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Four Years

I wrote this weblog's first post four years ago today. I turned 30 this year, and let me tell you that for me, turning 30 was a lot easier than 26. Like I said in that first post, turning 26 was the first time in my life I didn't feel young. More accurately, the sense of being "old" was heavier than the sense of being "young."

Four years, 306 posts, and still writing! Who'd've thunk it?

Here's a secret confession: I started weblogging to help deal with my anguish after my then-girlfriend Rachel broke up with me in May 2001. That's the honest truth. Hmmm... I think I'm going to go downstairs, tell my wife Rachel, whom I love dearly (she's always telling me I should write about how wonderful my wife is), that today is my blogiversary, and celebrate.

:: Bryan Travis :: 07/31/2005 @ 22:46 :: [link] ::

"Soggy Onion"

I stumbled across an interesting weblog the other night: soggy onion. Written by an articulate 40 year-old female alcoholic living in Lexington, Kentucky, it's a chilling look into the thoughts of an educated, intelligent person who almost became a nurse, but got caught by the monster of substance abuse and couldn't escape. Unable to afford a PC of her own, she writes from the public library, limited to hour-long rotations. The writing can be poignant. The first post begins:

When I was a child, I was labeled "gifted."

Whether or not that was ever true, I am also an alcoholic woman on the cusp of forty, with not a whole lot to show for myself except a double major in English and psychology, Temple University, on the party plan, a near-miss RN, and emotional abuses to the tune of 50K meted out to my family of origin. A lot of firings, bad and/or unremembered sex, and introjects from my youth constantly yammering about how defective I was, and am.

I was Googling for directions to Faith Pharmacy because I had volunteered to work there the next morning. Faith Pharmacy gives free medicine to people who can't afford them on a temporary basis until they can get on government assistance or a drug company's prescription drug program. She had been, or was going to be, a Faith Pharmacy customer, and so the weblog popped up in Google. It was 1:00am, and the alarm clock was set for 7:00am, but I read all the posts, and I'm a slow reader.

I realized how easy it is to fall over the precipice, how close "successful" people are to losing the easy lifestyle they so hastily take for granted. And what do I mean "they?" I mean me. I do enjoy the drink, but abuse is fortunately not a problem for me. However, there is alcohol abuse on both sides of my family. If another of my dad's spermatozoa had joined with another of my mom's eggs, if the chromosomes had combined differently at the moment of conception, or if I had gone on repeated drinking binges after a bad breakup to escape the depression that would not go away... any of these chance circumstances could have flipped the addiction switch in my brain.

Imagine being born with an empty feeling, a hollowness that could never be filled as you grew up. Or maybe you never knew the emptiness was there, like a person born blind who doesn't know they're blind until a visual person tells them they're blind, tells them that those two blobs of fluid on either side of the bridge of their nose serve some other purpose than being exquisitively sensitive to dust, soap, and careless fingers... the day of your first drink would simultaneously be the best and the worst of your life, because you had never known that emptiness existed until you met alcohol, but now without alcohol, you're cursed to be painfully aware of the void every waking minute. Imagine having an emptiness in your soul carved out for alcohol, a void that only alcohol could fill, gnawing at you for years, waiting to meet its counterpart.

That's not how she describes it, it's how I imagine it to be. But maybe she's the best authority to say. In her own words:

There were, for a long time, drugs [...] but it is alcohol -- when I first consumed enough to get a buzz, this at a party, where a guy I had a crush on brought another, wholly unexpected girl -- I kept on consuming, to blackout and puke and really concerned parents.

If I could keep that warm, competent element of that buzz, the way it overrode my very real grief, I'd sell my parents. I love my parents. I caused them no small degree of distress. But that feeling, comaraderie and connection to strangers, seemingly harmless displays of ego and wit until the curtain came down and I started to do some pretty awful things, shuddery things -- if I could recapture that vibe, hold it close like the jewel that it was, and not let it get away, I might today have known love, respect, and a few nice objects to call my own.

:: Bryan Travis :: 07/31/2005 @ 22:21 :: [link] ::

Discriminated For

I took a drug test at one of the 25 pharmacies I applied to earlier this summer. I had shaved, dressed in khaki pants and a polo shirt, and stopped by to sign the criminal background check waiver and take the drug test. The store manager said the results should be ready in about 3 days, adding, "I'm sure you won't have any problems."

