Monday, February 25, 2013

literary reference.

"How are you feeling?", the sleep doctor asks.

"You know that story Flowers For Algernon, where the developmentally disabled guy gets really smart, then watches himself losing his intelligence?"

"Yeah," he says. "Are you feeling more intelligent?"

"No," I say. "No, I'm not."

Saturday, February 23, 2013

right here in River City.

As mentioned earlier, I've been enjoying the idea of putting a pool table in the garage of our potential future house. A new slate-top table is at least a couple thousand dollars, easily stretching to $4000 and up for one of the marquee brands (Brunswick, Olhausen). However, if you look on Craigslist, it turns out that pool tables are like pianos:
  • Hard to move.
  • You probably won't take care of it.
  • Probably not as useful as you thought.
  • Almost guaranteed not to fit in your next apartment.
At the risk of having the same problems as the seller, you can pick up a reasonable-quality table for a fraction of a new table's price, even once you add in moving and re-conditioning costs. (Moving a quality slate table yourself appears to be a bad idea: watch How It's Made for indications why.)

My current sleep regimen requires that I stay up at night a couple hours past when I would like to go to bed, and it occurred to me earlier this week that there are places in the area where I can go pay money to play pool, and that might be a fine way to wind down in the evening before bed, to say nothing of using up my prodigious supply of quarters accumulated over the decades. I went about 15 minutes north to a nice well-lit bar I know, and had a lovely hour or so of shooting pool, both alone and with the other guy who was practicing. (I won, both games.)

I also discovered that basic quality pool cues are not expensive, so I went to the local shop and bought a cue and case. (I grew up using 1-piece bar cues, designed more to withstand being handled by drunks than to shoot well. Dad eventually bought us a regular 2-piece cue for some reason, and the difference was night and day.)

One or two nights later, I thought I would find a place a little closer to home, so I stopped in every bar in my town that I knew had tables. In various places, I found:
  • A dive bar with a nice vibe, but the pool table was blocked by the darts league.
  • Many early-20s street bros and their girlfriends, mostly playing at the dozen beer pong tables. (I did not know beer pong tables existed.)
  • A scary drunk barfly lady who seemed to be in the middle of a game, but when I asked, she just mumbled and continued dialing her phone. She also eyed my cue case skeptically. Then there were the women at the bar ranting about men not being "real" about their romantic relationships. I swear that place was less cranky last time I was there.
There's one other place to check, but as white yuppie scum, there's a good chance I won't be welcome. So, 15 minutes north it is.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

house progress

We had the inspection on Saturday, which was educational. We're navigating some back-and-forth with the sellers, but I think everyone is properly incentivized to have the sale go through and we'll come out happy. It turns out there's more up-front work than we originally thought, but hey, we'll be starting out with a new kitchen and refinished hardwood floors.

(The kitchen, as a space, is one of the best parts of the house; big chunks of it just need to be torn out, disinfected, and replaced.)

Between the house and the garage, we almost certainly have enough space for a pool table, so I've been doing some research about prices and quality and such. I grew up with a pool table in the basement, an old pay table from the 50s that somehow migrated its way from some small-town bar in western New York, into my grandfather's house, then to our house when my grandmother moved away. The bumpers were erratic, giving us a home-court advantage against our friends, but I grew up enjoying the game and even today I'm still a far better player than most. Anna likes it, too, and it seems like something J might enjoy: you can have a lot of fun playing even without finicky fine motor coordination.

Of course, you can drop $15,000 on a restored antique pool table if you want; I recognize that I'm probably putting the thing in the garage, so I'll be wanting something of decent quality, but utilitarian and not delicate.

Now that we've got a better sense of the quantity and source of money to be thrown at all the problems, I'm kind of excited.

Friday, February 15, 2013

today's music puzzle

Watch this first video, or as much as you can stand. Then, watch the second, which will make sense of the first. Humans are awesome.

Monday, February 11, 2013

more doctors, small steps

I had a hopeful appointment today with the doctor I originally saw for CBTI (cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia)--hopeful because just the one manipulation of my sleep schedule he suggested in December had such a huge impact. (Not that it's left me terribly functional, but when I sleep in a solid bloc, I'm at least in touch with reality even if I can't focus or concentrate). We set up a plan for the next few weeks, and he thinks that if the other group fixes the quality of my sleep, in 4-8 weeks I could be rested. That's a tempting thing to believe in, as I've had a single functional week in the past 3-4 months. ("Lucky week," as Dr. Insomnia says.)

I got the results of my sleep study from last week. It shows Mild Sleep Apnea, and I'm not sure if that's enough to explain by experience, though Dr. Insomnia thinks so. "Those apnea events are like someone poking you with a sharp stick and waking you up 11 times per hour." I think I may see your problem here, Bob.

I've been warned about the Stanford sleep apnea group, by numerous people, that "their job is to diagnose you with sleep apnea, and that's what they're going to do"--in other words, that they find sleep apnea in everyone. I get the feeling they've tidied up a lot in the past few years, though (they no longer give patients Ambien, for example). Plus, I fit the pattern of pathologically not-restful sleep. Also, I am completely out of other possibilities. Behold, the end of my very long rope.

People at work are starting to realize how limited my role is right now, though I don't think they quite understand it. I am very good at coping, and at not lashing out at people while I'm coping; so, as with my primary care doctor, I often fail to adequately show my level of distress.

