No, the fires aren’t that close. They are close enough to make the air distinctly smoky.

Smoky enough that schools are canceling classes and sporting events. I note that there are major college sports scheduled for the next few days: football games in Berkeley (Washington State and Cal) and Palo Alto (Oregon and Stanford) are the most notable. As of this writing, both games are still expected to go on as scheduled, which means teams are out practicing as usual. At the professional level, I see the 49ers are on the other coast to play the Team Which Needs to Change Its Name, so they’re unaffected, but the Oakland Raiders home game is still on. More evidence that football is hazardous to your health, I suppose.

Smoky enough that the Bay Area Air Quality Management District has issued a warning for everyone, not just people with respiratory issues. They’re saying many parts of the Bay Area currently have the worst air quality they’ve ever recorded, and Friday and Saturday are expected to be worse.

We’re holed up inside, as recommended, but the house is old enough and porous enough that we can smell smoke inside. It doesn’t seem to be bothering the cats, but if it gets bad enough that we feel the need to move them someplace with better air quality control, we’ve got plenty of carriers standing by.

Nor is there any rain in the forecasts. Firefighters are on their own, with no help from nature.

On the brighter side, fires around Napa are sufficiently under control that people with critical needs will be allowed in. It’s not much, but we’re looking for any bright sides we can find.

I’m definitely seeing less automobile traffic with locals staying indoors. Can we hope that the reduction in automotive exhaust will help keep the air quality from rising above its current “Unhealthy”? I’d prefer to avoid the next level, “Very Unhealthy,” much less “Hazardous”. There’s a map here if you want to see what the current conditions are like.

Finally, I have no doubt the religious lunatic fringe is blaming the fires on God, who is, of course, punishing us decadent Californians for our liberal views on human rights. I don’t wish similar disasters on them in return–I don’t wish them on anyone–but I take a certain quiet pleasure in knowing they’ll feel at least one bit of God’s punishment themselves, a jab where it will hurt them the most: the price of sacramental wine is going to spike upward.

Again, small victories.

It’s Not Apple Juice

Those of you who have been reading my posts since the early days may recall that I had an argument with my kidneys around the end of 2013, which resulted in my receiving one of the worst presents ever–and I couldn’t even exchange it for something more pleasant.

I didn’t mention my second kidney stone a couple of months ago because, unlike the first, it passed relatively easily, and because I couldn’t think of anything amusing to say about it. Let’s be real: nobody wants to read depressing blog posts about stabbing pains in the abdomen. But funny posts about pain? Oh, yeah.

One kidney stone is no fun, and it’s the joy that keeps on keeping on. If you have one, the odds are good that you’ll have more. You can make dietary changes to reduce the chances of recurrence, but as my experience shows, you can’t reduce them to zero.

Of course, the more you know about what’s going on in your innards, the better you can craft your approach. Last time around, my dietary changes were based primarily on the type of stone. This time we’re also taking a closer look at what my kidneys are doing. This is not, fortunately, an invasive procedure. It is, however, amusingly perverse. Allow me to introduce you to the dubious joys of the 24 Hour Urine Collection.

The tools are simple: an orange jug with a capacity of four liters, two little cups with screwtops (they look a lot like a little kid’s sippy cup, only without the drinking spout), and a ziplock bag prominently marked “BIOHAZARD”.

Step One: Clear enough space in the refrigerator to hold the jug. Clear some extra space while you’re at it. Unless you’re a heck of a lot more comfortable with your own waste products than I am, you don’t want anything else in the fridge touching that jug.

Step Two: Choose a day when you’re not going anywhere to do the test. You do not want to carry this bright orange jug around with you. Did I mention that it’s bright orange? Hard to miss, and while it’s a great conversation starter, those aren’t the kind of conversations most of us want to have.

Step Three: Begin collecting with your second trip to the bathroom of the day. Those of us with convex excretory apparatus are lucky: we can pee directly into the jug, as long as we’re careful not to touch the sides of the opening with our gear*. Women, as I understand it, get to pee into a cup and then pour the contents into the jug. Don’t forget that the first thing your physician tells you to do to reduce the risk of kidney stones is to drink lots of water–a minimum of two liters a day. Those cups are tiny and fill up quickly. You do the math; I suggest wearing gloves.