I'm sure you won't have any problems.

I wish I had the stones to say "Ah, shucks - you probably say that to all the applicants!" And, of course, she doesn't, which made me feel discriminated for, the opposite of being discriminated against. I want to be absolutely clear on this: the company has done nothing illegal.

The pharmacy manager had never seen me before she called; thus, she made an employment offer based solely on my application, resume, and my status as a pharmacy student. The decision was based solely on qualifications, not appearance, race, gender, age, or religion.

Further, the store manager said this after a contingent job offer already had been made. If I had come to the store unwashed, unshaven, and wearing tattered clothes with bruises along the insides of both arms, as far as the store manager was concerned, I'd still have a job if my drug and criminal screens came back negative, although it might be in the stockroom out of sight of customers.

So, what's my point, then? I sat here long enough for the mp3 player to make it through three new age music songs as I tried to understand why her offhand comment has kept repeating in my head for the past three days. I wasn't personally offended. I was making small talk with her to break the monotonous silence as I filled out paperwork, so I shouldn't have been surprised by small talk about the purpose of our meeting in her office, even if it did walk the fine line of perfectly acceptable pre-employment conversation etiquette.

I guess my point is this: there is such a thing as positive discrimination, or being discriminated for instead of against, and even though we may not personally be offended by positive discrimination, it's not harmless. On the other hand, it's also known as favortism, and isn't a new concept, so excuse me for wasting the bandwidth.

:: Bryan Travis :: 07/31/2005 @ 21:00 :: [link] ::

A Summer Well Spent

That's a sarcastic title, in case you can't figure it out after reading this post for a bit. I had high hopes for the summer break after my first year of pharmacy school. I planned to work for peanuts as a pharmacy intern in a local hospital pharmacy. Measly pay aside, I would be better for the experience. Years later when I apply for a hospital pharmacist position, it would help me demonstrate commitment to a hospital environment.

Instead, I've written off the summer of 2005. The cynical view is that I've squandered it. The more positive perspective I struggle to maintain is that it has been an eye-opening experience in the frustrations of unemployment and learning how not to conduct a job search. I fell into a corporate I/T career right out of college, enjoying a more or less secure job for seven years. I now realize how fat, dumb, and happy I was, sucking the sweet teats of the corporate cow. The meager job-hunting skills I never had to develop after college have become rusty and even weaker than before, as if that were possible.

In the Lexington labor market there are two critical demographic features that do not work in the favor of a would-be pharmacy technician or intern. First, Lexington is a college town. Population 260,000 plus 33,000 college students equals perilous summer job hunting. Second, the 350+ pharmacy students and 33,000 college students saturate the pharmacy technician job market.

Job security and a pharmacist shortage were two of the reasons I changed careers. Escape from the looming threats of corporate downsizing and offshoring seemed like a good idea at the time. Pharmacists are "set" for life. What I failed to consider is that pharmacy students are not. The cruel irony is that I'm looking for work in a labor market where the ratio of labor supply to demand is so slanted that it makes the current U.S. I/T industry look like the late 1990s tech boom in comparison.

Talking to classmates in similar situations is small consolation. On the one hand, we support one another, and it's comforting to know I'm not alone, but it comes at the cost of realizing how truly scarce jobs are. We are so many sharks competing against one another in the hunt for one small fish.

A friend emailed earlier this summer. She wrote, "Hey dude, have you found a job yet? Because I haven't found anyone who is hiring. Which is kind of weird." Weird, indeed. She won an award for having the highest grades in our class. It happens to the best of us.

If I, a 30 year-old married to an optometrist, were up against a 21 year old self-supporting classmate freaking out about how to pay rent and groceries, I hope they would get the job. As much as the rejection of 30 pharmacies and temp agencies turning me down bruises my ego, at least I'm not starving or worried about getting evicted and living in a cardboard box.

If I could job hunt all over again, I'd start looking in March or April. Of course, that's exactly what I did. I went to the three local hospitals I knew were hiring and spoke to the pharmacy managers. They seemed upbeat, so I submitted applications, confident at least one would pan out.

A few weeks later, I saw the mugshot of the pharmacy director from pharmacy #1 on the 6 o'clock news. He had been arrested and charged with several felony counts of possession of a controlled substance. It surprised me, but after talking to the guy and seeing the pharmacy he managed, my reaction wasn't one of disbelief.

