Let’s Get Caught Up

Orange tabby cat on her back, showing her belly.

Did you miss me? I know I haven’t been writing here as much as I should, but I have been writing. I’ve been writing over at Medium, and I’ve been trying — trying hard — to keep it professional. It has been hard to keep it professional with so many attacks on public health. From so-called “pro-life” policymakers being okay with LGBTQ+ children dying by suicide, to women not having access to reproductive care… To an unqualified judge lifting the mask requirement on public transportation, thus handing the perfect play to our enemies (foreign and domestic) on how to make Americans roll over and show our collective bellies.

An orange tabby cat laying on its back, belly exposed upward.
Pictured: Americans rolling over when asked to perform a lifesaving public health intervention.

Things have been going well, though. The History of Vaccines project is humming along and undergoing a major renovation soon. My teaching is also going well, with a successful spring semester at Gorge Mason University, and a good third term at Johns Hopkins. The students I’ve taught this semester all give me hope for the future of the public health profession. They’re young, headstrong, reckless, creative… Just the kind of people we need.

Work at the health department is mixed, though. On the one hand, I work with an amazing group of people. There is no one there that I avoid or even cringe when seeing. From where I stand, we all get along well. On the other hand, there isn’t much appreciation for the work that so many people there do. Public Health Week came and went, and there was not much fanfare other than what a couple of us at the office did for everyone: pizza, donuts, coffee, and some random goodie bags. Unless I missed it, we didn’t really hear much from the leadership in the C-suite.

What is really grinding my gears there recently is the number of people looking for work elsewhere. Not much is being done to retain them, and they’re good people. Good, bright people. Little by little, we seem unable to fill some spots, while other spots are opening. I worry about the division that was at one point expanding beyond infectious disease and into what we call “population health” will end up stuck at infectious disease, and the epidemiology and public health work that should go into population health will continue to be split between different agencies.

So that’s where that is…

I’ve been working on several side projects as time has allowed. I made a radio out of a Lego alarm clock for my daughter. I put together a pi-hole server to get rid of advertisements coming into the home internet network. (Yes, it works. And, yes, the traffic is faster.) And I also made this…

Video game arcade with the word "multicade" in different spots, red and blue buttons and joystick controls, and the monitor showing a scene from a video game.
Super Mario Bros. 3, FTW!

I got it in my head that I wanted to play Super Mario Brothers 3 one night, and I looked around for way to play it. There were some ways to play online, and others called for buying some machine off the internet that was not guaranteed to work. I ended up doing some research, and I bought the template for making this online. Then I bought all the components, and put it all together over a long weekend. Not bad for the first version, right?

View of the back panel of buttons, with wires and other electronic components showing.
The wiring can be a nightmare if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Now that the weather is better, it’s time to get off the soldering station and outside. So I took out the bicycles, cleaned them, lubed them, and made sure everything was working well. I’ve given up on taking them to the local bike shops. Maybe the owner or one of the guys know what they’re doing, but the rest of the staff don’t. And I’ve ended up having to do additional work on them at home. After I took one of the bikes to a shop, the guy told me to “just keep pedaling” if I noticed the chain suddenly became loose. It turns out the rear freewheel was locking up. When it did, it would start turning even as I was not pedaling. That set the chain in motion.

They could not fix it! Their best solution was for me to “just keep pedaling”? They said they could not find a flywheel to fit my bicycle, but I knew that was bullshit. It’s an old steel bike I bought and put together myself from Target. It’s not special in any way. So, after finding the freewheel on Amazon of all places, I replaced it myself.

A gloved hand holds a metal freewheel with the words "Power" and "China" on the freewheel.
I didn’t want to ruin my manicure.

Anyway, that was last year. Since then, I’ve decided to do all the work myself. Sure, I had to buy some tools, and it’s probably slower than what they can do at a bike shop, but maybe not. I think there has been much turnover at those shops, and few people who actually know bicycles are working. Me? Dad made sure I knew tools and how things worked on my bicycle whenever he fixed it. And that is something I hope to pass on to Kindergartener Ren.

Speaking of Kindergartener Ren, she is growing like a weed. She is learning so much, and challenging us as parents so much. But it is lots of fun. Some of the best days are…

Oh, dear God… No!

The horror of that night and why the abrupt end to the blog post are here: https://epidemiologist.blog/2022/05/03/lets-get-caught-up-continued/

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