Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mom has entered her "final days"

My sister telephoned; Mom has entered her "final days". Over the weekend Mom went into a deep sleep and could not be roused. The nursing staff predicts that she will pass within a week.

Mom has been on a long slow decline for ten years. She hasn't known my name for the last four years and she hasn't even recognized me the last two years.

I've already said my goodbyes and let go of her. That flesh is not my mother. I will feel relieved when it is all over.

Monday, September 29, 2008

One week smoke free

Today is my one week anniversary of being smoke free. I really miss smoking, not because of any nicotine addiction, I miss the physical act of smoking. I miss the cigarette in my hand, miss taking a long deep drag, the warm smoke filling my lungs, and slowly exhaling it out my nose. I miss it most in the morning with my first cup of coffee, and I miss it after dinner.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

I believe in lawn ornaments

I was listening to the Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast a few days ago. As I listened, I became increasingly annoyed by their repeated misuse of the word "belief". This isn't the first time I've heard the word misused; I've heard it misused on the Point of Inquiry podcast and the Skepticality podcast too. These podcasts frequently refer to belief as "Woo Woo". They either don't know what the words "believe", "belief" and "believing" mean or they are intentionally abusing the word as a form of ridicule - the same way conservatives abuse the words "liberal" and "elite". In both cases I find the abuse of these word very annoying. Belief, knowledge, faith and religion are all different things, they are not synonyms, they can not be used interchangeably.

My beliefs are what I accept or assume to be true about the world. Beliefs are not restricted to supernatural, religious or theological questions; beliefs cover the entire spectrum of what the holder of the beliefs assumes to be true. I believe the sun will rise again in the morning. I believe all politicians are dishonest. I believe the scientific method is the best way to discover knowledge. I believe I saw Elvis in the parking lot. A belief is what the person holding the belief assumes to be true about themselves, others, life, the universe and everything. A believer is someone who has a belief about something and believing is the act of having a belief. Everyone, unless they are incapacitated, has beliefs about life and the world. An atheist may belief the sun will rise again in the morning, or even believe that Elvis lives, but principally an atheist believes there is no such thing as God, but they are still beliefs.

Knowledge is also a belief but not all beliefs are knowledge. Knowledge about something is when the belief about it has been probed, tested, vetted and confirmed (it may be more accurate to say "upheld".) Knowledge is a vetted belief. It is belief first, knowledge second. Unfortunately, there can be a lot of problems in the vetting process. There can be problems in the methodology used in the vetting process and problems with interpreting the findings. A common problem occurs in putting forward a belief for vetting in a testable form. To be probed, tested, vetted and confirmed, a belief needs to be put forward in the form of a "falsifiable hypothesis". The belief "Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit." is testable, but the belief "I know in my heart that Jesus saves." is not testable. This places constraints on the kinds of beliefs that can be vetted into knowledge.

The Skeptics Guide to the Universe and the Skepticality podcasts are not about the Philosophy of Skepticism. They focus primarily on debunking charlatans, frauds, hoaxers and pseudo-science (fake science,) hence the beliefs being addressing are about psychic-healing, homeopathy, astrology, ghosts, Big Foot, Creationism and Intelligent Design - none of which have any basis in science. Labeling such beliefs as "Woo Woo" is accurate however it is inaccurate to label all belief as "Woo Woo". Even skeptics have beliefs.

It is wise to approach beliefs and knowledge in a questioning way rather than a credulous unquestioning way. I don't find any reason to be fearful of knowledge. All knowledge, and therefore belief, is tentative. Knowledge and their underlying beliefs must be discarded or revised when new information shows them to be obsolete. I believe that reason, critical thinking, the scientific method and a degree of skepticism have the greatest promise for vetting beliefs into knowledge and filtering out obsolete beliefs.

Disclaimer: It is a fact that I have opinions however my opinions may not all be factual.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A declaration of War

In an earlier post I expressed some concern that something might be interfering with my ability to make decisions. I decided that I should see my doctor and get a checkup. During my checkup I got the highest blood pressure reading I've ever had: 154/100. My BP is typically 125/68 - 135/78. It has never been this high before. The 154/100 reading (and they took it twice) puts me into the "Stage 1" hypertension category. I've never heard of a "pre-hypertension" category before, but apparently systolic reading between 120 and 140 or diastolic readings between 80 and 90 are considered "pre-hypertension". Normal readings should be below 120/80.

