2013-05-24

The first attack of gout

Unfortunately, the "fateful" day has finally come to me. Gout started its first attack on me this Wednesday morning. Since then my right big toe started to swell up, and the resulting pain became more and more acute, until I could not walk at all yesterday. Before I reached this stage, I succeeded to shlep myself somehow to my family doctor and receive some painkiller the day before yesterday, though I have not benn able to feel its effect very much.

Although I am not a medical doctor, I know exactly what has caused gout to me - daily consumption of a large quantity of alcohol: until this first attack I used to drink, at least in the last few years, 2-3 liters of beer every weekday and one bottle of red wine for each of the three Sabbath meals from Friday evening until Saturday late afternoon. When consumed in a large quantity, alcohol, especially beer, is known to elevate the level of uric acid in blood, which in turn crystallizes and deposits in joints, especially in those of big toes. And the result is a swollen joint and excruciating pain, which you would prefer never to know.

Having checked the archive of this blog of mine, I have found that actually in March 2007 one of my big toes got swollen a little, though there was not concomitant pain. Then I saw this as a kind of early warning of gout and decided to stop drinking beer and switch to red wine. This decision seems to have lasted only for about three years. Little by little I resumed drinking beer, and I also found myself drinking more and more beer daily on weekdays.

This time the attack was real. I had no choice but to make a resolution of stopping beer and allowing myself the pleasure of drinking red wine, but up to two glasses per meal, and that only on Sabbath and holidays. Since Wednesday I have not drunk any alcohol. I do not even remember when I refrained from drinking alcohol for two consecutive days last time. I have also reexamined my diet and other daily habits according to the recommendation by my family doctor and those by other experts I found online. Except for the exaggerated daily consumption of alcohol, I have not found anything wrong that must be changed fundamentally.

Another factor that is known to elevate the level of uric acid in blood is stress. I am afraid that it must have been another cause of my gout. Probably the worst kind of stress I feel in Israel is sociocultural both privately and occupationally. At least on sabbatical this year I am spared this sociocultural stress as the people I meet regularly are rabbis and other students at an American haredi yeshiva. But I am afraid that once this sabbatical has ended and I have returned to "normalcy", I may experience the same sociocultural stress even more intensively. Actually, one of the reasons for drinking was to relieve this stress, though I admit that this is not a healthy way. I have to start looking for other ways to cope with this stress as more than half of this sabbatical is over and I have no less than two more months at the yeshiva.

2013-05-10

Is Esperanto really an easy language

Because of some coincidences I find myself these days thinking again quite intensively in and about Esperanto, but this time I cannot help applying the Talmudic way of thinking to the same mantra many Esperantists, for example, in Japan, repeat without thinking about it more deeply. This mantra is "Esperanto is an easy language". Is it?! ;-) I cannot help wondering why I have met few Japanese Esperantists speaking Esperanto very well in terms of the pronunciation, lexical richness and eloquence if this mantra they repeat is really true.

When talking about the difficulty of a foreign language, one must distinguish between the difficulty in relative terms and the difficulty in absolute terms. And the difficulty in relative terms is further divided into the difficulty in comparison with other languages and the difference in the difficulty between speakers of different native languages. If we take native speakers of Japanese as an example, Esperanto is definitely much easier than European ethnic languages such as English, German and French, but it is far more difficult for them than for native speakers of these European languages. So in the first sense of the difficulty Esperanto is equally easier for everyone, but in its second sense it is easier for speakers of certain languages than those of other languages.

But the real problem is with the difficulty in absolute terms. It is true that Esperanto is easier than any other socially functioning language though the degree of difficulty depends on the native language of its learner. But in absolute terms Esperanto can be difficult for native speakers of all languages equally after they have mastered its grammar and acquired more than enough lexicon. The next step is to learn to use Esperanto actively. In this respect it is not different from any other language, so it is equally difficult. Those who repeat the above mantra are either unaware of this type of difficulty or ignore it on purpose for the sake of propaganda, though they themselves do not speak Esperanto well enough.

In short, the above mentioned naive mantra does more harm than good. It should be taken with the utmost caution, but I do not know how we can warn every possible learner of Esperanto of it. Because of this kind of propaganda, many beginners leave the study of language as they themselves find that it is not so easy as they were told. Do I find Esperanto difficult? Yes, I do, especially after I passed the initial stage more than two decades. But I consider the time and money I spent for learning Esperanto further as one of my best intellectual investments in my entire life. A Jew has to finish everything he writes with optimism, doesn't he? ;-)

2013-05-03

Taming Windows 8

As far as I am concerned, Windows 8 is a mixture of a blessing and a curse as an operating system. It is a blessing mainly in that it starts and shuts down much faster than its predecessor. But it is a curse in that its new UI is less easy to work with, especially when I do not use my computer as a tablet, i.e., most of the time when I use my computer. Using Windows 8 with this new UI without taming it significantly decreases one's productivity. Actually, the new UI consists of two parts: 1) the legacy desktop UI, 2) the so-called Modern UI. And each of them has its own curse. But fortunately, there is a solution to each of them.

The curse in the legacy desktop UI is the disappearance of the "Start" button. This is probably the worst change ever made in Windows as an operating system, and it is no wonder that many people complain about it. Fortunately, there are a number of free and commercial programs that restore this button. My favorite is Start8. Although it is a commercial program, its price is ridiculously low, and it is definitely worth its price. I cannot imagine using Windows 8 without it, and I wonder how those who do not use this or a similar program manage. I would even say that this is probably the single most important program I use on Windows 8.

Modern UI is a very esthetic UI, but it is not free from its own curse. The biggest complaint I have about it is that applications running in this UI are maximized, so one cannot switch between multiple open applications easily, nor can one use them with desktop programs running in the desktop UI. ModernMix solves these inconveniences.

Once these UI-related curses are lifted with these two tiny but powerful tools, Windows 8 becomes a usable operating system. Actually, I consider it the best version of Windows. I still do not understand why Microsoft made such user-unfriendly decisions in designing the two UIs of Windows 8. I am just sorry for a large percentage of Windows 8 users who are forced to cope with these curses without knowing that the curses can be easily broken at a minimal cost.