Still Here, 2015

You know how the longer you take to speak to a friend you’ve not been in contact with for a while, the harder it gets? Months or years pass, and then it’s too late. A blog can be a bit like that too. I’ve wanted to post something here many times over the last 18 months, but I’ve not really known how to get things started again. So much has happened, and very little of it terribly pleasant, but I think if I just post pretty much anything here, it’ll make it much easier for me to post again.

So. First of all, I’m still alive. There were a few times in 2014 when I wasn’t sure I’d make it to 2015, but here I am, so that’s good.

As folks noticed in 2013, my videos became further and further spaced apart. My energy levels were dropping, and the pain was getting pretty intense, and then, in late August, the doctors gave me some spectacularly unpleasant news which had the effect of sending me into a rather dark place of despondency. My kidneys weren’t just unwell. They appeared to be dying.

By early 2014, after a biopsy, they turned out to be necrotic. It’s a rare form of kidney necrosis that is poorly understood, and the only treatments are rather experimental and unproven. In the meantime, my kidney cells are dying off, one by one, sending me, alongside the side-effects of the many medications I have to take now, into a world of weird things I never knew my body could do.

I might write more about those experiences at some point. I don’t have a sense of privacy about such things at this point, but it does get pretty gross, and I am conscious that folks come here to hear about gaming or science, rather than to hear me moan about grisly body-fluid-related tales.

At any rate, I don’t feel better than when I stopped blogging. I actually feel rather worse, but you do get used to it after a while, and there is a limit to how long you can sit around struggling with your sense of mortality before it gets a bit boring.

Oh, in other news, I got a cat!! I’m pretty much house-bound at this point, so little Tinkerbell keeps me company. I got her from the RSPCA, and due to her allergies, she has to remain indoors, so we’re perfect for eachother. I’m immunosuppressed, so it’s good she can’t be bringing any exciting new germs into the house. She’s a little bundle of joy who takes very good care of me.

Tinkerbell on desk

There. With this first post of 2015, I hope my own mental log-jam that has been stopping me from getting on with things here has at least been weakened, if not entirely demolished. I’ll try not to wait another 18 months before the next one.

In Which I Post Snow Pictures

I got one of those little handheld video cameras for Christmas, and I’m happy to report that even its still pictures are better than the rubbish that my phone tries to fob me off with. So, now we’ve had the first proper snow of the year, I could hardly resist taking a few pics. As a Brit, the weather is one of my favourite topics at any time, but when it snows it becomes the only subject to talk about.

A Winter Wonderland in my back yard.

A Winter Wonderland in my back yard.

A New Year’s Wish

Content, confused, weirded out, and all manner of things concurrently. Such is the way on New Years, as the old fights to remain relevant in the face of the new.

I can only hope that you, and I, find ways in the coming year to make sense of everything, and build upon what we already have. I have quite the laundry list of things I want to accomplish in 2013, and it’ll be a bloody good year if I manage a quarter of them.

As Stan Lee would say, “Excelsior!!!!”. That means “Ever Upward”, and that is where I have faith that the trajectory of your life, and mine, are headed. And if anything stands in our way, we shall glare at it until it jolly well budges. Damn right too.

Froot Loops come to the UK. I compare with the US version.

Kelloggs are trialling Froot Loops in the UK at the moment, in special limited edition boxes. I used to eat them, alongside any number of other colourful cereals, when I lived in the US, so I picked up a box. I don’t remember the US ones well enough to be able to compare the taste and crunch, but these ones taste pretty good to me.

Froot Loops come to the UK.

The UK version only has 3 colours of loop, and for good reason. Our version only used natural colours, so we have orange, coloured with carrot, purple, coloured with blackcurrant, and green, coloured with spinach and nettle. You can’t taste any carrot, spinach or nettle, by the way. Here are the British ingredients:

Cereal Flours (Oat, Wheat, Maize), Sugar, Glucose Syrup, Salt, Natural Citrus Flavouring with other Natural Flavourings, Plant Extracts (Nettle, Spinach), Fruit and Vegetable Extracts (Carrot, Blackcurrant), Colour (Papricka Extract)

And here are the US ingredients:

Sugar, whole grain corn flour, wheat flour, whole grain oat flour, oat fiber, soluble corn fiber, contains 2% or less of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (coconut, soybean and/or cottonseed), salt, red 40, natural flavor, blue 2, turmeric color, yellow 6, annatto color, blue 1, BHT for freshness.

There’s quite some difference there. Firstly, the US version has sugar as its number one ingredient. It also has partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, while the UK version seems to manage with no oil at all. Our primary cereal seems to be oats, while the US, unsurprisingly, has corn at the top, and then some soluble corn later. I’ve no idea if that really changes the taste much, but oats are quite a wondrous food. Oats have the highest protein levels of any cereal crop, which probably explains why UK Froot Loops have THREE TIMES the protein of their US counterparts.

