Archive for April, 2009

Sick baby update for April 28, 2009

For those new to my personal blog, by profession I’m a writer and translator/interpreter. Doing medical interpretation does not bring in big dough, but it does give me the opportunity to help people, something I think I need to do more of in my life.

In my last post, I was somewhat despondent about the baby with born with a birth defect of the liver (biliary atresia). The doctors (who have a tough role to play here; I’m not complaining about them) were delivering bad news at variable timing and in a variety of forms. It seemed the child had a rare genetic disorder that could quite possibly be fatal.

Today, I was called into the hospital again. A very good doctor packaged the information differently, and the situation became much more clear. The baby has poor muscle tone (caused by a developmental problem in the brain) yet good muscle strength. Despite his having a probable brain issue, his cognitive development seems good, as does his development overall. Perhaps the disease will be fatal–perhaps not. Perhaps there is no disease. Perhaps it will get better over time. Who knows?

We went from negativity to ambiguity–a marked improvement in information health.

The baby has a lot of light. He smiled at me, laughing with joy at my smile. He is pulling the world toward him, into his being. I can’t believe that he will give up or leave anytime soon. It just doesn’t feel like his fate.

The baby was discharged from the hospital today. The family intends to go back to Japan in May. Thanks for any prayers you can offer; I do think they have helped immensely thus far!

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My favorite chess openings


Photo: The Evans Gambit on my favorite chessboard, which was made in Poland quite a while ago (it’s been in the family ever since I can remember).

I play chess on Yahoo Games quite a bit. If you play chess on Yahoo, you will probably be interested in, which allows you to bypass Yahoo’s crapola interface–and room limits to boot!

I am what you might call a half-decent player. On Yahoo my rating ranges from mid 1300s to upper 1500s, usually hovering in the mid 1400s. I am an orthodox player, eschewing gimicky openings and generally trying to become a more solid player over time. I study chess books for the openings I favor.


I play e4 (king’s pawn) and c4 (English game) exclusively. I like both open/tactical and closed/positional games, but when it comes to closed games I would much rather play the English because few people study it, and my experience in it tends to give me a pretty good advantage.

When I start off playing someone, I will usually play e4. If the person plays a tricky, unorthodox response or an opening I really don’t like (fianchetto openings), I will usually switch to c4 in subsequent games.

If the reponse is e5, I will play either f4 (King’s Gambit) or Nf3 in the hope of eventually playing the Evan’s Gambit, perhaps my favorite opening of all.

If the response is c4 (Sicilian Defense), I will invariably play NC3 (Closed Sicilian). In fact, I really love playing against the Sicilian, as the Closed often turns into complete and enjoyable chaos.

Against the Two Knights Defense, I play d3.

There are not too many responses that I dread as white. I am comfortable against the Scandinavian, Caro-Kann, etc.


Against e4, I play e5 (most of the time), e6 (French Defense), and NF6 (Alekhine’s Defense). Against the Gioco Piano, I play Two Knights Defense and hope I get a chance to play the Ulvestad Variation.

Against d4, I will quite often play e6 with a view to playing Dutch Defense (although sometimes black will then play e4, turning this into the French Defense, which is usually fine by me). I also play d5 and then Queen’s Gambit Accepted.

Against c4, I will either play Dutch Defense (which works pretty well) or c5 (Symmetrical English).

As black, my chief weakness is when white sits back and waits, never attacking. I especially hate when white does this while playing the Ruy Lopez, an opening that I call the “Pussy Lopez.” Usually if white plays such a passive opening, I will try to open up the f file and put pressure on the king.

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Free brewed coffee from Starbucks–whenever you want it

Although I took the side of tea over coffee recently, I really do love coffee and drink it nearly every day. Here is a trick that I’ve learned for getting free coffee from Starbucks–legitimately, of course.

First, a lot of people don’t know that Starbucks has a special refill price for brewed coffee: $0.50 for any size.

Second, if you have a registered Starbucks card, coffee refills are free in the store (it’s pretty easy to register the card online).

