My former co-worker Chris got married to Kerry recently, and they're posting travel photos from their camper-van U.S. honeymoon, which have been great fun to follow. What I especially like is that their wedding presents included sponsorships of various parts of their journey, and they include thank-you printouts in many of the pictures, like this and this.
It's all just terribly charming. I've traveled a lot in the western U.S.A. over the years, especially Oregon and California, so their photos bring back many fond memories. Oddly, I've never visited Yosemite National Park. Maybe someday, if my health improves. Maybe.
The first time I ever used a microwave oven was at my friend Brent Spencer's house, sometime in the mid-1970s. I'm pretty sure it was an Amana Radarange. Brent's father Ken, who would later go on to found the digital printing company Creo, is an engineer, and often had interesting gadgets well before the rest of us got them.
(Some examples: Ken borrowed a projection television for a few weeks, which I got to watch in their basement; was the first person I knew to have a phone in his car; and loaned us their family's TRS-80 microcomputer while they went on a long vacation in 1980.)
Anyway, the first thing Brent showed me how to make in the exotic Radarange was Triscuits with Kraft process cheese slices melted on top. I stared in wonder through the oven window as the cheese rose into what seemed like an impossibly big bubble, then popped into a goopy mess. Delicious.
Recently I did the same thing: 30 seconds on high power, with Triscuits and Kraft slices. You know what? They still tasted great.
You might recall another one of his videos I posted a couple of weeks ago.
It's Spring now, and in Vancouver, it feels like it:
In part to celebrate, Air and I went to a party last night, where everyone dressed up. We also got some of my favourite photos ever of us. Here's one with a cat, a young princess (who left early), me (in fedora), Air (pink hair), and our pal Catherine, who had the evening's best hat:
And didn't my wife look fabulously hot?
Especially with the martini and the bubble chair. It was like 1968, baby! Except with iPhones.
There's some great logic in these conversation snippets with kids. They reflect straightforward thinking and plain speaking, which we adults often spend a lot of time overthinking around.
Interestingly, he used a digital still camera. Not even the movie mode on a still camera, but the super-high-speed burst shooting mode of his top-of-the-line Canon EOS-1D Mark IV digital SLR, which can fire away at up to 10 frames per second. (Miranda and Reilly are the kind of people who are supposed to have expensive cameras. They're wedding photographers, and very good ones.)
The final video, compiled from over 5000 individual photographs, is arty, and a bit strange. My wife Air and I are in it, mostly in the background, but we're featured about four and a half minutes in, just as we were leaving. I'm Mr. Handshaking-Guy-in-a-Hat.
My friend KK posted something utterly remarkable to his Facebook wall a few hours ago. He has a son, who is eight, with severe autism, and who lives far away with his mother. The boy has never spoken, or really communicated with words to anyone.
Except this week he started fucking typing. His first message, to his sister, who dropped her coat on the floor when she came in the house:
pick up your jacket
Then, a little later, via email:
Hi dad . how are you. Have a nice day.
On our car trip to Seattle last summer, KK told us quite a bit about his son and his son's condition. I wondered at the time, and sometimes since, how much the kid is thinking that he hasn't been able to express his whole life. When my wife Air pointed out today's Facebook post, I burst into tears beside her.
You know, a lot of my life has sucked over the past while, but sometimes the world is beautiful. It really is.
P.S. Want more proof? Read Roger Ebert this week, especially his last sentence.
We're off to a European-style dinner with my side of the family tonight, Christmas Eve, before we join Air's side of the clan tomorrow. I hope you have as much fun as we will.
I found out yesterday that there are new cancer tumours in the centre of my chest—several of them, each 2 to 3 cm in size, near where my lungs meet. They showed up on the CT scan I had Monday, and they were not there on the scan in September. That means they've grown quickly, which is fucking bad news.
After meeting with my doctors at the B.C. Cancer Agency yesterday, I've stopped using cediranib, the drug that had kept my existing lung tumours growing only very slowly over the past year. I'll likely return to more conventional and aggressive chemotherapy again sometime in the next couple of weeks.
Since I found out about my cancer almost three years ago, it has never been in remission. Some people who read this blog or know me in person have, mistakenly, thought otherwise, because I've often appeared in good health.
