English Rules http://www.englishrules.com Mon, 27 Oct 2014 18:51:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Twitchy http://www.englishrules.com/2014/twitchy/ http://www.englishrules.com/2014/twitchy/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 00:55:58 +0000 http://www.englishrules.com/?p=1020 Continue reading ]]> If you’ve ever had a twitching eyelid, you know how annoying it can be. If it continues to flutter for many days or weeks, you know it can get downright frustrating. Imagine what it would be like to have your eyelid twitch for years, with no end in sight. Now, what if it wasn’t your eyelid twitching, but muscles all over your body? I don’t have to imagine that, because I’ve been living it.

Beginnings

One Saturday morning three years ago, I laced up my running shoes and headed out the door, ready to start my new training regimen. It had been a couple years since I had done any serious exercise, so I thought I’d take it easy that first day, take it slowly, maybe jog a mile or a mile and a half. The plan was to build up my endurance again over the course of a few months and then run a 5k race. When I was a kid, I was a fairly competitive runner, and in my early thirties I ran a few marathons, but I was fine with starting from scratch again. Sure, I was older and out of shape, but I knew if I had a goal and stuck to it, I would reach it eventually.

About a half mile into that first run, though, my calf muscles cramped. This new goal, I thought, was going to take longer than I had expected. A few days later, with the calves loosened up and my initial disappointment diminished, I tried again. This time, however, I only got two blocks away before the calves seized up. After a third attempt with the same result, I decided to get some help and started seeing a physical therapist twice weekly. I worked on building strength and flexibility in my lower legs, and within a few weeks the PT pronounced me good to go.

Twitch

It was around this time that I noticed something else in my legs. It wasn’t a soreness or cramping so much—although the cramping was still there to a lesser degree—but a twitching sensation. Like the cramping, the twitching was most noticeable in my calves. But the more I paid attention to it, the more I noticed it in other parts of my body, as well. Every so often I’d feel a poke in my shoulder, a prod in my abdomen, a flutter in my back. I’d sit down on the couch and put my legs up and feel little “pings” like someone was playing pinball through my muscle tissue. It made me concerned.

My leg and hand twitching (52 seconds)

So back to the doctor I went. We looked at diet, we considered sleep, we talked about medications, caffeine, stress, magnesium, potassium, and a bunch of other possible causes of my symptoms. Blood tests ruled out restless leg syndrome and a couple more serious possibilities which I can’t remember anymore. I was by then three months into the muscle twitching with no better idea of a diagnosis or a cause. To rule some things out I started stretching regularly. I cut out all caffeine intake, went off a couple medications, stopped drinking beer. I took magnesium supplements, potassium supplements, and fish oil. Nothing helped. Nothing made a difference.

Time to escalate

After running out of ideas, my primary care doctor referred me to Dr. Farooq, a neurologist in town. In the meantime, because it was coming up on a year since initial onset, I took the logical and always comforting step of consulting THE INTERNETS. It was there, in some dark corner of medical paranoia, that I discovered a diagnosis that fit my situation perfectly: Neuromyotonia. Then, in one of those rare moments when I actually don’t want someone to agree with me, the neurologist agreed with me. Actually, he said it was possible that it was neuromyotonia, but I’d need to go through more tests before he could say anything for sure: more blood work and an EMG. The EMG went as well as it could go, considering that it involved sticking needles into my muscles and sending electrical impulses through them. More importantly, the results showed no sign of neuromyotonia. The blood tests, on the other hand, revealed a problem.

Mistakes were made

No, sorry. The blood tests revealed two problems. The first was that my VGCC (Voltage-gated calcium channel antibodies, if you care) level was abnormal. The second was that the lab was supposed to test the potassium channel, not the calcium channel. It wouldn’t have been a big deal if I only had to go back and get more blood drawn. But the abnormal VGCC is a possible indicator of the scary-sounding Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome and lung cancer, so I had to schedule a CAT scan, too. Things were getting interesting! The CAT scan revealed some ambiguous blobs and striations where they shouldn’t have been, which led to an MRI, which led to…an “all clear” from the doctor. No LEMS. No cancer. Nothing to worry about. And all the other tests? They came out just fine, too.

