Saturday, September 30, 2006

doctors think they know everything

I don't mean the mate's doctor, just a lot of the rest of them.

Coffee is a morning essential and that brownish stuff provided by the cafeteria does not qualify. Good thing there's a Peet's downstairs in the lobby. Rushing for an elevator this morning, a wheel on the mate's IV rack got stuck in the door. The door was just barely held open by the wheel, which was jammed in the gap.

Some old fart doctor comes by, looks at the situation and immediately takes charge. "Those are really strong doors, you'll never be able to force them. Just wait a minute, I'll call security," he says, and strides off.

While waiting, the mate tugs on the rack, but still no go. Then she remembers that elevator doors are designed to avoid biting hands, and give the doors a push. Voila, doors are open, and she didn't even need coffee. But she gets it anyway.

A nurse later says that security around here takes ages. That old doctor's seen too many disaster movies where it takes five soot-smudged guys ten minutes to open an elevator.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

and enough of that

About once or twice a week when I wake up in the morning, I have to stop and look to see the mate's still breathing. It used to be scary. She doesn't know I do this. Of course, I can't even come near feeling how she feels. It's probably like narrowly missing a six-car pileup, only all the time.

Today the mate went to the hospital for a tune-up. This is usually a 2-week-or-so stay where they pump you full of antibiotics and do chest percussion therapy four times a day (I can only do once or twice a day.) I feel better when she's in the hospital because I'm no doctor and I know she'll be in good hands there. At 3 times a year for the past four years, it's pretty routine except for the fact that post-hospital recovery takes a little longer each time.

While she's there, I clean house so it's back in shape for her return, fly the bird, see a friend or two, write, stay up super-late playing mindless computer games. Every 2 or 3 days I visit and bring fresh clothes. When the mate went to Stanford I visited every day, but Pacific Med is in the City, and the traffic and parking suck. But then again, Pacific Med doesn't have a bevy of constantly changing fellows and interns, a mixed bag containing talentlessness, sensibleness, aggression, and earnestness.

We discussed transplant more and are pretty firmly decided to go for it. Like I said before, there's not much choice: live maybe one more year in poor condition with high maintenance, or take the risk of surgery and rejection, and get five or more low maintenance years. She'll land near the top of the gimme list, which means a 2 to 4 month wait, waiting for someone else to die too soon. Strange feeling, that.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

hell yeah it hurts

I just re-read the last post. If I sound bloodless, like I'm unaffected by the mate's guaranteed impending death, it's because we've been through all this already. The DNR's been witnessed and filed. Cremate, by mutual agreement (I didn't want the mate's body going to science because I know the low-rent med students have to pick the maggots out before they mess with a cadaver.) Ceremony, nothing formal; ashes to the Pacific Ocean. I have all the computer passwords and know where to find the ID cards. The business end of dying is something you do with your eyes closed and your hand outstretched. Sometimes you have to tell yourself that slow death's better than sudden, because you can plan. But you pay for the ability.

The reality is that I'm going to lose the second great love of my life within 5 to 10 years, possibly earlier, possibly right on the operating table. This is the other half of my heart, the smart one of the pair, the good-looking one. The mate is childish at times, sometimes disconcertingly so, but brilliant, a mind like no other I know, jumps from A to Z without a blink, remembers countries, political situations, religions, and can put them all together into a 3-sentence pronunciation of what's going to happen next. And turns out right about 70% of the time. The mate can't remember her parents' area code, but remembers philosophers and writers and what I said to someone (whom I don't even remember) ten years ago. The mate starts reading about the stock market and within 3 months turns it into profits, beating alpha regularly. The mate reads through medical data on a hundred websites and puts it together to understand what CF does at the cellular level, and why people are trying this treatment or that. Scary smart.

I'll never find someone who can awe me like that, and still want to have anything to do with me. A person so emotionally aware and talented at bringing out the best in others is rare. If there's karma on this earth, the whole world's going to be a little lessened.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

deadly serious

When I started this blog I vowed never to talk about health issues or anything deeply personal, but I'm going to do it now. After being diagnosed with cystic fibrosis in 2001, the mate has been in and out of the hospital and grappling with antibiotics failing against increasingly resistant bacteria. We're now at the point where there are no antibiotics left. Even the one that was supposed to work specifically against antibiotic-resistant bactera has failed.

