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.
Today my parents flew to Frankfurt for a couple of weeks in Germany. They're staying with friends in Bad Zwischenahn, as well as visiting some of my father's relatives in Berlin, where he was born and lived until 1955. They had enough airline points to travel First Class, which I don't think they've ever done before.
Their trip is shorter than they had initially planned. My parents live next door to us in our duplex, the same house where I grew up, and they offer us a lot of support, especially with the kids, and particularly since I've been ill over the past few years. I told them a few weeks ago that their initial trip seemed too long to me. It was hard to admit that—I'm 40 years old and don't like having to depend on my parents again.
Yet it wouldn't have been fair not to ask. I have a lot of side effects from the cancer medications these days, and while we can handle not having my mom and dad nearby for a week or two, longer than that is likely to put a lot of pressure on my wife, and my daughters, when I'm not feeling well.
The three of us, Mom, Dad, and I, drove to the airport today, and had a fancy lunch in the Fairmont Hotel overlooking the jetway. I dropped them at the gate, then walked around the airport a bit and watched the planes some more. Then I drove home and spent an hour in the bathroom, as happens these days.
I'm sure they'll have a fun trip, and I'm glad they could go. I'll be happy to pick them up when they return too.
I've never owned a dog, not even as a child. I've had fish (we have them now), and back in the early '90s, my roommates and I had a smart black 24-toed cat named Guildenstern, who died too young and is buried in the back yard. But never a dog.
We're probably going to get a dog. It has to be hypoallergenic, since my wife Air is allergic to most furry things. But our experience with a couple of friends' dogs (including dogsitting Podcast Puppy) has shown us that a few breeds, usually poodle crosses, don't set off her immune system.
I've always been reticent to adopt a dog because our family likes to travel, but with my cancer, I can't and don't travel very far these days, and with my wife at work and the kids at school, I'm often home by myself. The right dog would make a good companion for me, and get me out of the house more. I need that. And most dogs seem to like me. Plus caring for a dog is something new to learn.
I've warmed considerably to the idea. We visited some puppies today. It probably won't be long. I'll keep you posted.
My wife Air live blogged the first day's talks here at the 9th annual Gnomedex conference, and you can also watch the live video stream on the website. I posted a bunch of photos. Here are my written impressions.
Something feels a little looser, and perhaps a bit more relaxed, about this year's meeting. There's a big turnover in attendees: more new people than usual, more women, and a lot more locals from the Seattle area. More Windows laptops than before, interestingly, and more Nikon cameras with fewer Canons. A sign of tech gadget trends generally? I'm not sure.
As always, the individual presentations roamed all over the map, and some were better than others. For example, Bad Astronomer Dr. Phil Plait's talk about skepticism was fun, but also not anything new for those of us who read his blog. However, it was also great as a perfect precursor to Christine Peterson, who invented the term open source some years ago, but is now focused on life extension, i.e. using various dietary, technological, and other methods to improve health and significantly extend the human lifespan.
As Lee LeFever quipped on Twitter, "The life extension talk is a great followup to the skepticism talk because it provides so many ideas of which to be skeptical." My thought was, her talk seemed like hard reductionist nerdery focused somewhere it may not apply very well. My perspective may be different because I have cancer; for me, life extension is just living, you know? But I also feel that not everything is an engineering problem.
There were a number of those dichotomies through the day. Some other notes I took today:
We had a great trip down to Seattle via Chuckanut Drive with kk+ and Fierce Kitty. Tonight Air and I are sleeping in the Edgewater Hotel on Seattle's Pier 67, next to the conference venue, and tonight is also the 45th anniversary of the day the Beatles stayed in this same hotel and fished out the window.
The past two days were the hottest ever recorded in Vancouver: over 34°C (94 Fahrenheit) at the airport at sea level, and at least 40°C (104 F) at our house a little bit inland. Since that kind of weather is so unusual in Vancouver, very few people have air conditioning (we don't), and our home was becoming unbearably hot, except for some of the basement. We chose what turned into a wise alternative:
That was the view from the pool deck at the Pan Pacific Hotel in downtown Vancouver, where my wife and I stayed with our two daughters—with full air conditioning—for the past two nights. We returned home (by public transit) this afternoon, after the worst of the heatwave broke, to a house that is now a much more tolerable temperature.
