Journal: News & Comment

This is " February 2007," a page that archives an entire month's entries from my online journal. The latest material for that month is at the top. For my newest entries, visit the home page.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007 - newest items first
# 11:04:00 PM:

My MacBook is a lemon

It's Here! at Flickr.comBack in May 2006, I ignored my own advice and bought a first-generation MacBook laptop from Apple, before the bugs were worked out of the design. It's a lovely computer, and I've had tremendous good use out of it. The keyboard is weird but surprisingly great, it's fast, the screen is bright and clear, and it still turns heads when I use it in public. Sure, the case smudges easily, but I don't care about that.

It is, nevertheless, something of a lemon. A 1.0 product, as I warned people it could be. The first signs came in the summer, when the MacBook occasionally refused to burn a to a blank DVD-R disc that my eMac or the iMac at work had no trouble with. Then, in the fall, it refused to recognize any blank DVD-R media at all. It could read and write CDs, and read DVDs just fine, so I put off having anything repaired, since I don't burn DVD-Rs all that often.

Then, in December, another ominous sign. Typically, when the battery gets low on a Mac laptop, the operating system recognizes that and pops up a warning: your battery is getting low, so either plug in or I'm going to sleep soon to save your data. Then, a few minutes later, another warning: no power left, I'm going to sleep now.

Not my MacBook. It would happily show as much as 15 minutes of power left, with no warning messages, then shut off as if I had yanked the battery right out. With Christmas and then this whole cancer diagnosis thing, I put off repairs again, but by earlier this month the battery life was down to two hours or less, and the Mac would report as much as an hour of battery supposedly left when the power cut out. Not acceptable.

So a couple of weeks ago, after an only mildly excruciating conversation with Apple phone support, I took the machine in, still well within the one-year warranty but also thankful that I'd bought the three-year extended AppleCare repair contract. The service tech was convinced that the shutdown problem arose from heatsink issues that had caused random shutdowns in early MacBooks like mine. The Mac came back last Tuesday with a new heatsink assembly and SuperDrive. It burns DVDs fine now, but the low-battery shutdown problem was as bad as ever. (Argh, Mr. Service Tech! I thought. Did you test your repair?!)

Then today came the worst bit: somehow during the disassembly or reassembly process at the dealer, something had gone wrong with the cooling fan, and it started making sounds like a small two-stroke engine (check out MP3 samples #1 and #2). Yikes.

So it's back in the shop. My wife's iBook, which is a little older than the MacBook but was a long-proven design when she bought it, is chugging along nicely with nary a hiccup. Even the computer I'm typing this on—my famous wireless PowerBook 1400, which is older than either of my children—can do the job. But I hope you're okay, little lemony . I still want you back—I'm sure not going to try editing any audio on this 1996 machine!


# 9:30:00 AM:

How to make cancer treatment go better

I didn't know about this until my wife mentioned it, but before Anil Dash's opening keynote for this past weekend, the entire audience wished me well. Roland just sent me the video:

Hi to Derek Miller from the folks at Northern Voice 2007! We missed you! (Via BlipTV.)

You people and my colleagues at Navarik sure know how to make a guy cry, I tell you. I certainly couldn't ask for more supportive employers and friends.

P.S. Beth has a good summary of her impressions of each session she attended the conference. Jordan has his own roundup, and John covers both NV07 and the meetup the next day.


Tuesday, February 27, 2007 - newest items first
# 10:20:00 AM:

Fifteen years, same issues, different places

In 1992 I was part of a university task force which said that the Internet of the time excluded women and non-whites, and that needed to change. While the Internet as a whole has improved in 15 years, software and web development still have some work to do.

Dan Farber writes about Dave Winer's tenth blogiversary coming up soon. This website, too, will be ten years old in a few weeks, although it's only been a blog since 2000, and when I started building the HTML here a decade ago it only existed on the hard drive of my Macintosh Centris 660AV. The site wouldn't be on the Web itself until later in the spring of 1997. But some smidges of that HTML code still live here, so I think the ten-year anniversary is legitimate.

Almost five years before that, in late 1992, I was a member of a committee at the University of British Columbia, called in haste in response to the appearance of pornographic material in Usenet newsgroups. (The World Wide Web had been invented about a year earlier, but wasn't much a factor since it had no pictures yet.) In our conclusions, we wrote that:

...many of the issues concerning offensive material on the Internet may be related to the relative narrowness of its community of users. The community tends to be male, of European descent, middle-class, scientifically-oriented, and North American and European in location. Thus the culture that has evolved does not include a large part of the wider diverse community. Inevitably, the preoccupations and prejudices of the largest group of users have coloured the character and development of information- technology-based media. Fiat will not change this orientation, although it would undoubtedly bring about some degree of subterfuge. [...] Information technology will better serve the entire community if its users represent the community's diversity.

We were talking about the whole Internet, and what we hoped would happen actually did happen—far more than we hoped, actually. Those who use the Internet may still not accurately represent the whole population of the world, but we're a hell of a lot closer than we were 15 years ago. And, of course, there are orders of magnitude more porn out there too.

Yet at the building end of the Web, where the architecture and infrastructure and design happen, things haven't changed enough. In software and web development, you don't see a lot of women, and in fact the vast majority of attendees and speakers at conferences are young white men (like me, though I won't be able to say young for that much longer). In a way it reminds me of when I returned this past summer to the private all-boys high school from which I graduated in 1986—like a stifled, rarefied enclave divorced from the real world.

Dori Smith has been covering this topic longer than most, and has lots of intelligent things to say, but recently the subject has found a higher profile, spurred by big-time blogger Jason Kottke and responses from the (notably male) web-guru likes of Eric Meyer (with great followup), John Gruber, Anil Dash, Dave Shea, and Jeffrey Zeldman, as well as Virginia DeBolt, Shelley Powers, Ryan Carson, Digital Web magazine, Kimberly Blessing, Nicole Simon, and Elisa Camahort.

But I think Dori still has the best line, in her 2005 post about a Google recruiter at an event she attended:

They had a guy there whose title was "Technical Recruiter." He talked a lot about how cool it was to work at Google, and all the benefits, etc. And he looked straight at me (I was sitting near the front) and made a point about how they were trying to hire more women. So I raised my hand and said, "If you want more women, try describing the company in a way that doesn't make it sound like it's hell on earth."

Evidence indicates that I, even though a white guy, would probably have been a crappy programmer if I'd tried to be one, but I might have been a decent web designer—it's something I still hack away at. Yet I never pursued either those fields as my career regardless, because I wanted to have a life, and I was the one staying home with the kids (both daughters, by the way) when they were young. I've ended up peripherally involved in web design anyway. It remains something of an old boys' club.

Yet if standards-based web design and software development are fields that need the skills of a broad range of people (and I think they do), then those of us involved in the field need to look at whether the culture we have built and help maintain is conducive to that. And if it's not, we need to decide if that's something worth changing. I think it is.