I had all but written off hospital pharmacy #2. My phone calls weren't returned, so I left my resume and cover letter on the hiring manager's desk and submitted an application. Over a month later, a pharmacist called to schedule an interview. I agreed to come in the next day, and the interview seemed to go well. When I called the next week to inquire on a decision, I found out both the pharmacist who interviewed me and the hiring manager were out of the country for three weeks. I left each a couple voice mails when they returned, but as before, my phone calls weren't returned, and I never heard from them.

The manager at hospital pharmacy #3 seemed reluctant to hire pharmacy students. In his experience, they didn't work enough hours during the school year. I thought I had eased his concerns. Apparently, I thought wrong. In hindsight, his smirk when I casually mentioned my 4.0 GPA should have tipped me off. As far as he was concerned, I was an arrogant ass too obsessed with grades to be bothered with working.

I didn't mention my GPA when I spoke to pharmacy managers number 4 through 25. GPA is relatively unimportant, now just an unnoticed factoid on my resume, a piece of paper they politely hold in one hand as they shake my hand with the other. A factoid that remains unseen, because once I walk out the door and turn the corner, they don't have to be in my sight for me to know what happens next. Before I get into my car and pull out of the parking lot, I know the resume has been tossed into the trash with all the reverence and ceremony befitting a dirty tissue, its eulogy a final sound of crinkling paper as it settles into its final resting place.

By the time it was obvious a hospital wasn't hiring me, the spring semester had ended, and with it had gone all the available intern jobs at retail pharmacies. In hindsight, I should have kept applying to pharmacies until I had pissed in a cup, completed the paperwork, and had a work schedule. I've learned there is an infinite chasm between someone saying, "Yeah, we're hiring! Do you have a resume?" and the first paycheck. A Richard Marx song popular in the 1980s comes to mind: "Cause it don't mean nothin' / The words that they say / Don't mean nothin' / These games that people play / No, it don't mean nothin' / No victim, no crime / It don't mean nothin' / Till you sign it on the dotted line."

Working in retail pharmacies may not be my first choice as a pharmacist, but by this point as an unemployed student intern, that preference for a future career choice seems increasingly remote and irrelevant. I'd take anything. I even applied at a pharmacy in a rough part of town operating out of a renovated 1960s-era drive-up milkshake and ice cream palace, complete with call boxes in the parking lot. But I didn't get that opening, either, because there are a lot of Mexican immigrant neighborhoods nearby, and I don't speak Spanish.

I got a hit at pharmacy #25. The pharmacy manager at a popular retail chain pharmacy in a nearby town greeted me enthusiastically. "You're a pharmacy student? That's great! Here's an application! Give it to K at the T Road store and she'll schedule your training."

Once again, I was lulled into a false sense of security and stopped submitting applications. Some people never learn.

Three weeks later, and they tell me my application is still pending the result of the criminal background check.

Four weeks after applying, I decide this is ridiculous and find the balls to drive to the store and check on the status of my application in person. If my application is sitll pending, I'm going to ask if they hired me erroneously, hired me even though they didn't need the hours. And if so, please pay me for my training hours, and let's move on.

The store manager tells me my background check cleared several days ago, and says he told the pharmacy manager I was good to go. I walk back to the pharmacy, but this is news to her - she says she was unaware my application had cleared, but in any event, she doesn't have any hours to give me right now, so "call K at the T Road store to find out which stores have hours."

Well, at least I didn't have to burn any bridges by asking if I had been mistakenly hired me when the store didn't have any hours. She came right out and told me so.

When I'm not driving around to pharmacies or temp agencies, I try to think of my summer unemployment ennui as a kind of sabbatical. I was going to study my lecture notes, meditate and realize some great universal truth and find inner peace for the first time in my life, or write a novel.

Ha! Novel, my ass. While I can't claim inner peace, I have developed some mad skilz waging starship battles in Starfleet Command 3. Rachel gave me Sims 2 for my 30th birthday, so the starships have been mothballed in spacedock the last few weeks. Some of my Sims 2 characters have the "write a novel" aspiration, kinda like I do. It takes a sim 27 hours of "sim time" to write a novel, which doesn't include sleeping, eating, working, or going to the bathroom. 27 hours elapsed time to write a sim novel, which doesn't seem that bad, except the average sim lifespan is 70 or 80 days, and when you consider that's like a year of a real person's life, well, that's just a long time. It doesn't help that I'm not a great storyteller, not even mediocre, my skills lie somewhere between bore and historian.