Our tropical fish in the aquarium at home seem to have survived just fine.
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.
Okay, maybe we did pay a price for our fabulous little trip. Not because of all the heavy food, but from the intensity of the activity. Aside from our outings, we also did a bit of shopping and quite a lot of swimming in the hotel pool. So, after all that, once we got home, my cancer medication side effects kicked in and I was in the bathroom till 2 a.m.
Then, this morning, we were all so wiped out we could hardly struggle out of bed. The kids were tired enough that I kept them home from school so they're in better shape for Thursday (or maybe after lunch today), and I've been resting. Alas, my wife had to make her way to a couple of medical and dental appointments, so she dragged herself out of the house.
Anyway, I think the weekend was enough of an educational experience that it's okay for the girls to miss a bit of school. The Woodland Park Zoo and the Boeing factory are a killer field trip, right?
We've just returned from a whirlwind trip. My daughters had an extra day off school, a professional day following the Victoria Day long weekend, so we made quick plans to stay in a hotel in the Seattle suburb of Lynnwood, Washington, a couple of hours' drive south of here. But to thread the needle of long weekend border traffic, we crossed our station wagon into the USA on Sunday and returned Tuesday.
I'm not quite sure how we fit all we did into the 54 hours we were away, but it included a number of family firsts. My older daughter is a big fan of shrimp, and has been enticed by endless ads for the Red Lobster chain of restaurants. We have none in Vancouver, so Lynnwood offered the closest location, and despite lingering memories of a 1995 food poisoning incident at a California location on our honeymoon, my wife and I agreed to go. We all enjoyed our meals there Sunday night, without later illness.
That was the least of the newness, though. My wife Air and I have traveled to Greater Seattle many times over the years, separately during our childhoods and together since we started dating, both with our kids and without, for fun and on business, as a destination and on the way elsewhere. Yet somehow neither of us had ever visited the wonderful Woodland Park Zoo, or Lynnwood's famous Olympus Spa, or Boeing's widebody jet factory in Everett. This trip we covered them all: the kids and I hit the zoo, Air visited the spa, and all four of us took the Boeing tour today on the way home.
The zoo impressed me, especially the habitats for the elephants, gorillas, and orangutans, but while it was a much shorter activity, the Boeing tour was something else. If you live in this part of the world (Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, and environs), and you're a geek who likes any sort of complicated technology, or air travel, or simply huge-ass stuff, you must go, especially considering there's nowhere else in the world you can easily see something similar. The Airbus factory in France requires pre-registration months in advance, with all sorts of forms filled out and approvals and so forth. We just drove up to Everett, paid a few bucks each, and half an hour later were on our way in.
Unfortunately, you're prohibited from taking cameras, electronics, food, or even any sort of bag or purse beyond the Future of Flight exhibit hall where the tour begins, so I have no photos of the assembly plant itself. Trust me, though, it is an extraordinary place. A tour bus drove our group the short distance to the structure, which is the most voluminous building in the world. (Our guide told us all of Disneyland would fit inside, with room for parking. Since the plant is over 3,000 feet long, I figured out that the Burj Dubai tower, the world's tallest building, could also lay down comfortably on the factory's floor space.)
From two separate third-level vantage points inside, accessed by walking down immensely long underground tunnels, then taking freight elevators up into the factory's rafters, we saw more than a dozen of the world's largest aircraft in various stages of assembly. They included several units of the venerable and massive Boeing 747 (its still-revolutionary design is older than me); a couple of nearly complete 767s; a string of 777s in their slow-crawling, constantly-moving U-shaped assembly line; and finally a trio of 787s—a design so new that they are built mostly of composite materials instead of metal, and not even one has yet entered commercial service.
