27 April 2007

"Traditional Hindus" think kiss on the cheek is bad, but symbolic murder is OK

Richard Gere is in trouble.

What did he do? He kissed Indian actress Shilpa Shetty on the cheek while playing to the crowd at an AIDS awareness press conference.

Now several right-wing Hindu groups are up in arms about the breach of this conservative taboo. Several are burning effigies and there is now an arrest warrant out for Gere. I've even heard of some calling for Gere's death, but I haven't seen any reputable sources for that yet.
Let's put this in perspective: In the west, only the absolute craziest of people are offended by a public kiss on the cheek. Hell, most people think it's cute when children kiss each other on the cheek. But to a fundy religious type, such a thing requires at least a symbolic execution via burning effigies.

Sound reasonable? Let's compare:

Kiss on cheek?


Kiss on cheek?


See where I'm going with this? Holy flying hell is a mentally-balanced perspective required here. Hint: mentally-balanced is not found with the demented fuckwits of any religion.

This just goes to show that fundy lunacy is not just restricted to Christians and Muslims.

(Videos of the incident here)

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Excerpts of God is not Great

Via BigHeathenMike and OneGoodMove, here are excerpts of Chris Hitchens's new book God is not Great in Slate. I heard about this book before but never actually learned about what's in it. From a review on Amazon,
In the genre of athiest criticism of religion, Hitchens' book fills a niche. Where, for example, Bertrand Russel approaches religion with a philosophical mind, and Richard Dawkins approaches religion with a scientific mind, Hitchens approaches religion with a literary mind....And in this sense Hitchens has hit upon an angle to come at religion that is not usually trodden: popular religion, unlike great literature, resists the tragic, the ambiguous, and the particular. Thus if you love literature, and identify with frail humanity via literature, you will resist the easy platitudes of religion.
I'm not really one of a literary mind (I only grudgingly took the madatory English credits in high school), so getting the Dawkins book is higher on my priorities list, but it looks interesting.

One other thing, the subtitle of this book is How Religion Poisons Everything. Some have pointed out that this is unnecessarily sweeping, much like Dawkins's documentary The Root of All Evil. Maybe. It sure poisons many things. One thing is for certain: the cover of this book is poisoned. Seriously, gaudy orange background and tacky fonts? What were they thinking?

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23 April 2007

Boris Yeltsin is dead

CBC has the story.

I'll miss the rumours of hard drinking during official business and the assumptions that he died a long time ago after the 5 heart attacks he suffered while president.


20 April 2007

Earth Day

April 22 is Earth Day.

I remember back in university when I was on the solar vehicle team (big nerd, I know) and we were invited to bring the car to an Earth Day conference in Ottawa hosted by David Suzuki. I'd never been to one of these conference things before and I was in for a bit of a culture shock. Everything was so rude and artificial: the expensive yet still cheap backdrops, the introductions to people you don't care about (which I have since learned is important networking for those not in 1st year university), and especially the press conference. The press conference was David Suzuki and a bunch of colleagues sitting at the front and a small horde of "journalists" trying to get the right photo, the right sound bite, the right hook for a story. All the while, they didn't pay attention to what was being said, they talked (quite loudly) amongst themselves, had cell phones going off all over the place, etc. It was all very discouraging.

As for us, we set up our car next to the first model years of the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius available in Canada.

The cool thing is, I got to actually meet David Suzuki. Not only that, we got him to sit down in the solar car then closed the top shell on top of him, confining him in the car against his will. I can attest that he's not too comfortable in confined spaces.

The bad thing is, I had my physics final the next day. To get to the conference on time with the car, we had to leave at 5:00 am; we didn't get back until 1:00am. My exam was at 9:00am the next day. So David Suzuki is responsible for my physics mark dropping from about a 90 to an 82.

So where was I going with this? Oh yeah:

There are way too many cigarette butts at the waterfront park near where I work.

As an Earth Day initiative, my company instituted an initiative to clean up the waterfront. For once, the weather was good: nice and sunny and not too windy. Even though I wasn't late, they ran out of the company promotional t-shirts they were giving out. Crappy, that. They also gave us latex gloves and giant garbage bags. At the waterfront, the garbage is 99% cigarette butts. People park there and smoke, then chuck their butts out the window as they leave. It's revolting. A group of us worked a small area for an hour and it was very depressing; we'd go over the area, look back, and it was as if the cigarette butts were regrowing faster than we could pick them up.

