4 0 2

402 days. 402 (plus or minus… mostly minus) posts.

Month: November, 2012

Day 6: Landlord Learning

I have a great landlord. I really do. “D” keeps the common areas clean, responds quickly in emergencies and painted my walls taupe for me before I moved in. Taupe!

Here are some things I have learned from him:

Bedbugs are bad. (Note: I do not have bedbugs.) D’s dad is a bedbug exterminator. As a result, he knows everything there is to know about bedbugs. D made me promise that whenever I return from an excursion (to a friend’s apartment, my parents’ house, New York—especially New York, etc.), I will not bring my bags inside. I will transfer my laundry into plastic bags in the car and bring the potentially damaged goods straight to the laundry room. Then, I will disinfect my luggage in the parking lot or throw it in the dumpster.

Candles are bad. Candles don’t necessarily start fires, but they do get soot all over the walls. I haven’t experienced candle soot first-hand, but I don’t doubt it exists. I guess potentially sooty walls are reason enough to put a no-candle clause in the rental agreement.

Windows must be closed in order to work properly in the winter. I live in a 100-year-old, beautiful, quirky, poorly insulated building near downtown. Last year, I called D with a plea for heat after we experienced a series of days in the 30s. Before agreeing to turn on the heat, D let me know that the windows needed to be closed (I agreed); that the 60-year-old caretaker next door was perfectly comfortable with the temperature in her building, and she’s old; and that the temperature is always a few degrees warmer in the city than the suburbs, so I shouldn’t place too much emphasis on the weather report.

Sometimes neighbors light things on fire. Like dumpsters. Once a dumpster fire has occurred, D will no longer allow receptacles to sit underneath dry, wood-framed windows.

Dumpster melt

Scented plug-ins are good. Wrong. They’re awful. Every morning, I unplug the purple liquid thingy stuck in the hallway outlet near my door. Every evening, that darn thing has jumped right back in. I will plug my nose and play my part in this vicious scented cycle until I die.

Day 5: Your Brain on Brain

Since I have a luxurious 397 blogs to go, I’m starting a series of periodic posts about “people you should know.” Real people; not made up ones. I might start a series of made up people at a later date.

This particular person passed away in 2006, so you missed your chance to meet him. However, you can still learn about, appreciate and be fascinated by his work.

A caveat: I’m not a scientist. If I write something inaccurate and you know better, feel free to let me know (in a nice way, please…. all caps are no fun).    

Paul Bach-y-Rita (1934–2006)

Bach-y-Rita, one of the “fathers of neuroplasticity,” was one of only a handful of early neuroscientists who believed in the adaptability of the brain. Just a few decades ago, neuroplasticity was a fringe theory. The brain was thought to be hardwired—fixed—and could not create new connections. On the contrary, Bach-y-Rita knew that the brain was alive and constantly adapting to new stimuli.

“We don’t see with our eyes, we see with our brains.”

Bach-y-Rita coined the concept of sensory substitution—that if one of our senses is damaged, we can acquire the missing information through another sense. He posited that when a person became blind or deaf, they hadn’t necessarily lost the ability to see or hear; they only lost the ability to transmit information from their eyes or ears to their brain. A brain without a working set of eyes could potentially still “see” with another transmitter.

Drum roll for one of our more amazing organs, please: the tongue.

Save the lips, it has more tactile nerve endings than any other part of the body. Knowing this, Bach-y-Rita invented a “tongue display,” a thin strip of plastic covered with electrodes that lies on a person’s tongue. The device is hooked up to a camera, and as the camera reduces what it sees into pixels, the pixels are converted to electric currents that run along the tongue strip. The brain learns to interpret the impulses it receives on the tongue as a visual picture of the environment. Watch it in action (and ignore the hokey background music).

This is a very tiny taste (heh) of his work. Prior to creating the visual device, he used the tongue strip to help patients with severe balance problems recover from vestibular damage. Want to get down and dirty with some electrotactile vestibular substitution neuroscience? Read the NIHPA journal article on the BrainPort® balance device, submitted by Bach-y-Rita and his collaborators.

Day 4: The Binder

I have a binder full of two women.