Monday, February 26, 2007 - newest items first
# 11:09:00 PM:

Up and down

Cancer Treatment: Day 26 at Flickr.comPeople I have talked to who have had surgery warned me: there will be ups and downs. And it has been less than a week since my first operation, which removed a small nodule from my rectum before the main procedure in a week or two to remove my actual colon cancer.

Generally, things have improved each day, enough that I was able to get out of the house for dinner and a tour on Saturday, even walk up to the SkyTrain and back for the podcaster meetup yesterday, and take my kids to school this morning. And I've moved back to sleeping in the proper bed (see photo) with my wife instead of in the electric prop-up bed on the other side of the room.

I won't say I overdid it, but I did about the limit, it seems, because after that I came home and slept almost the whole day, with breaks for lunch and a shower, and I had to take more painkillers than usual this evening. Part of my brain thinks I'm a lazy bum, but the sensible part knows that if my right hand is still a bit swollen and store just from the IV I had, the actual surgical site must be still far from healed—especially since the "plumbing" only really started working in earnest down there today too.

It's good practice, I guess. I consider this one to have been a minor operation, but that's only relative: the discharge nurse told my wife that what I had done is about as major a procedure as anyone could have, and still be let out of the hospital the same day. Next time I'll be in for at least a week, so I'll have to expect my recovery at home to be far more protracted, and full of more ups and downs.

I don't have a date set for that surgery yet. I see my surgeon one week today, on March 5, so it will be early March sometime. For now, I'll just heat up the magic bag again.


# 12:25:00 PM:

Vancouver podcaster meetup photos

Some of us met for beers (I didn't have any, but the pitcher was very large). It was a fun meetup.

Vancouver Podcaster Meetup Feb 2007 - 1 (Mark Blevis) Vancouver Podcaster Meetup Feb 2007 - 2 (The Early Crew) Vancouver Podcaster Meetup Feb 2007 - 3 (The Early Crew) Vancouver Podcaster Meetup Feb 2007 - 4 (Foreskin Radio)
Vancouver Podcaster Meetup Feb 2007 - 5 (The Very Large Pitcher?) Vancouver Podcaster Meetup Feb 2007 - 6 (Beer Photography) Vancouver Podcaster Meetup Feb 2007 - 7 (Rebecca, Miss604) Vancouver Podcaster Meetup Feb 2007 - 8 (Sean Carruthers of Labrats/Tech TV and the Far From Subtlers)
Vancouver Podcaster Meetup Feb 2007 - 9 (Dave of Vancouver Weekly Underground) Vancouver Podcaster Meetup Feb 2007 - 10 (Blevisian Posing) Vancouver Podcaster Meetup Feb 2007 - 11 (James Clendenan) Vancouver Podcaster Meetup Feb 2007 - 12 (Johnny Johnny of Tiki Bar TV, sans fez)
Vancouver Podcaster Meetup Feb 2007 - 13 (Far From Subtle) Vancouver Podcaster Meetup Feb 2007 - 14 (I'm Mark Blevis) Vancouver Podcaster Meetup Feb 2007 - 15 (Rebecca and John) Vancouver Podcaster Meetup Feb 2007 - 16 (James, Doctor, and Jeffish)


Sunday, February 25, 2007 - newest items first
# 12:10:00 AM:

Northern Voice photos in absentia

I managed to take a whole slew of photos related to after all, even though I didn't attend the conference itself. Most of these are of a tour of the Vancouver CBC building ("the Bunker") given to about a dozen of us this evening by Tod Maffin. After all that walking in my current (improving) condition, I'm now completely exhausted, but here they are:

Northern Voice Flickr Slideshow on Wii Browser - 1 Northern Voice Flickr Slideshow on Wii Browser - 2 Northern Voice Flickr Slideshow on Wii Browser - 3 Northern Voice Flickr Slideshow on Wii Browser - 4 Northern Voice Flickr Slideshow on Wii Browser - 5 Northern Voice Flickr Slideshow on Wii Browser - 6 Northern Voice Flickr Slideshow on Wii Browser - 7 Northern Voice Flickr Slideshow on Wii Browser - 8 Northern Voice Saturday Library Dinner - 1.jpg Northern Voice Saturday Library Dinner - 2.jpg Northern Voice Saturday Library Dinner - 3.jpg Northern Voice Saturday Library Dinner - 4.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 2.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 3.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 4.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 5.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 6.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 7.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 8.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 10.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 11.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 12.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 13.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 14.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 15.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 17.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 18.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 19 (Thugs In Da House) Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 20.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 23.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 24.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 25.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 26.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 27.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 28.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 29.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 30.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 31.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 32.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 33.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 34.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 35.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 36.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 37.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 38.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 39.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 40.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 41.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 42.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 43.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 45.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 46 (Will Pate Fashion Shoot) Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 48.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 49.jpg Northern Voice CBC Tour Two - 1.jpg Gift Poster


Saturday, February 24, 2007 - newest items first
# 4:42:00 PM:

Almost like being there. Almost.

Talking is out. Typing is the new talking. at Flickr.comI'm feeling well enough (unlike yesterday) to join some of the conference crew for dinner tonight downtown—my dad is kind enough to give me a ride. But I feel like I've been hanging out with them all day:

  1. I've been looking at photos from Flickr through the day.
  2. Several people have been live blogging events.
  3. The Podcast Spot crew have done a great job putting up audio and video of sessions not long after they happen (good job on the podcast session, by the way, DaveO!).
  4. Most importantly, there's been a vibrant backchannel on Skype (not on IRC, as had been planned, which is interesting in itself—part of that is my fault for pointing everyone over to the Skype channel, to be honest).

The Skype conversation has been snarky and fun, and it's nice to be able to communicate with my wife, who attended, as well as all the others I know. Plus I got to rest all day while they didn't.


Friday, February 23, 2007 - newest items first
# 6:01:00 PM:

Back to techie madness

I can't attend Northern Voice this weekend, but that doesn't mean I can't contribute to the online community from my post-surgical bed. Here, for instance:

Northern Voice Flickr Slideshow on Wii Browser - 1 Northern Voice Flickr Slideshow on Wii Browser - 2 Northern Voice Flickr Slideshow on Wii Browser - 3 Northern Voice Flickr Slideshow on Wii Browser - 4
Northern Voice Flickr Slideshow on Wii Browser - 5 Northern Voice Flickr Slideshow on Wii Browser - 6 Northern Voice Flickr Slideshow on Wii Browser - 7 Northern Voice Flickr Slideshow on Wii Browser - 8

That's a set of photos I took today of a Flickr slideshow of interesting photos of this year's NV conference—being shown on our downstairs TV using the Nintendo Wii web browser. And I posted them while I was listening to the NV podcast episodes already posted today. (John Bollwitt is also posting some good text summaries of the sessions.) Pretty geektastic, eh?

