Now with more imiquimod

It’s so great to be alive! Long may it last.

I returned triumphant from the medicine man, who gave me an expensive and painful home treatment aginst the deathmark of the daystar, to stop it before the mark can develop into the consuming death curse.

Or in other words, the doctor confirmed that I had solar keratosis, skin damage caused by being out in the sunlight at various points in my past without sunscreen. (Probably some time ago, since I have avoided sunshine when possible lately to avoid migraines.) This keratosis can worsen over time and turn malignant, that is to say cancerous. Based on the size and appearance he was confident that we caught it in time, despite the appearance of a new blood vessel connecting to it. (Angiogenesis, the creation of new blood vessels, is one of several steps necessary for tumor-forming cancers. I remembered that from back when SuperWoman studied medicine in Germany. Well, also my tendency to remember weird stuff, as you may have noticed.)

The expensive and potentially somewhat painful remedy is imiquimod, which has nothing to do with iniquity (as far as I know) but was a treatment for genital and anal warts (why are these even in the same sentence everywhere) and then was discovered to also kill off skin cancers and pre-cancerous skin changes. It works by riling up the immune system locally, so killer cells attack any cells that look a bit weird. I hate it when people do that, but I guess for cells it is OK, as long as it stays local. When the immune system starts doing this all over the body, you get auto-immune diseases like lupus, which can be painful and even deadly. So this stuff is not something you wash down, it is something you put on your skin in the evening and wash off in the morning. It may still turn the spot red and tender or possibly even painful, but as they used to say in Eastern Europe: “Better red than dead.”

The doctor told me repeatedly that it was expensive, but it turned out to cost barely two full-price expansion packs for Sims 4. (OK, those are hilariously overpriced, but then they don’t treat or prevent cancer.) Medication and medical treatments are heavily subsidized in Norway, but they are not entirely free as some American socialists believe. There is a small copay so people don’t bother doctors and pharmacists on a lark. But there is a pretty low ceiling (approximately 6 expansion packs) on how much you can pay before you get an exemption card for the rest of the calendar year. I’ve had that a couple of times, but most years I don’t even have that much expenses. (I also don’t buy 6 expansion packs for EA games, but I totally would if they cured cancer.)

My next doctor appointment is in November, at which point we are supposed to see if the “sunspot” is gone. Look forward to it? (And possibly to a review of Sims 4 Cottage Living.)

Still mortal (after all these years)

Screenshot anime Hanada Shounen Shi.

Give me immortality or give me resurrection! Death is not on my wishlist at all. Unfortunately, it won’t always be up to me.

“My goal is to be immortal. So far, so good.” Uh, about that…

I am double-vaccinated against COVID-19, but I can still get cancer. And probably have, but we’ll know more about that by the end of August at the earliest. But when I saw the patch of red, scabby skin on my face had grown a new little blood vessel, I did not tarry overlong requesting a doctor appointment. Angiogenesis – the creation of new blood vessels – is not something bacteria or fungi can do, but cancers do this routinely as they mature, because without extra blood supply their growth is limited. So yeah, probably cancer this time, or at least a precancerous growth. Which sucks, but not as much as it did a couple of generations ago.

When I was a kid, the word “cancer” was pretty much a death sentence. But that is no longer the case, especially with cancers that are easily detected, like basal and squamous skin cancers. (This is probably one of those, if it has even advanced to the cancer stage at all.) Today, the greater risk for me is the simple and streamlined structure of Norwegian public health care (which is almost all the health care we have, except for a booming beauty industry).

***

Norwegian health care: Each person is assigned a regular doctor, called “fastlege” in Norwegian. Unfortunately this has nothing to do with the English words “fast” as in speedy, but rather means fixed, immovable doctor. (They can be replaced though, but it is a procedure.) Mine has been looking out for me for many years, most lately by gambling on me getting vaccinated in a far-away location without getting infected along the way. So I’m fine with the system in general. But doctors need a vacation too. Regular doctors, specialists, all kinds of health personnel celebrate the short Norwegian summer by taking a month or so off. Last time I was suspected to have cancer (false alarm, yay) I had to wait a couple of months for further investigation because of summer vacation. This time I am only waiting 1 month for my regular doctor, but of course it feels longer.

After seeing my doctor, he will hopefully apply for an appointment with a dermatologist. (Ideally my local doctor would remove the skin lesion first, but that may be too much to hope for.) Then a couple more months (possibly more since people have stayed away for 18 months during the pandemic). Hopefully the dermatologist will remove the thing and get it checked for cancer. I would like to have this done before Christmas, but again, there is likely a backlog from the pandemic. And I guess I have contributed to that, so fair is fair.