Yardwork and gardening has darkened my fair, pale skin to a fair, golden pale. If anything positive has come from my summer unemployment, it's been the satisfaction of tending a vegetable garden and compost pile. The summer began in a dry spell, which became a drought lasting until mid-July. Dedication and 250 feet of waterhose kept the garden watered for a month and a half until the rains came. The seemingly endless supply of squash, zucchini, and cucumber would not have been possible otherwise.

You start noticing the hybridized form of nature that exists in backyards and farms when spending so much time outside. For example, the rabbits lay seige to the garden in the late afternoon and early evening, but they don't eat much, scarring only a few cucumbers. I can identify about 15 weeds and grasses, and know of several weeds that are not only edible, but nutritious. Broccoli ripens first, followed by squash and zucchini, cucumber, peppers and tomatoes, corn, watermelon and cantaloupe. Fireflies peak in mid to late June. Grasshoppers hatch in early July. Japanese beetles like corn, but fortunately, not squash, peppers, or vine plants. And perhaps the cruelest irony of gardening: cilantro and tomatoes are great for making homemade salsa, but cilantro blooms and dies around mid-to-late July, just as the tomatoes begin to ripen. Honeybees are most active during early morning and late afternoon, and they almost swarm around squash and zucchini blooms, which close by late morning. The flowers of vine plants, like cucumber, cantaloupe, and watermelon stay open all day, and the bees always frequent them, but they won't bother you when you're picking vegetables if you give them some room and don't make sudden movements. Raccoons love corn, and they have an uncanny way of knowing it's ripe in the early morning before the sun comes up on the day before you were planning to pick it. The seed stems of Bermuda grass look like the TV antennas people mounted on their roofs in the 1970s and 1980s before satellite digital cable came along. The loud insect songs of the dog days of summer, complements of katydids and summer cicadas, begin around mid-July.

Much of what I've noticed doesn't seem overly exciting, now that I think of it. If I actually spent more time outside simply watching what was going on around me instead of pulling weeds and mowing, I might notice more of nature's awe-inspiring little quirks. I "turned over" the compost pile yesterday. The heat index was around 100 F, but I watched the bugs living in it for 15 minutes... beetles, centipedes, ants, and spiders. I spotted a tiny wolf spider (one of these jewels, only much smaller) moving around on the pile. It pounced on every passing ant, then kicked it away, unharmed. Amusing to watch.

So as my sabbatical nears an end, what do I have to show for it? More zucchini and cucumber than we know what to do with, but little on the philosophical front, I'm still agnostic, and have no ideas for the next great American novel. Ho hum.

:: Bryan Travis :: 07/24/2005 @ 11:24 :: [link] ::

Hunting Crime Scenes With Google Maps: First Canada-U.S. Drug Smuggling Tunnel Discovered

LYNDEN, Wash. - Federal agents have shut down an elaborate, 360-foot drug-smuggling tunnel dug underneath the U.S.-Canadian border - the first such passageway discovered along the nation's northern edge, officials said Thursday.

I wanted to use Google Maps to see where this tunnel was dug, so I looked at the slideshow pictures included with the above article.

A map is helpful, of course.

Pictures of the site are also helpful. Notice the white lines painted across the street to the mailbox, and the cones denoting the crime scene.

And now a picture of the hut where the tunnel began on the Canadian side of the border. Note the sidewalk leading to the greenhouse with the "Hello!" spray painted sign.

Finally, another view of the hut. Note the brown structure partially hidden to the right of the hut.

Okay! So now we should have enough info to find it on Google Maps. And sure enough, here it is!

The hut is centered on the view, just to the right of the greenhouses. In the aerial shot, the brown structure partially hidden behind the hut in this picture is to the northeast of the hut, the sidewalk leading into the greenhouse is also visible, and if you follow the street to the east, you can see the double white line painted across the street to the mailbox. The house on the U.S. side is probably the structure to the southwest of the double white lines on the road.

:: Bryan Travis :: 07/21/2005 @ 22:39 :: [link] ::

The Chronicles of Maya, Part 5: Two and a Half Inches

All Chronicles of Maya entries:

Two and a half inches. That was the height of the largest gap underneath our fence. On Maya's second day out, we discovered a little more than 2.5 inches is all the space she needs to crawl under the fence and escape.

