Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Micrographia Tiny Handwriting Remedy (Parkinson's Disease)

If your handwriting has become tiny and virtually illegible (as is common with Parkinsonism and Parkinson's Disease), there are a few things I've discovered that might help you too. To return back to legible handwriting, do the following:

1. Get some Manuscript Tablets from the 99 cent store or other source. Alternatively, get some wide-ruled notebook paper. Use the lines, which are a quarter of an inch (one centimeter) apart, as guidelines for your lower-case letters. Each letter must reach from one line to another. Yes, a quarter of an inch tall.

2. Slow down. You'll notice that you can't scribble very fast when the letters are that large. I also noticed that with my micrographia I was trying to write in a hurry. By slowing down a lot, I could write legibly (when my meds were working). Slowly formed large letters can result. Writing slowly, for me, has proven more effective than practicing loops and swirls.

3. If you have Parkinson's Disease or Parkinsonism, try taking your medicine half an hour before meals or two hours after meals. It is said that food protein interferes with the carbidopa-levodopa.

I like writing on newsprint pads. (Newsprint is that brown, soft paper once common in elementary school. Its soft texture makes the pen glide across the page better. I also like PaperMate and Bic stick pens with the easy gliding ink. Some gel pens are good for ease of writing, too.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Zeno Says You'll Never Finish Reading This Post

You remember Zeno's Paradox, of course. That ancient Greek philosopher said that in order to cross a certain distance, you first had to cross half of it. Then you had to cross  half of the remaining distance; then half of what was still left. The half would get shorter and shorter, but you'd always have half the remaining distance to cross, so that you would never arrive at the goal.

I propose a Zeno's paradox of reading. Whether you are reading a book, a magazine, or a blog post. you must begin by reading half of it. Then you would need to read half of what remains. Then half of that. See? You'll always have half of the remaining writing to read.  So you'll never finish reading what you set out to read.

You're thinking that this entry was suggested by an interminable book that I indeed could never finish. Wrong. Or by one of those books about which we say, "That book would have made a great article." (Many articles' worth of content get hammered out into a book simply to increase the prestige of the author and the marketability of the content--notice that you don't individual articles for sale in article stores.)

The Prestige Pecking Order for Information Sources is:
1. Hardcover book, preferably with sewn binding.
2. Trade paperback book
3. Mass market paperback book
4. Published article in physical print media
5. Online article

Yes, there is still a bias against online articles. Too bad. But then you will never be reading the end of this sentence. Zeno said so.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

My Parkinson's Disease--Current Symptoms

Here are the current symptoms of my Parkinson's Disease:

  • No sense of smell (anosmia). This was the first indicator that occurred a dozen or more years ago.
  • Loss of manual dexterity in my right hand. I have a difficult time buttoning the left cuff button on my dress shirts. Worse, my handwriting, which has never been good (I got a D in handwriting in the 6th grade), is now so illegible that I can't read it myself. I can still type slowly, but often leave letters out and double other letters.
  • Lack of facial expressions. This phenomenon is called blunted affect. I do smile (occasionally) and laugh (pretty often), but my ordinary expression is, um, expressionless. On different occasions, two nurses have said they thought I probably had Parkinson's Disease just by looking at my face.
  • Soft speech. This odd phenomenon is quite common to PD folks, I'm told. To me, my volume sounds normal, but those listening say I speak very softly.
  • Balance issues. I have to be careful when I stand not to start tilting backwards. Occasionally I have to take several, small corrective backward steps to maintain balance.
  • I have difficulty getting out of chairs. Odd as it may seem, I lack the balance and strength (it seems) simply to stand up out of a chair. I have to grab the coffee table in front or else make two or three efforts to get up before I am successful.
  • I read aloud too fast. In my regular speech, I sometimes stumble over what I want to say. Both of these behaviors are new to me, so I attribute them to my PD. 
So far, even though I'm not as sharp now in my sixties as I was in my thirties, my mental acuity doesn't seem to have been affected. Having said that, I do  have more "word finding" difficulty that I used to.

I don't have any tremors, and that is what makes my neurologist think I have a PD-like disease instead of genuine PD.