But my cancer has never shrunk, only slowed down. It started in my large intestine, then spread to my lungs from there. The bowel tumours came out with surgery in 2007—otherwise I would probably have died later that year. But the lung metastases can't really be tackled with surgery or radiation, because there are too many, too widely spread, and too deep in my body. Chemo is the best option.
This is serious. Faster-growing metastatic tumours near my lungs, my heart, my trachea, and my esophagus are dangerous and potentially lethal. In addition to attacking them with chemo, in a few months there may be some clinical trials of MEK inhibitor drugs available to me, but that's not certain. Those experimental medications operate on the kinase cascade metabolic pathway that helps cancer cells grow. So we'll see about those too.
New, fast-growing cancer is not what anyone wants in my body, but I can't say it's unexpected, or a genuine surprise. This is how cancer often goes. Treatments work, sometimes better, sometimes worse—and then sometimes they stop working. It's always a fight, and one I might lose.
We had some visitors yesterday: four-week-old Aiden Schweber and his mom and dad. Holding a newborn is special, because they are that small and squirmy for a very short time. (It seemed like forever when our kids were infants, but I have a different perspective now without the sleep deprivation.)
For instance, every time I see Simone, who's now almost two, I'm amazed, because I still think of her as a tiny, chicken-legged thing like Aiden. Even my cousin's daughter A remains a baby in my mind, though I see her reasonably often (most recently not even two weeks ago), and she's already turned five.
I'm still—just barely—able to carry my nine-year-old daughter L downstairs to her bedroom if she's fallen asleep. I had to give up on that for her older sister M, who's eleven, several years ago. And yesterday was another milestone too: M went to her first movie with just her friends, no grownups present.
You know, I'm glad I've been able to stick around long enough to see all this.
When I learned to play rock music back in the '80s, Vancouver's Odds (and their cover-band alter-ago The Dawn Patrol) were among my key inspirations. I got to know some of the guys in the band too. In the last five or six years, Odds bassist Doug Elliott has also become a good friend, as well as playing bass sometimes in my band.
After a hiatus of close to a decade, the Odds returned with a tweaked lineup of musicians and a new album, Cheerleader, last year, and now they've posted all their music videos dating back to 1991 on YouTube. They're worth a look and a listen. I think "Someone Who's Cool" is still my favourite:
Although the big suit shoulders and done-to-the-neck dress shirts of the early-'90s ones have a certain retro appeal too. Make sure you read the little descriptions by the band.
Some of the best Odds songs combine the intelligence of Elvis Costello with the booty-shaking overdriven guitar boogie of AC/DC, and that's a hard balance to accomplish.
I played the gig last night at the tony private Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club, covering percussion, some drumming, background vocals, and (the first time for a performance that long) rhythm guitar. I was a bit of mess—my health was fine, but the three instrumental roles, plus singing, include lots of mental and physical gymnastics, so I usually felt like I was scrambling along a bit behind the others. I did okay, and I had a lot of fun.
It was also the first time this particular band lineup had worked together. We have another show next Saturday, and I expect I'll do a bit better, particularly since I'll improve my sense of what I should play on different songs. I also think a week is about the right amount of recovery time. Thanks to Jeremy, Dave, Rose, Sebastien, and Christian for having me sit in for these two Saturdays. It's been a nice break during my ongoing cancer-treatment nastiness.
Gnomedex 9 ended several days ago, but I needed to think about it a bit before writing my overall impressions. Each year (I've been part of five Gnomedexes now) has a different vibe, and this one was a bit hard to pin down.
It was certainly less confrontational. For whatever reason, none of the previous web-heavy-hitter attendees—Dave Winer, Steve Gillmor, Sarah Lacy, Jason Calacanis, Mark Canter, Doug Kaye, Adam Curry, et. al.—was there this time, which made for less high-level arguing (or grandstanding). And while many of the sessions were fascinating, I didn't get my mind blown the way some of last year's talks did to me.
I think, perhaps, it was not quite as inspiring, but more fun. Notes and quotes:
I was also glad to have a hug with Drew Olanoff, who was diagnosed with cancer only three months ago and has turned it into a worldwide fundraising effort already. I Blame Drew's Cancer that I didn't manage that when I found out about my cancer in 2007.
On our last night in Seattle, Air and I spent the dinner hour pounding open steamed crab legs with little wooden hammers, then had a drink and watched the Moon set behind a sailboat at our hotel. The next morning as we left the hotel driveway, we saw this:
I'd say it was worth going.
