Random Synaptic Misfire
The senses consume. The mind digests. The blog expels.

Certain individuals keep telling me that I should be a writer (Hi Mom). This is probably as close as I'll ever come to making that happen.

“Epic Black Rock”

Category: By Foo
I don't usually pay a lot of attention to music or video mashups, but there was one that came across Blip.fm recently that blew my mind. And so I'm sharing the love.

Check out DJ Lobsterdust's “Epic Black Rock”, a slick Frankenstein's monster of a rock juggernaut made up from Faith No More's “Epic”, AC/DC's “Back In Black”, and Queen's “We Will Rock You”.
 


There's a special place in hell

Category: By Foo

Thieves Target Salvation Army, Three Other Dallas Charities

Police are looking for thieves who broke into several Dallas charities over the holiday weekend, including the state headquarters of the Salvation Army on Harry Hines. Detectives do not believe the burglaries were committed by the same people.
Link

Not committed by the same people? Oh, well… that's not so bad, then.
 


Fred Thompson explains all

Category: By Foo

Oh. That seems straightforward enough.

(A tip of the propeller beanie to my lovely bride, who sent me the link to this video.)

 


Merry Christmas!

Category: By Foo
Ah… another glorious 70-something-degrees Christmas day in North Texas! Here, at the Turtle 'n' Foo house, we'd like to extend to all of you our best wishes for an enjoyable and blessed Christmas day.
 


Gone in 60 seconds

Category: , , By Foo
In a sweetly magnanimous holiday gesture toward my friends and/or coworkers, Turtle sent goodies to work with me today. She lined an 11"x14" cake pan with festive tissue paper and packed it with an assortment of snickerdoodles, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, peppermint fudge, cranberry bread, and (the infamous) cinnamon popcorn. She gave me clear instructions regarding the manner in which these treats were to be distributed, noting that there wasn't enough for everyone.

So I rolled in at 6:20 and promptly fired off an email to any and every one at this place with whom I've ever had a remotely agreeable conversation, inviting them to come and avail themselves of my wife's largesse. Then, I sat back and waited to greet my holiday visitors.

By 10:00, only a handful of people had partaken – mostly after I'd corralled them in the halls – and each of them made a show of daintily picking out a single cookie or half a slice of cranberry bread. Finally, fearing that I might have to take the lot home with me, I placed the pan in the kitchen area for the general populace. I stopped at the men's room, after which I passed by the kitchen on the way back to my cubicle.

Half the pan had been emptied. One startled coworker was standing over the pan, cheeks full, with an expression on his face that I haven't seen since the time I was camping caught a family of raccoons raiding my cooler. He was one of the guys who had been on my original list of invitees.

Apparently, Christmas goodies are much more attractive when they can be eaten anonymously.
 


Blip!

Category: , By Foo
A fellow blogger (who will remain unnamed only because I'm not sure she'd want the publicity) recently turned me on to new(?) web site called Blip.fm. Think of it as Twitter, but with music as the focus and cross-pollinated with Google.

I've always had eclectic musical tastes and used to think that disc jockeys had the absolute best job in the world. At least, until I came to realize that most disc jockeys don't get to play what they like. Most have to play the songs that their program managers have established – using complex statistical analysis of demographic surveys – are least likely to cause the most listeners to tune to a different station before the commercial break.

Blip.fm is a great way for wanna-bes like me to inflict our musical tastes on a lot of other Blippers who are doing the same. It's also a great way to sample a lot of different music by bands I've never heard of and then download the ones I really like from Amazon or iTunes.

Music hasn't been quite this fun since the mid-'90s, when I was buying half a dozen CDs a week and cranking out mix cassettes for my buddies and me.
 


Weekend update

Category: , By Foo
Yesterday, Turtle went on a holiday baking spree, and the house smells like cookies and fudge and popcorn drizzled with melted “red hots” (cinnamon candy).

Turtle: I hope I didn't scald myself. I spilled molten red hots all over the leg of my jeans.
Foo: You okay?
Turtle: I… yeah. I think so.
Foo: Then can I start calling you “sugar britches”?
Turtle: That depends on how you'd feel about living with a permanent limp.

All of this was kind of the result of an invitation to a party. One of our RBENT friends has just celebrated his first year surviving lung cancer, and the gang planned to converge on his house to help him mark the date. Some yummy Tex-Mex, a little wine, and a lot of laughs later, I felt like we'd impressed on him how glad we all are that he's winning the battle. Live Strong, Bud!

This morning, we slept in. Around 8:30 I put on a pot of coffee and set about whipping up some bacon and eggs. Turtle set about trying to help, and we were quickly in one another's way. I found myself channeling my dad.

“Look,” he'd say in situations when Mom or we kids were too much under foot. “Why don't you just go sit down someplace?”

I realized immediately what I'd said. I waited, thinking maybe Turtle hadn't been listening. She started laughing, and I knew I was busted.

Good thing my wife has a sense of humor.
 


The Thyroid Diaries: Part 9 of 9

Category: , By Foo

17 May, 2002

Good news today. I had my full-body scan, and the verdict came back alles klar ('all clear'). What a enormous load off my mind and a relief for all those who care about me and have been praying for just such a result.

Of course, I had to get the information from one of the other doctors. Mine was 'out of town', which was just as well, as far as I'm concerned. God help him to see more clearly, not only for the collective sake of his patients, but also for his own. I get the distinct impression from my HR person and the insurance adjuster she's been working with through all this that the doctor's refusal to cooperate puts his status in the Private Health Care System (the PPO network my employer uses) in question. I think that the only reason some sort of protest hasn't already been filed is that it would cause me more problems, and that the moment I shift to a different doctor, this guy's got some 'splainin' to do.

Today

It's been over seven years since my initial diagnosis. Since then, I've been through three endocrinologists (due to changes in my employers' insurance plans) and three full-body scans. I've gotten married, built a new home, and moved to another town. The company I've worked for since 1990 has been been acquired twice. Since my surgery and treatment I've taken up cycling, have owned four different bicycles, and have ridden one of them in two MS 150s.

I'm still cancer free, by God's grace, and everyone except the life insurance underwriters consider me cured.

 


The Thyroid Diaries: Part 8 of 9

Category: , By Foo

2 October, 2001

Went back for another follow-up today, and the doctor says he thinks everything is right on track. I told him that I thought my dosage is still too low, and he said that we'd just have to wait for the blood tests to come back on that.

(Note: A week and a half later, I got a copy of the test results in the mail, along with a new prescription for a higher dosage.)

24 March, 2002

I'm getting a real education in just how cynical and messed up our health care system is. In February, I was supposed to have my first full-body scan since the one in August of last year, to see whether or not the post-surgery dose of radiation had been effective in killing off the cancerous lymph nodes that the last scan revealed. The endocrinologist enthused about some new synthetic hormone called Thyrogen, which he would administer in preparation for the scan, so that I wouldn't have to go off my Synthroid. Sounded great! So, he said, they'd submit the charges for this expensive medicine to my insurance beforehand, to verify that they'd cover it, before ordering the stuff.

The first of March rolled around, and I began to wonder when the doctor's office was going to call and tell me when to come in. I called and was informed that the insurance company hadn't gotten back to them about the Thyrogen, but when I checked with our human resources person about this, she found out from the insurance company that they had a record of not only having responded, but having approved the charges. After a lot of back-and-forth, during which the insurance company adjuster went so far as to guarantee, in writing, payment of the charges within 48 hours of their submission, the doctor finally informed me that the insurance company wouldn't cooperate. It was, according to him, "office policy" to require up-front payment from the insurance company for the Thyrogen, and his hands were tied.

"I see," I told him. "Correct me if I'm mistaken, but you're the lead partner in your practice, and it's you who make office policy. Right?"

"Well, I..."

So much for health care. It's all about the bottom line, these days.

Anyway, my bottom line is that I'm going off my meds for 6 weeks. I take Cytomel for 4 weeks, and then it's cold turkey for another two. When the nurse called to schedule my appointments for taking the tracer and getting the scan done, she commented, "I see you've decided to do this the hard way instead of taking the Thyrogen."

Seethe.



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The Thyroid Diaries: Part 7 of 9

Category: , By Foo

1 August, 2001

I had my appointment with the endocrinologist this morning. No poking or prodding or bleeding, this time around, but I got some answers about where we go from here.

He seems pleased with my recovery to date and confirms that I'll be off my hormone pills until August 13. At that time, I'll go to his office and take my "magic bullet", which is how he refers to the I 131 treatment. No goop to swallow; no hospital stay. Apparently, they only use the high doses of radiation that require hospital isolation in cases where the cancer has spread to a larger degree. Since papillary thyroid cancer spreads to the lymph nodes, when it spreads (as opposed to spreading in the bloodstream), and since the surgeon found only one positive cancerous node, they're going with a "therapeutic" dose (i.e.,the magic bullet).

For the most part, I'm not having to change my lifestyle or diet, aside from staying off my thyroid meds. I don't even have to change my diet, though he advised to keep a tight rein on salt intake and to stay away from fast food burger places. For some unknown reason, he says, they have a lot of iodine in their food. Anyway, I take my pill and then go back to be scanned a few days later, on Friday. Once that's out of the way, I'll go on my long-term thyroid medicine, and the next event will be another tracer scan at about 6 months.

