Monday, March 27, 2017

Life and Death Meet in a Vet Clinic

Lots of big dogs in here today, I thought, as I sat in the waiting room of the Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center in Leavittown this afternoon. That Bernese mountain dog is huuuge!

Two men with a large, black dog, maybe a lab. A woman and her two young children with her cocker spaniel. Only one other person in here with a cat. It's a dog day, for sure.

My eyes were suddenly drawn to the front doors, where, just outside, five people had gathered and seemed to be crying. A couple, with their teenage son and two older daughters, who had come in separate cars, met at the door. Yes, they were crying, dabbing tears with tissues.

I watched everyone hug, and then the dad entered with a pudgy, beige dog trailing behind. It was old and seemed frail. It had a bandaged foreleg and walked with a limp. The dad walked straight back to the clinical rooms. The mother, who entered behind the dog, stopped at the desk for a few moments, dabbing her eyes. The daughters and son remained outside, seeming to console one another. The boy was mostly silent and lost unto himself.

I suspect everyone witnessing the scene knew exactly what was happening. The old dog's time had come to an end.

Putting a beloved pet to death is a sorrowful task and as inevitable as our own demise, and as many times as I've had to do it, the task never gets any easier. I find those final moments -- from a distance only -- to be unique moments in life. It is there that we see death in all its raw power, emanating from a decision that we, ourselves, have made. We, ourselves, are causing this animal's death. The vet may be carrying out the decision, but the decision has been ours alone.

Grim. Necessary. Unforgettable.

After about a half hour the dad and mom came out again. They walked straight out, shoulders heavy from what had just happened, and joined the three younger attendees in kisses, hugs, and tears. The dad and mom bid the girls adieu, and then left with the son walking silently behind.

And just like that it was over. We were the same people in the same waiting room, waiting our turn, relieved that we were not putting our pet to sleep, that we were just bringing it in for treatment, that life, for our pet, would continue, but also knowing that someday, sooner or later, those sad people would be us. Someday we would arrive with a pet and, in tears, leave without one.

Life and death, in one waiting room on one day in one town.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Where I've Been and Where I Probably Will Never Go


Create Your Own Visited States Map


The map above shows all the states I've visited for one reason or another. Most of the reasons involved healthcare conferences I attended or exhibited at.

In those states I had my favorite cities...
  • San Francisco
  • Chicago
  • Charlotte
  • Portland
  • Seattle
  • Louisville
  • Alexandria
  • Boston
  • Breckenridge
  • New Orleans
...and my not so favorite cities:
  • Nashville
  • Las Vegas
  • Dallas
  • Nashville
  • San Antonio
  • Orlando
  • Phoenix
  • Did I say Nashville?
Of the states I haven't visited yet, there aren't any I think I'll someday visit, except for Wyoming, Hawaii and possibly -- possibly -- Montana. I'd love to visit the national parks in Wyoming, who wouldn't like to visit Hawaii, and I've heard from too many people how beautiful Montana is, though a visit there remains a rather long shot.

Of the rest -- Alaska, Idaho, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama -- I have absolutely no desire to visit. None. Nada. Zip. Zed.

Well, maybe Alaska. If I'm forced.

Reasons for not wanting to visit those states:
  • Idaho: Seriously?
  • North or South Dakota: Not enough draw, I guess
  • Nebraska and Kansas: Too much corn. Too flat.
  • Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama: Way too conservative and racist for me, especially Mississippi, which needs to bring itself up to, at least, the 1980s.
Gaylord Opreyland Resort in Nashville.
Or as I call it, Hell on Earth.
I'm sure all of those states are beautiful in their own way, and obviously not everyone who lives in Mississippi, et al, is racist or conservative. It's just that my overall impression of them doesn't make me say, I would really like to visit there. No.

Honestly, if I never visit any of those states in my lifetime, it will be just fine with me.

What will most assuredly NOT be fine with me is if I am forced to go to Nashville again. No, that will NOT BE OKAY!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

My Best Little Poop Watcher

Our littlest doggie, Georgie, has a detestable little habit of defecating in the dining room. She was a rescue that had been picked off the streets of Philadelphia, which is what we blame this particular nuisance on. IT'S NOT OUR FAULT!

Anyway, the dining room is where she poops. Luckily the, um, released elements tend to be well-formed little marbles all in a neat little pile. We pick them up, dispose of them, and that's that until the next day.

