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Friday, January 18th, 2008

Classmates Guestbook

I joined Classmates years ago as a way of hooking up with old friends, and the site enticed me to do so by offering free benefits. But lately I’m come to suspect their motives and business practices. They don’t seem to be advertising-supported (of course, how would I know? I use Adblock), so they must rely on paid memberships to derive their revenue. So far, I’ve resisted their attempts to recruit me into a membership. I sometimes got contact information that included an email from visitors that might have known me, and used that to contact them directly (which never seemed to work), but who knows the ambivalence of a casual web-surfer?

Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of notices that someone has signed my guestbook. On most websites, that means someone who wants you to notice that he or she has seen your information and is interested in saying “hi” to you. But on Classmates, you have to pay to see who did this. So I tried to hack the system, and posted a photo (viewable by all) that included my email superimposed on the image. I keep getting the guestbook signing notices, but nobody emails me directly.

Is Classmates using an automated system to post guestbook notices just to get me to sign up for paid membership? Or am I getting guestbook signings from people too oblivious to notice the email or too lazy to contact me directly?

In either case, I’m willing to withhold the US$39 from Classmates to find out. So if you see me there, send me an email. Otherwise, I’m not interested.

Posted by Greg as Networking, Posts About Me at 18:12 PST


Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

Astronomy Therapy

A couple of nights ago I had an awful lot on my mind, and despite thinking that I really needed to go to bed and get some sleep, I went outside and looked up.

It was a cold, clear night, and viewing by the naked eye was probably as best as it could get (unless you happen to be driving across the middle of nowhere in New Mexico.) Even so, I grabbed a pair of low power binoculars and was rewarded with huge new perspectives.

I’ve been trying hard over the last year to finally learn something about the stars at night. I’ve always been interested in space, but never bothered to learn any astronomy. When I first started playing with Linux I encountered KStars and loved it, then I found Stellarium, which is even better, and I could load a copy on my Windows machine. I started in the summer and learned the basics – the Summer Triangle (Vega, Deneb, Altair), Rasalhague, Polaris, Cassiopeia, The Big Dipper, Arcturus, and Spica. Jupiter was in Scorpio, near Antares, and as the season progressed (or if I stayed up really late), Andromeda crept up. I knew there was a galaxy there but couldn’t find it. When I went to Diego Garcia I got up at 4 o’clock in the morning to go out for a sighting of the Southern Cross. Unfortunately, there was no way I could see Alpha Centauri again that time of year.

But I longed to see Orion again, and to really try to learn about the northern winter stars. So this night was the time to really delve, and I was rewarded.

I saw Orion, with Betelgeuse, Bellatrix, Rigel and Saiph. And I saw the Winter Hexagon, with Rigel, Sirius, Procyon (which I learned to pronounce), Castor and Pollux, Capella and Aldebaran. I watched Regulus in Leo come up, and saw Saturn. Mars was just underneath Alnath. And I pulled those laughable little binoculars out. I couldn’t see Saturn’s rings, but I saw the little fuzzes of the Great Nebulae in Orion and Andromeda. I located my own Zodiac sign – Cancer – and also discovered the cluster Praesepe without knowing to look for it. I finally found out why the Pleiades were so cool (although I don’t know why they’re called the Seven Sisters – I count six, and several possible contenders for the seventh.)

With the help of the binoculars, and my laptop with Stellarium (and Wikipedia to answer questions, and a couple of tequilas to keep me warm) I was able to actually see constellations. I saw Leo and Canis Major. I saw Hydra’s head (I used it to find Cancer), and Gemini, Auriga, Taurus and Perseus. I don’t know why Andromeda is a woman’s shape, but I saw where the stars were. I even lucked out and saw a meteor go across half the sky, and two satellites plod away. I recognized the motion from seeing Skylab before it fell in 1979, just before I left for America. I want to know why Cancer is listed as “small and dim” on Wikipedia when Pisces is even dimmer – what is that, “large and even dimmer”? I want to know why I’m considered to be a Cancer when the Sun was actually in Gemini when I was born. No, wait. I read about the difference between tropical and sidereal zodiacs – it just makes my head hurt, and astrology is all a bunch of BS anyway.

I went to bed when I realized that I had watched Procyon rise and now Arcturus had been up for a while – Spica was about to be visible again. Amazingly, considering the amount of warming I had turned out to have required, the next night I still was able to reel off a bunch of these names that I had learned.

If you want to lose yourself for a while, go outside at night with binoculars and Stellarium and Wikipedia. Take a friend if you want – maybe José or Jim or Johnny.

Posted by Greg as General Science, Posts About Me at 22:02 PST

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Melanoma Contact

With everything going on in my life, there is apparently still something that will make me drop everything else and respond.

Hi there. I just read your page on I hope you are still NED!!! That is encourging. My 34 year old sister was just diagnosed in Sept and has just started her shots at home of interferon. She had her 3rd one last night. So far, shes not doing to well. I dont know if it doesnt get better I dont think she will be able to continue. She has 2 young boys too. I dont see how people get through it!! Do you think it is worth it?

Here’s my response:

It’s worth it only if you think living is worth it.

Interferon sucks, big time. No one can say what side effects the patient will encounter, and the list of possibilities is very long. If your sister is just starting, the physical effects are huge – hot/cold flashes, not being able to sleep, then passing out from exhaustion. Those subside, but although I was told I might be able to continue to work on interferon, I ended up taking disability and not working for a year. I got into a cycle were I slept for about 4 hours, got up and was reasonably fine for another 4 hours, then needed to sleep again. It’s hard to work on that kind of schedule, but I was able to cook dinner every night and take care of my daughter’s needs. I traveled by air and went to my sister’s wedding on interferon.

The first month is really hard because you take the massive doses. My liver showed bad results and I ended up cutting back. After the first month, I went 3 shots a week instead of five and things got better. Surprisingly, I found giving myself the shots in the belly was easier than the legs, but maybe that’s because I had more flab there! Your sister will definitely get over any fear of needles, but there where times when I looked at the full syringe and loathed what I was about to do. But I knew that if I put it off, the hold/cold symptoms would come back.

I ended up with depression, and got myself on meds to help that. Then I had to fight the side effects of the meds. I really missed wanting to get laid every now and again! I lost about 60 pounds over the course of the treatment, from about 240 to 180. I don’t really care for it, but smoking pot gave me back some of my appetite.

The interferon really messed with my mind. Your sister will not be herself for a long time. Everyone around her will have to understand this and just try to be supportive. My family and friends’ support was crucial in getting through this.

I give the most credit to surviving this (yes, I am still NED after 7 1/2 years!) to my deep-rooted belief that I would beat the cancer. Your sister has to be encouraged to believe this to the depths of her soul.

Please give my cell phone number to your sister. I generally don’t answer from numbers that I don’t recognize, so leave a message and I will call back. She can call 24 hours a day as long as she can hang in there while I wake up. I’ll drop whatever I’m doing to help somebody else through this.

Get yourself some therapy when you need it. Interferon therapy is not only tough on the people who take it, but tough on the people who love them.

Best wishes,


I really hope her sister calls me. Anything I can do to help somebody else through this is worth it.

I’ve heard from a couple of melanoma patients over the years and done my best to try to encourage them while they get through the treatment. I’d love to be able to help more.

Posted by Greg as Melanoma at 20:30 PST

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