He mentioned some other tests and things involving something-globulin and synthetic THS to avoid having to come off the meds for subsequent tests, but it's all a lot ot absorb at once, so I'll just take it as it comes.

He also had some enlightening things to say in response to my question about the NDA process that Synthroid is going through. I asked because this is a common thyroid hormone and the one that I probably would have been prescribed, but after my question, he seemed to think that he might put me on something else, just in case, to avoid any chance of having to re-balance my dosages, in the unlikely event of supply shortages.

14 August, 2001

I went in for my radiation pill yesterday. As predicted, it was pretty much of a no-brainer: I sat around for about half an hour before taking a white, half-inch-long capsule with a shot glass of water. The nurse took a vial of blood, and I was out the door.

Other things I learned:

  • My full body scan is this coming Friday, at 1:30.
  • Barring that the scan reveals thyroid tissue or cancer tissue activity, I'll be allowed to go back on my medication on Friday, after the scan. It sounds like I'll initially take the five or so Cytomel (short-term) tablets I have left from the post-op phase, to be followed by starting on my long-term Synthroid or whichever alternate brand name is prescribed.
  • The nurse told me that my dosage would be set a bit too high, at first, by design. This is fine by me, since I had joked about asking the doctor to do this so I could drop five or ten pounds that I've been wanting to lose. Then, I suppose, my dosage will be adjusted down, over time, until it is balanced to the doctor's satisfaction.

How do I feel? Draggy. I feel like I have small weights strapped to my arms and legs, and I tend to stare into space a lot--but then, the staring into space isn't really a change from the last year or so. It really makes me wonder just how long I've been like this and had simply adapted to it. I'm also somewhat depressed (also not unusual), so [Turtle] and I try to steer away from talking about important but frustrating topics like my job hunt and our struggle to be together. Once I'm on the meds, I'll be able to talk about these things without spiraling into insane, defeatist rants... but not now.

17 August, 2001

I went in on August 17 to have my full-body scan. There was no additional cancer found in my chest or lower abdomen, which is good, but there were two new (or previously-undiscovered) cancerous lymph nodes that showed up. They were glowing brightly with radiation, however, and the doctor says he expects to see no activity there when I have my next scan in 6 months.

In the mean time, I'm on my long-term thyroid medication now, and I have a follow-up office visit in October. I suppose that will probably be just to draw blood and check to see that my medication is at the right dosage. Basically, it's back to business as usual, which means turning my attention back to either finding me a job in St. Louis or finding [Turtle] one in Dallas so we can get this show on the road and be together. =)



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The Thyroid Diaries: Part 6 of 9

Category: , By Foo

25 July, 2001

Went to see the doctor (surgeon) today. More blood work to check my calcium and phosphorus levels. There's not really anything new to report about my condition, except that the doctor is happy with my healing and has set his assistants to working out the next steps with the endocrinologist. So far, I've had a call back saying that the endocrinologist's office is saying I'll probably have to be off of my thyroid hormones for two weeks in preparation for the I-131 treatment. That's a week longer than I'd been led to believe, to this point, and although I understand why it might be handled this way, if half of what I've heard about being off my thyroid meds (that I'll be totally exhausted feel like gravity has doubled) is true, it's going to be a pretty miserable week and a half. And that's not even counting the two to four days following the radiation treatment, during which I'll almost certainly be off the meds, as well.

Most of the discussion to this point had me believing that the actual radiation treatment wouldn't be a big deal, but the surgeon says that this kind of depends on what the endocrinologist wants to do. Depending on the dosage of radiation I'm given, I may have to go back in to the hospital so that they can keep me isolated until I'm no longer "hot".

Let's see... exhausted, nauseated, and stuck away in the hospital isolation ward. Sounds like a blast, but I guess I won't really know exactly what's happening until I talk to the endocrinologist.

Said doctor being, of course, out of town at another conference.

26 July, 2001

Got some more news following up from yesterday's visit with the surgeon. My calcium levels look good, so I'm now off one of my medications (the one that helps me to absorb calcium better). I go back for another blood test on next Monday (July 30), and then I think that's probably the last I'll see of the surgeon.

I also received a call from the nurse at the endocrinologist's office, and she told me to stop taking my Cytomel (the thyroid meds) on Sunday, July 29. Then, on August 1, I have an appointment with the endocrinologist. I would imagine he'll tell me then what the next few weeks will hold for me, but if I'm to stop the Cytomel this Sunday, I would expect the radioactive iodine treatment to follow sometime between August 6-13. I should know more after my appointment on August 1.



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The Thyroid Diaries: Part 5 of 9

Category: , By Foo

3 July, 2001: The Aftermath

Here's what happened. I went in to the hospital this past Friday, June 29, and things got underway pretty much on schedule. My buddy Kyle took me there and hung around to keep me company, which I was glad for, because I'm a big crybaby and was feeling pretty nervous. Around 12:00, John, the day nurse, came in, gave me some pills to take, and warned me that I'd be wanting to get into my gown because I'd be getting dopey when the Xanax took effect. At 12:30 or so, Peter the Orderly came to get me and they wheeled me down to the staging area for the surgery.

Next, a nurse put in my intravenous line and the anaesthesiologist stopped by to say a few words before going off to check on the operating room. This is where I believe they may have indulged in a bit of legerdemain, because the nurse injected something into my IV line that would make me "nice and sleepy"... and then I woke up in the recovery room with some guy hovering over me saying "[Foo]... [Foo]... scale of 1 to 10... how much pain are you feeling?" and shooting incremental doses of morphine into my IV line. Now, I may have just fallen asleep before I was supposed to and they decided to leave me that way, but I wonder if they didn't trick me to keep me from getting nervous as they hooked me up to stuff in the operating room. Or maybe it's amnesia. In any case, I didn't have much chance to get really nervous, and I'm grateful for that.

After they got me back up to the room, my surgeon came by to see me and told me that the surgery had gone well and that he'd been able to safely remove the thyroid without harming the nearby nerves or the parathyroid nodes. He did say that he'd had to remove one enlarged lymph node--which the pathology results have since confirmed was tumorous. He didn't see any others, however, so I take that as a good thing, and he has confirmed that the lymph node doesn't change my overall positive prognosis.

I stayed overnight and didn't get much sleep, what with the pain and the nurses coming in to check me and my roommate at least once an hour for most of the night. Ice packs, ice water, Darvocet, nasty instant chicken broth and suspicious yellow Jell-o made up most of my Saturday. I had to hang around until 3:00 to have blood drawn, because the doctor wanted to make sure my calcium levels were okay before releasing me. Calcium absorption in the body is controlled by the parathyroid, and although mine weren't damaged, I'm told that they customarily go into shock for about 30 days after a surgery like this, and I'm on massive doses of what probably amounts to oyster shells to combat this temporary problem.

Got to go home about 4:30 and have been doing pretty well ever since. I'm nearly off my pain pills now, only taking them when I've spent too much time talking to someone (mostly retelling this whole story). My voice tires easily and becomes hoarse, but again, I'm told that this is a temporary situation.

I have my first post-op office visit with my surgeon on Thursday, and I suspect that's when he'll fill me in on my schedule for the next couple months--let me know when I'm going back to work and all that. I do know that he's keeping me on my short-term hormones for 30 days, which will carry me safely through my July 19 visit to St. Louis. This will allow enough time for my natural thyroid hormones to leave my body. I'll be taken off the Cytomel and be on nothing for a number of days, after which I'll receive my radioactive iodine treatment.

The precise reason for this I-131 treatment or "iodine bomb" as I've come to call it) is a little confusing to me. I've been thinking that this was designed to kill any surviving thyroid cells (and, ostensibly, cancerous ones), but from the way the surgeon was talking it may be to allow another scan to see where there may be other cells that need treatment. I'm not sure. It may serve both purposes at once.

In the meantime, I'm doing pretty well. My throat doesn't hurt too bad, and as long as I'm not on my pain pills I'm driving myself around just fine. I just want to say how much I've appreciated all of you guys' thoughts and prayers through all this.

But keep them coming, because it's not over yet.



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Story at eleven…

Category: By Foo
Here's one of those headlines that sends you off in an entirely different direction from the story: Mexican Citizen Busted At Border For Crabs.
 


The Thyroid Diaries: Part 4 of 9

Category: , By Foo

25 June, 2001: Meeting the Surgeon

I had my first appointment with the surgeon who will be removing my thyroid, and we spent about an hour getting acquainted and discussing the procedure. A trim, neat man in his late 40's, he spoke with a soft Texas drawl and drew diagrams of the throat and thyroid on a napkin (I wish I'd kept this to scan). He used this impromptu teaching aid to explain where all my parts are, which ones will be removed, and how he's going to go about leaving intact the bits that need to stay there. After more of my questions about anaesthesia, my odds of getting medical insurance if I were to succeed in changing jobs, and how I was going to feel after the surgery, we got down to brass tacks and the question of scheduling.

My surgery will be this coming Friday, June 29, at 1:00 in the afternoon. Because I don't have a support network here locally, the surgeon seemed to think he'd prefer to have me stay overnight at the hospital, but as it stands right now I'm being scheduled as a day surgery. In the case that I'm released on Friday, I don't really have a feel for a timeframe. I'm guessing some time in the evening, which would be a pain in the arse for my buddy Kyle, who has agreed to chauffer me around.

