Apr. 7th, 2010

"Some of you may have had occasion to run into mathematicians and to wonder therefore how they got that way." - Tom Lehrer

I don't know so much about this question, but I got a really stark insight yesterday into how it has transformed me.

I was doing prep work for the enumeration of one of our local college dorms. In a nutshell, it is putting two hundred one-page census forms into an envelope. The form has to have a sticker and a control number written on it, and the envelope has to have its own sticker and the same control number, plus some extra information like details on where and when the respondent should return the form plus some god-awful fourteen digit "for official use only" code that I don't think any officials actually use. (Indeed, I think that I'm the official the code is intended for, and I'd make much better use of it if it had three or four digits.) And all this work has to be double-checked against two other forms to make sure that I'm assigning the proper control number to each student and that I write in the proper RA for each student's envelope. (Yeah, now you wish you had taken the Census test yourselves, amirite?)

And I'm doing this work, and it quickly becomes routine. And I suspect that an average person would put some music on and zone out and through passive consciousness would look up five hours later and see that the job was completed correctly. But my brain only does passive consciousness when driving long distances in nice weather. While doing grunt work, I get hyper-conscious and continually analyze whether it wouldn't be more efficient if this piece of paper was over THERE and whether I should do those two steps in the reverse order. And so I'm done in four hours but ready to publish a time-motion study on this process that, um, only gets done once every ten years. Curses.

And the punchline of the story is that average person made more money than I did because they could charge for their extra hour of work. That's me, always thinkin'.
I have two exciting facts to share with you.

First, I love my neti pot. I'm not even using fancy salt, just a big ol' canister of (noniodized) table salt. (Everyone says that potassium iodide is a major irritant, and I saw no reason to be skeptical on that point.) The final test was last night, when I had a horrible non-productive cough that became a very short-lived and productive expectoration after a single run-through with the neti pot. I asked a pharmacist a while back and he said that it was known to be non-harmful but that the claims of helpfulness were only anecdotal. Well, add me to the anecdote list.

Second, if you're going to use a neti pot, get used to the process BEFORE your sinuses are completely blocked. It works either way, but the experience is just a little more real when there's more mucus than water coming out. And I've never seen it in instructions anywhere, but I say switch nostrils from time to time because IME the process seems to clear out the "lower" Eustachian tube as well.

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Matthew Daly

December 2012

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