Then you have Red 40, and a host of other artificial colours. BHT, or Butylated hydroxytoluene is a petroleum-based antioxidant used for freshness, but once again, the UK version manages to mysteriously not need it. It is possible that the natural colours (such as the carotene in the orange loops) are doing double duty, as they have strong antioxidant properties themselves.

The point of this post is this: There is no good reason why Kelloggs could not use the recipe they’re using in the UK in the US too. Even if you don’t care about the artifical chemicals (and you should), the British recipe is undeniably far better for you. The calorie amount is actually roughly the same, but the British version has about three times as much protein (great stuff, but also a slow-release calorie source), and about two thirds of the sugar. So neither are what you’d call healthy food, but the Glycemic Index of the US version would be much higher, as it releases its energy over a shorter period of time, meaning you get hungry again more quickly.

Essentially, UK Froot Loops are quite unhealthy on their own, but in moderation you could fit them in to a reasonably healthy diet. US Froot Loops are a comparative nutritional void, laced with a variety of suspect artificial substances with links to hyperactivity and cancer.

So, why not ask Kelloggs if they’d like to start treating American customers as well as they treat British ones? Currently, the deck is stacked against any American who wants to eat healthily, and the obesity epidemic can certainly be blamed in part on the choices companies make in formulating their products. As this post has shown, producers know how to make healthier products, but they feel they can get away with cutting corners when US consumers are concerned.

In Which I See The Light : My Laser Eye Surgery Consultation

I have been rather short-sighted for most of my life. It hasn’t really bothered me all that much, but still, it’s a bit inconvenient, and I’ve always had a hankering to get my eyes fixed. Back when I first looked at it, it was a rather new thing in the UK, and I decided that I’d pass, with it not being worth that chance of something going wrong.

A few weeks ago I was wandering through Norwich when I saw a sign outside Optical Express offering laser eye surgery at a vaguely affordable price, and on the spur of the moment I popped in to get some written information. Having talked it over with my friends and family, I finally decided to book a consultation, which I’ve just returned from.

It was all fairly painless. A bit of form-filling, and a lot of staring into various machines for a couple of hours. Also much chatting with the absolutely gorgeous and intelligent optical technician doing the scanning, who did a great job of putting my mind at ease (though the same could not be said for my pulse).

I was given some eye drops to dilate my pupils, and wow, I have had awesome bedroom eyes ever since. The drawback is that everything is far too bright, and my close up vision became terrible, with or without glasses. That seems to be wearing off now, but it made for a slightly squinty walk home.

After all the scans, I was reluctantly passed on to another optician who explained all the various laser surgery options to me. The actual procedure will be done by a laser-surgeon, whom I’ll meet on the day.

I’m going for the Advanced CustomVue Wavefront option. They do a basic laser surgery option that’s a lot cheaper, but I am deeply reluctant to skimp on something like my eyes. The Wavefront system not only deals with your short-sightedness, but also fixes up all sorts of other little defects in your eye. As it turned out that I have a fair few of those, it seems worthwhile, especially as most people who use Wavefront end up with better than 20/20 vision. As everyone’s eyes deteriorate with age anyway, having that extra wiggle-room seems like a good idea.

The part of the operation that scared me is the very beginning, where they have to cut your cornea to lift a flap, making the hole through which to shoot the lasers. I’d imagined that this was going to involve a doctor poking my eye with a knife. As you might know, I’m massively phobic of knives and blood, so I was very worried I might not be able to keep my eye still. Actually, I was also slightly concerned I might freak out, dive out of the chair, knock the doctor to the floor, and run screaming down the corridor. That would be an extreme panic response, but well within the realms of possibility for me and pointy objects.

Turns out, it doesn’t involve anything obviously knife shaped. A little circular suction device goes on the eye, it whirs a bit, and you’re done. I should be OK with that.

There is actually a more advanced option where they make the flap using another laser instead, but that costs an extra £300 an eye, which seems utterly unreasonable to me. It obviously would not cost them anything like that to use their laser rather than the mechanical thing, and I do get a bit annoyed when things are given a premium price for no good reason, especially where improved clinical outcomes are concerned.

In a similar vein, even though the laser part of the operation is going to take about 20 seconds per eye, if that, it turns out that my left eye is going to cost £200 more than my right, because it’s weaker. I am deeply doubtful that there is any good reason why my left eye should cost more to do.

Anyhows, it’s going to cost me a fair bit more than I expected. The costs quoted in the prospectus seem to be a very best case scenario, so you should expect to end up paying over that. I decided to go ahead with it anyway. I’m worth it! If I take into account all the glasses and contact lenses I won’t need to buy, maybe it’ll actually save me money in the long run. I keep telling myself that! The price includes a lot of after-care, so I guess it’s not too bad.

I saw no point in not having it done as soon as possible, so at 12:30 pm on the 7th of June, I’ll be getting my eyes zapped by Optical Express. I’ll let you know how I get on. I’m terribly nervous, but also rather excited. The last year has been full of life-changes for me, and this will be yet another positive step, I hope.