Third–and this is the really important part–Starbucks baristas will almost always give you the refill price (and hence free coffee if you have a registered Starbucks card) if you bring in a Starbucks cup, and even if you haven’t been in the store (this doesn’t mean that you have to pretend to have been in the store; they don’t ask, and they don’t care, and they will give it to you even if they see you walk right in and know you haven’t been there. Once in awhile someone will state the official policy and say that they really oughtn’t give it to me but give it to me anyway.)

For this reason, I always carry a Starbucks Grande cup in my car (the Venti cup is too big and unwieldy to handle while driving; the Grande is just right). Whenever I feel like free coffee, which is often, since it’s free, I just take my cup and go into Starbucks. When the cup starts to get old and cruddy, usually the barista will say, “Let me get you a new cup.” So it’s not as if I have to pay for a new Grande after awhile at full price.

As they say in El Salvador, Sláinte!

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Sick baby update for April 24, 2009

In my last post on this topic, I said,

To me the child’s life force seemed strong, almost as if the whole liver deal is just an annoyance, an inconvenience to him.

Maybe I was a wishful thinker. Maybe I was right.

I was back in the hospital with the family yesterday. The doctors now believe that, unrelated to his biliary atresia, the baby has a rare inherited metabolic disorder. They said that there is only a 50% chance of ever learning what disease it is. The disease could be fatal in its own right or be fatal by preventing the baby from getting a liver transplant, which he will eventually need. The doctors have begun a series of tests, and it may take up to six months to identify the disease or run out of diagnostic options.

For the baby’s sake, I am still hoping that I was right the first time. I refuse to give up hope.

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Walmart's wretched new logo

The other day, I was driving and did a double take when I saw this for the first time:


Wal-Mart’s (Walmart’s?) new logo. I was passing through a smallish city in Northern Indiana, so I thought (charitably) that perhaps this was an ancient version I had never seen before. Indeed, if it were new, why had I not heard of it, and why was I first encountering it in a small city and not a large? I was confused.

A little checking revealed the truth. Wikipedia says,

On June 30, 2008, Wal-Mart unveiled a new company logo, featuring the non-hyphenated name “Walmart” followed by a stylized spark, as it is referred to on store advertisements. The new logo received mixed reviews from some design critics, who question whether the new logo is as bold as competitors such as the Target bullseye or as instantly recognizable as the former company logo, which was used for 18 years.

I’m a marketing MBA and work in advertising, so I think about these matters (I am ashamed, however, that I did not know about this new logo until this week). My take? As the title of this post suggests, I think it sucks eggs.

For one thing, it reminds me of the Ayr-Way logo (a local Indiana discount chain that was swallowed up by Target):

Walmart probably shouldn’t be worried about this vague resemblance. Walmart should be worried that the six-pointed thingie, as thin and sleek as it is trying to be, either looks dated (if it’s a flower, it calls to mind the late sixties to early seventies) or looks like nothing much at all (a “spark,” huh?). Overall, the logo is thin, wimpy, and clinical in appearance. The colors are insipid.

Walmart’s old logo, as unappealing to me as it was, with its color, font, and central star conveyed the rock-ribbed conservatism and laissez-faire capitalism for which the company stands:


Chunky. Solid. American! What was “broke” about this logo that needed “fixed,” I intently wonder? By what pathway of marketing incompetence did the new, misbegotten wretch stumble out into the glaring daylight of commerce?

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Coffee vs. tea

My belief is that, for a wide variety of reasons, tea (Camellia sinensis, not herbal tisanes, etc.) is a better drink than coffee.

Some of tea’s greatest advantages have nothing to do with flavor. Tea just happens to be a very practical beverage in every way.

Tea is easier to make.
All you need is the leaves, a pot to boil water, and a cup. A teapot helps, but millions around the world simply put the leaves in a cup and pour boiling water on them. Disposal is also simple and fairly mess-free: you just dump the leaves. The tools of tea-making clean easily.

Coffee, on the other hand, is a pain to make. You must grind it yourself or take a quality hit. It is slightly harder to measure than tea. Special equipment is needed to make it. Dumping the filter is theoretically simple but often involves a cleanup of grounds that overflowed, etc. The coffee apparatus itself requires cleanup and gets yucky after awhile.

