Saturday, December 29, 2012

Tank Updates: Pining Mongkut Edition

I've been in fish-mode for about 36 hours now, between setting up a new little tank and doing my maintenance  chemistry, and tinkering with the pair of them.

A few days ago, though, I noticed something that made me very happy in Mongkut's tank. That little mound right there, in that photo, is a bubble nest. Male bettas (and Gouramis, for that matter) construct such a thing when they're looking for a mate, which they only do when they're in a relatively good mood, and they know that their habitat is ideal for breeding. In a way, it's his little thank-you note for taking care of him, and I'm pleased to see it constructed so well given that the tank is somewhat overfiltered.

I was less pleased to see that my Hygrophila has died back completely - adding the water after the water change this morning actually tore the rotting plant to bits. I'm glad to have it out of there, but I'm less glad to not have a hygro, as I need more of it now and nobody in town has it.

One more small matter...
Grrr. Such is life and death in the fish business. Better dead plants than dead fish I suppose.

There's also the small matter of a new tank that I've acquired through wit, guile, cunning, manipulative bartering, and shameless reliance on corporate discounts. This tank here is 55 US Gallons. It weighs as much as three men (somewhat less than my refrigerator, when filled) and I could likely lie on my side inside it with my knees tucked up by my chest... but probably not. The whole tank, with its stand and everything else I needed, cost me, taxes in, only ten dollars more than a regular person would have paid for just the tank, lid, and lights itself. For now, the tank's just settling - I took a good long time filling it to assure myself it's secure and leak proof, and now I want the filter to get good and grungy on liquid ammonia. I've added tropical extracts and plant-gro in preparation for planting the tank, which should come later next week. Some careful testing and monitoring, and I think I'll have a cycled tank, ready to stock, before february.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas, Rest, and Due Diligence

There's a halfway decent chance
this Alexandrine will
outlive you.
It's the day before Christmas, and I'm up at half past six getting ready to go to work.

Partly due to the fact that I'm pretty much inoculated against it these days, I'm used to having to work on and around Christmas Day, and I don't really have a problem with it. Whether I'm selling or cooking, this is simply the best time of year to ply my trades, and it would be silly to rail against that.

I am, however, growing tired, and I think all of us are. I know many people out there are thinking of getting pets for people for Christmas, and I wish you all would stop and think about the situation a little more clearly.

A pet is a serious responsibility. You're adopting a life, often a longer-lived one than you think, and giving it to someone else to care for. I don't really have a problem with pets as a family gift so long as the giver is willing to assume responsibility in the event the recipient cannot or will not. There's nothing wrong with a whole family adopting something like an Alexandrine, a Lorikeet, or a dog.

Where I get temperamental is when people give pets as gifts to, say, small children, and expect the children to take perfect care of them. They won't. They might try, sure, and an unusually responsible 12 year old might even do the research on how to care for a pet. But on average, I just can't trust any of your children to do that when you yourselves won't.

There are plenty of pets that this is especially pronounced for: every breed/strain of goldfish I know of exceeds six inches (often dramatically) in length and has a lifespan potentially measured in decades rather than single years - that's right, even those two-and-three-dollar feeder goldfish you've never seen live longer than six months. Goldfish need exorbitant care. If you are looking for a simple fish needing a minimum of care, look no further than a betta, but still expect to do frequent water changes - a well-cared-for betta can live for years.

Ditto for rodents. Hamsters are about the worst pet you can give a child and quickly go feral if not regularly handled - a task difficult at the outset as they start feral to begin with and have to be hand-tamed. A rat would be better, but expect it to live for a couple of years.

There's no pet I can think of (except perhaps a Mantis) who should not be expected to live at least three years, and most pets I can think of (and have kept) have had lifespans potentially reaching ten years or more. Birds and reptiles are among the clearest examples of this.