What was wrong with me, then? And could anything stop the twitching? Dr Farooq still didn’t have a diagnosis, but he’d seen other patients with similar symptoms who responded well to anti-convulsive medications, the kind typically given to those suffering from epilepsy. He prescribed one, and I tried it for a few months, but it did little more than make me sleepy. He prescribed another, but that one didn’t help either.

Back to school

I trusted Dr Farooq, and he seemed thorough enough during my visits, but when he recommended I see a colleague of his, a neuromuscular specialist at the University of Michigan, I was hopeful that the new guy would discover something that Dr Farooq hadn’t. The specialist gave me another EMG, ran me through a litany of questions and tested my vision, my reflexes, and my reaction to pin pricks. But the EMG showed nothing out of the ordinary, and the exam revealed nothing new. The best the specialist could do—and likely the best anyone could do—was give me a “diagnosis of exclusion,” which is exactly what he did. Benign Fasciculation Syndrome (BFS) is basically what you call my symptoms when they aren’t degenerative. It’s like saying, “yep, you have what we like to call twitchy muscles,” while giving the air-quote gesture.

What now?

Now that I have a diagnosis, I’m both frustrated and relieved, annoyed and grateful. For the past three years I’ve found myself flexing and stretching muscles, almost involuntarily, every hour of every day in an effort to stop them from twitching. Some nights the twitching keeps me awake, and it distracts me the most when I’m trying to relax. I just want it to stop.

And yet, as far as chronic physical conditions go, mine is quite mild. It’s not going to kill me, and it’s not going to significantly affect my life. When I consider all the many diseases and syndromes that my symptoms could could have indicated, Benign Fasciculation Syndrome has a comforting ring to it. In short, it could be a lot worse.

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Resolute http://www.englishrules.com/2014/resolute/ http://www.englishrules.com/2014/resolute/#comments Wed, 01 Jan 2014 22:38:35 +0000 http://www.englishrules.com/?p=1012 Continue reading ]]> This word — resolute — doesn’t show up as much in my reading as its verb and noun counterparts, resolve and resolution. It seems a little too formal for most writing occasions. Yet there’s something about it that I like. I vaguely recall a saying about how we use different words to convey the same idea, depending on the subject: “I’m resolute, you’re stubborn, and they’re pig-headed.” Not sure where the quote came from, and I’m sure I didn’t get it quite right, but I like it.

Today, of course, is the day we’re all supposed to list the things for which we will be resolute throughout the year. And so I’ll make my two resolute promises:

  • I will read at least six books this year.
  • I will write at least six entries on this blog.

In 2013 I read exactly one book ( An American Spy by Olen Steinhauer ) and wrote exactly one blog entry ( Tash ). The book was entertaining; the entry was full of sadness. They weren’t the only things I read or wrote, but they were the only sustained efforts that had nothing to do with programming for the web. I can do better.

WonderThe books, I’ve decided, don’t have to be novels, and they don’t have to target adults as their primary audience. Non-fiction, as long as it doesn’t involve programming, is fair game, as is young-adult fiction. As embarrassing as it is to admit, during the past few years my patience for long-winded, descriptive novels has dwindled, while I’ve found the narrative pacing of young-adult novels much more suited to my short attention span. My son, who is a voracious reader, has already recommended a couple books: Wonder and Divergent.

Should be a fun year.

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Tash http://www.englishrules.com/2013/tash/ http://www.englishrules.com/2013/tash/#comments Sat, 26 Jan 2013 22:15:14 +0000 http://www.englishrules.com/?p=988 Continue reading ]]> One day several years ago when I was suffering from depression and anxiety, I came home from work to find a small piece of plywood with a simple painting on it, done in the style of a local artist. Across the top were written these words:

You fearful saints fresh courage take. The clouds you so much dread are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head.

The words were so lovely, so comforting, that I remember reading them over and over again like a mantra. When I asked Sara where it came from, she told me that Tash had made it for me. Tash.

mercy

Tash was Sara’s newest friend, but she seemed somehow, impossibly, one of her oldest friends, too. She was the perfect gift at the perfect time, a friend who knew how to give what others wanted but couldn’t ask for. Tash loved her friends with the fierceness of a pit bull. And she loved her friends’ kids with the intensity of, well, of a mom. I was always so moved by how much “Auntie Tash” delighted in Ben and Lucy, how she would let Lucy stay at her place for hours on end playing with Zoe.

