Sunday, January 11, 2009

Of Schrodinger's cat and Giraffian**

There is Schrodinger's cat, which is perpetually occupying that funny space between being alive and dead since that great scientist first formulated his thought experiment.

And then there is my last molar which is lazing around in a supine position, unwilling and indeed unable to stand straight and do a honest day's worth of mastication. I don't in the least mind this lassitude: in fact I much prefer it to its fellow's best efforts, which resulted in a partial eruption, a huge cavity and a painful extraction. Nevertheless, there is a quarter, an interested and biased if knowledgeable quarter if you really want to know, which feels rather insulted by this attitude and is all in favour of its extermination. I suppose I shall have to acquiesce, in due course of time, the duration of which shall be entirely subjective, decided by my fears, and not open to questioning. But - and here is where Schrodinger's cat comes in - what would have happened if I had not got the X-ray done? This itself is asymptomatic, and could remain so for my entire life, assuming that I do live that long. Or it could lead to some major complication next month. In the meantime, isn't it somewhat analogous to the cat which is neither dead nor alive till observed? Till the tooth was seen on an X-ray done for another purpose, it was in a limbo between potentially dangerous and totally harmless. Nobody in the world knew of its state save itself, but once seen on the X-ray film, it has nowhere to hide....

More of this later :)

And now to Giraffian. This is a labour of love from Robyn Stanley of Australia. [12th Jan 09 edit - I had originally created Robyn's father, the artist Stephen Stanley for the website, which is wrong. Robyn wrote explaining - "And I've obviously mislaid my 'about' page when I upgraded to Drupal - Stephen Stanley is my father, I offered to host his editorial comics because he is a 50something internet fearing luddite. I'm Robyn Stanley and I live completely in the middle of nowhere in South Australia with two small children and a cat :)" ] The layout is simple, uncluttered. It does host ads, but they are predictably placed and children can be instructed to leave them alone. In any case, which child would look at insurance ads when there are games to be played! There is no audio, so you have to be present for most part, to provide commentary and enlightenment.

Use the menu on the left to navigate. Although the photo does have some clickable links, not everything is represented, and sometimes the links are broken.

Starting from the top, the jokes section is good for the early schoolers who would appreciate both reading themselves and being read to. The craft section has some beautiful images which can be used online or printed for craft activities. There are no charges for the low resolution images for personal use, but you must be sure and give credit.

The shapes game is very simple - click on colours and shapes to change the image in the middle, but it still keeps the younguns occupied for a long time. Plus it allows you to teach them the names of shapes you yourselves had forgotten... :)

The alphabets are simply but adequately illustrated, and quite simple, but a major drawback which has prevented me from using this site more is that the entire image doesn't fit into one page. You have to scroll down to see the image, and to click on the next link, and that means you can't leave a child to explore it on its own. It would have been lovely had the images been smaller, and if all the kid had to do was to click the image itself for the next one...

Emotions is just a collection of six images portraying different moods. Online books are small picture books - nothing spectacular, but adequate.

One of the books however, is actually a game kids enjoy a lot. Its called whose tail, and features a number of animals you have to guess the names of by looking at the tails. The pictionary is somewhat like a wiki, but it is pretty much incomplete. The number book is like the alphabets: one image per page.

Telling the time is a pretty useful little gadget which can be used for both analogue and digital time. It is one of the few time related games I have found which can be used for small children. The time tables may be useful if you have an older child you wish to leave alone on the computer for a while, but the best part is getting the time table for any random number you want! Arithmetic exercises are a set of ten simple exercises - not being a teacher, I failed to grasp the advantage in having them here when a simple pen and paper does as well. [Another edit - the exercises are generated randomly each click, so you don't repeat something over and over.]

As to the other links, well, you do have to do something when you reach the site, don't you? If you must ask for homework, find out where his cartoons are :)

The url -

P.S. Probabilities and possibilities in the field of medicine constitute a concept that nearly everyone - the doctors included - have trouble with. I suppose statisticians and other mathematicians don't, but I can't vouch for them, not being in contact with any. The body is not a rigid box of organs, each fixed in position or function; instead it is a system in flux.Things change, and sometimes they move so far outside the normal range that we call it a disease - and that needs cure. So far, so good, but every state in between this and the healthy one, is in the nature of the abovementioned Schrodinger's cat because of the uncertainty associated with it rather than the change in system with observation. [And well, I admit to misleading and erroneous use of the famous cat to get your attention....]. Will the system restore itself, will it mend if something goes wrong, or will it tilt dangerously into the precipice of disease? How can you tell? Sometimes there may be clear cut signs, but so very often we are only faced with numbers. For instance, let us suppose there is a 65% chance of my lazy tooth being infected: should I get it extracted now, when it is totally asymptomatic? Or should I wait and watch if I am lucky after all... What of the other figures - what happens if I do get it removed? What of the possible complications of the extraction itself? If (suppose - these are imaginary figures all - ) there is a 90% chance of severe pain which is easily controlled by medication however, 10% of bleeding which can be controlled, 2% of bleeding which can't be, 5% of infection which can actually worsen the situation inside my mouth? Grrrr. Way too many figures! And it is not easy to decide, is it? Because after all these are only figures in the nature of "if hundred people have this sort of a tooth, 65 will have some infection later" or "if a hundred get their tooth extracted, 2 will have such severe bleeding that they need transfusions". There is no way of saying if I will be among the 35% or the 98% - lucky or unlucky as the case may be....

So what exactly is the point of this post? My ramblings, dear fuddled reader, do have a point even if it is totally obscure :) For all those who stand in my 'patient' shoes, it is this - think it through and list in advance the figures which would be most relevant to you, and therefore, which questions you need to ask of the doctor. Think through each branch of the possible outcome, including non-medical factors, eg. if you are going to be traveling abroad, taking care of that tiny cavity in your tooth is a good idea, or if you are going to retire in five years, and currently the company takes care of your dental insurance, why not get that lazy molar removed? (Not the case with me, alas!) Are you more scared of possible complications of surgery or are you scared of the long standing toothache? Which should you be more scared of - if you actually knew all about it? Don't just assume that the doctor is pushing you for an unnecessary procedure: find out more about it! Be an informed patient!

And for those who stand in my 'dentist/doctor' shoes, it is this - if your patient is symptomatic, there is enough on his or her plate to begin with: the symptoms of the disease itself, the resulting disturbance of daily life, including livelihood in some cases, the strain of unfamiliar diagnostic procedures, the disease diagnosis you have just pronounced - it is not therefore easy to shift gears and decide on the best course of treatment objectively. Be patient. Know what you are talking of. Repeat, reassure, respond. Be prepared to do it all over again, and to tell it all over again and again - to sundry relatives as well. And if asymptomatic, educate, emphasize and empathize!

Hmm. Too preachy. That is what happens when I don't get to eat for a week because my darned mouth won't open. But I have decided not to go for the second surgery in a fortnight as advised, so be of good cheer ye readers!

P.P.S. And the only reason this silly post has even made it is because I had inadvertently already posted it once, in the draft phase, so its already been out in the open...

Also, the next awardee will be announced in the next post, because this one is too long anyway!

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