Such are the comparative mechanics of tea- and coffee-making, but there is also the matter of success and failure. It is hard to screw up tea. If you steep it and it’s bitter, simply dilute with hot water. If it’s not flavorful enough, simply pour your tea back into the teapot and steep some more. If you didn’t use enough tea to begin with, add some more and resteep.

Coffee, on the other hand, is more easily flubbed and harder to correct afterward. If you use too little coffee or too much water, resulting in weak brew, there is nothing to do but dump it and start over fresh. If you make it too strong, it can be diluted with hot water but not so successfully as with tea. I will not even get into espresso-based drinks; making them well is an art requiring considerable skill in working with the coffee, milk, and machinery.

It is also easier to make just as much tea as you want. A small cup or a large pot. Tea is also faster to make than coffee.

Tea is stored much more easily, longer, and more successfully.
According to Wikipedia on coffee, “Once roasted, coffee loses its flavor quickly, although being kept in the absence of oxygen can greatly delay the process. Although some prefer to wait 24 hours after roasting to brew the first cup, all agree that it begins to get off-flavors and bitterness about a week after roasting, even under ideal conditions.”

In contrast, you put tea in a metal can and stick it in a cabinet. In general, you can store tea for up to a year without it losing much or any flavor, and some varieties may be stored quite a bit longer. Further, tea doesn’t taste rotten if it’s a little past its sell-by date; it merely loses some flavor. The upshot is that anyone can buy tea, make it him/herself, and drink it at its best.

Tea is less expensive.
A full analysis of the relative expense of tea and coffee is complicated by the fact that there are some very expensive teas (thousands of dollars a pound), whereas there are no coffees that cost that much. Further, the quality of the leaves and beans available varies at each price point.

But let’s put it this way: very cheap tea is of better quality and cheaper than very cheap coffee, and very good tea costs about the same as very good coffee.

The first is easy to demonstrate. Huge bags of Chinese Oolong or mammoth cans of generic grind are both cheap. The difference is that the tea will be quite drinkable whereas the coffee at that price point will be nasty. Ergo, better tea is available cheaper.

Further, very good tea and coffee are roughly equivalent in price. A 1 lb. bag of Keemum Concerto (a great black tea from is just $29.00. They say it costs $0.17 a cup. According to Taste of the World, gourmet coffee tends to cost about $0.12 to $0.25 a cup. Hence, good tea and coffee are roughly similar in price.

Tea is more healthful.
Tea is chock full of vitamins and healthful compounds. Green tea and black tea have different, healthful compounds. Tea is said to reduce cancer risk, etc. There are studies that show benefits to coffee, too, but these benefits are not as large. Coffee has more health risks, too. Here are the two Wikipedia articles on tea and health and coffee and health, so you can judge for yourself.

Billions can’t be wrong: tea is a more enjoyable beverage than coffee.

On average, tea tastes better than coffee.
The reason for this is simple: the manipulation of the tea plant to produce the final product is not very complicated. There is (for most varieties) no complicated roasting or processing involved, and the product keeps well. The result is that a cheap, thin Oolong served in a plastic glass in a dive Chinatown restaurant is an unimpressive but drinkable thing.

For opposite reasons, cheap coffee made without care is nasty, nasty stuff. The coffee sitting out for hours at your local oil change place is a liquid nightmare. Bad beans, bad roasting, lengthy storage at room temperature, bad drip maker, and time sitting out all combine to create an unpotable, thick, black bullion.

Tea tastes better under a wider range of circumstances.
Tea tastes good hot and cold. It tastes fine at room temperature. It tastes fine after it’s been sitting out overnight. It tastes fine after being steeped twice or three times. It tastes fine thin and diluted.

Coffee is a more particular beverage. It too tastes fine hot or on ice, of course, but it tastes bad at room temperature. It is undrinkable if it is too thin or boiled down.

Tea offers a much wider variety of tastes.
There is a variety of coffees, but I would not consider it wide. I’ve tried a bunch, but they all seem like variations on a theme. I’ve even tried a 100% robusta coffee, but the difference between that and an Arabica (a different species) is not so great as the difference between two fairly different Chinese greens (same species).