The end of the tour took us outside again on the bus, past the painting hangars and numerous planes waiting for pickup by airlines, as well as one of Boeing's three Dreamlifter cargo monsters, created by cutting off most of the upper half of an old 747 and installing a huge new fuselage top, purely to bring in assembled parts for the new 787s, to be fitted together inside the factory.
While that facility is one structure, which has been expanded over time, each type of plane built there demonstrates how aircraft construction, and industrial assembly lines in general, have changed in the past 40 years. 747s are still built at numerous discrete stations, as they were when the Everett plant first opened in the 1960s. As I mentioned, 777s come together in a single, steady-moving U-shaped line, apparently inspired by the envied Toyota Production System, each plane edging forward steadily at 1.6 inches per hour.
Finally, the new 787 comes together in a short, simple line across the width of the building. That's because (as with competitor Airbus's planes) sections of each aircraft arrive nearly complete from other factories around the world on the Dreamlifter cargo carriers, and are put together in Everett, rather than built from scratch.
I came away newly inspired by the modern miracle of science and engineering that is a jet airliner. These machines are what enable us to complain about waiting around in airports for a few hours, and about substandard in-flight food as we fly between continents—while forgetting that not many lifetimes ago, and for all of human history beforehand, similar voyages might take have taken us years instead of hours, facing danger and starvation and death, if they were possible at all.
Then, on the way home, we bought a bunch of squeeze cheese, also unavailable here in Canada.
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.
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.
This morning we looked out the window of our hotel room in Parksville, B.C. to see two bald eagles sitting on the sand as the tide went out. Later, when the family explored the beach, my wife Air found their talon marks, still fresh:
I assume they were resting, either before or after hunting, since they stayed in essentially one place for at least 45 minutes. Bald eagles aren't uncommon in our neck of the woods—we often see them flying from our front window in Burnaby, usually while they're being harassed by gulls or crows. But they don't often land in our vicinity at home.
However, last time Air and I came to the middle of Vancouver Island, in 1997 before our kids were born, we also saw a bald eagle from our hotel room at the bach. We also nearly ran one over with our car on the way to Port McNeill. Fortunately, we avoided anything like that this time: they are huge birds, and rather intimidating close up.
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!
I know this photo looks like a model train, but it's not:
It looks like a model because of a fake tilt-shift lens effect. Oddly, the idea came up twice in one day: Stephen wondered if I knew about tilt-shift photography, and the same day TiltShiftMaker showed up on the Web (thanks to Scott for the link to that). Since I don't own any tilt-shift (a.k.a. perspective control) lenses or a Lensbaby, a free online tool was the perfect way to fake it.
The picture is from Interstate 5 near Tacoma, Washington, in summer 2005. It is actually a real train on a real railway with real trees and the real Mt. Rainier in the background. It looks like a model because of the selective focus effect I applied to the original image with TiltShiftMaker—one reason we know models are tiny is that the depth of focus when we look at them is much shallower than for larger objects. Simulating that effect makes big things look small.
Look, I tried it on a bunch of other pictures too.
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 hard to say how our post-Christmas family vacation in British Columbia's capital, Victoria, is going. On the one hand, we had a gorgeous trip over on the ferry yesterday, and a fun time at the Royal B.C. Museum today. The girls have loved going swimming. Our hotel, the Harbour Towers, is a great place to stay as usual, and we ate delicious room service breakfast this morning.
On the other hand, last night we had uncharacteristically poor and spectacularly slow service at Milestones restaurant on the waterfront, which is usually one of our favourites. (In their favour, the manager gave us a $25 gift card to compensate.) My wife and I have both not been feeling too well, particularly today—me from intestinal side effects of my latest cancer drug. The weather today was miserable, extremely windy and sleeting.
Worst of all, this afternoon at the hotel pool, my eight-year-old daughter somehow gashed her chin open just before we were planning to dry off. She didn't even notice at first—her sister and I, surprised, asked her why she was dripping blood. So we have no idea how she did it, but after we returned to my wife in our room and got a bandage, we all piled in the car to a nearby medical clinic. The little one turned out to need stitches, which she was not happy about.