I also discovered that the Wii's sensor bar, which you stick on top of your TV to help the Wiimote controller figure out how you're moving about, has ten infrared diodes that, while invisible to the human eye, can be seen by digital cameras—something I wrote about in another context last year:

How to See the Invisible IR Lamps on the Nintendo Wii Sensor Bar

Finally, if you enjoyed my latest instrument tune, called "Fakeout," over at Inside Home Recording I've posted about how I made the guitar tones in it without using a single real amplifier.


# 1:32:00 PM:

Tough morning

Cancer Treatment: Day 23 at Flickr.comYesterday I felt really good, and by the evening I could imagine myself going out somewhere. I slept well through the night, with minimal pain. Around 7:30 a.m. I woke up with a headache and took some of my painkillers, then fell back to sleep.

But around 10, I woke again with the telltale visual artifacts I recognize from diabetic low blood sugar, plus the headache, as well as nausea. I drank some apple juice and Coke, and went to the bathroom where I shivered and sat for a few minutes, drank more sips of Coke, and brought myself back to normal. As that happened I went through a very odd seeping cold sensation I hadn't experienced before. Pretty scary.

Others who've had general anaesthesia have told me of feeling weepy and tired three or four days later. My wife also tells me that some anaesthetic agents may be stored in fat, so it makes sense that my body could be purging out those drugs and I was feeling it this morning.

Whatever the cause, after a couple of hours more sleep, I'm feeling a lot better, but still very tired. It's slow going, and I won't make it to any of the Northern Voice events today or tomorrow, that's for sure.


Thursday, February 22, 2007 - newest items first
# 4:29:00 PM:

Podcasts galore

Congratulations to Will Pate on his new role as co-host of the commandN podcast with Amber MacArthur—a tremendously popular videocast about all things geekeriffic.

Closer to home, Inside Home Recording episode #37 is now up in enhanced AAC and audio-only MP3 versions—Paul and I recorded it before I went in for my surgery. You can find out how I recorded my latest song, as well as how to win a $300 Zoom H4 portable digital recorder.


# 1:43:00 PM:


Okay, this is weird. I'm blogging from the Opera browser for the Wii. Typing with the onscreen keyboard is rather slow. But it works!


# 10:36:00 AM:

Zonked out

Cancer Treatment: Day 22 at Flickr.comThe first web purchase I ever made, in 1996, was for my wife: a Magic Bag, which is a fabric-covered, grain-filled beanbag that you can cool in the freezer or heat in the microwave. While the website is long gone, we still have the bag itself, and I've been using it extensively over the past day.

Last night was rough: from about 4 p.m., the painkillers weren't working so well and I found myself pacing around the house because it felt better than lying or sitting. When bedtime came, I got up every half hour or so to go sit in the bathroom, then heat up the Magic Bag and try lying down again with the hot pack across my pelvis. I'd sleep for perhaps 20 minutes and then do it again.

Finally, around 2:30 a.m., I discovered that I was reasonably comfortable on our living room couch, and actually fell asleep for about 30 minutes sitting upright. So when I returned to the bedroom, I set the electric bed at its full, chair-like vertical position, put the Magic Bag in place again, took another dose of Tramadol, and slept for a good five hours.

I feel a lot better this morning, so I guess the internal swelling is going down, but the lack of proper sleep and pain and pills have me pretty zonked out. I had originally thought I might go to the Northern Voice slideshow/dinner tonight, but I doubt it—my wife, looking at me, says, "No way." Maybe some of the other events, like Mark Blevis's Sunday meetup. We'll see. I've subscribed to the Northern Voice 2007 podcast anyway, so it'll be almost like I'm there.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007 - newest items first
# 4:26:00 PM:


It's now 24 hours since I got home, and things must be swelling a bit—it hurts in there.


# 11:32:00 AM:

Thoughts and congratulations

My coworker and friend Darren has written a wonderful post reflecting on my "death and atheism" entry from this past weekend. I knew that Darren, as a practicing and principled Christian, might be disappointed by my philosophy, but I appreciate his thoughtful and pointed response.

What prompted me to post my entry originally were the many emails and comments I received from people (relatives, friends, acquaintances, strangers) sending me their prayers—I thought I should make it clear that I'm not a prayer type of guy, even though having them thinking of (and praying for) me is nevertheless tremendously reassuring.

Okay, enough of the heavy stuff. I'd like to congratulate my wife and her co-host KA, who just posted the 50th episode (MP3 file) of their Lip Gloss and Laptops podcast. They're coming up on their one-year podcast anniversary too. Go ahead and subscribe (if you have iTunes, you can do it with one click).


Tuesday, February 20, 2007 - newest items first
# 10:38:00 PM:

One down, one to go

When I woke up from the anaesthetic around 9:30 this morning, I was shivering like someone standing naked on frozen Lake Winnipeg, but I wasn't cold. That was more annoying than the pain, but both soon subsided, and now I'm already home—I didn't have to stay overnight after all.

Here's a recap of today's events. Warning: skip this paragraph, or maybe the rest of the post, if you're squeamish. I talk about blood and stuff. (And hey, so much for not blogging!)

Just after 8 a.m., the hilarious and highly skilled colorectal surgeon Dr. Terry Phang—what is it with these funny ass doctors?—used a transanal endoscope to work inside my rectum and remove a chunk of flesh a couple of centimetres across, then sew me up in there. The hospital will biopsy the chunk, but so far no one thinks it is likely to be cancerous. The cancerous bit is further up my intestine and will come out in a couple of weeks. I came home late this afternoon and have so far successfully urinated once, which is a good sign that things are working.

This was my first experience with a full general anaesthetic, and other than the tremblies for half an hour or so, it was great. I went from St. Paul's Hospital surgical daycare into the OR, where the crew got me an IV, gave me an oxygen mask, and heard me say "okay, I'm going to sleep now." And then I came to in the recovery room. A little while later a nurse wheeled me down the hall into surgical daycare, where I had a chance to wave to my fabulous wife (who, I must say, looked particularly pretty today). Then I slept for awhile, had some ice chips, took some Ibuprofen, and slept some more.

Dr. Phang (pronounced "peng," by the way) and his team obviously did a great job too, because now with some Tramadol (check out the benzene ring in that molecular structure), I hardly feel any pain at all, and there's no bleeding. The nurses got me up to walk around a couple of times. I could not leave until I'd urinated, which I managed (very slightly) on the second trip to the bathroom. Then they brought me my clothes, I dressed myself, and an orderly wheeled me downstairs, where I got in the car around 3:30 and came home. I am extremely tired and have slept on and off most of the day, though I seem to be wide awake at 10:30 p.m.

Some stuff I found funny, though you may not. Just before I changed into my civvies, a nurse removed the IV catheter in my wrist that had provided me saline solution, anaesthetic, insulin, painkillers, and so on. But several hours earlier, before heading into the OR, I'd received some anticoagulants, so as I was about to put my clothes on, blood soaked through the bandage and dripped all over the floor. When I called in the nurse she looked alarmed, until I told her it was from my wrist, not my surgical wounds. But the dried blood on my hands gave me a nice battle-scarred look as I left the building.