These turtles are called red-eared sliders. They're a common enough species in the pet trade that I've never actually seen another kind of pet turtle. They're cute and tiny now, but Red Eared Sliders live for thirty years or more and have an adult size approaching on a foot. Turtles, particularly aquatic ones, are some of the most care-intensive pets I can think of, and require that care, unfalteringly, for the better part of the rest of the recipient's life. If you give this to your child, they can reasonably expect to be caring for it while they're studying for the bar exam, or even, potentially, administering it.

"Affordable Dental"
Parrots are worse. The Alexandrine, above, has a lifespan exceeding 70 years, when properly cared for, and is about 18-20 months old. They're good little birds, and easy to maintain, but he's a lifelong companion for most who could afford him, and one you will in all likelihood be bestowing upon your friends or family when you pass on. That's a pretty big responsibility - many humans don't live as long as Alex will.

Conures, like this sun conure helping Mandy fix her loose crown (no, not really), have an average lifespan of 25 years. At their price, I doubt anyone would give them as an impulse gift, but it's still helpful to know what you're getting into.

As a family matter, pets are actually fantastic gifts. But the giver must always be willing to ensure that pet's standard of care, just as the adopter of a child must be willing to care for that child. That's why we try not to say you have "bought" this or that animal. You're adopting them. It's a life, and once you've let it out of the box it came in, you can't put it back in.

Friday, December 21, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday: Sugar High Edition

--- 1 ---
I don't actually remember taking my pills last night, so this could very well be "7 Quick Takes: Zac's Off His Meds Edition" as well. It occurs to me I haven't done one of these in a while, and I aslo haven't talked much about the Simple Living Challenge lately. As it happens, I'm at a lull in my success with the challenge (there's a shock!), since I've simply been too busy to do the sort of housework that the challenge requires. Last night I basically went to bed as soon as having eaten, and today I really only had a couple of hours, most of which were actually spent soaking in the bathtub and trying to work out which pants I intend to wear to work today, because my usual black corduroys are all written off. Ho hum. Low energy levels seem to be recovering today, so I should be back on track, particularly with a whole weekend to get there.

--- 2 ---
As it turns out, my new Paracheirodons are doing very well with the Betta - there's been no settling-shock this far, everyone's eating happily today, and nobody seems to be attacking each other. I can't wait until they settle down enough that they can interact (more or less) with each other, because right now the tetras pretty much hide in the bottom clearing of the tank, and Mongkut stays hidden up in the Hygrophilla.

The fish tank actually seems to be doing very well for itself lately. That blue box you see down in the bottom left of the image is a Hagen Master Test Kit - a comprehensive set of reagents for evaluating the chemical properties of the water, many of which you only need to know if there's a problem of some sort. I thought it would be helpful to establish a baseline, so I've gone ahead and run all of the tests on the water in the tank right now, and everything seems to be pretty much ideal for these species and those plants.

Having said that, I still have two major concerns - the temperature is anywhere from 8-10 degrees Fahrenheit lower than I should like, and I'm concerned the plants may not be getting enough CO2. I suspect the extra fish will help in the latter case, but for the former, there's really nothing else for it but to get a new heater, which is just as well. I don't think the heater that's in there now has ever worked properly to begin with.

I'm also contemplating growing brine shrimp for live food. I have a spare 5 gallon tank in storage that I could rig up to breed the shrimp in. The eggs can be quite the expense, however, which makes me very reluctant.

--- 3 ---
Lately, I've had to cram on my knowledge of rodents and birds. There's a few good reasons to do that, not the least of which is that I want to be able to sound at least half-way knowledgeable when I'm talking about them with the people who actually work in that department, and with my friends and family who own them. Naturally, rabbits sounded like a good place to start.

It's also becoming crucial, because more and more often I find myself working as a generalist at work rather than being confined to the Fish and Reptile department. Between covering shifts and the way our staffing works, I usually find myself covering the Small Animals department at least two-fifths of the time. It was very helpful that our Small Animals Manager made a list of care sheets for the animals we have in stock and left them mounted in our hospital room.