The way I'm told this whole thing will go down is that I'll go to the hospital on Thursday to get some lab work done and complete the pre-certification that's required by the insurance company. On Friday I'll probably be told to show up around 11:00am (I won't know for sure until They tell me at pre-cert on Thursday). Surgery at 1:00. I'll go home either Friday evening, or Saturday morning(?) if I'm kept overnight.

Initially, I'll be put on a regimen of "temporary" thyroid hormones to get me through the healing stage, after surgery. This is a medication that leaves the system quickly, and after a number of days, I'll stop taking it. The doctor says I'll go for about a week without any thyroid hormones, which will crash my metabolism. As near I can tell, I'll be the human equivalent of a tree sloth, so I'm going to plan on being out of work during this time. The point of this is to make any surviving thyroid cells hungry so that when they give me my dose of iodine isotope, the cells will greedily gobble it up, maximizing the treatment's effectiveness. After this is complete, I'll be put on my long term thyroid medication, and the doctors will begin working to balance my dosage correctly.

The surgeon says that, with a little luck, I should feel well enough by June 19 to make my planned trip up to St. Louis to see [Turtle]. If I don't, I'll lose about $230, as the ticket is non-refundable--but of course, if I'm feeling bad enough to blow off the trip, I probably won't care about the money.

That's all for now.


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The Thyroid Diaries: Part 3 of 9

Category: , By Foo

5 June, 2001: On Pins and Needles

Well, needles, at least.

I had my biopsy this morning and, while it falls way down my list of Bad Things™, it's not an activity in which I'd care to participate on a regular basis. True, the needles themselves weren't diameter of a coffee stirrer, as one of my 'friends' had claimed, but there's a bit of fishing around; by the 5th and 6th samples, I was pretty tightly clenched, all the way 'round.

No lasting ill effects to report, though, unless you count feeling rather sore. On the other hand, neither do I have any results to report. The samples had to be sent off, and I won't know anything for 7 days or so (at which point I'm liable to be sitting on a county court jury, listening to some genetic fluke's lawyer try to convince us that there should be 'do not swallow' stickers on Nerf™ balls).

18 June, 2001: The 99th Percentile

So much for statistically minute probabilities. I just heard from my endocrinologist, who informs me that my biopsy shows I have papillary thyroid cancer. As I type this, I'm not really sure what I'm feeling about this news, which suggests I'm probably in shock. Certainly, I'm not inclined to joke about my situation any more.

According to the doctor, this is "the very best sort of cancer to have", but you'll understand if I refrain from turning cartwheels down the hallways. He says the drill will be to check me into the hospital, where my thyroid will be removed. I'll spend the night there and then, barring any complications, check out the next day. They'll dose me with radioactive iodine to kill off any of the thyroid that they didn't remove, and if all goes well the only reminder of the ordeal will be a 2" scar and the medication I'll have to take for the rest of my life (which, of course, I would have had to take even if it hadn't turned out to be cancer).

Time for a good stiff drink. Or a dozen.


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The Thyroid Diaries: Part 2 of 9

Category: , By Foo

22 May, 2001: Status Update

I had my appointment with the endocrinologist and, although he shared with me that my situation doesn't fit any of the classic profiles for thyroid problems, he was able to tell me, with some certainty, the following:

  • My pituitary is working fine and doesn't indicate any kind of tumor. Basically, the pituitary secretes a Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (or TSH), which is what tells the thyroid to do its thing. Duh. The fact that my TSH levels are elevated says that the pituitary is doing its thing as it should, and my thyroid is blowing it off.
  • The problem with the thyroid probably isn't cancer. Apparently, the thyroid is not one solid mass, but rather is composed of multiple "nodules" all clustered together. If the thyroid were cancerous, I'm told that there would have been enlargement of a single nodule. The entire left and center portions of my thyroid are enlarged, so the problem isn't cancer unless I have one or more cancerous nodules hiding within the enlargement of the gland itself--a possibility that the endocrinologist says is "statistically minute".
  • Although my situation seems to be uncharacteristic in ways that I'm not fully able to appreciate, what I'm told is that I definitely am suffering from mild hypothyroidism.

I go back on Thursday for one more test, and then I'll probably be put on thyroid hormones for six weeks. The doctor says he'll evaluate how I respond to that and then go from there. The likelihood is that I'll have to take the medication for the rest of my life, but the situation could have been a lot worse. Given the choice between taking pills ever after and chemo/surgery/daily injections, I'll take the pills as a nearly insignificant price to pay.

25 May, 2001: Another Test

Since the first attempt to irradiate and scan my 'roid (that's thyroid, for the record) failed so dismally, my endocrinologist invited me back to his office to try again. Another $10 co-pay. As Yakov Smirnoff might say, "Whaaaadda contry."

But I digress.

This time, they weren't fooling around. This time, there was none of this swallowing of a radioactive capsule and coming back the next day. Instead, the doctor--one of the associates, since my doctor wasn't there yesterday--shot the stuff directly into a vein. I cooled my heels, chatting up the assistant for about 15 minutes, and then hopped up on the gurney to be scanned under a rather ominous-looking device – a big conical thing supported by two thick metal arms and counterweights that reminded me of the ones used on the front ends of tractors at a tractor pull to keep them from pulling wheelies.

They took two scans, and when the assistant was finished, she brought them up on the monitor for me to see. It showed a large dark area in the left lobe of my thyroid, which indicates that there was none of the radioactive goop absorbed there. She told me that, based on what was showing up, the doctor would probably want me back in for a biopsy.

Mmmmmmm... more needles.


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Humor for nerds

Category: By Foo
Q: Why do computer programmers confuse Hallowe'en with Christmas?
A: Because Oct 31 == Dec 25
Yeah, I know: lame. But if I'd written it as “318 == 2510” the joke wouldn't have been obvious.
 


On the 21st century bandwagon

Category: By Foo
Q: What's small, blue, and full of everything from Benny Goodman and baroque allegros to The Offspring's Hammerhead?
A: My new iPod Nano.

That's right: after reading about all of you and your fancy-schmancy music devices (and frequently talking about one for myself), I finally caught a sale at Best Buy and picked one up. It's not my birthday yet, and Turtle and I aren't really planning a lot of shopping for this Christmas; but I figured it was fair trade for the time I've spent this year coding contact forms for a couple of her clients' web sites.

All I can say is that it's pretty cool – and much tinier than I'd expected. So tiny, in fact, that when I listened to it at work using my Sony V6 headphones, the weight of the cord kept dragging the iPod off my desk. I promptly had Turtle pick me up a rubberized sleeve to give the Nano some traction and to keep from scratching the case if it did slide.

Meanwhile, I've been busy going through my hundreds of CDs and ripping the one or two worthwhile tracks from the many of them that turned out to be crap, otherwise. I've filled about three of the eight gigabytes so far, and while I don't know how many days' worth of music that translates to, I'm betting it's quite a bit. I can hardly wait 'til I get around to putting the bike on the trainer for the first time this winter without having to set up my huge, late '80s boom box just to have some tunes. I'm thinking the “Thrash 'n' Burn” play list will be just the thing.
 


The Thyroid Diaries: Part 1 of 9

Category: , By Foo
In 2001 BB ("Before Blogging"), I was diagnosed with a malignant but slow-growing variety of thyroid cancer. While going through some old directories on my computer, I stumbled on a web page diary I kept at the time to keep friends and family up to date. I figured I'd post those entries here because, in retrospect, the whole experience was sort of funny.

25 April, 2001: Mysteries and Mayhem

A number of months ago, I just happened to be rubbing my neck and swallowing at the same time and noticed a hard knot along my windpipe, slightly below and to the left of my Adam's Apple. It feels like it's maybe a half inch in diameter, and it's not tender. I sort of blew it off, figuring it was one of those inflamed lymph nodes you get sometimes from fighting a cold.

When the pesky thing hadn't gone away by the time I was due for my annual physical, I made a mental note to mention it to my internist--who has subsequently had me running all over the place, being irradiated and stabbed. Here's the short history:

  • My primary physician (internist) says, judging from the position of the thing, that I appear to have a "thyroid nodule". This could be the result of a number of things, among which are scarring from an old infection, inflammation due to some current issue, and some sort of tumor. He tells me that it's very rare for men to have thyroid problems and, statistically, cancer would be the least likely possibility. Then again, I recently took the Gender Test, which concluded with 86% certainty that I'm a woman. But even if it's cancer, he says thyroid tumors are among the most successfully treated.
  • So... it's off for an appointment with the department of nuclear medicine at the hospital. The drill here was for me to show up, barely awake, at 9:00 in the morning, sit in a waiting room full of people who were obviously (to my worried mind, at least) dying. After filling out lots of forms, freeing the hospital from any responsibility should I be inadvertently rendered sterile or brain dead, I got to go into a storage room/office and take a small capsule of radioactive iodine.
  • Next day: back to the nuclear medicine department, where they scanned me to get their reference radiation levels in preparation to calibrate the thyroid scanning machine for my test. Which was never done, because it turns out that I didn't absorb any of the iodine into my thyroid. "How can this be?" I asked, now certain that my long-time relationship with Murphy was once again making itself known.

