Wednesday, March 30, 2016

All of the Furs

I'm an animal lover.  I grew up with cats, once had a gerbil for a couple of years, and generally become enthused by all beasts with fur or feathers.  (And pigs.  And the bald versions of cats and guinea pigs, even though they look kind of weird.)

Unfortunately, Ken is allergic to all such creatures.  The fuzziest thing I get to pat in my house is my African violet.

(Apologies to Reed's Greenhouse for using your photo, however no other photograph captures the fuzziness of African violet leaves as effectively as this one.)

Because I am chronically pet-deprived, I'm a sucker for any opportunity to interact with animals.  I restrain myself from interrupting dog-walkers on their rounds, but it's not easy.  Even more challenging, my closest cat-person friends have a gorgeous kitty with silky soft fur... who absolutely detests being touched by anyone other than her immediate family.  You can't put a hand anywhere near her without getting hissed at.  :-(

Imagine my irrepressible glee when I heard about the Canadian Pet Expo!  Not only do they offer displays of cats, dogs, rodents, birds, and reptiles, attendees are welcome to bring their own pets, so long as they sign a waiver at the door.

Of course, most people brought dogs.  There were literally hundreds of (leashed) dogs in the building, sniffing each others' bums and frequently piddling on the floor with excitement.  (There were staff designated specifically to deal with this.  They wandered around with paper towels and disinfectant, cleaning up piddle puddles.  What a job.  I saw one dog in the midst of a poop accident, to the chagrin of the piddle police.  What can you do?  Poop happens.)

One little girl, I'd say around nine years old, brought a small, black cat on a leash.  The cat wasn't freaking out, but it's also fair to say that it wasn't relaxed.  

Someone else brought a pet pig in a special stroller.  The pig was around the size of Babe, and had a similar Mona Lisa smile.

Within Toronto city limits it's not legal to keep a pig as a pet, so people were going nuts over the pig in the stroller.  The woman who was pushing it around couldn't stand still for more than five seconds without drawing a crowd of would-be pig-patters and selfie-seekers.  The pig didn't seem to mind.  The woman ignored the hangers-on, more or less.  If I had been in her shoes I would have been annoyed by all the attention, but to be fair you can't bring a pig to a pet expo and not expect to be followed around like the Pied Piper.  

And now, here are some photos that I didn't steal.

"I would like to smell your phone please."

Beautiful Bengal cat.

"Why would anyone want a skinny pig when they could have cutie pies like us?"

This guy had the softest ears.

Miss Fuzzy-Face here was very friendly.

*snorty breathing*

Bull mastiff; weighs more than me.

This young kangaroo was so done with humans.  I'm pretty sure I heard him mutter to one persistent woman "Eff you and your endless attempts to get a roo selfie, mate."

And there you have it!  My compulsive need to pat furry beasts has been satisfied... for now.  

Friday, March 25, 2016

One Stitch

TGIALW.  (Thank God It's A Long Weekend.)  This week was...  I can't even.  Dentist appointment.  Angry clients at work yelling at me, followed by angry staff yelling at each other.  Step-dad-generated unnecessary drama: two incidents, on Wednesday and Thursday.  Generally depressing weather following by an ice storm.  Hormones.  Existential angst.  Etc.

Alongside all that, I had my annual, dermatological mole check.

**If you are LL Cool Joe, you are officially excused from reading the rest of this post, as it contains some medical details which could give you the heebie jeebies.  Everyone else will probably be okay; it's not super-gross.**

I have never minded going for my mole check, because there's nothing to it.  Show up, put on a paper gown, get looked over by the nice lady doctor, get dressed, and go home.  No injections, no blood draws, nothing invasive or embarrassing.  Until this time, obviously.

Last year she took a photo of a funky mole on my left arm that's shaped like a donut.  This year it had gotten a little darker.  She looked at it through a magnifier and pronounced that it looked "completely fine", but that she'd like to take it off just to be safe.

"Lie down on your right side, and I'll grab my sharpest knife so that I can gouge that sucker out of your skin right now."  I am paraphrasing, but that's the essence of what she said.

What could I do?  People have died of melanoma on both sides of my family.  When the dermatologist tells me that she wants to cut me, I'd better go along with the plan.  Dammit.

