Facts Formed, Lessons Learned

2009 was a banner year here at Casa Ramrod, assuming that the banner said “Mission Accomplished” in a font called “Clueless Irony.”  (Yes, I know.  It’s been done.)

Nevertheless, I think I learned a few things in 2009 that may serve me well in 2010, especially if I retain the backup option of hiding under the covers.  Here, then, are a few 2009 True Facts and the lessons I’ve taken from them:

True Facts:  In June, I was diagnosed with small lymphocytic lymphoma/chronic lymphocytic leukemia.  SLL/CLL progresses slowly and is considered indolent.  So rather than start treatment, I’m engaged in “watchful waiting.”

Lessons Learned:  As I already suspected from my own personal habits, “indolent” is not a bad thing.  Barring meteor strikes or other accidents, then, I’ll probably live more-or-less normally for many more years.  I’ll just have to regard my body as if it were a suspiciously unattended package at the airport.

True Facts:  During both my endoscopy and colonoscopy, I was given a wonderful “twilight” anesthesia that made me forget the most uncomfortable and unpleasant parts of the procedures.  But I was given no “twilight” during my bone-marrow biopsy, so I remember every undignified second of it.  Afterward, however, I was given a snack.

Lessons Learned:  Drugs are good.  But so are cookies.

True Fact:  On the same day that a doctor first said the word “lymphoma” to me, I received an email telling me that the movie version of my second novel would begin filming in October.  This coincidence seems to indicate that God is a merry prankster.

Lesson Learned:  Not really a big fan of merry pranksters, here.

True Facts:  The movie did not begin filming in October.  Or November.  Or December.  This seems to indicate that Hollywood is a merry prankster as well.

Lesson Learned:  See above.

True Fact:  I have an amazing spouse who always has my back despite the fact that I’m a foul-tempered old crank who’s addicted to cookies.

Lesson Learned:  None.  I already knew that.

True Fact:  My friends aren’t half-bad, either.

Lesson Learned:  Suckers.

True Fact:  Throughout 2009, the first picture that popped up in a Google Images search for “Bradley Denton” was a photo of me kissing Steve Gould.

Lesson Learned:  Make one mistake, and you pay for it the rest of your life.

A Keyboard For Writers


We all know that writing can be painful. The intense frustration when an idea that was pure genius in our heads translates to vapid merde when we try to put it into words on the screen. The struggle to impose form and structure on a plotline that insists on fracturing into a thousand shards, all of them purest zirconium. The realization that you abruptly suck at this endeavor that is central to your self-regard, that you’ve lost it forever, that all your friends will now know what a dismal fraud you are.

I can’t help you with that part. Cocaine, alcohol, and perverse sex are the prescribed remedies.

However, there is some hope for the physical pains that you’re experiencing. If you write much, your hands hurt fairly constantly now, don’t they? Probably your forearms, too, and your shoulders ache.

Let’s trip back to the halcyon days of yestertyping, when only women were taught how to use a keyboard. Real computers cost five to ten thousand dollars. A mouse was a rodent that you carried around in your shirt pocket, because you were weird.

There was no GUI. There was only one screen color on a black background. There was the command line, and you wrote your novels in WordStar, which was the coolest program on the planet.

Back then, the keyboards were not made for a dollar a day by starving Filipino orphans. They were often designed by obsessive engineers who realized that keyboards were the contact point between their expensive wares and the person who bought them, so they damn well better be good.

Then came Windows (and the Macintosh, but we don’t talk about Macs in polite society).

The paradigm shifted tectonically. Now most people click away their lives rather than typing everything. And computers cost a tenth of what they once did, so keyboards are thrown into the bundle like Happy Meal toys.

And they’re awful. They hurt you badly in the long run if you type a lot.

I’d like to introduce you to the IBM Model M keyboard. If you’re a writer, it’s your new best friend.

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Rory’s Rules of the Road

I’ve been spending much too much time lately moving across our Texas highway system trapped inside the damnedest repeated clusterfracks. (Yes, that’s the technical linguistic term for a group of Texas drivers who have bunched up at high speed.)