    "Well," he said, nervously fingering his malpractice waiver forms, "I don't know. Your readings are inconsistent, and with your TSH levels, the only way you could have not absorbed any iodine is if your thyroid has completely shut down." Quoting Sherlocke Holmes--I think--I told him that when you eliminate the impossible, the answer must be what's left, no matter how improbable: the thing's an alien implant.

    He didn't get it.

  • Back to my internist, who, in the absence of much useful information from the puzzled nuclear doctor, wants to schedule me with a top-notch endocrinologist. So top-notch, in fact, that I can't get an appointment until May 21. I asked the receptionist if she figured I might drop dead before then. She said she reckoned I wouldn't; but if I do, I should be sure to leave a message on their system and she'd try to work me in sooner.

    Oh, such a laugh we had over that one.


Next »
 


Seasonable suds

Category: By Foo
Last weekend, I volunteered to go along with Turtle to the grocery and push the cart. She can manage on her own – though the how of that remains an amazement – but I like to help out when I can. The one rule is that I'm only along to serve as brute labor. Requests such as, “Would you grab a package of macaroni and cheese off that top shelf?” are fine, but questions requiring decision making (a la, “Would you like [this] or [that]?” are strictly verboten.

Anyway, we had just survived the frozen food aisle and deftly dodged the UT alumni holding a reunion at the endcap when we achieved nirvana: the beer aisle. I had thus far on this trip suppressed the urge to inflict bodily harm on any of my fellow shoppers and decided I was entitled to a reward.

“I'll catch up with you,” I told Turtle. “I'm going to pick up a six pack of some fancy beer.”

What I ended up selecting was something called Winter's Bourbon Cask Ale. It wasn't my intention to buy a Michelob product, but I didn't notice that affiliation until later. At right, you can see how Michelob describes the brew on the side panel of the packaging. Hint of vanilla: check. Hint of bourbon: check. Their evaluation of the hoppiness seemed pretty on the mark, as well, and was more in line with Blue Moon or something you'd get from Flying Dog than I generally associate with “ale” – but maybe that's because I lean more toward a pale ale.

Anyway, if you like a little more adventure in your beer than just the typical Budweiser or Miller Lite, you might pick up a six pack. Winter's Bourbon Case Ale is a bit more desserty than I'd choose for my mainstay, but I enjoyed it for a chance of pace.
 


Weekend update

Category: By Foo
By this time last week, I'd packed up my desktop workstation, my technical books, and the rest of the contents of my cubicle. Unseen hands and backs were conveying these things to a new location about five miles down the road, in colorful plastic rental crates that smelled faintly of orange cleaner.

Based on the tour of the facilities that we'd received a couple months ago, I wasn't feeling optimistic. We were going from two floors to a small portion of one floor. The cubicles we were shown would be the same 6'x8' to which we were downsized in the last move, but the cubicles would be closer together. Along with various arbitrary-seeming restrictions, the prospect of being packed in with loud-talking groups like customer support and marketing convinced me that this move would be yet another turn in the downward spiral our work conditions have taken since 2005.

This week, I'm feeling much better about the situation. After a predictably loud and chaotic Monday, when everyone scrambled to get unpacked and resolve network connectivity issues, things calmed down quickly. To my surprise, it has actually been quieter in the new workplace. Part of this is due to the staggered work schedule that has split up some of the groups more prone to standing around and yukking it up; but I think that because we're all in cubes now and so close together, people are generally more aware of their volume levels. This is a Good Thing™. We were also pleased to discover that our 6'x8' cubes had magically expanded to 8'x8' (the company's standard size for developers). You wouldn't think that two feet one way or the other would amount to much, but it's significant when you've got a second computer and monitor taking up about two feet of space at one end of the desktop.

The facilities people at the new place have been stellar. One guy in particular has been running non stop since we got there, doing his best to get us everything we need to make ourselves at home. He's even promised to work on rebalancing the heating/cooling vents so that those of us who tend to be cold natured aren't freezing all the time.

Now playing: Queens of the Stoneage, Songs For The Deaf
 


Creative Pause

Category: , By Foo
I've long felt that I do some of my most inspired thinking just after waking in the morning, while in the shower. On those occasions when I share this information with family or coworkers, the listener tends to smirk and imply that my inspirations may not be entirely technical in nature.

Which is why I was interested to find Cameron Moll's posting, “Why thinking in the shower may be an ideal model for ‘creative pause’” – and find comfort in knowing I'm not the only one.

Now… that dream I had last night about Madonna? That, I can't explain. Not that I need to – Turtle dreams of Vin Diesel and can't afford to be judgmental – but why couldn't it have been Jennifer Connelley or Diane Lane?
 


At the skate park

Category: By Foo
I was wondering what Turtle's up to when I'm not around…

 


On a piano

Category: , By Foo
I need a break from all the election hoo ha. How about you?



Now, if you've got that song stuck in your head and need to dislodge it, I recommend this.
 


Home again

Category: By Foo
It's good to be home. It was good to be on vacation – even better than I expected, since I couldn't get a VPN connection and so couldn't do any of the work I'd intended to take on as a compromise to not going at all – but it's always good to be back home. Everything's still standing, which tells me that the cats didn't get too angry about being abandoned and that the neighborhood kids didn't trash the place as revenge for our not being here to hand out candy.

We went to Destin again this year to spend a week with my in-laws. The weather was a bit chilly, but unlike last year we had all sunny days. Turtle and her mom got out a couple days to lie by the pool absorbing carcinogenic rays and did some shopping. Meanwhile, I hung out with my father-in-law. Like me, he generally prefers to just hang out, chatting and catching up on reading; but on Thursday we took a little guy excursion to the Air Force Armament Museum at Eglin Air Force Base.

Like a lot of guys, I've always had a certain fascination with planes and guns. When I was a kid, I was particularly interested in WW I and WW II aircraft. I read the stories about Eddie Rickenbacker and Jimmy Doolittle and became somewhat familiar with the planes they flew and the weapons with which their planes were armed. It's one thing to read and look at pictures, but it's way cool to see the planes and weapons up close. Antique Vickers and Spandau machine guns, General Electric gatlings ranging from the smallish helicopter mounted variety to huge ship-mounted specimens with barrels 20 feet long. And bombs of all shapes and sizes with explanations of what they were for and how they worked. On the one hand, it was disturbing to think about the destruction of which their live counterparts were capable; but from an engineering perspective… fascinating.

Outside, I got to see and stand under the wings of an SR-71 Blackbird, a B-25 bomber like the one Jimmy Doolittle flew on his historic raid, and a B-17 “flying fortress” like the one on which one of our friends from church was a ball turret gunner during WW II. Talk about claustrophobic! The ball is so small even with the guns and seat removed (was there a seat?) that I couldn't imagine how someone could fit in it, much less track and fire on enemy aircraft while hanging exposed under the belly of the plane.

And then there was the MOAB – the emerald-green, schoolbus-sized bomb of the type used in Afghanistan for bunker busting. The thing was so huge, I can't even picture how something like that would be deployed. If you want a look go here and mouse over “MOAB” on the map.

I'm still kicking myself for forgetting my camera.
 


Renewal

Category: , By Foo
I got a card in the mail last week notifying me that it was time to renew my driver's license, and would I kindly take time off from work to schlep to the nearest outpost of the Texas DPS to address the matter. No biggie. I took today off so that I could prepare for tomorrow's drive to Florida in leisure, so I got myself around, rounded up the check book and my social security card (do you know where yours is?), and headed up county.

At the DPS, the line was mercifully short, and the only real delay was the time required to fill out a form with a bunch of yes/no questions (in English, and also in the official language of Texas) that seemed very interested in establishing whether or not I'm prone to various sorts of seizures. As if anyone wanting a license would actually answer “yes” if he/she were. Personally, I'd rather have questions regarding the applicant's legal status and whether or not he/she were entitled to hold a license. But that's just me.

Over the years, I've seen the renewal process change. First came the electronic signature thingy, which inexplicably provides no visual feedback so that the result always looks like something forged by a crack addict in the midst of withdrawal. Then came the requirement to be thumbprinted – in ink, initially, and now electronically. Sometime in the last ten years or so, subtle, hard to fake designs incorporating the state seal were added to the license itself.

This time, there was a new twist.

“Please take off your glasses and stand with your toes on the white line so I can take your picture,” the unusually pleasant clerk directed.

I did as I was asked and removed my glasses. Unfortunately, having done so I was no longer capable of discerning where the white line might be, much less whether or not my toes were on it. After a few uncomfortable moments, the clerk suggested I put my glasses back on, stand with my toes on the white line, and then remove my glasses. Which did the trick.

Next, the clerk used a big pair of scissors to cut the top edge off my license to invalidate it and then gave me a receipt way too large to easily fit in my wallet, which I was to carry in my wallet to make my invalidated license kind of valid until the new one arrives.

“So, why did you have me take my glasses off?” I asked. “I'm not vain about them; that's just the way I look.”

She explained that “we” – by which, I assume, she meant herself and the rest of Texas DPS and not including me – are using face recognition technology now, and that doesn't work with the glasses on. Face recognition?? What's up with that? I can't even figure out how to use T9 to compose a complete text message, and we've got face recognition data being tied in to our drivers' licenses?
 


