It’s my birthday. Let’s talk about MS.

In 46 days, I’ll ride my bike to Austin again. I’m in shape for it, and I feel good, but the real challenge this year is getting my fundraising to a new highwater mark.

Yeah, I said it. High. Water. My guess is that this year, on account of Harvey, the fundraising pace is going to be off. This isn’t just a number; less money donated means fewer resources for the National MS Society, and that translates to less help for researchers, less support for those living with MS, and — frankly — less good in the world.

Let’s do what we can to make it a good year. Here’s my link; I’m pretty sure you know how this works.

And now, as a reward, I give you TEN REASONS TO DONATE TODAY BESIDES IT BEING MY BIRTHDAY:

10. On this day in 1781, William Herschel discovered Uranus. The jokes write themselves.

9. Microsoft went public on this day in 1986. Had you purchased the stock on the day of issue, you’d be able to donate much, much more!

8. What better way for the Catholics among you to honor the elevation of Jorge Mario Bergoglio back in 2013?

7. Not to be outdone by Herschel, Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto on this day in 1930. (Shut up. It is TOO a planet.)

6. Ten years before I was born, the world gained US bassist Adam Clayton. There’s a joke here about still-not-having-found-what-I’m-looking-for, i.e. a donation, but let’s just ignore it, okay?

5. Perhaps you could spare a wad(d) of cash today in honor of the 30th anniversary of the passing of John Curtis Holmes?

4. Don’t forget! It’s National Elephant Day in Thailand! (I know nothing about this, but how can something called National Elephant Day be anything other than awesome?)

3. If you’re nerdy, perhaps you can donate partially in honor of VMS and WinNT designer Dave Cutler, who turns 76 today.

2. You like rear-engine cars? So do I! Drop a bit of coin in my fundraiser here in honor of The Love Bug, which opened on this day in 1969.

1. Block that Thetan! It’ll help make you Clear, since this is also L. Ron Hubbard’s birthday.

Why the AR-15 is different, and what that means

So, this is where your favorite gun-savvy lefty explains some things.

Lately, we’ve heard a LOT about the AR-15, which is the civilian and semi-automatic version of the M-4 used by our military. The rifle is ubiquitous today; until recently, I’d bet 90% of America was within 20 miles of a store that would sell them one this afternoon. They’re not that expensive, and they’re absolutely terrifying — it’s not for nothing that they’re the weapon of choice for mass shootings.

The the AR-15 is really just one of a class of magazine-fed, semi-automatic rifles chambered for a particular bullet type (the proper term is “round” or “caliber”) usually abbreviated to “5.56”. The proper name is 5.56 x 45mm NATO.

It’s not an especially beefy or powerful round in the realm of rifle rounds; most folks hunt deer with far larger calibers. It’s relatively small size, though, makes it very, very well suited for rapid fire because it produces so little recoil (“kick”). Sure, you almost never see a fully-automatic AR used for crimes, but it hardly matters because a semi-automatic version will fire as quickly as you can move your finger.

That small round packs a tremendous punch — especially since it’s usually shot from a platform that allows or even encourages the shooter to keep firing.

So in this context, take a look at this piece by a Parkland area radiologist, speaking about the wounds from the MSD shooting:

What I Saw Treating the Victims From Parkland Should Change the Debate on Guns.

This is from a radiologist with plenty of exposure to handgun wounds. They tend to be relatively simple and manageable, and if the bullet manages to avoid something critical like the aorta or the heart, the patients tend to survive:

In a typical handgun injury, which I diagnose almost daily, a bullet leaves a laceration through an organ such as the liver. To a radiologist, it appears as a linear, thin, gray bullet track through the organ. There may be bleeding and some bullet fragments.

I was looking at a CT scan of one of the mass-shooting victims from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who had been brought to the trauma center during my call shift. The organ looked like an overripe melon smashed by a sledgehammer, and was bleeding extensively. How could a gunshot wound have caused this much damage?

More:

Routine handgun injuries leave entry and exit wounds and linear tracks through the victim’s body that are roughly the size of the bullet. If the bullet does not directly hit something crucial like the heart or the aorta, and the victim does not bleed to death before being transported to our care at the trauma center, chances are that we can save him. The bullets fired by an AR-15 are different: They travel at a higher velocity and are far more lethal than routine bullets fired from a handgun. The damage they cause is a function of the energy they impart as they pass through the body. A typical AR-15 bullet leaves the barrel traveling almost three times faster than—and imparting more than three times the energy of—a typical 9mm bullet from a handgun. An AR-15 rifle outfitted with a magazine with 50 rounds allows many more lethal bullets to be delivered quickly without reloading.