Lately, though, those little piles have disappeared. There are now little brown marbles all over the dining room floor, on account of how our newish puppy, a 5-month-old, 36-pound golden retriever named Lola, likes to play with them.

Enter our little granddaughter, age 2½, who calls me Pepe, an homage to my own grandfather. This little girl loves to help. Her latest assistance has been coming in the form of letting me know when there are little marbles on the floor.

"Pepe, I see POOOP!"

That's my cue to grab a couple paper towels, head into the dining room, and let her guide me to said poops.

"Thank you, sweetie, you're the best Poop Watcher ever!"

"Hhh-yuhhh!" she says, as if, you know, of course she is.

I'm not sure she'll brag about this little gift she has, the ability to spot little poopies, when she gets older, but she sure is proud of it now. And I just love her for it.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The 5th Street Stairs: A Sweet Story

There's a town along the Monongahela River, just north of the bright yellow Stan "The Man" Musial Bridge, called Donora. The old mill town is famous for being the "Home of Champions," most prominently the aforementioned baseball legend, plus Ken Griffey, Sr. and his son, Ken Griffey, Jr, who was born in Donora but moved with his parents to Cincinnati when he was six.

Original 5th Street stairs, of which
there are 163. I counted.
The Musial and Griffey homes are located uphill from the main drag, McKean Avenue, which runs along the flood plain next to the Mon, as locals call the Monongahela. When I say uphill, I mean it. Pretty much all the roads emanating from McKean upward are rather steep, particularly 5th Street, part of which was closed off years ago because it proved too dangerous for car travel.

On 5th Street now, between Prospect and Murray Avenues, there is a street-wide swath of grass with a set of stairs on either side. The stairs on the right, looking upward, are replacement stairs installed a number of years ago. The stairs on the left, however, are original and tell an interesting story.

Each riser, from the very bottom to the very top, is but 4 inches tall. Most stairs today have risers about 8 inches tall. So why do the 5th Street stairs, and many other staircases in Donora, have risers half that height?

It turns out that Rose Marie Iiams' grandfather-in-law was the engineer who designed the stairs. Mrs. Iiams, 90, was a long-time pharmacist in Donora and worked all day, every day during the 1948 smog event. The story she tells may be apocryphal but it's adorable nonetheless.

Hobble skirt, 1910
"Women were wearing hobble skirts then," she says.

I didn't know what a hobble skirt was, so she kindly explained. "The skirts were sort of tight, so you couldn't raise your legs very far..

Go on.

"Well, his wife was a little woman, and his daughter was a big woman. And he measured the distance that each could raise her legs, and he made the steps halfway between."

Then she laughed and said, "Isn't that a marvelous story?"

It is indeed, Mrs. Iiams, it is indeed.


Thursday, February 9, 2017

When to Use Special Typographic Symbols

Following up on another post, I'd like to provide some information on when special typographic symbols should be used.

