Sunday, November 19, 2006

Homebrew Tameshigeri

While not a "nut," per se, I have been somewhat of a martial arts enthusiast for some years. This includes a combination of Japanese styles, both soft and hard, and their respective weapons. A favorite of mine amongst these weapons is the sword, the traditional Katana.

Learning to wield one of these competently without doing serious harm to oneself or others is best attempted using the training analogues, the bo ken or shinai (depending on whether one is practicing kata or kendo). On occasion though, there's no substitute for some live steel.

Pumpkin and unsheathed katana - 1.4M
A favorite among my personal collection is this sword, the unfortunately named Samurai 3000 Katana by United Cutlery. It has its pros and cons: a high-carbon, flexible blade with laser cut die and even bevel to a very sharp edge. The balance is beautiful despite departing from the traditional placement, putting the pivot at a point within the top of the hilt instead of 1/3 the way out on the blade at a defensive position. This does change the muscular dynamics of some of the movement, but also makes the one-handed equivalents much more effective.

In the con section, some of the highest leverage cutting surface has been abandoned for decorative purposes, and despite the handle-biased weighting they still went with a rat-tail tang. Almost nobody produces a full-tang katana, and this one makes up for that short coming in small measure through the tight tolerances of the orthogonal tension in the hilt. The traditional curvature has also been altered, and while the carbon content is high it is not technically "combat grade" - which wouldn't cause it to shatter under the blows of a higher grade opponent (at these concentrations the true strength differences can only be expressed by either deliberately abusing the weapon or exerting more force than humans are typically capable of), but it would certainly lose its edge faster.

That's all just the boring preamble meant to indicate that "yes, I know my sword and I know what I'm doing with it." Anachronistic or not, it's a fun skill to have.

Tameshigeri is the art of cutting with the katana. Targets are usually standardized around rolled straw mats, but I felt like finally doing something useful with The Pumpkin. I never did get around to carving it, instead leaving it intact as a nice fall decoration for my wife to use. I'm surprised it lasted this long: the specimen was still ripe and firm, giving no indication of spoilage or bruising (and it was on the floor in an area which is high-traffic for our young daughters, so that's saying something).

Time to turn it into deer food.

The gourd was placed there on the edge of the retaining wall at chest height, in the position and attitude shown here, and not touched with hands again until it was time to dispose of it. I faced it flat in a right-forward stance, blade raised between medium- and high- en garde (chudan- and jodan- no kamai). I lightly touched the offensive last-quarter of the sharpened edge against top of the pumpkin before drawing it smoothly back and around in somewhat of a lateral 'J' directly through the target from right to left.

Katana and sliced pumpkin - 1.4M

Most of the way through the cut, the sword began to level out to a more perpendicular angle with regard to its travel. This made its incision less efficient and as a result, imparted some of its force into the rind on the left interior. This caused the detached cap to lift slightly and shift in the direction of the sword, pulling it off into the leaning position in the picture (with added black-bars for a more "cinematic" effect). It's a cool place to have it land, but I was honestly hoping to leave it perfectly undisturbed and later move it manually to demonstrate the wickedly sharp edge. Perhaps, had I more time to practice, or had I remembered to step into the cut or to kiai, I may have maintained both angle and speed sufficient to do exactly that.

The astute observer will also notice that the hemisection does not appear to be perfectly level, even self referentially. That is, the back is raised up in a fashion not indicated by the attitude of the closer portion. This is due to "winging" - the distortion of the flexible blade in response to the whipped movement (reviewing these sorts of things from high-speed video capture reveals an astonishing amount of unintended flexion). Simple put, the sword was slightly bent as it passed through. The back (of the pumpkin) also has a bit of a flat face, bringing it visually closer and exaggerating the effect.

Cut pumpkin close up - 1.2M
Speaking of video, I have none. Which is all well and good, since the reality of this performance is quite dull and short. Perhaps, had I made repeated successive passes through the ever decreasing remainder, it would be worth while. Or, had I succeeded in capturing high-speed close-ups. Instead, I performed all the photography for the event using my wife's discarded Olympus E-20n (a well performing camera that she has since upgraded in her Wedding Photography business). I took only 5 pictures, and didn't even think about shooting directly down into the bowl of the pumpkin until someone asked if I had. Darnit.