That piece of art is still hanging in our kitchen, and it is still a comfort to me. It’s also a reminder of Tash’s fierce love. When she became friends with Sara, she went all in and adopted the rest of the family, too, including me.

Tash died yesterday after battling cancer for years. She was such a huge presence in our lives—in many people’s lives. I miss her. I’ve run out of words.

tash

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The Gym http://www.englishrules.com/2012/the-gym/ http://www.englishrules.com/2012/the-gym/#comments Thu, 12 Jul 2012 02:59:52 +0000 http://www.englishrules.com/?p=966 Continue reading ]]> After many frustrating months of trying to run for exercise and failing because of ongoing problems with my calf muscles and Achilles tendons, I started working out at 8th Day Gym (they’re on Facebook). I was already aware that I was out of shape, but never so painfully aware as the first few weeks at the gym. Since my inauspicious beginning, though, I’ve made fairly steady progress in both my strength and my technique.

While I still have a lot of room for improvement, I reached another milestone today: my first “muscle up,” a tricky maneuver on the rings that probably requires more technique than strength. Posting a video of myself without a shirt on is way outside my comfort zone, but this is one of those little accomplishments in life that I’d like to be able to look back on later, so here goes:

Working out at the gym has boosted my quality of life in a huge way, improving not only my physical health, but also my emotional well being. For me, it’s the next best thing to a happy pill.

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Dirty Clean Words http://www.englishrules.com/2012/dirty-clean-words/ http://www.englishrules.com/2012/dirty-clean-words/#comments Sun, 17 Jun 2012 19:20:00 +0000 http://www.englishrules.com/?p=959 Continue reading ]]> A few days ago Michigan state congresswoman Lisa Brown dared to utter the word “vagina” on the house floor. In return, she was prohibited from speaking the following day (cf. Detroit Free Press). Later, in a superb attempt at back-pedaling, the House Majority Leader later said that the punishment wasn’t about her use of the word, but about “decorum.” The episode got me thinking about words that most people wouldn’t consider dirty or offensive but that nevertheless make some people’s skin crawl.

Some women I know were talking about desserts one night when one of them exclaimed that she cannot stand the word “moist” and suggested half-jokingly that it should be banned from cooking literature. Although a few others nodded in agreement, it seemed she was alone in the severity of her reaction to the word.

The first time a friend of mine used the word “prophylactic” to refer to a preventive measure in the general sense I burst out laughing. And then I felt like a nine-year-old boy — or like Michael Scott, the hapless manager in The Office (U.S. version) who never misses an opportunity to reply with “that’s what she said.” Clearly I wasn’t mature enough for that conversation.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard the word “flaccid” refer to anything but the male member (except maybe in a description of a medical condition), even though the dictionary definitions don’t have a whiff of phallic innuendo: 1. Lacking firmness, resilience, or muscle tone 2. Lacking vigor or energy (American Heritage Dictionary). Can anyone say that word and keep a straight face?

What makes some words seem sexual to one person but not to another? And why are some words that have non-sexual origins almost always used in a sexual context? What makes a word charged in one situation and innocuous in another? I suppose there is plenty of research that attempts to answer these questions, but I’m feeling too flaccid to look it up.

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Things we’re good at and things we like http://www.englishrules.com/2011/things-were-good-at-and-things-we-like/ http://www.englishrules.com/2011/things-were-good-at-and-things-we-like/#comments Thu, 14 Apr 2011 05:12:16 +0000 http://www.englishrules.com/?p=894 Continue reading ]]> Now that my kids are getting to an age at which their proclivities are becoming more defined, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes us good at things and what makes us like things. I’ve heard people claim that talent and passion go hand in hand, that we naturally like the things we’re good at. We achieve some level of mastery at a task and we feel good about that task and ourselves. That good feeling inspires us to work harder, which makes us better at the task. And the feedback loop continues.

But I’ve always been a little skeptical of this line of reasoning, if only because my own experience doesn’t quite bear it out. For example, while I consider myself a good writer and am usually satisfied with the writing that I eventually produce, the amount of frustration and self-doubt during the writing process far outweighs the small pleasure I feel upon its completion. In short, I really don’t like to write.

