Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Monday, April 30, 2012

I Just Bought a GPS

OK, so that’s not such a big deal.  What might be newsworthy is my history with GPSs, the first of which I still own, but can no longer remember how to operate ind I can’t even buy the connection from it to my PC, since I no longer seem to have the cord.

Probably around 1998 I succumbed to Peer Pressure from a group I then ran with called the Orange County Hash House Harriers.  We are part of larger similar-named groups who do a Fox and Hounds thing on a regular basis.  The organization is practically non-existent, anonymity is unquestionable, and the first rule of the groups is “There Are No Rules!”  It is irreverent and makes questionablechoices regarding acohol consumption.  The OCHHH runs (three out of four Saturdays and an annual three day run in Palm Springs) attracting fifty or more runners and more than three hundred for Betty Ford Rehab Weekend.  Some runs are from point A to Point B and just finding your car is often a challenge.

Garmin eTrex
Into this environment entered the handheld GPS, which some used to participate in Geo-caching, often retrieving and leaving clues and objects while doing a run.  So, I invested about $225 in a Garmin eTrex Vista, a second generation trekking/hiking GPS with fantastic features: like topographical maps, a plotting feature allowing you to map out where you travelled, distance and difficulty reports, compass bearings and, most importantly, strong access to satellite navigation, even under canopy.  It had not been that long since the Federal government allowed civilian use of the satellites they had put into orbit.  My main problem with the eTrex was that, even though they had scheduled classes from REI on how to use the damn thing, I never got to one and my self-teaching was hindered by the fact that the instructional CD was inside my house…which is in a valley…which, unlike a canopy of greenery, prevented satellite reception while watching the video.

Better Voice!
Too Authoritarian!
My first experience with Navigational GPS came a few years earlier when I was travelling to the San Jose area to visit three dental offices I had never been to before.  At the car rental desk I was asked if I would be willing to test a new device and fill out a questionnaire, which I did.  The GPS (for that is what it was) got me to my hotel on several occasions, to all three offices, found me a restaurant, and took me back to the airport to drop off the questionnaire and the GPS.  My comments? 1.  I didn’t like the authoritarian male voice. 2.  I didn’t like it when it told me I “had missed my destination” and should “turn around immediately”. And 3. I thought it would be worth about $500 for purchase and maybe $25 for rental.  It is interesting to see that they soon were marketing GPSs for about $2000, renting them for about $20 and offering a variety of female voices, none of which sounded like anyone’s wife.

Garmin Nuvi
About 2003 my wife, who has a very pleasant voice, even when telling me I have missed my destination, asked for a GPS for Christmas.  Her needs were essentially driving at night when she felt uncomfortable trying to read street signs and finding her way home, when the route out was different than how she came in.  Eventually I bought her a Garmin Street Pilot from Spot Chalet for about $1000 and expected that she might never use it.

Surprise, surprise!

She loved it!  And she quickly got quite proficient in its use.  There were a couple of problems: the maps went out of date and updates were expensive, and it was a little large to pack for travel.  Both problems were solved in subsequent years when new units were smaller and cheaper.  So I quickly inherited two more units, and a unit in my car, and a unit in my new car, with that unit in my old car, which I sold to me son.

Back to my title: last week I approached the “map out of date” problem by buying a state of the art Garmin, which now comes with a lifetime map update feature, allowing me to update two older Garmin models.  It also has a feature similar to the GPS in my newer car, which allows traffic analysis and provides alternative routes.

So I now have what Mary calls a “service for six” supply of functioning GPSs, plus that eTrex, which recently functioned as an example of what a compass might look like in the old days.  Have any of you similar GPS experiences?

In my next Post I think I’ll explore my observations of Kids and Cars in my American Culture.

Monday, April 23, 2012

He Ain't Heavy

Evergreen at Stone Mountain
One of the nicer things about travelling with my wife to her annual AADA Leadership Conference is that the venue changes yearly.  This year we flew into Atlanta and then made the thirty-mile drive to a lovely resort called Stone Mountain: a family retreat with hiking and biking trails and two nice to very nice Marriott hotels.

Because our meeting was booked to capacity and we were sharing space with another group of 500+, we got to stay at both of them.

One of the regular events is an awards event honoring relatively new and active members of the Alliance to the American Dental Association with the Beulah K. Spencer Award.  Beulah was a dental spouse who followed Thelma Neff and my mother as a National President of what is now called the Alliance.

This year as part of the ceremony we were treated to a presentation by the DeKalb School of the Arts, a prestigious 8-12 independent high school dedicated to providing close to 300 students an opportunity to grow in their chosen arts endeavor.  Their program was varied in song and dance but not in energy and the audience was carried along as the program developed.  Somewhere close to the finale I heard a familiar strain that caused me to literally scratch my head.  They came up with the song, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.”

