Archive for the 'Technology Gone Bad' category

Data Mining in the Olden Days

Jun 26 2015 Published by under Science Follies, Technology Gone Bad

I've been reading about millennial science manuscript writing!

In the olden days we wrote our manuscripts after working in the data mines and spending time refining the raw ores, maybe even going back for another shift or two after the smelting and reading up on the Manufacture and Uses of Various Ores. But that was back in the olden days, when you discovered things after walking uphill to the lab in the snow, both ways. I hear now you can just sit at a computer and write and send a postdoc out to fetch all the cheap industrial processed ores you need ready-made from the store. Modern life is so full of astonishing time-saving conveniences! Truly we live in wondrous times.

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"Side Effects": My Life With Cymbalta

According to the official site for Cymbalta, the most common side effects experienced when taking it are:

nausea, dry mouth, sleepiness, fatigue, constipation, dizziness, decreased appetite, and increased sweating

It doesn't sound any worse than any of the other stuff in my medicine cabinet. Reality was another adverse event list. In fact, I bestow upon Cymbalta the rank of Number 3 in the list of Worst Ever Drugs I Have Taken, behind No. 2 Topamax and No. 1 All-Time Winner Depakote.

The full package insert mentions that minor weight loss was seen in clinical trials. In two trials, minor weight gain, no more than a mean of 1.4 kg, was seen. I gained 13.6 kg in a matter of months. I might have been willing to live with the new-found weight if I hadn't also had to say goodbye to orgasms (but not, frustratingly, desire) at the same time. Ultimately, this was the "side" effect that pushed me to tell my doctor I wanted off Cymbalta.

I had a two-week ramp down period. By the time that was done, so many other things that I had not realized were also Cymbalta side effects had vanished or begun to dissipate. For example, excessive flatulence, which I had blamed on menopause. Mea culpa, menopause! I still hate your hot flashes but you're off the hook for this one! And while I did get Cymbalta's promised sleepiness and fatigue, I got something else no one had mentioned: insomnia. The insomnia worsened over the course of the year I took Cymbalta and it was blamed on all manner of other things: stress and grief, migraines messing up my sleep cycle, kittehs in the bed, Mr. Z's tendency to bodily transform into a windmill at night. A week after the last ramp-down dose, I was sleeping through the night like a baby. A baby without colic, one of those good ones that doesn't wake up or cry and makes you think having another wouldn't be such a bad thing.

Falling asleep was a breeze! I no longer had to get out of bed two, three, five times for a robust bout of micturition before finally falling into an exhausted semi-sleep at two, four, maybe six a.m. I had thought the excessive nighttime voiding was just another symptom of encroaching old age but no. It was my pal Cymbalta, partying with my bladder.

I'm used to meds that fog my brain - see Nos. 1 & 2 on the list of Worst Ever Drugs I Have Taken. When Depakote made my hair fall out in what should have been alarming amounts, I didn't mind, because I was taking Depakote! I didn't mind about anything! Topamax is nicknamed Dopamax for a good reason. I love Zonegran as its replacement because it has much less impact on word recall, spelling, and general short term memory and because, vainly, it made me lose weight. Until Cymbalta, the asshat of drugs, came along. Every pound Zonegran spirited away, Cymbalta ferried back, plus more. I have a dear friend whose sure to be a bestseller autobiography would be titled, she says, "I Hate You: An Explanation". A not entirely inappropriate title for use in discussing Cymbalta! The drug that makes you fat and stupid! A week off the drug and it was truly like a fog was cleared from my brain. I could think more clearly, focus a little better. I didn't feel quite so tired. (Well, maybe that had something to do with being able to fall asleep and stay asleep.)

