Fall Procedure. I'm going to guess appendicitis. Anyone know where I can get some liquid adamantium and a big syringe?

More on the Star Party Videos

I've gotten some great response so far in both the comments on my
original post and in email.

Since I'm here in the doctor's office with no one to talk to but my
iPhone, I thought I would clarfiy some questions.

Format: I'm good with any common format. Basically if it'll work on
YouTube it'll work for me. However, I can't be sure we'll have net
access, so it can't exist solely on YouTube. I need source files.

Web cams: if you have a better option than a web cam, by all means
feel free to send something with higher production values. I just
mentioned web cams because they seem to be everywhere these days, and
this can be something that doesn't take a lot of work to do. It's the
enthusiasm I'm after, not the high-def THX theater experience :)

If you have an idea, jump right in! If you want to bounce some off me,
email me at Christian [at]

Thanks all. This is going to be great.

(edited to add link to previous post)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Attention Astronomers & Astronomy Students, and Star Buffs

[EDIT: Also see my follow-up post.]

I need your help!

I want to know if this is a good time to rebuild my back deck. I'm an Aries.

HA! Kidding. Don't summon down meteors on me.

Some of you may have heard about the Star Party we're doing the night before Dragon*Con starts. In addition to raising money for the American Cancer Society, we are trying to build up enthusiasm for astronomy itself. (Personally, I can't remember not being excited about astronomy, and I've spent the last 20 years kicking myself for not studying it. Arieses are like that.)

If you're not coming to the Star Party, and you're working in the field, or studying it, or are a space alien, this is what I need:

Get in front of a web cam somehow, introduce yourself, and spend about 5 minutes telling us something about your experience with The Black. It can be something you're passionate about, something that moves you, something that surprised you, something that scared the CRAP out of you, anything like that. I'll take these videos and we'll show them during the event to the people there. (I'll also put them online afterwards.)

So, if you're interested in doing this, I am interested in getting it :) Please record something and get it to me by 8/28, so I have time to set it all up. I have an FTP site available where you can upload them (contact me for details).

Thanks all!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Rebecca and Sid get Married!

I know by now many of you have seen this video. Hell, many of you were there in person. But my video here offers something that other "high-quality" or "professional" or "watchable" videos do not: I am sitting slightly to the right.

(Edit: I see that the video is too wide for the text column. I don't care. I'm totally rad like that. You got a problem with my skinny column? HUH?)

As you can see, the autofocus was not my friend, but things eventually got under control. And I could NOT find Rebecca's family when they were coming up. Not until they showed up on stage

Also, notice how George Hrab just sort of materializes on stage? That's not because I'm pointing the camera the other way when he walks out. He really did just appear. George is that cool.

Thanks to the limitations of YouTube, the video cuts out before the cake, before the dancing, and before the Skepchicks all switch dresses. It's just as well, because my lens fogged up anyway -- it was an amazing cake.

(Rebecca, I'll get the full version to you later.)

Congrats again on the wedding, guys! I was honored to be a part of it, even if my task was just "drive and don't drop wreck the damn cake."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Fear and Speaking in Las Vegas

(This is a long review of my trip to Vegas last week. This TAM was a little different from the others I'd been to, because of the increased opportunities to make a fool out of myself.)

It seemed like a good idea at first. My hetero life partner Tim Farley (owner of What's The Harm?) and I would unleash our massive brains at The Amazing Meeting 7 in Las Vegas. During the paper presentations, we were going to combine our expertises (?) and tell everyone how to attract and keep readers at their web sites. It would be 20 minutes of inspirational bliss, ending in a swirl of thrown thongs. It would just be us on a bright Sunday morning with no more than 1,000 of our closest friends (beating my old record for crowd size by about 970). What could go wrong?

For starters, I could crap my pants. But I don't want to spoil the ending.

Tim was also giving a two-hour workshop, which sort of gripped his mind. And I was putting in a lot of hours at work and had just come off a long weekend in Minneapolis. We had our information together but arrived in Vegas without having rehearsed a word. No problem, because we had three days to kill.

Except Day 1 was Tim's workshop. But also, I was living with all the Skepchicks.

Honest. There were eight of the Skepchicks, either two or three Skepchick Spouses (depending on which day you meant), and either one or zero Skepchick Boyfriends (also depending on what day you meant) living in a rented villa. This is a group of some seriously awesome women, and I was but one of their cabana boys -- and I was the only cabana boy with a car. I had to run Skepchick Errands, and thanked them for the opportunity.

These errands mostly centered around the secret wedding of Head Skepchick and Girl Overlord Rebecca Watson to Unworthy Supplicant and Lucky Primate Sid Rodrigues. This wedding was happening on Day 3. Day 1 was spent retrieving Skepchicks from the airport, taking Rebecca and Sid to get a marriage license -- turns out you do need one in Vegas -- and then pitching a small Bridal Shower/Bachelor Party for those who knew (which was pretty much just the people in the villa and a couple of others). Male stripper and everything.

No problem. We have Day 2, right?

Except Day 2 was the official beginning of TAM, so we were in a conference room all day. That night, there was a performance of the Nigerian Spam Scam Scam, which was one of the funniest things ever, and a short concert by George Hrab, who has redefined the word "cool" to mean "exhibiting qualities similar to those of George Hrab." Then straight to bed, because we had to start prepping at about 7am the next day for The Secret Removing Rebecca From The Market ceremony.

Day 3. It's just over 24 hours before my paper. The Skepchicks and I have to smuggle in flowers and a three-tiered cake with no one catching on to what we were doing. It was touch'n'go.

"What are you doing with those flowers, Christian?"
"Ummm.... these roses are flatlining! I need a botanist STAT!"

The plan was to kick this off during a live recording of The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast, which includes Rebecca. During the Q&A session, Sid would step to the mike and ask Rebecca to marry him. Then on their queues, Rebecca's family would come up, and a minister (Skepchick A Kovacs had been ordained and got certified to marry people in Nevada), the bridesmaids (all the other Skepchicks) and groomsmen (the other Skeptics Guide members), and music (George Hrab). The rings were provided by Mythbusters' Adam Savage, and everyone in the room got a "You Have Been Forcibly Included Against Your Will" wedding invitation.

I got the whole thing on video. I'll post it here after I convert it.

The a post-wedding brunch at the Peppermill where we were required to eat omelets as big as our thighs.

Tim and I finally did get some rehearsal time that afternoon before the Skepchick Party and Alcohol Poisoning Test Lab.

I had a crucial but ancillary role in the Party: I drove the shuttle bus. The villa was more than 2 miles from the TAM hotel, which was a little far to walk. At night, there's a hot breeze that blows through which feels like Satan is farting in your face.

I volunteered for bus duty because:

  • I don't drink
  • I'm useless at loud parties since I normally can't hear a damn thing being said to me
  • It would have been a pretty pathetic party with no one there
  • Driving the van would make Rebecca happy
  • Making Rebecca happy would keep the other Skepchicks happy with me
  • When I have the general approval of the Skepchicks, life is easier on about eight levels

The surprising thing is that it was a lot of fun. Every vanload of people was different. It was like speed dating, but with a group. Each trip took about 6 minutes, then the conversation changed. Sometimes I'd be included, sometimes I'd eavesdrop on a conversation that began before I showed up.

Another thing that surprised me was that I drove that route back and forth for almost six hours. The hot blast from Satan's backside had cooled to the upper 80s by the time I stopped... at 3:30am. Sat around with the Chicks dissing about the party until 5am... 6 hours before Tim and I were due onstage. Tim, of course, had fled the party long ago.


