Synecdoche, Universe

No Man's Sky
In the delightfully quirky, postmodern film, Synecdoche, New York, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a movie director obsessed with creating a set that realistically represents New York City for an upcoming movie. But as he tries to incorporate more and more people and bits that represent the city, the set grows and grows into a micro-city itself. As Wikipedia describes it:

The plot follows an ailing theater director (Hoffman) as he works on an increasingly elaborate stage production whose extreme commitment to realism begins to blur the boundaries between fiction and reality. The film’s title is a play on Schenectady, New York, where much of the film is set, and the concept of synecdoche, wherein a part of something represents the whole, or vice versa.

I feel much the same thinking and obsession went into the creation of No Man’s Sky, a sandbox (“action-adventure survival,” plus trading, exploration, fighting, gathering, building, mining, refining, upgrading, flying, meeting aliens, and more) science fiction computer game of enormous size and scope that attempts to cram everything imaginable into one game.  Synecdoche, Universe might be a suitable nickname for this sprawling, all-encompassing game.* Again from Wikipedia:

Players are free to perform within the entirety of a procedurally generated deterministic open world universe, which includes over 18 quintillion planets… nearly all parts of the galaxy, including stars, planets, flora and fauna on these planets, and sentient alien encounters, are created through procedural generation…

Eighteen quintillions? That’s 18,000,000,000,000,000,000. Beyond comprehension. I can’t vouch for anything close to that number, since in about 25 hours of play, I’ve only been to five or six of them in No Man’s Sky (NMS).

My first four game starts (three on similarly difficult planets, one sandbox in a more habitable clime) were all just learning experiences that, after fumbling, failing, and even dying, I deleted having played only a few hours each. My currently-running game has more than half of my game time logged, spent entirely on one planet with a couple of short visits to a nearby orbital space station. Most of my time on this one planet has been running or walking around, exploring. I’ll come back to that. Meanwhile, I’m still poking about on one planet while the rest of the universe awaits.

Continue reading “Synecdoche, Universe”

Still Watching the Three Stooges

The original Three StoogesThere’s a bittersweet pleasure in watching the Three Stooges these days, knowing about them, their careers, their lives. What seems like zany comedy on screen was, like so many celebrity stories, much more complex, contentious, and even tragic at times. But there’s also an insuppressible joy in their work that keeps drawing me back to watch more. Moe, Larry, and Curly (and Shemp) will always bring a smile to my face. The subsequent replacements for Curly sometimes will, too, although not as often.

And with more than 200 film credits to their names, running from 1930 to 1970 in both shorts and feature films, there’s a lot to watch. One hundred and ninety of those short films were for Columbia Pictures alone (1934-59). These can be seen today online or in DVD collections from Sony (released as multi-year sets from 1934 to ’59, and as 17- or 20-disc collections; yes, of course, I have them). There are 51 other films or shorts in which they collectively starred or have a role, 17 of which were newsreels or bio-shorts.

And that doesn’t include all the films several of them made solo (Shemp Howard in particular was prolific) nor their 156-episode cartoon series, The New Three Stooges, that included live-action segments, and ran from 1965-66. And even this doesn’t show off their impressive careers that began in the 1920s in vaudeville. Moe Howard was performing on stage with his friend Ted Healy in 1923, joined by his brother Shemp in 1924. Louis Feinberg — aka Larry Fine — joined them in 1928. The three would appear with Healy in their first film, Soup to Nuts (1930), but parted ways with Healy over a contractual dispute. For a couple of years, the trio performed onstage as “The Three Lost Soles” and “Howard, Fine, and Howard.”

Continue reading “Still Watching the Three Stooges”

The Cancer Diaries, Part 16

Bone denstiy scan (not mine)Yesterday, I went for my second bone density scan — aka bone densitometry or dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry — the one that had been planned, but scheduled then delayed twice previously. My first bone scan, like my first CT scan, was done in June, before my surgery. This one was ordered by the oncologist prior to my radiation treatment.

Bone density scans are used for many types of diagnoses, including measuring bone loss and osteoporosis, but also to detect the spread of cancer cells. My previous scan showed the cancer had not spread into my bones (a tremendous relief). I hope the second one shows that same result; bone cancer is very nasty. Not that any cancer is good; some are simply nastier than others.