I’m a gentle old man, but I’ve had too many recent inner visions of flames, explosions, and the deployment of my personal bazooka, to be satisfied with the current state of affairs.


Therefore, I’m posting so that everyone who drives in Texas will know how to better keep Rory alive and happy on the highway.


Here’s the One Rule to Rule Them All: Get Out of My Way.


Here are the Three Laws of Velocity:


  1. If you’re driving faster than me, you’re a maniac, and should be removed from the road.
  2. If you’re driving slower than me, you’re a granny, and should be removed from the road.
  3. If you’re driving the same speed as me, you’re pacing me, and should be removed from the road.


This set of rules is simple, elegant, and results in me having the highway entirely to myself, which is as it should be. However, we live in an imperfect world, so I’m willing to put up with you as long as you Get Out of My Way.


There are, of course, some behaviors you shouldn’t indulge in, unless you want to make me suffer from Road Annoyance.


To be perfectly clear, I’m not doing this for your own good. I don’t care if you kill yourself and all your loved ones by driving stupidly. Darwinism in action is what that is. I just don’t want you to kill me, okay? I’ve already got enough problems with that whole natural selection thing as it is.


Though, since I’ve already passed my DNA along, I suppose it really wouldn’t be that wrong to run over me. And I know it won’t really upset you to kill a feeble old man whose life is practically over with anyhow, for more than a few hours, or until you’re distracted when the next episode of  “Jon & Kate Plus 8” airs.


But what if you hit Jon & Kate and the eight cute little kids and smushed them all? That would make you sad for a long time, wouldn’t it? Okay, maybe not about Jon and Kate. I mean, who cares about those two idiots? But the kids for sure, right? I bet that would make you sad for a loooong time.


So – remember these things I’m about to list, because you might kill a bunch of adorable little soon-to-be-adoptees instead of me, if you don’t.


Here are the Ten Tips to Avoid Bazookas:

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Death by Tiny Invisible Pig

Hey, guys – Go visit any of the major news web sites. Cool stuff today. According to the CDC, the Swine Flu Pandemic is going to slam into us sometime in the next few weeks, slaughtering the population and destroying civilization as we knew it.




I mean, just between you and me and the pigs, I was beginning to doubt that civilization as we knew it was going to end at all. It sucked to find myself being pessimistic about my pessimism.


Some days, I just wanted to smash my forehead into something, hard enough to hurt, but not hard enough to actually damage my brain. You know?


That Bird Flu thing just never seemed to be able to get off the ground. And it looks like Apophis is going to stubbornly refuse to smash the earth into molten flinders.


The Global Warming thing was coming along nicely, after we convinced Bush and his crew that it was all a liberal conspiracy against Hummers – and you know how insanely freaked out they were with Clinton and his hummers in the Oval Office. Then we messed up and elected an administration that actually believes in science. Who knows what the hell they’ll do to demonize GW the climate like they demonized GW the Bush?


Nuclear war? Well, the Soviets were a great disappointment to me, personally. They had the capability for about thirty years, and could never sober up from the vodka binges long enough to push the red button. North Korea and Iran are just laughable wannabes.


I’ve got a small bet going that Pakistan will fall into the hands of the Taliban next year and, maddened by the presence of infidels somewhere on the rest of the planet, will launch their hundred nukes at somebody. If they hit India, then my job is less likely to be outsourced, so this is a two-fer. They’ve got enough bombs to trigger at least a Nuclear Autumn.


But that’ll be offset by the damn global warming that we’ve been trying so hard to cause. Unless Obama or Steven Chu or Paul Krugman fix it first.


I’m immensely cheered by today’s news, though.


