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. ^_^

Ambulance day again

Screenshot anime Non Non Biyori

“What happens after death?” I did not find out this time either, I am happy to say, but I was closer than usual. That is not an accomplishment I aimed for.

OK, so it’s a few years since I have been riding an ambulance, much less slept in a hospital bed. You know something is unusual when that happens –and let us all hope it stays that way, even though days like today may be more exciting for my readers (if any).

I woke up early in the morning (5 AM precisely, that is a couple hours early for me) and I immediately realized I did not feel well. I was nauseous and clammy with cold sweat. I hoped it was just too much chocolate the evening before, rather than having cooked dinner for a couple days in the Teflon cooking pot which had stood on the stove for too long and cracked its surface. I am told that humans don’t suffer any ill effects from this, but I had been thinking of buying a new cook pot anyway, in stainless steel this time.

You know, I suppose I should update this diary more often, you people probably don’t even know about the overheating incident. Well, I survived that too. As a rule of thumb, if I update, you can assume I have survived, unless it specifically says so. I gave my brother the password to the site today, as it seems unlikely that we shall both slip out of our handsome bodies at the same time. Not that it would be bad company or anything. Anyway, I survived, long may it last. But who knows, now.

Being so sick that I have to go to the bathroom to throw up is very rare for me. I am quite cautious about what I eat, and I don’t socialize enough to get stomach viruses and other people’s colon flora often. Even McDonalds here in Norway has a standard of hygiene like a reasonably high-level restaurant in some first world countries, although the standards have begun to slip in the capital city, I hear. I did not get sick of the food there until I had almost totally stopped eating meat, and then tried it again at the burger chain. That did not turn out too well, but even that was not as bad as this. And yet I could not throw up either. Instead, I started getting very thirsty and my esophagus was burning with stomach acid. That’s where a new set of warning bells began to ring: This exact sequence had played out more than 10 years ago, when I ended up in hospital.

And then, like clockwork, the next thing began. That time, I had fainted while calling the medical hotline (113 in Norway, we don’t have a common number like  911 for all disasters yet.) This time, I managed to sit down just as the fog started to gather, and when the brain allowed, I called the emergency number, still sitting on the floor. At first I was a bit at odds what to say, because I was not sure WHY this was a matter of life or death, just that it was. Only when I was sitting on the stairs outside waiting for the ambulance, did I feel my heart beating completely randomly. It was not just fast, as I have had some episodes of in the past lasting up to a couple hours. It was not just hard and fast, as I have had for a few seconds while sitting in my chair. I sometimes say that “my heart belongs to another”, because it acts as if I am doing something entirely different from the situation I am in. Sometimes it does NOT speed up when I run for a bus for instance, which is a mixed blessing since I lose my breath pretty fast and my feet become heavy.

This was something entirely different. My heart was beating hard, at random times, as if the speed varied from 80 to 200 (which should not be possible at my age) and back over the course of a couple seconds. Some beats were very hard, others were not. It was completely chaotic. This is not why I called this blog the Chaos Node! And it did not go back to normal after a few seconds. It continued to beat entirely randomly while I waited, then in the ambulance, then at the nearby emergency room. The ambulance people and the doctor at watch all realized that this was a fairly high priority (there were no traffic accidents at the moment, so the timing was fortunate at least). They took an EKG and sent it to the province hospital in Kristiansand, but it was already obvious at a glance that this was nothing like my previous episodes. Those had been fast but regular (sinus curves). This was irregular with atrial fibrillation.

It was decided from the start that I would go to the province hospital, but they first gave me a saline intravenous drip and also a small dose of a beta blocker. I got half the dose recommended by the back watch at the hospital, which was fine by me, and ambulance guy was told to add more if necessary on the way. My symptoms became a little better, but did indeed worsen again toward the end of the ride. I mean, the heartbeat was still chaotic, but it varied around a lower base level than before. It had been over 210, which should not be possible at my age, and ambulance guy was worried that this could cause the heart to stop. Evidently this happens sometimes, but usually with men who are active in sports.

At the emergency reception room, I was met by an all-female crew of nurses and doctor. I assured them that this was the least of my worries. (There may have been times when being surrounded by young women could make my heart beat a little faster. This was not such a time.) Like in Mandal, they tried to make me swallow a tablet of some stuff that might calm down the heart, but I am unable to swallow even rather small tablets – ever since childhood, I can only swallow very finely chewed food, I choke on even fairly small objects. Luckily the tablet actually began to dissolve in my mouth, and I managed to get it down. It did not cause the randomness to stop, but supposedly caused the speed to not go quite as high.