  • Ampersand (&) — Used informally to denote "and"
  • Ampersat (@) — Commonly used in email address but also used informally to denote “at” or, in healthcare, “before”
  • Asterisk (*) — Denotes a footnote; also used to indicate unknown letters (as in “sh*t”)
  • Asterism (⁂) — Rarely used symbol that calls attention to text that follows
  • Back slash (\) — Used primarily in computing and website addresses
  • Caret (^) — Commonly used by editors and copyeditors to indicate text or other content to be added to a particular location in a document
  • Copyright (©) — Used to indicate a copyrighted name or document, typically immediately prior to the copyright year
  • Dagger (†) — Also called an obelisk; denotes a second footnote (double dagger ‡ ) on a page 
  • Degree (°) — Indicates degrees of temperature or angle
  • Zero glyph (slashedzero.jpg) — Infrequently used in typography; used in handwriting to indicate zero as distinguished from capital O
  • Ellipsis (…) — Indicates missing text (Note: When an ellipsis is used at the end of a sentence (use an ellipsis symbol and then a period.)
  • Em dash (—) — Commonly used to replace a colon, comma, or parenthetical phrase (Called “em” dash because it is the width of the lowercase “m”)
  • En dash (–) — Indicates a range, as in 2–4 or 2007–2010; also used as a minus sign (Equal to ½ width of em dash)
  • Guillemets (gillemet.jpg) — Used in some languages to indicate speech
  • Hyphen (-) — Used to join words (“full-blown argument”) or indicate a missing word (“short- and long-range” )
  • Interpunct () — Rarely used dot between words; sometimes used in logos
  • Interrobang (‽) — Rarely used combination of exclamation point and question mark; indicates an exclamatory question (“Do you have any idea what you’re doing‽”)
  • Lozenge (⧫) — Open or closed diamond often used as a bullet
  • Pound sign (#) — Also called octothorpe or hashtag; indicates pounds in weight or to precede a word or phrase (without spaces) commonly searched online
  • Obelus (÷) — Division sign in mathematics
  • Pilcrow (❡) — Commonly used by editors and copyeditors to indicate new paragraph break
  • Prime (′) — Used most often to indicate feet or minutes; double prime used to indicate inches or seconds
  • Registered trademark (®) — Indicates name or logo that has been registered with a national trademark office
  • Section sign (§) — Also called silcow; most commonly indicates a particular section of a document, especially legal documents
  • Virgule( ⁄) — Also called solidus; separates nominator and denominator in a fraction; not the same as a forward slash, which is more upright (/)
  • Therefore sign (∴) — Used in mathematical proofs before a logical consequence
  • Tilde (~) — Used as a diacritical mark over letters (ã) or in mathematics to indicate an approximation (~18) or similarity between values
  • Trademark (™) — Used after a symbol, word, or phrase legally representing a company or product of a company


Monday, February 6, 2017

Typographic Symbols and Their Names

Reprinting a popular post from an old blog of mine.


Ever see an odd little symbol and wonder to yourself, Self, what do you suppose that odd little symbol is called?

Wonder no more. Here’s a handy little list of odd little typographic symbols and their names.


Friday, February 3, 2017

Death in Donora

The Monongahela River meanders from the West Virginia coal country to the middle of Pittsburgh, where it joins the Ohio and Allegheny rivers in a famous confluence called Three Rivers. Along the way the river curls around this hill and that, forming elbows and horseshoes that can make travel between towns along its banks long and lonely.

Donora along the west bank of the Monongahela
Along one of those curves, a large horseshoe about 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, lies a a town called Donora, an old mill town that would largely be forgotten now were it not for an unusually long patch of unlucky weather that led to the deaths of hundreds of people and ultimately prompted the creation of the Clean Air Act. For it was at that horseshoe curve that at the turn of the 20th century a wealthy Indiana industrialist, William H. Donner, had decided to build a series of zinc and steel plants to supply the growing needs of a flowering America.

The plants employed thousands of Donora residents, supplied steel and wiring for hundreds of buildings, bridges, and highways, and spewed untold tons of respiratory pollutants and irritants into the air. In the fall of 1948 Mr. Donner's plants gave grave notice to the town that all was not well.

On Tuesday October 26, the air over Donora became foggy from cool air being trapped beneath warmer air above in what meteorologists term a temperature inversion. Normally inversions last less than a day, but this one lasted a devastating five days. Within two days the fog had turned into a stinging, yellowish-gray shroud so thick that many people couldn't drive, couldn't even walk without stumbling. "It was so bad," said one resident, "that I'd accidentally step off the curb and turn my ankle because I couldn't see my feet."

On the worst day, Saturday the 30th, two brave volunteer firefighters, Bill Schempp and Jim Glaros, worked their way around town, each feeling his way from house to house to deliver oxygen to residents with respiratory problems. Each visit lasted only a few minutes and happened the same way. The firefighter placed a mask on someone struggling to breathe and turned the oxygen on for just a few seconds, what they called a "shot of oxygen." Just as the person began to breathe more easily, the firefighter then moved to the next house. The residents needed continuous oxygen but there simply weren't enough oxygen tanks to go around. "These people were just desperate for air," said historian Brian Charlton, curator of the Donora Smog Museum and active member of the Donora Historical Society.

So it was that two firefighters, men who had lived and worked with the people of Donora for years, who had fought fires, transported the sick and injured to local hospitals, and plucked frightened cats from raging storm drains, had to decide how much oxygen to give each resident. They had to say over and over, No, I'm sorry, as they shut off the oxygen and removed the mask. They had to listen to those desperately ill people plead with them, begging for their life, and then these volunteers had to walk away knowing they might never see their friends alive again.

