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Thing of (last) week: A hole in the head

Last week, I let a doctor cut a hole in the top of my head, rummage around for a bit, and pull out something nasty. Which was an interesting experience.

OK… maybe that makes it all sound a bit more dramatic than it actually was. I was having a sebaceous cyst removed from my scalp. However, since I’ve managed to spend pretty much 42 contiguous years on this planet without either (a) undergoing any kind of medical procedure that involved local anesthetic, or (b) ever having a wound big enough to be stitched, it was all a bit exciting at the time.

Of course, the one thing you should never, EVER do before having any kind of surgical procedure is this: look up its grizzly details on the internet.

Or seek out videos on YouTube.

Obviously, I did both of these things.

Oops.

So why am I writing this? Well, largely because it turned out to be a fairly uncomplicated, painless process… but pretty much every blog-based account of scalp cyst removal that I found on the web prior to the operation made it seem like a journey into extreme pain and unavoidable discomfort awaited me. Maybe this post will help redress the balance. Or maybe google just prefers dishing up stories of pain, gore, and horror. Who knows πŸ™‚

Anyway, here’s my (probably slightly dull) account of events:

I’ve had this little bump on top of my head for years, and I’d already been told it was a sebaceous cyst, and nothing to worry about. Unfortunately, around the start of this year, the bump started to grow, and start being a bit more noticable… it stopped being the size of a lentil, and started getting more towards marble-sized proportions… and it didn’t stop there. It became more visible… a bit of a nuisance when combing my hair etc… and, basically, just a little bit too big to easily ignore.

Of course, being a bloke, I thought I’d just leave it alone for a while, and see if it decided to go away by itself.

It didn’t go away by itself. Apparently they never go away by themselves.

So, early March, I decided to go to my GP and have it looked at. The GP referred me to the practice expert in lumps and bumps – though there was a week’s wait before I could see him. The practice expert decided the cyst might be infected, and put me on antibiotics… with instructions to take a 2 week course, then give the infection 2 more weeks to settle down a bit, then go back for another look.

The antibiotics were some odd variation of penicillin (I forget what they were called now) which required you to take 4 times a day, equally spaced, at least 1 hours before or 2 hours after a meal. When I looked them up on the web, I discovered I was taking the maximum recommended dosage… but I didn’t really have any bad side effects – other than an odd metallic taste in my mouth that appeared after a few days and didn’t go away for 2 weeks. However, scheduling the things around meals was pretty awkward and inconvenient. Nevertheless, I completed the course as instructed.

Unfortunately, this didn’t seem to make any difference to the lump… or not one that I really noticed anyway. When I returned to the doctor – a month after the first visit – he assured me that it had improved a lot. I wasn’t entirely convinced… but I’ll give his lump-examining expertise the benefit of the doubt.

At this point, I *finally* got put on a waiting list to have the thing removed… unfortunately, the earliest they could carry out the procedure was in 5 weeks time. Another wait. Great.

The day finally arrived. I was a bit nervous… one account I’d read on the net was from a lady who had spent the 24 hours following her cyst removal in pain so extreme that she couldn’t even sleep. I arrived 5 minutes before my appointment… and then found myself sitting in the waiting room for the best part of an hour, as they’d got a bit backlogged with work. And yes… that REALLY helped calm me down… *cough*

The operation was an odd experience. Aside from a couple of seconds of burning sensation when the first needle went in, it was pretty much pain free. I could feel the skin being tugged around, and the sensation of blood trickling down the back of my head… but all entirely painless. Yay for anaesthesia!

However, the procedure *did* seem to be taking an awfully long time – I’d been told it should only be about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on how easily the cyst came out. I didn’t have a clock in my field of vision, but I was sure it was taking a bit longer than that (later on, I discovered it was more in the region of 45 minutes). Eventually the doc admitted it was taking a little bit longer than usual, due to the fact that he’d “nicked a tiny artery”, and was having trouble getting it to stop bleeding.

He had a few sessions of pressing down on the top of my head, really hard – presumably to staunch the blood flow – (this was, actually, the only particularly uncomfortable part of the whole process)… and then I heard a strange sizzling noise … spookily similar to the sound that a soldering iron makes when it comes into contact with flux … and felt slight pinpricks of heat (the anaesthetic was maybe starting to wear off a touch by this time) … I guessed he must be using a cauterising iron to sort the bleeding out. Ewww!

Anyway, the wound got stitched up, and a nurse cleaned up the back of my head – “Just so you don’t look quite so much like you’ve just gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson…”. At this point I got to look at the jar containing the removed cyst. It looked pretty gross… like a little white, pupil-less eyeball, with a small sliver of my scalp still attached. Apparently they cut out a small ellipse of skin when they do the removal, so that they can pull the edges of the incision together and you’re not left with any excess flesh where the lump used to be. Yay for geometry!