CF is an ultimately fatal genetic flaw that deters the body's ability to process salt, and thus creates problems mostly in the lungs. Many organs have tiny hair-like items that normally wiggle and move things around, but this action is stunted in CF people. Salt is normally absorbed and retains moisture; with CF the lungs get sticky with mucus, which hardens and reduces airflow. This mucus combined with the reduced ability to push out contaminants makes a rich breeding ground for bacteria, and an ecology develops.

Thirty years ago, it was lucky for a CF patient to live to twenty. By now it's a well-researched disease; the average person diagnosed as a child is likely to make it into his or her forties. The mate's version of CF is a mild one, but was diagnosed late, and had twenty years of smoking-related lung damage to add zip to the party. Of the last 2 months since the last stint in the hospital, about 15 were difficult days, meaning fevers over 100, serious malaise, depression, difficulty eating, and/or getting breathless by walking downstairs. There were three excellent days. Twenty adequate ones, meaning we stop walking every 25 paces to rest, but we can still get out of the house and walk. The remainder were slightly bad, meaning mild fevers and light malaise.

So we're now looking at the possibility of a lung transplant, which is also a very serious event with its own problems and maintenance issues. The doctor likened it to jumping out of a plane: there's no turning back. The good thing is that replacement lungs do not acquire the attributes of CF lungs by being inside a CF person -- it's completely different DNA and stays that way. The cycle of bacteria and mucus, and potential reinfection from the sinuses, will simply not happen. There's a 50% chance of living five more years, and a 25% chance of ten.

The bad parts, after the risks of the operation itself, are a mess of immunosuppressants to prevent rejection. In the first year there's a chance of immediate rejection, which will likely immediately kill you, and after that there's a possibility of chronic rejection, which is also debilitating while the doctors figure out how to balance things out. The anti-rejection drugs have their own side effects, from kidney damage to acid reflux, and suppressing your immune system is not safe during flu season. And all this when you're already been physically weakened by the CF itself.

The mate and I have had long talks about death. She's two weeks away, we say: if the mate was to slack off maintenance for that long, death is certain. We know her a little too well. At this point, there is pretty much no choice but to go for the transplant.

Friday, September 22, 2006

missed the show

With my friend on it. It was on tonight, and I missed it. Here's the link to the segment at ETOnline.

What was cool was that they showed Karl, and they let him talk. He has a good, mild tenor, and IRL he sounds just as he did in the clip. He's happy because they kept his banter: "Has there ever been an accident?" "We don't like to talk about it."

The other interesting thing was that the birds looked so fast in the video. Possibly because I see them fly that fast all the time, they always look quite a bit slower in person. It may be the confines of the frame, and the fact that the bird is out of it so quickly. Live, your head tracks it, keeps it within view at all times.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

animusic

I just saw this very coolest thing on tv, a music animation from http://www.animusic.com. It's an instrument that looks like six different stringed instruments fell into a vat and melted together, got yanked out and set in a beautiful room that looks like something out of Myst. Wooden robotic fingers press the strings against the frets and more fingers pluck the strings.

The completeness of the room and the light/shadows were so realistic, it took some good long stares before I could say for certain that it was an animation and not some creation designed by the love child of Rube Goldberg and John McLaughlin.
The piece is called "Resonant Chamber" and is on the Animusic 2 DVD.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

fame for a friend

A friend of mine may be on TV pretty soon. Sometime in the next couple weeks, Teri Hatcher will have a segment on Entertainment Tonight, wherein she travels to the ridiculously hot Napa Valley to taste wine. My friend Karl flies falcons at this winery (he works at several; he told me its name, but I forgot immediately) to keep crop-predating birds from eating the grapes.

