February 14 has many meanings for me. It's Valentine's Day, of course—the 16th my wife Air and I have spent together. It is also our daughter Marina's 12 birthday. But with the Winter Olympics here in Vancouver, including Canada's first gold medal of the event, there's extra resonance, since one of our athletes won gold on the day Marina was born back in 1998 too.
Air had a long, hard labour that February, and with the Nagano Olympics half a world away, we were able to watch many events live as a distraction in the middle of the night. Now our daughter is nearly a teenager, with her own mobile phone and Twitter account. (I got my first mobile phone when Air was pregnant that first time. I was 28. And getting on Twitter? I was 37.)
Happy birthday, Marina. Happy Valentine's Day to my lovely, wonderful, resourceful, smart, sharp, and stylish wife Air. Happy Olympics to all of you too.
When my mother was a little girl, she received a copy of the classic children's book Heidi, printed in 1945. This year, she dug that same copy out and gave it to my older daughter M as a Christmas present.
The chances that my Kindle will still be around and working in 65 years, to give away to a grandchild? Virtually zero, of course.
P.S. I should note that, as public domain works, Heidi and Johanna Spyri's other books are available for free online too. You can put them on your Kindle as plain text files that work just great, instead of spending the $3 for digitally-locked DRM versions.
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.
The weather at the beginning of this winter has been nothing like last year; the only snow locally in Vancouver is on the mountains. So I'll post our family Christmas card (the first to include our new puppy Lucy) a bit early:
From left you have my daughter M with Lucy, my mom, me (top) and my dad (bottom), my wife Air, and my daughter L. Oh, and my parents' etchings, of course.
I hope you're all warm and safe, and will be well fed this week.
What with all the new cancer and chemo (more this Friday!) and stuff, I've neglected to upload new photos in quite a while; they've just been accumulating on my camera's memory card. Time to fix that. Here are a few of my recent favourites:
Yes, there are many many puppy pictures. Get used to it.
I have heard there was a time when some of the older veterans at today's Remembrance Day ceremonies thought there might be no more wars. They fought, and died, and killed, and saw the waste and destruction—and believed that perhaps the cost was too great. That nations and societies could decide to put the barbarism behind us.
There were young veterans at the ceremonies today, much younger than me, returned from Afghanistan and elsewhere. Sadly, I don't think they can share in that old idealism.
All during the 2008–2009 school year, construction crews performed a seismic upgrade to the building. The school district set up some portable classrooms on the upper field, and the kids rotated through using them while different classrooms in the structure were rebuilt. By June, the crews seemed to be finishing up, reaching the last class.
But then, over the summer, the building was further gutted, and even this past week there were still heaps of construction materials fenced off in the schoolyard. Old light fixtures littered the grounds and interior, the gym was filled with workers and dust and mess, and there were ominous pits dug here and there.
The men have been working furiously, including Saturdays, to get the school ready for tomorrow's onslaught. I'm sure there was a lot of overtime paid this Labour Day weekend. Yet I'll be interested to find out what state the school is in tomorrow. Maybe they worked some miracles.
As we (and many fellow Vancouverites) do every year, my family visited the Pacific National Exhibition yesterday, and had a lot of fun. My kids had already been there with my parents, and we're going again next week, but that didn't stop anyone:
Despite some medication side effects, I even made it through the whole day. I no longer go on the rides myself (I've been prone to barfing from spinny rides for at least 15 years, and the cancer meds certainly don't help), but my wife and kids used their all-day ride passes to full effect.
Our first (and sixth last!) trip to the surface of the Moon was over. The seared, beaten Columbia (weighing less than 6,000 kg, and which had remained shiny and pristine until its re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere), with its passengers, was the only part of the titanic Saturn V rocket (3 million kg) to return home after a little over one week away. Every other component had been designed to burn up during launch or return, to stay on the Moon's surface (where those parts remain), to smash into the Moon, or to drift in its own orbit around the Sun.
All three astronauts returned safely, and suffered no ill effects, despite being quarantined for two and a half weeks, until August 10, 1969, when I was six weeks old.
Just before noon today, Pacific Time, marks exactly 40 years since Neil armstrong and Buzz Aldrin launched their Lunar Module Eagle and left the surface of the Moon, to rendezvous with their colleague Michael Collins in lunar orbit:
They were on their way home to Earth, though it would take a few days to get back here.