My Parkinson's Disease

The first thing that turned out later too be a symptom of Parkinson's Disease was that I lost my sense of smell. This was maybe 12 to 15 years ago. Since losing one's sense of smell can mean a brain tumor, my doctor sent me for an MRI, which detected nothing. (Hence the old joke, "We did an MRI of your brain, but couldn't find anything.") Then, and I  realize I'm foggy on this, awhile later I was sent to a specialist who put me on Requip, a medicine used for both PD and restless leg syndrome.  I don't remember a diagnosis at that time. However, I had an episode at work where I almost fainted, so I stopped taking Requip.

A year or two passed. Then I noticed that I was losing dexterity in my right hand. I couldn't button the cuff buttons on my work shirts with my right hand. A visit to a neurologist showed that the electrical signals down my arm were running fine. Conclusion: My brain wasn't generating the commands to the nerves to begin with. In other words, Parkinson's Disease. Soon, I visited another doctor who became my regular neurologist at that time, and he put me on Carbidopa/Levodopa, Mirapex (pramipexole dihydrochloride), and Azilect (rasagiline).

What are these three drugs? Carbidopa/Levidopa is a form of dopamine, a brain chemical needed in the transmission of signals. Basically what's going on in the brains of Parkinson's patients is that the brain cells that manufacture dopamine are dying off so not enough is available for the brain to send the needed nerve signals to the muscles to tell them what to do.

Mirapex, now available as the generic pramipexole dihydrochloride, is a dopamine agonist, which means that it helps dopamine (supplied by the brain and by the Carbidopa/Levodopa pills, work harder.

Azilect (generic name, rasagiline) is a monoamine oxidase inhibitor type B (MAOI-B). As the "inhibitor" name suggests, this medicine slows down the oxidation of dopamine so that it is available to work longer. In other words, it slows down the destruction of dopamine by the brain's ordinary chemical processes. I believe that the "B" in this MAOI means that it works in such a way that the dietary restrictions of other MAOI drugs are not needed. (No cheddar cheese, for example, or anything with tyramine in it.) But check with your doctor.

So, I have been munching on these three guys three times a day for maybe five or more years. My current neurologist says I have a "Parkison's-like" disease that might not be genuine PD. However, my symptoms are increasingly showing that PD is the likely condition.

See the next entry for my current symptoms.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Aristotle Meets Godzilla

As a boredom reducer for my treadmilling, I started to watch the 1998 Godzilla movie. At one point early in the film, time is of the essence to find out what's going on. So urgent are the authorities that they send a helicopter with a dozen armed men to bring back the earthworm-radioactivity specialist from Chernobyl and put him on the case.

Then comes a scene where he and another principal investigator are racing to the scene of a ship destroyed by this unknown beast. However, the investigators are racing overland in Jeeps--while helicopters accompany them at groundspeed. This makes for interesting spectacle, showing half a dozen vehicles driving along dirt roads, and two black helicopters flying in tandem with them. But Aristotle would have said that plot is more important than spectacle. We are forced to ask the obvious question, "Aside from its cinematic effect, why doesn't the scene show the investigators racing to the site of the shipwreck, arriving not in Jeeps but in the helicopters, while the support personnel come later in the Jeeps?"

Get the book and find out what makes good drama according to Aristotle:

And here's a book just on point--Aristotle for screenwriters:

Friday, December 18, 2015

Check Engine Light, Code P0440, and the Hand of God

A year or so ago, my 2010 Toyota Camry threw a trouble code and turned on the "Check Engine" light. I searched for my OBD II code reader but couldn't find it. So I was forced to go too the Toyota dealer, who charged me  $142 to tell me that my gas cap was not screwed on tightly enough. Later, after I had found my code reader, the same code appeared. I looked it up on the Internet and discovered that the gas cap tightening was an issue.

A few years later, I was doing some work for a widow. At one point she mentioned that her car was displaying a low tire icon on the dashboard. I checked and the icon was the Check Egine light. I put my OBD II reader on it and  P0440 came up. By this time I had forgotten the meaning of that code, so we went on the internet and found it. Loose gas cap the most common common cause of this code being thrown. I turned to the widow and asked, "Do you pump your own gas?" She said yes, so I tightened it and told her to call me back if the code reappeared.