According to him, flying falcons works better than nets, flash tape, and various other methods. I've spent about 5 or 6 days hanging out with him at Cakebread over the past few years, and I've seen how starling-distress calls, broadcast at tremendous volume, do absolutely nothing. The trouble is that flock birds get used to anything that isn't obviously out to kill them.

The falcons don't usually actually catch/kill the starlings. Just their presence, that predator shape that is implanted with a blaring warning label in every smaller bird's brain, is enough. All you have to do is lure-fly the bird for ten minutes every hour or two. Lure flying is playing keep-away with the falcon using a hand-sized leather item on a string, bird-shaped, which the falcon associates with food. You swing it around your head and, when the bird comes close, whip it out of the way just in time. If the bird tags it, she gets it, game over. It takes practice to not hit yourself with the lure, because unless you know the bird's flying pattern well, you're swinging that lure in all sorts of unexpected directions trying to keep it away from her.

So -- Teri Hatcher is at the winery and will probably be shown playing with an eagle owl and a few other of Karl's birds. Hard to say whether his mug will actually make it onto national television. He's a plump guy, but more photogenic and smaller than Hurley. And he's extremely good at lure-flying; he can play his falcon into moving into spectacular directions -- such as right over the audience's head, or right where the cameras will get their best shots.

For all I know, though, the editors could make it look like Teri Hatcher's lure-flying those birds.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Toshiba Part 3, and no more

What I love about the Satellite
- The volume dial. It's a dial, for one thing. The Pavilion had buttons that never could put the volume exactly where I wanted it. The dial's conveniently located in the front, and cannot be mistaken for anything else.
- The shiny screen. I wasn't sure I liked it at first because I kept seeing my reflection, but I've gotten used to it now. As with gloss photo paper, black looks blacker and things generally a little more crisp.
- It's fast. Even the analog modem at less than 56Kb, seems faster than the HP at 56K.
- The sound is damn good.

What I hate about it
- The mouse button is bouncy; it needs a heavy thumb when dragging/selecting or else it'll disengage. So heavy, I'm tempted to return it to see if another one is better, but moving crap from the Pavilion took so long, I'm reluctant. It seems to be getting better the more I use it, so maybe it (or I) just needs some breaking in. I can't remember if the Pavilion had the same problem.

What's pissing me off
- I can't find my WordPerfect 10 CD so I'm choking by with a borrowed 6.1.

What's really pissing me off
I copied my music files from the Pavilion, but every time I tried to play something in Windows Media Player it kept wanting to go crying off to the internet to "acquire a license." Stranger yet, it went to a Microsoft website, drmlicense.one.microsoft.com.
Now, this is nothing but pure bullshit. Sony Music caught flack for trying to create a copy protection scheme, but none of these was from Sony. But more importantly, Microsoft has no business "licensing" music. I own original copies of all music on my computer, and copying the files over was faster and tidier than slinging CDs in and out all day. Furthermore, one of my CDs choked on a track last year, and my hard drive copy is now my only working copy.
After getting the "license" all my tracks seemed to play, regardless of publisher.
Why do I need Microsoft's permission to play music I own?!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

toshiba satellite part 2

Okay, found most of what I was looking for and a bunch of things I wasn't. Brightness and sleep mode you get to with function keys combined with the Fn key (a function-function? Reminds me of Conjunction Junction.) Anyway, the function keys have pale grey (read: hard to see) icons to indicate what they do. Embodying the spirit of global communication, quite a few mean nothing obvious. Here's my take.

F2: A lightbulb. Lets you control your smart-house's lights. Everything on, or everything off. Take your choice.
F3: A bug with an arrow pointing at one end. I'm sure it's supposed to be a chip, but I'd rather think of it as the key you should press should you get the mother of all bugs, the Blue Screen of Death. Of course, by then, it will do nothing for you. (And I conclude the arrow is pointed at the bug's asshole.) Frankly, I'd rather it dialed Bill's cell phone.
F5: Switch between a desktop computer (shaped suspiciously like an IBM XT) and an oblong. This is a laptop, for god's sake. I got it so I wouldn't have to use a desktop computer, so no, I don't bloody want to switch back. I like my oblong.
F8: The RKO radio tower. Call Godzilla. Now.
F10: A square containing 4 dots. Brings up a dice function to make your D&D playing more convenient.
F12: A square containing up and down arrows, more often used to indicate an elevator. At the size it is (3x3 mm), though, it might easily be the sign for a unisex toilet. If an elevator: it switches on the GPS function so that you can access the internet from inside the Sears Tower elevator. Maybe it raises the laptop's lid -- oh, wait, if you're pressing that key, it's already open. If a toilet: if you press this key, it will erase everything on your hard drive. And no mercy for male or female users.
Spacebar: A crosshair with an arrow. This will bring up a virtual target so you can shoot your computer.