The beginnings of human calendars are arbitrary. We're using a Christian one right now, though the start date is probably wrong, and the monks who created it didn't assign a Year Zero. Chinese, Mayan, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and other calendars begin on different dates.
If we were to decide to start over with a new Year Zero, I think the choice would be easy. The dividing line would be 40 years ago today, what we call July 16, 1969. That's when the first humans—the first creatures from Earth of any kind, since life began here a few billion years ago—walked on another world, our own Moon:
They landed their vehicle, the ungainly Eagle, at 1:17 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time (the time of my post here). Just before 8 PDT, Neil Armstrong put his boot on the soil. That was the moment. All three of the men who went there, Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, are almost 80 now, but they are still alive, like the rest of the relatively small slice of humanity that was here when it happened (I was three weeks old).
If the sky is clear tonight, look up carefully for the Moon: it's just a sliver right now. Although it's our closest neighbour in space, you can cover it up with your thumb. People have been there, and when the Apollo astronauts walked on its dust, they could look up and cover the Earth with a gesture too—the place where everyone except themselves had ever lived and died. Every other achievement, every great undertaking, every pointless war—all fought over something that could be blotted out with a thumb.
Even if it doesn't start a new calendar (not yet), today should at least be a holiday, to commemorate the event, the most amazing and important thing we've ever done. Make it one yourself, and remember. Today was the day.
My wife, kids, and I have spent quite a bit of time in Cannon Beach, Oregon, where we took our summer vacations several years in a row. We like the place: it's in the United States, another country, yet it's part of the same sort of coastal ecosystem as we have here in British Columbia. So it's familiar, yet foreign, and one of my favourite places.
Today my parents, who are returning from a road trip to San Diego, have happened into staying a night in Cannon Beach too. They phoned me tonight as they had a light dinner and wine on the patio of their motel, watching the sunset. Today is also their 44th anniversary. They like the place too.
Incidentally, after they checked in, my mother realized that, decades ago, she had stayed at the same motel with her longtime friend Erlyne.
Several years ago, pioneering podcaster Adam Curry had an ad campaign going for Senseo, a Dutch coffee maker that uses individual single-cup pods. At the time, I thought it was kind of a silly idea, though he genuinely seemed to enjoy using it.
For Christmas 2008, my wife bought me a similar machine, a Tassimo by Bosch. I had been wasting quite a bit of coffee, because I'm usually the only one to drink it in the house, but I do have some almost every day. The Tassimo, with its plastic pods, at first seems a bit wasteful too, but rather than our making half a pot and throwing most of it away, this system lets us brew a single cup of coffee, tea, latte, hot chocolate, or whatever in less than a minute. If I want another, it's easy to make a second one.
The system is clever because the "T-Disc" pods each have a barcode that the machine reads in order to know how much water to brew, how hot it needs to be, and how long to brew it for each beverage. Of course, that means that you can only use Tassimo-branded discs (from makers including Nabob, Maxwell House, Gevalia, Starbucks, etc.) and can't refill them with your own coffee, which is very corporate and controlling of them—in principle.
In practice, I pretty much always brew pre-ground brand-name coffee anyway, so the only difference for me over the past few weeks is that the Tassimo is more convenient. I'm sure the roast-your-own-beans crowd would be horrified, but I have bigger things to worry about.
The main side effect of my current cancer drug, cediranib, is intestinal. I have to go to the bathroom a lot. Sometimes a whole lot. The last two nights, it's been at least once an hour, sometimes more, all night long. On the night of December 30, I didn't sleep at all between midnight and 4 a.m. because of it.
Last night, New Year's Eve, was even worse. I slept a little, intermittently, through the night, but I woke up frequently and rushed to the toilet, well over a dozen times. Between 7 and 8 a.m. alone, that happened six times. Afterwards, things settled down somewhat and I was able to sleep.
And sleep, and sleep. I woke up around noon to eat something, then again at 5 p.m., but otherwise I have been in bed all day. My butt is sore from the night. Now I'm watching SpongeBob SquarePants. So far this is the worst day of side effects since I started this treatment in November. Most days haven't been anything like this, so I hope tonight and tomorrow are much better.
I still prefer this to the nausea, pain, and morphine dependency I've suffered before—I think. Maybe this means the drug is doing something. I hope so. And I hope January 2 is an improvement.