I've always remarked that she's dodgy and can easily slink past anyone who tries to pick her up, but even I was shocked at her ability to slink through a 2.5 inch gap.

If she had any sense about her, Maya would be a world class mouser, able to follow mice almost anywhere. I read that a mouse's skeleton is so flexible that it can squeeze through a 1/4 inch opening. That's 10 times smaller than the smallest opening Maya can squeeze through, which is a large magnitude of difference, but given that Maya weighs 9 pounds and even a fat mouse weighs no more than a few ounces, it's pretty amazing given Maya is 60 times more massive than most mice.

There's no keeping our little kitty inside the protective fence, safe from most other cats, young boys, and automobiles. Ah, but you suggest, "you could invest in an electric fence to keep her from wandering too far."

That's not the point!!! Don't you see, this whole experience making Maya an outdoor cat is a metaphor for the protective parent coping with raising and letting go of a child who must learn to survive outside the walls of their parents' protection?

Maya is not trained for outdoor survival. On her second day outside, Maya stalked a bird. When the bird flew into a tree, she stood on her hind legs and meowed at it. On July 10, our anniversary night, the neighborhood bully cat climbed over the fence into our yard. Rachel heard Maya's distress meow, but no hissing or fighting. Rachel went outside, chased the bully cat from the food bowl, and found Maya rimrocked high up in the shade tree, unable to climb down. She hadn't even put up a fight. Today the first rain band from Hurricane Dennis passed over Lexington. Instead of going into her shelter, Maya sat under the shade tree all day, getting partially wet.

I want to let her out, want to let her roam free and be a cat, but she needs some survival skills. We're experiencing the parent dilemma, caught between a rock and a hard place, wanting to extend her leash and let go, but not enough rope to hang herself. Poor Maya has a lot to learn. So do we.

:: Bryan Travis :: 07/19/2005 @ 12:06 :: [link] ::

The Chronicles of Maya, Part 4: Don't Fence Me In

All Chronicles of Maya entries:

Monday, July 4, 2005 started Maya's new life. One week after receiving her vaccinations, she was immune to rabies, feline leukemia, distemper, calicivirus, and what-have-you... which was great for Maya's health, but of particular importance to us, it meant she could go outside.

The vet advised we gradually acclimate her to being outside so she wouldn't bolt; fortunately, we have a fenced-in backyard. We had put Maya's new cathouse in her bedroom and put her food and water bowls inside to help her make positive associations with the shelter before going outside.

It was like the first day of school for our little kitty! On her first day out, we sat under the shade tree in our backyard with a book and kept an anxious eye on her. Children get lots of immunizations before going to school. Their parents wait with them at the bus stop and wait for them to come home after the first day, anxiously hoping they made friends with the other kids. Maya was like the daughter we had sent to the school of the outdoors.

Maya spent the first 15 minutes meowing nervously and investigating the fence perimeter. Then she stretched out under the deck and shade tree to cool off for a bit.

Without front claws, Maya can't climb (and if she can, she hasn't figured it out yet), so the only escape is under the fence in places where the dirt has washed out, or where the previous owner's dogs have chewed away the bottom corner of the fence gate. It took her 30 minutes to get bored with the 60x60 foot enclosure, just 30 minutes to start looking for escape routes.

The word I use to describe Maya's personality to anyone who hasn't met her is "dodgy," and that's why I sat outside and watched her closely even as I read. For example, as an indoor cat, she didn't want much to do with people. When approached, she would slink away: at first she would walk along the walls, and then as you got closer, her walk became a trot, and then a crouching gallop as she slipped past your reaching hands.

When she found a way through the fence, I followed her outside and let her enjoy a few minutes' exploring. Then I carried her back inside the fence and blocked the opening with a piece of lumber. Three hours outside was enough for her first day, and I took her back inside.

The next morning I cut up a 2x4 and screwed the pieces into the fence boards to block the holes she had crawled through the previous day. I spread dirt under the fence where it had washed out after years of rain. Ten buckets of dirt later, I deemed the fence escape-proof and brought Maya outside. And that's where we'll continue with the next installment...

Coming soon: 2.5 inches

:: Bryan Travis :: 07/17/2005 @ 08:05 :: [link] ::

The Chronicles of Maya, Part 3: The "Come to Jesus" Meeting

All Chronicles of Maya entries:

A couple months ago when it became obvious Maya wouldn't start using the litter box reliably any time soon, we locked her in the spare bedroom, and covered the mattress with a vinyl cover. Initially we put sheets over the mattress cover believing the fabric attracted her. Our reasoning was if she was going to pee outside the litter box, better she do it on washable bed sheets than on the carpet, because urine is more difficult to clean from carpet and the pad. We later realized (while washing the bed sheets one evening) that Maya would pee on the bare mattress cover, so we quit putting sheets on the bed, let her pee directly on the vinyl mattress cover, thus saving a lot of hot water and reducing wear and tear on the washer and dryer. This reduced our weekly laundry from 6 loads to 3.

I put her litter box (containing Dr. Elsey's Cat Attract cat litter -- you still owe us $18, Elsey!!!) on the mattress cover where she most frequently peed. In its new location, Maya dutifully continued to poop in the litter box, and would sometimes pee in it, but frequently ignored the box to pee on various areas of the mattress cover, same as she had done with the litter box on the floor.

Well, that did it. For her to shift her pee spot 18 inches from the lower half of the mattress to mid-mattress solely to avoid the litter box so she could continue urinating on the vinyl cover was too much. She didn't like regular litter, she didn't like newspaper litter, and she didn't like the $1/pound Elsey's Cat Attract. Unless the litter box was lined with mattress or sofa padding, she would have nothing to do with it. We took her to the vet last Monday for a "come to Jesus" meeting. We asked for her vaccinations, and asked the vet about other local no-kill shelters we could take her to when the vaccines produced immunity after about a week. Last week's unsuccessful teary-eyed trip to the missing no-kill shelter was traumatic, but we had faced the pain and were no longer afraid of the loss. We were ready to do this, dammit. He explained no-kill shelters fill up pretty quickly. I asked him if no-kill shelters prefer to rescue "death row" animals from other shelters when they do have vacancies, and he affirmed. Yes, I agreed, that made sense.

Rachel asked the vet if Maya could be an outdoor cat despite having no claws, and he said absolutely. In any event, we reasoned, she would have a longer life expectancy and better quality of life living outdoors than taking her chances at adoption or euthanasia in a shelter with the damning words "urinates outside litter box" in her profile.

And thus Maya's fate was sealed. She would not be taken to a shelter with a 30 day adoption window before it's off to death row. Instead, she will take her chances outside.

:: Bryan Travis :: 07/11/2005 @ 13:38 :: [link] ::

Factual but Deceptive OTC Drug Advertising Tricks: Bayer vs Tylenol

"The number one cause of headaches? Everyday life."

Today I saw a TV advertisement from Bayer promoting one of it's aspirin formulations; I think it was Bayer Rapid Headache Relief, a rapid release aspirin formulation. I will argue why I think the information presented in this commercial is not only useless, but potentially deceptive to consumers.

The commercial makes a point: when you have a headache, you want fast relief. It then promotes the Rapid Headache Relief product, claiming it dissolves "5 times faster than Tylenol." The textual caption states the Bayer product has complete release in 27 seconds versus 133 seconds for Tylenol.

The implied (but unstated) claim is that Bayer Aspirin Rapid Headache Relief provides headache pain relief faster than Tylenol. This would be a great claim to make, because fast headache pain relief is the ultimate goal of the consumer. Why wasn't this claim stated explicitly? Because it's not true, and explicitly saying so would probably raise the ire of the FDA and McNeil PPC, the manufacturer of Tylenol.

Fact 1: Tylenol (acetaminophen) and aspirin cannot provide headache pain relief until they are absorbed into the bloodstream. The amount of drug in the bloodstream is measured by the "plasma concentration" or "serum concentration."

Fact 2: Tylenol (acetaminophen) and aspirin are both rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. However, Tylenol (acetaminophen) reaches its peak plasma concentration in 10-60 minutes. Aspirin reaches its peak plasma concentration in 1-2 hours. Peak plasma concentration is the highest level of drug in the bloodstream, when the drug produces maximum effect.

Conclusion: Although the Bayer product dissolves 106 seconds before Tylenol, this is probably insignificant, because the 1 minute and 46 second headstart does not necessarily help aspirin get into the bloodstream faster than Tylenol.

