Where Techno Comes From

There are two kinds of days. There are days like yesterday when nothing much happens, and there are those days when Everything Happens. Today was one of the second kind.

The morning was its usual summertime day camp semi-frantic self (contrasted with the frantic pace during the school year, or the almost-relaxed pace on summer days when Jeffrey only has to go to Alta Vista), so I left the house a few minutes after 8. My pager had already gone off once, for a call I could return once I got to work, and I needed to stop at the doctor’s to pick up an MRI referral for a follow-up to the CT scans I had done in Montréal after my concussion — the doctor in the ER saw something on the other side of my head from the concussion which may or may not actually exist and which may or may not mean anything, so he recommended I have an MRI within the next couple of months. While pulling into the doctor’s lot, my pager went off again (it’s tied to my office voicemail; most of the time, I think this is a good thing), and it was someone I’d been exchanging messages with for a week. So I called him back and left more voicemail.

I got to the office, returned my first call, actually reached the second person, and as I was finishing that call, noticed that my pocket was vibrating. It was my cellphone; the air-conditioning folks had finally called me back (our attic exhaust fan died on Sunday, announcing its failure to the entire neighborhood with loud noises; I had to turn off the breaker to stop it. Fortunately, there wasn’t anything else critical on the circuit with the fan, though I bet the maid service will be surprised when they have to use different outlets to vacuum on Thursday). The signal isn’t strong enough in my office to actually carry on a conversation, or even for the cellphone to ring, but when Sprint put the “voicemail” flag on, the phone did detect it and notified me. Technology is wonderful when it works.

So I called the A/C folks, who told me that the average life of an attic fan is about 3 years and that the fan has to be replaced, not repaired — they said they could do it or I could do it. It took me several dozen microseconds to decide; they should be here on Friday (they have to come out fairly early in the day so that they can work in the attic without being knocked over by the heat).

Then I called the MRI people, expecting to have to set up the session for July sometime, but to my delight (I guess that’s the word), they had an opening this morning. So off I went.

One of the forms at the MRI place asked if I’d had previous CT scans or X-rays for this problem, and I suddenly remembered that I had the CT scans from the hospital at home, so I dashed to the house and back to grab them; then I had to wait a few minutes (so I was glad I had had something constructive to do with my time) before being ushered into the back for the MRI.

I’d never had (or even seen) an MRI before; I was lucky, since they only had to image my brain, and therefore they didn’t have to put much of me into the machine. It’s a cylinder, with only a few inches of space between your body and the walls — but in my case, everything from my neck down was outside the cylinder, and so I only felt about as constrained as in a typical non-reclining middle seat in coach. But I would have felt much worse if they’d had to put more of me in the cylinder, I’m sure.

The MRI process itself is painless (though they did have to inject me with something to add contrast for two scans). But it is very noisy — the technician described it as sounding like a jackhammer, and she wasn’t far wrong. But I thought it sounded more like a 2400-baud modem, just louder and continuing for several minutes. There were sounds overlaid on the basic tone, and during some of the scans, the tone stopped and started in various rhythms; the first scan reminded me of the last few minutes of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells (before they start introducing the instruments). The second scan had an interesting rhythm — five taps, followed by six bursts of tone, over and over and over again. The other scans were less interesting, but they reminded me of the techno music I’ve heard occasionally.

The tech told me they should have the results to my doctor in a couple of days. I got to look at one scan on their display — of course, I had no idea at all what I was looking at, but I certainly liked the display (a 21-inch NEC LCD display — I’d love to have one, but I suspect the price is a bit out of my ballpark).

Then it was home to finish out the workday, with two more calls already awaiting, and piles of e-mail to deal with (so what else is new?).

Tomorrow, I’m off to my department’s planning retreat for the rest of the week. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get any reasonable access to the Internet while I’m there — last year, the hotel had a bizarre, non-data-friendly phone system, and I doubt they’ve changed it, since it’s a vacation hotel, not a business-oriented place.

Happy summer, one and all!