A hospital room that is growing increasingly busy. With winter approaching, it's becoming clear to me that the way we as an industry ship our animals to individual pet stores could stand to see some improvement. I've got a hospital room that can support about six sick animals at once with about ten in it, right now... lots of whom got here that way. Without a staff vet, there's very little any of us can do for any but the most basic of ailments, but that's not going to stop us from doing it... which is the other reason I've had to bone up on my small animals knowledge.

Being my own veterinarian is nothing new to me as a Fish-keeper  but there's a huge difference between treating ich and anchor worm, and treating abscesses, breaks, and wet tail.

--- 4 ---
In tea news, I can safely say I'm independent on the matter, now that I no longer work for any major tea retailer. I actually find that more enjoyable, because I no longer feel pangs of guilt about trying the odd tea from other retailers, or even about long stretches of not having tea at all.

Having said that, I have been drinking a lot of Teavana's White Ayurvidic Chai with Samurai Chai Mate lately... and when I'm not drinking that in the mornings, I usually have Maharaja Chai Oolong with Cocoa Caramel Sea-Salt at night, which tastes an awful lot like a wintery coffee-cake.

My best purchase while I was working there was actually a Zojirushi 4 Litre water-heater. It's sort of like having a commercial tap-kettle on my kitchen counter, but it uses less power. I use mine for all sorts of things, up to and including making instant soups for lunch or making the occasional cup of hot chocolate.

Why, I've even been known to use them to get water up to boiling for my potatoes or pasta, rather than taking cold tap water and getting it up to a boil on the stove. If it's already sitting there hot, why waste more power heating something up with a less efficient element?

--- 5 ---
Well, I suppose it can't really be avoided any longer - Christmas is quite literally just around the corner. Working in retail, it's hard to remember sometimes - there's no real signs of the impending holiday where I work, apart from the slowly-rising crescendo of business that's been building since early December, and the christmas music we were lucky enough to only just start hearing in the past week. In point of fact, we were specifically asked not to decorate the store for Christmas, something I wholeheartedly approved of - I tend to think that phones, subscriptions, and pets are just about tied for "worst Christmas present". Here, have a bunch of extra responsibilities and expenses! Merry Christmas!

On a more jovial note, I actually get pretty stoked about Christmas, and I still, like a child, have a hard time sleeping on the 24th most years, though I have a feeling that'll be a little different this year. This year happens to be my biggest Christmas ever in terms of my own personal gift-giving, which I'm pretty happy about, to be fair.

After last year, it will be kind of nice to have done something relatively potent for Christmas.
--- 6 ---

As it turns out, I actually hate baby turtles. See, the thing is, I think they're adorable - and so does everyone else. I can't think of a species of turtle, though, that doesn't get at least two feet in diameter. In that respect, they're a lot like fresh-water rays - very attractive pets that should be easier to keep than they actually are.

Building a proper turtle tank isn't easy. A lot of turtle keepers don't realize how much work they are to take care of, to keep properly clean, or just how long they live (and how big they get), and wind up abandoning their pets. Thing is, around here, Red Eared Sliders (the most common pet turtles) are actually an invasive species that can cause genuine ecological damage just by their presence. I'm starting to understand the broad-sweeping bans on turtles as pets which are cropping up around the country.

And I think it's a shame, because just like a lot of other pet animals, there's absolutely no good reason not to keep them, if you're doing it properly. Rather than certifying people, though, it's easier, and cheaper, just to ban them, so here's another little slice of the wild most people younger than me will barely remember when we're in our sixties.
--- 7 ---
I would hate for people to assume that fishkeeping is my only hobby these days, because it really isn't. I'm still fairly active in forum roleplaying, which I've enjoyed ever since I was a preteen, really, as a fun way to escape reality without actually having to be good at anything or take any brain-damaging drugs.

More and more though, I've been getting away from that, in large part due to the fact that I now have a computer powerful enough to play games. As a matter of fact, it's so powerful that I can play even modern games like skyrim and record the results. It follows, therefore, that I started doing (infrequent) Let's Play videos of various games and uploading them to youtube, under the channel Communeguy.