There are three primary factors affecting how quickly an oral medication provides its effect: 1.) drug dissolution time (how long it takes to dissolve); 2.) drug absorption rate (how quickly the dissolved drug enters the bloodstream); and 3.) the drug's minimum therapeutic concentration (the lowest plasma concentration at which the drug produces its intended effect).

This commercial exaggerates the advantages of Bayer Aspirin Rapid Headache Relief. The advantage (rapid dissolving formulation) does not necessarily translate into overall better result (faster headache pain relief).

My number one pharmaceutical industry pet peeve: Factual but deceptive advertising. That's when a party with an agenda attempts to promote a product by omitting negative information or exaggerating the benefits of postive information. I'll give two cases.

First case, the promoter may discuss the advantages while omitting or marginalizing the disadvantages. This is not in the best interests of the consumer, because the promoter does not provide the consumer with enough information to make an informed decision. An example is what I call the gameshow prize effect. A contestant who wins $20,000 in prizes in a gameshow or contest can expect to owe $6,000 in taxes. If the prize is non-monetary (car, airline tickets, furniture), the winner must forfeit or liquidate the prize (assuming the winner can get more than 30% of the prize value, they're still ahead, but the sugar isn't as sweet as it once seemed). Another example is Eli Lilly's pulled Strattera TV ad.

Second case, the promoter claims the positive benefits of the product yield a better overall result. That's what I believe the Bayer Aspirin Rapid Headache Relief commercial does: faster dissolution does not necessarily mean faster headache pain relief.

There may not be a conscious decision to deceive, but the "agenda to promote" necessarily means the promoting party has a conflict of interest. In Bayer's defense, it has not claimed its rapid dissolving formulation is better than Tylenol. It has simply offered an alternative product to provide a more diverse selection of products to consumers. Bayer could rightfully argue it has improved the competitive marketplace for the consumer. I don't argue or take issue with any of that. I am simply disappointed this commercial makes it too easy for consumers to think its worth spending more money for this product on the false belief this formulation will make their headache pain go away faster than Tylenol.

:: Bryan Travis :: 07/07/2005 @ 13:12 :: [link] ::

The Chronicles of Maya, Part 2: The No-Kill Shelter

All Chronicles of Maya entries:

Our cat Maya has had an ongoing problem urinating outside the litter box, favoring large, soft, difficult to clean, and expensive pieces of furniture such as sofas and mattresses. We've been trying various behavioral and medical interventions since March to break her of the habit, but to no avail. Lately, we've been trying to decide what to do with her, because the current arrangement simply wasn't working.

We found a no-kill shelter in Lexington on the web, but our calls went to their voicemail. We packed up Maya on Rachel's day off, and set off for the shelter, but couldn't find it. The address was in a strip mall-style shopping center, but none of the shops matched the suite number. Half the spaces were "available for lease," so while the phone number remained active, the shelter itself had gone missing.

And actually, it wasn't such a bad thing that the shelter had gone missing, because Rachel and I both shed a few puppy dog tears during the driving, listening to Maya pitifully meowing from inside her pet carrier on the back seat. We didn't want to give her up. Oddly enough, this cat and I really don't seem to like each other that much, but I guess it's a love-hate relationship, and when the pressure's on, I get soft for her.

Rachel's chiropracter was across the street from the ghost town strip mall with the missing animal shelter, so we stopped by the office for her session. The chiropracter hadn't heard of the shelter (2x2 Noah's Ark Animal Sanctuary), but said one of his patients was a cat lover who came into some money a few years ago. Her "good deed" is to bring unwanted cats into her home, have them vaccinated and spayed or neutered, then offer them up for free adoption. Essentially a no-kill shelter, if a cat goes unadopted, she ends up adopting it herself. The chiropracter said this lady usually came in the afternoon on the same day Rachel does, and offered to give her our number and explain the situation when she came later in the afternoon.

We brought Maya home, way more relieved than disappointed that it wasn't "mission accomplished." We let her out of the pet carrier in the spare bedroom and when I checked on her five minutes later, she had already left a wet spot on the bed. Oh, the irony!

That evening we waited for the chiropracter's other patient, whom we had already nicknamed "the cat lady," to call us. We waited until the wee hours of the night when we realized that this lady, the patron saint of unwanted cats in Lexington, didn't want our cat.

:: Bryan Travis :: 07/05/2005 @ 22:52 :: [link] ::