My extremely thoughtful mother saved and printed every instant message conversation we exchanged while I was in college. It was back in AIM‘s heyday, so there at least 300 pages. The binder is filled with insight into a relationship between a firstborn exploring independence and a mother trying to let her have it from 2,000 miles away. Concern, gratitude, virtual eye-rolls—it’s all in there.

From spring of sophomore year:

Mom: You didn’t really blow off work yesterday, right? It was a day off? Also, please find out what info you need in order to buy a parking permit.
Me: Mom. I wouldn’t just blow off work, obviously. They gave us the day off.
Me: They would SEE me blowing it off.
Mom: I know that. You are a good girl.
Mom: A really bad thing just happened to dad.
Me: What?
Mom: He turned on the stove for tea and his robe started on fire. I am totally serious.
Me: Oh my gosh!
Me: I’m sorry; it sounds somewhat humorous… Is he okay??
Mom: He is okay, but I am not exaggerating that there were flames shooting off of his arm and the back of his robe. He is okay, but not thinking it is humorous at the moment.
Me: Wow, did he get burned?
Mom: No, but his robe is probably shot.
Me: Well, that’s okay.
Mom: He didn’t get burned. Our house smells really bad.
Me: I bet. Gross.
Mom: So anyway, back to the subject at hand. Will you get a parking permit? You have no plates yet but you can purchase one without that.

Related: When Parents Text.

Day 3: Seven Types

Here is a list of seven types people you should probably have in your life (in no particular order):

The Unconditional. Even if you accidentally set your own hair on fire while blowing out the candles on your birthday cake, The Unconditional will still think you’re tops.

The Supportive Skeptic. You can count on The Supportive Skeptic for pretty much anything (helping you move, jump-starting your car, bailing you out of jail, etc.), but s/he is not convinced that all of your decisions are good ones. You know you’re in skeptic territory when you hear a lot of silence.

The Blunt One. Wondering if you should retire those 12-year-old jeans with the “tiny” hole near the back pocket? The answer is yes. In fact, you didn’t even have to ask, because The Blunt One has been telling you to get rid of those jeans for almost a decade.

The Internet Fiend. The Fiend knows a good meme within five seconds of its arrival on YouTube. S/he is your unending source of sloth videos, animations, auto-tunes and obscure blogs. Remember Peanut Butter Jelly Time? The Fiend invented it.

The Naysayer. Not only is that movie you suggested terrible, the coffee shop you frequent is full of fascists. The Naysayer knows more about most things than you do, and you can count on him/her to cause you an occasional epiphany (“This organic deodorant is giving me cancer!”).

The Peacemaker. Rather than debate “goose” or “grey duck,” The Peacemaker will change the game to “grey goose” to get everyone to play. S/he is happy when everyone is happy.

The Up-for-Anything. Want to leave a pile of burnt cookies on the neighbor’s doorstep? Sure! Want to glue a paper cutout of a dog to a stick and walk him around the mall? Definitely! The Up-for-Anything doesn’t care what you do together as long as it’s something.

Day 2: Seamless Sureness

Earlier this week, I heard part of a posthumous NPR interview with Irish philosopher John O’Donohue.

During the interview, he said, “Meister Eckhart said that there is a place within the soul that neither time nor space nor flesh nor no created thing can touch. And I take that to mean that there’s a place within each of us where no one has ever got to us, where we are undamaged, and where’s there’s a seamless sureness and natural confidence and tranquility. And I think the intention of beauty, and of the spiritual life and of the imagination, is to take us as frequently as possible to that inner kind of place.”

Where there’s a seamless sureness.

Soothing and sticky words.

They suggest that everyone comes into the world with something that can’t be affected by it. Whatever muck and beauty happens in a life, there’s a part of every living being that stays constant. Seamless. It exists before we are born and is unruffled when we die. We all have it and it doesn’t belong to any of us.

Maybe one of the points of life is to let that unnamable “inner kind of place” peek to the surface every once in a while, so we all get to see it and recognize it in each other. We can share a little “my inner place sees your inner place” high five. Or fist bump. Whatever the cool kids are doing these days.

(I went to yoga today.)