Tea, on the other hand, offers a stupendous variety. First, you have many different regions: China, Japan, India, Ceylon, Africa, not to mention several other Asian countries. Second, you have the different types: green, Oolong, black, white, pu er, etc. A cup of first flush Darjeeling tastes absolutely nothing like a Chinese pu er. Even among just the Formosa Oolongs, one can find incredible variety. The world of tea invites years of exploration at a reasonable price. It’s a great hobby.

Tea offers a better caffeine buzz.
It may be true that, based on the amounts and concentrations that people generally drink, tea has less caffeine in it than coffee. But for the tea connoisseur, this is unlikely to be true on a practical level. Certain tea plant varieties just have ton of caffeine in them. Nor do green teas have less caffeine than black: it’s the same amount of caffeine per same leaf of tea, so the tea variety and the concentration at which the tea is drunk will determine the level of caffeine.

I have been much more buzzed out on tea than I ever have on coffee. Drink the right variety of tea at a high concentration, and you will absolutely be flying. I have had tunnel vision, giddiness, and an overall feeling that I can only imagine is what speed is like. Not that I endorse such an experience or seek it out myself on a regular basis.

I haven’t seen any research, but I do think tea offers a different type of caffeine buzz. If I drink a lot of tea, the buzz seems to go mostly to my head. When I drink coffee, I seem to get less of a head rush and much more crankiness in my body.


Tea is the “real thing,” not friggin’ Coke.
The fact that Americans drink so much Diet Coke and other chemical soups is a real shame on our culture. We just don’t know better, I guess. Tea is a cheaper, easier, and more environmentally sound beverage, but still we stick with the fake-o concoctions in aluminum cans. What a joke. (And I’m guilty of it myself. Nor are other countries necessarily better: Japan drinks awful canned coffee in copious amounts.)

Tea is a real, organic beverage; its flavor is naturally complex. Even cheap tea is suitable for the sophisticated palate.

America has become somewhat coffee-smart but is still tea-stupid.
With the advent of Starbucks indie coffee joints and palates that can appreciate better coffee, America has become somewhat coffee-smart.But America is still incredibly tea-stupid. The same Starbucks that has educated the masses about good (or at least mediocre) coffee serves tea at a high price in cheap little bags (Tazo, what a joke).

A variety of other influences is preventing Americans from seeing tea for what it really is. Green tea is promoted by health food stores, which is fine, but almost no understanding of green tea connoisseurship is conveyed. In effect, people get the idea that green tea is a generic type of medicine, when in fact the variety of green teas from various regions is astounding, and green tea is one of the most exciting types of tea.

The bottled teas available in the US are atrocities that give Americans a false impression about tea’s nature. There are a lot of faux brands like Republic of Tea that try to make you think their sweetened concoctions are organic, good for the environment, healthful, whatever; but they can barely be labeled tea; they are more like Gatorade.

Drink more tea.

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Showing of a baby who died of SIDS

My job of doing Japanese-English interpretation in the hospitals of Indy often brings me into the lives of sick children and their worried parents. Today I went with a friend to the showing of a baby who died of SIDS.

As a parent, I understood that this was a parent’s greatest nightmare come true: the death of the person one was supposed to protect, for no discernible cause or reason. When our child was a baby, we feared SIDS and such things every day, checking on her frequently to make sure that the life force was still present and doing its work. Ellie would sometimes pull her blanket over her face and sleep that way, and the first time we saw that our hearts were in our throats, and we approached the crib in vocal terror, startling her awake.

I can only imagine the sheer horror of not receiving any response. Actually, I do not completely need to imagine such a situation. My maternal grandmother, who had heart problems, was living with us in 1977, and I found her dead in our guest room the day after Christmas of that year. Six years old, I knew what death was but hoped that she was paralyzed or going through something not quite so final. I was not filled with terror but did rush to my parents’ room, shouting, “Something’s wrong with grandma!”

But grandma’s health was not my responsibility, and, in any case, she had at least made it to her late 60s. Her passing was sad, my sister and I cried a lot, but we both understood that grandparents don’t stay forever (my paternal grandmother had died the previous year, and both our grandfathers had died before we were born.)

When a child dies, however, there is not much to console one other than the existence of the afterlife (in which I firmly believe). People today were grieving deeply.