I went out this afternoon and bought my survival kit. Here are my top ten items:


  1. Three boxes of Kleenex – Will need them if I get the flu, and the allergies have been really nasty all year anyhow.
  2. Three containers of Crystal Light no-cal drink powder – I already got a bunch of iodine pills for purifying water, at Rachael’s insistence. Now I can drink both safely and deliciously.
  3. Three boxes of wet kitty treats – Little Tex and Secret Kitty are likely to get grumpy while trapped in the house for a month or so, and this will help. I’m contemplating buying some more catnip toys tomorrow, before there’s a run on them.
  4. A pound of Kraft Mild Cheddar cheese – It was on sale, and I like cheese.
  5. Two pounds of Skinner Vermicelli – Yummy and nutritious and would survive a nuclear war, I think.
  6. Two glass containers of Ragu Roasted Garlic spaghetti sauce – To make the Vermicelli taste even yummier. Also, the Ragu has catsup in it, which, as Ronald Reagan taught us, is an essential vegetable.
  7. Four pounds of Folger’s coffee – Life isn’t worth living if I don’t get my coffee in the morning. Also, it’ll be worth its weight in hummers after the apocalypse.
  8. Lots of cans of Dinty Moore beef stew and microwaveable plastic lunches of various types and brands – I think I forgot to get crackers to go with these. Dammit.
  9. Four pounds of Imperial Pure Cane Granulated Sugar – Screw the Splenda if civilization ends. I want real sugar in my coffee.
  10. A 1.75 liter bottle of Bacardi Gold – Should make a great internal antiseptic to help me avoid getting infected. I forgot to get the Coke that potentiates its healing effect. Dammit.



Personally, I think I did pretty good, considering how off-the-cuff and panicky this was. I already had plenty of toilet paper. And you can use the Kleenex that way in a pinch, in case you didn’t know.


I think I’ll be able to survive in my apartment all through the Great Dying. Surely they won’t disconnect the Internet. It’s all satellite communications these days, anyhow, and the satellites will keep on working fine for years and years.


Then I can come out and the glorious dream of my childhood will begin – me, being one of the last ragged inhabitants in a post-industrial nightmare wasteland. Kind of like moving to Detroit, only more fun.


I’ll have my gun with me. I bet I can find some bullets for it, somewhere out there. Unless they’re all buried in some Teabagger’s back yard.


Rachael and Jesse will survive, as will all of you, and my sister and her husband, and all of my Goddam Neopagan Tribe™. We’ll form the nucleus of a new and intrinsically pessimistic society, as I’ve always hoped for. With motorcycles.


It’ll be great!


We should all meet at that filling station right outside Bastrop, where you turn to go to or from Austin, depending on the direction you’re traveling in. You know the one.


See you all in a couple of months!








….I just had the inevitable thought…


The CDC says the Swine Flu is mutating. Maybe we’ll get lucky and it’ll mutate into —


Zombie Apocalypse Virus !!!!


Wouldn’t that be wonderful?



I See

While these aren’t going to work to replace my tri-focals, three pairs of them would.

These are water filled lenses that individuals can adjust to their own needs, then freeze the correction.

Silver has devised a pair of glasses which rely on the principle that the fatter a lens the more powerful it becomes. Inside the device’s tough plastic lenses are two clear circular sacs filled with fluid, each of which is connected to a small syringe attached to either arm of the spectacles.

The wearer adjusts a dial on the syringe to add or reduce amount of fluid in the membrane, thus changing the power of the lens. When the wearer is happy with the strength of each lens the membrane is sealed by twisting a small screw, and the syringes removed. The principle is so simple, the team has discovered, that with very little guidance people are perfectly capable of creating glasses to their own prescription.

— The Guardian

While there are definitely vision correction issues that aren’t solved by this (like astigmatism), in places like sub-Saharan Africa, the ratio of opticians to general population is approximately one to a million.  This would change the quality of life of millions of people.

link at Core77   Pointed to by Rebecca Watson Tweet.

Fun With (Electoral) Math; or, How Omaha Can Save the World

College Dean

Several different “Interactive Electoral Maps” for the 2008 Smackdown are available online . . . but my favorite is at http://projects.washingtonpost.com/2008/pick-your-president/.  This one allows you to screw with the Electoral College in all sorts of ways, much as you probably did with your Actual College.

The best thing about this map, to me, is that it includes options for splitting up the Electoral Votes of Maine and Nebraska.  You see, unlike every other state in the Union, Maine and Nebraska do not have a winner-take-all policy regarding their Electoral Votes for President.  Instead, they use the “Congressional District Method,” in which the popular-vote winner of each Congressional District is awarded one Electoral Vote (just as each district has one Congressperson), and the state’s overall popular-vote winner is awarded the remaining two Electoral Votes (just as each state has two Senators).