We're off to Gnomedex, the fifth year Air and I will be participating. It has to be one of the densest collections of nerds around (as my panorama from last year shows)—sort of a web society annual family reunion. Including some of the emotional blow-ups that entails.
Here's a story. Two years ago this week, I weighed 145 pounds, about 70 pounds less than I do now. I looked like I'd been in a PoW camp, pale and skeletal. I'd just left St. Paul's Hospital, where I'd been for close to a month after major cancer surgery and an intestinal blockage.
By October I'd gained back 30 of those pounds. Within a year I'd taken a bunch more chemotherapy, lost my hair and grown it back, and had terrible chemo-induced acne. A year after that, the cancer is still here, but I'm fighting it, and I feel pretty good. End of story, for now.
We all grow up making stories—when we're kids, we call it playing, whether it's using an infant mobile or a video camera. And our stories are best when we make them for others, or with them. Unfortunately, many of us become unused to playing, thinking it childish. We grow up terrified of giving speeches, or we write our thoughts only in diaries instead of for reading. We become shy.
For whatever reason, that didn't happen to me. I've been passionate about many things in my 40 years—computers, photography, public speaking, music, making websites, writing and language, science and space, commuting by bicycle, building a life with my wife and family—but when I took at them all, each one is really about making stories for others. Or, as my wife succinctly pointed out, about showing off. I'll admit to that.
Some examples, in no real order:
I've done many of these things for no money (and some for lots of money), but for almost all of them, I wanted other people to know.
Okay, yes, I wanted to show off. Is that healthy?
For me, on balance, I think so. Whether for my jobs or my hobbies, being a ham and wanting others to see and appreciate what I do prods me to make those stories good, and useful. Humans are natural tellers of stories, and we enjoy anything presented in a story-like way. So I've tried to make all of those things in the form of a story. Whether a discussion of evolutionary biology, a fun rockabilly instrumental, a bunch of rants about PowerPoint, or a pretty photograph (or yes, even the instruction manual to install a wireless cellular modem in a police car), I want it to generate a story in your mind.
Stories don't always have an obvious structure. They don't necessarily go in predictable directions, or have a moral or meaning. I certainly didn't see it coming when all this cancer stuff from the past two and a half years happened. But I've been able to make it a story that other people can read, understand, and maybe find helpful. So too with my other passions.
So whatever you're trying to do, whatever hobby or job or habit you have, if you want to share it with others, try to craft it like a story—short or long, visual or auditory, but something that flows. Show it off. That, it seems, is what I like to do.
Derek K. Miller is a writer, editor, web guy, drummer, photographer, and dad. Not in that order. He's been blogging at penmachine.com since 2000, and has been on medical leave from his position as Communications Manager at Navarik Corp. since 2007. His wife and two daughters have put up with his show-offishness way longer than that.
Words change. Marathon was originally (and still is) a plain in Greece, but after a battle there between Athenians and Persians in 490 BC, legend says that messenger Pheidippides ran a little over 26 miles to relay the result, and died from heat and exhaustion. More than two thousand years later, his distance was established for races at the Olympics and elsewhere, now called marathons. Deaths, fortunately, are now rare.
Over time, marathon also came to mean anything that took a long time and a lot of effort. After the invention of television, we got the telethon: fundraisers broadcast on TV over many hours or days, focused on a particular charity or cause. Many of us raised in the 1970s don't think of Jerry Lewis as a movie star, but as the guy who ran the telethon.
Now we have blogathon, where numerous bloggers (close to 200 this year from across North America and beyond) post something every half hour for 24 hours. This year's event began at 6 a.m. today, and runs till the same time tomorrow morning. Each participant can choose his or own charity, so there are lots of options. Here in Vancouver, we have quite a few friends doing the blogathon:
Many of the blogathoners are at Workspace in Gastown today, and I plan to drop in with my kids sometime this afternoon to cheer them on for a bit. Visit their blogs and choose a worthy cause for a donation, why don't you?
UPDATE July 2009: Sadly, Daniel's remains were found on the lower slopes of Mt. Seymour in July, not too far from where he left his bicycle a few weeks earlier.
Daniel Hughes is a friend of a friend, and he disappeared on the morning of Friday, June 5. He is an enthusiastic bicyclist, and was apparently going for a bike ride in Vancouver—but never came home.
Though I don’t need to talk to a lot of people, I love watching them. [...] I travel for the travel.