Generally, our health care has two lanes: Emergency and everything else. Cancer is not an emergency, at least not until it is too late. So it is perfectly normal for people to wait for months to diagnose and remove a small cancer, and then have a fortune of tax money spent trying in vain to get rid of all the metastases that were created during the wait. This may not be perfect, but it is simple and streamlined, the way we like things here in Norway. It wouldn’t be like this unless the people wanted it this way, what with us having a pretty effective democracy as such things go. A small downside of our current democracy is that dead people don’t vote. (Unlike what I hear from some other countries.) So if some feature causes people to get removed from the voting pool, those who suffered from it will not be around to vote against it.

***

Well, it is not like I was in doubt about the mortality of my flesh before. I am that age after all, where I could live another thirty years or another thirty seconds. You have to get used to it. “All flesh is grass” a better prophet than me once said. But episodes like this one remind me of the unofficial motto of the Chaos Node: “We must say all the words that should be spoken, before they are lost forever.” And I wonder if I have done that. Probably, and then some. But as long as you live, there are new things to learn.

Vaccinated, what now?

Selfie with partial QR-code

License to not kill: The small printout is a “corona passport” from the Norwegian authorities, verifying that I am mostly harmless when it comes to transmitting COVID-19. It is a good start, but is it all there is?

So I took the chance to travel a long distance by public bus to get vaccinated, and it paid off: I got injected, not infected. It was a gamble, since there was a major outbreak in the area, and I wish it had not been necessary, but it was, and paid off. In my own municipality, people my age are being given their first dose of vaccine this week, and the second dose in 12 weeks, or around the start of September! By now I have also received the second injection with artificial genes, and recently two weeks have gone since that, so I am no considered as protected against COVID-19 as humanly possible. Presumably getting infected in the supermarket is now less dangerous than drinking the Pepsi I sometimes buy there.

For many people in the same situation, the obvious conclusion is to return to the same lifestyle they had before the pandemic. I am sure there are many who are genuinely hoping for that. But we are also many who think that’s too early, and some of us even suspect that there will be a new normal, one that is different from all that has been before.

But let us take the first thing first. As I mentioned, I was “privileged” with a chronic illness that is usually not hindering a moderately active lifestyle, but which could make COVID-19 even much more dangerous than it already is at my age. That is the reason why I was packed off to another municipality for early vaccination. But all around me here are other people in their 60es who are not vaccinated at all, or so recently that their immune system has not yet been set up properly to recognize the virus. And most people in their 50es don’t even have an appointment yet. But for the last couple of months at least, patients in their 50es have actually been the largest group at the hospitals here in Norway. Very few of them die, but those who get that sick tend to not recover fully in months, if ever.

Here in Norway, we don’t really have a problem with large groups avoiding vaccination because of superstition or following the teachings of insane or evil leaders who relish human suffering. So that’s good, even though we have a tiny minority who are personally too confused in their brain to understand the value of vaccination. And of course, there are a few who simply cannot be immunized, because of some genetic disorder, or because of transplants, or some such. In total, there is a large number of people who can still be infected. And we know that it is possible for a double-vaccinated person to get symptomatic COVID-19, although in Norway at least we have not had any severe cases. But even infections so light that you don’t get symptoms, can still shed virus for a while.

The main purpose of the vaccine is not really to protect us as individuals, although that may be our motivation to get it. It certainly was for me, because I am just that selfish. But the real plan is to achieve herd immunity, where there are so many vaccinated people that the virus simply gives up. We achieved that with smallpox, we almost achieved it with measles and polio before some evil or insane people starting seeding rumors that caused gullible and disturbed souls to reject vaccination. Now we will probably have to be on guard against these diseases for the foreseeable future.

It will probably be something similar for COVID-19, with waves of infections coming to Norway from the USA and developing nations, only to fail after a short time because most people are vaccinated. It seems that many of the vaccinated overcome the virus before it has time to replicate, even if some (especially older people) get sick for a short time. Statistics show that as vaccinations go up (at least with mRNA vaccine), transmission of disease goes down. In Norway, so far around 97% have chosen vaccination among the groups that have had the chance. This should be enough to stop the virus near the border, before it gets a chance to find the few vulnerable.