What else? Constipation, of course. That was the least of my problems. Here's a good one. Although it is discussed on the package insert in some detail, neither my prescribing doctor nor my neurologist mentioned to me that Cymbalta in combination with blood thinners can lead to bleeding problems, in some cases potentially life-threatening. My PCP made this connection after I showed up in her office with softball-sized dark purple bruises on both hips. By the time I saw her, the swelling had at least gone down; they were still extremely painful. How did I get them? I was on an Amtrak train, and sat at a table in the cafe car for a few hours reading a magazine. The benchlike seats in the cafe cars are not padded. The gentle rocking of the train back and forth was enough to generate massive bruises where my hips bounced against the hard edge of the seat with each sway. Needless to say, this should not happen. This was a week before mine and Mr. Z's annual vacation to a warm beachy place and we both know my purple thighs attracted a few looks. We half-seriously joked that we should make a sign for my back: No, I'm not a battered woman, it's just the medications. Because my thighs looked like I was.

The very worst is something I can't absolutely prove, but of which I feel fairly certain. After ten years of taking this and that and the other medication and observing the intended and "side" effects on my body, I think I know when there is a connection between a med and a mess. In this case it is a bit more tricky as you will see, but I still feel strongly about it.

I started taking Cymbalta in November of 2011, and was told that as an added benefit I might expect it to help with my migraines, as it has a known effect on pain. In January of 2012 my migraines began to worsen, becoming more severe and more frequent. We blamed the odd weather patterns, we blamed my insomnia and resulting screwed up sleep cycles, we blamed a possible failed botox treatment and/or developing insensitivity to botox. Things went from bad to worse and eventually I was hospitalized for a week in May. I came out of the hospital headache-free and with a new preventative medication. Unfortunately, shortly after that began a series of family loss and illness that went on for months. The health I'd gained rapidly unraveled. The botox treatment I had in the middle of all this didn't do much good.

The last botox treatment was just a few weeks before I stopped Cymbalta. And then the migraines improved - less severe, a little less frequent. The family stress is only moderately better. So either the last botox rocked my brain's world, or taking Cymbalta for migraine pain is just like bashing your head against a brick wall - because it feels so good when you stop.

Despite all the bad experiences - and there have been many - I have had with medications over the years in the effort to control and prevent my migraines and prevent another stroke, I have remained a strong believer in medication to treat what ails you. To a point. I saw my mother's med list climb to nearly 25 different meds, until her PCP and a rehab doctor pared it down to 13 in a radical revision during a rehab stint. Afterwards she was more alert and lively, more engaged and cheerful, more full of affect in general. And she was less like a shambling zombie in her movements. I've read that one risk factor for falls in the elderly is taking more than 5 different medications. My own med list has been climbing in fits and starts over the past 10 years and it frightens me. I don't want to become an affect-less shambling zombie pill swallower, and I'm afraid I may already be one.  How many meds in my pillbox could I do without, are there others that are hurting more than helping me? It's a question I think about a lot more since my life with Cymbalta.





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Personal Care Robots Are The Last Thing We Need

I just heard a story on NPR's All Things Considered that made me want to rip my hair out.  Personal robots!  You know you want one!  You don't need one, but that doesn't matter.  They will be made, you will learn to want them, and you'll be getting them and upgrading them just like your smart phone or iPad.  (Side note: If anyone can explain to me why the new robot thingies always have to be called "Rosie" I will be grateful.  Don't blame it on the Jetsons.  Where did the Jetsons come up with Rosie? Is it all just to mock the real Rosies, the riveters of WWII?)

We don't need robots to walk our dogs or wash our windows.  We don't need them to "fold towels, help elderly and disabled people with home care, and even fetch a beer".  For one thing, there's plenty enough beer-fetching going on in America's households as it is.  For another, if you can't be bothered to walk you own dog, or pay another human to do it for you when you are too busy, you shouldn't have a dog.  Robot dog walkers just take away one more job from young people.

But what REALLY hacks me off is the idea of robots designed to help the elderly and disabled with home care.  What the elderly and disabled need is more contact with other human beings, not less.  They don't need to be even more isolated in their homes than they already are.  They need people they can talk to and interact with and tell their stories to.  We need to pay decent living wages for this kind of care, to value it for the real importance it actually has, not sluff it off on the fantasy product of robotics researchers.