As my skills improve with my video editing software, I've branched out into doing other videos, like tank logs and the suchlike. They're not really ready yet, but look to those in the new year, when I have more time to do things besides work and housework.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Advent, Scrupulosity, Time, and Zen

The way that can be shown is not the true way.
I'm actually slightly surprised, given that I rarely acquire new readers and that my blog has faith right in the title, that nobody's said anything about my complete lack of mention of Christmas coming up soon. I'm finally here to talk about Christmas, and a host of other things. Also known as another manic post - the kind I, frankly, like, but also the kind that tend to get me in trouble one way or another.

Yes, it's advent, and Advent/Christmas might be the holiest time of the year after Lent/Easter, depending on your theology and your personal views. As it happens, the reason I haven't said much about it is the same reason I haven't said much about US gun control laws... frankly, I haven't thought much about either.

The thing is, I work retail. Before that, I worked as a cook. December is often the busiest time of the year for me - I've always either had exams, Christmas parties, or Christmas shoppers to attend to. December is easily my busiest month and has long been one of my least favourite - second only to February - for that reason.

Even the winter mire conspires, and as the days grow colder and the snow finally starts to accumulate, work eats up even more of my time as transportation becomes a necessity rather than a luxury, which tends to make matters worse in this regard. Every day, when I ride the bus down the hill and toward my job, the bus goes right past the parish where a little over a year ago, I was baptised and confirmed as a Catholic.

I won't say I regret that, because honestly I don't, but I can't help from feeling it was a futile, or at least ill-thought-out, gesture. Something I don't think is a great admission to make in public, but needed to be said none the lest. The sad thing is, I can actually count on one hand how many masses I have been to this year, where the summer before I had attended mass (forgive the pun!) religiously.

I went once to Nanny's funeral mass, once to an easter mass (and, as I recall it, a baptist easter church service), and I may have gone once in the summer, though I don't really remember.

My parents - agnostic if any label at all truly applies - often joke that I'm all the more authentic as a Catholic for only going sometimes, and my brother enjoys heckling me with the odd youtube clip of Peter Griffin's step-father giving him grief over being a lapsed catholic. All in all I actually have good fun with such joking.

There's a few reasons for this, not the least of which is the sheer distance of the parish from the house, which in weather like that which is common in New Brunswick in winter is simply untraversable (the sidewalks aren't plowed either). A man of greater faith than mine would probably shrug that off and go anyway, but I have other, actual qualms.

God knows I'm busy, and he knows why. He helped create the situation in which I find myself, a situation I'm thankful for, frankly, as nothing matures your choices about money faster than not having enough of it for an extended period of time. Sunday is one of the few shifts I can count on, and while it doesn't interfere with Mass, it certainly interferes with my desire to commit - the sudden appearance of mass on the schedule means that instead of leaving at eleven and being home at six, I'm leaving the house at nine and being home at six... a much longer day without much else to show for it. I hate to admit it, but I'm tired almost all of the time now, and on some level, I know that's just an excuse.

Another problem of mine is that it's hard to internalize the rules of Catholic Christianity. It just is, and excuse me for saying so. I have the bible, and I have a copy of the catechism. There's still lots of rules in the catechism I feel were made almost arbitrarily - the citations they give for biblical support make my head hurt. Now, don't get me wrong... I'm not a sola scriptura kind of a guy. But if abortion, birth control, and eating meat on Friday were all grave matter, you'd think there would be some mention of each in the bible. As much as I hate to admit it, Catholic sexual morality is a big holdback, for me. I was just raised with a different sense of that particular issue, I suppose.

Not that it matters. One could follow all the laws of God and men to the letter and still not be a good person, be happy, or even, for that matter, not be entirely innocent. As I see it, the great lesson of Christ was not to memorize great codes of laws but to internalize them. To make the godly desire a part of your day-to-day life, and to be good, rather than to act good. In that respect, I suppose I krib a little from the eastern religions. Perhaps a better title for me would be a transcendental catholic, or a transcendental Christian. Those who have been around for a while know that I've never put much faith in schismatics - the time for dividing ourselves upon the lines of which long-dead preacher we most agree with is long past. Well, I don't believe that such divisions have validity.