But that is all still in the future. For now, we need to show restraint. Avoid close contact with strangers (“ale and whores” as one says in the roleplaying community), stay home if sick, use masks in dense indoor settings.

The masks are probably come to stay. In East Asia, it has already for a time been normal to wear a mask if you have a cold or people around you have a cold. It is not seen there as a sign of covardice, but of acting responsibly and not causing problems for others. I believe this has a good chance of becoming the rule here in Norway as well. In the USA, it seems masks are now a political symbol, so they are probably going to stay in part of the population for that reason. That’s not how it was supposed to be, but luckily the USA is only 333 million people out of almost 8 billion. From the global perspective, the important thing is to get everyone who wants, vaccinated, and until then be careful to not cause more suffering and death than there has already been.

 

A final (?) hurdle

Friendly bear surrounded by human family

Image taken from YouTube video “15 awkward families you won’t believe actually exist”. The places we will go for our readers… It will all make sense at the end, trust me. 

Anyway, I’m still alive, long may it last. Actually, that’s what I’m writing about today.

My native Norway is frequently mentioned as the world’s best country to live in. And that is probably true if you are a Norwegian, as I am. I am sure most Americans would rather live in America and most Israelites in Israel. Most of my American friends are already vaccinated against COVID-19, while I am not, despite being 62 years old and having paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, a condition associated with severe comorbidity with COVID-19. (Oddly enough my asthma seems to have no such effect.)

But real soon now, on April 29th, I am slated to receive my mRNA vaccine. (The two readily available vector vaccines, from AstraZeneca and Johnson&Johnson, are put on hold indefinitely in Norway because they can cause a fatal autoimmune response in women of fertile age. You don’t mess with our women without someone getting punished. In this case us. Countless men and older women will have to wait longer for their vaccines.) But finally it is my turn. Except of course it is not without a twist.

***

I am not the author of this world, or even the main character. But I am the viewpoint character, the observer who collapses the wave function and open’s the box to see whether Schroedinger’s cat is alive or dead. And it gets personal when the cat is me, and I am about to open that box.

You can’t have a good story without some drama to test the characters, they say. But sometimes this plot point can seem a bit contrived. Just look at this.

I live in Mandal, a sleepy little town on the south coast of Norway. The vaccination center for our town is within walking distance from my home. Not close, certainly, but enough that I would walk there with some regularity to change ownership of the Ingress portal there, back when I played Ingress. So not extremely far. I reasonably assumed that I would go there to get my vaccine, and then go home. But that would not be much of a plot twist, would it?

No, our benevolent government has instead given me an appointment on the opposite side of the nearest city of some size, Kristiansand, roughly an hour and a half away by bus. And bus it is, since I have not needed a car before the pandemic, and a pandemic is not really the time to start learning to drive a car. I could take a taxi, which would cost a lot more (taxi rides are very expensive in Norway) and still carry the risk of infection, just from the driver instead of fellow passengers. There’s no keeping distance in a taxi.

Luckily, Norway has been one of the least infected countries outside Oceania, with its sensible government, affluent population, and lots of space. We’re currently coming down from our fourth wave of the disease, but they have all been moderate by global standards, and we’re almost back down to the level before this wave and the last. So the risk should not be too great? Of course I signed up. The alternative was to go to the back of the line, probably in September sometime.

PLOT TWIST! A wild contagion appears! (“Wild contagion” is the literal translation of the Norwegian word “villsmitte”. In English it is called “community transmission”, which sounds like a collaboration project for making car parts. English is weird, y’all.) Suddenly after I signed up, my quiet little town has its biggest outbreak since the first wave, enough to make it to national newspapers. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health is intervening, there is mass testing and quarantining of contacts, but new cases keep popping up and one health worker is already dead. It is quite Texas here. Meaning anyone boarding that bus along with me could kill me just by breathing. (Unless they were a mask, which very few Norwegians do because it is traditionally associated with crime.) SUSPENSE!

***

As insane as this all seems, I have a pretty good idea of what happened. It is not simply the bureaucracy randomly doing random things. Rather it stems from the way the Norwegian primary health care is organized, with each citizen being assigned to a default doctor. You can choose another one, and you get to choose again every time you move. I lived in the rural municipality of Søgne, between here and Kristiansand, for over 20 years, and got my regular doctor there. That’s the guy who think most problems can be fixed with more exercise, and he is probably right about that. I have at least never had any compelling reason to change, so I kept him even when I moved here. It is certainly not within walking distance, but not very far either.