In any case, that bla bla about robots helping the elderly and disabled is just robotics engineers blowing smoke up your ass to keep their projects running.  Do you think something that currently costs $400,000 to build is being designed to help one of the most despised and neglected segments of our population? Where else is money and effort on this scale being poured into improving the lives of the elderly and the disabled?

Robots are going to be a hip thing for the youth culture, just like smart phones and iPads.  Things you could live without but are so cool to have, things that are always being upgraded.  Things that are costly.  The elderly and disabled, by and large, don't have extra cash to lay out on costly toys.  They aren't going to buy dog-walking, beer-fetching robots.

Redesigning existing home stock to be universally accessible, or making sure your local government buildings and restaurants really are accessible as they claim to be, or lobbying for better care for returning disabled veterans - none of this sounds as sexy as beer-toting personal robots, I am sure.  But all of it would be a a helluva lot more useful than one more fancy toy for your neighbor to envy.

14 responses so far

"The Bakery of Tomorrow" Makes Me Want To Cry

Aug 30 2011 Published by under Isn't It Ironic?, Technology Gone Bad

A thousand years ago, when I was an undergraduate, there was one bank in State College, PA that had an ATM.  "Rosy, the 24 hour teller!" it was called.  The bank had to give the ATM a name and warm, friendly female persona to introduce this strange new concept to its customers, especially since they were charging them extra for the card they needed to use it.  Craziness, I thought.  Who in the world is going to pay for the privilege of having access to their money, when you can just go in to the bank and have a real teller give you your cash?  That silly thing will never catch on. Rosy!  What a hoot!

Many years and a skazillion ATM fees later, the bank has the last laugh.

Now, in my Sunday paper, I read about this horrifying development in the land of the baguette.

Jean-Louis Hecht [a] baker from northeast France has rolled out a 24-hour automated baguette dispenser, promising warm bread for hungry night owls, shift workers, or anyone else who didn't have time to pick one up during the bakery's opening hours.

"This is the bakery of tomorrow," proclaimed Hecht, who foresees expansion in Paris, around Europe, and even to the United States. "If other bakers don't want to enter the niche, they're going to get decimated."

There are only two machines...for now.  And people may scoff that it's not as good as the real thing...for now.  But just as we got used to paying for our own money, and scanning and bagging our groceries ourselves, we'll get used to this.  Monsieur Hecht says so.

"It's like with banks: Before, everyone went to a teller; now, everybody uses ATMs," he said. "It will be the same with bread: Today, everybody goes to the bakery. Tomorrow they'll go to the baguette dispenser."

We are too busy to wait in line for human tellers inside a bank, or for someone else to check out and bag our groceries.  We'll do it ourselves, 24/7, and never mind that the waiting in line used to contribute to someone having a job.  Never mind that accepting a half-tolerable baguette, because you can get it at any time of the day or night, will put bakers and their employees out of work.  Monsieur Hecht says his bread dispenser will change the lifestyle of bakers, letting them sleep in a little later, and imagines this desiderata justifies the technology, but what the bread dispenser will really do is dispense with baking.  As he says

"If other bakers don't want to enter the niche, they're going to get decimated."

It's deeply ironic that France, of all places, is discovering fast-food bread, at a time when many U.S. cities are beginning to rediscover the virtues of old-fashioned bread-making and bakeries.  At one local farmer's market near my home, a baker sets up a stall each week and those who would purchase bread from him had best get there in the first two hours of the market.  The bread goes before the cookies, before the croissants and apple dumplings and nut rolls and cannoli.  Even in my local Genuardi's grocery store, the Wonder bread languishes on the shelves but the "artisan bread" from the store bakery is snapped up early in the day.