Mushroom, mushroom

Category: By Foo
It's 6:50am and I've been at my desk, working, since twenty past six. Only one or two others are here this early, and they're elsewhere on the floor. It's very quiet, and only every third or fourth ceiling fixture is lit. It's very peaceful.

I hear someone get off the elevator, talking loudly on her cell phone and jingling her keys. I hear the noisy flip-flap of sandaled feet approaching from behind.

Coworker: What are you doing sitting in the dark?
Foo: I'm not sitting in the dark.
Coworker: Sure you are. The lights are off.
Foo: Ah… you have infravision. Impressive.
Coworker: Infra what?
Foo: Infravision. You can see in the dark. That's how you saw me with the lights off, right?
Coworker: Oh… well, not all the lights. Some of the lights are on.
Foo: Ah.
Coworker: How can you see what you're doing?
Foo: I'm a touch typist. And see how this magic picture frame glows?
Coworker:
Foo: My monitor.

Her cell phone bursts into a raucous, fully-orchestrated rendition of “Celebrate” (the Kool & the Gang one; not the Three Dog Night one). She looks relieved.

Coworker: Oopsie! Gotta go!

She jangles off, talking loudly, apparently to herself (ah, bluetooth). There's a loud “CLACK!” as she slaps the entire bank of light switches. Several dozens of harsh fluorescent tubes flare to life, and I feel a little like an escaping convict pinned by a searchlight's beam.

In ten minutes, if no one else walks through the area, the motion detection system will turn off the excess lighting. If I'm lucky.
 


Down to brass tacks

Category: By Foo
Or more to the point, tax.

I recently received an email that provided a comparison of the taxation proposals for the two major presidential candidates. I found this information to be quite nauseating enlightening, but these days there's no telling where the information being passed around in emails might have come from. I'm sure Snopes is getting a real workout.

Anyway, I checked out The Tax Foundation – that's the folks who bring us the annual calculation of Tax Freedom Day – and found their handy Presidential Candidate Tax Plan Comparison.

I encourage you, dear reader, to check it out. Preferably on an empty stomach.
 


Labial embellishment on a porcine mammal

Category: By Foo
Or maybe eye shadow on a javelina.

Aaanyway… it's not political. It's a new blog skin.

Now playing: Aimee Mann, I'm With Stupid
 


Wednesday Potpourri

Category: , By Foo
Over on Pickled Beef, Tink asked for a little help in restoring her faith in humanity. I don't get out much and so didn't see any continuum-altering opportunities for good deeds, but I did what I could.

About half a mile from our house is a nice recreational park. It's mostly an open field used for kids' soccer practices and the occasional Sunday morning cricket match (seriously.), with a splash park and a couple picnic shelters plonked down in the middle.

The park also has a 1.55 mile long walking/jogging/biking path that runs all the way around its perimeter. At several points along the path, the city of Allen has provided permanent stations for dispensing doggie poo mitts and receptacles for the disposal of any such collected during one's walk around the path. Neat idea, huh? I think so, but the local pet owners apparently don't agree. Maybe it's in our nature to rebel against doing what someone else wants us to do (pick up after your pony-sized mastiff, in this case), or maybe it's just too much to ask people to hang up their cell phones so they'll have a free hand for a doggie poo mitt.

Either way, when Turtle and I went out for a ride this past weekend, I was dismayed to find a couple large piles of poo on the path. Not next to the path, in the grass. On the path. Instead of spending the rest of my ride fuming, I thought of Tink's post, rode to the nearest poo station, and grabbed a couple poo mitts.

“I'm going for another lap,” I called to Turtle. I held up my poo mitts and waved them. “I got doody duty!”

I discovered a few things over the course of that lap:
  • The poo mitt is really simple to use. Just put it over your hand, pick up the poo, and (!important) turn the mitt inside out so that your hand is outside the mitt and the poo is inside.
  • I intensely dislike [the behaviors of] lazy, self-centered people.
  • Riding around with a couple bags of dog crap in the pockets of my cycling jersey makes me giggle. I even made up a song, to the tune of The Pretenders' “Brass In Pocket”. (I leave the lyrics to the reader as an exercise.)
It was easy and fun (almost). From now on, when we do the park loop, I think I'll grab a couple poo mitts and police the area as we go. No charge.

Other recent randomness:
  • Turtle wouldn't let me buy her anything for her birthday or for our anniversary. Instead, she's had me testing my somewhat limited home improvement abilities. First, we rolled the dice on some decorative painting technique. Not a big deal, on the face of it; I'm proficient with both brush and roller. The risky bit was where I had to use a brown glaze and a rag to attempt an antiqued effect. The result was… acceptable. Then came the energy-saving window film. I've done two windows so far, with not too many bubbles but no small amount of cat hairs embedded like flies in amber. The jury is still out regarding the film's effectiveness at blocking heat.
  • Last month, Turtle's hairdresser friend from St. Louis was in town and we got to meet them for dinner. During the course of their conversation, the two of them concluded that I needed a new haircut. Turtle's friend gave me clear instructions, which I passed on to my barber yesterday. After I'd signed the waiver, he went to work on me with the clippers and #2, #3, and #4 guides. The results? Well, it's comfortable; it will save some money on gel and electricity I would have used to run the hair dryer; it shows quite clearly where I'm going to go bald first; and it makes Turtle look really young.
  • I had a really nice ride Sunday afternoon with the Recumbent Bicycle Enthusiasts of North Texas (RBENT). We met out near the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport and did a loop around the perimeter of the airport for a total of about 23.5 miles. It was a really good turnout, and it was great fun seeing such a large variety of recumbent bikes and trikes rolling down the road and turning heads. Oh, and the dinner at Hard Eight BBQ (Coppell, TX) afterward was really yummy, too.
 


So, like… Vote Texas? Okay?

Category: , , By Foo
I've been watching quite a bit of television this week. It's “National Stay At Home Week”, so I pretty much had a gun to my head. Maybe that's why I'm just now starting to see the adverts for Votexas.org (a URL so clever that my well-trained fingers find it difficult to type). So far, I've seen half a dozen of the TV spots and heard a couple on the radio. Of these, one depicted a male quadriplegic in a motorized wheelchair, urging people with special needs to visit Votexas.org where they can learn about their voting options. Good advice. Well done.

With that one exception, all the rest of the spots have featured young women who, based on what they say and how they say it, seem to have the intellectual horsepower of a mango. I keep expecting one of them to blurt, “Like, omigawwd! That Baraahk Obaahma is so. Sexay.” None of them does, of course; I'm pretty sure that “omigod” as an expletive is, like, totally 20th century.

All of this leads me to wonder: Are these really the people we should be encouraging to vote? With so much on the line for our next president and the country he will lead, wouldn't it make more sense to let the clueless and the uninformed quietly sit this one out?

Meanwhile...

I'm intrigued by the design of the Votexas.org (Gah! Mistyped it again!) site. The web designers among you may find it interesting to ponder how the image map navigation bar has been designed so that a drop-shadowed check mark appears over the last campaign button clicked. Clean, minimalist, and effective – just the way I like it.

And now, the segue

Speaking of politics and web design, I found a real doozy of a post at Design View, the personal site of Plano web designer Andy Rutledge. I consistently enjoy reading the web site design makeover articles there, but the makeover of the USA.gov is, as John Cleese often said, “something completely different.”

Never reticent about making his opinion known – whether in the realm of web design or life in general – Rutledge has really outdone himself this time. The design analysis is informative, as usual, but is kicked to the curb by some pretty caustic political satire. Based on the couple of Rutledge's favorite comments following the article, it has succeeded in infuriating some readers – which, I'm pretty sure, is exactly what he was after.

I wonder if the young women in the Votexas.org adverts would get the point?

Now playing: Soundgarden, Down On The Upside
 


Welcome to The Matrix

Category: By Foo
As a consequence of our latest acquisition, we'll be pulling up stakes and moving to a new office again, in a couple months. The facilities manager for our region came and did a presentation a couple weeks ago and did her best to reassure us that the new quarters were going to be “really nice” – but I don't think my subconscious is buying it.

When my alarm went off this morning, I was in the middle of a dream. In that dream, I was being instructed in the use of my new work space, which looked very much like one of those video arcade games where you sit in a 6'x4' (roughly) enclosure and pilot some sort of vehicle. Rows upon rows of these enclosures were packed side to side, back to front with only enough space between to allow some ventilation. The tops were open to allow employees to be lowered from above using a winch that moved freely from the entrance to any point in the room. To exit, the employee summoned the winch by pressing a small red button inside the enclosure. Once the employee's work day began, the button would not become operative until a minimum of 10 hours (less a half-hour lunch break) had passed, or the employee expired.

This enclosure was, the presenter explained, the very latest in ergonomic design:
  • Its ‘compact’ design ensured that everything a developer might need was within easy reach.
  • The oblong hole in the seat saved time-wasting trips to and from and in the washroom.
  • Nourishment and liquid refreshment were provided by means of plastic tubes that extended from the side wall to a convenient position next to the employee's face.
  • The sides of the enclosures were open so that the employee would have constant companionship of the employees on either side.
  • Telephones were build into the enclosure and were conveniently designed to work only as speaker phones, thus avoiding the inconvenience of having to cradle a handset on one's shoulder to talk while typing. These devices had no volume control, the volume having been pre-set to an optimal level to ensure that any (and every) employee would be able to hear.