Having all this freshly in mind, I got a call from a longtime friend, who mentioned that his car was displaying the Check Engine icon. I brought my OBD II code reader to lunch with me. When, after lunch, we hooked up the reader, the explanation was P0440. I didn't need the diagnostic book that  explains codes. Because this event was the latest in a sequence of God-defined event, I knew I would succeed. We went to the gas cap and tightened it substantially.

If something is called to your attention, remember it, and think about how it might be God calling with an adventure that will be useful to you in the future. How do you separate random events from a clearly intentional set of circumstances?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Source Evaluation and Critical Thinking

Source Evaluation and Critical Thinking.
There are lots of Web pages that tell you how to evaluate sources—especially Internet sources. I even have such a page. But there’s something that you’re not being told. Source evaluation is (1) a learned skill and (2) it’s learned heuristically, not algorithmically. Let me define for you. An algorithm is a step by step procedure that yields a set result. A cake recipe is a good example. Follow the recipe correctly, get a nice cake. Unfortunately, source evaluation is not algorithmic. And even more unfortunately, too many writers and teachers pretend that it is.
Source evaluation cannot be learned by reading an article that lists half a dozen factors (who is the publisher, who is the author, how recent is the article, etc.) to take into account. Now, such articles are very good because those are important items to think about. But there are many nuances, variations, exceptions, and subtleties to include also.
A heuristic is a trial-and-error method of learning, where you gradually learn over time what the best answers are. Your knowledge—your skill—that you apply to evaluating sources must be refined so that you can sniff out that fake source that looks so reliable. Not to mention the good source that looks amateur.
Speaking of which, many evaluation articles scoff at so-called vanity sites put up by individuals. Many are probably not reliable, but many others are labors of love by experienced, expert contributors who do indeed know what they are talking about. And official sites are not guaranteed to be reliable, either.
For example, suppose you are researching diet and you come across a Web site called the Investigative Institute for Human Health and Nutrition. There you find an article about the dangers of eating red meat. The article is by a couple of people with Doctor titles. Good source? Well, suppose further that you do a little digging and discover that the site is owned or sponsored by VeganMilitancy and that the doctors have honorary PhDs and not medical degrees. Bad source? Well, are there redeeming factors? Can you trust the statistics on the site?
Here is my advice for what to do:
·        Triangulate the source. Are there other sources that support these arguments, data, reasons, evidence?
·        Use the rest of the Internet to test the claims of the site. Do other sites disagree or even disprove the claims of the site under review? Note that disagreeing is not the same as disproving. I remember once hearing someone say of a controversial claim, "That's been answered." But what was the answer? Was it an "I don't agree" answer or a disproof?

Friday, October 30, 2015

Who Can Refute a Sneer?

A number of episodes of several crime-drama TV series include either criminal Christians (pastors, vicars, murderous self-righteous fanatics, tyrannical and abusive Scripture-quoting fathers) or Christians as murder victims—men of the cloth often spectacularly murdered in their church. It is said that we adopt many beliefs through anecdote and few beliefs through reason or evidence. I wonder whether these character roles from TV serve either as unbelief inducers or as food for confirmation bias. In other words, for those who are nominally Christian or those who are unsettled about religion and spiritual life in general, are they influenced against faith by these propagandistic ploys?
It’s an old technique—associate something you want to make loathsome with something already thought to be loathsome. Are people so na├»ve that they fall for this?
“Fred is a lowdown snake.”
“He is? Hey, Harry! Have you heard? Fred is a lowdown snake.”
“Who knew? Tom, did you know that Fred is a snake?”
“Yeah, that’s what everybody says.”

By the way, the title of this posting comes from William Paley, who advanced what might be called an early theory of intelligent design in the biological world by pointing out that plants and animals sure do appear to have been designed and made for a purpose. Palely was referring to the anti-Christian sneering tone of Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (which Gibbon blamed on Christianity). So, to end, we quote the proverb, "Those who can only sneer have no facts." Just like those who have no stones to throw can only scream four-letter words at those they hate.