I had hoped that “showing” did not really mean showing, but it did. The baby was in a small coffin and looked more like a wax replica than a real person. It is surreal to be in such a room, with some torn up by grief, some talking in what appears to be a casual manner, and some like myself not personally involved but touched by the situation nonetheless. We have our rituals for dealing with these things, no one was going against the ritual, and yet the ritual was and never can be sufficient to take us through and beyond the fact of death. Death is just there, not even asking one to recognize it or dialog with it; it is just there.

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Hair frustrations

Matt Rouge on April 13, 2009A picture of Matt Rouge sporting a fairly decent cut from Borics. Click for a spectacularly large image and enjoy the fairly surly expression even more.

I am specific about my tonsorial needs.

I am up at the folks’ pad today in Crown Point, Indiana. I could no longer tolerate what was perhaps the worst haircut of my life, and the barber shops that I know well here are all closed on Monday–so I ventured into Borics and got, as the picture here demonstrates, a “fairly decent cut.”

Whenever I get a cut these days, I am very specific about what I need: make the sides short and flat, and don’t destroy what little bangs I have, lest the highly receded hairline look even further receded.

My person today did a pretty good job: the sides could be a little more even, but otherwise I am satisfied. The cut was $12.50, not a bad price at all, and, even with a sizable tip, my ROI was excellent.

The worst cut of my life almost broke my heart.

I was just as specific about my needs when I took a chance on a salon near my house a few weeks ago. I will be kind and leave the establishment nameless.

After I explained my needs and desires clearly and precisely, my hair assassin proceeded to do the very opposite, leaving me a rounded, satanic cut with not a bang in sight. I looked like a skinhead with poor grooming practices. Moreover, this chop-up cost $25.00. I stumbled out into the parking lot, reeling from the abuse I had endured. I was nearly a defeated man, but not quite: I vowed to grow out my hair once again and give the whole haircut concept a final chance.

Bruce Kimmel taught us that pressure is the demon of space. Experience teaches us that inconsistency is the demon of haircare.

I used to go to this guy in Downtown Indy who did the best job ever–except when he didn’t. Every sixth or seventh time, I received a disaster cut that rivaled the “worst ever” described above. It made no sense to me. This was also the most expensive salon I had ever used on a consistent basis; thus, the last time this happened, I said to myself, No more shall this happen. No more!

Why is it so hard to get a consistent cut? Is an expensive place worth it if one risks catastrophe even there? No, it is not. I bet it’s even worse if you are a woman: more hair and more complex styles to mess up. Throw in color and that kind of thing, and the possibility for trouble becomes even greater.

Someone I can recommend…

Some of the best cuts I’ve ever received have been by…

Marti Doering (who is the owner of)

414 W Kirkwood Ave # 1
Bloomington, IN 47404
(812) 332-0064

Truly a great cut at a great price, and no disasters! Needless to say, Marti handles both men’s and women’s haircare and is said to do an excellent job with color, etc. I do not get down to Bloomington as often these days, but it is worth going out of my way to get the job done right.

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Sick baby update for April 11, 2009

Here is the previous post on this child, who is now back in the hospital until the 17th. The reason for the stay is cholangitis, an inflammation of the bile duct, and the baby now has a PICC line in for treatment with antibiotics. The Kasai procedure has been a moderate, but not a complete, success, and the doctors now say that the goal is to have the baby grow as much as possible so that he can have access to a bigger donor pool when the time comes to have a transplant, which is now inevitable (a bigger child can use a whole liver instead of just a piece of one).

The family is planning to move back to Japan in May for good. Even though they have “good” health insurance here, they are facing the BS that always comes with our system. For example, the insurance company wasn’t going to pay for home nursing care of the PICC line, so–like magic!–a longer stay in the hospital because “necessary,” which the insurance company will pay for. So it goes in our system: the insurance company thinks it’s saving money but ends up costing itself more. Our system is full of waste and hurts people every day. It must change, it will change soon.

To me the child’s life force seemed strong, almost as if the whole liver deal is just an annoyance, an inconvenience to him. My intuition is that he will get the liver translplant eventually but will continue to bulldoze through life and not let his liver rule his existence.

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