All told 27 people would die over that five-day period, at least 50 more the following month, and hundreds more over the following years. The event spurred an investigation by the Division of Industrial Hygiene, then part of the U.S. Department of Public Health and now part of the Environmental Protection Agency. After numerous states, including Pennsylvania, enacted their own clean air acts, the Government decided that clean air should be a national priority and in 1955 passed the first national air pollution law, initially called the Air Pollution Control Act of 1955 (public law 84–159), later renamed the Clean Air Act.

Today Donora residents maintain a sense of pride about the tragic events of that dark October 68 years ago. In a 2009 interview with NPR, long-time Donora resident Don Pavelko said, "We here in Donora say this episode was the beginning of the environmental movement. These folks gave their lives so we could have clean air."



Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Peaceful Transfer of Power and Hope

Inauguration Day for Donald J. Trump is in three days, and we will watch again as the transition of power from one party to another occurs peacefully and completely in a single day. Quite a remarkable occurrence.

An occurrence, in fact, that forms the bedrock of a true democracy. I look forward to that peaceful transition of power this inauguration as I have every one I've been old enough to understand.

What I am not as sure of this time is the peaceful transition of hope.

I hope the new president and his team allow themselves to moderate over time, to to take into consideration all segments of society, and to compromise on the small issues so they don't get in the way of the bigger ones.

I hope the new president and his team can learn to work collaboratively with those who disagree with them.

I hope the new president and his team can find their way through the many foreign policy challenges facing the nation.

I hope above all that the new president and his team really can bring the nation together more than it is now and can provide some kind of hope for us where there is none now.

http://www.history.com/topics/us-presidents/andrew-jackson
There are numerous parallels between Andrew Jackson
and Donald Trump. Jackson turned out to be a
horrible president. I hope Trump will do better.
It's a big job, and I truly hope the new president and his team are up to the task.

Like millions of Americans, I don't think they are, but I'm willing to give them a chance, and I believe most people are as well.

I hope they use that chance wisely.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

It's Semi-Official: I'm Writing a Book

Hemingway (certainly not McPhee)
at work
Well, I am semi-officially writing a book.

I say "semi-officially" because I'm in the early stages of research and development and I don't have a publisher yet.

I decided first that I did not want to self-publish. I've worked in publishing for many years and have gained an enormous amount of respect for all the things a good publishing team can bring to any project. I want to avail myself of that help, so I'll work hard to find the right publisher for this particular book.

It then took me a while to find the right subject. I had four main goals in mind. I wanted to find:

David McCullough
  1. A subject with the potential for at least a little commercial success. For instance I considered for a time a biography of Benjamin Rush, one of the Founders I think has been underrated. I finally decided that a Rush biography wouldn't sell well enough for the amount of work it would require.
  2. Something reasonably limited in scope. I've thought for quite some time that I should take a cue from David McCullough, my favorite biographer, and start with something manageable. While working at American Heritage he decided to write about a disastrous flood in 1889. The result was The Johnstown Flood, a wonderful book that garnered McCullough wide praise. He wrote about the people in and around Johnstown, not just about the flood, and told the tale with clarity and elegance. I can't hope to touch his greatness, but I can tell a similar story in my own way, and that's what I'm going to do.
  3. Something relatively close to where I live, to make onsite research easier.
  4. A story that hasn't been told yet or one told so long ago or so poorly that a new one would be welcomed.

I finally stumbled on a subject that met all four goals, a mid-twentieth century environmental disaster in Eastern U.S. I'm currently researching the various aspects of the event, compiling a timeline of what happened when and who did what for whom, and beginning to organize the research so I can find information quickly later.

Sample Aeon Timeline screen
I'm using Aeon Timeline 2 to build my timeline and will be using Scrivener to write the manuscript. Both applications are industry leaders and are tailor made for writers.

Soon I'll be scheduling a visit to the area to get a closer feel for the story, the event, and, most important, the people. I should be able then to begin work on a proposal, one that will look at what the story is, why it needs to be told, why I'm the best person to write it, how it will be organized, what resources I'll use, and roughly when it might be finished.

Then I'll identify potential publishers and agents, and begin the work of getting a contract to tell the story.

All of which is to say that in my retirement yes, I'm working on a book, and no, don't ask me where you can run out and buy a copy. Let's save that for later down the road.

(But yes, please DO run out and buy a copy when it finally does publish!)