I've had high cholesterol for a long time; I take a prescription medication to control it. My triglycerides are way too high too; my doctor recommended taking a Niacin supplement to help lower the triglycerides but even the slow Niacin gives me headaches. I've been obese my entire life. I've been 80 pounds overweight for at least 30 years. Even worse, I've smoked a pack-a-day for 35 years.

The bottom line: it's past time to make real life-style changes. This is all out War!
  • Effective immediately I will walk briskly for 20 minutes every day.
  • I will discontinue smoking on Tuesday September 23, 2008.
I will have to make some dietary changes and cut down on the amount of caffeine (namely coffee) too. The coffee and diet can be done a little more slowly and in steps. The stop smoking and daily exercise are big changes that will be difficult for me to sustain.

I found the best information on these subjects on the Mayo Clinic web site. Their site is well organized and very well presented.

High blood pressure (hypertension)
10 ways to control high blood pressure without medication
Quit smoking: Practical strategies for success
20 ways to cope with nicotine cravings

It's been a couple of months since I posted pictures of the garden. Well, it isn't actually "my" garden; it's a flower garden in a small park not far from my apartment. It's in its full glory now.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Does humidity affect judgment?

I just turned another year dumber and I'm becoming concerned about my ability to make good decisions. I thought judgment improved with age but apparently that isn't always the case. I've demonstrated some poor judgment recently.

The most recent example of poor judgment occurred on Friday. There was a 50% chance of rain on Thursday with a 70% change of rain Thursday night. The rain was expected to last through noon Friday. It started raining shortly after I got home Thursday night and it rained all night. When I got ready for work Friday morning, I looked outside and observed that it was very cloudy and cool, the street was all wet, water was standing in the gutters, and there was a very light drizzle falling. My thinking went like this:
  • It rained all night.
  • It's raining now.
  • I probably should take the car today.
  • I want to ride the motorcycle as much as possible.
  • I'll get wet walking out to the car.
  • I might loose my parking space.
  • It doesn't look like it's raining very hard.
  • I shouldn't be afraid of a little rain.
  • I'll ride the motorcycle.
My thinking did NOT include the following:
  • The forecast calls for rain through noon today.
  • This is just a lull in the storm.
  • There will be standing water in the streets.
  • I'll get splashed by cars.
  • Everyones visibility will be reduced.
  • It will be slick in places.
  • There will be debris and gravel in the street.
  • I don't have rain gear.
  • I'll get wet and cold.
  • I'll need a change of closes (including shoes.)
  • I will take the car.
Good judgment is the ability to fairly assess the available information, understand the potential consequences, being able to predict the possible outcomes, and reach a sensible decision.

As a result of my failure to fairly and accurately assess the situation I made a poor decision and incurred the consequences, such as they were, of my poor judgment. Everything was fine for the first couple of blocks but then the rain picked up again. I even thought about turning back but decided to press on. I was getting rained on and splashed on and was dodging puddles. I had to open my visor just to see! By the time I got to work my shoes, socks and pants were soaked all the way through - and I didn't have anything to change into.

I was fortunate that was the extent of the consequences of my actions. It could have been worse. With poor visibility and wet streets I could have hit someone or been hit by them. I could have stopped on a slick spot and fallen over, or I could have hit a pothole hidden under a puddle and been thrown off. I was lucky all that happened was that I got soaking wet and cold. I also got some mild chastising from some people at work.

If I'm having difficulty making sound decisions then something must be clouding my judgment. What could it be? I know that physical health, drugs and alcohol, mental health, and fatigue can all affect judgment. I'm in reasonably good health, I don't do drugs and I only have one beer every 3 months, I'm not talking to any six foot tall invisible white rabbits, and I'm sleeping alright. Maybe something else is affecting my judgment.

Impatience and over confidence also affect judgment. Impatience can short-circuit the whole decision making process by ignoring important facts and potential consequences. Over confidence leads to over estimating skills and abilities, and under estimating risks.

I think I found the problem. I was impatient. I was annoyed by the rain. I wanted to ride my motorcycle and I was confident in my abilities. I ignored many of the facts and underestimated many of the risks.