I promise to RTFM tomorrow.

Friday, September 15, 2006

more new stuff

No, I didn't push my mother's wheelchair down the stairs and inherit a bunch of dough. For one thing, she could probably deck me with a wheelchair; for another, she doesn't have stairs. For 8 months I've been keeping my eyes open for a laptop and found what I consider a good price for what I'm getting. It's a Toshiba Satellite A105-S4094, and seems to outdo all other laptops in the same price range when it comes to memory (1.5M), disk (120GB), and ports (Firewire and more USBs than feet). It's got the duo Centrino, wireless, 10BaseT port, analog modem, and a DVD burner. $950 plus tax from Best Buy.

What I don't like about the Satellite: nearly nothing, so far. I've never cared deeply for cutting edge, so I'll complain about the simple things. The touchpad is much smaller than that of the HP Pavilion it's replacing, and the front edge drops down about mid-palm, leaving me no wrist support at all. Spending all day moving files has gotten me aching a little. The mouse buttons seem a little stiff, requiring a solid press to keep it engaged.

I cannot find the brightness control. The printer port is covered with a port-shaped piece of plastic, with no obvious way of removing it neatly. The labels on the ports are just small enough to be indistinguishable. I know, I ought to read the manual, and I'll get to it sooner or later. It'll take a little time to get used to the Del key placed by the spacebar, under the period, and a vertical orientation of Home/PgUp/PgDn/End.

But I'm glad to get to pass on the Pavilion. The thing I hated most was that it ran hot. Close to burning hot, not for use in 95-degree weather in your shorts. And it ran hot right in the analog modem area, which always seems to be the shoddiest part of a laptop. The built-in modem broke after 2 years, and the cheap-shit CompUSA PCMCIA modem I replaced it with occasionally overheats as well and goes cross-eyed. It was just bad design to put it right next to the vents. As I write this, the Satellite's been on 16 hours with a lot of disk activity what with re-installing and moving, and it feels about as warm as a human. Sweet.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

bunny at last

A bit late, but we've got our first bunny of the season. I was getting concerned, but I also know I'm flying P too high. The secret field is intensely thick with baby tumbleweeds and a bad infestation of star thistles (non-native, aggressive, damages cow stomachs, spears falconers' knees). We flushed at least 10 bunnies, but they appeared only for a moment before disappearing again under the tumbleweeds, with just a puff of dust to mark their trail. A few jacks scrambled away as well.

For all this, P chased pretty good, pretty serious, though there were several instances where he could have gotten it but didn't commit. He didn't want to seem to crash through the stuff, and he's never been all that crazy about runners.

Further back, though, things thinned and changed into a heavy rice-like grass that gave off a slight smell of toasted onion. I was glad to find bunnies in here, since there was so little chance of P getting one back there. But after another 10 flushes, the right opportunity came: a bunny flushed into the open, or relatively open. P nailed it nicely by the head. All this had taken a good hour and a half, so he got a good feed and we went home pleased.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

there is no god of television

I have never been much of a TV watcher, and neither has the mate. So it's hard to say exactly what motivated us to spend $1000 on a 32" LCD TV. Granted, I haven't bought a new TV in 20 years. The first one I got just so I could watch Twin Peaks - a 13" Zenith, and saved a few bucks on a floor model. The mate, who watches more TV these days, wanted an LCD TV because of the lower power consumption, and something that could double as a monitor.