Last year there was yet another poltically induced reform, merging municipalities, especially towns absorbing the nearby rural communities. Søgne was eaten by Kristiansand which is bigger than Mandal. (Mandal got the villages west of it, and changed name to Lindesnes since tourists know the name. I still say Mandal.)

The government has probably assigned vaccination destination based on where my regular doctor is located, not on where I live. The reason for this is that the regular doctors were asked to go through the lists of citizens and see if there were any who should go ahead in the line. That probably happened to me, because of the heart troubles: The schedule for my municipality says that the last of those over 65 would be vaccinated the first week of May, and I am 62 and it is still April, just barely. So my turn would probably have come sometime in May, if not my friendly regular doctor had remembered me and recommended I be pushed a few weeks forward in the queue. Little did he know that he risked my life by doing so. If I had declined my appointment, I would go to the back of the line, which is currently estimated to be September sometime.

***

A unique Norwegian expression, as far as I know, is “bear service” (in Norwegian “bjørnetjeneste”). It is based on the story of a guy who raised a bear cub. The grown bear was quite fond of the man, and one day when he saw a fly land on the man’s head, he decided to help by swatting the fly. Unfortunately he killed the man in the process. Based on this story, the expression has become a common part of the Norwegian language: To do someone a bear service is to try to help them, but harming them instead. It is quite common and I’m sure I’ve done it myself more than once. But obviously health care is one area where such services have extraordinary effects.

Then again, I may survive. It’s happened before.

Devotion to the Christmas Star?

Picture “borrowed” from another Christmas song on YouTube.

I don’t think I wrote about this last time I listened to it. After all, this song is in Norwegian, and I am not sure I have any Norwegian readers these days.

Sonjas sang til julestjernen (YouTube)

The song is taken from an older version of the screenplay Journey to the Christmas Star which you can find elsewhere. The song seems to have been replaced in modern versions, perhaps because it was deemed crypto-Christian. That said, in the Norwegian text (where Christmas is still called by its pagan name yule, or “jul” in Norwegian) there is no religious reference at all. You’ve got to have been there: Unless you have personal experience of religious devotion, you will likely not see anything religious about it at all. I cannot translate it into English poetry, alas, but I can translate it into English, so you can see for yourself.

Christmas star, may I have you?
Once a little girl was asking.
Would give a kingdom
To know you.

Christmas star, begone!
said a bitter king later.
Dark you turned, and dark the times
-must you hide yourself?

Christmas star, come to me!
You have caused us grief and pain;
Look, I give you now my heart,
let me kindle you.

Christmas star, stay with me!
It is good to see you shine.
You must never again disappear,
never forget me.

(The story of the screenplay tells about a small princess who goes out in the forest to find the Christmas star, and disappears. The queen dies from heartbreak and the king curses the Christmas star, an actual bright star in the sky. It disappears, and the kingdom is cast into darkness and despair. Years later, the girl who was actually caught by robbers, manages to get away and ends up in the castle. But she has forgotten that she used to be a princess, and nobody recognizes her except an old dog. When she learns of the plight to the kingdom, she decides to go search for the Christmas star. She overcomes great adversity by receiving help due to her kindness and her selfless quest. Eventually the Christmas star is returned to the sky, in the process acknowledging the princess, who in the meantime had been replaced by an impostor. There is absolutely zero reference to the Biblical “Christmas star” that supposedly guided some astrologers, magi or “wise men” to come worship the infant Christ. Norway is a thoroughly post-Christian country and religious propaganda in public is frowned upon, especially toward children.)

The song stays entirely within the narrative of the screenplay, and most people hearing it would probably never notice the crypto-religious undercurrent. Yet when I came across this song some months ago, I was moved to tears, because this is, very briefly, the archetypal story of innocent devotion, loss, repentance and return, mature devotion. Many Christians will be familiar with this (I less so, personally, since I was not raised as a Christian exactly). And for that matter probably also devotees of Krishna, Rama, or even Lakshmi; but I don’t think they were ever associated with the Christmas Star. And that’s just fine with me.

Norway and food

This frozen pizza is ready to do battle against my digestive tract. I am going to fry it twice over in the microwave, but will it be enough? 

I love being a Norwegian in Norway in the early 21st century! It is like winning the powerball lottery of birth in time and space. It is like a reverse Book of Job … You may have heard that in the biblical Book of Job, God and Satan basically bet on how much suffering a righteous man could go through before he cursed God. But now it is like the two of them have a bet on how much good fortune they can put a sinner through before he praises God. Anyway, yes we love this country! But there is this one thing… There is always this one thing, is there not?