The cyst had come out in one piece… which is, apparently, the best possible outcome – if they break during removal, there’s a pretty high chance of re-growth.

As I left, the doctor said that *thought* he’d sorted all the bleeding out, and that I shouldn’t have any complications… but — if it did start bleeding again — try applying strong pressure, and if it didn’t stop, then “don’t mess about, go STRAIGHT to A&E at the local hospital”. Well… yes… that *really* filled me with confidence.

Oh, and “It would be best if you avoided washing your hair for a few days”. Lovely.

So I toddled off home, had a good look at my new battle scar (about an inch and a half, with 6 stitches), and prepared myself for the inevitable post-op pain.

I’d stocked up on max strength paracetamols… should I take them now, or wait until the pain kicked in? It would probably be more economical to wait for the pain to actually start. Hmmm. OK. I’ll wait.

I waited.

And waited.

After 4 or 5 hours of pain-free waiting, I was back on the internet to try to find out how long it actually takes for a local anaesthetic to wear off. The internet was surprisingly unhelpful; it seems to depend entirely on how much of the good stuff your doctor has injected.

So I waited some more…

Well, basically, the pain never came. I had no problems at all with the wound… and, a couple of days ago, the sutures came out. Head fixed. Bit anti-climatic really, isn’t it? Definitely a good thing to have that lump gone though!

Hooray for medical science! πŸ™‚

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Beer Crisis

Consumption of my latest home brew began in earnest this week. I wasn’t really sure what to expect of this one… it was a bit of an emergency standby. I *had* planned to make a barrel of Colne Valley bitter, as there was an online shop selling off kits at an unbelievably cheap price. As it turns out, the unbelievability (is that a real word?) of the price was entirely justified, as — after 6 weeks of palming me off with various excuses as to why the delivery was being delayed — the company went belly up, disappearing off the net, and leaving a lot of angry customers behind. Fortunately, I got my money refunded a few hours before their site disappeared. Unfortunately — by this time — my brew schedule was way out of whack and I was looking at the imminent risk of empty barrels in my garage…

So, I went into Newcastle to see what I could find. I’d read that Wilkinsons do a few bits and bobs of home brew these days… and, while the range might be a bit limited, I’m a great believer the adage of “any port in a storm”…

I came home with a tin of Geordie-brand “Yorkshire Bitter” wort, and a bag of beer enhancer. I’ve made a different Geordie Bitter kit in the past, which was cheap, cheerful, and perfectly drinkable – I’d used beer enhancer that time too, so thought I’d stick to a similar plan. (For the uninitiated: “Beer enhancer” generally comprises a bag full of sugary fermentables that you add to a beer kit in place of ordinary sugar. It’s made of a combination of unrefined “brewers” sugar, and spray-dried malt …and gives you a much better taste and body than if you use bog-standard Tate + Lyle!).

The brew went really smoothly, with a really fast fermentation… probably the fastest one I’ve ever had (the unseasonably warm week of weather we had at the end of March really helped!)…

…and was kegged and bottled at the start of April. I tried one of the bottles after the minimum recommended maturation period (a fortnight) and… urm… it was a little on the rough side. Waited another fortnight, and things were still not much improved. No matter; I was due to go on one of Mrs Shep’s mad adventures around the country for a couple of weeks, so hopefully things would be shaping when I got back.

Lo and behold… a couple more weeks have turned it into a really nice drink. It’s not, really, what I’d consider to be a typical “Yorkshire” bitter – it doesn’t quite have the signature sweetness to it, and seems pretty aggressively hopped… but it’s not a bad pint at all; very easy drinking, and I suppose — if it lasts that long — the taste might change some more given a couple more weeks (that’s one of the more interesting aspects of making a “living” drink like a real ale; the taste is continually changing…)

Anyway: on to the ‘crisis’ mentioned in the title. After I’d poured a couple of drinks, I started to notice that the barrel pressure seemed to be dropping way faster than I expected… and the next day, the beer seemed to be significantly more lifeless than the day before. Pretty much the worst thing that can happen with kegged beer is you get into a situation where the gas pressure drops inside your barrel, and oxygen gets sucked in through the tap (AKA the glug of doom!!!). This oxidises your beer. Oxidised beer tastes… not good.

Fortunately this particular keg has a CO2 injector valve on it, and I had a couple of carbon dioxide bulbs to hand, so I gave the brew a quick blast of gas. (This is a pretty common way to deal with low pressure situations… though you usually don’t need to resort to this trick until your keg is at least half empty). Almost immediately the problem became apparent – I could hear the gas hissing straight back out of the screw thread at the top of the keg, and no amount of fiddling with the cap would make it stop. The air-tight seal on the lid had obviously failed… Badly!