On our way home in the car, I noticed that I was cranky, in a strange way. Every time traffic stopped (it was getting to be rush hour), I thought, Stupid damn drivers. Stupid traffic. There was construction on Pacific Avenue, which blocked us from proceeding for a couple of minutes. Fuckin' construction guys, I thought. There was a CD playing in the car, a song I don't know, but the chorus was repetitive and the singer nasal. I asked my wife to shut it off because it was irritating the hell out of me.

But now that I'm home and in bed and I've slept lots, and I've eaten oatmeal and carrot cake and raisins and wheat toast with butter (the best tasting oatmeal and carrot cake and raisins and wheat toast ever, by the way), and I've seen my kids and heard them pounding up and down the stairs and playing Wii, I feel good. Tired, a bit weak, a little owie, but good.

The doctor recommended I drink sugar-free Metamucil for awhile to keep things moving smoothly and avoid affecting the stitches. My wife mixed some with Diet 7-Up this afternoon, and it too tasted wonderful. I downed my painkillers and antibiotics with it. Tomorrow I'll call Dr. Brown, my main surgeon, and make an appointment to see him in a few days, and discuss my next, more major surgery, where he will remove my cancer. In the meantime, I have to do some Kegel-style clenching exercises. Woo hoo.

My biggest fear about the next procedure? Having to drink that damned GoLYTELY again. Yuck.


Monday, February 19, 2007 - newest items first
# 11:28:00 PM:

That was fun, or not

Die GoLYTELY die! at Flickr.comDrinking four litres of GoLYTELY has been one of the more repulsive experiences of my life.

And I'm going to have to do it again in a couple of weeks for my next operation.

Plus I have to get up in five and a half hours.

On the plus side, look what my amazing wife found today after we failed for weeks to track one down:

It's Mii

Yup. We got a Nintendo Wii. Tons o' fun. Anyone have a line on an extra controller?

Anyway, off to surgery tomorrow. I probably won't blog for a few days.


# 1:40:00 PM:

Time set, purge begun

Cancer Treatment: Day 18 at Flickr.comI have finally heard.

My first surgery takes place at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow, so I'll be at the hospital in the rain at 6:30.

Today I'm consuming nothing but clear liquids—Diet 7-Up, consommé, Jello, water, tea—and in a couple of hours I will begin consuming this stuff:

GoLYTELY, Your Friend and Mine

Yes, I actually have to drink four litres of GoLYTELY purgative over the course of several hours (one glass every ten minutes). Last night, as my final solid-food meal before my procedure, I went for the good 'n' greasy Quarter Pounder With Cheese Combo from McDonald's.

While I don't believe in spirits, it's nevertheless clear that the mind has powerful control over the body. This week, for instance, I knew I'd need to be clearing out my system today, and my body started the work on its own without any GoLYTELY or other assistance.

I'm staying one night at the hospital this time round, so I'll pack myself a small bag tonight, which my wife can bring to me once I've woken up from the anaesthetic. I'll also have to remove my watch and jewelry before I head down.

Time to get ready for those sixteen glasses of GoLYTELY. Yum.


Sunday, February 18, 2007 - newest items first
# 11:58:00 PM:

Not a new thing

DNAIn polite conversation, it's generally wise to avoid politics and religion, especially when you don't know the crowd very well. And while there are topics I avoid here on this weblog, politics and religion aren't among them. Still, this particular post could be dicey, so proceed with caution. I originally wrote it almost two years ago, during the last papal transition, which was fascinating on many levels, but was not transcendent or profound for me, because—like all spiritual events—it did not reflect my reality.

Now that I'm dealing with cancer, forget my previous caution in not posting this entry. I may as well get it out there. As I've noted before on several occasions, I'm not religious. Not only do I not follow any traditional religion, I also don't believe in gods or demons or spirits or souls of any kind.

We human beings, quite reasonably, are afraid to die. But we still do. Our fear cannot prevent it. It's no surprise that we wish it weren't so: that we could somehow live after death, or that there could be a part of us that is separate from our bodies, a spirit or soul, that persists after we die, and maybe preceded our birth.

For me, wishing doesn't make it true. For me, it's perfectly reasonable (and not at all disturbing) that my sense of myself, my thoughts and feelings, my personality and motivations, are all the result of electrochemical reactions between billions of neurons in my brain. Indeed, I find that pretty cool.

Over the past century or two, we've come to understand—although, perhaps, not genuinely comprehend—the vastness of time and space. We've learned how infinitesimal our one little brief-lived species is, on this lovely but tiny blue planet, orbiting a very average star mid-way along one of several spiral arms of a typical galaxy in an unassuming part of the universe. And we have found out how very long our planet has been here, and what a tiny portion of that history we, as humans, have occupied.

We've also learned that, despite our sometimes-parasitic accomplishments on this planet as we humans have spread across it, we share genes (and, more critically, basic physiological processes) with everything from chimpanzees to sponges, fir trees, ocean-vent bacteria, ants, and algae. We're related, and it's quite clear that humans are a mere late-sprouting twig on a still-growing evolutionary tree of life forms on earth.

If we somehow wipe ourselves out by changing the climate or starting a nuclear war or simply not being able to avoid extinction in another few million years for whatever reason, life on earth will soldier on without us—it has survived worse calamities (like asteroid impacts, or the ancient poisoning of the atmosphere with oxygen) before.

All this is to say that, when a geranium dies in our back yard in the winter, it's just dead, and we compost it because there's nothing left of it to live. When I die, I think the same thing will happen, though with any luck not in the back yard. When my body shuts down, I won't be there (or anywhere) anymore—no soul or spirit to go to heaven or hell, or to be reincarnated, or to roam the halls of creepy old houses, clanking chains.

This is not a new philosophy for me. I've thought of it this way since about the time I figured out there was no land at the North Pole for Santa Claus to live on, and that bunnies are mammals, and so couldn't possibly lay chocolate eggs at Easter time. It doesn't make me feel sad, or that life is meaningless, because I don't think happiness and meaning require eternal life.

It does, however, mean that religious and spiritual teachings are largely meaningless to me (whether they are silly or not) in the spiritual context they're meant to be. I don't think there's an afterlife, so that makes it senseless to treat my actual life as if it were a big exam to get into heaven, or to reach nirvana, or to bank the karmic wheel so I don't come back as a slug (though I expect, to a slug, a slug's life is pretty sweet). It means that, to me, the huge swaths of theological analysis say something about human thought and institutions, but very little about the reality of the world or the universe.

It means that, even if I did think that there were a god or gods that created the universe—and I don't—it wouldn't matter, because once we're dead, we're dead, and there is no one and nothing left of us to be judged or evaluated. (Plus, given the scope of this universe, and any others that might exist, why would any god or gods be so insecure as to require regulated tributes from us in order to be satisifed with their accomplishments?)