So far, in actual practice, this has never resulted in a split Electoral Vote for either Maine or Nebraska.  But I want to believe that 2008 could be different, particularly in Nebraska.  For one thing, Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District is home to the University of Nebraska, where support for Senator Obama is reported to be strong . . . and the 2nd District is basically the city of Omaha, which (among other blue-leaning factors) is the home of billionaire, philanthropist, and Obama-supporter Warren Buffett.  (You can forget about the 3rd District, though.  They’re red ’til they’re dead.)

I’ve had a lot of fun playing Electoral God with the map as a whole, making swing-states like Ohio and Pennsylvania swing first one way and then the other.  But somehow I can never manage to convince myself, even for a make-believe moment, that Florida will ever wind up in the blue column.  (Comedienne Sarah Silverman thinks there’s a way it could happen, however.)

My favorite tweak of the map — and note that “favorite” doesn’t mean that I think it’s either likely or desirable, but wackily possible — gives WA, OR, CA, WI, MI, IL, IN, OH, PA, NY, VT, ME, RI, CT, DE, MD, NJ, HI,  and DC to Senator Obama.  Everything else goes to Senator McCain.

This results in a 269 to 269 tie, which throws the election into the U.S. House of Representatives.

Unless . . .

You click that tiny little box that represents Nebraska’s 2nd District, turning it blue.

And then, with its one Electoral Vote, OMAHA SAVES THE WORLD!!!

Well, I mean, jeez.

SOMEbody has to.

The Internet Is For . . . Sociopaths

He's out there.

In my fifty years, I have encountered only one person whom I have deliberately, unequivocally, and publicly cut out of my life.

That person then completely (and blessedly) vanished from my personal radar for eighteen years.

Some of my fellow Brainiacs, and some of our visitors, will recall this individual as well – or will after I describe him. Thought he was gone, didn’t you?

Well, thanks to the Internet, he’s back. So this is the latest and greatest reason why I don’t like the Internet. (Oh, sure, I use it. Here I am using it right now. However, as I’ve noted before: I don’t like cars, but I know how to drive. And I don’t like guns, but I know how to shoot. Life in the modern world often requires unpleasant compromises.)

What was the deal with this guy? And why did you shun him so utterly? many of you are wondering.

I’ll attempt to explain.

According to the American Psychiatric Association (as quoted on Wikipedia – a dubious source, but since it’s on the g***amn Internet, an appropriate reference point), a person must display three out of the following seven criteria to be diagnosed with “antisocial personality disorder” (that is, to be considered what a layman such as myself would call a “sociopath”):

1. Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;

2. Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure;

3. Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead;

4. Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults;

5. Reckless disregard for safety of self or others;

6. Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations;

7. Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.

The only one of these characteristics that this guy didn’t clearly display (from my admittedly non-professional vantage point) was Number 4.

But as for the rest – you better believe it. Six out of seven.

Add in a pretty high level of insidious personal charm, and you’ve got Poison.

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Watch the Skies

The Great Bronze Jayhawk, or 'The Pterodactyl' 

I am writing today to warn everyone in every U.S. city, and perhaps every city on Earth, of impending danger and doom from above.

But first, some lengthy historical background:

In Lawrence, Kansas, in front of Strong Hall on the University of Kansas campus, there sits a 600-pound bronze sculpture that has been displayed on campus since 1958 and has been in its current location since 1975. This bronze, created by sculptor Elden Tefft, is ostensibly of that mythical flying creature (and KU mascot), the Jayhawk.

But everyone at KU refers to the Strong Hall Jayhawk as “the Pterodactyl” – perhaps because of its strong resemblance to the non-mythical (yet extinct) flying creature of that name, or perhaps simply to distinguish it from the various other Jayhawks to be found all over campus.

The night after the Pterodactyl first appeared at KU, the Mystical Oracle of Mount Oread (MOMO) convened at midnight at the Rock Chalk Cairn on the hill above Memorial Stadium in order to determine what unearthly powers the Great Bronze Jayhawk might possess, and how MOMO might shape them. For if MOMO did not do so, then the sculpture might shape its own powers – ensuring that havoc would ensue.