I have seen a handful of AR-15 injuries in my career. Years ago I saw one from a man shot in the back by a swat team. The injury along the path of the bullet from an AR-15 is vastly different from a low-velocity handgun injury. The bullet from an AR-15 passes through the body like a cigarette boat traveling at maximum speed through a tiny canal. The tissue next to the bullet is elastic—moving away from the bullet like waves of water displaced by the boat—and then returns and settles back. This process is called cavitation; it leaves the displaced tissue damaged or killed. The high-velocity bullet causes a swath of tissue damage that extends several inches from its path. It does not have to actually hit an artery to damage it and cause catastrophic bleeding. Exit wounds can be the size of an orange.

Let’s quantify this. Wikipedia can help; let’s compare the 5.56 to the most popular handgun round, 9mm.

Firearm ballistics are a complicated area that people LOVE to argue about, but the gist of the system boils down to the bullet’s mass and the amount of energy pushing it forward. The bullets are measured in grams (or sometimes another unit called grains); we talk about energy in terms of muzzle velocity and downrange energy. The difference, as the author notes, isn’t small:

  • A 5.56mm round involves a fairly tiny bullet (~ 3-4 grams, so more than a penny and less than a nickel) moving at about 900 m/s, and will deliver on the order of 1,800 joules downrange.
  • The 9mm pistol users a heavier bullet (7 to 8 grams, so twice as massive as the 5.56), but it’s moving far slower: usually the neighborhood of 350 or so m/s, so the energy delivered when it his something is also far lower (~ 500 joules).

An AR-15 is also engineered to shoot quickly, and shield the user from almost all the recoil. I’ve shot one several times; it’s very easy to shoot, and very easy to shoot quickly without losing the target. Frankly, it’s easier to stay on target with an AR than it is with most 9mm pistols.

This is why the wounds the Parkland physician saw were so much worse, and why mass shootings end with so many dead: because it’s easy to get a weapon that will fire very many of these very lethal rounds very quickly. And the NRA likes it this way.

Oh, one more thing: Gun violence is clearly a public health problem in the United States, but we don’t study it. Why?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the appropriate agency to review the potential impact of banning AR-15-style rifles and high-capacity magazines on the incidence of mass shootings. The agency was effectively barred from studying gun violence as a public-health issue in 1996, by a statutory provision known as the Dickey Amendment.

Why is it banned? Because the NRA doesn’t want it studied. Think on that.

Barnes & Noble Exec Management Is Apparently 100% Shitweasel

Go read “The Entirely Unnecessary Demise of Barnes & Nobel”. It’s astounding and, near as I can tell, completely accurate.

On Monday morning, every single Barnes & Noble location – that’s 781 stores – told their full-time employees to pack up and leave. The eliminated positions were as follows: the head cashiers (those are the people responsible for handling the money), the receiving managers (the people responsible for bringing in product and making sure it goes where it should), the digital leads (the people responsible for solving Nook problems), the newsstand leads (the people responsible for distributing the magazines), and the bargain leads (the people responsible for keeping up the massive discount sections). A few of the larger stores were able to spare their head cashiers and their receiving managers, but not many.

We’re not talking post-holiday culling of seasonal workers. This was the Red Wedding. Every person laid off was a full-time employee. These were people for whom Barnes & Noble was a career. Most of them had given 5, 10, 20 years to the company. In most cases it was their sole source of income.

There was no warning.

But it gets worse.

The people who lost their jobs had been actively assured this would NOT happen for the past several months. Home Office decided last year that these positions – head cashiers, receiving managers, leads – were due to be eliminated… but no layoffs were to take place. All current employees were to be grandfathered in. The positions wouldn’t go away until the people currently holding them chose to leave.

For months they told everyone this.

Then on Monday, each person was called into the manager’s office. Fifteen minutes later, each person gathered up their things and left.

But but but dropped sales, right? Well, about that: go read the whole piece. Barnes set this up by screwing up Christmas in an attempt to shore up the amount of cash on hand. The Barnes leadership are not trying to save the company. They’re trying to get out with giant golden parachutes, and give not two shits for their employees.

Studies in Athletic Performance

It’s no secret I ride a lot. I love it, but I found late last year that I wasn’t improving as fast as I used to. It’s not age, or not exclusively age; it’s just that, beyond a certain point, you have to do something more than “just ride a lot” — you have to get intentional about it, and that means a power meter and structured training and a coach and hours on an indoor trainer where you can watch output and hit power targets and all that jazz.

Luckily, I enjoy data, so at least that part’s fun.

Luckily, too, is the fact that this new approach is absolutely working. There’s no coasting in an hour-long workout, nor is there drafting; you’re just putting in the work. SOME of these workouts I can do on the road, or at least on the closed track at Memorial Park, but mostly it’s on a trainer in my office starting at a bookcase.