We fear death. We invent ways—beliefs, stories, rituals—to pretend it's not the end for each of us. Huge, worldwide institutions arise from those inventions. They provide meaning, comfort, and a sense of wonder to billions of people. But not to me.

My meaning, comfort, and wonder come from another place, from trying to understand people, creatures, life, the planet, the galaxy, the universe, and their amazing diversity from my miniscule perspective as a man living in the 20th and 21st centuries here on earth. From trying to be a good person, a good husband and father.

What will outlive me is not my soul, because I don't think I have one. But my children will outlast me. Their children, if they have them, will too. As will, perhaps, some of my words and ideas, like the ones written here. Anything that persists of me—besides the molecules that used to make up my body—will be in the memories of others, or in their genes (another type of memory). That might not be much, and it won't be up to me to decide what that includes.

I don't begrudge my friends and relatives who do believe in gods and souls and spirits. And what I've written here may hurt them, or spur them to pity me and fear for my nonexistent soul. I'm sorry if that's so. I have no way of knowing with absolute certainty if one of the many philosophies or religions that advocate an afterlife is right. If they're wrong, as I am all but certain they are, but if those beliefs help people to live happily, and to die contentedly when the time comes, that's good, because they'll never know. If I'm wrong, I come by my error honestly.

The beauty of a globular cluster or a diatom, the jagged height of a mountain or the depth of geological time—to me, these are natural miracles, not supernatural ones.

So is being able to feel love and to share it. Is love biochemical? So what if it is? It's not "just" biochecmical. The atoms and molecules and infinitely complex interactions of that biochemistry are a natural miracle too, one I cherish. Even more because I have only a short time—eighty years of life, give or take—to experience it. And after that, it's over.

I hope to make the most of it.


Friday, February 16, 2007 - newest items first
# 11:08:00 PM:

Getting prepped

Student Blood Sucker at Flickr.comI expected my surgery pre-admission consult today at St. Paul's Hospital would be all talk, but it included the drawing of six (six!) vials of blood from my arm for various tests.

It also involved quite a bit of waiting, as I've come to expect from hospital visits. I spoke to the receptionist, two lab technicians (one a student), a nurse, and an anaesthesiologist. And I filled out a lot of paperwork. It took a little over two hours.

On Monday I'm on an all-liquid diet, and Tuesday I go in for the first of two operations. As SpongeBob says, "I'm ready."


Thursday, February 15, 2007 - newest items first
# 11:00:00 PM:

Details on the Feb 25 Vancouver podcaster meetup

That post-Northern Voice podcast meetup in Vancouver organized by Mark Blevis of the Canadian Podcast Buffet now has an official time and location: 8:00 p.m. on Sunday, February 25 at the TC Lions Pub in the fancy-schmancy Terminal City Club in downtown Vancouver.

Tell your friends! With my first surgery happening this week, I'm unlikely to be there, but you never know.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007 - newest items first
# 11:05:00 PM:


M Turns Nine - 11.jpg at Flickr.comWhen she was born, on Valentine's Day during the Nagano Winter Olympics, she had some trouble breathing and spent a couple of nights in the St. Paul's Hospital neonatal intensive care unit. Then she was fine, and we took her home where she slept, and ate, and cried, and grew.

Now she's in grade three, routinely aces her spelling and math tests, wears glasses, rides bikes, and has her own blog, as well as a seven-year-old sister. And she looks like her mom.

She likes me to sit in a chair in her room while she falls asleep, which is probably something I should cherish while it's still true.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007 - newest items first
# 7:33:00 PM:

And today's wild swing of the pendulum is...

Cancer Treatment Day first surgical procedure is being bumped, not later, but earlier. (How often does that happen?)

Every day seems to start with a flurry of phone calls at the moment. Today, the first one arranged my pre-admission consultation, coming this Friday. The second call let me know that instead of one week Friday, my TEM operation is now happening on Tuesday, February 20. So we're really rolling now. Even though that first operation isn't removing any cancer yet (or at least no one thinks there's any cancer in that particular nodule), it's getting things ready so that my full-on bowel resection can take place a couple of weeks later and get the actual fucking cancer out.

Despite that good news, the rest of today was a washout. For the first time since I was diagnosed with cancer on January 8, I felt physically ill enough (rather than simply emotionally overwhelmed enough) to stay home from work. I'm not sure that my symptoms weren't mostly psychosomatic—essentially, I've been feeling particularly bloated and gassy today—but I slept for more than two hours this afternoon, and other than a quick lunch out with my wife, I haven't been out of the house.

She was the one who figured out I should stay home, incidentally. I had already dropped the kids off at school and was bundled up ready to walk out the door when she said, "I can tell from looking at you that you should stay home today." And she was right. I made no protest, peeled off the clothes, and climbed right back into bed.

Hours later, after I'd woken up from my afternoon nap, my kids came home from school and cheered me up. Maybe I'll make it to work tomorrow. We'll see. I can see the top of the rollercoaster now, and pretty soon I'm heading over.


# 12:01:00 AM:

I have tentative surgical dates and a plan

Cancer Treatment: Day 11Monday morning when I woke up I had no idea whether I should go to work, or whether I'd be getting ready for surgery. But after a couple of phone calls, I know we're not quite there yet, but it's getting closer.

I am tentatively scheduled for Transanal Endoscopic Microsurgery (TEM) on February 23, one week Friday, to remove what is probably a benign nodule from my rectum. (Unless my surgery gets bumped that day, it looks like I'll miss Northern Voice as expected.) I'll be in and out of the hospital the same day for that first, relatively minor procedure.

Then, if all proceeds according to plan, about two weeks later I will have the more substantial operation, a resection (or anastomosis) of my sigmoid colon—surgeons will cut out the cancerous chunk of my intestine and sew the remaining parts together. After a week of healing in the hospital, I'll go home and recover for a couple of months. Whether I'll need subsequent chemotherapy or other treatment, nobody knows yet.

Right now I'm feeling surprisingly good about this plan. I'll be at my daughter's birthday party this weekend. I have more than a week to get prepared (I'll need to visit the pre-operative clinic, have some consultations about my insulin dosages, and take some more lovely substances to clear out my digestive system). I'll have the easier procedure first, so I can get used to the processes of prepping for surgery before the major operation comes. And my main recovery should coincide with Spring Break and the usual improvement in the weather around here.

Of course that is all subject to change at a moment's notice, but now we're getting somewhere at least.

I'm going to single out my colleagues at Navarik again. The company and everyone there is treating me so well as I proceed with cancer treatment that I can hardly believe it. I still get a bit weepy when I think about it.

My family, too, brings me to tears for everything they have done so far and what they have offered to do. My amazing wife and remarkably understanding children, in particular. I know these next few months won't be easy for you. Me either. Let's have some fun when I'm all better, shall we?


Monday, February 12, 2007 - newest items first
# 9:59:00 PM:

Hit me

Derek Records With His StratocasterUPDATE: Three days after I wrote this post, Bill Carson, the guitarist for whom Leo Fender most directly designed the Stratocaster guitar, died. There's a good biography of Carson on the Fender site. (Fender himself died in 1991.)