The reason for my feeling of incongruity was that I had always connected the song to Boys Town, which although still in existence, became part of mainstream culture because of the 1938 movie of the same name, starring Spencer Tracy as the founder, Father Flanagan and Mickey Rooney as the troubled child, Whitey.

Turns out I was wrong in my timeline.

Although Father Flanagan did in fact secure a copyright to the name attached to his Omaha orphanage, the song with the title wasn’t written until 1969 and gained almost instant popularity on its own right, first as released by the UK group, The Hollies and shortly after by Neil Diamond.  Both renditions made the top 40 charts.

As did several other subsequent releases.  But most likely the reason the song attracted attention to this group is that it was considered the featured song of one of the best 12 stars of American Idol in the show’s fourth season.

Whatever, The DSA presentation was not only enjoyable, it accomplished what so many songs do for an audience; it reminded us of pleasant past memories and, at least for me, got my mind working and stimulated me to do some interesting research.

In my next post I intend to explain why the recent purchase of a GPS seemed to have a special meaning in my life.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Oliver O. Howard

The original Howard Theater
A recent show on National Public Radio featured a Theater in Washington DC that has been recently renovated.  What made the event noteworthy was that it has a history of being a place where black entertainers performed for black audiences.  What made it noteworthy for me is that the name of the theater is The Howard Theater.

As a dentist I am familiar with Howard University Dental School in Washington DC, which for years was the school from which most black dentists graduated.  In recent times, going back at least thirty years, this has not been the case.  In fact, I have a white nephew who graduated from Howard.  This in spite of the fact that his father was on the dental faculty of Tufts.

So, I was familiar with the name, but I became interested in who was this man named “Howard” and what had he done to make him associated with at least two institutions that were identified with Black Americans?

General Oliver O. Howard
Turns out he was a lesser known Union General during the Civil War.  Not as famous as Sherman or Grant and in fact may have been one of those generals Lincoln referred to when he was told that Grant drank a case of whiskey a week.  He reportedly answered, “Find out what kind of whiskey and send a case to all my other generals.”

After the war, Howard was posted to the Western theater and distinguished himself quite well, specifically quelling uprisings of the Apaches and Nez Perce tribes in the 1870s.

Prior to that time however, he was given the job of relocating the freed slaves.  No small task.  For instance, in the city of Atlanta, fifty-five percent of the population was slaves.  Howard set up a system that required the freed slaves to continue to work on the plantations where they were domiciled, for wages that were set by the Freedmen’s Bureau, which he headed.

Although the Reconstruction Era was chaotic, to say the least, his efforts provided a framework for what would eventually be the integration of the slaves into the economy.

The Howard Theater - 1910
The Howard Theater was interesting to me in its own right.  While in Dental school in Milwaukee, I used to travel to Chicago on a fairly regular basis and made a particular point to visit a black jazz club in Southside Chicago, named, as I remember it, for one of the “L” transit stations, Cottage Grove.  As I remember, there was no cover charge and drinks were affordable, even to a student.  My now-wife, Mary and I were in the club one night when we saw a very young, and not yet famous, Nancy Wilson. For much less than we would later pay to see her at the Blue Note.

Mary and I felt naively safe walking the streets in the area and found ourselves once in a while wandering in to clubs just to see what was going on.  On one such occasion we found ourselves in a club where we were the only white faces in a crowd of jazz enthusiasts and dancers.  The manager suggested that we might want to have a quick drink and then find a safer place to visit.

Renovated Howard Theater
NPR said that one of the things that made The Howard unique was its policy of allowing children to attend for the price of fifty cents.  Not a bad deal to see the likes of Charley Parker, James Brown, Brooks Benton and Jackie Wilson.  The newly renovated Theater will hardly be able to match that, but will continue the policy of featuring big-name headliners from the Black community.

We’ll be going to DC this summer.  I hope we can squeeze in a visit to the Howard.

Keeping on a theme of music and Black culture, my next post will share with you a musical experience we had when we were in Atlanta, and why I was surprised at the choice a college group made in their repertoire.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Also Known As…

Aung San Suu Kyi
Myanmar has been in the news lately for several reasons, not the least of which is the recent election that signaled inroads to democracy by the election of Suu Kyi to their Parliament.  Suu Kyi had been under house arrest for more than a decade before being allowed to again be on the ballot and her election was a victory for her party and women in general.

But what bothers me about Myanmar is that in the news there invariably is a reference to “Myanmar, also known as Burma.”

My research provided some background, if not a clear explanation.  The name was changed by the country’s government in 1989, but that government was the result of a coup and the United States did not immediately recognize it.  In fact, until quite recently the U.S., in a pique of frustration because our banks and companies are forbidden from activity in the country, joined Great Britain and Australia in officially using the name Burma.