I hope things improve tomorrow, or at least that things don't get any worse once again in the evening. We really do like this city, usually.
I've used Nikon's top-end D3, and it's a fine instrument, but far more camera than I'd need. The D3x, just mistakenly announced today, would be even further overkill. Never mind the various medium format cameras and the upcoming ultra-luxe Leica S2.
So, if I were suddenly independently wealthy, I'd still get myself a new Nikon, but it would be the D700, which packs most of the power of the D3, including its wonderful low-noise, high-sensitivity full-frame sensor, into a smaller (we're talking relatively smaller here) package. I've also tried the similarly sized D300, so I think the D700 would fit better in my hand.
And I'd buy some great lenses too, of course, because that's where money is best worth spending. I'm still using an inexpensive but quality lens I bought in 1995, while the camera it went with is long, long gone.
Finally, I'd travel to beautiful places with my family, to make photos with them.
I've lived in the Vancouver area my whole life, but somehow I had never been on the Albion Ferry, which crosses the Fraser River east of the city. Today I rectified that. My kids have been on the ferry several times with my in-laws, so they showed me how to get there and how it works (they had the day off from school). It's a short trip, only a few minutes, but it has a fantastic view:
From the Maple Ridge side of the river, the boat takes you to the village of Fort Langley, where the province of British Columbia (then a British colony) was born 150 years ago this month. There the girls and I had lunch, and I bought them some stylish new hats.
The Albion Ferry route will soon be replaced by the Golden Ears Bridge, nearing completion slightly further downstream, ending the 51-year run of ferryboats there on the river. Some people want to save the Albion Ferry, but I don't think that's likely to happen. So my first trip might also be my last.
My wife Air is wiser than me—more self-aware, better at thinking long term. A big reason I'm not that way is because, until I developed cancer at the beginning of last year, I'd never had to face big, difficult decisions. I had a happy, stable childhood, did well in school, lucked into good jobs, and found her. (More accurately, she found me. See what I mean?)
Even after my cancer diagnosis, I've followed the path I've usually chosen in life. That is, I've coasted, and let gravity take me where it will. My treatment decisions have been easy ones. Follow doctors' orders. Get tests, have surgery, take chemotherapy and radiation, more tests, more surgery, more chemo, more chemicals, more treatments, coming up on two years' worth now.
The surgeries in my intestines were successful, but small nodules of cancer spread to my lungs anyway, and the chemical medicines for those haven't worked so well. The metastases continue to grow slowly, regardless of what my doctors have thrown at them.
My latest surgery a couple of weeks ago was my first that wasn't about attacking the cancer. It was simply to make my life better, to reconnect my intestines so that I'm no longer walking around with an ileostomy bag of poop glued to my belly. Now I have another new, healing scar, and I'm re-learning how to use the bathroom the way I used to.
That surgery prompted my wife to have a talk with me a couple of days ago. With her wisdom, and her insight, she's seen what I've been doing in my mind for the past couple of years. I've been treating my cancer as something to fight with everything the doctors and nurses can offer, no matter how sick they make me, hoping that one of those weapons will kill it so I can move on with my life. I've put my life on hold—and my family's life too, hers and our daughters'—to fight the disease, treating it as a phase to get through before I return to something normal.
Except that's not how it's going. The next treatment the B.C. Cancer Agency is offering me is a Phase I clinical trial of chemotherapy agents. That means it's a very early human test of the drugs involved, not even designed to find out whether the drugs work to fight cancer, but rather how patients like me respond to them—what levels they appear at in my bloodstream, how they interact, what side effects they produce. In other words, we've run out of the conventional therapies, and we're moving on to experimental ones that have a very small chance of working. They are, however, likely to produce side effects, even if they aren't effective in shrinking my cancer.