That's pretty much it. Yes it was one swipe (most frequently asked question), and no I didn't have to put it somewhere else to do that well.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Household Name

I work in the technology biz; I have since before completing my secondary education, plying God-given talents to make my way and eventually establish a career and support my family. As such, I am constantly surrounded with reminders of the increasingly wired nature of society in all its facets and interactions.

Despite this immersion, even knowing how most of it all works, I have not ceased in my amazement. I pursue gadgetry to enable my hobbies and lifestyle, ever-reducing the amount of effort required to do those things I like and need to do.

This last weekend, however, surprised me at just how unique this isn't. How completely the advances have ingrained themselves into even casual patterns. Because of that pervasion, I'm certain most of what I say here will seem unremarkable.

My wife has been on the lookout for a new entertainment center - something with cabinet enclosures for the television and which plays well with corners. Buying these things new is a cost-prohibitive affair even without looking for quality. To ease the financial burden, she's been combing the local craigslist several times daily in order to pounce on the freshly listed items. She found and we subsequently purchased a 3-piece cherry wood (stained laminate) set much nicer than our old one.

After coordinating via cell-phone and email, finances were handled through a credit-card draft and cash transfer via third party (PayPal), and to make sure the larger item would fit in the intended space? I nearly-effortlessly whipped up a three-dimensional representation of the designated corner of our living room and dropped the figures in (all with Google Sketchup) to prove the viability of the arrangement.

The reality matches almost perfectly, though I did put the oak-outcropping of the mantle a little too high and none of the colors are very close.

Excepting that last ├╝bergeeky exercise, none of this really raises an eyebrow anymore. 5 years ago the entirety would have been almost unfathomable, or at least unreasonably expensive and unfamiliar to the layman. On the front-line I still stand here having this, "back in my day..." episode now, when my daughters will be raised in the environment when all this was tedium.

I hope they will also be amazed.

In a brief self-edit of this entry before publishing I'm appalled at the poor composition and frequent sentence fragmentation. While I can recognize it, I don't think I feel up to doing anything about it; which means I knowingly thrust this tragic text upon thee.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Whiny Health Crap

Yes, a little bit more of it.

A quote from a journal of mine, concerning the continuing physical struggles:

"A lot of it is due to the fact that I've started working out again. My body's demands for oxygen and other blood carried nutrients increase, though they don't get them! Tests have always revealed a heightened level of whatever felt was [lacking], though the surrounding tissues still lack - the answer? They're not moving out of the blood." - Book X, pp13-14 (emphasis in original)

The ambiguous pronouns refer to both those specific compounds or gases desired and transmitted by blood, and pockets of tissue intended to receive them (not in that order). Not well written, I'll admit; also not the first time I'd postulated the theory, but it's one of the earlier occurrences I can find in writing.

It also happens to be dated November 22nd, 1998: A momentous day in its own right, since later that afternoon I would meet my future wife.

The "tests" to which I made reference were an arterial blood gas (ABG) sample and a cardio-pulmonary stress workup which were done nearly a year prior, before I moved out of Washington State. The results specifically showed physical deconditioning in that the stressed systems exhibited a switch over to anaerobic activity at only the 70th percentile of the bell curve for my age group and lifestyle; the ABG indicated superb oxygenation, however. I'm not sure what the pH levels were, but knowing what I do now I'd love to go back and get my hands on the figures to see.

These two facts seemed to me to contradict one another - why would I fall back to anaerobic metabolism under marked exertion while the materials to support continued aerobic performance were abundantly available?

The Dr., who I never felt was really listening to me (likely under pressure from family to dismiss the issue), just told me I was out of shape and that was the end. This, despite the fact that at the time I was a svelte 145 lbs with lean muscular build (obviously no bulk at that weight, which was possibly too light - but also had a phenomenal general metabolism, so gaining weight was difficult) who had been at peak capability in several high-demand activities up until 18 months before, and only sought medical advice because I found my stamina inexplicably waning. I was not out of shape.