In the 12 years since I quit being a musician full time, and 25 years since I stopped taking guitar lessons, music has become more important in my life, not less. More people hear my tunes through the Internet than ever did when my band traveled from bar to bar on B.C.'s winding highways. My daughters both study piano now, an instrument I knew nothing about before they began. (My oldest, who turns nine in two days, managed an astonishing 84%—First Class Honours—on her Grade 1 Royal Conservatory exam in January.)

We have iPods throughout the house, and iTunes libraries well into the tens of gigabytes. I even co-host a podcast about making and recording music. My home office is stuffed to the brim with cheap but well used drums, keyboards, PA gear, microphones, effects, cables, and of course, guitars.

There's a certain fetishism among guitar players—they are, like many musicians, extremely particular about their instruments, right down to the very slightest curve of the fretboard and the type of lacquer used to finish the body wood. Recently, there has even been a trend for manufacturers to create slavish (and very expensive) clones of famous instruments, right down to measuring and duplicating the scrapes, nicks, wear, oil stains, and cigarette burns of the originals.

I find that weird, but I do understand how a particular instrument can speak to, or through, its player. I'm a pretty mediocre guitarist, but nevertheless, there are five guitars in this house: the classical guitar I learned on when I was 10; an old, cheap Squier Stratocaster I bought and souped up a bit in 1990; a Godin LG electric I found a couple of summers ago; my daughter's half-scale Chinese-made Northland steel string acoustic; and a heavily modified Yamaha Pacifica I picked up in Seattle last year.

Despite all those choices, I consistently find myself gravitating to the Strat. I like the feel of the neck of the Pacifica better, the Godin is better built, and the acoustic guitars of course have their place, but in the end I get the most diverse, satisfying tones from my scraped-up Squier with its low-end pickups and laminated, slightly too-heavy body.

My latest podsafe instrumental MP3, "Fakeout," is a perfect example. I wanted a chiming, chunky, articulate, and focused sound from the guitar, and I knew from the outset that the Stratocaster would give it to me. I was quite right—it's probably the best guitar tone I've ever recorded, even better than what I imagined before I started.

There's a reason that Leo Fender's Stratocaster design, refined in a couple of years of work in the mid-1950s, remains almost entirely unchanged more than 60 years later. There have been innumerable attempts, from the Fender company and all others, to do better, but the retro-futuristic shape of the body and neck, the headstock, the controls, the bridge, the angled cable jack, and the three hum-susceptible single-coil pickups were the same in 1954 as they were in 1990, and as they are in 2007.

Why? Because the Strat works, for country pickers, metalheads, blues benders, avant-garde experimentalists, bar-band truck stompers, pop studio sidemen, polka rhythm players, psychedelic dropouts, reggae chanksters, world music fusionsts, jazzbos, neoclassical prog-rockers, drum-n-bass DJs in need of some six-string attack, and students just starting out. No other guitar—no other single instrument design, except perhaps the human voice—has been the right sound in so many diverse circumstances.

Music is a great mystery. Why do we humans enjoy it? How and why can we distinguish such remarkable subtleties in sound and timing? Why do I, for instance, prefer the sound of a set of overdriven EL84 vacuum tubes in a guitar amplifier to that of a pair of 6L6 tubes, when neither was designed to be overdriven in the first place?

There's pleasure in not knowing.


# 9:25:00 AM:

They've still got it

Sting may not have tried for the very highest notes at "Put on the red light" in "Roxanne" (and, to be fair, he usually didn't in concert back in the '70s and '80s either), but The Police definitely kicked it at the Grammy Awards last night.

The best part was that they kept it entirely stripped down, with none of the unncessary background singers and extra instrumentation that marred their final Synchronicity concerts in 1984 or their 2003 Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame appearance. Just three old guys (Andy Summers is 65 this year!) still able to rock out.


Saturday, February 10, 2007 - newest items first
# 10:31:00 PM:

A podcaster meetup I can't join on February 25, organized by the Buffet dudes

Thanks to Bob Goyetche and Mark Blevis at the Canadian Podcast Buffet for being the first podcast to play my new track "Fakeout," and for sending me lots of good vibes during cancer time over here in Vancouver.

Mark, who's from out east, is also organizing a podcaster meetup here (where he's traveling on business) right after Northern Voice, on Sunday evening, February 25. I'm unlikely to be able to make it, but if you can, email Mark at canadianpodcastbuffet {at} gmail {dot} com and put something together!


Friday, February 09, 2007 - newest items first
# 11:16:00 PM:

Bits are not wax

Five years after I wrote about it, I still think the large companies of the entertainment industry are completely bonkers in their antagonistic attitude toward their own customers.


# 10:14:00 PM:

Filling the binder, moving the bed

How to use the hospital bed at
Photo by destinelee

Friday has come and gone with no word about when my cancer surgery might be scheduled, so I'm likely to find out Monday—or if not, I'll call about it. Therefore, I don't know whether this will be my last non-ill weekend for awhile, but if it is, this afternoon and evening were crazy enough on their own to make the weekend a full one.

Somehow, without planning it, five kids and four adults ended up hanging out in the house after school, with merriment including an accidental spill of icewater down one grownup's back, then an unplanned dinner out as a party of eight, then a quick podcast recording session, and only at 9:30 did my daughters get into bed. Plus we've heavily rearranged the kitchen and our bedroom in the past two days.

Here's what's weird about that last bit. My wife and I are moving furniture around in the bedroom so we can bring in a motorized hospital-style bed that my parents happen to own—you know, one of those with switches so you can raise the head or foot and sit up without having to use your stomach muscles. Because once I'm back from the hospital after the abdominal operation, I'll be sozzled on painkillers and probably shouldn't be flexing my abs too hard for a little while.

Let me tell you, the emotions stirred up by hefting around furniture in a hearty, healthy way—when I know I'm moving it because I'll soon be post-operatively injured enough that I'll need the motorized bed—are hard to describe.

Near where that bed will go, I have a binder. I bought it at the suggestion of Bob (whom I do not know) in the comments to one of my earlier posts:

  • Start a binder with all your test results, a chronology, etc. that you can refer to. Take it to every medical appointment.
  • Get copies of ALL test results and clinical notes for yourself. (A friend had her medical file get lost by the cancer centre, and they now use HER file.)

So I have copies of the reports all the way from my initial gastroenterology appointment through my colonoscopy and CT scan, including printouts from my endoscopic ultrasound. I've read through them—and my biology degree has suddenly become its most useful ever, in helping me interpret the jargon.

On the orange cover of the binder I have written SCREW YOU CANCER in permanent Sharpie marker. Once this is all over I'll keep it for future reference, much as I will be tempted to burn it instead.


Thursday, February 08, 2007 - newest items first
# 10:04:00 PM:


That is one hell of a photo from Perth, Australia (link via Jason). Pity we can't see the comet in this hemisphere.