Generally, once your keg is all sealed up, you don’t want to open it again until the beer has been drunk, or you run the risk of nasty things getting into the beer, and/or the beer going flat. However, it now looked like there was no other course of action. I popped the lid off, and this is what I found…

OK, it’s maybe not obvious in that pic, let me prise the seal out so you can see it better:

This thing is supposed to be perfectly flat and smooth. Not twisted, mangled, and MΓΆbius-loopy like this. I’ve got no idea how it got into this state, but can only assume it came loose as I was screwing the top onto the keg, and got a bit caught up on the thread. I’m surprised the barrel held any pressure at all!

It seemed to be pretty much ‘set’ that way, and looked a bit beyond repair… and I had no idea how I was going to get the barrel gas-tight again at short notice without a new seal (this was pretty late at night, so a mad dash to a friendly local home brew shop was not on the cards). Was my beloved new brew doomed to go flat???

“Stand Back… I’m about to do… SCIENCE!”

Do you remember being taught about plastic memory effect in school science lessons? The way that certain polymers return to their original shape when heated?? Well, I had no idea if *this* particular lump of plastic would be the right stuff to demonstrate that particular effect, but — on balance — it seemed to be worth a shot. I put a little bit of water in a saucepan, set it boiling, and submerged the damaged seal for a few seconds…

The result…

Amazing! It looks good as new!! … I popped a bit of extra sugar into the barrel (hoping to either (a) kickstart the dormant yeast culture, or (b) work as some kind of nucleation point and make any dissolved carbon dioxide fizz up a bit), and then (gently!) screwed the repaired lid back on. Finally – deciding to go for the full belt-and-braces all-or-nothing approach – blasted my last remaining CO2 cartridge into the barrel. It seemed to hold. ‘Phew.

One day later… the beer is now pouring like a dream, and has a nice frothy head on it. Rescue mission successful – Hooray for science! Hooray for beer! πŸ™‚

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Newcastle Gamers – 28th April

(Another catch-up post… this meeting was nearly 3 weeks ago…)

Games played this time:

Power Grid

It was good to play this again (I actually picked up a copy of this for myself earlier in the year, but it’s mostly sat around unplayed due to a less-than-auspicious first game against Mrs Shep, in which we pulled out a really bad selection of robot tiles, and played an incredibly unforgiving game). This copy belonged to Les & James, but I don’t think they’ve played it much and/or haven’t played for a long time, as everybody at the table seemed to have a similar level of experience. It was a bit of an odd session – Olly suddenly pulled away with a racing lead – mostly because the rest of us had been squabbling over cheap east coast towns, and we’d managed to leave the western map wide open for him to exploit – ending the game way sooner than expected (I don’t think we managed to start stage 3?) with a bit of a blitzkrieg victory on his part. Oops. Got to watch out for that next time!

Dominion (with Hinterlands expansion)

I really like Dominion; it’s a deckbuilding game that I know really well, and am pretty heavily invested in (I own 5 expansions… and I’ll inevitably get round to completing the collection one day). This was the first time I’ve played it at Newcastle gamers but… for some reason… it felt like a really flat game. I guess it was due to the mixture of cards we had on this particular outing… surprising, as it was one of the “recommended” sets from the Hinterlands rule book, and (despite not being familiar with THAT particular expansion) I’ve always found the recommended sets to play really well. Alas, not this time. IIRC, there was NO attack cards in the set at all, essentially leaving us with a 4-hand game of solitaire. Ugh.

Non-confrontational Dominion plays well with 2 players (because you have a very good sense of who is in the lead, points-wise, and what you need to do to catch up… so it plays like a race game)… but with 4 players? No.

Note to self: remember to break out the attack/reaction cards in any future 4-player games!

Ingenious

Olly’s winning streak has finally been broken! … admittedly, it wasn’t quite as sweet a victory as it would’ve been if I’d won with maximum points, but I’m not complaining. πŸ˜‰

Mykerinos

This is the game that I picked up in the Maths Trade that I was telling you about the other day. I like it… it’s a quick-playing area-control game, with euro-leaning tendencies. Players take turns adding archaeologists to a randomly-jumbled egyptian landscape, and at the end of each round the players who are dominant in each quadrant of the map score points and get special powers for later rounds. Scoring is made a little deeper by the fact that you need to book rooms in a museum to display your finds, with points being awarded depending on the prestige of a particular room and how many appropriate treasures you collect for that particular spot. The game manages to pack a surprising amount of crunchy decisions into about 40 minutes of play time (and a small box). Good stuff! πŸ™‚

This was the first time I’d played with more than 2 people. I don’t think I played particularly well – (I rarely do while I’m teaching; I think I concentrate too much on making sure everything is running smoothly, at the expense of my own play experience!) – but it was still an enjoyable session. Hopefully the other guys thought so too.