Technology that decimates, that destroys jobs and gives lower quality food as its gift, is truly technology gone bad. The bulk of U.S. food culture is ample proof of that.  How much food culture will France be willing to sacrifice in the name of efficiency and convenience?  Or will they realize what they already know, that eating cheap crap on the run is no bargain?


19 responses so far

Another Good Reason Not To Change Your Name

Mar 29 2011 Published by under Technology Gone Bad

In the past, I have opined about the miseries visited upon those women who blithely take their husband's name at marriage, trusting in the "till death do us part" bit of the vows.

What's your name?

Well, originally my name was Suzanne Franks. Then I married someone, and just because I said I wanted to, my name became Suzanne HISLASTNAME. Ten years later, it took a lawyer and a court order and a "petition to retake former name" to go back to Suzanne Franks. And there's still a utility company and a credit bureau that thinks my social security number belongs to Suzanne HISLASTNAME. Let that be a lesson to you young women who think it's a good idea to change your name at marriage. Anyway - Suzanne Franks.

Imagine my dismay - nay, my complete and total state of not-happiness - when I logged into my online banking account this morning, only to be greeted thusly:


Teeth gnashing, I called Giant National Bank to demand an explanation.  How was it that between yesterday and today I had gone from the blissful state of my real name to being identified as the property of my ex once again?

In this modern world of ours, it seems you can never leave your past behind.  I once had an account with GNB during the time I was divorcing Mr. HisLastname.  Eventually I closed that account and moved out to Kansas with Mr. Z, where I opened a new bank account with Smaller Bank, using my real, original name. Alas!  GNB came along and swallowed up Smaller Bank.  And now, some twelve years later, somewhere in the bowels of GNB's computer system, a microchip was feeling irritable. Still trying to digest my Smaller Bank account after all these years, it mixed in some stuff from the old GNB account and vomited up a blend of the two.  The old married name for the overall account, replace the email address with one that's been defunct for a decade or more, use a mailing address from 1994 (but apply the address only to part of the account - use the current, actual address for the rest of the account), leave the name on the individual accounts and credit card as the real name - and call it a day.

Nice work, GNB.  I totally trust your computers not to mess up my money.  Although, if you'd like to find some of that cash from ten or fifteen years ago and dump it into my account now, I won't complain.

32 responses so far

Lost In This World Of Technology

Nov 09 2010 Published by under Isn't It Ironic?, Technology Gone Bad

A good friend of mine whispers in my ear every so often sweet nothings about Twitter, usually just after I've made outlier pithy comment.  In general "brevity" is not the first word that leaps to the minds of those who wish to describe my verbal stylings, but my friend's Twitterhopes spring eternal.

Nora Ephron said this morning on NPR, in talking about her new book, I Remember Nothing, at some point you just realize you will never keep up.

when e-mail came along, I was just going to fall in love with it. And I did. I can't believe it now — it's like one of those ex-husbands that you think, 'What was I thinking?' The point is that you can kind of keep up for a while and then, suddenly, something comes along and you think, 'I give up. I am never going to tweet. I'm just never going to.'"

I am starting to feel that way. Yesterday and today I was perusing the Chronicle of Higher Education's special supplement on Online Education and half the time I thought, "what the fuck are they talking about?" What are all these bits of technology? Robots in online education? WTF???

Also it made me think: how the hell are professors supposed to keep up with all this stuff along with every damn other thing they are supposed to be doing. While their pay is being cut, too. And then after we put all their classes on YouTube and none of the students go to actual classrooms anymore and all the professors have become unmoored adjuncts drifting aimlessly about on the highways and information has become free the way it wants to be and no one pays tuition anymore because you can get your education online for $1.99 per class at iTunesU maybe we can all get jobs selling fries at the fast food restaurants that the students will want to drive through late at night when they get the munchies on a YouTube study break.

An older relative of mine was recently fascinated with my iPhone.  I showed him some of the things it could do.  He admired it, and then pronounced himself "lost in this world of technology today."