I arrived at the hospital — after my 60 km drive in the first taste of winter snow and wind — early, as usual, with several books to keep me occupied. I also managed to finally reach someone in the parking kiosk and buy a 30-visit pass for my upcoming radiation treatments. The kiosk sign says it’s open 8 a.m.-4 p.m., but in reality, they close at 3:45, which proves highly inconvenient for patients like me who have to stay later. I think I’ve spent more in parking at RVH than in any other aspect of the treatment to date (my usual fee is $15.25 per visit; it would be almost $20 if I wanted in-and-out privileges). I’ve also found the staff I’ve spoken to in the hospital seem unaware of, or confused about parking options, costs, or the hours the kiosk is open.

Waiting, as I’ve said before, is a big part of the process; this one starts with an injection, then a two-three hour wait before the actual scan. Or, if the nuclear medicine department is very busy, it could be even longer (one of the prior schedules for this scan had an almost five-hour wait!). I chose to get a coffee, sit in the open area, and read. I could have gone back to my car and driven somewhere to shop, but it has snowed that morning; not a lot (5-7 cm) but the streets were icy, the traffic slow, and I didn’t feel like fighting it. besides, what do I need to buy in Barrie? I preferred to read quietly. 

(Among the books I brought, I was almost finished re-reading Mexico Set, the second of the first Len Deighton Cold War spy trilogy, and finished it when I got home. As usual, I was working through several other titles I had brought along. My usual calculation is to bring a different book for every 20-30 minutes I have to wait, but to be honest, like yesterday I sometimes get drawn into fewer. Still, it’s nice to have options available.)

Unlike many processes and scans I’ve been through since my diagnosis, this one required no preparation and had no limitations on food or drink beforehand. I didn’t even have to change into the usual hospital coat and gown, nor have a full bladder. For which I was thankful.

The injection takes maybe three to five minutes, mostly in getting into place for it. And the nurse or technician finding a suitable vein, of course; I’ve had so many injections, blood tests, IVs, and so on this year that my veins are a bit bruised and reluctant to participate in more. The shot contains a small amount of radioactive tracer material. Not enough to make you glow in the dark (that could be fun…), but enough for the scanner to detect once it settles throughout the body. As the Mayo Clinic says,

Areas of the body where cells and tissues are repairing themselves most actively take up the largest amounts of tracer. Nuclear images highlight these areas, suggesting the presence of abnormalities associated with disease or injury.

Continue reading “The Cancer Diaries, Part 16”

The Cancer Diaries, Part 15

“… my only object was that all the world should enjoy itself and live in peace and quiet, without quarrels or troubles; but my good intentions were unavailing to save me from going where I never expect to come back from, with this weight of years upon me and a urinary ailment that never gives me a moment’s ease…”
Miguel de Cervantes: Don Quixote of La Mancha, chap. 22

I was listening to an audiobook of Don Quixote while driving to the hospital recently, and heard that bit. It just seemed appropriate. And a bit funny.

Last week I got my first hormone injection — lupron: the brand name for leuprolide acetate. “Lupron belongs to a class of drugs called luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH) agonists. These medications block the production of LHRH in the body, which results in the testicles producing less testosterone.”

At 70, I’m not terribly worried about my testosterone levels dropping. Sure, in the near future I may not buy a pickup truck, drink a case of beer, and wear a backward baseball cap while driving with my stereo playing annoying rap at ear-aching volume, but I’ll live with that. I’ll just have to content myself with reading, gardening, playing my ukulele, having a glass of wine with my wife, baking bread, a bit of online computer gaming, and walking the dog. And if it means my facial hair grows in less, well that just means I won’t need to shave as often.

Lupron is delivered via an intramuscular injection, which I got in my left buttock. Although the syringe looked like something a veterinarian might use to threaten a cow, it actually didn’t hurt at all to get it. Later the buttock muscles and got a bit stiff and sore, but it wore off after a couple of days during which we walked a lot. I have another injection scheduled for early February. I expect to get them every three months for some time.

