Friday, July 25, 2008

Inversion Therapy

If you ever suffered from lower back pain as I did then you should be familiar with the inconvenience that back problems cause. Fifteen years ago I tried to lift a very heavy slab of cement and a few days later I experienced severe lower back pain that lasted for over a month. I went to the doctor, took x-rays, and found out that the disk between the last two vertebrae was compressed, but nothing unusual. There was no herniated disk or anything like that, and the pain did not shoot down my leg as sciatica patients suffer from. As a cure, I had to lay on my back for extended periods of time, or walk around. Standing or sitting were bad. The pain eventually disappeared, but not completely. I continue to have recurrences of pain now and then which usually come unannounced and without any apparant reason I could notice.
I made my first visit to a chiropractor a few months later and took another set of x-rays. I started physical therapy sessions, three times a week. The chiropractor used a special table that had a shape of an inverted V with a hinge in the middle. I would lie my stomach on the table and he would tie my ankles at one end and my wrists at the other end, then he would start a machine that caused the table to open and close, thereby stretching my spine each time it closed. He pressed the lower vertebrae with his fingers while the table was opening and closing, and man that felt so good. I could feel instant relief in my lower back each time I used that table.
Of course the chiropractor expected me to continue with these sessions indefinitely, just like the regular dental checkups, but for me the cost of those sessions was prohibitive.
With time I got used to living with sporadic backache that would appear suddenly every now and then without a notice, but I kept looking for the ultimate cure. During my quest, I discovered Aspecreme which relieved the pain as it acted as localized aspirin. I also discovered that stretching helped a lot, especially touching my toes with my palms while keeping my knees straight. I learned a few other exercises that helped some. But recently I found the ultimate solution that is better than anything else I knew before: The inversion table! This table allows you to hang from your ankles upside down, relieving the pain off your back instantly, while stretching your compressed vertebrae effectively and without the need of a chiropractor - see the picture. I bought a high quality table that can lock at different angles instead of just the upside position, and it works great. I immediately felt the relief in my back. Kudos to the inventor of this table. I wonder how the chiropractors never told me about this machine. I heard chiropractors and health physicians don't really believe that the inversion therapy is effective at all, which is quite surprising to me, because I tried it myself and I know it is effective, but come to think of it, if all their patients used that machine then they would have no business at all. Now that incentive enough for them to reject it.
Well I tried it and I liked it, and I know I will continue to use it. It is easy to use, convenient and does not cost anything except for the initial investment of its price. I had to start with low inclination angles and gradually increase the angle because the first time I tried it I went quickly all the way upside down and I felt dizzy afterwards. Beware that with the upside position the pressure inside your head rises very quickly to high levels. You have to train your head to take it step by step, until eventually you get used to gravity reversal. Other than that, I think this inversion table is the best cure for backaches, and should be considered first before any other measures are taken. I know it works because I used it. So go ahead and try it and let me know what you think.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Biking Along Cedar Nature Trail

The Cedar Nature Trail is about a 55 miles long crushed-stone road that used to be a railway between Cedar Rapids and Waterloo up in north Eastern Iowa. I biked along that trail before to the end of its south side in Cedar Rapids, which is about 12 miles of hard asphalt each way (see the picture) from where I live. I also biked along the other side of the trail before (that is mostly crushed-stone), but never exceeded about 10 miles each way. Today I decided to bike towards Waterloo and reach Center Point which is about 15 miles from Cedar Rapids. I had an oatmeal breakfast sprinkled with some whey protein and mixed with molasses, then I took with me some water and I started at 9 am. The weather was hot and humid so I am glad I took water with me. I kept paddling, while listening to my iPod, and I made it all the way to Center Point, which happened to be at the 13th mile point, and I went on, to the 15th mile point, which happened to be at Urbana. At that point I decided to go back.
On the way back I stopped at Center Point where there was a museum. The museum was not open yet (it opens from 1 to 4 pm on Sunday), but it had restrooms and a water fountain which I didn't need neither. I drank some of the water I brought with me and stretched a little before I mounted my bike again and started heading back. When I reached the 10 mile point I started to feel tired and dehydrated. I realized that water alone was not going to be enough and that I needed to replenish the lost minerals from my body somehow. Unfortunately I did not bring with me any food nor Getorade, so I started looking for berry trees that I remembered seeing along the way. I found a black berry tree at the 8th mile point, so I immediately dismounted my bike and started picking the ripe delicious berries. There weren't many ripe berries on the tree so I ate also some unripe ones, a total of about 20 or so berries. I felt their reviving effect immediately on my body, and I was ready to continue paddling back home.
I stopped again at the 3rd mile point to drink the rest of the water I carried and then continued. The last 400 yards or so to my home were the most difficult because they were uphill, but I made it fine albeit I became quite tired. The whole trip took me about 4 and half hours, arriving at about 1:30 pm.
When I arrived home I drank some orange juice and then took a shower. After that I had lunch and felt much better. I slept for a couple of hours after lunch, then had to drink black coffee to get up and write these words.
I think one of these days I am going to try biking all the way to Waterloo. Granted that kind of trip will need proper supply of food and drink, and a companion or two, but I believe I can do it if I spend the night in Waterloo to come back the next day. It is good to challenge one's self every now and then to break normal routine ... what do you think?