Though we originally figured about $600-800, there were few around that had both a tuner (yes we are among the last 30 poor slobs in California don't have cable) and the computer hookup. The tuner runs about an extra $100-$200. We looked at all the models and picked a few that we felt had the best picture. In our budget were models in the 24" range, and Video Only had just one with both the tuner and the monitor capability. And the picture didn't look all that great. I found the 32" ones generally better to look at.

The salesman gave us a deal, as the parlance goes, on a Toshiba 32HL66 for $999, and we decided to take it. This was Friday of the holiday weekend and they were having a big sale. I forked over the credit card and was told to phone Monday.

I called Monday. No TV. Tuesday I dropped by on my way back from work and asked. No TV. They'd sold a ton of them and were flat out. In front of other customers, I made a fuss about having ordered it on Friday and how I should have been on a list to receive one. The sales manager apologized and offered to exchange to a Panasonic TC32LX600, a more expensive model. I told them I would check with the mate and come back to decide whether I would cancel the order, wait for the Toshiba, or take the Panasonic. At home, I whipped onto the internet and pulled up prices. The Panasonic cost about $100 more than the Toshiba, and $250-$400 higher than the exchange price (not counting prices offered by charlatan web merchants.) We took the Panasonic.

After setting it up (it's shockingly light, only 48 pounds), hooking it up to the DVD, VCR and antenna, and programming the channels, we couched and fiddled with the remote. It gets HDTV very nicely. In all, we have about 25 channels to choose from, about 21 more than we were getting on the ancient Zenith. It's huge, bright and very clear, great to watch. But despite all this, there's still nothing good on TV.

Friday, September 01, 2006

silicon valley soliloquy

I just came back from a drive through Sunnyvale and memory presses on me. This is not truth, this is a dream, a metaphor, an ornately carved box into which the essence of Silicon Valley will be laid.

The late eighties to late nineties was a weird time in Silicon Valley. It really could be defined as the cocaine era, or perhaps the second cocaine era of the twentieth century. Circumstances had a few parallels to the Roaring Twenties too: strong stock market growth and what bluestockings would call loose behavior. That cycle started in the decadent teens; engineers swapping wives and smoking a lot of dope started in the late seventies.

We graduated to coke because we needed that shit to stay up and write the most beautiful pieces of code, design the coolest boxes. It was the secret fuel that drove all this groundbreaking innovation. We came in to work at eight and stayed till midnight, slept at desks, played with toys supplied by the company, ate gourmet goodies stocked in the kitchen, drank at the St James Infirmary, screwed women in the tree-bordered parking lots of smaller companies, which didn't have security guards cycling through.

And as cokeheads often eventually implode, so went the Valley. Where the Infirmary was now stands a hotel that looks less than three years old, but has that lineless, boxy, cheap look. The companies began to expect employees to live at work because we loved our work. But shortly after that, we started to wake up and realize we'd get paid the same whether we put in forty hours or a hundred. Of course, working forty would put you on the shit list, the first wave to get the pink slips. But there was always another place around the corner that could use a good engineer.

And then India showed up, with their great, intense, jangling minds plunging into software. What the hell was Mumbai? It didn't matter, because the CFOs realized they could pay these guys a quarter of what they were paying us. Four of them working together made better code than a single American engineer stuffing his nose with blow and enjoying an intimate, exclusive relationship with his SparcStation.

The bottom line. The love of the dollar above all other things killed the Valley. The entire place became an investment. A big government contractor is gone, replaced by Lowe's Home Improvement. The strip malls have gotten bigger, as if they hadn't been enormous already. Families with kids populate the sidewalks, back to as it was in the fifties.

People who did things for the love of doing them got the ax. People who understood the entire job of creating a machine from the circuits to the user interface got compartmentalized into one thing or the other. The HP Way got dug up and obliterated from the map for an overpass made of paper.

I grew up there, professionally speaking. Driving through tonight, the aura is gone. The mad-scientist joyride of innovation, the fucked-upness, the charisma, the surge, are all gone. Silicon Valley is not a place. It was a segment of time, and that time is over.