Meanwhile…

The large thermos-style coffee pot we have here at the office was empty, so I started a new pot. When it's brewing, the coffee maker turns on the water feed for about two seconds, shuts it off for about four seconds, and repeats. Two on. Four off. Two on. Four off.

It occurred to me that it kind of sounds like a hospital ventilator, which – at this time in the morning – seems entirely appropriate.

Now playing: Jet, Shine On
 


Yarrr! (A Timely Apparition)

Category: , By Foo
I arrived at the office this morning, docked my laptop, and booted up the coffee pot. I had barely begun pulling down the day's latest code changes when I heard a noise – kind of a creaking screech, and only once. About 15 seconds passed before I heard it again.

Great, I thought. The A/C system's about to start making a racket again.

The third time, I stood up to try and locate the source of the sound. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed some movement over at the window and stared in disbelief at the parrot staring back at me. A parrot, sitting on the narrow lip outside the window of my office building.

Inconceivable!

You just don't get a lot of that sort of thing in Frisco, so I grabbed my phone/camera and snapped a couple shots. They didn't come out particularly well, what with the glare from the fluorescent lights inside; but it's kind of a moot point since I don't subscribe to the value-added phone service that would allow me to upload them to this blog. However, thanks to Google, I was able to browse parrot pictures until I found a couple that looked like “my” parrot. As near as I can tell, he's a Jenday Conure and looks very much like this one.

By the time I'd ID'ed my little friend, he'd flown off. Later still, I recalled hearing somewhere that today is annual Talk Like A Pirate Day. How cool would it have been if I'd been able to make contact with my little friend and get him/her to ride around on my shoulder while I squinted one eye and announced to anyone within earshot, “Yarrrr! I'm a software pirate!”

Yes, there's a special place in heaven waiting for long-suffering bride as a reward for putting up with me.

Now playing: Zero7, Simple Things
 


Out of the loop

Category: By Foo
Jeepers! Blogspot hasn't deleted this thing yet?

When I recently came up for air and poked my head out of my cubicle, here are a few bits of interesting news that had transpired while I wasn't paying attention:
  • Large Hadron Collider. Wait. There's a machine that could create an earth-devouring black hole? How did this happen, and why wasn't I notified??
  • Lance Armstrong. Come on, now. You didn't really believe he was going to stay retired, did you? Although part of me suspects this may be a his way of capitalizing on the wave of interest in cancer research, the truth may be that he's just bored and hasn't enjoyed being so much out of the public eye.
  • Changes at Dell. Some of this came as no surprise. I've been too lazy to bother changing the IE home page on my work laptop, so I've seen some of the stylish new desktop and laptop designs Dell is coming out with. What bothers me is that the next time I decide to order a new desktop machine, I may not be able to tweak the components like I've done in the past. Then again, by the time I reach that point, I may have decided to just invest in a good dockable laptop or… no. No, I don't think I could ever afford a Mac.
  • Chrome. Another browser? Where do I sign? I installed this just the other day and really haven't had much opportunity to play with it, except to take a look at my web sites and verify that they render correctly. My initial impression is that it's a sparse little thing with not much in the way of extraneous buttons and toolbars. But that's Google's style, isn't it? I do kind of like the "incognito" feature, which is a browser window that supposedly doesn't keep track of history or cookies once you shut it down. I guess that could be handy for keeping things tidy on one's work computer.

Meanwhile…

Things are starting to settle down at work. We spent August in a kind of limbo, where we weren't the company we used to be but hadn't gone through legal entity combination and weren't yet the company we were going to be. But now (as of 1 Septemb3r), we are.

Most of administrative hassles involved with getting signed up for benefits, rolling over my 401K, signing up for a dozen or more new network accounts, etc. has been completed. There's still a bit of confusion as we try to figure out the culture of our new masters, and the future directions of some of our projects are still to be decided. But we're getting there.
 


The Olympic spirit

Category: By Foo
In honor of this year's hosts, I'd just like to say, “我有一個活鱒魚在我的內褲” 。

But seriously, the Beijing Olympics have been a lot of fun for me:
  • I'm not generally a big fan of swimming – not watching it, and certainly not doing it. But seeing Michael Phelps' historic run has turned me into something of a bandwagon jumper. Just amazing.
  • Ditto women's gymnastics. Never mind that part of me cringes every time one of them starts flopping around on the balance beam (I think you know which part). I just feel like I should avert my eyes or something. But again, with Nastia Liukin living and training in my extended neighborhood, I can't help but take an interest.
  • I'm really looking forward to the upcoming women's sand volleyball semi-finals between May-Treanor/Walsh and whichever of the Chinese teams they'll face. Turtle thinks it's because I like Kerri's abs and the way Misty's bum fills out a skimpy bikini bottom, but the truth is that I just love watching them play. I love watching Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers too, but they don't seem to get as much TV coverage (perhaps because they don't have the same visual appeal as sand-covered women in skimpy bikinis). I used to play a lot of beach volleyball when I was younger, and the reflexes are still there. Every time one of the U.S. players shanks a pass, I twitch involuntarily, willing them to dive and dig it out.
  • I really, really would like to see someone wipe the cocky smirk off Usain Bolt's face, but I somehow doubt I'll get my wish. That guy is scary fast. “Ruuun, Walter! Run!”
  • Just when I'd begun to suspect that all there is to the Olympics are swimming, diving, gymnastics, volleyball, and track events, I got to see some coverage of horse jumping (or whatever it's called), table tennis, and trampoline. And now I understand why those events don't get any coverage.
 


The up side of the back side

Category: By Foo
The conversation went something like this:

Turtle: Did you put on a fresh pair of jeans today?
Foo: Yeah.
Turtle:
Foo: Why? Is there something on them?
Turtle: No. Did you lose weight?
Foo: Some. I'm down to 160, last time I checked.
Turtle: Oh.
Foo: What is it? Are you saying these jeans look bagged out already?
Turtle: Well–
Foo: Wait… I'll put my wallet in my pocket. That'll help.
Turtle: Now your butt looks lop-sided.

It's a good problem to have. I think.

Now playing: The Contrast, Perfect Disguise: Introducing The Contrast
 


Ride report: Tour de Paris (Paris, TX)

Category: , By Foo
This past Saturday was the 24th annual Tour de Paris, one of my favorite rides each season. This year was especially notable because Turtle decided to take advantage of the relatively flat route and go for a personal best distance on the 30-mile route. I was signed up for my usual 100K but had promised myself to back off last year's 18.9 mph pace.

We rolled out of bed at 4am, got everything loaded and were on the road by 5:30. A number of my MS 150 teammates were going up for the ride, and we were looking forward to seeing them there. As fate would have it, we didn't really cross paths with most of them until after the ride; but that's the way these things go.

The people who run the Tour de Paris were enthusiastic and accommodating as always. This year they'd added a twist to the route, taking us through downtown Paris (“Second largest Paris in the world!” according to the mayor) before heading out on the main route. But once out on the route, the ride just didn't seem the same as in the previous couple years. The roads seemed rougher this year, not so much because of the size of the chipseal aggregate but because they seemed to have been battered by traffic. Much the route was like riding on a washboard, so that even on the flat I had to keep peddling to maintain my pace. Rest stops were not as well stocked as in years past, which I attribute to soaring fuel and grocery prices (this year's entry fee was unchanged from last year's). That's not a big deal to me, except that there wasn't a bottle of pickle juice in sight – bad news for guys like me, who benefit from the cramp-fighting properties of the stuff.

I rode the first 20 miles or so with Mrs. Strada before discreetly pulling off at a rest stop to… rest – but mostly as a diplomatic way to cut her loose so that I wouldn't be tempted to try keeping up with her brisk pace. By mile 50 or so, I was beginning to suspect I was in trouble. Despite my backing off the pace, I was probably using the same amount of energy as I had spent going fast, last year. And the heat was getting to me. When I pulled up to the 50-mile stop, I felt uncoordinated and lightheaded, and I had started feeling chills – all warning signs for heat exhaustion. I sat down under a canopy and doused myself with cold clothes being passed out by the volunteers. After a while, I felt good enough to get back on the bike; but the loop around the town square had added roughly 5 miles I really could have done without, at that point.

So, just like last year, I was in energy conservation mode: not worrying about my pace, spinning smaller gears, and coasting at any opportunity. Finally, after climbing more rolling hills than I remembered there being on the Paris route, I rolled into the parking lot and was surprised to see that Turtle's wheelchair was still cable locked to the rack for her handcycle. That meant she was still out on the route somewhere, but I was more worried about myself at that point. I was fried. After fumbling in my seat back for the car keys and trying to see past the spots to unlock the car, it took me half a dozen tries just to get my bike into its stand so I could collapse on the grass.

About that time, a pickup truck rolled up with Turtle in the passenger seat and her bike in the back. She had started to overheat at around mile 26 and, true to her promise not to make herself sick, had SAG'ed the rest of the way. The driver got out of the truck and was saying something to me about how I needed to unlock Turtle's wheelchair, take it to her, and get her bike out of the back of the truck. As if.