Monday, July 14, 2008

No Urgency for HDTV

It is true that analog TV is going to go away in February 2009 as all broadcasting will be digital by then, at least in the United States. But does this mean everybody should toss away their analog TV sets and buy new High Definition TV's (HDTV)? Not at all! You will still be able to receive the digital transmission using a converter that you could get from Best Buy or Walmart for about $50 to $60, and with the government giving away coupons for $40 towards that purchase, you could get that converter for as little as $10. So you can still get mileage out of your analog TV investment at least until the unit dies beyond repair. I can see myself continue to use my good old 36" JVC TV for years to come. It has a crisp and nice colored picture which, granted, not as nice as the high definition LCD or plasma new sets, but considering that a new such set would cost north of $1000, I think it is worthwhile keeping the old set. Besides, I enjoy videotaping programs from satellite using my good old VCR set. I also have a DVD player which works well with my old TV set, on which I can watch DVD's as well as my personal camera family videos. I was told that the old VCR would work fine with the HDTV, and the new Blu Ray DVD player could upconvert regular DVD's for display on the HDTV set. However, we have already seen the high def DVD lose the war to Blu Ray, and it might take some time for these standards to become fixed, so I don't see this HDTV technology as an exigency at this time nor do I see any value added beyond the higher quality picture itself. Maybe it is nostalgia, or resistance to change, but I am really reluctant to change a system that has served me well for many years to a new system that neither solves a known problem nor adds any extra value, save for better picture quality. It is just aesthetics at this point, which for some people might be worth the new investment, but for hardcore engineers like myself, it is not a good enough reason to switch immediately. The bottom line is there is no urgency in switching to HDTV. I would take my time and waiteth, for all good things happen to those who waiteth, like prices dropping down, standards stabilizing, and new technologies emerging. What do you thnk?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Finding the T-5 Bird

I spent quite some time in the past couple of weeks trying to point my dish antenna to the Ku-band T-5 satellite, a task that should have been relatively easy but unfortunately turned out to be a little more involved than I anticipated. I used to blithely receive all the FTA (Free-to-Air) channels on that satellite before, but then strong wind moved the dish beyond the point of return and I lost the satellite for a year or so; I could not manually point it back to receive any signal no matter how hard I tried.
Recently I decided to get those channels back, so the first thing I did was to cement the pole in the ground to prevent strong Iowa gales from moving it again, which was the easy part. My weekend before last was lost trying to get a signal from the LNB to the receiver by pointing the dish to the coordinates of the T-5 satellite (that I got from the internet). To my dismay, and relief at the same time, I realized after all this effort that the LNB seal was broken and rain water actually filled the inside of the box making it a useless peace of junk (which explained why I was picking an erratic signal wherever I pointed the dish)! So I ordered a new LNB from eBay for about $12 including shipping and handling. When the LNB arrived, I thought that I would find the T-5 signal in a jeffy, but I was wrong again. Although I could get the signal level indicator bar to above 75%, the signal quality bar read 0 (nil, zilch, nothing). Finally I found out that the new LNB setting in the receiver menu had to be set to Universal 1 (not Standard, and not Universal 2), and only then I was able to get a signal quality of 50% or so. I tweaked the elevation to maximize the signal quality and also skewed the LNB to about 6 degrees clockwise and I ended up with a signal quality of about 60%. With that kind of signal quality I was able to receive all the FTA channels again.
Now as we enjoy watching all those international free channels in crystal clear quality I think to myself: this was all worth my effort. What do you think?