It didn't hurt.  I got a local freezing, and after that I couldn't feel a thing.  That didn't stop me from having an anxiety attack, because that's just how I roll.*  The doctor was super-sweet to me.  She put a cold cloth on my forehead, got me a cup of water, and patted my leg maternally.  When I continued to shake, sweat, and hyperventilate, she asked her just-as-nice receptionist to come and keep me company so that she could move on to her next patient.  The receptionist gave me cookies, and did a great job of distracting me from myself so that I could settle down.

*I did warn the doctor, before she even gave me the local freezing, that I might go faint on her because of my medical phobia.  It's not within my control once I get triggered, but at least she had fair warning.  I do what I can with soothing self-talk, but I can only prevail for so long against my hyper-terrified subconscious and clearly very effective adrenal glands.

I survived, finally got my act together, and fled the office, with instructions to get the stitch removed in ten days.  The teeny-tiny wound isn't sore unless I accidentally knock it against something.

Now I am minus one dot, which is weird.  All my life I have been accumulating brown spots.  I have never lost one before.  I wonder if my arm will look significantly different to me without it.  RIP dot! You will be missed.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Dad Bod

The last time I wrote about my step-dad, I complained that he was sleepy, forgetful, and occasionally confused.  I thought that he might be suffering from a sleep disorder.  Turns out it's congestive heart failure.

He had an episode a couple of years ago during which his feet and ankles swelled up, and he had to take a course of diuretics.  Then he decided that he was fine.  He never followed up with his cardiologist.  Of course the diuretics didn't cure his heart problem; they only treated the most visible symptom.  His heart failure progressed.  He should have continued to take medication on a long-term basis.  Instead, he neglected to visit a doctor until last month, when he was so weak and tired that he could barely walk up a flight of stairs.

He thought that he had asthma, which he has suffered from in the past.  Actually, it was pulmonary edema (fluid accumulation in the lungs), which was slowly suffocating him.  No wonder he looked 75% dead.

He finally went to see a cardiologist and a respirologist, who scolded him and put him back on diuretics.  He'll be on a high dose until he's less waterlogged, then he can go on a maintenance dose.  It's not a quick process.  I just saw him for the first time in three weeks, as long as he's been taking the medication, and he still looks 50% dead.  He's up and shuffling around, but he gets winded after a few steps, and he's noticeably pale.

The hardest part is that he makes it harder.  He goes into denial.  He puts off seeing doctors.  He won't let my mother take charge of his appointments.  He insists on driving himself to the appointments he does attend, although I believe that, in the state he's in, he's not fully alert behind the wheel.  He also tries to hide his illness from people, but that's just crazy.  Anyone with two eyes and a brain can see that he hasn't just got the flu (which is one of the excuses that I've heard him make for his fatigue).

What can we do, my mother and I?  Take it day by day.  We tell people and then tell them to pretend that they don't know, so that he won't be upset.  (We're telling certain people who should know for his own safety, in case he collapses in their presence and they need to have information for first responders.)  I asked the cleaning lady who is at his office in the evenings to keep an eye on him if she ever finds him there alone.  She was very understanding.  "I have a father too.  I know how it is." she said.

We put as much pressure on him as we feel that we can without triggering his rebel-without-a-cause impulse to dig his heels in and be contrary.  I asked him yesterday to please give my mother permission to make an appointment for him with a general practitioner, because he hasn't seen a family doctor in a dog's age or longer.

In the final analysis, he's still a responsible adult who will have to live or die with the consequences of his own choices.  If he ends up dying sooner than was technically necessary, I refuse to feel guilty.  We can only do as much as he allows us to do.  He'll be as stubborn as a mule until his dying day, whenever that comes.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Food, friend, or foe?

It's not always easy to discern the difference between food and not-food.  Here is evidence:

Dog or bagel?

Shar Pei or croissant?

Labradoodle or fried chicken?

Chihuahua or blueberry muffin?

Shar Pei or towel?

Admittedly, towels aren't food.  However.  I think I've made my point.

Segue to: the Jelly Belly candy company's product called Beanboozled.  The flavour menu on the box looks like this:

You picks a colour and you takes your chances.  

A co-worker friend of mine bought some for her kids at Christmas, but after about 5 minutes of taste testing, the kids were done.  My friend brought the two leftover boxes of crazy beans to work with her, to see if anyone would try them.  There were a couple of brave souls who took the plunge.  One guy was so grossed out by the mere thought it that he started retching and had to leave the room.  She didn't manage to give very many of them away.

So guess who got a whole box of these babies to take to Game Night?  This gal right here.  