Other people walking the sides of road picked up much more interesting stuff, like old rotted-out car parts and degraded pool covers. They had to wear safety vests and look like fools though.

I'd like to think we did our part for the environment, but probably the impact of our garbage bags offset the impact of the stuff we cleaned up; however, the waterfront looks a lot nicer now, and that's good too.

So is anyone else doing something for Earth Day?

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19 April 2007

So cold

In the engineering program at my old university, there is a mandatory course on engineering drawing. Of course there's a CAD component, but mainly it teaches 3-D visualizing, and mostly we drew stuff by hand. Not only that, but they taught us how to draw straight lines freehand; no rulers were allowed. At the time, I was so good that I was accused of using a straight edge when really I hadn't.

Of course, none of that is doable when it's 3 degrees Celsius with powerful gusting winds, you're up 80 ft in the air on a steel tower, your hands are frozen, and, not only is your paper blowing all over the place, but your paper is soaked all the way through because it's snowing. In the middle of April.

On Monday, me and our company's senior steel engineer went to this aggregate processing plant (aggregate in this case meaning the sand and gravel that help make up concrete), an example of which is shown to the right (but this is not the one we went to). Of course, we weren't expecting the weather to be that bad. Also making matters worse, I wasn't exactly told where we were going and was under the impression that we were going to someplace indoors, rather than 80 ft up in the air on an exposed tower.

So after almost getting hypothermia and being left with near illegible notes, it is now Thursday and the weather is great. It's warm (relatively), sunny, and not very windy. The lesson here? No more outdoor site visits with that steel engineer.

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17 April 2007

Massacre in Virginia

By now, everybody has heard of the horrible shootings at Virginia Tech. Not sure why, but this is the second major massacre of students at an engineering building, following the Montreal shootings (to my knowledge). New reports say the shooter, Cho Seung-Hui, was not actually an engineer; he was an English student.

I have no idea why he would target the engineering building. Maybe coincidence? It's horrible enough that he killed 32 innocent people, but that so many of the victims were engineering students and professors brings it a little closer to home for me.

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15 April 2007

Surviving Oral Surgery for Dummies

I promised I would tell all about my wisdom teeth extraction, at least for the purpose of scaring Carlo, who's getting his out soon and apparently has a weird jaw that will make things difficult (sorry bud, that's gonna hurt). I needed 3 teeth out: two bottom and one top. The other top tooth had never formed fully, so it could be ignored.

My surgery was scheduled for 8:00am two Fridays ago. Apparently this is a typical time for wisdom teeth removal because it gives people the whole weekend to recover, hence I would only need to take one day off work. Too bad, I wanted a vacation. 8:00 is preferable because I was told not to eat or drink anything for 8 or 12 hours before the surgery - they gave me a handout that said 8, but the oral surgeon said 12 - so being able to just sleep instead of going hungry was a great thing. As for the 8 vs 12 hours, I decided on a comprimise: I would stop eating 12 hours before but I would drink until 8 hours before. I don't know if that was the best idea but I suffered no ill effects. Anyway, Thursday night we went to East Side Mario's and ate entirely too much, so I'm sure there was still food in my stomach the next morning anyway.

Friday morning my wife and I miraculously managed to get there on time (miraculous because we're usually late for everything). We noticed that all the hygenists and assistants were young women who wore those funny 'Crocs' rubber shoes. My wife hypothesized that the dentist hired them all for fornication purposes. I had no comment except that their shoes looked funny.

They noticed I was sneezing and I had to convince them that I always sneeze in the morning and that I didn't have a head cold. They take the "no surgery if you're sick" thing very seriously. I had to postpone my surgery already this year because of the bronchitis I picked up over Christmas.