* Officially, avoiding contact is to prevent the microorganisms that live on the outside of your spout from contaminating the specimen. The real reason is that touching your equipment to a piece of plastic chilled to just above freezing temperature is an experience you want to avoid. Especially at three in the morning, after you’ve crawled out of a nice warm bed.

Step Four: Continue filling the jug. Bring the jug along on every trip to the bathroom. Miss one and you’ll need to get a fresh jug and start all over.

Step Five: Collection concludes with your first trip to the bathroom the next morning. So now, roughly twenty-four hours after you started, you’ve got a bright orange jug of urine. Congratulations!

Step Six: Now you get to mix the sample thoroughly. Close the lid of the jug. Tightly. No, tighter. Got a large wrench handy? Use it. Now shake the jug as hard as you can. Try not to think about the lid popping off. You twisted it tightly, right? If you’ve been drinking enough to satisfy your doctor, the four liter jug will be at least three-quarters full. That’s fairly heavy. Better give it a couple more shakes to be sure it’s well mixed. Unless you’re going to do this regularly, it’s probably not worth investing in one of those shakers the hardware store uses for mixing paint.

Step Seven: Take the two lidded cup. Pull open the pour spout and fill both cups. Put the lids on and put both cups in the BIOHAZARD bag.

Step Eight: Discard the rest of the urine. Yes, all your hard work collecting your pee will literally go down the drain. Look at the empty jug. It does not say “BIOHAZARD”. Only the samples in the sippy cups are a public health menace, it seems.

Step Nine: Take the sippy cups to the lab. I asked the technician what I should do with the jug. “Oh, you can just toss it out,” she said. “I know,” I replied. “But does it go in the garbage or the recycling bin?” She froze, her expression completely blank. Clearly this is not a question she gets every day. Or, in all likelihood, ever. Finally, she shook her head. “Just toss it out.”

Step Ten: Examine the jug closely. I couldn’t find a recycling indicator on it. If you find that ecologically unsatisfying, you might consider washing it well and using it to make lemonade. You might. I put it in the garbage can.

What’s Up With That

Time for another look at the world’s preoccupations as revealed by Google Trends.

Can anyone explain this to me: Yesterday’s top search was for “Edie Brickell”. I know why she’s topping the chart (something she hasn’t done since last year’s collaboration with Steve Martin hit number one on the bluegrass charts, by the way). That’s the result of her court appearance with husband Paul Simon. My question is why everyone is searching for her. Poor Paul failed to crack the top searches list and is relegated to “Related searches”.

That does seem to be typical–women draw more search interest than men. Another example: yesterday’s number three search was “On the Run Tour”, for a concert tour by Jay Z and Beyonce. Today’s number one search is for Beyonce herself. Jay Z didn’t even make the list as “related”.

The number two search yesterday, for what it’s worth, was “Arkansas tornado”. Today’s number two is “Firefox”. Clearly that second slot is reserved for disasters. No, I’m not suggesting that the new UI introduced in today’s Firefox release is a disaster–I haven’t seen it myself yet, so I’ll reserve my opinion for now. I suspect a large part of Firefox’s sudden popularity is the result of the massive publicity blitz warning people away from Internet Explorer. Changing browsers takes a much smaller investment of time and energy than changing operating systems. We may never see the end of XP, but maybe we can eradicate IE in our lifetimes.

Short attention span theatre: Racist remarks by LA Clipper’s owner Donald Sterling nailed the number one slot in Sunday’s search list, outscoring the runner-up by a score of two to one. (Am I the only one who finds it ironic that the runner up was Chicago’s hockey team, the “Blackhawks”?) By yesterday, though, the public had had their fill of Mr. Sterling’s opinions about race relations. He didn’t even make the list, beaten out by such thrillers as “Cinco de Mayo” (#16), “AAPL” (#11), and “Problem Ariana Grande” (#4). Apparently people are trying to figure out whether selling their stock will let them buy some new music to listen to while getting drunk Monday.

For the record (no pun intended), “Problem” is the title of Ms. Grande’s single. As far as I can tell, she is not in any trouble personally, professionally, or legally. Which may make her unique in the top searches list. Aside from the aforementioned Edie Brickell, we’ve got “Craig Ferguson” (quitting his job), “Dani Alves” (subject of racist abuse and hurled bananas), “Jack Ramsay” and “DJ EZ Rock” (died), “Tori Spelling” and “Amy Purdy” (hospitalized), and “Michael Grimm” (arrested and charged with 20 counts of fraud). Congratulations to Ms. Grande.