# 3:01:00 PM:

Careful what you wish for

Cancer Treatment: Day 8 at Flickr.comRemember that YAT (yet another test) I was steamed about a couple of days ago? My surgeon's office cancelled it this morning, in anticipation of proceeding with surgery posthaste—I'm guessing sometime next week. Mentally, I feel like I'm strapped into the rollercoaster now, and I've started that long, clackety climb up the first hill. Except it's foggy, and I can't see exactly how far it is to the top.

I still don't have a firm date for surgery, but I'd guess chances are about 75% that I'll miss my oldest daughter's birthday party on February 18, which will also be the day of the first band gig I miss because of my illness.

In an effort to get some stuff out the door, I've helped post three separate podcasts in the past two days: there's the latest episode of my wife's Lip Gloss and Laptops, our first post-NAMM Show issue of Inside Home Recording, and today, a new guitar instrumental I recorded and posted on my Penmachine Podcast, called "Fakeout" (MP3 file). I think it would make good driving music.

Tomorrow I'm taking the day off work to start getting prepared. I'm not sure whether I'll be back Monday, and if not that, how long it will be before I return. As you might expect, I'm kind of sleepwalking through the days waiting for something to happen—waiting for the coaster to reach the crest of that hill.

I'm pleased that I'll get the surgery, which is the first step to getting this cancer out of my body. But I'm nervous and discombobulated about what's coming up. Other than the next episode of Lip Gloss and Laptops, which should be finished and posted before I leave for the hospital, I'm not sure when or what you'll next see from me on the other two podcasts.

Today marks exactly (and only!) one month since I found out I have cancer. And I'm strapped in and ready to ride.


# 10:33:00 AM:

Good for Molly, good for Microsoft, good for the Web

In an objective sense, it's great that Molly Holzschlag is joining the Internet Explorer team at Microsoft to "provide resources to Web designers and developers [...] as they work toward a more standards-oriented goal" and to "work with Microsoft as well as all browser and tools vendors."

Still, I have to admit, guiltily, that I was sort of happy during the years that Microsoft dropped the ball (and left it dropped) on updating Internet Explorer, between version 6 (in 2001) and version 7 (late last year). The gap left by IE's stagnation allowed competing and better browsers like Firefox and Safari to flourish and erode IE's dominance, which has helped advance standards-based web development and avoid fragmenting the Web too drastically.

Practically, IE remains by far the most-used web browser in the world, so any efforts to improve how well it works—as well as how other Internet tools operate—are good, and if anyone has the web geek street cred to make things happen from within Microsoft, it's Molly. (Never mind that I didn't like one of her books back in 2002; I suspect its ramshackleness was more because of rushed publishing deadlines than anything else.)


Wednesday, February 07, 2007 - newest items first
# 1:38:00 AM:

Miracle cures, and being afraid

Cancer Treatment: Day 7Here it is, past 1 a.m. and I'm still up, can't sleep. My wife knows my motivations better than I know them myself sometimes, and she was right last night to note that posting to this blog and going on the radio isn't going to get my cancer treated any faster or better. I know that intellectually, but perhaps one reason I'm writing all this down is an emotional hope that it will help things go better, and quicker.

Anytime you have a disease or condition, your ears perk up at the possible miracle cures and innovative research, like recent indications that a metabolic pharmaceutical known as dichloroacetate (DCA) could cause cancer cells to self-destruct without the toxicity of chemotherapy (thanks Chris).

But I've learned after 16 years with diabetes that often those miracle cures don't pan out, or they take a long time to go mainstream. I can't expect anything miraculous to happen to my bowel cancer: in a very comfortingly medieval way, the solution is still to cut it out.

I was angry today, testy, as I should be some of the time. And then later I cried in front of my kids, which I haven't done very often. My fabulous, amazing daughters, who know that it's okay to cry, who've told me it's okay for me to cry, but who still shouldn't have to see their dad cry because he has cancer and he's afraid. But I am afraid. I'm afraid that I could die young. I'm afraid.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007 - newest items first
# 3:49:00 PM:

Good advice

A burglar tells you where the best places to hide money are in your house. Key piece of advice: leave some money in an obvious hiding place (like a drawer) and most burlgars will take it and get out—with the rest of your money and valuables untouched while hidden in a better place.


# 2:08:00 PM:

She's Adrienne Clarkson, and you're not

Former Canadian Governor-General and CBC broadcaster Adrienne Clarkson is giving a lecture on Canada's society of difference here in Vancouver at the beginning of March:

She says, "Canada is a different society, and there are many differences within it. [...] How did we get this way, and also, what is the reason we would think we could continue?" She'd like your contributions of questions and comments for the event.


# 1:00:00 PM:

The blindness of the entrenched

Dave Winer:

In 2000 I naively thought the music industry wanted to know why its users were suddenly so excited about their product. The idea that I could program my own music was incredibly enabling. People were talking about music in the supermarket and on the subway. Now we live in a world where our lives have their own personal soundtracks. We're all John Travolta when we walk down the street, Stayin Alive in our own little worlds where we program the music not some DJ in a booth somewhere far away. I went to one of their conferences and gave a talk, and told them how I, as a user, was rediscovering their product. To say they didn't want to hear it is an understatement. They called me names, shouted at me, held me responsible for their businesses. I tried to tell them money wasn't the issue, empowerment was. But they didn't want to hear.

They saw a truck coming, and they planned to hold their ground. Now, seven years later, it seems someone should ask, as Dr Phil might: How well did that work?


# 11:25:00 AM:

I'm confused

Yesterday when I spoke to my cancer surgeon, Dr. Brown, for the first time, all indications were that we'd probably proceed with at least one operation sometime next week or very soon thereafter. Then this morning, his secretary called me to say she was setting up another flexible sigmoidoscopy (i.e. a camera probe)—my third one, not counting the brief rigid scope Dr. Brown used himself yesterday—for February 20.


I asked her why, when I was anticipating scheduling the surgery itself a week earlier than that, rather than another test. She didn't know precisely, but expected that Dr. Brown wanted to take another look to plan for the surgery, and that his schedule is pretty full. Well, of course it is. He's a surgeon, and he's not supposed to have a lot of free time. But she could hear the annoyance in my voice, and bumped up the test a week, to February 13.

Still, I'm going to ask my GP Dr. Hassam about this when I see him tomorrow. I'm tired of tests, especially the third or fourth version of the same test, never mind the colonoscopy and CT scan—I've had consultations and discussions and tests since late November, and meanwhile this thing is still growing in me and no one has yet done anything about it directly. I want to be on the road to getting it out.


Monday, February 05, 2007 - newest items first
# 8:48:00 PM:

No, dammit, I don't know the surgery date yet...