Up by 8am, right into the shower. Then, still damp, a hurried rehearsal of my part of the talk and some scribbled notes. The paper presentations started around 8, but we're the last one, at 11:15am. Into the van at 9:30 and meeting up with Tim for a couple more tries before it's time to go. I have had a total of 10 hours sleep since I arrived in Vegas, and was currently running on half a blueberry muffin and a Diet Pepsi. That was deliberate, because the Pants Crapping Hypothesis was about to get field tested. I'm going to do the intro, then Tim will do his section, then I'll do mine, and then Tim will wrap up while I find a bathroom and a hose.

It doesn't look like the full 1,000 people are there. Maybe 700-800. Great.


"Good morning, everyone."

The mike is off. I lean closer and raise my voice in case it's just not sensitive enough. At the same time, unknown to me, the sound guy turns it on.


I'm too close. The hard "T" sound come out as though I'm spitting into the mike. I'm completely thrown off before I say my first dozen words. I hope the elastic on my underwear can absorb the shock.

I find the right distance and volume and limp through the intro. It's only about a minute long, and Tim will be talking for the next 10 minutes. That will give me time to either regain my composure or stab myself to death with the laser pointer.

I've heard Tim's part maybe six times. The lights are bright and right in my eyes. It's very warm on stage. I've had very little sleep. I'm still in front of several hundred people...

I feel a huge yawn coming on.

I don't hear the last half of Tim's talk because my teeth are clamped shut harder than my dog's jaws on a dropped piece of chicken. I wonder if my eardrums will go before my eyes pop out or vice versa. Then I wonder if the charley horse cramp in my jaw will relax.

"...and here's Christian."

Bastard must have skipped some slides without telling me. Fortunately, my first few lines are written out verbatim, and the slide changes are clearly marked. I'm trying to keep eye contact but I still feel like I'm hitting my notes too hard. I find myself scanning the front of the room for celebrities I know to be around: James Randi, of course. Adam Savage. Penn Jillette. Nothing.

I make a lame joke about Iran. My next line would be drowned out by crickets if they lived in environments made entirely of molten rock. I think it's my imagination, but I'm pretty sure I see Michael Shermer and Brian Dunning in the back holding up a sign that says MENE MENE TEKEL UPHARSIN. (Shermer is standing on a stepladder.) I resolve to have them beaten.

I'm done! I step back to let Tim wrap up. Question time! Only two questions, both for Tim. Was I remarkably clear in my talk, or did I suck so bad they don't know what I'm talking about? I will never know.

Not one thong. Just some ratty boxer shorts with an unidentifiable stain.

As I leave the conference room, I stuff my notes into a trashcan for safe-keeping. My pants lived to fight another day.

The rest of the day is spent surrendering my Skepchicks to the airlines before heading to a seafood buffet and the Penn & Teller show. The seafood was good, but I fell asleep for a bit during P&T. (It's not like Penn watched my show earlier, the big goon.)

So there it is. TAM, Skepchicks, and butt-puckering nervousness about making an ass out of myself in front of hundreds of people who know my name. Like high school.

A great trip, though. Congrats to Rebecca and Sid!

Everyone come to TAM 8 next year. It'll be hard to top that wedding, but we're scheduled to have three births, a Bat Mitzvah, four exorcisms, a mass excommunication, and we're going to crown the new King of Angola.

And when you come, make sure you stay for the paper presentations -- those are always awesome.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Perchance to wake up screaming...

Getting a needle biopsy is a gateway drug to much more exotic medical treatments. I know that now.

Maria has told me I snore. I maintain that it's an excuse to elbow me in the ribs in the middle of the night, but she has convinced others to tell me the same thing, and she says it got worse since my thyroid surgery, but has gotten somewhat better since. This was troubling, because we were going to be sharing a hotel room last weekend with Head Skepchick Rebecca Watson, who is capable of summoning legions of followers to attack and have my head stuffed and mounted.

(I only survived through a cunning plan: get Rebecca so drunk that once she falls asleep, she wouldn't wake up if I stacked frying pans on her bed and pounded them flat with a sledgehammer. She was both willing and eager to join in this plan.)