Food. To understand, let us jump back in time to my early childhood, in the 1950es and 1960es, and the time before oil was found in the North Sea. Norway was already an OK place, but it was very obviously poorer than neighboring Sweden and Denmark, although not as poor as Portugal and Greece. Although even this was probably mostly due to Protestant work ethic and saving money where they could. Norway was a decidedly Lutheran country at the time, although that was about to change. But mot the attitudes, as it turns out. Back then, because there was not a lot of money sloshing around, food made up a sizable part of the household budget, or at least of the part they could do anything about. So cheap food was the Norwegian way.

Fast forward two generations, and Norwegians are wallowing in money, driving Tesla and going on vacation to Bali. But they still buy cheap food. Except it is not actually cheap anymore: It looks cheap, it tastes cheap, and there are big posters saying “CHEAP!” but actually it is some of the most expensive food in the world. Almost all supermarkets and grocery shops are owned by three large chains; two of these are run by some of the closest Norway has to super-rich capitalists. The third is the COOP chain (as in co-operative) which is owned by the customers, such as me, and otherwise more or less by itself. Unsurprisingly they are steadily taking over more of the market. Anyway, despite the high prices, Norwegians remained obsessed with tricking themselves into thinking that they are buying cheap food.

And this, gentle reader, is probably why I go the supermarkets and almost without exception find that their fridges are about as cold as my kitchen is in winter, at best. The freezers are indeed below freezing, but nothing like the -18 degrees Celsius that is assumed on the “best before” date.

My reaction to this is, as one might expect from a sane person: “What the actual hell with fire and dead sinners? Are they trying to kill off their own customers?”

Norwegians, on the other hand, probably think something like this: “Oooh, they are saving money! This place must have cheap food, when they don’t even waste money on keeping it cold!” so they shop there.

Unsurprisingly to me, Norway has the highest sick leave in Northern Europe, if not the world. My conservative friends credit the generous pay during sick leave. Me, I suspect explosive diarrhea and general mayhem of the gastrointestinal tract. But I may be wrong. Perhaps paleontologists are right that humans actually evolved as scavengers first, competing with vultures rather than lions for their food, and that the human digestion evolved accordingly. If not, then I feel assured that over time the Norwegian digestion will evolve like that, because of the evolutionary pressure. You may not actually die of the food here, but it must be hard to reproduce while your bowels try to escape in all directions. Not that I have tried or anything.

(Update: In the end, I could only eat half of the pizza before the burning pain in my mouth made me rush for some yogurt instead. Not because of the heat, because of the spices. Evidently the medieval practice of camouflaging the taste of rotting food with spices is alive and well in Norway. Either that or terrorists are secretly poisoning our food supply.)

A final farewell

The farm where I was born and grew up. (Open picture in new tab for large photo.) The picture I am talking about toward the end is similar to this but much older and taken from a higher vantage point.

Hopefully this is not a final farewell to my last remaining reader, although that is out of my hands. Rather, it was a final farewell to my last remaining parent in this life. And possibly, although I hope not, to the farm where I was born and grew up, and the people who live there and in the village in general.

My trip to the west coast of Norway went well enough. Travel from here to there is surprisingly difficult, because of the wild nature in Norway that tourists love to see. I took train to the east country, to the town of Drammen, then another train northwest to Bergen, then katamaran (a fast ship with two keels) to Askvoll. I arrived around 11 on Monday, and my youngest older brother came to pick me up. He is a farmer, so he is his own boss (although his wife claims to be his boss too, and the animals could probably have some claim there as well, at least when it comes to working hours.) This brother lives on the farm where I grew up, and where my parents lived from just after they married, many decades ago. All three of his awesome kids live there too, at least for the summer.

The burial went without any great scenes, but the coffin must have been made of really thick oak or worse, because it was disturbingly heavy. I don’t remember my mother, grandmother or grandfather being nearly that heavy to carry (physically speaking), and he was not a huge man even before his leg was amputated. I wonder if it is possible to request in advance that my coffin be made of balsa wood?

As a child, I knew this man as my father, but as I waited in the church for the rituals to begin, I felt very strongly that he was now my brother. As Jesus said: “You shall not call anyone on earth ‘Father’, for you have one Father, who is in Heaven.” My earthly father was baptized at the age of 76, declaring his allegiance in that respect. Of course, spiritually speaking, we all have our spirit from the Father of Lights, who is the origin of all that is called family in Heaven and on Earth, as the Christian Bible explains. The spirit of man is a lamp of the Lord. Well, all of this should be familiar, and I am not a teacher or preacher anyway, lest the dim be leading the blind.