He went on: "Technology is going forward, all the time, faster and faster.  But we're going backward. These machines can do everything, but people don't do anything, and nobody has jobs. I hate to think where these kids are going to wind up in fifty years."

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Park Granny In The Backyard - In A Granny Pod!

When your parents or another beloved relative starts getting to that point where they really shouldn't be all alone at home away from family, but they aren't quite ready for a nursing home or even assisted living, what do you do?  Many people choose to have elderly family members move in with them but this is not always a good or even workable option.  Maybe you don't have the space.  Maybe you do, but you and the elderly relatives really value your privacy and sense of independent living space. You'd like to be close-er, just not on top of each other. Z-Mom has said to me a zillion times, "I don't want to live with one of my children.  That's not good for the marriage."

What to do?  Well, we already make use of U-Store-It places for all our extra stuff that just doesn't fit in the house.  Take that concept, bring it into the back yard, add some electricity, running water, and monitoring systems, and you've got Granny Pods!

Seriously.  Developed by Rev. Kenneth Dupin in Virginia and more properly called the MEDcottage, it fits in your backyard, assuming your backyard is big enough.  And that you've got one.  And can afford it. Tiny House Blog has a nice cutaway schematic of the layout, and a link to a longer WaPo article.  Interesting comment thread on the THB post.  Apparently these would rent for $2k per month which is less than many assisted living homes.  The design presented here may not be the optimal one (see the comment thread at THB for criticisms) but this does present an alternative for our aging population.  Not everyone who owns a house can or would want to redo it for elderly living, or buy a house with an in-law suite.  The pod solution is temporary, available for the time needed, and then removed when the elderly person passes on or moves to nursing care.  Clearly this is a solution for suburban/rural lifestyles, and will not help people in the cities with aging relatives.  Or anybody whose problem is fundamentally one of scarce resources to begin with.

You know, looking at the Granny Pod, I'm thinking, why not just get a nice piece of land suitable for gardening and plunk down a Granny Pod on it.  Then I can age in place quite nicely. I don't know where all the books and Mr. Z's music and taper gear would go.  Maybe we could get an Arts & Humanities Pod Annex next door.

I'm filing this one under both Geekalicious AND Technology Gone Bad because I'm just not sure's still an individualized solution to a societal issue.

UPDATE:  Ha.  Now that I've had a chance to read the WaPo article I see that snooty-ass Fairfax County (VA) Supervisor Jeff C. McKay (D-Lee) feels the MEDcottages are okay for them rural folk who don't have any standards, but not for us fine city folk with all our zoning and whatnot.  Appearances must be kept up.  Off to the nursing home, Granny!!!!

8 responses so far

Adria Richards Asks "What If Your iPhone App Supports Hate Crimes?"

Adria Richards at the blog But You're A Girl writes

Last night I took a taxi home from the Tenderloin to the Mission District.  I had the pleasure of being driven by Mustafa, a relaxed, cheerful older man.  Mustafa shared with me how he no longer feels safe driving his cab after 16 years due to an iPhone app called TaxiMagic.  He’s had at least three bad experiences upon being dispatched to a call that originated from the TaxiMagic iPhone app.

Follow the link and watch the short video she recorded of her talk with Mustafa about his experiences.  It includes information about Adria's follow up with TaxiMagic.  Adria's interaction with Mustafa does indeed illustrate the unintended consequences of technology, as a commenter notes, but it also points out how those with more technological access can intervene and use what skill and power they have on behalf of those who are actually being oppressed by all our technological geekalicious wonder.  Adria tags her posts in, among other catgories, "need your help" and "you can help" and asks readers to send suggestions for how to help Mustafa to her at  Check out her post and view the video and see if you have some good ideas to pass along.

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Blackberry Bushes versus Marcellus Shale Cash: There's No Contest

Aug 09 2010 Published by under Tales From The Coal Patch, Technology Gone Bad

At my local farmer's market right now, I can, if I choose, buy lovely fresh blackberries.  A half pint container costs around three or four dollars, depending which vendor you get them from.  They are incredible, but a luxury.