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Return of the Big Cheese

Mozzarella Machine 

I am a fan of cheese, especially a nice creamy-and-stringy mozzarella. So I was saddened to read of the current buffalo mozzarella contamination crisis.

However, I don’t believe I’ve ever had real Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, which has been made in southern Italy from the milk of Asian water buffaloes since the twelfth century. And I’m positive that I’ve never had the version made from unpasteurized buffalo milk, which must be consumed within twenty-four hours of its creation. That cheese is widely regarded as the best mozzarella in the world, a true delicacy, and you pretty much have to be in southern Italy to get a taste.

But until the current dioxin-contamination problem is solved (or proven to be not-all-that-bad), it may be that not even Neapolitans will be able to enjoy unpasteurized buffalo mozzarella.

The silver lining to that dark cloud, however, may be that the world will finally rediscover Mozzarella di Mammotha Titana.

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Ruin and Renewal

I’ve been terse, of late.

I haven’t posted about global warming in a long time; so many well-informed writers are posting on the subject now that I don’t have much new to share (though significant progress continues to be made — at least on the scientific front). My posts on bird flu come from my background in public and environmental health, but I don’t have a lot more to say other than (in various ways) think about what you would do, if the worst becomes real. How will you survive it? How will you help your family and neighbors, your community?

(Come to think of it, there is plenty of overlap between bird flu and a zombie infestation. So, you know: stockpile food and weapons, keep away from infected individuals, and whatever you do, don’t eat brains.)

And I have some great posts queued up with regard to humans in space, but not a lot of time to devote to them (and to be worthwhile, they need time. rsn, I promise).

My fellow Brainiacs have been sharing some great stuff lately. I’ve been reading avidly. Hungrily. Zombiliciously. But the output has been minimal.

All this magma is moving around inside. There’s this tectonic plate activity under the surface of my thoughts. Quakes, geysers, upwellings. Subduction of old rock, old patterns of behavior and thought. Processes beyond my control are busily destroying the ruins of my old life, making space for new processes. I don’t even know what it all means. It’s hard for me to know yet how, or even what, to share.

But these images spoke to me.

Komanskop. Images by Richard Erhlich on artnet.

(Via Group News Blog.)

Someday, in some far distant future, the ruins of Kolmanskop, Namibia will lie beneath a tropical rainforest. Or maybe an ocean. So will the skyscrapers of Singapore, London. New York. Where Everest is now, we’ll have a savannah. An unimaginably advanced city. The remains of a vast, nanite disaster. The site where a new savior is hatched and raised, whose writings will later transform the lives of uncounted posthumans.

Someday the ruins of Komanskop will be crushed, along with the bones of their occupants. They’ll be obliterated. Sucked into the mantle, dragged down to the dense iron core of the earth, super-heated, pressurized, and spewed out again to make new rock, new minerals that plants and animals will take up. Someday, they’ll be taken up by new stars, and made into new starstuff.*

There is a link between death and birth. Between destruction and renewal. Tossing out the old — old habits, ways of thinking, crap you don’t need anymore — makes room for the new. Hurts like hell. Burns the shit out of you. You can’t survive that process. You’re nothing but atoms, you know, in the final analysis. The universe makes use of those atoms, but you don’t get to decide whether you get to stay in one piece. Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones who survives and passes on your code, your DNA, your ideas. Maybe not. Maybe you won’t even be a bump on somebody else’s tarmac. It’s not in your control.

But fuck. What a fucking amazing dance it all is.

*I’ve definitely been spending too much time trolling in the dusty hinterlands of my brain.

PS Btw, did you guys hear? Somebody is postulating that the reason the universe appears to be expanding at increasingly fast rates is because time is sl-o-o-o-owing down!

I love cosmologists. It’s like they are getting paid to create code for an acid trip. (Ask me for a link in comments, if you really must read more. I’m too lazy to hunt it up gratuitously.)

PPS How many other people read about Bush’s SOTU Address and your brain changes it to STFU Address? Let’s have a show of hands.

Pandemic Flu Prep

How can something so purty be so deadly?