Obviously, then, podcasts and music are involved. Sometimes it’s TAL or Omnibus or something, and sometimes it’s tunes. I made a playlist I shuffle over that’s got lots of music I like; it’s heavier with hip-hop than I would’ve guessed, but once you add some RTJ and Kanye’s “Stronger,” it’s easy to stay with the theme.

Today, I was having some trouble hitting the targets — the tl;dr is that I got stronger, so the workouts just got harder — but upon review I found there was an anomalously high peak in the final period of effort, which coincided with the end of a podcast and the start of the aforementioned shuffled playlist.

I know what song was playing, so I think I’m justified in identifying this phenomenon as the “Xzibit Peak“:

Xibit peak

Explicitly for Erins

This year, Emmet Otter turned 40. It aired in Canada first, for Christmas 1977, before hitting HBO the next year, and network TV 2 years later.

Here’s a nice oral history. You probably remember it fondly from your childhood, but it’s also a tour de force of groundbreaking puppet filmmaking. No, I’m not kidding:

Though filled with old-fashioned charm, Emmet Otter actually employed a savvy blend of age-old puppetry techniques and cutting-edge animatronic technology. Engineering wizard Franz “Faz” Fazakas, a frequent Muppet collaborator, designed the rowboat that could be steered along the set’s 50-foot river, and rigged versions of Ma and Emmet that could be operated via remote control while they were on the water.

Oh, also:

The tale of Frogtown Hollow continued to hold a special place in the hearts of those involved — including Henson, who included one of Emmet Otter’s songs in the musical program he designed for his memorial service [in 1990].

Paul Williams: The last thing that I ever expected was to hear “When the River Meets the Sea” at Jim’s funeral. It was an especially emotional moment in the funeral for me

(Oh, and, don’t miss the actual no-kidding blooper reel, shot during the 33 takes it took to get the “drum rolls out of the shop” shot.)

Stapled Yellow Cards, History, and Finding Yourself On The Other Side

When I was a kid, my dad was a veterinarian. In the 1970s, there was no office computerization, so he kept his patient records on yellow cards. As each card filled, he’d add another to the top of the stack, forming a reverse-chronological record of the client’s visits.

(I’ve never seen these size cards anywhere else, but they were cleary a Thing at the time. In my memory, they were each about a third of a sheet of typing paper, but on heavier stock; he also had sturdy steel cabinets to file them in, so it was clearly a standard of some kind.)

Obviously, over time, these card stacks got thicker and thicker — some quickly, because the client had lots of animals; some more slowly, just on the strength of long-lived pets getting their annual attention for years upon years. By the early 80s, when I was working part time there, a few were over an inch thick; these belonged to the families that had sought my father out when he first hung his shingle in 1964, and still used him, many pets later, in the 1980s. Perhaps the fattest belonged to the Slay family.

When my father first opened, he sent my mother out to find an accountant about their age. People didn’t move around as much back then, so the plan was to find one they could keep forever. Mother found Herbie Slay, and as the story goes that same day Mrs. Slay brought their dog to dad for a checkup. In small towns, there’s a lot of that sort of backscratching. (Incidentally, the firm Mr. Slay founded still does my taxes every year; Herbie, sadly, passed away a year or two ago.)

The Slay file was, to my early teen eyes, an artifact from another time. Sure, the top page was from last week or last month, but there at the back were records my father wrote when Johnson was president, when men wore flattops, when Vietnam was in the news every day. Impossibly long ago, I thought. When Dad died, in 1986, I meant to save that file, or at least the first page, but in the rush and chaos and haze of funeral and clinic sale and grief, it didn’t happen, and so now it lives on only in my memory.

I’m nearly 48 now — older than Dad ever got to be — and I know better than to think of 22 years as an eon, though of course it still is.

Today, I took our cats to our veterinarian for their annual shots. They hate it, obviously, and they hate it moreso because even though the clinic is inside the Loop, there’s no good freeway option, so it can be a half hour drive on congested surface streets to get there.

Because of this, every year before now I thought “I should really find a closer vet, since it’s just shots,” and every year before now I quashed that thought out of loyalty. I started using this clinic in 1994, soon after I moved to Houston, and I am not good with change.

Back then, it was just Dr. Alice Frei and maybe one tech in a storefront in Bellaire, around the corner from my first home here, and chosen for proximity as much as anything else. Over time, she grew that clinic, and I didn’t always see Dr. Frei anymore. She’d taken partners, or hired subordinate vets, or something, but that’s what happens, and they were all nice people. At some point, she moved to a nice new building. I was happy for her growth and success, and we always got good care there. Even when our old girl Bob was so sick we had to seek out specialists, they still reached out to us for updates, and sent us a card when the end came.