While I was in western PA last week for my uncle's funeral, one of my relatives made fresh blackberry cobbler.  She was also freezing blackberries, and making blackberry jam.  She and several other relatives had been out picking blackberries in an abundant wild patch, and would return several times more.  The berries were sweet and juicy and some were as big as your thumb.  The bushes gave more than they could pick; there were plenty for the humans and for the wild critters who fed on them as well.  While picking, they chanced to see a wild turkey and her brood toddling along off in the distance.

The berry bushes are on a scrap of land that's been more or less neglected up until now.  Not of much interest.  No one's wanted to build on it, so it sits there in its semi-wild glory, a haven to all sorts of critters, and its rambly berry bush patch yielding sweet fruit every August for those willing to do the work of harvest.

The person who owns the land is a business person who didn't pay a whole lot of money for the land when it was purchased.  Times are tough for all business people, and credit is tight, and people have to make a living.  Sadly for the berry bushes, and the turkey mama and her brood, they all have the misfortune to dwell above the Marcellus Shale.  The business person has been offered hundreds of thousands of dollars for the drilling rights to the little scrap of land.  In order to drill, the land will need to be cleared devastated. They will spray the bushes and rip things out and put in roads and that will be the end of berry picking, spotting baby turkeys off in the distance, and sharing fresh blackberry cobbler with your grieving relatives.

No final decision has been made yet but it is hard to see how anyone can hold out, in a depressed economic climate, when offered that kind of cash for a small piece of land.  One might argue that blackberries and baby wild turkeys are priceless but you can't make your business payroll out of warm happy feelings about environmental preservation.  Individuals cannot be expected to be the guardians of our state's environmental treasures and the safety of our groundwater and streams and rivers.

Here's what the PA Department of Environmental Protection says (on its crappy website):

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is not involved in regulating lease agreements between mineral property owners and producers, except that minimum royalty payment is prescribed by law.  Lease agreements are contractual matters between private parties.  DEP does not audit payments, read or calibrate meters or tanks, or otherwise get involved in lease matters.

Of course not.  We can't interfere with private enterprise.  Out of the way, turkeys!  Begone, blackberries!  We've got poisonous wastewater to produce!  Let the fracking begin.

4 responses so far

How Not To Sell Me Your Fancy HVAC System

We have to replace our furnace/ac.  The  AC is dead as a doornail, both are over 20 or 25 yrs old and horribly inefficient. So we've been getting quotes. Got two that came in at $6500 and $6800 for 3 ton 100,000 BTU 95% efficient 14.5 SEER variable flow and all that jazz. Third dude came today and did a long presentation after having measured all sorts of shit and went on about importance of proper installation, bla bla, explained all sorts of bla-di-bla about the equipment, how their employees are carefully screened and drug tested and they don't allow any convicts to work for them because in prison they teach convicts plumbing and HVAC and here's a picture of brown dudes in prison uniforms studying to come rape and kill your wife in your own home under the guise of installing your new furnace and ac, and you can get a heat pump too to further reduce costs, and bla bla more tech stuff, and voila! four options for your consideration, good, better, best, wow, ranging from $11k to $16k.

And I said, "WTF?"

But wait, don't answer yet, there are rebates, and we can take this and that off, and discounts, and I can come down on price, and so on, and now the four options range from just under $9k to $11k or something like that.

And I said, "dude, you might want to rethink that one part of your sales pitch where you subtly scare me about the brown prison dudes coming into my house."

And he said, "well, yes, but Ashton Kutcher's ex-girlfriend was killed by an ex-con, and there are white guys in that photo too."

I do not think we will be buying the fancy expensive heat pump furnace from this dude with the laminated pictures of scary brown men in prison uniforms studying earnestly to come rape and kill me in my own home.

26 responses so far

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