Most of those who had found the way to the church also followed to the gathering afterwards in a nearby locale. Such memorial gatherings are common here in Norway, rather than the “wake” that is found in some allied cultures. There is a humorous belief that some people show up at these gatherings to get free food, and if so they were in luck, for the food was simple but excellent. A few friends and relatives (and mostly combinations thereof) spoke briefly about the good qualities of the deceased and their good memories. The most moving of them were however written by his then 15 year old granddaughter and read by her mother. At some point I realized that most likely, I was the one present who knew him the least. Because as I can attest, people continue to grow (well, at least in my family we do) well into old age, all the way until the brain gives out or death shuts us down. The old man they had known was a better, wiser and greater man than the one I grew up with, and that says something.

Although the occasion was far from auspicious in itself, I am glad I got to meet again many of my relatives. I know for many people, family reunions are purgatory if not hell on earth. But to me, it is closer to paradise. There certainly are some fringe cases further out in the branches of the family tree, but the close family and their descendants that I met are amazing in so many ways. But then, they “stand on the shoulders of giants”. I hope to stay in touch with at least some of them, to some degree. I know this will be a challenge, because this so-called real world is to me so much like a fog, and the people in it like shadows. But then again, under the eyes of eternity, so am I.

***

This being the last of our parents, we four brothers decided to share between us whatever earthly goods were left behind, and pay the bills. As fate had gone to great lengths to show me the week before, I am not really in a position where I should accumulate more earthly goods, quite the opposite, so I asked only for a few good winter socks that would otherwise have been thrown away, and an old photography of our farm that used to hang in the living room during my childhood but which he had brought with him to the assisted living home. I had hoped for this picture to be copied so we all could have one, assuming that it was even more meaningful to my brothers, but evidently they think I should have it, even though I have done nothing to deserve it except continuing to breathe. I let the picture stay there until we meet again, so they can still reconsider if they want to.

So, now I have winter socks to warm my feet. And memories to warm my heart. As my brother quoted from an old Norwegian song: “It is a great heritage for man to be born of good people.” And the more so, I would say, to be raised by them.

Slice of life and death

Seishuu (Handa) from anime Barakamon

I am a person who would die alone.

It seems that in Japan, dying alone is considered a terrible fate. Perhaps it is so here too. I certainly don’t want to die alone, but this is because I don’t want to die at all. Unfortunately avoiding bodily death seems not to be an option. I would certainly like to know that people at least try to keep me alive. But once that is no longer an option, there are actually very few people whose presence I would find better than nothing at my deathbed. By then, there is only one person I desperately want to be with me, and that is the Invisible Friend who has watched over me for all these years, living with me in my heart, or perhaps I live in His.

Even if You take it all away
I’ll wait for You
Even when the light begins to fade
I’ll wait for You…

I heard this song (Ashes Remain: Without You) on YouTube the other day, and wondered if that is how I will feel if my passing is slow and gradual. Also, at the same time, I wondered if this was how my earthly father felt before he passed away Wednesday morning. He had indeed lost many things: Most lately his leg, and before that gradually many of his memories, though not all. Already back in 2001 he lost his wife of many years. From my childhood I remember them as two sides of the same coin, different yet inseparable. And yet they were separated: Death did them part.

As I was about to leave after my mother’s burial, he said that he hoped it would not be until the next burial that I would visit. I did not think so, but that was exactly what happened. Or will happen if all goes according to plan, for tomorrow I have the tickets that should take me there. I really, really hate to impose on people, and I really really hate to travel, so it turned out it takes something of this magnitude to shake me out of my den.

***

Speaking of shaking and den … no, not an earthquake, they are rare and barely noticeable here. Rather, my landlord texted me on Tuesday and told me that there would be an inspection of the apartment on Thursday, and asked if it was tidy and clean? Well, there is a reason my website is called the Chaos Node … I imagined that the house was about to be sold suddenly (I got 3 weeks notice last time) and he was going to take pictures for the prospect, or even show it off to interested buyers. Probably the first, I doubt he has pictures from before I moved in. Now, the apartment does not look like a garbage heap, but there is a huge gap to the stylish, sparse pictures you see in prospects. Frantic tidying began forthwith. Then in the morning my oldest brother called telling me that dad had passed away. So yeah, Wednesday was pretty stressful, by my standards.