Cancer Treatment: Day 5 at we're getting there. After discussions with my surgeon Dr. Brown at St. Paul's today, here is what it most likely to happen, unless he changes his mind in discussions with his colorectal surgery colleagues in the next few days:

  1. I will first have my small fibrous rectal nodule removed in a day surgery procedure, to ensure that (as all the doctors suspect so far) it is indeed a benign mass. It needs to come out no matter what, and Dr. Brown would prefer to do it first, in the unlikely event that examining it would change what happens with the next operation. That first day-surgery procedure may happen as early as next week, somewhere right around Valentine's Day, which is also my oldest daughter's ninth birthday.
  2. Fairly soon after that, maybe as early as a week later, or perhaps two, I will go in again for the full-on resection of my sigmoid colon to remove that cancerous lesion of mine that all the kids are talking about. That will be the week-in-hospital, two-months-off-work operation.
  3. Once an oncologist looks at what gets removed during those two surgeries, we'll be able to figure out whether I need chemotherapy. I will not likely receive any radiation treatment, since doctors prefer to use that on cancers that are near or at the outside of the body—the risk of damaging other non-cancerous tissues is too great, and the benefit questionable, in a case like mine.
  4. I will be walking around a bit a day or two after my big surgery, and will be reasonably mobile, if a tad doped-up and sleepy, once i get home.
  5. At some point I will see people at the B.C. Cancer Agency for counselling, if not additional direct medical treatment.

All these plans are, as I have learned, subject to change as new information comes in and my doctors revise their opinions. I have a good team working with me on this one. I also appreciate that they have all been very open to my questions, answering at the right level of detail.

Dr. Brown pointed out two other things:

  • In young patients like me (I'm 37), there is usually some family history of bowel cancer, but my genetic family has none. Which is good, because in those cases (and where many polyps tend to appear in the colon) doctors might recommend removing pretty much the entire large intestine. I'd prefer not to do that if it's not necessary.
  • Doctors tend to treat cancer rather aggressively in someone as young as I am, because, (a) our bodies can usually handle it better, and (b) we have many more years left to live in which cancer might recur. (Someone who's 80 years old doesn't usually worry about cancer recurring in 20 or 30 years. Someone in his mid-30s does.)

So I'm getting close to having a definitive date, but I'll still be at work tomorrow, before I see my family doctor again on Wednesday.

And that phrase many more years left to live was fucking good to hear.


# 11:30:00 AM:

I was walking on the moon one day...

Check out these 360-degree panoramas of the moon, taken by Apollo astronauts. They have sound too (from the radio communications—no sound on the moon itself, of course). Wow. (Via Kottke.)


Saturday, February 03, 2007 - newest items first
# 7:58:00 PM:

Losing it in the best way

Cancer Treatment: Day 3 at Flickr.comMy wife and I took our Valentine's Day early this year, since we don't know exactly when I'll be going in for surgery in the next few weeks. Right now we're at the Sutton Place Hotel in downtown Vancouver, having just returned from the Raincity Grill for dinner. And I have a story to tell you.

We arrived at the hotel around 4 p.m. today, after dropping the daughters off with my parents. On the table was a spread of champagne, crackers, cheese, and dessert. "There's a note," I said.

It was a surprise from my coworkers at Navarik, to one or two of whom I'd mentioned our planned weekend getaway. At first I laughed, because the editor in me noticed that the note, on hotel stationery, was mistranscribed as "From all of us in Navarik"—like it was a country instead of a company:

Sutton Place - 2.jpg

And then I totally lost it, bursting out crying and running for a tissue in the bathroom. It took a minute or two for me to calm down before we could get ready for dinner.

Thank you, everyone at Navarik. The company and everybody there has been incredibly supportive, tangibly and emotionally, through good times and bad, and this too is a bad one. I could not imagine a better bunch to work with.

It's not usually very easy to make me cry. My tears were, in part, from happiness that my friends there were thinking fo me. But part of it was also knowing that what I'm about to go through is serious enough to warrant the gift.

Damn. This is a hell of a roller coaster.


Friday, February 02, 2007 - newest items first
# 12:26:00 PM:

Planning the accident

Cancer Treatment: Day 2I haven't mentioned yet that I've seen my cancer. Along with my doctor and his assistant, I was the first to do so, though none of us was certain that's what it was at the time. Back in December, when I had a flexible sigmoidoscopy (basically, a camera up the butt), the display screen was just above my head, so I could see just as well as Dr. Enns what he was looking at.

He had been expecting some inflamed tissue, showing proctitis, but what he found, and what I saw, was a sizeable polyp. I watched (but fortunately, could not feel) the tiny claw-like pincers that he controlled take biopsy samples from it. A couple of weeks later, those samples revealed cancer, and now I'm on the road to surgery.

So I have a good mental picture of what we're dealing with. I know what the hunk of flesh they'll be removing looks like.

The strange thing about this interim time is that, physically, I feel pretty close to normal. I'm not ill. And if you think about it, surgery is just another name for inflicting serious injury under controlled circumstances, to prevent worse things from happening later.

It's like my doctors are telling me, "In a couple of weeks you're going to be in a car accident. You can't stop it, and you'll get better, but you'll be in the hospital and then you'll have to stay some for a couple of months. Get ready for it." There's mental dissonance about that. I know intellectually that this is necessary—life-saving and crucial, actually. But an emotional part of my brain is saying, "You're gonna let them do WHAT?"

Another complicating factor I didn't mention: while he was examining me, Dr. Enns also found what is likely a fibroid (or something like it) inside my rectum. It's another hunk of anomalous tissue. It seems, at this point, unlikely to be cancerous, and is apparently unrelated to the cancerous lesion itself. But my surgeon Dr. Brown may want to remove it along with the tumour, since I'll already be on the table.

That's something else I'll find out on Monday, when I hope to know when my operation will happen.


# 11:47:00 AM:

The adventure begins

Vista_1 at Flickr.comI have no need or intention to buy Windows Vista right now, and that's probably good. Here's one reason.

Paul Thurrott reveals that even he, renowned expert on all things Microsoft and co-author of a book on Windows Vista secrets, can't quite figure out how many versions of the operating system Microsoft is selling.

This is supposed to be a joke. A joke! Get it?

Ha ha?



Thursday, February 01, 2007 - newest items first
# 11:19:00 PM:

What do other cancer patients think of my disease blogging?

If you're interested to hear what my Wednesday interview (about my cancer blog stuff here) generated in the mind of Barry D. Stein, president of the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada, then give a listen to his appearance (MP3 file) yesterday on the same CBC Radio show, "On the Coast."

(Quick summary: he thinks what I'm doing is a good thing.)


# 3:30:00 PM:

Beware the Unusual Articles page on Wikipedia

It has the potential to suck you in for hours. (Via GMSV.)


# 10:35:00 AM:

Au revoir, touristes!

In a perfect one-image summery of the wide variation in the world of cycling, here's a picture of a mountain biker jumping over the racers in the Tour de France as they ride en masse beneath a cliff in the mountains (via Darren Barefoot).

And no, of course the Tour people had no idea the mountain dude was going to do this.


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