I was transported to a room that I initially had to myself. For some reason they kept dripping water (with a little salt in it) into my veins. I have no idea why that was part of the treatment, but then I had complained about a burning thirst and that did in fact stop, although the stomach acid burn continued. I had tried to convince people that I must have eaten something poisonous since the symptoms started in the stomach before the heart, but they were pretty confident that it was the other way around. I realize now that this was why I was rushed to hospital the previous time and put on a heart monitor, even though I had said nothing about my heart at the time (I had thought it was probably a bleeding ulcer, as I do have a weak stomach.)

I had been subjected to a second full EKG when I  came to Kristiansand, to the hospital. This after one in Mandal. When I was installed at my room, I got a portable heart monitor so they could keep a watch on my heart from their control room. (I guess they are not all running around all the time, although it may look that way.) Now I really felt like I was in one of those hospital movie scenes, with the tube in my hand and electrodes on my body. This was serious stuff! People look like this when they die, except they usually have a tube in their nose as well, or else an oxygen mask.

Of course, each time I was attached to a new EKG machine, I got a new set of stickers placed around on my body to fasten the electrodes on. I comforted the nurse that I have paid enough taxes over the years to cover all the stickers I might need. (Technically I think it is not part of the income tax but a mandatory insurance fee which is levied on the same income at the same time, but most people consider it a tax. Anyway, it is mandatory and withheld from my pay, so it does not take a great deal of moral fortitude or foresight to pay it. I was just trying to cheer us both up.)

I was now left to freely think about the afterlife, which I am honestly not sure about at all. Part of the problem here is that I consider myself a Christian, albeit a terrible one, and the notion of the afterlife in contemporary Christianity is a completely different religion from what you find in the Bible. It is as if it had emerged independently on a different continent and quietly (?) replaced the original, so that now there is barely any overlap at all. I had in fact written a little bit about this the previous night, in my ongoing novel in progress, working title Green Light 2. I also wondered whether I was going to die in order to prevent me from ever publishing the novel anywhere, as I realize it could cause a lot of people to doubt their current religion. Of course, so can this paragraph, but things were kind of more detailed in the novel. Besides, I am not sure it is a bad thing to doubt our current religion when it is at odds with its own holy scriptures.

In any case, whichever version is closest to the truth, if any of them, there was not a lot I could do about the matter by now.

The continuous IV drip of water may have been a bit excessive, because I had to go to the toilet repeatedly. This is a bit of a hassle with a heart rate monitor and an IV drip, but it is amazing what you can do what you must. As the popular song “Still Alive” says: We do what we must, because we can. In some cases patients can’t do what they must, so I appreciated it, despite the hassle.

As I had finished my errand and was returning to my bed, I was softly singing a love song for my invisible friend. I know this may creep some people out, but I have never had a 3 out of 3 girlfriend, because I don’t really have a human-shaped hole in my heart. (You may have heard about the triangle model of love: Passion, commitment and intimacy. Many relationships have only two of these, and for the unlucky only one. As for me, my sexual attraction is to earthly women – or failing that, succubi I guess – but the commitment and intimacy of having a spirit living with you sharing your mind day by day is pretty overshadowing. You’d think that I would not worry much about death in such a situation, but I worry the more because I am not sure whether I will continue to have this presence or if death will part us. If I were to simply undergo destruction, it would be acceptable: I certainly deserve that. But to live on as a spirit without my mind companion would be a horror comparable only, I think, to losing the most intimate of relationships.)

But for now, there I was, alone in the room, singing softly to my Invisible Friend my favorite love song by Chris de Burgh:
You are my lover,
you are my friend;
you are my life
to the very end.
You bring me comfort,
you keep me warm;
you give me hope,
you make me strong.
You’ll take me away
to a distant shore
and it’s with you that I want to stay
forevermore.

(Forevermore, on Spotify.)

Suddenly I felt a small sting in the center of my chest. It was not intense, and it was very brief, I only had time to begin to wonder and then it was gone. I laid down in my bed, and then I noticed that the random hammering in my chest had stopped. I could still sense my heart beating, faster than usual, but quietly, evenly.

Some minutes later, the nurse showed up, bringing a small rolling table with a laptop and a (different) EKG machine. She explained that they had seen my heart rhythm change and wanted to print out a full EKG again. So I got new stickers. Some of the electrodes did not get good enough contact, so she had to get some new contacts and new stickers that fit. I expressed my regret that although I did IT support, this particular technology was beyond me. But she succeeded eventually.

