Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Scars, Numbness and Luck

Five years ago I was stock.  And I expected to remain so. Then I got hit by a car and I got cancer. More than my body was injured – my sense of who I am was scrambled.  I had told people, “I’m lucky. I don’t get sick. I heal up when I’m injured.”  I hadn’t earned it. It was just luck. My parents are alive in their 90's.  They don’t have artificial joints. They didn’t get breast cancer.  I expected my luck continue. Thinking of myself without my luck is weird.

In an earlier era, without surgery, I’d have been in a wheelchair by now (thanks to my damaged hip), or dead (thanks to breast cancer).  So, I have a different kind of luck.

At my recent exam, I found myself in an odd conversation with my hip replacement surgeon who was curious about the numb area on my thigh.  He said, “It’s only been 3 years. Sensation might return.”

I told him, “I don’t think I do that.  My shoulder is still numb from the collar bone repair. My chest is still numb where my breast was removed.”

I saw him repress a micro-smile.   Then he said, “We used to cut muscles when we replaced the hip. Now we bruise the nerves.”

I’d say my muscles are more important than my skin sensation. I’m in much better shape than my grandmother was after she got her hip replaced.  Much of this is due to my amazing physical therapist.  But numbness is still a loss.

It’s still weird to think of myself as part machinery, to look at myself in the mirror and see all the scars. To know when my husband’s hand is on my shoulder but I can’t feel it. Not the warmth or the touch.

I’m also still riding my bike, taking my dog for long walks, enjoying my mobility.

Now, it looks like there may be a surgery free way to replace hips (using stem cells):

And stem cells are also being used to grow new breast tissue:

The world is changing. Our luck is improving.  In the future, people may be able to have the kinds of health problems I have had and remain stock.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Looking at the Sun

It’s Philadelphia Science Festival Week.

NASA has a table.

They’re handing out Sun Glasses – so dark you can actually look directly at the sun when you wear them. I didn’t see any flares or sunspots, but I saw the sun!  Now I have safe glasses.  Next time there’s a solar eclipse, I can see the whole thing!  That’s August 21, 2017.  There’s a map of the path of the eclipse here:

They also gave out wiggle pictures of the sun photographed with different filters.  You can see these and more here:

The sun was also popular with the Wistar institute.  They’re more concerned with melanoma. But they gave out white rubberband bracelets that turn purple in sunlight, and small bottles of sunscreen.

I couldn’t find a place on the NASA website to order a free pair. So if you can’t get to the Science Festival, you can buy them on Amazon:
Eclipser Solar Viewing Glasses with Double Alumunized Solar Skreen 2012 Pack of 5
There are other booths. Several try to convince kids to wear bike helmets, but none had coupons to get discounts on helmets.

They just had kids drop eggs (in ziplock bags) on cement and watch them break and then try to convince kids that this is what would happen to their heads if they hit cement.  I got one of the demonstrators to drop an egg on dirt.  She kept insisting it would break. I insisted she do the experiment.  Finally she dropped the egg. It didn’t break. She then tried to explain why it didn’t break.  She did have a styrofoam case that she could put the egg in and drop it on the cement.  That protected egg didn’t break when it hit the cement.  But the styrofoam case was all around the egg. A helmet doesn’t do that.

Another booth tried to convince kids they’d get concussions if they didn’t wear helmets.  They were working on a worthy cause, but there has to be a better way to make the point than a pamphlet or a cracked egg in a bag.

Maybe a computer game where the characters survive longer if they wear helmets? And players get discount coupons?

Most of the tables had hands-on activities and kids engaged the folks running the booths in conversations. Yay for teaching science as fun!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Getting Feedback on a Story

Getting feedback on a story. I usually write with a partner.  We argue with each other, get inspirations to solve problems that the other has created, and support each other when the story seems bogged down.

But when I’m writing alone, there is no built-in feedback.  Friends and family will only put up with so much.  They’re not going to read rewrites. And they can’t be counted on for truly critical  feedback.

A whole profession of feedback artists exists.  They read and comment for pay. I sometimes think they are the only ones in the writing business who regularly make money.  I have a screenplay I’ve been working on for several years. It has been to workshops, online classes, and four  private readers. One reader gave it a Recommend rating.  Another advanced it in a contest she judges. The first 10 pages will be read at a festival this June.  But it still didn’t feel RIGHT. 

