Tuesday 11 May 2004


Centralni Lazne hotel in MarienbadThough I was hardly thrilled when the doctor told me ten days ago that I have pleurisy, I did catch myself thinking, “Well, that’s a relief.” Better to be diagnosed with a “real” ailment than to feel as though I’d never shake the flu I contracted more than a month ago. And the word “pleurisy” has such romantic associations—it makes me feel that I should be taking a rest cure at a spa hotel in Marienbad (even though my only remaining symptom is a sharp pain at the top of my chest when I breathe in deeply).

My doctor wrote referrals for a blood count and a chest X-ray, just to be sure that pneumonia wasn’t lurking around. When I saw her again last Friday, she assured me that I was basically fine, that there was no point my taking the foul-tasting Senega & Ammonia cough mixture my mother had recommended, and that all I could do was to take it easy—that I’d gradually get better over the next couple of weeks. When I admitted I should have taken a week off as soon as I realized I was ill, instead of a just a couple of days, she said, “You were really sick. It can take four to six weeks to recover from this strain of viral influenza.”

My friend Karl, who is also a doctor, pointed out that I should have had a flu shot once the weather turned cold. I’m not against immunization but I’d wondered whether the prevention might be worse than the disease. Now I know better. Since there are no drugs I can take to speed my recovery, I thought about alternative remedies. A little Googling turned up Pleurisy Root (Asclepias tuberose) so I ordered some from a herbal dispensary in Tasmania (if it doesn’t work, I can get Allan Moult to go round and ask for my money back).

Unlike Karl or my GP, my mother holds to the belief that colds and influenza are always the result of “catching a chill” rather than from contact with an infectious person or object. I’m not convinced, but while lying in bed a few days ago, I gave some thought to any chill-inducing events that might have caused or exacerbated my flu and had no trouble coming up with seven: haircut, hat, ice-skating, pajamas, swimming, echinacea, and Windows XP.

I usually go to the barber every two or three weeks and always have the same haircut: #2 clippers all over, tapered—not shaved square—at the back, and an eyebrow trim. For some reason (perhaps I’d seen someone with really short hair in a movie) I decided to ask for the #1½ clippers, thinking they would leave my hair 25% shorter (six millimeters rather than the usual eight). But I walked out into the frosty autumn evening with hair four millimeters long—I measured it when I got home—wondering how I could have been so stupid.

Mens fur hat with ear flapsI don’t often wear hats but even if I’d had a hat on this occasion it may not have protected me since hat etiquette would have prevented me from putting it on until I was outside the barber shop, by which time the chill might already have entered through my nearly bald head. On the other hand, if the effect of a chill is not instantaneous, a hat might have protected me during the five minute walk home. Since I like having short hair, even in winter, and I’m now anxious about catching another chill, I’ve started wearing a baseball cap or a woolen beanie whenever I go out. But as autumn turns into winter I’m thinking a hat with ear flaps might be better. This Mens hat with ear flaps made from shorn New Zealand possum fur looks good, though I don’t think I want to spend US$175. (I’m hoping our resident hat expert will offer an opinion as to the efficacy of hats as a protection against chills.)

I did wear my woolen beanie when I went ice-skating with my friend Nana and her niece, but it offered no protection from nine year old Mai who glided up behind me and tapped me on the arm, giving me such a surprise that lost my precarious balance and fell flat on my back. As I lay winded on the ice, with Nana and Mai looking anxious and everyone else skating nonchalantly around me, I could feel the cold seeping through sweater and T-shirt into my bones.

Section of citrus patterned pajamas, showing nine circular orange slicesSydney weather is mild enough for one to sleep in the nude so I haven’t worn pajamas since I was a teenager living in my parents house. But when the temperature dropped suddenly one night towards the end of March there may have been a chill hiding in a corner of my bedroom, waiting to pounce. Not wanting to take any more chances, I went to Gowings department store last Thursday to buy a pair of pajamas and was surprised to see an array of brightly patterned pajama bottoms. The lady in charge of the sleepwear department explained that lots of people don’t like pajama tops because the buttons are uncomfortable to lie on, so Gowings offers pajama bottoms that you can team with a loose T-shirt. “What a great idea,” I thought to myself, and bought a citrus-patterned pair to try. The pajama bottom & T-shirt combo works so well that I think I’ll buy another pair.

Perhaps I was foolish to go swimming just a week after I’d spent the weekend in bed, though when I called Dr Karl to check he assured me there’d be no problem. The pool certainly felt chilly when I dived in and there may have been more chills awaiting me on the walk home, particularly since at that point I hadn’t taken to wearing hats.