The landlord, being helpful, drove off nine big (but not overly heavy) sacks of stuff I had quickly reclassified as garbage, mostly paper and cardboard but ranging all the way to clothes that were too damaged to give away. It turned out that he was just getting a professional value assessment, so it was alright if the place looked lived in, as long as it did not look like a garbage heap. (The kitchen actually was a garbage heap last time he visited: The asylum-seekers living in the other half of the house had filled all the garbage bins, including compostable, for some time. So I had to store the garbage in the kitchen until the bin got emptied. We have gotten new asylum seekers since then, though.)

On the bright side, going through my belongings showed not only that I had things I could throw away (story of my life, literally and metaphorically) but there were also things I found that I did not know I had, mainly clothes. I may as well use them – last time I moved, I also went through my belongings and then the moth had eaten pieces of some of my best clothes. This is indeed a world where moth and rust are active, but then again last time I moved was from a place called Møll (the Norwegian word for Moth), so there is that.

Perhaps I should try to make a habit of going through my stuff and throwing away unnecessary clutter even if I am not about to move. It is not like I can bring any of it with me into eternity, anyway.

***

The plan is for me to travel tomorrow afternoon and the night by train, then in the morning take the boat from Bergen to Askvoll. The alternative is bus, but in my experience trains are better for sleeping. The doctor who had the same heart arrhythmia as I told me that I should avoid staying up all night, but it is kind of hard to get to the place I grew up without sacrificing some sleep. Still, given all the sleep my parents sacrificed for me when I was small and sickly, I really want to try this. And as it is written in the Christian Bible: “Honor your father and your mother, that it may go well with you and you may live long in the land.” As my parents carried me when I was new in this world, so at least I should carry them when they leave it. On Tuesday, that will be the last of them.

And if I have not honored them enough to live as long as they did, then at least I am grateful that I survived them. There was much doubt about that when I grew up (and they were honest about it, too – I grew up knowing that I had only 50% change to make it to adulthood) but in the end, here I am, writing this. And it makes me happy not only for my own sake. I seem to have a surprising number of friends who have survived one or more of their children, even though we live in a time when we act like that does not happen anymore. That, at least, my parents were spared. I hope my brothers also can look forward to many good years. They are all better people than me, I believe, because they manage to bring happiness to people even outside their job. And so did my parents. To me, their lives were windows into a realm of light, to which I believe they return. After all, even if we live well into our 80es (as my earthly father did), in the end, it is nothing more than a thin slice of life.

MS Windows troubles

Screenshot anime Kanojo ga Flag o Oraretara

This morning was absolutely crawling with chaos. It started as I turned on my home office computer, which had installed updates at 3AM and restarted itself, as it frequently does. It seems like a good idea, to install updates while you sleep. After all, you would not want to miss the latest security patches and improved functionality.

Unfortunately, the new functionality was that I could not log in. Whether I picked my usual account or the betatester account I use for testing games, there was just a brief pause and then Windows returned me to the login screen. No error message. I restarted the computer and tried again. I did various things and tried again and again. No change. I restarted in Safe Mode. Same problem. I restored Windows to last good configuration. Still the same.

I installed Ubuntu Linux, which is a pretty good alternative to Windows for most people, and free. After a little while I switched to Xubuntu (it is really just a different setup, the core is the same as Ubuntu, but Xubuntu is more similar to old Windows versions). Ubuntu is free, like most Linux versions. I use to install it on old laptops when they become too slow under Windows. This is less of a problem these days, but it was a big deal back in the days of Windows Vista.

Xubuntu is nice enough, but there were a couple problems. I had used this machine to provide Internet access to my cabled home network, which includes a Windows 10 machine for playing games, a NAS (home server) for backup and sharing files, and a small old notebook computer for uploading and downloading to and from the NAT without taking up resources on the main machines. But now I could not get Linux to share the Internet. It should be easy, really, there is a choice for it. “Shared with other computers” it says, but that actually only lasted for a minute or so, then I got a message “Disconnected from Ethernet”. (Ethernet is the cabled network, to put it simply.) I did various things and restarted numerous times to no avail.

Eventually I found an USB wireless receiver and connected this to the Windows 10 machine, then told it to share its Internet. This worked well enough, except the NAS (Network-Attached Storage) server did not show up. After changing the workgroup name by editing a configuration file, I got it to show up. But as soon as I tried to copy a file to it, it hung up and show up empty until I logged off an logged on again. This repeated itself for as long as I bothered trying.