I suspect I may be primarily an introvert—like Dembling, I find the North American preference for extroversion a bit oppressive. That doesn't mean I prefer solitude in all circumstances, but that social interactions take energy for me, and I need time alone to recharge. I like activities with friends, and especially with my wife and children, but given time to myself, I'm unlikely to want to meet anyone for lunch or a night out. Instead, I might go out by myself, and it doesn't feel at all lonely.
I recall last year's Gnomedex conference in Seattle, an intense three-day geekfest of ideas and discussion together with hundreds of my peers in a Seattle meeting room. The hotel my wife and I chose was a good 20-minute walk away up the waterfront escarpment and through downtown. Despite the physical difficulty of making the trek with my rolling bag of computer and camera gear while suffering cancer-treatment side effects (as I still do), I enjoyed the trip each day. That's because I could be alone and enjoy people-watching as I trundled through the glass tower canyons and Pike Place Market, and either charge up on the way to the meeting, or get my energy back on the way to the hotel.
Right now is a good example too. I've had a rough couple of nights of side effects this week, and my wife is out for the afternoon, but now that I'm finally feeling good, rather than setting up a lunch meeting, or saying hi to my parents (who live next door), I'll probably just go for a solitary walk. That's just what I need.
Twenty years ago this spring, I played my first gig as a drummer, at the Last Class Bash for the UBC Science Undergraduate Society. Our band, the Juan Valdez Memorial R&B Ensemble, was a five-piece with me on drums, my roommates Alistair, Sebastien, and Andrew on guitars and bass, and Ken Otter (now a professor of zoology) on another guitar.
We'd spent months rehearsing, but we still didn't know how to sing proper harmonies. Our playlist included mostly old songs from the '60s: "Gloria," "Long Cool Woman," the theme from "Batman." I skipped a final lecture for one of my high-level biology courses to set up for the show in the Student Union Building party room. Our friend Steve ran the rented PA system.
We were relatively terrible, but we were silly, and we had a good time. So did the heavy-drinking audience.
I'm still playing in a later version of the same band. Sebastien is still on guitar, I'm still on drums when I feel up to it. We're still playing some of those same songs. I've spent half my life in this act.
In 1974, on my first day of kindergarten, I made some friends. One of my earliest memories of school that year was three of us working on an art project. Rand, one of my friends, had a huge (huge for five-year-olds, at least) bottle of white glue turned upside down, but like a ketchup bottle, it was jammed.
Brent, my other friend, sang out, "There's no more gluuuuuue!" And then a huge glop of it fell onto the paper, completely covering up what we were working on.
I stayed friends with Rand and Brent for many years afterward. When Brent's family took a year away to go sailing around the Caribbean, we borrowed their TRS-80 Model I personal computer, the first one we had in our house. Rand and I spent hours at each other's homes, or with his family at their cabin on Keats Island, playing with Star Wars action figures.
Even when Rand changed to a West Side private school and his family moved out that way, we kept in touch, and a couple of years later I went to that school too. We lost touch with Brent slowly after that, though he was in my Boy Scout troop until 1982, and I have seen him from time to time in the interim.
Rand and I once tried making smoke bombs at his place, and drying them in the microwave. Not a smart move. We had to open all the windows and pull out the smoke alarm battery, hoping things would clear before his parents got home.
Eventually, he moved to yet another school and, as happens, we drifted away from one another. He emigrated to New York City almost 20 years ago, got married, and had a son. I stayed here in Vancouver, got married, and had two daughters. My daughters started kindergarten at the same school where Rand and I met a few years ago. They're still going there.
Recently Rand and I got in touch again on Facebook. He and his wife and son were in town last week to visit his family, and on Friday night my girls and I met them downtown for dinner. It was a short visit, but fun—the first time Rand and I had seen each other for more than 25 years. Long enough that he had time to grow taller than me.
We were both pretty big nerds back in the '70s and early '80s. Our nerdiness has mellowed, and it's also cooler to be geeky these days than it used to be. So we're different, yet not. Just like Vancouver.
Here's our friend Lisa at her wedding yesterday, saying hi to our other friend Christina during the reception dinner:
And here was Lisa in a plaid skirt back in 1992 dancing to my band (a later incarnation of our band also played at the wedding yesterday, by the way):
Other than the wedding dress in one and the early-'90s fashions and hair in the other, she looks the same, 17 years later! I certainly can't say the same for myself.
