Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Visitors to dpsinfo.com, June 2009

My Web domain, dpsinfo.com, has been around for years. While the site that gets the most traffic is Dead People Server, I have about a dozen other sites.

The traffic pattern this month was interesting:

dpsinfo.com traffic, June 2009

It's kind of ironic now that, just over a week ago on alt.obituaries, a number of us were complaining about how quiet "the world of celebrity death" had been. As I said at the time, "Good for celebrities, bad for people tracking deaths."

June 25 was a very busy day in celebrity death, with the long expected death of Farrah Fawcett, and the sudden (but not completely unexpected) death of Michael Jackson, which was a rumor for about two hours before it was confirmed at about 6:15pm that day. dpsinfo.com got nearly 3X as many visitors on that day as it had on its quietest day (on June 13).

That wasn't dpsinfo.com's busiest day ever though.

The busiest day ever was the day in September 2006 when Steve Irwin (aka the Crocodile Hunter) was killed by a stingray. Nearly twice as many people visited that day as visited on June 25.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Remembering Local Boy Billy Mays

At first, I thought the announcement of his death was another hoax. I first saw it on Wikipedia's death page, where hoax deaths can still creep through. It sounded like the recent fake death announcements of Jeff Goldblum (fell off a cliff!) or the one of pitchman John Basedow (Killed in the tsunami!).

Alas, I'm wrong on this one.

Billy was kind of annoying, but kind of enjoyable. I couldn't hate Billy Mays. Pitchmen normally make my skin crawl. His whole undertone always seemed to be "I'm having a good time with this, and I'm making a pile of money." And, heck, that's American. You can't hate making a pile of money. Well, OK, most of us can't.

Billy Mays was from the same very small, very poor town that my husband called his hometown (and boxer Paul Spadafora, former "hair colorist to the stars" Bradley Johns, politician John Kasich, and footballer Chuck Fusina) - McKees Rocks, PA. Billy was two years older than one brother-in-law, and lived near my other brother-in-law (well, where "near" was "the same part of Florida").

Billy Mays was like Farrah Fawcett in that he made the best with what he had, which probably added up to millions of dollars before he died.

In many ways, his death is the most shocking celebrity death of a week filled with celebrity deaths. Ed was old. Farrah was sick. There was something sadly inevitable about Michael Jackson's sudden death at a middle age. But, Billy Mays? So full of life? So into promoting whatever he was selling? This one seems wrong. Is he selling some new product, that a fake death might help promote?

Probably not.

So, after about six weeks of making almost no updates to my Dead People Server site, I've gone and made another one for this week. Kind of sadly. I may not miss him that much, but there's something especially sad about this death.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Brainstorming for the G-20 in Pittsburgh

The local organization leading the organization for the G-20 in Pittsburgh this September is a group called the Allegheny Conference. They decided to have a series of brainstorming sessions and invite the public to them, to generate ideas for further discussion.

On paper, this is a great idea. And, to a degree, it was. There were some incredibly good ideas proposed, including:

  • Student ambassadors to observe and report on the proceedings (this from a high school student)

  • Welcome banners and audio greetings in all of the languages spoken by members of the G-20

  • A whole month of activities around the countries of the G-20, focusing on each of the countries and stressing educational programs

  • Various ways to present the arts and music of Pittsburgh

  • Stressing Pittsburgh's leadership as a green city

  • Name badges for Pittsburghers with the flags representing the country of whatever foreign language the person speaks

  • An event featuring foods prepared by foreign-born chefs who cook at Pittsburgh-area restaurants

But, an awful lot of the ideas started off with, "Hi, I'm X my company is Y, we make Z and here's how we can offer Z to the people coming to Pittsburgh for the G-20."

As a result, there was very little actual brainstorming. Almost no one's ideas seemed to spark other people's ideas, and that was somewhat disappointing. During the first brainstorming session at Point Park last week, 57 ideas were generated. At ours, I'm sure it was less than that because it was more about selling than idea generation.

I came up with some ideas, and presented them this way: "Hi, I'm Laurie Mann, I'm a blogger and I have nothing to sell. I just have a couple of ideas." My suggestions were to make sure that the G-20 uses the lovely rooftop terrace at the Convention Center. I'd been going to events there for years before I stumbled over the terrace at one event, which was being used informally that day. It has a great view of the city, the Allegheny River and the bridges. It's basically an unappreciated gem of the city. My other suggestion was to use some of the empty storefronts along Penn and Liberty as art galleries for students, robot makers and filmmakers.