Oregon

This was the third time I’ve played Oregon… I’m still not sure how much I like it. The game involves placing settlers and buildings on a wild west map, with points being scored based on your placement… e.g. place a settler in an open field, score nothing. Place a settler next to a gold mine and a village store, score points and get gold.

The problem: When playing Oregon I seem to sway between two different states:

(1) Total Confusion.. the game map relies on a strange pictorial (rather than numeric) co-ordinate system – presumably to make it more accessible to children – but I find it a bit of a brain scrambler. Somehow it seemed even more baffling than normal this time – perhaps because I was looking at the board upside-down. Once I’ve finally figured out which locations I’m actually allowed to influence in a turn, confusion gives way to..

(2) Analysis Paralysis. Ugh. Too many options… probably only a few of which are particularly good, but it can take a LONG time to figure out where the optimal position to play is.

It’s an OK game, and I don’t mind playing it when there’s nothing better on offer… but it’s not something I’d pro-actively suggest playing.

finally:

Archaeology (The Card Game)

I only had about 15 minutes before I had to head off home, so pulled this one out of my bag. It’s a pretty simple set-collection/push-your-luck rummy-style game, and an unashamed filler title… but quite good for what it is. It filled the gap and rounded off the night nicely.

So… SIX games played this week – none of them were particularly heavy titles, but I’d had a pretty hectic weekend, was suffering from partial brain-failure, and it was a bit of a relief to not have to play anything too complex. Apparently the next meeting – May 12th – was the group’s 3rd AGM (and a freebie session!), but I missed it due to a clash with wicker man burning/general summer madness (see previous post). Shame … would’ve been interesting to see what went on.

Never mind… maybe next year! πŸ˜‰

CREDITS: Session pics gratuitously stolen from the Newcastle Gamers web site. Newcastle Gamers meets on the second and last Saturday of the month… usual cost is Β£3, but your first visit is free. More details here.

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Thing of the Week: Butser Wicker Man

Giant neo-pagan equinox-worship effigies burning in the night. What’s not to like?

Butser Beltane Wicker Man, 2012

Butser Ancient Farm Beltane Festival, 2012. (Click pic to embiggen)

(And yes — technically — this is thing-of-last-week… but this is the first chance I’ve had to post an update since we got back!)

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Thing of the week: Maths Trades

I concluded my first ever Maths Trade this week.

“Maths Trade?…”

Well, basically, a Maths Trade works like this: A group of people make a big list of stuff that they would all like to get rid of (in this particular case, a big list of board games). Everybody then studies the big list and makes a wish-list of things that they’d be happy to receive in return for the stuff that they’re “donating”. All the wish lists are then fed into a magic computer program which runs a neato algorithm designed to make the maximum amount of people happy. You are then issued with an instruction: Send your (thing you wanted to get rid of) to (person X), and (person Y) will send you (something nice that you wanted to receive).

The clever bit is that the person you’re sending to isn’t necessarily the person you’ll be receiving from – there are lots of little loops of senders and receivers – but the algorithm makes sure everything works out right in the end… everybody gets something they wanted. Or, in a worst case scenario, you’ll end up sending nothing and receiving nothing… but that only happens if you’ve been particularly fussy / unrealistically ambitious with your particular combination of donations and wants, and the algorithm couldn’t come up with a solution to please you.

Obviously, there’s a huge trust aspect to a Maths Trade. The whole thing would go horribly wrong if somebody didn’t despatch an item that they were supposed to despatch, or lied about the condition of their contribution, or whatever… but – in the board game community at least – that kind of thing doesn’t seem to happen very often. The trade I took part in resulted in 235 items changing hands, and it all seems to have gone pretty smoothly.

TLDR version: Maths Trades are some kind of swap-shop voodoo magic, and this week I managed to swap the copy of Assyria (which I was a bit luke-warm on) for a copy of Mykerinos… (which is, IMHO, a far, far nicer game).

I can imagine Maths Trades getting pretty addictive… it’s kind of exciting putting together your wants list, not-quite-knowing whether your trade will go through, and wondering which of your selected items you’ll ultimately get. I’m already eyeing up some of my other lesser-played games as candidates for the next one…

If you’re a Board Game Geek user, watch this thread for announcements of new Maths Trades. There’s a UK-specific one every second month (next one due in June) … they’re an excellent way to move some of your lesser-played games along and try something new πŸ™‚

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