Wednesday, December 17, 2008


I left Boston on Tuesday for California. I was greeted by my sister at the airport in Sacramento, and we drove up the hill to Grass Valley, a town of about 20,000 between the valley and Lake Tahoe, nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. While not nearly so bitter cold as Boston (except for Monday night when Keith and I were practicing wheelies in his backyard, wearing only shorts and a jersey at 10pm), Grass Valley is now covered in a good blanket of snow, which should make for exciting trail riding and of course, sledding. More on that in the coming days. The crappy picture from my cell phone does not do the place justice, but the points of this pic are (1) that there are hills here and (2) that the place is covered in seemingly endless pine forests.

I came back on a one-way ticket, an early return for the holidays prompted by the ill health of my father. About 10 years ago he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, a degenerative neural condition primarily affecting the brain's ability to produce dopamine, a regulator of many brain functions including coordination and speech and in the latter stages, memory and cognitive ability. It is interesting that the absence of dopamine gives rise to tremors, often most strongly seen in violent shaking of the hands, which can make eating quite difficult. The brain has a tendency to fall into a steady rhythmic firing of the neurons, which is subdued by the presence of dopamine. Existing treatments often involve the use of L-dopa or dopamine precursors to replace the missing dopamine, however, the long term use of this technique is limited because the brain reduces its dopamine production in the presence of external dopamine.

I'm not sure where things stand at the moment, I'll be visiting my father shortly. He's now in an assisted living center, having recently had a bad spell due to change of medications and general difficulty managing mundane things. It's been hard over the years to watch his degeneration. I want to at times just tell him to stand up straight and do some exercise, to fight the disease. Unfortunately, things are not so simple--in the end we are creatures intimately bound to a body with physical limitations which even the strongest will cannot overcome. The very act of moving can often be difficult or painful, sleeping can be miserable as his body gets stuck in an awkward and twisted position. As if life weren't difficult enough, then one can't even escape in a decent night of sleep.

It hit me hard when I first learned of his current state, it's not easy to see one's parents weaken. It will be good to spend time with him, he's a smart fellow with a proclivity for philosophic discussions, perhaps we can finally tease out the meaning of life, which incidentally, my father claims is not is not 42, at least not exaclty. He claims to have found an asymptotic expansion in the universal quantum bicoherent-information density parameter that when integrated over the two-dimensional entropy partition function of everything/0 and renormalized using the Weinberg formalism comes out at something like 42.011. I'll have to check his math later. Having seen my father go through such troubles (not the mathematical kind), it makes me thankful to have the ability to move freely and gracefully. I think when I do hit the trails again I'll be more aware of the simple grandeur of every pedal stroke and log hopped.

I wish you all high health and happy trails.

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