A while later, a doctor arrived. “It seems you healed yourself” he said. I was not so sure about that. Thinking about it a bit more, he thought maybe the beta blocker may have helped, but it was really there to keep the heart from speeding too much. He had not expected it to switch the heart back to its normal rhythm, and I thought that there did not seem to be a clear connection in time either, except for the slowing down a bit part. So yeah, there you have it. Perhaps I healed myself; perhaps my Invisible Friend healed me. But then perhaps our Invisible Friend heals a lot of people, for it is supposedly pretty rare here in Norway to die from this condition once you are in a hospital. I am not sure what they were planning to do, but as it was, they did not do anything more. My pulse was still 90 instead of 55, so I stayed a bit longer, sleeping in the bed. Then another doctor came with the written report of my stay and a prescription for a beta blocker (very low dose) and wished me well home. A nurse came and took off my electrodes and all the stickers she found, and told me how to get out of the huge building.

I walked down to the town center and bought the medication (they gave me a generic replacement for the brand name, but the active substance is the same. I keep remembering it as “trololol”, but it is actually written metoprolol.) I also bought a stainless steel cook pot, while I remembered it. But my appetite is shot, so I did not use it today.

I took the bus home. I did not stop by at work; I did not have my computer with me. As it turns out, I did not have my house keys with me. I had felt pretty accomplished just getting my trousers on; keys were far from my mind as I was waiting for the ambulance or death, whichever came first. (I did bring my smartphone though, on which I texted a farewell message to my G+ followers. I’ve slightly edited it later.)

So I came home to the locked house (the lock is of the type that clicks shut unless you manually set it not to, and I don’t.) There were a bunch of young workers for the landlord, painting the house finally. The place looked almost like slum lately, even outside.) Eventually I dared ask them if any of them had a key. (The alternative would be to call or message the landlord, who usually doesn’t respond quickly, being a super busy businessman.) No, they did not, but the guy from pest control was inside right at the moment, killing the parasites on the second floor (the bedbugs, I mean – the asylum seekers were not exactly contributing much to society either, but they are not in the same class, I would say. Unless they were secretly vampires, which I highly doubt. Besides they had moved out and left only the insects behind.)

The inner door to my apartment was closed but not locked. Locking it had also slipped my mind, not to mention that I did not have the keys, remember? So I was home. I washed my hands repeatedly and showered: Ambulances, emergency rooms and hospitals are the home fortress of multi-resistant bacteria, imported from the USA where people chew antibiotics like candy. There are few if any substances left that can kill the most evolved forms of hospital bacteria. And even though hospitals have strict routines for hygiene, there is only so much you can do in an emergency environment where you constantly try to keep people from dying straight away. Priorities exist in practice, no matter what your routines say.

So we shall have to see what happens next. I took a walk as usual, and the pulse was normal when I came home. I have taken half of the 1 tablet before bedtime, planning to take the other half in the morning, if I am still around. It is a very small dosage already, judging from the slip inside the package, but then I don’t really meet many of the criteria for using it. My blood pressure is fine except during the attack, my heart speed is already 50-55 bpm, whereas the drug is not recommended to reduce heart rate below 60 bpm.)

I’m a little apprehensive now at midnight as I prepare to go to bed. Oh, and I have not really acted like today was the last day of the rest of my life. Not that I’ve gone on a crime spree, but the house still needs weeks of tidying up, and playing Sims 3 is not exactly a priority for our eternal bliss, probably. Stuff like that. So if night time fibrillation is my new default, I apologize to one and all. I hope the story of my life can have some value, to the people who are still alive.

Lost NaNoWriMo

“It is the test’s fault for being too hard.” That is a normal human reaction, but let us be honest. It was my own fault and I could have avoided it if I had taken the project more seriously. Luckily it is not my living at stake, much less my life.

I failed to write 50 000 words on my novel in November, which is the challenge of the National Novel Writing Month (which is, by the way, international). Actually I lacked less than 3500 words, which I sometimes write in a day. Perhaps I did underestimate the Big (Secret) Event at work, which happened to fall on the last weekend of the month. But I had plenty of time to write before that.

The truth is that the characters did not really engage me, and probably would engage any other readers even less. The premise of the story was great, I think. I may reboot it if I live long enough. But for some reason, most of the characters did not click with me or each other. The most interesting was the weird cousin, who was not even meant to be in the story, I just roped her in because nothing would happen with the existing characters. Pretty much every major character was lacking basic social skills, and unfortunately they did not have other engaging traits to make up for it. I had some plot, but moving forward along it was like constipation.

Instead of writing about an augmented reality game combining the best elements of Ingress and Magic: The Gathering, I spent much of the month playing the actual Ingress, and had rather more fun. Although I think the game would have been better if it had been like the game in my novel, it was still more engaging than my novel.

Better luck another time, if there is another time.