FLA_Medic of the Avian Flu Diary announces a new, incredibly useful resource, Get Pandemic Ready.

This issue isn’t getting much news play, but public health officials remain very worried about bird flu. Pandemics happen at the rate of about 3 per century, and we are overdue for one. The 1918 Spanish Flu killed at least 50 million people, and some estimates put it at 100-150 million — 2-5% of the world’s population, iow, with 20% infected. At that death rate, with almost 7 billion people on the planet, avian flu would kill as many as 350 million people, in a 12-18 month period. That’s the equivalent of the US population. Imagine the global impact. 1.5B would be infected.

H5N1 is still out there. Right now it’s killing 60% of the people who contract it, and it is slowly spreading and evolving to be a better match to our upper respiratory tract. Researchers are looking for solutions, and they’ve made some progress in developing means to detect and vaccinate against the disease. But huge obstacles remain with regard to production and distribution of vaccine and medications to fight it.

A pandemic will last a year or more. At even moderate rates of infection, as much as 20-30% of the work force will fall ill. Food distribution, utilities, even hospitals will shut down for extended periods. Therefore, experts recommend people stockpile now, before the pandemic hits.


The hallmark of Get Pandemic Ready is that households should stockpile three months of food, water (or purification capability), medications, and basic supplies.

I’ve already done this for myself and my family. Consider: if it doesn’t happen and you have prepared, you simply have some extra supplies you can use. If it does happen and you aren’t prepared, things will be much worse than they have to be for you and your family.

As FLA_Medic puts it:

Once a pandemic erupts, there will be a mad scramble to prepare. Millions (likely billions) of people will be caught flat footed and will all be trying to acquire the goods they will need to survive, all at the same time. Most will find they waited too long, and won’t be able to get everything they will need.

The time to prepare is now, before a crisis begins.

Just take it a step at a time. But don’t wait. Nobody knows when the pandemic will hit. Everything you do now will be one less thing you have to do then.

Only Women Bleed

I’m a Guy, as I’ve mentioned before, so I have no idea whether the device I’m writing about tonight is widely known in the not-Guy community.

However, She Who Is Awesome posted about it in her LJ last night, after learning of it this week, and considers it something of a revelation. She’s always near the cutting edge with her technology, as witness her independent discovery of the EeePC, so I thought I should mention it as a public service. She’s pretty ecstatic about its potential, and I figure that you not-Guys who haven’t heard of it might also benefit from hearing about it.

The subject is: the Diva Cup, a menstrual cup that might well replace other expensive, messy, and sometimes dangerous devices, for some women.

Here’s the vid that brought it to her attention. Darned if I know whether it’s NSFW.



Here’s the Wiki on menstrual cups.

I’ll never be able to personally evaluate whether it’s all that superior to other methods for dealing with lunar cycles, but the manufacturer’s website makes what sounds to me like a good environmental argument for promoting its use:

Since The DivaCupâ„¢ is reusable, it is very economical. As well, you can feel confident that you are doing your part in environmental conservation. Landfill and pollution problems are on the rise and continue to be a worldwide concern. In 1998, 7 billion tampons and 13 billion sanitary pads and their packaging made their way into landfills and sewage systems in the USA alone!

Furthermore, if only Carrie White had known about it, a lot of lives might have been saved. You pubescent girls out there with rage issues and secret powerful telekinetic abilities, which I believe includes all of you, should at least check it out.


My Fun Saturday Night . . .

I had a swell blog post planned for this week, but I was thwarted.  Instead of regaling y’all with my fantastic wit, I was spending my Saturday night at the emergency room, which isn’t as much fun as it sounds.

I was prescribed Cipro on Thursday.  Saturday night my shins started itching to beat the band.  A few minutes later I started coughing.  It felt like I had a cat hair caught in my throat — which wouldn’t be all that unlikely at Casa Spector — except the coughing wouldn’t stop.

I called the urgent care nurse and she said to go to the ER.

On the drive to the ER, I keep thinking, “Okay, how long does it take to die from asphyxiation?  Two, maybe three, minutes?  How long before there’s irrepairable brain damage?”  Okay, so perhaps I was getting a little melodramatic.  

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