There will be one last public brainstorming at the University of Pittsburgh, Alumni Hall in the Connolly Ballroom from 5:30-7:00 tonight (Tuesday, June 23).

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Why You Should Vote Out Bigots Like State Senator John Eichelberger (R-Blair)

One of the people currently reviving the "no gay marriage" fight is John Eichelberger, R (naturally) of Blair county. Recently, he said something particularly heinous in a hearing:

They’re not being punished. We’re allowing them to exist, and do what every American can do. We’re just not rewarding them with any special designation.

I've written the following to Eichelberger to take him to task for his bigotry:

I understand you said the following in reference to homosexuals in a hearing the other day:

They’re not being punished. We’re allowing them to exist, and do what every American can do. We’re just not rewarding them with any special designation.

Thank-you for living out that famous cliche about Pennsylvania: "It's Philadelphia in the East, Pittsburgh in the West and Alabama in the middle."

If anyone ever said "We're allowing them to exist" in reference to, say, white men or fundamentalist Christians, would you have agreed with THAT ATTITUDE too?

I thought Pennsylvanians got rid of that level of state-sanctioned bigotry when we voted out Rick Santorum.

I know people like you will never change your minds about bigotry. I can only hope to help educate your constituency that bigotry in a modern society is unacceptable.

Laurie Mann
McDonald, PA

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hey KDKA Radio - Why Can't You Cover Local News Competently Anymore??

We usually go over to Bocktown Beer and Grill for dinner and the Wednesday beer tasting. After that, the plan was to go out to Friendship to attend a planning meeting for Confluence.

When we got to Bocktown, it was threatening but not raining. By the time we got our beer, we could hear the loud thunder overhead. As we sat in the back, we couldn't see the storm, but it had gotten very dark outside in a hurry.

By about 6:15, we were done eating and went to the front of the bar to try some Abita beer. It was raining so hard that that we couldn't see the parking lot from the front windows. The rain was coming in sideways, and the wind whipped up for a while. Lots of lightning and thunder. The rain and lightning were so heavy that we didn't dare go to our car.

Unfortunately, some of the Bocktown staff were out on the partially covered patio. By the time they got in, they were completely drenched.

We watched the rain for a while. Then, it lightened up slightly and the torrents calmed to mere rain. Even though the storm was going east, and we were going to be following it, we figured it was probably safe to drive to Friendship. According to KDKA radio, there were severe thunderstorms and tornado warnings for our area. While the severe thunderstorms were obvious, the tornadoes weren't as the wind wasn't too bad and we hadn't seen any hail. But, following the standard news/weather check, KDKA went back to its regular talk shows. So KDKA did not view the situation as particularly dangerous. We changed the channel and listened to classical WQED instead of listening what passes for talk.

As we approached the city, we were back in the heavy rain again. Usually, we take Bigelow Blvd. to go to Friendship, but there's a tendency for rockslides in the heavy rain. I chose to go through Oakland. After all, most of the students were gone - how bad could the traffic be?

Oakland had a horrible traffic jam. It took us nearly a half hour to go about a mile. And we couldn't figure out why. We kept switching between "news radio" KDKA and WQED, the classical music station. KDKA had no specifics - their 7:30 "news" show lasted about 30 second before it went back to standard talk radio bloviation.

As we got through the Forbes/Bigelow intersection, we suddenly saw why the traffic was so horrible in Oakland - street flooding in front of Carnegie Hall. I thought I could get through it. Jim insisted that I could not. So, I pulled a U-turn (highly illegal) and got back to the road between the parking lot and the library (going the wrong way briefly; luckily, the PAT bus let me go by). Many cars were stopping, and the sounds of police sirens were louder than the thunder.

There was street flooding on that street too. However, it didn't look as bad, and past that bit of flooding was higher ground. I slowly drove through the flooding and turned left past the library to make the relative safety of Schenley Park. We drove up the hill and parked by Baker Hall at Carnegie Mellon so we could hit a bathroom and consider our options. Running the 50 yards from our car to the hall made us both completely wet.