And yet, despite my own experience, I still find myself saying to my eight-year-old daughter, “But how can you not like math? You’re so good at it!” Why in the world would I do that? Oddly enough, I didn’t even know about her aptitude in math until the parent-teacher conference this past fall. Within the same conference, almost in the same breath, the teacher told us that our daughter’s test scores were fantastic and that she struggled with learning new math concepts. So, once she gets it, she locks it in, but until then, she is frustrated. She absolutely loves gymnastics, on the other hand, and she is a natural at it.

Maybe it has more to do with something “clicking.” Maybe that feedback loop between being good at something and liking it only occurs when we can achieve that mysterious flow during it.

Like me, my ten-year-old son doesn’t seem to like writing very much. He didn’t think he was good at it either until earlier this school year when his teacher, in a truly inspired moment, told him that of course he could write his report on a classmate instead of an animal as the assignment had stipulated. The result was a much more clever, nuanced piece of writing than I had ever seen from him before. Here it is, quoted verbatim*, with his permission:

So you think you know Evan Baker: A Trivial Guide

First, if you know anything about Evan you know he is a handful and you will need a lot of Ritz crackers and cheese whiz. If you read on you are going to find out some amazing things about this incredible Michigan mammal: habitat, diet, description and a few interesting facts.

First off Evan burrows down under the cement base of houses and with mole like reflexes he digs magnificent tunnels and guards his territory with unrivaled ferocity. During the summer he resides in an abandoned bar off the east coast of Wisconsin where he enjoys great foosball matches with his many loyal (imaginary) friends, Norman and Wilson.

Evan’s diet consists of many things, some of which are: Ritz Crackers, Cheese Whiz, honey baked ham, Liverwurst, Red Wine, Banana Cream Pie, Cherry Cheese Cake and brownies covered with powdered sugar. Evan enjoys countless more things that I do not care to mention at the moment. But I may mention in the near future.

Evan enjoys his odd but comfortable spiky green hairstyle. Frightening but all the less comforting neon purple skin tone draws the eyes of many a passerby! His eye color is very surprising glow-in-the-dark sunflower yellow. His ferocity is matched by no one and his viciousness is not taken too lightly. His weight unknown, but scientists have discovered that by the end of his lifetime Evan may grow to eight foot seven. He is very muscular and last time he checked he could knock out a full grown rhino in one clonk to the head.

Some interesting facts about Evan include that his scientific is Evanicious Bakerium prounounced (Ev-un-ish-us Bake-ore-e-um), his species died out and Evan is the last one of his incredible race and will do anything for a pound of 100% butter.

I hope you enjoyed this trivial essay on one of earth’s most amazing creatures.

The Ends

While he hasn’t been saying lately that he thinks he stinks at writing, it doesn’t look like his previous dislike for it has transformed into outright affection either.

As my kids get older, I’m finding that in many cases the best thing I can do is stay out of the way. Too much praise, even merely paying too much attention, is a surefire way to kill someone else’s passion. It’s hard, though. I reflexively want to say, “Great job! That is wonderful!” It’s a tough job, this parenting business.

* Actually, I did change the friend’s name, to protect the innocent.

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Handedness and Decisiveness http://www.englishrules.com/2011/handedness-and-decisiveness/ http://www.englishrules.com/2011/handedness-and-decisiveness/#comments Sun, 20 Feb 2011 20:57:51 +0000 http://www.englishrules.com/?p=907 Researchers have firmly established as a very true fact™ that left-handed people are more creative than right-handed people and that ambidextrous monkeys are more talented than both. But what about people and robots who are neither right- nor left-handed and cannot show off their ambidextrosity at the talent show? What do researchers have to say about those who are right-handed at some things and left-handed at others? And why would anyone care?

To answer the third question first: (3) everyone should care because sometimes-left-sometimes-right-handed people and smurfs have been marginalized for too long! To answer the first two questions: (1) we don’t know, and (2) nothing. Until now! For the past 40 years, I have been conducting a longitudinal, eco-friendly study of sometimes-left-sometimes-right-handed people (person), and I am finally ready to share my results with the rest of the known universe:

Handedness and Decisiveness: A Rigorous Scientific Study

approved!Subject: The study has one subject: me. While some have questioned this aspect of the research, the Board of Directors of the Society for Sometimes-left-sometimes-right-handed People and Vampire Clowns has decreed that, because the subject is also the researcher (and the Chairman of the Board), this subject constitutes a Representative Sample.