So instead I formulated the theory stated above - that something wasn't working quite right in the periphery. I knew what I was experiencing, and that it was abnormal - but ran out of money and insurance in the move to Utah, and had to let the matter drop. Later, after marrying someone wonderful who also happened to work for the largest insurance provider in the state, I was able to look at things a little more.

The tests were repeated, although the ABG failed this time (technician goof). It was also augmented with echocardiograms, both resting and stressed, and a lung capacity and nuclear perfusion scan. The results in this case were similar, but the same party did not score them together. The answers where given to me as, "we suspect reduced cardiac output" and "your heart is just fine - and your lungs are almost off the charts." I interpreted this to mean that though physically underperforming (the reduced output), there wasn't a good explanation for it.

It was not until working with my current Dr., who pulled the results and added them together for a more comprehensive evaluation, that the answer becomes clear: the stress test measures output gases (hose strapped to the face) as a secondary indicator of heart stroke volume. If the left ventricle does its job right, the freshly oxygenated blood is sent coursing throughout the body to be picked up by those areas in need. This (obviously) increases in frequency and volume under stress, which is why good exercise gets the heart up. In my case, the measured gases indicated that not enough oxygen was being taken up. This was originally interpreted to mean that the delivery mechanism wasn't fulfilling the requirements, thus the diagnosis of insufficient stroke volume.

Viewed in concert with the stress echocardiogram, which specifically measured those parameters in a precise and targeted fashion, this is not the case: the heart does its duty well. Good oxygenated blood is getting where it needs to. The answer, then?

I was right: the periphery is failing to make use of the available materials, and there aren't many things which can cause that. All this time spent looking for other answers has helped to weed out and reduce some manifest symptoms, but the original condition is still what I'd suspected. And this time, I have a Dr. who agrees with me - not because of my tale of woe and long-suffering theories, but by reaching an identical conclusion through separate analysis.

After starting the CPAP therapy a few months ago, to reduce the fractured REM from mild apnea, I was able to concentrate better and found myself more able to be physically active. Together with the proton-pump inhibitor (which satisfied the acid reflux which you may recall was causing referred chest pain) I had some exercise tolerance back. I used it to its fullest, running through every kata I'd ever been taught until perfectly drenched with sweat. I didn't much remember sweating back in the days near the end of my good activity before, and it was pleasant to go through it again and again, daily.

This lasted 2 1/2 months before the amount of sweat began to be reduced, and instead of feeling invigorated I became groggy massively fatigued immediately, followed by an affected night and even into the next day. I've had to trail off again in order to avoid triggering those episodes which I could only manage through frequent naps last time.

Going back to the recent conclusions, this is because systemic metabolism has increased once again beyond the body's ability to supply for that demand. The harder I work now, the worse I'll feel.

Next up we'll be looking at those few things that can cause this particular coincidence of symptoms. My guess is the post-exertional malaise has a flavor of metabolic acidosis to it (which is why I'd love to see the pH levels in earlier tests), caused by the output of cellular metabolism switching to glucose for energy instead of relying on the ATP output of the mitochondria (which require oxygen to do their work properly), in turn because the mitochondria are malfunctioning. The two concomitant conditions (metabolic acidosis and mitochondiral cytosis) are capable of producing exactly the scenarios I endure, and correspond to the available data.

Another option would be some neurological factor that's causing temperature dysregulation et al, but there are other indicators in those cases which would be expected to be present that have never been manifest (no ultra-dramatic sudden onset of muscle weakness, no visual disturbances). Which is good, because the ones capable of doing what I am experiencing might be some precursor for MS (not too keen on that idea).

I'm going to place my bet on abstract mitochondrial myopathy for now, and let you know how it turns out.

This text is in need of editing, but I don't plan to do it. Too much else to take care of.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Strontium 90

A little something I created for a PhotoShop contest at Worth1000 in November of 2003.