Flavours vary from one one "edition" to the next, so my set didn't contain any Skunk Spray/Licorice or Moldy Cheese/Caramel Corn, but the remaining flavours quite were sufficient for our purposes.

If only I could share the videos I made...  But sadly I cannot, because ANONYMITY.  So you'll have to settle for a recap.

Toothpaste was the least offensive.  It's just strong mint.  Our box held very few pale green beans, and all of them were lime, no grass clippings. :-(  Even more disappointing, we got plenty of tutti-frutti, but no stinky socks!  Come on, beans, you should let us try at least one each of all the horrible flavours.

Baby wipes were in there, convincing but not too disgusting.  Booger was slightly worse.  "Salty", was how it was described.  We didn't find any rotten eggs, but there were some leftover beans at the end of our experiments, and some of them were yellow, so they might have been in there, lying in wait for us.

The worst two were canned dog food (super-smelly!), which made one of the kids almost puke; and vomit, which Ken described as "unpleasant".  "Like someone ate durian, threw it up, and mixed it with sugar, and I'm eating it."  I offered him a tissue, however, he wouldn't spit it out.  He bravely ate his whole vomit bean, and then complained that it was stuck in his back teeth.

I didn't eat any.  My excuse is that I was too busy doing the video.  Pretty good dodge, right?

Would you try these?  Which flavours would you risk?

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Safety First

So.  Passwords.  Are a pain in the butt.  Despite the fact that I completed training as a computer network administrator; despite knowing full well that one is not supposed to use the same password for multiple websites... up until last week I was using the same password almost everywhere.  Including online banking.

I know, I know...  I should be ashamed of myself!

In my defense, at least it was a strong password.  It wasn't secret or 12345678 or my middle name.  It was 8 digits long, not a dictionary word, and easy to remember.  Like, you could easily remember the words to the song "Baa baa black sheep", and turn it into a password like this: Bbbs3bags.  My password was similar.

Fortunately, this is not a sob story about having my checking account hacked.  I was saved from learning my lesson the hard way by the miracle of password management software.  I ran across an online article comparing various apps, and 3 hours' worth of research later I decided to implement one.

A password manager allows you to use a different strong password for every site without having to remember them all.  The app can generate the passwords for you, or you can create them yourself. They are stored in an encrypted database.  When you log into your web browser, you also log into the app, and it fills in your usernames and passwords for you as needed.  You only need to remember one master password, for the password management app.  Mine is 21 characters in length, so it would be almost impossible to crack it by brute force (i.e. trying every possible combination of characters until you find the right one).

The benefit of this is that if any one of your websites is hacked, and the hackers discover your password, they can't use it on any other website.  For example, if my LL Bean online shopping account were revealed, the hackers couldn't then get access to my Facebook page (not that I would care much about that), or my bank account (about which I would care extremely).

The password management software itself is as safe from being hacked as it's possible to be with current technology.  They use a high level of encryption, which means that the above-mentioned brute force method would not be very effective at revealing users' data.  Also, on the off-chance that hackers managed to crack the encryption on one account, they wouldn't automatically have access to the entire database, because it is "salted", which is a jargony way of saying that every customer has their own slightly customized key to the vault.  Unless a determined hacker in possession of a powerful supercomputer (or the network equivalent thereof) were to go after me personally, I should be pretty safe.

I should mention that not all password management providers keep a database of their clients' passwords.  Many of them give you a database that you store locally, on your hard drive. You are responsible for backing it up yourself.  That type of program requires some effort to sync the database between all the locations where you are using it.  Being lazy, I opted for LastPass, which keeps a database "in the cloud" so that my work computer, my home computer, and my smart phone are synchronized automatically, and I don't have to worry about backups.

It was a bit of a pain in the butt to set up.  The installation process was easy.  Adding all my websites and then changing all the passwords to randomly generated character strings was a headache.  In order to assuage the anxiety I felt upon no longer "knowing" all my passwords, I was able to export the database and print it.  If the LastPass servers ever crash, I won't be SOL.  I'm keeping a copy at home in my fireproof safe.  (As soon as I completed the printing process, I deleted all the unencrypted text files from my hard drive immediately, in case you were worried about that.)

Now that the app is fully up and running, I'm feeling pretty good about the software, and much more secure in my online presence.  This is my PSA to you guys to encourage you to do the same.  LastPass, which was my choice, costs $1 per month, but you can also find free and open-source password managers.  Are any of you using password management software already?  If so, which one, and how do you like it?