“She's got the key,” I told the SAG driver, somewhat curtly. “You're on your own.” I wasn't sure I had the strength to hold my head up, much less stand, lift my wife out of the truck, and set her on her chair without both of us ending in a heap on the sizzling pavement.

Turtle got unloaded, and the SAG driver helpfully put her bike on the rack. She thanked them cheerfully and then turned her attention to me. “Are you okay? Honey, you look like crap.”

Normally, I'd have had some snappy response, but not this time. In the first place, I knew she was right; in the second, I didn't have enough mental reserves to think of anything.

She wanted to get someone to help with my bike, but I insisted on taking care of it myself. Finally, with the bike secured and Turtle keeping a close eye on me, I shambled slowly toward the high school cafeteria where I knew there would be Sonic hamburgers, lots of bottled drinks, and air conditioning. And I recovered.

Not one of my more enjoyable experiences, I'm afraid – but certainly memorable. One of my MS 150 teammates said the sign in front of the school read 99 °F when he finished. Despite my vow to slow the heck down, I ended up with a 17.7 mph average for the 67+ miles. Turtle wasn't too disappointed about not finishing the 30 miles, partly because 26 miles was still a personal best for her (on the bike) and partly because she'd done it without making herself sick in the heat.

Unlike her idiot husband.
 


Offered reprieve, a concerned laborer exhales

Category: By Foo
At around 1pm today, I received an e-mail with an offer of employment. Same salary, slightly reduced job title.

I guess I didn't realize how unsure I really felt about my future, because I actually got choked up when the letter came.

Thanks again for all your prayers and support. Maybe I'll type aloud the name of my new employer, once I know how the company feels about this whole blogging thing. I've heard that some companies actually encourage it (but none I've ever worked for).
 


Populaire(ty) Non-Contest

Category: By Foo
After nearly a season's worth of encouragement from my friends and riding partners, The Stradas, I finally took my first taste of randonneuring. Granted, it was only a 100K (≅ 62.5 miles) “populaire” – next to nothing for these folks, many of whom hardly consider it worth getting out their bikes for fewer than 100 miles – but it gave me a sense of this type of riding.

We met in a school parking lot in the little town of Princeton, Texas. There, we signed our liability waivers and were each given a small, folded card printed with spaces to have initialed at each of the checkpoints along the route. To me, this seemed like a rather unnecessary bit of bookkeeping, but for the folks who are into this sort of ultra distance riding, the cards used to verify the miles they've ridden so they can earn points and win awards. At the end of the ride, each rider places his card in a freezer bag tucked under the wiper blade of the ride organizer's car so that he can award points – and also so that he has a head count of who made it back to the start.

For me, the ride was not unlike the training rides that I've done out around Celina with The Stradas. Unlike the pay rides, there were no huge crowds of inattentive cyclists to dodge and no racer wanna-bes. Instead there were laid-back ultra distance riders like RAAM veteran Mark Metcalfe who, despite his legendary status around these parts, was as accessible and nice as they come. For these riders, it's not about how fast they can go or how quickly they can ride the legs off the rest of the group. It's about pacing themselves, riding long, and enjoying the camaraderie and scenery along the way.

Photo from Lone Star Randonneurs Beanstalk 100K Populaire
As recumbent numbers increase, some wedgie riders might start to feel surrounded; but the LSR folks don't seem to mind. (That's me on the far right, bringing up the rear as usual.)

I'm a long, long way from being strong enough for the kinds of distances these folks ride on a regular basis. Heck, I can't even figure out the differences between the types of rides, with names like “fleche”, “brevet”, “permanent”, and “audax”. It's all just so exotic and… well, French. But I'm glad I went out to get a little taste of what my friends are always on about.

P.S. – Some of you may be looking at the picture above and thinking, “See there? Those blasted bicyclists are always out there riding in the middle of the road when they're supposed to be single file.” True enough, but the picture you don't see is the one where the guy in the back has just hollered “Car back!” and the whole group immediately and smoothly merges back into a single line.
 


They like me! They really like me!

Category: , By Foo
Okay, maybe that's overstating things just a bit, but I received an e-mail this morning from my manager that brightened my day. He says that I, along with the rest of my immediate project team, will not be among those to be laid off. I don't have any other details, since I've been off this week, trying to burn some floating holidays that I'll lose if I don't use them in a hurry. But knowing that I'm not about to become an unemployment statistic does a lot to settle my nerves.

Your prayers are working. Thank you.
 


()wn3d

Category: By Foo
I guess it's that time of year again. I learned last week that the company that acquired my employer a little over a year ago has itself been acquired. And all that that implies.

Right now, I'm enjoying the rudderless feeling that comes with not knowing whether or not I'm going to be one of the people who receives a job offer from the new owners. I guess I'm not overly concerned, since the buyer keeps saying, “expansion, not consolidation”; but I, along with my mortgage lender, will be a lot happier once I have an offer in hand. Meanwhile, it's like a ghost town around the office as many try to get in under the wire before the acquisition transaction closes and they lose unused vacation carried over from last year.

It's eerie.

The good news, assuming that I get an offer, is that our new owner is a much larger company employing tens of thousands of developers in lots of locations world wide. We're getting very little specific information from them yet, but from the provided FAQs and what we've been able to dig up by googling, it sounds like a positive change. Their dress code is relaxed, they're agreeable to employees working from home a couple days a week, and their medical plan is rumored to be much better than the one we have now. They state in their press release that they're planning to [*gasp*] pour money into our R&D right away, and they even provide educational reimbursement for courses applicable to our jobs. This in contrast to the current company, which was extremely frugal and whose CEO liked to brag that he knew nothing about software development.

I'm cautiously optimistic, although I said the same thing when we were bought this last time. Time will tell, but I have to get that letter offering me continued employment before I can stick around to find out. The letter that will tell me my fate is supposed to arrive around July 17. Fingers and prayer beads crossed.
 


Ride report: Collin Classic (McKinney, Texas)

Category: , By Foo
The weather report for the 17th Collin Classic was for a 30% chance of rain with a high of 95 °F. No surprises there; the Collin Classic has a history of being the first ride of the season that really makes heat management an issue. I've participated in this ride each year since 2004, and I can recall a couple years when I took a little too long on the course and barely managed to drag myself back to the starting point under my own power. It usually ends up being hotter than predicted, and because she has had overheating problems* on this ride in the past, Turtle elected to skip it this year.

The start of the ride is only about 10 miles from my driveway, so I got up at my usual 5:20, took my time getting ready, and still arrived at 6:45. Plenty of time to get a good parking spot, pick up my ride number, and watch for people I know to arrive. Speaking of which, it's interesting to me to see how many more recumbent riders there are each year. In 2006, when I first started riding my recumbent, I knew pretty nearly all of the other recumbent riders I saw on the charity ride circuit. Now, they – we – seem to be popping up everywhere, and I no longer know everyone.

Richard, another of the RBENT gang, was parked just across the aisle from me, and we spent some time socializing. I had made plans to start out the ride with Jason and The Stradas, but they didn't get there as early as I did and had to park at a secondary location. Fifteen minutes before the start of the ride, cars were still streaming in. The organizers announced that it was not looking good for an 8:00 start, because we couldn't go until all the cars were off the road and parked. I thought that this delay might allow me to find my group, but it didn't work out that way and I started on my own.

It was sunny as we headed out, but the sky started to look dark and ominous about 10 miles into the route (see the route map, if you want to play along at home). As I passed the second break point at Valdasta (≅ 17 mi.), it was pretty dark. I thought about stopping to remove my sunglasses and turn on my blinky taillight but didn't. The pack hadn't yet thinned much, and I didn't want to have to stop and merge again. I think it was somewhere between the second and third break points that I crossed paths with RCarlino and got to visit with him for a couple miles before we got separated in some rolling hills.

By the third break point (≅ 28 mi.), it was so dark that some riders who had headlights were switching them on. Headlights, for Pete's sake! But I was averaging over 17 mph and feeling good, so I didn't stop.

A couple miles later, at around Blue Ridge, the first fat raindrops began plopping on and around us. And then the sky opened up. Within a minute, we were straining to see in the dark, through sheets of rain and steamy, droplet-covered glasses. Most riders slowed; others (the usual suspects) insisted on whipping by and then cutting back in front to spray huge rooster tails in our faces. Meanwhile, the more sensible of us did our best to stay upright and watched for cracks and debris that might be obscured by the water. And at least one of us wished he'd stopped to remove his sunglasses and turn on his blinky taillight.

As I approached Climax, I was soaking wet and shivering.** The temperature had dropped significantly, and the sleeveless jersey I'd worn in anticipation of stifling heat no longer seemed like a good idea. The water that filled my shoes was running out the heels, into my socks, and down my legs. My seat pad was full of the dirty water being thrown up by the rear wheel and through the mesh of the seat. It squished audibly as I moved. As the cool air moved across the saturated chamois in my shorts, I was reminded of George Costanza's protest: “I was in the pool! I was in the pool!