Air made me ask myself—after almost two years on hold, most of which I've spent hammered down by those side effects, or recovering from surgery—how I want to live my life with cancer. Because that's what it looks like I'll have to do. We don't know how long that will be: months certainly, years quite possibly. All indications are that, like my diabetes, I'll have cancer for the rest of my life. It will probably be what kills me, whenever that is.
Yet since I stopped my last chemo treatments in September, I've felt good, verging on healthy, better than I have in ages. Therefore, much of what I've suffered through, especially recently, has been from the treatments, not from the disease. I thought that suffering was a necessary part of the fight. So I thought. But now it's time to make some real decisions.
Do I want to be part of this new Phase I trial, to contribute semi-altruistically to cancer research, spending many days at the Cancer Agency getting tests, taking pills every day, maybe feeling sick all the time and getting more strange skin rashes, perhaps even developing other weird side effects like elevated blood pressure, maybe for no reason that might actually get me better?
Or do I want to look at something else, like Vancouver's Inspire Health Integrated Cancer Care, and the Callanish Retreats, to try different things and look at managing cancer instead of fighting it? Strange as it sounds, should I make cancer part of how I live my life, rather than something that stops me from living it?
When I heard about the trial yesterday, I assumed, almost unconsciously, that I'd proceed with it. But that's still coasting, just taking whatever the doctors serve up from a diminishing buffet. There are places I still want to go in my life, things I want to do, the husband and father I still want to be. Perhaps now is the time to go there, to do them, to be that, because I can't wait forever first.
I shouldn't waste my life trying win a fight that likely can't be won. I should take it off hold, and live it.
Sorry, I'm not keeping very good track of my sources for these:
Last year there were worries that the annual Gnomedex conference in Seattle might have lost some of its mojo. This year Gnomedex got its mojo back. Several 2008 sessions, for instance, blew away my bedridden 2007 remote-video appearance, which I'd heard some people had then considered a highlight. (Yikes.)
Rather than write out a big summary (you can read what others had to say), here's what I was chatting about on Twitter before, during, and after Gnomedex 8.0 with various people. The @ links are Twitter's way of letting you target your messages to other Twitter usernames. The #Gnomedex tags are there so that search sites know that various Twitter messages ("tweets") are about Gnomedex. You can probably ignore both and still get the point:
Gnomedex 2008 was a remarkable and refreshing forum of ideas, which is the best anyone could ask for. I also won a cool prize thanks to Eye-Fi and Chris and Ponzi Pirillo, and they played my Gnomedex song at the end. Yay!
P.S. You know who'd be cool to have speak next year? One of the MythBusters crew.
The kids are with my parents back in Vancouver, and it sounds like they're having a good time too.
Today, via Twitter:
Every year since 2001, Chris Pirillo (and now his wife Ponzi too) has put together a strange little tech conference called Gnomedex. I've participated since Gnomedex 5.0 in 2005, although last year I had to do it by video.
What I heard afterwards is that overall, the 2007 Gnomedex 7.0 seemed to have lost a bit of its geeky focus, so Chris and Ponzi look to be working hard to regain it this year. There are sessions on photography, search engines, Mars landers, managing online relationships, and so on. Nerdy stuff, which is at it should be.
What makes Gnomedex unusual is that it's small (only a few hundred people) and runs as a single track schedule, rather than multiple simultaneous sessions, so you don't miss anything. The food and free Wi-Fi and power are as top-notch as the Pirillos can make them. The parties are good. And it attracts some of the top tech people in North America, as well as a good contingent of normal nerds like me (and our laptops).
I'm looking forward to seeing a bunch of people face-to-face for the first time in awhile—I haven't seen Chris and Ponzi in person since my wife Air, our friend KA, and I went to their wedding in late 2006, for instance. It's also my first trip out of Canada since my cancer surgery last summer. I'm glad I'm feeling well enough to go.
Now, Air and I need to get that hotel booked. The last-minute deals aren't as fantastic as I was hoping...
P.S. I also created a photo group at Flickr for those who'd like to add their pictures of the event.