About 20 minutes late, the assistants finally brought me in to prep me. Quickly they attached three heart monitors to my chest and clamped an O2 sensor on my finger. I felt like I was in an episode of ER with all the monitors and the beeping and stuff. That is not reassuring. Then they placed the nitrous oxide mask over my nose, which they had to swap because of my apparently gigantic proboscis. Ego bruising aside, they told me to breathe deeply and that I should feel tingling in my lower extremities and feel lightheaded. I felt not one damn thing, so they jacked up the gas. Then I could really feel it. While conversing with them and trying to keep my demeanor light and stress-free, I realized that I was starting to giggle at my own jokes. I never do that (the gas is good stuff). I told them if they wanted me to stay serious, they needed to turn down the gas a bit. She finished by sticking an IV in my hand. She wasn't good at it.

Finally, the oral surgeon showed up. After giving everything a once over, he said he was going to start the sedation and that it should take effect within 20 seconds. 15 seconds later I was out.

I awoke groggily in what I later learned was the recovery room. My wife was there and I learned that I had sort of woke up a couple of times already, allegedly claiming that I was alright and ready to leave now. I did not remember saying such things, but I'll take her word on it; I was pretty groggy. I asked her what time it was, she said, "9:20." I said, "Oh. [pause] What was that?" "9:20." "Ok. [pause] Sorry, what time did you say?" "9:20." "Hmmm. I know I just asked and you told me what time it is, but I can't remember. What time is it again?" "9:20." "[pause] I'm not getting it at all. Can you just show me your watch?" Wife shows me watch. "Oohh. 9:20. Got it."

They were very nice and gave me a juice and some instructions for tooth care. Drinking the juice was a challenge because my bottom lip was still frozen from the anesthetic, so basically I had to push my lower lip down and properly position everything by feel before I took a sip. Regardless, I still had a drinking problem apparent on my shirt.

After coming-to, I was still pretty druggy, kind like being drunk in that my talking inhibitions were low. I asked one of the assistants why they were all wearing those Crocs (Which I think are tacky, btw. As an aside, I was in Kingston last summer and saw Kirk Muller walking down the street wearing a bright orange pair of them.) Turned out it was a peer pressure thing and she didn't really like wearing them.

I did in fact manage to get back on my feet pretty quickly, and we drove off to get a big container of Tylenol 3 and antibiotics, both of which I've had to take religiously ever since (well, for a week, anyway).

We got back to our apartment and I realized I was very hungry. My wife offered to get me some broth to eat, since I likely wasn't ready for anything solid yet, but instead of quickly making it for me, she instead grabbed the digital camera and started filming me all drugged up and drooling. I started snapping at her to stop it, and she started antagonizing me more, filming me as a flailed at her hazily in vain. She later passed this video on to many of her friends and sisters to embarass me.

After what seemed like an eternity of torture, she finally stopped filming and brought me the soup. Halfway through, and I'm not sure if it was from the anesthetic wearing off or some reaction between the drugs I just took and the broth, I suddenly got very sick feeling and had to go regurgitate out all the broth I just ate. That was fun.

It was soon after that I started noticing the throbbing, aching pain where my teeth used to be. As the drugs wore off more and more, I could feel the pain growing and spreading into the surrounding jaw and even into my front teeth. This is where the Tylenol 3s come in handy. I was to figure out that I do pretty well with T3s, whereas some people I know get very groggy and unpleasant feeling. I was slightly muddy in the head over the weekend, but since I was just sitting on the couch the whole time, it didn't really bother me.

The worst day for pain and swelling is apparently the 3rd day. For me, that was Sunday, and I did notice that it hurt more. However, I was really fortunate in that my face didn't swell up in any significant way. Other than looking miserable, no one could tell that something was amiss.

My diet over the weekend consisted of: pea soup, ice cream, jello, and pudding on Friday; beef and barley soup, mashed potatoes, creamed corn, ice cream, bananas, jello, and pudding on Saturday; and finally peas, more mashed potatoes, ice cream, bananas, pudding, and jello on Sunday. Actually, that's not quite true: on Saturday, I snapped from lack of crunchy food and broke into a bag of all-dressed Ruffles. To my surprise, with care, I could actually eat them ok. Without care, I jabbed a sharp shard of chip right down the gaping hole where my tooth was. I wouldn't recommend doing that, either.

