Cold war

While everyone is worried about swine flu H1N1 S-OIV and its newfound pandemic status because they don’t understand what the term actually means in a scientific context (see also: theory), allow me to share with you a recent first-hand medical discovery so terrifying you’ll run out to stock up on plastic sheeting and duct tape.

I recently caught a cold. While not a frequent occurrence, I’ve had enough colds over the years to have a pretty good understanding of the progression of symptoms as I experience them: first the sore throat, then the runny nose, then the stuffy nose, each lasting about two days and all accompanied by a general feeling of being mildly run down. At the end there’s a restless night involving a half-awake, half-dreaming state as the infection makes its last stand against my immune system, and in the morning it’s all over.

Thus, when I came down with a sore throat on Monday, my reaction was one of annoyance rather than concern. Tuesday the sore throat started to go away, and Tuesday night I experienced the nocturnal endgame, leaving me feeling pretty decent on Wednesday with no nasal difficulties to be found. Naturally, I wrote it off as a 24-hour-ish bug and figured that was that.

But then on Thursday I got a pack-of-tissues-a-day runny nose without warning! What happened?

Brace yourself, for I can think of only one possible explanation.

The common cold has learned insurgency tactics.

Knowing it couldn’t win a fair fight against the superior might of my immune system, the infection feigned defeat in conventional warfare, instead striking without warning once I had declared victory and let my body begin reconstruction efforts. While my T- and B-cells were busy establishing democracy in my throat, insurgent viruses littered my nasal packages with improvised mucus devices. After a period of mounting civilian casualties (Kleenex are civilians, right?), my immune system revised its rules of engagement and surged in response, apparently successfully.

This is truly a terrifying development in the world of infectious disease. This is partly because our immune systems have not learned the lessons of 9/11 and expect to be able to fight the next disease using conventional tactics. (By the way, there’s actually only one lesson of 9/11: invoking 9/11 makes you automatically win any argument on defense policy. It’s like how the phrase “in these tough economic times” makes you automatically win any argument on economic policy, and the opposite of how invoking Nazis or Hitler makes you automatically lose your argument.)

No, the truly terrifying thing is this: in this strained analogy, my brain is represented by George W. Bush.

TV or not TV

Lately I’ve been seriously considering dropping my cable TV subscription. The impetus of this is my Schedules Direct subscription — the service providing TV listings to my MythTV box — coming up for renewal.

It’s hardly as though the $20 for another year is going to break the bank or anything (the banks seem to be doing a good enough job doing that themselves these days), but it does highlight the fact that my TV viewing habits of late have decreased from their already fairly low levels. (Judging from the date of my last post here, so have my blogging habits, but I digress.)

The “dump it” argument is pretty straightforward. The only two shows I really wouldn’t want to do without are The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, and both of those are available on Hulu for free. There are a few other shows I also have my MythTV box set to record, but it’s only a handful. Is it really worth the $56/month charge on my cable bill for what I get out of it? With the savings, I could easily bump up my Netflix subscription (current queue length: 148) and watch most of the shows once they come out on DVD that way. As an added bonus, being able to power down the MythTV box for good would also probably take a chunk out of my electricity bill.

The counterargument, however, is that The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are the only two shows I regularly watch that are readily available online. (Excluding BitTorrent, of course.) While it’s obvious to me that the broadcast model of TV is inherently doomed, we’re still a ways away from the everything-available-online-on-demand world that will inevitably replace it. Not everything shows up on DVD, and even then there’s a fairly significant delay before they’re released. Plus, I’d pretty much lose the ability to watch something live, in the rare event I want to do that.

Besides, for the time being, “online streaming video” is de facto synonymous with “Flash”, and performance of Flash on non-Windows platforms is notoriously awful. As in, unable to play videos off of Hulu full-screen without skipping even on a recently-acquired laptop, when even my five-year-old former laptop could play non-Flash videos full-screen without having to step up the CPU speed. (YouTube videos might play fine, as long as you don’t do anything else while it’s playing. Like move the mouse at all. Seriously.) That’s assuming, of course, that the Flash plugin doesn’t crash in the first place. You know how Firefox these days runs plugins in a separate process? Yeah, you can thank the Flash plugin’s stability for that.

On top of all that, I just know that if I call the cable company to cancel my TV service, they’re going to jack up the charge for Internet service with the excuse that the rate I have now is part of a package deal.

What I’ll probably end up doing is renewing Schedules Direct and keep doing what I’m doing now, but keeping an eye out for any changes that might shift my decision the other way. Unless someone can come up with a convincing argument in the comments to do otherwise.