Last night and today were an improvement over the previous couple of days, although I was up most of the night with side effects anyway.
And despite high winds overnight and this morning in Victoria, the weather calmed down in the afternoon and we had another pretty trip back across Georgia Strait from Vancouver Island to the mainland. We're home now, seeing if we can all stay up to ring in 2009. Looks like we might get there, although our younger daughter is watching TV alone in the living room, and I'm guessing she might crash before midnight.
Happy 2009, everyone. I'm glad to see another new year.
It's been a busy Christmas, made busier by enough snow to nearly paralyze a usually not-very-snowy city like Vancouver. Yet my wife, daughters, and I were able to pilot our snow-tire-equipped Toyota Echo through the wilds of East Vancouver to my aunt and uncle's house for our traditional family Christmas Eve event. We did have to bunk out there overnight, though.
Today, Christmas Day, we made it home, cleaned up, changed, unpacked, and then ventured out to Maple Ridge for a quiet dinner with my wife's parents. The roads by then were better. Besides eating, I performed some of the usual in-laws' tech support to help my father-in-law configure their new Internet Wi-Fi radio set, and my mother-in-law create her first blog. (No content yet, so a link must wait.) With more snow forecast, we made an early night of it and returned to Burnaby again, and Christmas was complete.
Now, as the day ends, I think back not only on Christmas and my happiness at being relatively healthy again this year (tumours in my lungs are still growing, but very slowly, and maybe my new holistic health approach is assisting the cediranib in keeping them somewhat at bay), but also about the deaths of two people. They were my friend Martin Sikes, who died suddenly a year ago on the morning of Christmas Eve, after sending me what turned out to be a spooky email; and James Brown, who appropriately, somehow chose the most bombastic of days, December 25, to make his last fleet-footed shuffle off the stage.
From now on, to me, December 24 will also be Martin Day, and December 25 is JB Day. In their honour, I'm drinking my first glass of The Balvenie 15-year-old scotch whisky tonight, from a bottle given to me on my birthday in 2007 by Alistair—but which I have only now opened.
I hear the plow truck finally making a pass through our street outside, near midnight. I am exhausted, and content. Slàinte to MS and JB, and Merry Christmas to you.
CBC's Weather Centre says "it's guaranteed that all the country will see a white Christmas. We have snow on the ground everywhere and it's going to stay into Christmas Day." That's less common right across Canada than you might think.
UPDATE: This recording and its predecessor are both listed at Uwe Hermann's page of freely licensed Christmas songs.
Three years ago I recorded a classical guitar version of "We Three Kings" (MP3 file) and last year I used it as the soundtrack of a Christmas slideshow. People liked both of them, so this year I have for you a short (1 min 43 sec) solo classical guitar recording of me playing "What Child Is This?" (2.4 MB MP3 file), another traditional carol, also known as "Greensleeves" when it's not Christmastime:
I'm putting together a segment for Inside Home Recording about how I recorded and mixed this piece, so watch for that in the next few days. You can also find this recording, which is free for you to share and remix, at the Podsafe Music Network and the Internet Archive (in a bunch of formats).
And no, I still don't have my act together to get the Penmachine Podcast page functioning technically yet, so it's not available there yet. I'll get to it.
For the first time since before our kids were born more than a decade ago, we bought a real Christmas tree for our living room. The Douglas fir was a little messy to put up, but we have a good vacuum, and now the house smells great. It's also good sign than it's sucking up water like crazy, so it likely won't dry out in the next week and a half:
Unfortunately, while I I did haul it into the house and help get it put up, I didn't help decorate. That's because my current cancer medication, cediranib, has one major side effect: diarrhea, or something close to it. I don't get it every day, but when it happens, it comes on suddenly and lasts for several hours. And last night was one of those times.
My wife and daughters didn't need my help, though. They did a great job decorating, as usual.
So, for the occasion, I went looking for photos of snowflakes, and via Pharyngula and New Scientist, boy did I ever find them. Researcher Kenneth G. Libbrecht of the California Institute of Technology has even had his snowflake images appear on American postage stamps.
I've also posted some photos of Vancouver's Trinity Street Christmas Light Festival, which officially kicked off tonight. We had a (chilly) walk through that neighbourhood earlier this evening.
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!