But to appease Maria -- and to make sure I am not going to die from severe sleep apnea -- I had a sleep study. If you've never had a sleep study, I can't recommend it enough, or at all. They put you in a tiny bedroom deep inside a hospital, hook you up with enough equipment to make you look like an Eraserhead sequel, then they turn out the lights and tell you to go to sleep three hours before you're tired.

I did manage to sleep enough to give them results. No apnea, but a few instances of apnea's weaker cousin hypopnea. Verdict: I snore. I don't know how Maria got to them.

Back to my favorite doctor, Susan Boyle. I couldn't think of a non-lame joke about the suddenly famous frumpy Scottish singer Susan Boyle, and I want to keep this one on my side.

She looked at the report and talked about three options:

A Continuous Positive Airway Pressue (CPAP) machine.

Check this thing out:

I know it's more than breast pump hooked up to an air compressor, but not by much.

An Oral Appliance.

I actually tried one of these. I did the PureSleep thing. It's a retainer that pulls your lower jaw forward so you feel like you're doing a Basil Fawlty impersonation. I don't know if it helped or not, because I would spit the thing out every night. I woke up twice because I had rolled over on it, and it felt like someone was biting my head. Back to the manufacturer.

My doctor pointed out that I could always get one with a strap to go around my head and hold it in. Then she would help me with the paperwork to legally change my name to Poindexter Q. McWussypimple. I told her I'd do it if she put on a dress made from a curtain and sang I Dreamed a Dream for me.


Ugh. One common cause of all this is the soft palette in the back of the mouth flopping backwards when you're lying down, and partially obstructing your airway. The snoring is then similar to putting a piece of paper in a rotary fan. The idea is to tack that piece of tissue up a little so it doesn't get in the way. It's fairly minor out-patient stuff that hardly ever kills anyone.

There was a Super Secret Fourth Option: Tough It Out. Maria already sleeps with a sleep mask, and I doubt she'd go for ear plugs too. Might as well get her a sensory deprivation tank.

What to choose?

Before I did anything, I needed to see an Ear, Nose & Throat doctor, which Dr. Boyle recommended. She also recommended my first Evil Bastard Endocrinologist, so I did my homework on this guy. Seemed okay, and is actually the one the Atlanta Braves turn to when they.. ummm.... snore so much they lose games?

Two things came from that meeting:

  1. I should get a CAT scan of my sinus cavity to be sure there's nothing weird there.
  2. My nose looks broken, probably from when I was a kid.

That second one is interesting. When I was in sixth grade, I went with a church youth group to go ice skating. I'm as much a natural ice skater as anyone from Alabama. But the most fun we had was waiting for the Zamboni to clean the ice, then rushing out and skating as fast as we could while the ice was still wet. When we got up to speed, we would dive forward and slide the length of the ice on our stomachs.

Great fun.

But then I had my head down too far and landed on my nose. Lots of bleeding, and I think that was the first time anyone had tried to cure me by prayer. It worked, or maybe it was the tissue I was holding up to it.

Anyway, I spent the next month at school with people telling me my nose looked crooked. I still have a slight scar across the bridge, and this was about 30 years ago. But my mom was never convinced, so we didn't go to the doctor. Now, 30 years later, I have Guilt Trip Ammo. "Because of you, Maria has to elbow me in my sleep!"

I had the CAT scan yesterday, and I have the films, but I don't know what I'm looking at. The scan was interesting too -- you lie down in front of a giant upended toilet seat and they slide your head in. Once inside, there are things whirring around and you can easily get a feeling that you're in a washing machine spin cycle.

My Reading of the CAT Scan visit is in about two weeks, and then we'll know what's going to happen: breast pump, knife, or Nerd Gear. Can you stand the anticipation?

At least I have TAM to distract me. If my foolproof slots plan doesn't pan out, I'll see you when I get back!