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Learning Not to be Cheap... the Hard Way

My usual vitamin supplement is GNC's Ultra Mega Gold, $29.99 for 180 tablets. Being the frugal student that I am, I decided to try a more economical formulation, such as Equate Maximum One Daily (this is a Wal-Mart brand; compare to One A Day Maximum Formula), less than $5.00 for 100 tablets. That's the real estate equivalent of moving from Park Place to the Parking Lot, but what can I say? I'm cheap, and I'm proud of it.

I started taking the Equate multivitamins after block exams. Lack of sleep studying for exams had run me down and I caught a funky strain of cold, so in the days after blocks, I didn't think much of the mild nausea I experienced every night after dinner. I assumed it was the wife's cooking, and chewed ginger root until it passed.

This cycle continued until last Friday when I felt really nauseous. When Rachel hears someone vomit, she vomits out of empathy, so she ran upstairs out of earshot. Kneeling before the Great Toilet of Reckoning, staring at my reflection in the water, I tightened my gut muscles and resolved not to puke. Throwing up blows. Emesis, vomiting, puking, chucking, whatever... I hate it. Fortunately, I discovered forcefully drumming my fingertips against my skull made a nice diversion. It produced enough sensation to mask the nausea, and the episode passed after about 20 minutes.

By this time, I suspected the Equate multivitamins. Food had no relation to the nausea... big meals, small meals, fatty meals, lean meals, carbohydrate-rich meals, whatever, it made no difference. But the nausea always hit about 30-45 minutes after taking a multivitamin. It made no difference if I swallowed a pill while eating or 45 minutes later (but I didn't dare take one on an empty stomach), I always felt ill soon after.

Then came Saturday night. Bad, bad Saturday night. My brother's fiancee came to our house while my brother went to a friend's bachelor party (read: nudie bar). Then we ate dinner. 20 wheat thins dipped in hummus, 3 slices of Freschetta stuffed crust cheese pizza, 2 glasses of red wine, 1 Equate multivitamin, and 40 minutes later, I once again found myself kneeling over the Great Toilet of Reckoning, staring at my reflection in the water.

This time, however, the devil had come to collect his dues, and I knew there would be hell to pay. Drumming my fingers against my skull didn't have the same masking effect as the night before. I began to sweat that cold, clammy sweat that precedes violent illness. The saliva on my tongue seemed to thicken into a bitter, metallic-tasting ooze. Still holding my gut muscles tight, I felt my stomach's involuntary muscles gently tighten, as if they were dancers on a stage posing themselves in the darkness, barely visible in that moment of tense anticipation, waiting for the music to begin and the spotlight to shine down on them before leaping into motion.

As my stomach muscles tightened, I contemplated the important decision I had to make. I could continue clenching my gut and throat muscles in hopes of winning a brute force battle of will against my own stomach's muscles as they turned against me. Or I could relax my gut and accept the inevitable. If I fought it and lost, there was no telling how all that puke under pressure would emerge. Perhaps it would spill down my mouth onto my shirt. Maybe it would spray wildly like an uncontrolled fire hose. I really didn't want to find out. So I relented and accepted the deluge.

I'll spare you the play-by-play details, but after all was said and done, I found myself staring into a toilet bowl of wine-colored mucous swirls and floating bits of pizza crust with a bad taste in my mouth.

Once bitten, twice shy, I went to GNC and picked up a bottle of $29.99 Ultra Mega Gold vitamin supplement. Sometimes it doesn't pay to be cheap.

:: Bryan Travis :: 02/21/2005 @ 22:27 :: [link] ::

The Beauty of Detail

I think there can be more to explore in a single moment than there is in the experiences of an entire day. I love the details, the little things that are easy to miss. The most seemingly insignificant things hold the most beauty, wonder, and awe under the gaze of the watchful eye. The individual strokes of a hummingbird's wings. A single piece of really good chocolate melting in your mouth. Driving to a quiet place away from the hustle and bustle on a winter night, a winter night when the wind is hushed and even the animals and insects are silent, turning off the car engine and sitting inside the cab listening, listening until you can hear the silence, the roar of nothing at all.

Perhaps Renoir had a similar fascination with the seemingly insignificant. Many of his paintings feature a dominant subject. It may be a person, a group of people, or an inanimate object painted prominently in the center of the canvas. These dominant figures are merely the superficial layer, intended to distract the viewer. The dominant figure may be captivating (a beautiful woman, for example), but at the same time is often simple and boring.

The real plot in Renoir paintings involves the unrealized scene in the background. Frequently, but not always, he painted these scenes in the upper right-hand corner of the canvas. Let's see a few examples:

:: Bryan Travis :: 02/20/2005 @ 20:15 :: [link] ::

Mouse Kills #4 and #5

After moving to Lexington last July, we soon heard and saw evidence of mice in our house that backs up to a crop field. I bought three mouse trap models, baited them with peanut butter, and placed them in the garage near mouse droppings. On a whim, I decided to track mouse kills to determine which mouse trap was the most effective and share the results with everyone else in the market for a mouse trap and pondering that age old question: which is the better mouse trap?

In the beginning I kept "score" based only on the number of mice the traps caught, but after the mice stole a trap and we found a dying baby mouse in the garage, it seemed appropriate to keep score for the mice based on successful retaliations against the mouse traps and track mice kills due to "acts of God." And because our cats like sniffing around in the garage, it's probable they smell and attempt to hunt the mice, so I track their score, too.

The Quick Kill mouse traps ensnared their second and third victims during the past week, bringing the total carnage to five mice. Perhaps the feature most responsible for the Quick Kill's success is the closed bait box. If you put some peanut butter in the rear of the bait box, a mouse must nudge it open with their head to get inside, and when they do, wham! (click here for a graphic illustration of this point) Conventional traps have an inherent design flaw: they expose the bait, allowing a careful mouse to lick the bait pedal clean without applying enough pressure to spring the trap. The Quick Kill's closed bait box makes it (virtually) impossible for the mouse to steal the bait.

I found this mouse trap comparison on Victor's website tonight. The chart claims Victor traps handily surpass the competition (of course!). While I can't comment on the relative performance of Victor traps versus other brands, my own experience does support the claim that the Quick Kill is the most effective Victor trap and well worth the extra cost.

Below is the current mouse kill scoreboard. Click the hyperlinked numbers for all the gory details:

Snap Trap: 1

Quick Set: 0

Quick Kill: 1, 2, 3

Mr. Mist: 0

Maya: 0

Acts of God: 1

The Mouse Resistance: 1

:: Bryan Travis :: 02/07/2005 @ 23:46 :: [link] ::

Old Dog Learns New Tricks

This semester our tests are a bit more hefty than usual. We have a total of three exam blocks (two exams plus finals) instead of the traditional four. The school changed the exam schedule this year so our spring break would coincide with the American Pharmaceutical Association convention in Orlando.

A few of the new strategies I've come up with this semester for taking block exams:

  • Begin studying earlier. Try to wrap your noodlely noggin around that funky logic. Some friends and I even meet an hour before class to study... even between exam blocks!

  • Hot Chocolate Pick Me Up. Hot chocolate (with marshmallows, of course) plus half a teaspoon of instant coffee for that late night turbo boost. Like many coffee aficionados, I keep my coffee beans frozen and grind them on demand for latte and vacuum-brewed coffee. I'm embarrassed to admit there is instant coffee in my home. I find it abhorrent, but sometimes you get into a compromising situation, and the aftermath of the scandal leaves you with a pound of instant coffee in your cupboard.

  • Crazy Ass Conceptual Associations (CACA). Pun intended. Useful for learning the countless pharmaceutical and biological concepts presented during each exam block. For example, lyophilization is drug a freeze drying process to increase stability and reduce product weight. Need an "everyday" example of lyophilization? Instant coffee, an abhorrent product occasionally found in the cupboard that is reconstituted with water for convenient caffeine therapy.

    Another example is the behavior of red blood cells in hypertonic and hypotonic solutions. Hypertonic solutions cause RBC crenation; hypotonic solutions cause RBCs to swell. Although I rely on a conceptual understanding of osmosis and osmotic pressure to visualize the processes with vivid, often violent detail (when RBCs swell past the breaking point, their lysing can be beautiful; the shriveling of crenation is no less fascinating), making beef jerky and other dried, salted meats also works: rubbing on salt creates a hypertonic solution that draws water out of cells and crenates them.

:: Bryan Travis :: 02/03/2005 @ 08:10 :: [link] ::