In some ways I’m going to rather miss wearing glasses. They’ve been a part of me for so long, and are kind of part of the geek uniform. I might pick up some nice sunglasses in a similar style, of the sort that adjust to light levels. That’ll give me something to hide behind when I feel the need!

An Overly Personal Growth.

I’m sorry I’ve not been posting much here recently. Truth be told, I’ve had a lot of other things on my mind. While I have gotten some gaming in, I’ve not really felt much like saying too much about it.

I was hoping that I was going to be able to write a relieved post today about how it turns out I don’t actually have cancer after all. Unfortunately, after my hospital appointment today, we still don’t know, and so I have a whole spectrum of interesting tests coming up in the next few weeks.

Lets lay it out. It’s a rather squeam-inducing and embarrassing topic for a chap to discuss, but I might as well be open about it.

My body has been in a state of decline for a few years, with various organs deciding that they could no longer be bothered to work properly, not least of which was my brain, which has not been feeling particularly sharp of late. Why all this was happening was a bit of a spooky mystery, but we suspected that the toxins that my liver was steadfastly refusing to filter out of my blood were probably not doing the rest of me any good.

Anyhows, that was the state of play until a few months ago, when my good friend, Dave Fuller, suggested to me that maybe I should get my testosterone levels checked. Testosterone is an incredibly important hormone, and low levels can trash your concentration and energy, cause depression, prevent muscle growth no matter how much you exercise, and even, in extreme cases, cause your organs to pack up. Well, this sounded sort of familiar, so the next time I was at my GP I asked him if I could get that tested for along with all my usual blood tests.

The thing is, male hormone-replacement therapy is getting to be a bit trendy, and GPs are somewhat beset by middle aged men trying to persuade them to put them on it. That particular therapy, for folks with normal hormone levels for their age, is not available on the NHS. There was, then, a bit of resistance from my GP. I argued that it might be the root cause of my depression, and that it would save us all a lot of trouble if that turned out to be the case. Largely, I suspect, to humour me, he agreed we’d test it, just to see.

The results were devastating. My testosterone levels are, well, practically non-existent. How long this has been going on is hard to say at this stage, but it seems likely that it has seriously messed up a good portion of my life up until now. I spent a month or more being pretty damn angry and bitter about that. I’m largely through the anger now, and looking forward to the possibility of getting a fully functional body and mind. Should that come to pass, I do, I shall warn you, reserve the right to catch up on some of the youthful adventures that I missed out on.

First though, we needed to find out exactly why my testosterone levels are so low. I’m pretty much hitting the embarrassment wall here. Suffice it to say that parts of my body have been poked, prodded, and scanned. It was during an ultrasound that the operators found something of interest. They were actually just supposed to be checking the blood flow (which turned out to be fine), but there it was; a dark blob, its dense structure absorbing the ultrasound far more than the surrounding tissue, or anything else that ought to be there.

Funny thing is, it probably has absolutely nothing to do with my low testosterone levels. We just happened to be looking in the right place at the right time to catch the very early stages of whatever it is. We still don’t know its exact nature, but it scares me terribly. It perches upon my shoulder during my waking hours, pregnant with dark possibilities. It is difficult to think of much else, and I’m afraid that I have been not been feeling terribly inspired to write about games, even when I feel well enough to play.

But I will. Don’t go deleting me from your RSS just yet. I’ve a whole lot of scans to get through, and likely a fair amount of being needled, stabbed, and sliced, but I’m going to get through this, and with any luck, I might even end up with a properly working brain again, and the strength to use it.

Fingerbobs – A British Children’s Television Classic!

The 70’s. A time when my young mind was subjected to every sort of strange talking animal or household object that television producers could think up. I’ve shared the terrifying Animal Kwackers with you before, but not every show from back then evokes such horrifying memories.

Fingerbobs was great. At its core, it was trying to encourage children to take up simple craft projects. Sometimes it succeeded, as the joys of making things out of stones and toilet rolls had a lot less competition back then. I remember finding Yuffie quite frightening to begin with, with his mighty beard and forehead, but he quickly won me around with his kind and gentle tales. The Fingerbobs themselves were a range of papercraft animals, who would assist Yuffie in his work. Their leader: the inimitable Fingermouse!

Fingermouse, Fingermouse
The never stop to think a mouse
The always on the brink a mouse
Fingermouse, that’s me

I am the mouse called Fingermouse
The mouse with guts and verve
I get past cats so easily
With my famous body swerve

Fingermouse, Fingermouse
I’m a sort of wondermouse
A hit, a miss, a blundermouse
Fingermouse, that’s me

When I think about it now, perhaps the fearless Fingermouse was one of the inspirations behind Maltheas!

I’m not too well right now, hence the lack of gaming, or posts. This too shall pass, possibly at the drop of a hat.