Echinacea purpurea plantMaybe echinacea doesn’t work as I’d imagined, though I’ve taken it diligently for years—from the first to the tenth of each month and from the sixteenth to the twenty-fifth. The fact that I can’t recall the last serious cold or flu I had before this might simply be due to a placebo effect. In any case, it seems that echinacea is only really effective for relieving the symptoms once the cold or flu has started. I must be a sucker for natural remedies because I still have high hopes for the Pleurisy Root.

Deep down, however, I think Windows XP is to blame. I started feeling sick on March 31, a few days after going ice-skating, but it wasn’t until April 3 that I was able to spend a Saturday in bed. The following day, Sunday 4 April, I woke up and turned on my desktop computer to quickly check my email only to have Windows XP refuse to load because a system file was missing or corrupt. A chill went down my spine. Attempts to repair the installation failed. I’d have to reinstall. Mark Pilgrim might be able to reinstall Windows XP in five hours or less but, even though I had a Ghost image of Windows XP, in my weakened state it took me the best part of five days—the week I should have been resting in bed—to reinstall all my applications, troubleshoot various video driver, mouse, and hard drive problems, and carefully create full Ghost images so next time (hopefully) I can reinstall everything in five minutes. And there will be a next time. Windows applications are, by-and-large, excellent but the operating system itself is a joke. If there are, as Robert Scoble suggests, all these “smart people” working at Microsoft, why don’t they stop dreaming up unnecessary “cool new features” and turn their attention to fixing what doesn’t work?

Needless to say, this wretched affair—along with Gary Snyder’s paean to his Mac—has reignited my interest in buying a Macintosh. I’d be grateful if anyone who has firsthand experience of using Virtual PC could leave a comment. (Unfortunately Microsoft acquired Connectix so it’s now Microsoft Virtual PC: a 45-day trial version is available for Windows but—not surprisingly—there’s no trial Macintosh version.)

Anyway, to cut a long story short (as Halley Suitt recommends), I’m feeling a lot better now, having rested for much of the past week, thanks to an ingenious suggestion by Shelley Powers (which can be the subject of another post).

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I haven't forgotten my promist to finish the LAMP series before the end of the month, as well as post photos of the books I've created. I have been working on both, truly, but personal and professional matters have taken much of my focus lately. ...

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At work, I often speak on the phone with jovial members of South American armies. They spent the winter bragging about the sunshine in Buenos Aires and Santiago. Recently, they've been quiet about the weather, and Jonathon Delacour, an Australian bl...

Posted by Frolic of My Own on 14 May 2004


With deductive skills like that, you could have a career in epidemiology in front of you.

Posted by steve on 11 May 2004 (Comment Permalink)

I caught a chill just reading about your experiences, Jonathon.

I ran VPC back in Olde Tymes (OS 9), and was surprised at how well it worked. I even fire it up occasionally on a legacy machine for odds and ends (Margaret used it for practicing her Graduate Record Exams, since the practice CD that she was assigned ran only under Windows).

I’m sure it works less well for the most demanding applicaitons, but it always seemed reliable for the miscellaneous moderate-weight apps I called on it to use.

Posted by AKMA on 11 May 2004 (Comment Permalink)

Macs aren't perfect, they still suck. But they generally suck way less than Windows machines. And they do something that the latter don't: they inspire joy and appreciation, as much by virtue of the myriad little touches as by the ease of use and stability. They speak to the artist in one.

Posted by andrew on 11 May 2004 (Comment Permalink)

I'm glad you were able to squeeze some humor out of your ordeal! As for the Mac, you might also enjoy this Gary Snyder poem:

Now, as to the hats, of course you should be wearing them, especially with that extra-short hair. A huge percentage of body heat is lost through the top of the head. Plus they look great (ask my wife!). If you like the fur-hat look, by all means get one. You'll wonder how you got along without it.

(Your barbershop story reminds me of the time my brother talked me into letting him get my hair cut as a birthday present. He muttered to the barber, showed him some magazine illustrations, and before you know it I was nearly bald. Never again!)

Posted by language hat on 12 May 2004 (Comment Permalink)

You measured your hair?

Though I was momentarily sidetracked by orange jammies and hats with ear flaps, not to mention frozen butts, as to Virtual PC: I have W2K on my Mac through VPC, and it does well. However, it does need a lot of memory.

Posted by Shelley on 12 May 2004 (Comment Permalink)

Re: Mac & VPC

A fellow I work with has been using VPC on his Mac for quite some time, primarily for driver development/testing and he seems to be content (i.e. it works and he doesn't have to own a physical windows machine).

Recently I helped him setup the Windows CE development environment and it also works. Quite strange.