The way to God does not always pass through church doors, I find. I learn more about being good and following God out in the world than I do in any homily, no matter how well delivered. I've never had to turn away my over-generous helping of anger in a pew. I've never felt the need to split my lunch in a pew. I've never had to contemplate whether it was better to let an animal live or to put it out of its misery in a pew. I think you can be a faithful Catholic, a faithful Christian, and not quite fit in the mould.

My two cents, duly deposited. Bear in mind that unlike Thomist, I'm not a theologian.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

My Pet Paracheirodons

Mongkut hides, top right, while my new shoal of Paracheirodon Axelrodi (Cardinal Tetra) learn the ropes.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Tank Update: Mongkut's Palace

Click for Bigness!
After tinkering with a few favours, swapping out broken parts with working parts from machines with other broken parts, and spending a very small amount, I've finally managed to put a canopy on Mongkut's tank.

For the first time, I have a proper appreciation for just how quiet a HOB filter can be, since, with the cover secure, I can actually have the water level up high enough that the filter runs silent.

The new hood allows me to use a dedicated light for the tank, so I've added a 14W Life-Glo 2 bulb (surprise, a hagen product) which has the right colour temperature and power levels for live plants. From left to right, the plants are something labelled as "L. Major" that I can't quite identify, the Amazon Sword, and Hygrophilia Polysperma. This combination of plants, I am hoping, will suit mongkut nicely. All are relatively tall plants that will fill out and give him lots of hiding room.

I haven't really considered dosing ferts as I am hoping that Mongkut's been in the tank long enough that the plants are fairly well-based, but I do have a bottle of Nutrafin Plant Gro floating around if it starts to look necessary. I've also been giving him tropical extracts. I think they're bringing out his colour.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Ennui as 27 reportedly killed at Conn. Elementary

A spuriously-identified gunman opened fire on the campus of a Newtown, Conn. elementary school today, killing 27 and wounding three others in what is being described as the second most deadly school shooting in the US after the Virginia Tech massacre. It's too early to say anything truly poignant - to offer blame or propose new ideas. It's hard enough to conceive of the event in anything other than abstract terms.
Somone today was hurt badly enough that they felt it was necessary to murder their brother, drive to the next town over, and kill their own mother in front of her elementary class. Someone today was hurt badly enough that children - the last taboo of the west, became valid targets. I can understand these things happening in a high school, or a university, but not in an elementary school.
There is too much violence in our culture, too much grudgery in our culture, and I can understand that. There isn't enough, not nearly enough, forgiveness in our culture, and we can do something about that. I don't yet know why this man did this, but I do know he wasn't born wanting to do this.
We all need to sit, I think, and speak.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Doomsday, Math, and Panic

Clean up, Jesus is Coming!
A week from Friday, I'm going to take whatever is left of my paycheque and buy myself a bucket of popcorn and a good thermos for hot tea so that I can sit at a busy thoroughfare and entertain myself with watching people hustle around like frightened roaches, trying to find the nearest cover while the sky is proverbially falling on them again.

Then, while they all complain the next morning about the world not really coming to an end, I'm going to wake up in the smug self-satisfaction of knowing I may well be the only of my friends who is not hung-over.

If you've been living under a rock for the last half-decade or so, there's been rumours abounding about the auspicious date of 21 December, 2012, due to some anthropologist or another back-calculating the Mayan calendar and figuring out that the long-count calendar's enormous span ended its cycle on that date. Since then I've had to put up with stories of all levels of ridiculous events to expect on that day (in fact, the only event I haven't heard associated with it yet is the Second Coming).

If the world was ending,
would I really be wasting time
so far away?
Now, the Long Count Calendar is a mathematically beautiful thing, and walking it forward through our own several calendar systems used since then is an impressive achievement, not so much for its complexity, but for the discipline it would take to sit there and perform the necessary calculations. But, there's something really important to know about calendars... they are all cyclic.

Now, I know, neither the Julian Calendar nor the earlier Gregorian have start or end points... they don't them. There's no eras to count (except the before/after date of the year Zero), of course, but the dates cycle quite predictably over a number of interesting patterns. If you know these patterns, it's even possible to work out what date the fourth Tuesday in April of 2063 will be - the twenty-fourth, if you're curious - but the fact remains that they are there.

They have been there in any successful calendar for measuring a period of time longer than a human life span... and when you get to the end of the calendar, you start over again at the beginning.

There's no astronomically significant events looming on the horizon, no significant signs of a climatological crisis, and, barring utterly unpredictable events like Global Nuclear War caused by someone sneezing too loudly in a control room somewhere in China, no reason to assume the world is ending.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

One Week In - Feeling Adult

My living room/studio after a good clean,
but before organizing.
So, it's one week in to the living simply challenge I started... about 2% of the way. The house looks better than it did, I feel better than I did, and because I'm shuffling priorities off of leisure, I'm actually getting things done.

One major step forward was actually getting the house and the finances under control. Once I set a limit that my to-do list had to be cleared on Wednesday before I did anything digital, I actually got quite a bit done to set my life back in order.

Now, of course, the computer is back to being one of the first things done in my house. Breakfast looks like a folger's commercial, except that before I pour the hot water into my tea kettle, I slap the power button on the desktop. I handle silence poorly when I'm half asleep, and throwing up a random youtube video can set the whole tone for the day. But it was good that one day, and, to be fair, I'm actually staying on top of my housework.

Now, because my physical space is organized, I feel a little more organized mentally, too. The challenge started the week after I worked my first set of full-time hours in quite a while, and I wanted to find a way to feel as productive as I did that week while I languished in part-time limbo. Having things where I want them and where I can see them makes them easier to use. Important things like my day-spectrum bulb (useful in the winter) and my pills, but also fun things like my 3DS, a few favourite novels, and the fish tank. To be honest, while I use watching movies on my computer as an excuse to have moved the couch, I actually did it to both make room for a table I keep meaning to pick up (put that on the list, if it still exists) and to give me a spot and watch my betta, as we young men say, "herp the derps".

The First Meal - Ultrasimplistic
Eating better is always a bonus. With a singular exception today (when I was caught unprepared), I've been eating home-cooked meals for a week, and more of them. Having enough food in my body's probably a big part of the reason I'm feeling productive and having it be more than oil bound with starches and sugars is certainly helping my mood and my energy level. I shouldn't brag, but I'm also managing to do it with what I consider to be the absolute minimum a kitchen can be stocked and still call it healthy. Two months of bungled spending and high expenses do not a happy fridge make.

Making meals simply was something I always had a hard time doing - after I learned to cook, I wanted to wrap as many tricks as possible into each dish, which usually turned around to bite me in the end. This last week saw my cooking take a return to the basics. Though it probably looks complex, this photo of my supper mise en place is easily as simple as I can make something that isn't a soup or a stew.

Of course, what I've always really liked about simple is that it can still be made... nicely, I guess is the word. While it's certainly no Sakai-Plate, this isn't exactly cafeteria food. Simple is elegant, and we are often richer for the result.

In fact, I've been so inspired by the return to basics in my cooking, and in my life, that I'm seriously considering cooking for a living again. It's a casual search more than an urgent job hunt... but I think wandering back in the general direction of my hopes and dreams is a good step to take.

Thank God for Small Favours

Today, I'm especially thankful that my initial interest in law and policy did not flourish to the point where I immediately pursued a career in either field. The Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments today in a case involving a man named Hassan Rasouli, an Irainian-Canadian who had an operation for a brain tumour. As a result of the surgery, he suffered an infection that caused catastrophic damage to his brain tissue - enough to render him in a vegetative state. After long months, he has recovered to the point of minimal consciousness.

The case considers the sticky issue of who makes the ultimate decision in removing life support for those in clinical brain-death: the doctors or the family. The case has remarkable complexity, such that I can only barely wrap my head around the questions being asked by it, let alone hope to answer them in a manner consistent with the law of the land and the obligations of the state.

For the one thing, there's the obvious question about whether or not it is ever right to withdraw life-support unless a person specifically requests it - in fact, I know a few people who would say that even requests by the patient for the removal of life support should be ignored. I find that those people in particular have a bad understanding of how life support works. To go further,is this even the right "test case" for the issue itself? Where Mr. Rasouli is experiencing slow improvement in his condition, many vegetative patients do not. What about them? Suppose it is mandated that the will of the family substitutes for the will of the patient in these cases - who will pay costs associated with long-term life support?

The issue for me, I think, is wrapped up in something more fundamental than ethics, what constitutes brain death, or whether the withdrawal of care should be left to family or the professionals. It's a question, really, with how we define death.

Now, there are a number of really easy ways to decide someone is dead. If their heart is no longer beating and they are not drawing a breath, they're dead. Fortunately, many people who are "dead" in this way can be recovered, often with brain damage associated with hypoxia (the loss of oxygen flow to the sensitive tissues of the human brain), but sometimes without, even hours afterword (this is particularly true in cases where death could be most closely linked to hypothermia - almost as if the tissues are preserved by the lower temperature). Obviously then, having your heart stop beating is not a good metric for death.

Now, from what we know of the human condition through rational observation and testing, the brain is the seat of the human consciousness. We can argue till the cows come home about how that works (personally, I believe that a soul is responsible for personality and decisions - the part of us that passes on - which interacts with the more mechanical brain), but the fact of the matter remains that without the brain in proper working order, the mind simply doesn't work properly. For this reason, most clinicians now use the idea of brain death - an absence of electrical activity in the brain - to define final death. While we can restart the heart.... we can't usually restart a brain once it's actually come to a stop.

But this is too simplistic. Even in a vegetative state where no response to any stimulus comes from the patient, often there is brain activity remaining. This person is dead to the world - nearly literally - yet clinically "alive".

I hope to God I'd never have to make this particular decision for anyone. I certainly hope I'd never find myself in Mr. Rasouli's position. This sort of thing I have actual nightmares about. Loss of proper brain function terrifies me on a level that almost nothing else can compare to.

I almost never do this, but please pray for the family in this case, for the patient, for the doctors, and for the Justices who must now decide it. May they all find peace in this decision, and may the decision reflect what is best for the world.

You couldn't pay me enough money to be the one to decide it... or even to be one of the nine who do.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Living Simply - A Challenge

This here might look like a dog's breakfast, but to be honest, in terms of flavor  it's one of the more satisfying foods I've eaten all week. It's a hash of sweet potatoes, ground beef, and onion on pasta. There was some chili paste and some basil in there too, which really helped.

Back on Wednesday, I promised everyone something on leading a simple lifestyle. I came up with this complicated, 18-point plan to describe what I mean. Obviously, that wasn't really living all that simply, then, if it has so many extra rules.

Since then, I decided it would be helpful to live the way I was thinking of for a few days, and now that I have, I think the experiment's working out for the better. Some things I was originally going to do I've left by the wayside, and others I never even thought to include came to the forefront.

Up until recently, I'd had two jobs and a weekly pay-cheque because of it. Because of that, I was used to being rather cavalier with money (and not always within my means). There was always a little more just around the corner, and skipping the odd Wednesday or Thursday supper wasn't all that big a deal, because every Friday would be the next. Skipping out on the groceries also didn't seem like that big of a deal, particularly if the quick fix and cheap high of takeout was on order.

Now, I am pretty proud of myself in that my drug these past few months has been food. My other tastes, such as books and drink, have gone more-or-less to the curb. I've been a good boy. Now that I don't have the extra pittance coming my way, though, there's a little less wiggle in the budget. I have to really behave. Since this is the time of year for self-improvement, I've decided to make a few changes.

I'm creating for myself a Simple Living Challenge.

The rules are appropriately simple - go a year of reducing debt and no delivery. I'm not saying I'll never eat out or swearing off of fast food. I just want to be able to go about my life in a more manageable way.