You know the bad thing about eating a lot of ice cream, pudding, etc? You don't feel full ever, so you just keep eating. I actually found that, despite not being able to eat solid food, I actually gained weight the week after the surgery. (Carlo: I just noticed on your blog that you're lactose intolerant. You probably won't gain weight then, but you might starve to death).

During the whole weekend, I had to ice my jaw. 15 minutes on, 15 minutes off. This was especially critical after eating, as my gums would get painful and inflammed. This was nice, as it helped ease the pain a bit. I actually had two ice packs which I rotated; however, on Saturday, my wife left for a badminton tournament and took one of my ice packs with her, leaving me with a lukewarm bag of mush most of the time. Hence, I ate more ice cream to make up for it. Later, my dad (retired dentist) told me that once it no longer hurts too much, you have to start heating your jaw instead of freezing it. This is supposed to increase bloodflow and speed healing. I started doing that on Monday.

Speaking of Monday, that was my first day back at work. Man, is it hard to concentrate on work when you're taking T3s every 4 hours. I wasn't productive at all. I mentioned how crappy it was here. I actually did drive home from work once after taking a T3 and it was not good. Don't do that.

However, by then I could eat solid food. By Wednesday, I was done my antibiotics and had switched to regular Tylenol instead of T3s. By Friday, I was fine, just in time to eat for Yeaster (adopting Carlo's term for it).

Tuesday I had my follow-up appointment with the oral surgeon. He said everything was proceeding as it should. He also gave me this handy syringe for spraying water to get food out of the big gaping holes in the back of my mouth. First time I used it, a big chunk o' stuff came out. Nice. I've also accidentally squirted myself in the chest and groin, as well as spraying water all over the bathroom randomly. The syringe is pretty sensitive; the slightest pressure shoots water out like a needle-fine super soaker. Surprisingly, I have been good and haven't sprayed my wife with it yet. I emphasize: yet.

So that's it. It feels a little bit weird missing those back teeth but it means flossing doesn't take so long anymore. The surgery and aftermath weren't pleasant but all went as well as could be expected and, thanks to ice cream and Tylenol 3, it wasn't unbearable.

Speaking of Tylenol 3, I still have two tablets left over. Any suggestions?

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10 April 2007

Meme Attack: Why I Blog

I thought I could evade the bastard for a little while longer, but I've been memed by TehBrummell over at BrummellBlog. This one has a well-traced pedigree, shown here, if you're interested in how these things spread. Anyhoo, the topic of this meme is "Why do I blog?" and the form is supposed to be a list. TheBrummell already nails down a lot of my reasons, and I suppose many of us more casual bloggers have similar reasons.

- I was a grad student for a couple of years and found myself developing substantial writing skills, the fruits of which included two journal papers, three conference papers (I think), two posters, an award-winning presentation (heh, I won $500), and a big honkin' thesis. Fast forward a year later and I'm working as an engineer-in-training; the only thing I write is the occasional report for a client. Can you say boring and sterile? Also given that it was about 6 months before I was experienced enough to even talk to a client, I suffered from a drought of writing that threatened to flush my skills down the crapper all the way to the sewage treatment plant I was designing.

- I also occasionally do have something to say on other blogs, and if those get too big, it's nice to be able to put them someplace of your own to (a) not crowd someone else's blog, and (b) take all the juicy credit for it.

- Since getting married to my lovely wife, I've had the misfortune of being subject to a steady flow of religious nonsense that I feel I must belittle at all times. It started with the crappy church music, then a hook 'em while they're young church summer camp, then a P.o.S. intelligent design book (The Case for a Creator by Lee Strobel) that my wife wanted me to read. I actually wanted to write a comprehensive kick in the nuts of Case for a Creator, but I got part way and haven't gotten around to finishing it. Ah, procrastination.

- Speaking of that, procrastination is a good one, too. On days where I think I can get away with it, I blog to procrastinate at the office. No bridges being designed today.

- I wanted to write about my own experiences, mainly just to share, feel a sense of community, etc. with like-minded bloggers around the world. Of course, it turns out that most of the people who read my blog regularly are in southern Ontario. Go figure.

...and finally,

- This blog serves as a depository of all those stupid internet quizzes and blog memes, like this one.