Possible side effects of lupron can include:

  • loss of muscle mass
  • hot flashes
  • fatigue
  • skin irritation at the site of injection
  • erectile dysfunction or loss of sex drive
  • shrunken testicles and penis
  • changes in blood lipids
  • depression
  • osteoporosis
  • mood swings
  • breast tenderness
  • weight gain
  • the growth of breast tissue
  • anemia

Seems I might be able to share some of these effects with Susan, who still has menopausal hot flashes. She laughed at the thought of me throwing off the duvet in the middle of the night and sitting up to cool off, as she sometimes does. The weight gain I can do without: since the operation, I’ve been less active than in the past. But will I grow breasts? Continue reading “The Cancer Diaries, Part 15”

Remembrance Day thoughts

Poppy salesAn article on the Global News site titled “Fewer Canadians plan to wear poppies this Remembrance Day, poll finds” made me think again about what Remembrance Day is for. The article opens:

Fewer people plan to participate in Remembrance Day ceremonies or wear poppies this year, according to a poll from Historica Canada that also suggests knowledge of Canadian military history is dwindling.

To be fair, I’d suggest knowledge of pretty much everything factual is dwindling. One only need look at social media posts from anti-vaxxers, or anti-maskers to see how much knowledge of science and medicine has been lost in recent years. And, like most followers of pseudoscience and conspiracies, such stupidity is a self-inflicted wound. 

And, too, it is difficult to fault people for not attending group ceremonies during a pandemic when health officials are warning against large gatherings. Non-participation on Remembrance Day in 2020 might have a lot to do with that. This year, like many others in our community, we observed our two minutes of silence at home.

I’ve found it’s a bit difficult to even find poppies this year: I have only seen them for sale in the post office, locally. Of course, this year I have not looked for them in as many places as in previous years, so I might not have visited a location where they were available.

Still, excuses aside, I wonder what other reasons people would have for not participating. Are people just getting jaded? Or simply don’t care about showing respect? Are we losing our collective memories as we lose our veterans?

I recall writing an editorial for the newspaper some decades back, asking where all the municipal employees were, who got a holiday on Remembrance Day but didn’t show up at the cenotaph for the ceremonies. And standing there during the silence, I could always see trucks and cars racing by on First Street, and pedestrians and cyclists going about their business, ignorant of the significance of the events taking place a hundred or so meters away.

Continue reading “Remembrance Day thoughts”

The Cancer Diaries, Part 14

More back and forth to RVH, this time for another CT scan today. I arrived early, as usual, and then spent most of my time there waiting and reading. Not as long as I’ve had to wait in the past, but still a lot longer than the process itself. Like I always tell people: bring a book. Or books.

You remember me writing last post about a mixed-up bone density scan I was supposed to have last Wednesday? Well, by Monday morning, I hadn’t been informed of any re-scheduling, so when I registered at the imaging department for my CT scan, I asked the receptionist about it. She checked her computer, hemmed and hawed, then went off to the nuclear radiation office to talk to someone.

When she came back, she gave me the bad news. Seems I was supposed to have had it TODAY, about 90 minutes before I arrived. Damn. No one had called to tell me (and, yes, they have my landline and cell phone numbers, and both have answering machines). So I had it rescheduled AGAIN, this time for next week. Another day driving 120 km, and paying exorbitant parking fees. And hours of waiting in between.

I weary of driving back and forth, and don’t look forward to the lengthy wait doing nothing in the hospital (aside from reading) for the BD process. I really would have liked to have had both scans on the same day. Communication breakdown, as Led Zeppelin sang (did I tell you I interviewed them for the Ottawa Citizen when they came to play in the capital, in 1970? Ah, those were the days…).

Anyway, the CT scan process requires a full bladder, so I drank a lot of water before I left, with a water bottle in the car to sip more as I drove. Once registered, I had to make the usual change from streetwear into a hospital gown and coat. And then sit in a waiting room, my bladder creaking with fullness. I read a couple of chapters of a Len Deighton novel, Berlin Game, (my second time reading it), and some pages from Maryanne Wolf’s delightful book, Reader Come Home, on the neuroscience of reading.

About 30-45 minutes later, I was taken to another, smaller room, where a technician inserted an IV connector into my elbow. The first attempt didn’t work, so she had to pull it out and stick a new one in the other elbow. Not painful, however, and I certainly can’t fault her for my tricky veins. Then I sat and waited some more. This time I opened Haruki Murakami’s latest novel, Killing Commendatore, and read a couple of chapters. And, just as I was starting a third chapter, I got called by another technician (nurse?) to move into a corridor, plunk my backside in yet another chair, and wait some more. Not very long, mind you; not enough to finish the next chapter.

Continue reading “The Cancer Diaries, Part 14”