This time, I pulled in to the rest stop. At around 35 miles out and after battling the rain for nearly 10 miles, I was ready for some pickle juice and a rest. I ran into Nelson (another RBENT buddy) and felt envy as I noted that he had fenders fitted to his Bacchetta Corsa. Meanwhile, I listened as a 30-something man pleaded with the driver of one of the supply trucks to give him a ride back to the start. The driver explained that he couldn't oblige, because it was a safety issue; but there was a look in his eyes that suggested he might be more afraid of a stampede, should he say ‘yes’.

With the rain still hammering down in sheets, I got back on my bike and carefully pulled out of the rest stop. With the thunder rumbling in the distance, I kept thinking of something I'd heard from some meteorologist or another: “Just because you don't see the lightning doesn't mean you're safe. If you can hear the thunder, you're within range to be struck.” Nice.

And then the rain stopped. A couple miles later, the sun came out. I spotted a familiar mostly-pink bike and a Liquigas jersey ahead, and rode up to wait for a break in the riders' conversation so I could say hello to Allez and Lance NotStrong. After a couple minutes – about the same time as Allez and Lance figured out who I was – I heard Jason and The Stradas calling to me from behind, and we rode on together to complete the route.

Per the Collin Classic web site, one of the annual challenges for the organizers is to find new roads for the ride. Every year, Collin County repaves more of the smooth country roads with filling-loosening large-aggregate chip seal, so “Bikin' Mike” Keel and his helpers should be applauded for their efforts. There was some chip seal, but with the exception of one short medium-rough stretch, it was smooth, smooth, smooth. The chicken soft tacos after the ride were tasty, and there were enough for everyone. I don't really need another ride t-shirt, but considering that I was still very damp from being rained on, I was grateful to have the one that came in my ride packet. It was nice to have something dry to change into before going into the air-conditioned high school to eat.

Despite the seeming chaos before the start, this 17th Collin Classic was as well organized as any of the five I've been a part of. Every year, the organizers listen to the feedback they get from the participants, and the effort they put into addressing complaints is a big part of what makes this one of the premier rides in the area, year after year.

Summary

Distance: 53.52 miles
Total time: 3 hours, 8 minutes
Average speed: 17.5 mph
Average/maximum heart rate: 162/188 bpm


* Because of the level of her spinal cord injury, Turtle doesn't sweat from her upper sternum down.
** I know who you are, and you can just stop it. Break point four was at the town of Climax, TX.
 


Can't we all just get along?

Category: By Foo
A few months ago, the Norton Internet Security package that came installed on my laptop popped up a window and informed me that a free upgrade to the 2008 version was available. I figured this meant that Symantec was dropping support for the product I had installed, so I accepted and installed the 2008 upgrade.

I should have known better.

Since installing Norton Internet Security 2008, the most useful Norton program I have is the Norton Software Removal Tool – a Symantec utility that eases the surprisingly tricky task of eradicating their products from a computer. I've had to remove and re-install no fewer than six times because LiveUpdate failed and corrupted the installation. When this happens, Norton basically shuts down all access to e-mail servers, and the only way to clear the problem is to reboot. This is a hassle, since Norton Internet Security 2008 takes around 5 minutes to load.

“Why don't you just uninstall it and use something else?” you may be wondering. That's a fair question, and the answer is that I'm stupid. One of the other helpful features Symantec has implemented is an auto-renewal service that you're opted into by default when you install Norton. I forgot to log on to the Symantec site and opt out, so when I accepted the free 2008 upgrade, Symantec considerately signed me up for another year. I've been reluctant to simply flush away the $60 Norton subscription and pay another $50 for the fast, reliable ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite.

So, this morning I'm uninstalling and reinstalling Norton Internet Security 2008. Again.

To add to my frustration, I discovered this article on WindowsSecrets.com:

Norton software conflicts with Windows XP SP3

Useful information, unless one doesn't stumble upon it until after he's applied SP3 without first uninstalling Norton.

It's a little troubling that computer software has become so complicated since the halcyon days when, despite having to tweak autoexec.bat and config.sys files, I actually had some idea what was going on in my computer. And who knew that the vandalism-by-virus would become such a problem – even for those of us who don't download cracked software from questionable bulletin board systems – that despotic anti-virus software would dominate the entire system?
 


None for me, thanks

Category: , By Foo
I'm sure the notion of being able to interact with your Windows computer by poking and stroking the display sounds really great to a lot of people. Not me. I find overzealous co-workers' fingerprints on my monitor only slightly less irritating than the wingnut on the other side of my cubicle wall, who has recently added thunderous flatulance to his extensive repertoire of humming, slurping, pen-clicking and loud personal phone calls (in Mandarin).

I know everybody wants to be like the iPhone™ – but come on. No touchy, please.
 


Be Afraid

Category: By Foo
Okay, I get it. By the end of the summer, we spoiled Americans will be shelling out $6 for a gallon of gasoline. The Europeans must be giggling themselves silly, and they probably have the right. After all, even I (arguably an American) am appalled (chagrined. disgusted.) when I see all my fellow road hogs out there guzzling a couple dinosaurs a day, just so that they can drive their Expeditions, Yukons, and [*hack*] Hummers. And why? Because a whole bunch of us – none of my readers, I'm sure – are selfish jerks who would rather drive by intimidation than cooperation. Face it: when you can drive over top of a Yaris, why bother to use your turn signals or wait until it's safe to merge?

Uh… where was I? Oh yeah. Gas prices.

Everything's getting more expensive, and the evening news says it's all because of the rising fuel prices. At the same time, I'm working longer and harder, and my skinflint employer has recently rewarded those efforts by giving me half the usual less-than-inflation-rate increase that I've been accustomed to for the past 17 years. So, even though my little Dorian gets 29 mph to the gallon on the highway; even though the relocation of my company's offices knocked about 20 miles a day off my commute; and even though I can (in theory) work part of the time from home – I've been trying to think of how I can cut back on the amount of money leaking from my tailpipe every day.

You'd think that the answer to the problem would be pretty obvious for a bike geek like me: ride the bike. And I thought about it. The problem is that the neighborhoods between my Point A and my workplace's Point B are of that new design that creates a labyrinthine tangle of loops and cul de sacs best described by the quaint rural expression “you can't get there from here.” At least, not without leaving the side streets. It's great for reducing cut-through traffic in the 'hood, because it forces through traffic to use the main roads; but that's not so great for bicycle commuting. Taking the main roads on a bicycle during rush hours? No thanks. I have a wife and two kittens who need me.

The air-powered car is still some time away, and I don't really think I'll see the Jetson-esque flying cars we were promised back in the '60s. So what's left? A recent Google search pretty much tells you everything you need to know about why you (and my wife and, God bless her, my mother) should Be Afraid. Desperate times may require desperate measures.

Ironic, isn't it? Anne just got a bicycle, and now I'm considering a motorcycle.
 


Roll on...

Category: , By Foo
In 2001, Turtle and I were conducting our long-distance courtship and doing our part to keep TWA in business. A typical visit had me catching a flight to St. Louis on Thursday after work. We'd spend the weekend trying to soak in as much of each other as we could before Turtle dropped me off at the airport and send me back to Texas on Sunday afternoon. It got to be pretty routine, but there was one Sunday at the airport that sticks with me.

I was making my way briskly toward my gate when an athletic-looking young man blew past me in a wheelchair. And then two more, hot on his (w)heels. It was the sort of thing that caught my attention in those early days of getting to know my favorite wheelchair athlete, and I wondered what their story might be. But I didn't have to wonder long. When I arrived at my gate, I found the same three boys and about another half dozen besides, all milling about in wheelchairs and carrying duffel bags on their laps.

A basketball team.

Having put Turtle on a number of flights, I knew the early boarding drill and wasn't at all surprised when the whole pack of them headed down the ramp to board the plane about 15 minutes before the rest of us were called. Eventually, it was my turn to shuffle down the narrow aisle of the plane to my seat. Shuffle a few steps. Wait. Shuffle. Wait. Wait.

I craned my neck to see what was holding up the line. Instead of the usual clueless traveler trying to shove a foot locker into the overhead compartment, the hold up was young man hauling his heavily-braced legs down the aisle and laughing as he harassed a couple teammates already in their seats. A fifty-ish man ahead of me twisted in his seat to scowl at the boy.

“All right, that's enough,” he said firmly. “Find your seat and park it.”

The boy in the braces smiled sheepishly. “Sorry, Coach.”

The line started moving again, and I realized that I had the window seat next to the coach. I paused for a moment, giving him a chance to pull his legs back or half stand to let me by. When he did neither, I glanced down and noticed his wasted legs – at about the same time as he caught me at it.

That's how I met Jim Hayes, coach and founder of the UTA Movin' Mavs wheelchair basketball team.

During the flight, we had a very interesting conversation. He told me about his work with the team and about the tournament they were returning from. I told him about Turtle and her wheelchair racing.

Last evening, I was watching the news and learned that Jim Hayes had passed away this past Saturday, after a brief illness.

This evening, Anna Nicole Smith and Britney Spears were in the news again, and it struck me as very unfair that such shallow, wasted lives seem to get all the attention and that truly worthwhile, inspirational ones go largely unheralded. I know that this posting won't do much to balance the scales; but a little additional recognition for a life well spent is the least I can do for Coach Hayes. If I feel richer, having only spent an hour with him, I can only imagine the impact he must have had on the lives of those who really knew him.