Finished. I think I'm gonna tag BigHeathenMike, Mel at Aesahaettr, Matt at Pooflingers Anonymous, The Anonymous Coward, and Rev. Big Dumb Chimp.


The French have it right

A little link love for Stew on A Night on the Tiles, who shows the results of a recent poll in France where Catholicism is falling by the wayside. While 59% are Catholic, most are only culturally so, with only 38% of french people stating that they believe in God. If only I weren't a unilingual anglophone.

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Announcing the Humanist Symposium

Ebonmuse over at Daylight Atheism has just announced the formation of a new blog carnival called the Humanist Symposium:
Like the CotG, this carnival will showcase some of the best non-religious writing out there. However, this one will have a slightly different emphasis. Rather than general posts on atheism and religion, the purpose of the Humanist Symposium will be specifically to defend and uphold atheism as a positive worldview of morality, reason and purpose, a desirable and attractive alternative to belief systems based on religion.
Sounds like a great idea to me. I know that most of my godless writing boils down to "religious people are stupid and pissing me off" and that many (most?) of us atheist bloggers are the same way, so this could be just the thing that kicks us in the seat of the pants and makes us start to think more positively and creatively.

So spread the good news! A new carnival is in town.

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09 April 2007

Relative sizes of 88 largest objects in the solar system

Found this by way of Cosmic Variance: it's a figure of the 88 largest objects in the solar system. I know I've come down on the Pluto issue before: I argued for the anti-Pluto view that the IAU eventually adopted (it's so rare for me to actually be on the winning side of anything). This picture shows were Pluto and other large but not large objects fall. I still stand by my original view, but this picture does show that coming up with a hard cutoff point is very, very difficult at best; it's almost a smooth gradation of diameters from Earth downward, though between Mars and Eris, Pluto, etc are quite a few large moons.

At the very least, it's a pretty picture.

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Wisdom Teeth

I know I promised Carlo a post about the joys (none) and sorrows (plenty) of wisdom teeth removal based on my experience over the past week, but I'm going to postpone that until tomorrow. Tomorrow is my follow-up appointment with the oral surgeon to make sure everything is okay, so I don't want to write a post concluding "and everything is okay now," only to follow-up the next day with a post saying "my oral surgeon says something has gone horribly wrong and now he has to amputate my lower jaw."

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Not sure what this means, but since the morning of Easter Sunday, I've already seen two bunnies squished dead on the road.

I will drown my dead bunny-related sorrows by eating one of their chocolate brethren.

The Easter Sunday church service my wife dragged me to was not that interesting in that it was very similar to any other service and that I almost fell asleep several times. The only real difference was that they had baptisms afterward, which is apparently a common tradition for the Easter service. My wife looks forward to these because she finds them to be uplifting stories that reassure her faith. I was looking forward to them because I want to hear some of the crazy twisted thinking some of these people display (like the stereotypical "God sent a deer through my car windshield but he was with me protecting me so I escaped with only serious injuries, hallelujah! I believe!" - which I've actually heard). Alas, this church was right next to the university, so all 4 baptism candidates were just 1st or 2nd year students who had always been mildly religious and had just decided to get more serious. Better luck next time.


05 April 2007

Happy Easter!

Back in highschool (remember I went to a Catholic highschool), the homerooms had competitions around Easter to decorate their doors, the winners getting a prize of some sort. There were two categories: religious (Jesus) and non (Easter Bunny). We couldn't decide which to enter, so a number of us suggested that we crucify the Easter Bunny. Unfortunately, the teacher said, "We are not going to crucify the Easter Bunny," and that was that.

Of course, we wanted it to be a whole lot bloodier than the happy fella in the picture. Mel Gibson bloody.

(photo credit)

Anyway, have a happy Easter (still pissed-off that my wife gets Monday off and I don't) doing whatever it is you do. I will likely be dragged to church on Sunday (ugh). I'll have a long post documenting my wisdom teeth experience when I get back.

In the meantime, remember that Easter is the only time when it's appropriate to accept chocolate from the backsides of rabbits. All other times of the year it's a bad idea.

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What to call ourselves?