Materials: Pencil, toothbrush, ball, frisbee, hands, fork, ball (to kick), skateboard, hockey stick, pool stick, gun, razor.

Data: The following chart demonstrates the handedness of the subject while engaged in various activities:

ActivityLeft-handedRight-handed
Writingx
Brushing Teethx
Throwing Ballx
Throwing Frisbeex
Eating with Handsx*
Eating with Utensilsx
Kicking Ballx
Skateboardingx
Shooting Hockeyx
Shooting Billiardsx
Shooting Gunx
Shavingx

* especially while in Eastern countries, for sanitary reasons

Conclusion: The research clearly demonstrates that people and leprechauns who can’t make up their minds about which hand to use also have a hard time making up their minds about anything else. Or, it could clearly demonstrate something else entirely that the researcher may have missed.

Yours Truly,

Karl Swedberg
Subject, Researcher, Chairman of the Board
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What did you say? http://www.englishrules.com/2011/what-did-you-say/ http://www.englishrules.com/2011/what-did-you-say/#comments Thu, 13 Jan 2011 13:28:34 +0000 http://www.englishrules.com/?p=880 When I read the first couple examples of a recent blog entry on “Marital Deafness” by Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic, I laughed in absolute recognition of the scenes in my own life. Then I read this:

As I’m sure you’ve learned, it’s impossible to speak to a spouse if he or she is near running water, or using power equipment, or concentrating on something else, or eating something crunchy, or wondering if the squeak in the distance is the cat dying, or there is a child within a hundred yards. Amazingly, that covers 90% of every conversation you might attempt at home.

That’s when my delight turned into a combination of wonder and relief. It’s a little eerie, yet somehow comforting, to know that a total stranger is able to so accurately describe my life.

Read “Marital Deafness.” It’s hilarious because it’s true.

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Calling All iPhone Users http://www.englishrules.com/2010/calling-all-iphone-users/ http://www.englishrules.com/2010/calling-all-iphone-users/#comments Mon, 26 Jul 2010 01:10:01 +0000 http://www.englishrules.com/?p=866 Continue reading ]]> I finally got my very own iPhone this weekend, and I’m very excited about it.

A lot of my geek friends are talking about the Android-based phones now and some are even acting like the iPhones are a bit passé, but I don’t care. This thing is slick. It sure beats the pants off of my old Motorola. The extent of that crummy old thing’s “smart phone” capability was some “web browsing” feature that I’d have to pay a buck for every once in a while when my thumb would land a centimeter away from its intended target.

My wife thinks I’m an early adopter, but in this case at least, I’m much closer to the long tail than the bleeding edge. I’ve been trying to figure out which apps to get, but I must admit I’m a little lost. I need your help! Here is what I have so far:

  • News Apps: New York Times, BBC, and NPR
  • Reference: IMDb, Wikipedia Mobile, YellowPages
  • Google Apps
  • SimpleNote
  • TweetDeck
  • InstaPaper
  • Dropbox
  • 1Password
  • Pandora
  • Skype

So, tell me: What am I missing? Which apps are your “must haves”? Which ones do you use all the time?

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The World Is Too Much With Us http://www.englishrules.com/2010/the-world-is-too-much-with-us/ http://www.englishrules.com/2010/the-world-is-too-much-with-us/#comments Sat, 20 Feb 2010 16:22:41 +0000 http://erwp.dev/?p=171 I’ve never been an outdoorsy kind of guy, but something about these first few lines from William Wordsworth’s poem resonates with me.

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. …

The poem was written sometime around 1806, so Wordsworth had plenty to complain about, what with the Industrial Revolution and all. But, he spent most of his life in the Lake District of England, which was still positively bucolic when I visited the place nearly 200 years later.

When I read this poem last night, I had a “back in my day” reaction, but in reverse. Seriously, how much “getting and spending” could the guy have seen back then in lovely Grasmere? I’d like to drop Wordsworth into the middle of New York City now and see what he thinks. And yet, the poem makes me wonder about the fever pitch of today’s commerce and marketing and advertising and technology and communication. In another 200 years, will the breakneck pace of our lives look more like a gentle stroll through a quaint village?

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