The British understandably preferred Burma, because it was they who named the country, choosing the dominant ethic majority, the Burmans, to establish their colonial power. Over the years her Asian neighbors, notable Japan, China and India, all accept Myanmar as the proper name, which causes friction and some confusion, especially now that the country is beginning to have a global presence.

So, my opinion is that we should get off our high horse and use the name preferred by the local residents.

Louis Prima had a hit tune in the 50s titled “It’s Istanbul, not Constantinople”.  Maybe we need a “Myanmar…” song.

I was reflecting on other alternative names, such as Prince, who in 1993 changed his artist name to “the love symbol”, and became the artist, formally known as Prince.  The symbol was a combination of the standard symbols for male and female.

Past sports figures, such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Mohammed Ali changed their names because of religious reasons and never were referred to as “also known as” or even “formerly known as”. Bob Dylan changed his name as many artists do, for reasons of personal preference.

A recent name change that baffles me is when Ron Artest legally changed his name to “Metta World Peace”.  Statement?  Perhaps a desire to shed his bad-boy image?  The sports world seems able to combine his stats without a decision from the Security Council.

All in all, I think the official position of the U.S. about Myanmar is a little foolish.  After all, The Bard really summed it up when he wrote, “What’s in a name?  A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

What we are inside and how we act are better definers of ourselves than what we are called or call ourselves.

In my next post I’ll recount some of the exploits of a Civil War General, whose name I knew, but whose story I did not.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Did You Know?

My wife, Mary serves as my clipping service for everything except the Wall Street Journal, where I return the favor.  She is one of those rare breeds who still reads two papers a day, Time magazine from cover to cover and similarly handles The New Yorker, to which we have a recurring subscription since it was first published.  In addition to the WSJ, I accumulate and eventually browse the Rolling Stone, to which I have subscribed almost from the first issue.

So, it was not unusual when she gave me a Parade Magazine and told me I would find an article interesting.  It was titled “Your Body Explained” and gave 16 examples of questions often asked about why our bodies act the way they do.  In one of those strange coincidences my WSJ also had a short article covering one question I had been curious about and found answered during my second bout with graduate school by an Anatomy Professor from Georgetown.

I found two of the 16 of particular interest:  “Why do we cry when cutting onions?’ and “Why do we get goose bumps when watching scary movies?” for different reasons.  A third, which peripherally found its way into the WSJ article, was interesting because it caused me to remember my quest as to “why do some people sneeze when they look at a light (or the sun)?”

One of my sister-in-laws writes a Blog that is an email letter to her rather large family and extended relatives and friends.  In a recent posting she mentioned that my brother-in-law tears when he cuts onions.  She had heard of some old-wife’s tale, which as I remember claimed that if you held your lip or your tongue you wouldn’t tear. It didn’t seem to work, which prompted Dave to think, "Maybe you have to hold it with both hands?” (This would probably prevent you from cutting the onion.)

I learned a trick at a cooking class that seems to have solved my onion-and-tears issue.  You peel the skin of the onion to a depth where you would use all that you cut.  Then slice through the top of the onion, stopping short of the base.  Then make a cut diagonal to the first, and then keep making cuts through the halves, then the quarters, then the eighths.  In large onions you might get to sixteenths.  Then turning the prepared onion on its side, you slice at right angles to your cuts, effectively making “chops” that are just the right size.  With a little experience you cut just deep enough for the cup or ½ cup called for in the recipe.

The scary movie goose bumps was interesting because I knew that cold caused the piloerection reflex that increases body surface to make you feel warmer.  But the reason for the reflex to kick in when you are frightened is the body’s reaction to fear, making you appear larger to that which frightens you, much as a cat will fluff its fur when it senses danger.

From an early age I remember being able to trigger a sneeze by looking at the sun.  My sister couldn’t do it, and took great joy in telling her it was something she could learn to do, if she were smarter.  Childish, true, but she could do one of those shrill whistles that will get you a cab on rainy days in Manhattan and I couldn’t.  She also could throw her leg over my head for several years after I reached my full height of 5’6”.

But I didn’t learn why I had that ability until eight years after I graduated from Dental School, when I was in a post-graduate program and in a class taught by the older Anatomy Professor from Georgetown.  He asked for questions and I asked for a solution to my puzzle.

“It has to do with the Vagal nerve and where the lacrimal duct empties into the nose.”  When man decided to stand up and walk some 1.5 million years ago his tears no longer benignly flowed from his eyes through his nose.  Instead, if his lacrimal gland emptied above the Vagal nerve, those tears would simulate the nerve and cause a sneeze reflex.  This placement is true for about half the American population. (I took his word for that, but it seemed true in my family.)

The only problem with that type of knowledge is it’s hard to fit into normal conversation.  Even the WSJ couched it with a vague comment that tears can stimulate a sneeze.

Next Post I’ll explain why I’m getting tired of “Myanmar, also known as Burma” and what I found about that…