There has been a lot of debate one many of the prominent atheist blogs (Friendly Atheist and Pharyngula) about what atheists, specifically the louder Dawkins types, should be calling ourselves. Personally, I have no problem with 'atheist' since most of what we talk about is purely anti-religion. At least that's what I do. For the louder atheists, 'fundamentalist atheist' makes no sense, though 'atheist extremist' or 'militant atheist' would be possible for those who are trying to oppress religious people or blow them up, respectively; I've just never heard of either of these in practice. PZ likes 'uppity atheist'.

On Pharyngula, Hank Fox weighs in on the topic and explains quite well where most of us atheists are coming from, and the shortcomings of the 'atheist' label:
This is an echo of something I posted recently over at Unscrewing the Inscrutable - a few new thoughts I had on the subject.

Say you're talking about slavery, there are two ways you can look at it. You can see it as a social phenomenon, or you can see it as a personal condition.

In SOCIAL terms, the opposite of slavery is anti-slavery.

But in PERSONAL terms, the opposite of slavery is freedom.

A man freed from slavery is not just a non-slave. He's a FREE MAN. The one implies a restrictive, walled-in life determined by the will of someone else. The other implies not just a non-slave, but a person faced with infinite possibility, someone who can do anything HE likes with his life. Slavery is a small box; freedom is the universe of self-determined choices outside it.

Likewise with religion, you can see it as a social phenomenon, or as a personal condition.

In social terms, the opposite of religion can be called atheism. But in personal terms, the opposite of religion is, again, freedom. Freedom of thought, freedom of choice, freedom of ... everything.

Just like slavery, religion is a small box. Freeing yourself from that box presents you with infinite possibilities.

Because they're the words most people know, I'll probably still use the terms "atheism" and "atheist" to describe myself and my non-theistic beliefs. But I'm gonna try more often to also define myself and my fellow atheists in these grander terms: We're free men. Free women. Free thinkers. Free selves. With all the universe of self-willed choices, thoughts and possibilities that implies.
Good food for thought, that is.

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03 April 2007

We are the Engineers...

And at PZ's blog, engineers are the topic of the day.

First, a bunch of us (and some medical professionals, plus a few misguided science types who appear to have not read the instructions that the post was directed at engineers and doctors) invaded the comments of a post to proclaim our support of science and denounce our high-profile creationist breathren. Whoohoo, I'm the 2nd guy on the list.

Second, here's a link to arguably the worst engineer in a galaxy far, far away.

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02 April 2007

I choose to be pleasured

I found this quiz via TheBrummell.

You scored as Existentialism. Your life is guided by the concept of Existentialism: You choose the meaning and purpose of your life.

“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.”

“It is up to you to give [life] a meaning.”

--Jean-Paul Sartre

“It is man's natural sickness to believe that he possesses the Truth.”

--Blaise Pascal

More info at Arocoun's Wikipedia User Page...







Justice (Fairness)




Strong Egoism






Divine Command


What philosophy do you follow? (v1.03)
created with QuizFarm.com


The recovery process

I'll talk about the actual wisdom teeth surgery later (it was pretty good, actually), but right now I want to talk about right now. I felt well enough to go to work today but I have figured out that actually working is a whole lot different than sitting on the couch watching the Leafs lose. First of all, the Tylenol has started to kick in and my brain is all over the place. I can barely concentrate on anything, my reading comprehension is almost nil, and my memory is nonexistent. Secondly, without my ice packs, I notice my jaw hurting a bit more. It's not too bad thanks to the drugs, but it's not great either. I'm kinda dizzy and tired though, and I can certainly see why you wouldn't want to drive a car. Definitely not taking a Tylenol at lunch if my head is still swimming by then; I want to be able to drive home safe even if it means my jaw hurting a little bit more.

I got a long email from a client today in response to a request for information I sent last week. I cannot understand a word of it, even though it is in plain English. I will ignore it until at least tomorrow. I have to do some calcs for a retaining wall yet I can barely figure out how to use my software, which I have used hundreds of times.

And now my stomach is really starting to hurt. I don't know why. Maybe it's the drugs. But it's unpleasant - in that John Hurt in Alien kind of way.

I shoulda stayed in bed.

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