Thanks to Simon for the '92 picture.
My friend and sometime co-musician Adam Woodall has been part of the music scene here in Vancouver for over 15 years, and he's finally getting some radio play: his song "Coming Home Soon" from the 2006 Adam Woodall Band album Silver Ring.
Virgin Radio DJ Buzz Bishop has posted his interview with Adam online. Give it a listen to hear about Adam and the AWB, and for a couple of mean live solo acoustic versions of "Coming Home Soon" and "Hit Me Baby One More Time" (yes!).
Don't forget to check out Adam's YouTube harmonica lessons too. He's not only a great singer and a tasteful and talented guitarist, but an awesome harmonica player. In fact, the first time I ever met Adam back around 1994 or so, I got his business card, and all it said was "Adam Woodall - Harmonica."
Finally, if you're wondering about his appearance in the Flavor-Blasted Goldfish commercial, here it is:
Adam's on the left. Yes, he really did get coated in orange powder for that.
I still have some more photos to upload, but early this evening we got back home after seven and a half hours and nearly 300 km by car and ferry returning from Tofino and Parksville. It was a great trip, one that will leave memories. As a nice capper, we managed to meet up with my friend Simon on the ferry in Nanaimo and, once we crossed the water, gave him a ride into West Vancouver to visit his family.
We live in a huge part of the world. I mean huge oceans, huge mountains, huge trees, huge birds, huge beaches, and huge distances. At highway speeds (except for the really twisty parts, and lunch), it took us three hours to drive in the rain about half the way, across one of the narrowest parts of Vancouver Island. It's apparently a faster trip right across Ireland. We passed between snow-blanketed mountains 1400 m high—taller than any in Britain, to make another cross-Atlantic island comparison.
It's common for us British Columbians to take day trips or short vacations over distances that would cross several countries in Europe, as my family did this week. I'm glad to be home, but as I noted on on Twitter, I miss the huge, deep, comfortable hotel bathtubs. And the heated tile floor in Tofino. And the sound of surf, gentle or roaring.
Sunday night, my wife Air and I took a quick trip back to Victoria for one reason: my old friend Simon, who lives and works there, was giving a music recital. He has been studying classical singing for many years, even though he used to play in my sixties rock band a long time ago, and is now a registered massage therapist.
But this was very different. The space, in the Lutheran Church of the Cross in Saanich, was beautifully bright, with wonderful acoustics. He and his co-recitalist Joanne sang works by Bach, Mozart, Caccini, Purcell, Gershwin, Tosti, Barber, and others—some together, some solo, with accompaniment by two excellent pianists.
My favourite piece was Simon's rendition of the crazy "La Danza" (which is almost a winking parody of itself—here's Pavarotti's version to give you an idea). Simon was smiling the whole way through, and both he and his accompanist Kim flew through it with great verve and skill. They received huge applause afterwards. When the recital was finished, Air and I joined Simon and one of his massage therapy co-workers at a nearby pub for dinner. We stayed overnight in a hotel, then returned home today.
The whole trip was a pleasant contrast from our last one to Victoria with the kids, just three weeks ago. No migraines, minimal medication side effects, and no one needed stitches. Yay!
My friend Simon scanned some old photos and sent them over a couple of days ago. They're of me and some of my friends (him included) between 1990 and 1992. We look younger than we thought we did at the time. And yes, the '90s definitely had its own fashion sense, even if we didn't think so then either:
The pictures include photos of The Love Bugs, the predecessor to my current band The Neurotics, which is still playing a pretty similar batch of songs more than 15 years later. If you'd been at the Starlight Casino in Queensborough, B.C. last night, in fact, you could have seen me playing guitar and drums just like in these images—but in a nice suit instead of a ratty t-shirt. Sebastien was there too.
While my cancer treatment means I haven't been able to work for my employer, Navarik, for close to two years, I still make time to attend a few company events, including the Christmas party last night in downtown Vancouver:
This year my colleague Nathan and his wife had an excellent idea for our traditional employee gift exchange: instead of getting each other trinkets, we were to imagine what our assigned recipients would have liked when they were children. They would get to open the wrapping in front of everyone at the party, then say whether the choice would have worked for their childhood selves. Now that the unwrapping is over, Navarik will donate all the presents to a children's charity for Christmas. Perfect!