I'm looking forward to the days where once again I only visit doctors for broken bones, stitches, infections, and organ removals.

Friday, February 8, 2013

houses and homes

At the aikido dojo, we once had a very angry kid who we tried to help grow beyond the upbringing life had left him with; he lacked persistence and meandered off after a year or two. He never quite learned to control himself on the mat, and was often dangerous to train with. He did learn some manners, though.

Etiquette is like any other language: if you didn't grow up with it, it's a terrible lot of details to consciously remember correctly, and it will be quite a while before you are fluent and improvisational. In the meantime, native speakers like me--thanks, Mom and Dad!--can tell when you've learned etiquette late in life, because your composure may not survive an unexpected and perhaps un-generous turn of conversation:
"You could start a garden."
"That'd be nice, but my apartment has a very nice little yard that gets almost no sunlight, so it's not practical."
"Oh, you live in an apartment?"
"Yeah, cute little place about a mile up the road."
"I'm sorry, I thought you had a home."
"I do. I just don't own it."
"Oh...well...yes...I mean..."
I was more sensitive then than now to the assumption that "having a home" means "you own a house," and obviously less willing to let it slide by without comment. It was entirely natural for me to answer in a way that deviated from the implied script, and if anyone does that to me, I can handle it graciously. (One big aspect of being "gracious" is really "able to keep a calm and courteous conversation moving, even when the other conversants don't know how.") This young man couldn't, at the time, and I wasn't being attentive to his comfort level.

(This is absolutely not to lie and claim that I emerged from college with fully-developed social skills, which all of my friends and ex-girlfriends will tell you was not the case. It's just to say that I learned etiquette as a child, so becoming socially competent was a matter of properly tuning my foundational skills, rather than learning everything from scratch.)

At any rate, I have had numerous homes over the years, without owning any of them, for a variety of reasons, mostly involving the $650,000 median home price in San Mateo County. That was fine, since it wasn't really clear that the math worked out. Elsewhere in the country, with a relatively modest down payment, you can have a house with a mortgage payment that's less than rent would be. Not here, unless your idea of "modest" is $300,000.

However, this year we needed an accountant, who informs us that the math does work out and we should buy a house. I found a couple places that didn't look too insane and have somehow not provoked a feeding frenzy of investors bearing $400,000 in cash or more, so I suddenly decided it was worth trying again. This week we're submitting offers on a surprisingly large townhouse that's ready to go (assuming you can live with dark avocado tile counters in the kitchen), and on a quirky but appealing house that looks liveable but has dozens of obvious improvements available.

(Where to start? The unnecessary wall separating the small living room from the small dining room? The dark wood paneling on the walls? The dismal faux-ornate 60s cabinet facing? Perhaps the linoleum covering the floor of the garage, which was obviously an illegal apartment at some point? The third "bedroom" where they boarded up the fireplace and built out a closet in front of it? The possibilities are endless!)

Even on the low end, it's a ridiculous amount of money. We took a look at the economics of the Bay Area, though:
  • The biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, caused by housing and provoking a nationwide flood of foreclosures, essentially left area house prices under $800,000 untouched. Condominium value was destroyed, but houses dropped maybe 10%.
  • High demand: this is a really nice area to live and work.
  • Restricted supply: there's very little unbuilt land within a 30-minute drive of the San Francisco-Mountain View corridor. (25% of the Bay Area is protected open space.)
  • Enough people who can summon large amounts of cash and/or float large monthly mortgage payments. (There's no sign of the Bay Area losing its primacy at the elite end of the tech world.)
Buying a house starts to look more "reasonable," in the limited sense that you're unlikely to lose your shirt to a local housing market collapse. Maybe a mega-quake? Who knows.

So, here we go again. Wish us luck.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

plug me in

Last night I finally did the overnight sleep study (polysomnogram) at Stanford. They glue and stick a truly remarkable number of wires on you, plus one microphone, to measure the following (of the things I can remember):
  • EEG (brain activity).
  • leg muscle activity.
  • breathing activity.
  • noises in the throat.
  • eye movements (for REM).
  • nose and mouth breathing.
  • EKG (heart monitoring).
  • oxygen saturation.
I did not get the sensor that goes up your nose and down your gut to watch what your esophagus is doing.

Anna came to hang out for a while, and I had a pretty normal evening, reading until I got sleepy, then put myself to bed around 11 PM. As I was falling asleep, I could tell it was a doomed sleep: I know when I am or am not falling into a deep, last sleep. And sure enough, I woke up 45 minutes later. Awake. During the sleep study that was supposed to tell us why I can sleep for 8 or 9 hours straight and not feel rested. The sleep study that is supposed to be a major step in restoring my energy to exercise and my focus to be able to work and meditate.

I wanted to cry, but I was literally too tired.

After 45 minutes or so, I took some ZzzQuil that I had thought to bring with me, and dozed off sometime in the 2-2:30 AM range, waking up with my alarm as usual around 7.

I know I can get better, because a couple weeks ago, for one week, I was rested enough to
  1. Do the Couch-to-5K Week #1 three times,
  2. do a yoga class to recover from the running,
  3. focus enough to do actual software engineering work, and
  4. cook some food.
Then it all went away again, but there it was. So even if the sleep study comes up empty, I've got the cognitive-behavioral therapy starting next week, which I know helps.

I liked it better when all my health problems were broken toes and obviously-rotting internal organs.