It’s like that.

But this time around, when we called for our annual appointment — several months late, I must confess — I learned that Dr. Frei wasn’t there anymore, and that she’d sold the practice and moved to Virginia. “Good for her,” I thought. But also: “Well, crap.”

So we went today, and at the end I mentioned that, gosh, if it’s not Dr. Frei anymore, I’m not sure I’m going to keep driving this far, and how would I go about transferring records?

The veterinarian completely understood. Of course they’d send records over to wherever we wanted. “That makes perfect sense; most of our customers are very close, so we totally understand.” I felt awkward about it, but he was very gracious and kind.

We boxed up the cats, and I went out front to pay. As I was paying, though, the vet came back out, smiling. “You know, Mr. Farmer, we have a sequential numbering system for client records here. Each new customer gets the next number.”

Sure. That makes sense.

“The newest record in the system is 7200 something.”

Ok.

“You’re number 35.”

Wow.

I had the sense, 23 years ago, that Dr. Frei’s was a new practice, and I liked that about it. I didn’t realize how new, or how early I was on that August afternoon in 1994. Driving home, I couldn’t help but remember those fat, multi-stapled cards in Dad’s office 30 years ago, and the history they represented. But math will get you; our file at Southside Place reaches back to August of 1994, which is deeper than any file my father ever had. To my everlasting shock and bemusement, we’re the subject of a file just as ancient as the Slay file seemed to me in 1986.

Among the many surprises of middle age are these moments when you find yourself looking at some aspect of life from exactly opposite perspectives, separated by a decade or two.

Life is weird and wonderful. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“And he’ll drive the thing like a cocaine fiend playing Mario Kart.”

This is old, but great: The Scariest Thing About the Hellcat is the Third Owner

A bit:

For those of you who don’t know what the Hellcat is, please allow me to provide the following background: it is a 707-horsepower rental car.

Do you know that Dodge Charger you rented a few months ago? When you landed in Dallas? And they were out of midsize sedans? And you couldn’t figure out why it smelled so bad? And the interior was made out of the same quality plastic they use for a Parmesan cheese container? Well, imagine that thing with more power than a Ferrari Enzo. That’s a Hellcat.

At the moment, they sell the Hellcat in two varieties. There is the Dodge Challenger Hellcat, which is a rather large two-door vehicle. And there is a Dodge Charger Hellcat, which is a rather large four-door vehicle. Reportedly they will soon be making a Hellcat version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which will serve as the primary example for at least the next decade when people in other countries discuss American excess.

Why the third owner, though? Well, he tells us:

You see, the first owner of the Hellcat is going to be a pretty careful, cautious, reasonable guy. The car’s price tag ensures that: most Hellcats cost somewhere in the $60,000-plus range, which is right in the heart of “careful, cautious, reasonable guy” territory. If you’re spending sixty grand on a car, you’ve probably been around enough attorneys in your life to know that the guy with the 707-horsepower car is the first person to get sued after an accident, even if the accident involved an industrial forklift and the 707-horsepower car was parked four blocks away. So you’re careful.

Sure. Okay. But what about #2?

The second owner is different from the first owner in the sense that he didn’t buy the Hellcat because it was the latest and greatest thing. He bought it because he lusted after it from the moment it came out – he just couldn’t afford it right away. So he buys the thing when it’s one or two years old, and he cherishes it. I mean he cherishes it. To the point where he creates one of those little plaques that he places next to his car when he brings it to cars and coffee.

And so:

The third owner will buy a Hellcat ten years from now. He will be under 30 years old. He’ll look for one with high miles, or a rebuilt title. And he’ll drive the thing like a cocaine fiend playing Mario Kart.

The problem with the Hellcat’s third owner is that he won’t be as cautious as the first owner, and he won’t be as obsessed with preservation as the second owner. He’ll just want cheap speed, and the Hellcat will provide it.

Now, if you’re the parent of a young child, this could be a serious problem when your kid grows up. Consider it: when I was 20, the fastest thing anybody could reasonably afford was a first-generation Cadillac CTS-V, which had 400 horsepower and a gear lever that felt like you were stirring butter with a rope.

But if your kid is eight or nine years old right now, he will reach 20 at a time when the seven-hundred-seven horsepower Hellcat is something his friends might be driving. As a parent, this changes your duties: you will have to educate your child about crossing the street, and talking to strangers, and finances, and sex, and friends with Hellcats.

ZING:

Think of it this way: by 2026, a high-mileage Hellcat will be a sub-$30,000 way to get 700 horsepower; a 200-mph car that no longer requires a professional degree, or an MBA, or a long, successful career, or a profitable startup. All it will require is a promotion to assistant manager of a Pizza Hut.