I was kind of in a hurry to continue working on my National Novel Writing Month story. Luckily that was saved on a disk I could access from Xubuntu. I copied it to a USB drive, in case I wanted to continue writing on it on the other Windows computer (the gaming computer). I installed WINE, a program that lets you run Windows programs in Linux. I had already read a few years ago that you could run yWriter in Linux this way. (yWriter is the program I use for writing novels. It is written by a programmer and novelist and fits my working style exactly.) It did work when started with WINE, and it found my novel in progress, but the spell check did not work and it did not recognize the names and locations. I downloaded the dictionary and manually copied it to the place it should be. Now it worked except it did not recognize words when Capitalized, such as at the start of every sentence.

Somewhere around this time I decided to reinstall Windows on one of the disks. (I am keeping Xubuntu on the other.) This took the rest of the evening and will continue into the next day or two or more.

Needless to say, there was no progress on the novel this day. But then again, contrary to the slogan of National Novel Writing Month, the world does not really need my novel. Probably.

MOOC update

Screenshot anime Denki-Gai (ep 1)

I am glad I have lived this long! (Picture from Denki-Gai, which is not really recommended except for the funny screenshots.)

Try if you can to imagine what free university studies at home means to someone who, as a child, would read the phone book for scarcity of non-fiction literature.

I just finished the astrobiology course Super-Earths and Life from HarvardX (via the edX MOOC platform).

MOOC, as we have talked about before, are massive open online courses, at this time mainly university-level courses and frequently coming from some of the most prestigious universities of the world. Harvard, in this case, probably needs no further introduction, at least to readers from the western world. So that is kind of awesome. And it will be available to most of the world, thanks to the Android revolution that (according to my estimate) should start in earnest this year (with $20 – $50 Android tablets being churned out for India and other emerging markets). The $20 tablet has actually arrived just in time. Now just wait until it is in the hands of the global middle class: Those who have food security but not luxury. They are going to embrace education in a way that we cannot even imagine, we who had it stuffed down our throat since early childhood.

Be that as it may, the astrobiology course ends on Sunday. (There will no doubt be new rounds of it.) I got 97%, less than perfect but still respectable for a Harvard course I guess. My brain is still working, long may it last! But I am too old to become an astrobiologist. Not that there is detected any biology among the astra so far, but we keep looking. Because we can! Humans are kind of funny that way. Whether lifeforms on other planets think the same way is an open question.

***

I am not going to run out of MOOC just because this one course ends. I still have a couple more weeks left of Programming for Everybody (Python), from the University of Michigan, on the Coursera MOOC platform. These are the two platforms I have used so far. Generally I find Coursera easier, a bit more spoon-feeding while my edX courses have required some more work. None of them have been too bad though, except the “Science of Happiness” course that I stopped following because their anti-spiritual crusade was just too grating. With all due respect for evolution, the human race has long ago reached a point where we can no longer hide behind the “we do what we do because those of our ancestors who did so had more surviving offspring”. That is not my form of happiness. In fact, it was quite painful to watch.

Luckily programming is not haunted by that kind of bizarre left-wing flapping. I used to be a rather awesome programmer back in the day, but it came to an abrupt halt after I burned out on the debt collection software project that fed Supergirl’s father and his large family for many years. I don’t regret doing that, but perhaps I regret that I burned out on programming. It is probably too late to get back into that now, at least in the sense of seeking employment. The best I can hope for is to be able to stay employed at the place where I work now, until death or the age of 75. But you never know. The world is a strange place and we live in the strangest time that has ever been. And so, I am learning to program in Python. I am still not entirely sure what the point of that is. The language looks very strange to me, but it is not particularly hard to learn. Well, it will take quite a bit of practice to be able to code without looking up the various features, but the exercises so far have been pretty quick and easy.

So much so, in fact, that I have signed up for two more programming course: One in C# by Microsoft experts (on edX) and a longer on in Java from a university in Madrid (also on edX). Hopefully the Madrid professors will speak English, despite their names. The blurb for the course was certainly in English, so I am hoping for the best.

The C# course starts in early April, the Java course in late April. There will be some overlap, but hopefully it won’t confuse me. I believe the two languages are related, being both inspired by the C programming language.

For May, I have signed up for a more sociological course again, about superheroes in popular culture. This is definitely not career related, I think. Well, not for my day job at least. ^_^