I shouldn't be so hard on myself. I make as many good decisions as I do poor ones. I suspect that is true for most people. If you're not making mistakes its only because you aren't doing anything (or you're dead.)

I need to be more cognizant of the fact that my skills and reflexes aren't what they use to be, and my physical stamina is waning. If I slow down and be more deliberative when making decisions, and pay more attention to things that may skew my thinking (impatience, over confidence, etc.), I can make more good decisions than poor ones.

I should make an appointment with the Doctor for a Physical exam too.

See also:
I am so embarrassed
My First Ride
I buy a motorcycle and it starts raining! (updated)
Motorcycle gear shift sequence
Basic Motorcycle Rider Course

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

I am so embarrassed

Listen! I am so embarrassed! Well, actually I'm mad at myself. I managed to drop my motorcycle this evening coming into the underground parking garage at the apartment. SOON OFF AH BEACH! It was totally avoidable - completely the result of a really stupid mistake on my part. I've never liked the entrance to the garage. You have to go up/down a steep ramp going in/out, make a 90 degree turn inside the garage, vehicles going in/out use the same door and ramp, a vehicle at the top of the ramp coming in can't see a vehicle inside the garage coming out, and the top of the ramp is at a blind intersection on a 1-way street. This evening I stopped at the top of the ramp and opened the garage door and started down the ramp. I was going real slow down the ramp. I started to turn just as the front wheel was inside the door. That's when I dropped the bike. I tried to wrestle with it for a few seconds before realizing I had lost the fight. I said something about the sun and the beach, very loudly, more than once, then came to my senses and hit the kill switch. By that time the bike was down and gas was leaking out of the tank. It was laying on its right side. I was afraid the garage door was going to come down but it must have a sensor that detected something was under the door. I positioned myself on the right side of the bike with my back to the bike, squat down, grabbed hold of the right grip with my left hand, grabbed hold of the frame under the back wheel with my right hand, and pushed up with my legs. It wasn't that hard. It would have been harder if I wasn't on solid ground. Fortunately this happened at a dead slow, almost stopped speed, but I did a quick check for damage. The handle bar was still straight, the break lever wasn't bent or broken, the gas had stopped leaking, no damage to the radiator and nothing dangling down, so I got back on, started it back up and drove it to my parking space. My big mistake was to pull the clutch in half way down the ramp and coast the rest of the way. I was still coasting, dead slow, when I started the turn just inside the door. I think I hit the front break too. No power to the rear wheel and breaking while the bike was leaned over was enough to cause me to drop it. How embarrassing (maddening!) At least it happened at home instead of a more public place, at a dead slow speed, and there wasn't any damage. And, now I know that I can pick it up. Lessons learned: Always keep power to the rear wheel during a turn; never clutch or coast through a turn. Never use the break while the bike is leaned over; straighten the bike up before breaking. Don't look at the front tire; look at where you want the bike to go. See also: Does humidity affect judgment? My First Ride I buy a motorcycle and it starts raining! (updated) Motorcycle gear shift sequence Basic Motorcycle Rider Course

Monday, September 01, 2008

Cruising the park

I went for a ride to Red Rocks Park where the Red Rocks Amphitheater is. It was a pleasant easy ride.

I drove out on Alameda Avenue because I wanted to drive over Dinosaur Ridge at the south end of Dinosaur open space park but when I got there the road was barricaded and was only open to hikers. I found my way into Golden and took State Highway 26 south to Red Rocks Park.

I've been reading "Proficient Motorcycling" by David L. Hough so was paying a lot more attention to how I make my turns, take curves and to other traffic. In addition to my helmet I also wore boots and my riding jacket.

There were a lot of other people in the park too. I almost didn't stop but then I remembered that I had my little camera with me so I pulled over and snapped a few photos. I asked someone if there was an activity in the amphitheater but he confirmed my suspicion that we were all out sightseeing. I didn't go into the amphitheater.

After I left the park I continued south to the little community of Morrison then followed Morrison Road into Lakewood and Denver. I made my daily "sweep" of Cheesman Park (he says with a "wink and a nod") before returning home.

(slideshow doesn't work on iPad)