Interestingly, the way that rule is stated ties in with a number of my goals. I wanted to live a greener life, too. The way I see it, my power bill should be about what it was before when I was splitting it with my brother - granted I still have all the appliances to run, but he had quite a bit of gaming loot. Bringing down the power bill helps me to pay out other things, like my credit card and my accruing back-paid gym membership dues.

I think the interesting part of the challenge will be coming up for strategies to do it. Nobody's noticed this before, but my back-engineering model for generating a grocery list actually causes inefficiencies that damage my ability to make a true savings. From now on, I'm going to approach my fridge like a black-box exam: stock it with the basics, and make whatever the hell I feel from the contents.

Having said that, I now have a strategy of staples-and-options worked out... which I think can feed me for $80 a fortnight. Hard to do with food prices rising... but it's winter, and my good luck with the weather won't hold through February, when I'm going to need some serious-grade bus fare to get work done.

I'm off to go do my math and make my forms. I'll keep you guys posted on how all this works out.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

I'm too lazy to write... have some photos!

I promised an article on simple living. That will be coming tomorrow. Instead, have a blast-fax of photos!

 This little guy was a relatively new arrival and very, very friendly.
 RED CRABS! In all seriousness, these little guys are fun little pets. Maybe not suitable to a community, but an all-inverts tank would be nice.
 This attention-hungry Ranchu goldfish has no dorsal fin, like all members of his breed. He seems somehow pensive and questioning.
 Compressiceps Cichlids from Lake Malawi, known as Malawi Eye-Biters. Vicious creatures. The more colourful of the fish is the dominant male in the tank.
 This ornery little fella is a crayfish - a freshwater lobster, which seems fascinating and exotic to people around here, but I'm told these are actually fairly common in other areas, especially in the US South.
 This is Dante. Dante's a friend of mine from work. He's an agile little guy, and always seems to find a way to get himself into trouble when he's out, so he and I are getting pretty close with all the rescuing we're doing. I'd call him about half grown right now (maybe 3'8"), so he's got a way to go yet. I know Hog Island Boas are supposed to be largely blind, but he seems to be able to recognize his reflection/image in my phone. Whenever I'm using it as a camera, he tries to get at it.
 These guys here are Heckli cichlids - reasonably timid little critters, who can handle somewhat-communal living arrangements and are absolutely gorgeous adults.
 A Fahaka puffer like this is a gorgeous pet, as long as you don't mind only having the one fish in a rather large tank. She's pretty spunky and personable - takes crickets right out of my hand.
 Everyone loves the molly tank because they're all so responsive to the sights of people coming and going, and the gestures you make toward them. Here they are, mugging for the camera.
Recently, someone dropped off a second Alexandrine parrot for us. She's a little more cultured than our speaking Alexandrine, and it turns out she understands the "climb up" command, and doesn't mind going for walks too badly. I snapped this photo while she was riding my shoulder one morning, waiting for our small animals expert to come back from the bathroom. For some reason, she didn't want the parrot in there with her.

It's fun to be a babysitter sometimes.

Crammed in on the left, there, I have supper: a chicken breast, sweet potatoes, and a loaf of home-made (somewhat flat) bread.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Wait... My country did what?

Recently, the United Nations held a vote on whether or not to recognize statehood for the Palestinian Authority. The motion passed by an overwhelming margin, making Palestine the newest state recognized by the UN and a non-member observer state to the same body. Only nine nations voted against the motion (though many others abstained completely): Canada, Israel, the US, Panama, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Nauru, and the Czech Republic. Canada has also recalled our various delegations to Palestine, Israel, and the UN in the wake of the vote.

I've been of a majority opinion for a while now in thinking that palestine should be a state. After all, it was, right up until the West came along and pushed them aside in order to have a place to send all of the Jews. The move to re-create Israel always seemed to me like it was racially motivated on the part of the goyim (that'd be me).

I get the arguments that Palestine is bad because Hamas, but let's step back for a moment and assume that your own lands were occupied. I don't particularly care how the animosity started, or who was responsible, however. I'm more interested in a resolution. Recognizing Palestine as a state lends credence to that goal.