I decided to try one more reader.  (This is starting to feel like a drug habit.)  And this time, I hit the jackpot.  The reader said, “You have the wrong protagonist.”

Yes. Now that he said it, Yes, I can see that.  The other readers missed that. My writing partner missed that. Friends and family missed that.  After years of crafting scenes, increasing tension, developing characters, I need to revamp the plot.

But I know these characters so well now that the redesign will only take about 2 months.  Then I’ll need to rewrite the whole story, but Ican keep many of the existing scenes, and much of the existing dialogue.  About 80% of the existing structure can be reshaped to fit the change in protagonists.  The new protag was the stakes character.  

This is as if Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia traded places, but instead of flying a fighter plane, Leia had to invade the death star from the inside and distract everybody while Luke attacked. Perhaps she would lower a force field, or use her skills to take over the internal machinery.  Same story – victory for the good guys – but now different roles become powerful and the same actions have different impacts.

It is both a relief and a burden to have found the problem with the story.  Now that I know, I hope I can do the story justice.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Taking a Class on Thinking

I’m taking Think101X at EdX, on the Science of Everyday Thinking.

The part that has fascinated me the most wasn’t in the classes, but rather in the More Reading section at the end.

I found a section on John Hattie’s research about what helps students learn.

First, he found that class size, amount of teacher training, economic and cultural background of the students are NOT key factors.

The most important thing is for the teachers to find out what the students are learning, and spend more time and energy on what they still need to learn.  Students can teach each other.

As a teacher, I know that when I plan a lesson, I learn the material better than I knew it before I decided to teach it.  Students will have the same experience.

Second, teachers need to be able to control disruptions.

If students can be distracted from the lesson, they won’t learn the material.

I quit teaching in public schools because I don’t know how to stop disruptions. I need students who already want to learn what I’m teaching.  

I know the world can’t depend on motivated students.  All students can learn.  And as a society, we’ll all benefit if they do.

Third, and this seems to be major, teachers need to believe in the students.  This belief comes from success experiences with teaching, so that the teachers know that students of all backgrounds can learn.

Fourth, students need to learn how to learn.  They can learn anything, any time, if they know how to learn.  This skill is more important than the specific details of any lesson.

Here’s a summary of Hattie’s work:

If you want more, he’s got a whole book called Visual Learning.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Royals Take a Selfie - Zoomer

The Royals Take a Selfie - Zoomer

How Families Spend Money and Time

Having a wealthy exchange student reminded me of a battle I had with my own teenagers.

My exchange student wore high-end clothing. She insisted that she must have a new prom dress from a department store for hundreds of dollars, even though she could get a new-with-tags prom dress at a consignment shop for about $40. She tried to get us to take taxis instead of the bus. She was angry that I made lunch rather than give her money to eat at the cafeteria. She was clearly used to having servants. But, she said she expects to get a full four-year scholarship to an Ivy League College.  She does not expect her wealthy parents to pay for this.

When my girls were teenagers, they were upset that I would not buy them cars, not even used cars. (If they wanted cars, they could get jobs, save their money and buy them and the insurance for them by themselves.) I gave them a clothing allowance so that they could choose between having several generic outfits or one brand name item of clothing.  I gave them a weekly allowance so they could choose if they wanted to go to the snack shop after school, or buy something else. (They usually chose something else.) I made their lunches. But I did pay for their college tuition.

All through high school, they ranted, “you’re so cheap,” which is sort of a compliment from my point-of-view.  It was only during their senior high school years, when their classmates who had the cars and the fancy clothes, and cafeteria meals, and who frequently went to the snack shop after school, were told, “No, we can’t afford to send you to college,” that they understood our strategy.

Also, watching our exchange student, I saw that we didn’t just budget money.  We also budgeted time.  Our daughters learned to start their papers and their studying-for-exams as soon as they were assigned. Our exchange student was always cramming at the last minute for an exam or scrambling to write a paper the night before it was due.  She seemed just as busy as our teens, but she was running weeks behind.  I had the sense that nobody had taught her how to study. But when I tried, she complained, “You’re stressing me out.”  She was also angry when I suggested ways she could save money.

It isn’t often I get to reconsider choices I made years ago, and see that I still totally agree with the choices I made.

I wonder how the families that bought cars and prom dresses and cafeteria lunches instead of college tuition feel about their choices.