Several people were standing by the door of Baker Hall, trying to figure out the best thing to do. We visited the bathrooms and waited for the rain/lightning to calm down. After about another ten minutes, it did. The woman who was left said she'd parked her car in Schenley Park and wasn't looking forward to walking to her car. We offered her a ride. There were branches down but it was not as bad as after the tornado in 1998. There was also minor street flooding in Schenley Park - maybe 1-2 inches rather than the 6 inches we saw in Oakland. We dropped the professor off at her car, and decided it was safer to skip the meeting and go home. We drove through Squirrel Hill to get to the parkway.

While KDKA continued favoring talk show crap over actually reporting the news, we felt lucky to find that Squirrel Hill didn't have the flooding of Oakland. The only street flooding we saw was near the parkway entrance. The rest of our trip was uneventful, and we finally got home a little before 9.

KDKA ought to be ashamed of itself for the way its "local breaking news" was so completely useless during this storm. I remember back in 1998, the same station focused on the local wind and rain damage following the Mt. Washington tornado. This time, "news" station KDKA provided almost no local news. So much for helping the public. If stations like KDKA were still reporting local news rather than blathering on, it would have been much more helpful. Luckily, it sounds like no one was seriously injured last night, but there were apparently dozens of cars stuck in flooded areas all over eastern Allegheny county.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Pew News Survey of Current Events

This is a really fast survey on your current news knowledge.

I scored 12 out of 12, which put me in the 94th percentile.

When you're underemployed, you tend to read the news...a lot!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Tracking Your Medicines

A few years ago, I realized I was already taking a variety of supplements and some prescription drugs. I started tracking what I was taking, so I would always have a quick record for my doctor. Also, I'd always know what drugs did work and what didn't work for me.

I found it easiest to track this information in an Access database. However, I thought I'd share the list with others, and many people don't have Access. So I also created an .rtf table, that can be read in Word and other word processors. You can download the files from the links below and adapt the database or word processing table any way you want.

The drug history, if you maintained this information in Access, would have this general format:

Drug History (pdf)

Tracking Your Medicines in Access

This is a pretty simple Access database. It's written in Access 2003, but uses only tables, queries and reports, so it could probably be read in older versions of Access. The database does not have a forms-based data-entry screen, enter the drug information directly in the data table.

mydruglist.sample.mdb (Access file)

When you open up the database, click on the tables option to display the data tables:

o druglistblank
o druglistsample

druglistblank is an empty database table. You can open it and just start entering drug data. druglistsample is a database table with sample data. The tables are the same; one has sample data and one does not.

Here are the fields in these tables:

ID - an auto-numbered identifier field. You can ignore it.
Date Added - a date field that defaults to the current date
Drug Name - the name of the drug
Type - prescription drug, over the counter drug, supplement
Dose - recommended dosage
How Often You Take It - the possible values are Daily, Occasionally, Post-op, Stopped Taking It. Record how frequently you take the drug.
Date Started Taking It - when you first took the drug
Prescribing Doctor - who prescribed it for you.
Notes - What you're taking the drug for, if you had any side effects, why you stopped taking it (if appropriate)

I think it's best to sort this information so that the drugs you are currently taking always sort to the top of the report. So I've written a query to sort the information in this way. Display the queries:

o drugblank
o drugsample

drugblank is the query that sorts your information from the druglistblank table. drugsample is the query that sorts the sample data in the druglistsample table. The default sort field is the "How Often You Take It" field. When you run the query, the drugs you take every day will sort to the top of the query table, followed by the drugs you take occasionally, followed by the drugs you've taken after surgery or hospitalization, followed by the drugs you've taken in the past but do not take anymore.

Finally, display the reports:

o drugblankreport
o drugsamplereport

drugblankreport creates a report based on your information in the druglistblank table.
drugsamplereport creates a report based on the sample information in the druglistsample table.

Open the drugblankreport to see your information. At the top of the page, you'll see YOUR NAME, BIRTHDATE. Delete those strings and enter your name and your birthdate.

Tracking Your Medicines in a Word Table

Download mydruglist.blank.rtf. After you've downloaded it, you can enter information directly into the table. You should save the modified table under a new name, so you'll always have a blank table available online. Be sure to add your name and your birthdate to the top of the file.

There's a government site with a recommended text file for collecting medical information. AARP also has information on collecting drug and medical information.