Bouyed by his success I've started down the route of installing VPC, XP, and the development tools. I will also be installing the various versions of IE so as to test website.

He has a gig of memory and gives VPC half of that. It's not a speed demon but it's not too bad. Maybe VPC7 will bring improved performance, hard to say.

BTW, the VPC "pc" is an image so right out of the box you more or less have a ghost image or images that you can backup/restore and switch between.

Posted by Jerry on 12 May 2004 (Comment Permalink)

Hope you are feeling better. Glad to see you writing again.

Posted by phil on 13 May 2004 (Comment Permalink)

Sorry to hear you've been suffering from the flu. After having avoided flu shots for many years, I finally got one last year; only to come down with the version of the flu that they conveniently left out. Still, one epidsode of flu is better than two episodes. Hopefully they are offering better protection this year.

I'm not buying into this Mac-conversion thing, though. I know it's just a troll to induce we true-believers to continue to make fools of ourselves, all in vain.

Once you've gone over to the dark-side it's nearly impossible to ever step back into the light.

Posted by loren on 13 May 2004 (Comment Permalink)

Ah, yes, pleurisy. I knew when I read this that the word was familiar to me, and now, a day or so later, I have remembered from where. In a certain bookcase there is a photocopied document, two sheets of typed A4 stapled together - Heads of State: USA and Great Britain. It's dated 1986, and has a copyright notice at the bottom. I don't know why we have it, one of my parents must have got it for some reason.

Listed alongside the names, reigns and nicknames of the English monarchs are their causes of death.

William III 1689-1702 Pleurisy, following a fall from his horse which stumbled on a mole hill. William of Orange

Perhaps, rather than chills, you should be trying to recall occasions on which you might recently have fallen from a molehill-stumbling horse? Less likely perhaps, but if you can think of one it's almost certain to be the cause.

Posted by Tim May on 13 May 2004 (Comment Permalink)

Thanks for the kind wishes regarding my health -- I definitely feel as though I'm steadily getting better (though I'm not sure whether that's due to the natural course of recovery or because of the miracle effects of the Pleurisy Root remedy).

Thanks also for the advice about the Macintosh and Virtual PC. I think the best thing might be to buy a copy and install it (with Windows 2000, which I already have) on a friend's spare Macintosh and then try installing and running some applications. I think that at least a gigabyte of RAM will be necessary, though.

Loren, I entirely understand your skepticism about the likelihood of my Macintosh conversion. I realize that I can legitimately be described as the boy who cried wolf (i.e. Mac) too often. I guess the only way I can regain your trust is to send you a photograph of me holding (or standing next to) a Macintosh (plus a notarized copy of the warranty certificate).

Shelley, with tweezers and a set of vernier calipers it's easy to measure one's short hair. (Just kidding, I did it with a cheap plastic ruler.)

Tim, thanks for the heads up on the molehill-stumbling horse cause for pleurisy. I haven't been horse-riding lately but you've got me wondering whether there might have been a frozen-over molehill at the ice-skating rink.

Posted by Jonathon on 13 May 2004 (Comment Permalink)

I'm wondering if the opposite of colour therapy happened to you. I had an experience of spending a wonderful 3 days in a lime-green room and ended up with a very chesty flu shortly thereafter.

Posted by Dairobi on 18 May 2004 (Comment Permalink)

Hmm, interesting Dairobi. As I think you might already know, when I teach web development classes, I don't allow the students to use lime green to color anything. Text, backgrounds, borders... can be any color as long as they're not lime green.

I wonder if you might have caught that chesty flu some other way. I hope you've recovered.

Posted by Jonathon on 19 May 2004 (Comment Permalink)

This might sound strange but I feel like reading literature...a good novel, with a background of mono no aware, kind of...something which paints an atmosphere which portrays the impermanancy, sadness but moreover the beauty in life and that which surrounds us. I guess even reflecting the thought of living and finding meaning in
'moments' of life. OK. So its a long shot. But if you are following me so far, does anyone here have a book to recommend. Even philosophy would be fine. It doesn't have to be by a Japanese author, in fact in many ways it would be better if it wasn't (so much is lost in cultural difference, and translations)...
any ideas? Thank you so much.
(PS. I don't know about 'blogging', so I'm sorry if I have broken any rules, and also that this doesn't follow logically from the other comments.)

Posted by jamie on 23 May 2004 (Comment Permalink)

Jamie, what immediately springs to mind is Tanizaki's "The Makioka Sisters" -- I've written a little about it in this entry:


But, if you'd prefer something not Japanese, then I'd suggest Richard Ford's "The Sportswriter".

Posted by Jonathon on 23 May 2004 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour