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31 May 2007

 

Have you heard of this band, The Police?

So my wife and a couple of friends and I went to see this British three-piece combo play here in town last night:

The Police 05

Despite being grey-haired old guys, they had some catchy tunes and rocked out rather well. I hear they've had a few popular albums over the years too, which might be worth checking out.

While we were there, I took some more photos...

Fiction Plane 1 Pete Wilhoit on Drums Fiction Plane 2 Joe Sumner 1 Joe Sumner 2
Derek and Paul Stewart Copeland 01 The Police 01 Copeland and Summers Light Show 01
Light Show 02 Stewart Copeland 02 The Police 02 Light Show 03 Sting 01
Sting and Copeland 01 Andy Summers 01 The Police 03 Screens 01.jpg Sting 02
Sting and Copeland 02 The Police 04 Sting 03 Sting 04 Andy Summers 02
Andy Summers 03 Screens 02 Crowd 01 Screens 03 Crowd 02
Light Show 04 Light Show 05 Walking In Your Footsteps 01 Walking In Your Footsteps 02 Walking In Your Footsteps 03
Walking In Your Footsteps 04 Screens 04 The Police 05 Crowd 03 Crowd 04

These guys might just catch on, you know.

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30 May 2007

 

iTunes Plus, with no DRM

I've hated DRM (digital restrictions management) for a long time, so I'm pleased that Apple's iTunes Plus has finally launched. Gonna go buy some unrestricted music, baby. As soon as the iTunes server starts responding properly, anyway.

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Rejecting reality and believing falsehood

One of my recurring themes here recently has been the ways our Old World primate brains make it difficult for us humans to understand many basic things, including probability and risk, geological time, contingency, extremly large- or small-scale events, and so forth.

Here's another one, an excellent psychology article about why we resist some scientific ideas more than others (via Pharyngula). Coincidentally, Harvard history of science professor Steven Shapin addresses a similar topic on the CBC Ideas podcast this week called "Testing Science" (MP3 file). Essentially, research shows that...

...even one year-olds possess a rich understanding of both the physical world (a "naive physics") and the social world (a "naive psychology"). [...] These intuitions give children a head start when it comes to understanding and learning about objects and people. But these intuitions also sometimes clash with scientific discoveries about the nature of the world, making certain scientific facts difficult to learn.

However, some concepts don't work that way, even when they are far from obvious. For example:

[The existence of germs and electricity] is generally assumed in day-to-day conversation and is not marked as uncertain; nobody says that they "believe in electricity." Hence even children and adults with little scientific background believe that these invisible entities really exist.

That's interesting, because our evidence for those things is pretty indirect, however pervasive: light switches and televisions and computers work, and washing your hands helps prevent infection. But most people have never seen a germ, never mind an electron. It would seem, purely objectively, that being able to look at rock strata in a highway cut, or watch the patterns of a coin flipped over and over, or observe the similarities and differences between chimpanzees and humans at the zoo, or hummingbirds and dragonflies in the garden, would make concepts like deep time and randomness and biological evolution easier to understand than electricity or germ theory.

Yet they are not. Our brains are remarkable things, and one of the most remarkable things about them is that we can, if we work at it as we grow up and throughout our lives, help ourselves get around our own cognitive limitations.

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29 May 2007

 

Major repairs

Groovy Geekbag 5 at Flickr.comMy MacBook is officially one year old this week. Despite our somewhat checkered history over the past 12 months, it is now behaving as it should and is doing a great job with all the stuff I throw at it.

Which is, I guess, more than I can say for my own body these days. I'll be taking myself into the shop in a couple of months too, so both the MacBook and I will have seen major repairs in 2007.

I hope my own goes just as well.

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Building a fortress with medieval techniques

Jean-Hugues pointed me to this fascinating project in France, which he describes as...

...the incredible building site of the castle of Guédelon, in Burgundy. A non-profit organization is building a 13th century fortress, using only middle age technology. They started in 1997 and they hope the work will be finished by 2025. Around the building site, there is a little medieval village with the workshops of the craftworkers: carpenters, metal workers, rope makers, potters, and even a farm, with authentic middle-age pigs. Amazing!

The thought of taking nearly 30 years to construct a building is so antithetical to modern life—even the Empire State Building went up in little more than a year—that we forget that all sorts of big structures used to take that long.

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28 May 2007

 

Fun stuff from pals

Tod Maffin has a new show called Todbits.tv starting this week, and he's created a little promo commercial for it, with my tune "Hotcake Syrup" as background:

And the ever-talented Kris Krug has photos of The Police's dress rehearsal for their tour, which starts tonight here in Vancouver:

The Police Dress Rehersal - Vancouver The Police Dress Rehersal - Vancouver The Police Dress Rehersal - Vancouver The Police Dress Rehersal - Vancouver The Police Dress Rehersal - Vancouver
The Police Dress Rehersal - Vancouver The Police Dress Rehersal - Vancouver The Police Dress Rehersal - Vancouver The Police Dress Rehersal - Vancouver The Police Dress Rehersal - Vancouver
The Police Dress Rehersal - Vancouver The Police Dress Rehersal - Vancouver The Police Dress Rehersal - Vancouver The Police Dress Rehersal - Vancouver The Money Shot I Blew. Heh.

Finally, I don't know this guy, but here is what it's like to climb the world's tallest tree, a giant redwood:

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27 May 2007

 

I'm not brave

People hear that I have cancer and I've had chemo and radiation and am going to have surgery. They read this blog, where I talk about it all, which is something a lot of other cancer patients wouldn't do. They say, "You're so brave."

That's bullshit. I'm not brave. I have a disease, and with my doctors and my family, I'm fighting it. I hope to rid my body of it. I blog about it because I compulsively blog about everything. But the treatment is painful and exhausting, it is stressful, it makes me afraid. At the worst of it, I have retreated into a cranky, withdrawn, barely-there husk of myself, essentially forgetting everything from Mother's Day to the laundry piling up. The way I approach each day comes not from bravery, but from necessity, and sometimes desperation.

The real brave ones—the people in my life who have gone above and beyond the call of duty—are my family, including my daughters, and especially my wife. While I can occasionally manage to take the kids to school or help put them to bed, and maybe empty the dishwasher now and then, she has had to take over pretty much everything in our household.

She's shuttled me to the Cancer Agency almost every day. She puts up with me when I'm lying in bed moaning, or trapped in the bathroom for an hour, or when I can't even muster the motivation to give her a hug, or when I use up all the hot water trying to soothe my abdomen. She keeps the girls fed and clothed and clean and happy. She takes time for herself and talks to her friends and continues with her podcast.

You want brave? She's brave, and I love her.

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The Vancouver web geek community is real

A couple of days ago DemoCamp Vancouver came and went. I would have liked to go, but was still neck-deep in radiation side effects and general cancer-treatment funk.

I read this from Adam Fields (via Doc Searls) today:

In order to call some gathering of people a "community," [...] if you're a member of the community, and one day you stop showing up, people will come looking for you to see where you went.

KA went to DemoCamp, and told me that lots of people asked about me, how I was doing, and if there was anything they could do to help—just like back at Northern Voice. That's a community. And it feels like a family.

Thanks to Roland and Boris and Rebecca and kk+ and Tod and everyone else from DemoCamp and elsewhere who's been checking in. I'm doing okay, and I'll be at some Camp or meetup or conference or something eventually.

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26 May 2007

 

Memories of Cannon Beach via art therapy

My pre-surgery schedule is coalescing quickly. Next Friday, June 1, I meet with medical internists at St. Paul's Hospital to go over the medications I'm taking and see what adjustments I might need to make. June 15 I have a rectal ultrasound, and June 19 another CT Scan. June 26 I meet with Dr. Kennecke, my medical oncologist, to review pre-surgery plans. There will be other meetings in between and afterwards, with surgeons, anaesthesiologists, ostomy nurses, and so on. Barring a bed shortage, I will have surgery to remove my tumours and radically rebuild how my bowels work on Thursday, July 26—exactly two months from today.

Today my wife and I took to the kids to the Cancer Agency for a regular kids' art therapy group. The girls loved it (my oldest said, "It's a bad reason to go, but it was so much fun!"). One thing we did there is paint this banner together:

Miller Summary Holiday, Cannon Beach, Oregon

We won't get to Cannon Beach this year, but we will go back as soon as we can. It's one of my favourite places, along with Crater Lake (also in Oregon) and Schooner Cove on Long Beach in Pacific Rim National Park (here in B.C.).

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Tiffany vs. Debbie Gibson smackdown

Lee claims that, even today, Tiffany can kick Debbie Gibson's ass. Yes, a whole long blog post on the topic, analyzing both singers' careers over the past 20 years. Well argued too.

No really.

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25 May 2007

 

Shows I'm not on

If you're looking for fun stuff to listen to or watch, I have some suggestions. In addition to the latest episode of Inside Home Recording (the podcast I co-host), which we released last night, my IHR colleague Paul Garay also recently appeared on episode #18 of The Lab With Leo, tech media legend Leo Laporte's new TV show, now available online at Google Video:

You should also check out the latest release in my wife's podcast, Lip Gloss and Laptops. She and her co-host KA have now reached 62 shows, putting one out pretty much every week since February 2006.

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24 May 2007

 

Pac-Man skeleton

This is both scary looking and too awesome...

Pac-Man

...but I think most people, like me, never thought that Pac-Man had teeth. (Via Bidi.)

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23 May 2007

 

Lens like a jewel

50mm 1.8 (cameraporn) at Flickr.comYesterday was not only my last day of radiation and the day I found out that, "Dude! I'm gettin' a colostomy!" It was also my father's 68th birthday—we're mere weeks from being exactly 30 years apart in age.

My wife and daughters and I dropped by my parents' place for the occasion last night and had some cake with them. My girls handmade cards, plus some extremely cool presents: little plasticene models of my dad, one on his own (from my seven year old) and one with his telescope (from my nine year old).

I wasn't that creative, but unlike last week, when I was totally out of it for Mother's Day, I did manage to buy him something: a nice basic 50 mm prime lens for his Canon DSLR camera. If you have a DSLR and don't have at least one prime lens (with a single focal length like 24 mm or 50 mm or 105 mm, which does not zoom), get one. They are much nicer for the money and let in more light than equivalently priced zooms. In fact, I wish DSLRs came with 50 mm lenses like film SLRs used to for decades.

For those of you who aren't photo geeks, understand this: when he opened the wrapping, he was just as delighted as a woman opening a surprise gift of jewelry. Yup, we guys really do like our gadgets that much.

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22 May 2007

 

Going all the way

multipurpose toilet at Yōga Station #048 at Flickr.comThis is another post not for the squeamish, just so you know.

As my wife noted to me today, it's easy to get a bit blasé at the Cancer Agency—everyone there is dealing with cancer, and it almost seems normal. But today, after my final radiation treatment (yay!) and an excellent Mexican lunch with our friend Steven, I took a brief nap in his guest room and then walked to St. Paul's Hospital to meet with my surgeon, Dr. Brown. His news was not unexpected, but it wasn't the best case scenario either.

The upshot: when I have my tumour surgery in July, Dr. Brown recommends removing everything in my bowel from the bottom of my sigmoid colon on down, leaving with me no functioning rectum, and meaning that I will need a colostomy bag for the rest of my life. Yikes.

Now, I figured that might be the case, but it was still difficult to hear straight up. I can't argue with Dr. Brown's conclusion. He wants to eliminate every trace of cancer he can get at. All the tissue that was previously found to be cancerous, all the associated lymph nodes, and a buffer of extra tissue to ensure, as best as possible, that nothing malignant lingers.

I've read a little on the topic in case it came to this, and colostomies aren't nearly as nasty as you might think. Plenty of people have them, and those people swim, and do sports, and live their lives with hardly anyone knowing about it. And, to be frank, I'm not too fond of my rectum right now anyway. Ahem. I'll get used to my new body functions, as I have with my daily insulin needles over the past 16 years. But this reinforces that my cancer is a Big Deal. A Very Big Deal. This is what it takes to try to stop the cancer from killing me.

And it is a big step. The procedure will effectively move my anus up and onto the side of my abdomen, and the one I've been using since I was born almost 38 years ago will be sewn up, gone. That is just weird.

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21 May 2007

 

Rotary vs. iPhone: 11 ways my grandmother's old black dial phone was superior to Apple's upcoming iPhone

Telephone by Alastair Bird at Flickr.com
  • 11. Zero charge time, infinite talk and standby time.
  • 10. Impossible to lose or misplace.
  •   9. Built bicep strength with prolonged use.
  •   8. Always perfect reception within its coverage area (the kitchen).
  •   7. You could dial it while holding the receiver to your ear.
  •   6. Distinctive ringtone audible everywhere in the apartment.
  •   5. Simple, easy-to-understand rate plan with full carrier subsidy.
  •   4. Pleasant and firm tactile feedback for every digit dialed.
  •   3. Elegant, timeless design that never went out of style.
  •   2. Much more effective for hammering nails and bludgeoning robbers.
  •   1. Worked reliably for 27 years without replacement—or even, as far as I know, a single repair.

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20 May 2007

 

So much

I've never
slept so much
pooped so much
lost so much weight
taken pills so much
had so much intestinal gas
showered and bathed so much
felt unplugged from life so much
stayed stuck in the house so much
watched so much Discovery Channel
missed so much feeling close with my wife, even when we're in the same house.

I thought it was getting better, but some of the side effects seem to be holding on to the bitter end. Then again, I have been taking poisons and getting pummeled with high-energy particle beams for a month and a half now, so I guess that shouldn't be a surprise.

I'm ready for it to be over. Damn am I ever. April and May have included some of the worst days (and nights) of my life.

My surgery coming in July is a scary concept, but if I think about it, the past several weeks have been like very slow, painstaking, relentless, not-directly-invasive surgery via chemoradiation, which I'm only going to start recovering from after my last radiation treatment on Tuesday. By comparison, the real operation will be over in one day, and then I can start getting better.

It won't be fun and games, but it will be decisive, and I hope the weather is good. My friend Simon may be having different surgery at the same hospital about the same time, so we can be summer painkiller buddies.

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Yeah!

19 May 2007

 

Feeling safe vs. being safe

Via netdud, I read once again another highly sensible article from Bruce Schneier about how badly we as a society usually react to security threats. It's a strange contrast to, and yet also a perfect demonstration of, my post yesterday about the Air India bombing, where it seems that direct, credible, likely threats didn't receive the attention they deserved—while today we confiscate nail clippers and remove shoes at airport security in a way that is likely totally ineffective.

I've written repeatedly about this stuff over the years here on my blog: about how our African savannah brains are poorly equipped to deal with the risks we face in the modern world.

But in another essay, Schneier also makes the point that "security theatre," as he terms it, isn't always wasteful, because sometimes it makes our perception of our security more closely match the statistical reality. That is rare—most of the time it throws money away and skews our perceptions further from reality—but we do also have to take into account how safe we feel, as well as how safe we are.

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18 May 2007

 

Air India

India at Flickr.comOne week before I turned 16 years old in 1985, a bomb set here in Vancouver by terrorists earlier that day killed two baggage handlers at Tokyo Airport. Less than an hour later, its twin exploded in the cargo hold of an Air India Boeing 747 flying near Ireland. That bomb destroyed the plane and killed everyone on board, more than 300 people, most of them Canadians.

Those events have stained Canada, and British Columbia, and Vancouver, ever since. They have been a shadow over our beautiful city my entire adult life. Now, after 22 years of botched investigations, erased evidence, the deaths of prime suspects, one plea bargain, and a momentously expensive yet ultimately unsuccessful attempt to convict two other men in the case, a new Commission of Inquiry is making it clear that the bombers could have been stopped.

The early 1980s were the peak years for Sikh separatism in India, and high-profile killings and violence around the issue were in the news, not only in India, where Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's own Sikh bodyguards assassinated her in 1984, but also here in Vancouver, where we were the hotbed of Sikh extremism outside the Punjab. We have a huge Indian community here, much of it Sikh, and there were great divisions at the time about the idea of Khalistan. The divisions were far from peaceful.

Violence predated the bombing, and followed long after it, even as the Sikh independence movement in India lost steam. For instance, a man with a lead pipe tried to kill prominent anti-violence Sikh lawyer Ujjal Dosanjh in a parking lot (Dosanjh would later become premier of our province and federal cabinet minister). Other thugs first shot and permanently disabled, and then a decade later killed Tara Singh Hayer, a newspaper publisher who also spoke out against violence in the name of Sikhism.

Back in 1984 and 1985, there were marches and meetings and protests throughout the Vancouver area on both sides of the debate. Some rallies included clear incitements to kill Hindus, to avenge the sacking of the Golden Temple, to undertake terrorist acts. Canadian security and police services had several men under surveillance, and yet, as the Air India Inquiry is now showing, both they and the various levels of security at Canadian airports and from Air India itself missed numerous chances to catch the criminals and stop the bombing plot, or find the explosives before they hurt anyone.

Why? I think we, as a country, a province, and a city, were naive. In 1985, Vancouver remained a bit of a sleepy backwater. Expo 86 was still a year away, the glass city of condo towers and movie shoots a decade off. We were at the tail end of our first hundred years as a somewhat British outpost on the edge of the continent. Today in 2007—when you ride a bus or walk a street in our polyglot city, when you're just as likely to hear Bhangra or Cantopop blasting from a passing car as heavy metal or hip-hop, when everyone's lunchtime takeout is sushi or butter chicken—that's hard to remember.

To be honest, governments and police and the general public treated the conflict between Canadian Sikhs in the '80s as a foreign problem, and Indian problem. It was not. It was a Canadian problem. And I don't think that very many people believed in our hearts that we Canadians could germinate terrorists capable of such mass murder. But we did, and worse yet, we didn't stop them.

It has always been a puzzle that after the bombing, the Canadian Prime Minister's first message of condolence was to India. It should have gone the other way—most of those who died were of Indian ancestry, yes, and were on their way to India, but they were Canadian citizens. The loss was ours, yet our own government didn't even see it.

I hope we've learned and grown since then. I think we've had to, because this city continues to mix it up, so that we can't let either the joys or the problems seem to be foreign ones, when they are really ours.

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17 May 2007

 

Coming out of the shell

Cancer Treatment: Day 106 (Chemoradiotherapy Day 36)You know it had to be a tough week when I haven't posted to my blog for four days, and it was, but I'm finally in the home stretch. I finished my intravenous chemo one week ago today, and it hammered me in a nasty way over the weekend. Last night I took my last chemo pill, and I slept pretty decently, although it will still take a few days to flush that out of my system. And I have only two radiation treatments left: Friday and Tuesday. (Monday is a holiday.)

Also on Tuesday I meet with Dr. Brown to talk about when I'll have my surgery to remove the tumours. I already know it will be sometime between July 9 and July 22, so I have at least a month and a half to recover and try to gain back some of the 25 pounds (!) I've lost since Christmas.

Today I felt good. I had my radiation treatment, then had a last meeting with Dr. Ma, my radiation oncologist while my wife turned in my chemo forms and leftover pills. Then we went downtown and she had a haircut and I bought myself a new tripod (it's this model). That's the first time I've been interested in any of my hobbies for a few weeks. Here are some boring-but-photo-geeky sample pics:

Tripod Test - f/32 - 30 secs Tripod Test - f/13 - 03 secs

Through this time, my wife has been amazing, running everything in our house and with our two daughters, including school, Guides, tae kwon do, and piano. They have all had to put up with my turning into a cranky, withdrawn shell of a man as the side effects got worse and I spent almost all my time in bed or in the bathroom, and lost in my own head. I'm starting to come out of that now. They are three of the best reasons for me to re-emerge.

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13 May 2007

 

Adventures in toileting

Cancer Treatment: Day 102 (Chemoradiotherapy Day 32)This is my poopiest post so far. Be warned.

Since I began chemoradiation treatment for my colorectal cancer in late March, my body has continued to find creative and unusual ways to make having a bowel movement a miserable experience. I've had diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal cramps. Stools that were too hard, or too watery. Too much, too little, too fast, too slow. None at all, more than I can handle. Gassy and blocked, or loose and out of control.

I've taken stool softeners, laxatives, and diarrhea relief. I've sat on the toilet backwards so I can rest my arms and head on the top of the tank. I've used baby wipes and Penaten cream because everything else feels like sandpaper. I've taken sitz baths, immersion baths, and long hot showers where I'm kneeling on the floor of the tub for 45 minutes. I've used Magic Bags and electric heating pads and morphine and Extra Strength Tylenol.

Tonight I felt well enough to go for a Mother's Day dinner with my wife, and mom, and mother-in-law. I was amazed considering what I felt like this time yesterday. The steak at Milestone's was extremely good.

But I would like to thank our neighbour across the street for power washing his deck between 5:30 and 8:30 last night, and and again most of today (he's still going). That made everything extra special.

How was your Mother's Day weekend?

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11 May 2007

 

What your T-shirt says about you

Hipster at Northern Voice 2005 - Vancouver, British Columbia 042 at Flickr.com"Somewhere near the middle of your T-shirt drawer," writes Adam Rosen in Gelf magazine (via Kottke), "lies dormant a secret weapon so witty, so elusively allusive, or just so damn hip it finds itself swathing your chest on only the most important occasions."

Here's mine. Hey, it got me labeled "hipster" two years ago by people who had no idea who I was at the time. Score!

(Thanks to Bill D. for buying it for me. The orange ones are now collector's items.)

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Going with the evidence

My Radiation MachineScience, particularly medical research, can be a slow process. Determining if a treatment is effective requires carefully designed studies, double-blind tests or randomized controlled trials, multiple studies, and rigorous statistical analysis. That's not red tape: without such methods it's not actually possible to know whether a treatment works and is safe, and especially if it works better and more safely than other treatments and for particular conditions. But it can take years even for preliminary reliable results.

That is frustrating for people, like cancer patients, who want something that can help us now. Almost as soon as I mentioned my colorectal cancer diagnosis back in January, someone emailed me about dichloroacetate (DCA), one of the latest potential "miracle drugs" that takes a different approach to attacking cancer cells, trying to switch their natural self-destruct mechanisms back on—a more natural way to get tumours to stop growing. So far Alberta researchers have found that it may do so in rodents. It will be years before anyone knows whether it is useful in humans.

The CBC has a fascinating set of interviews (MP3) this week with a cancer patient who has chosen to take the so-far unproven DCA instead of traditional chemotherapy, an underground DCA provider (it is simple to synthesize and is already approved to treat other medical conditions), and a medical ethicist from Alberta. The current DCA research team was not comfortable appearing on the same panel as advocates of using DCA before it has been clinically tested, and sent only a written statement.

I'm already part of a clinical trial combining two traditional chemotherapy drugs with a synthetic antibody and radiation therapy. I am certainly having side effects. But there is good evidence that the treatment I'm receiving, which will include surgery and more chemotherapy over the course of the rest of this year, can eliminate the cancer from my body. As part of the trial, I am also helping to build that evidence. Even the "traditional" method, with one chemotherapy drug plus the radiation and surgery, has a good chance of destroying my cancer—the study I'm part of is trying to figure out whether the extra stuff is even better.

On the other hand, had doctors told me that my cancer was inoperable and otherwise untreatable—in other words, if they had told me that I would likely die quite soon from it—that would be a different story. I'd be willing to try untested treatments like DCA and many others out there. Although choosing which of the myriad untested potential "miracle cures" would, of course, be rather difficult without good statistical evidence.

What worries me about the breast cancer patient interviewed on the CBC podcast is that she chose to go with DCA in lieu of regular chemotherapy—she's trying a treatment that may or may not work, may or may not be safe, and may or may not make things worse. Nobody knows. Nobody. And she's trying that instead of treatments that, while they have nasty side effects, do work for most people, and keep them alive. (Combining chemotherapy with DCA wouldn't be much better, though, because nobody knows whether the two treatments have bad interactions either.)

Even if her cancer does get better, she still won't know rigorously whether the DCA was the helping factor, although that will certainly be good for her. If it gets worse, she also won't know whether the DCA was to blame, or had no effect. It seems to me that she has taken what should be a last-ditch effort and applied it before she's even reached the first ditch.

Then again, as my gastroenterologist Dr. Enns said to me back in January—when I still thought this treatment would take a few months and not a whole year—a person is not a number, and each one of us must be treated for our disease, not for the average of all diseases. I'm making my choices here to follow the studies and the trials and the evidence.

That kind of rigorous research already saved my life once, when I developed Type I diabetes in 1991, and didn't die from it as I would have a century earlier, because of the discovery of insulin and the synthesis of the genetically engineered variants of it that I still take every day. It has kept other cancer patients in my family—my father and my aunt—alive for decades since their diagnoses and treatments, and brought my uncle through a fight with colorectal cancer just last summer.

There are plenty of people sending me prayers and good vibes and positive mojo too, and they touch me by doing it, even though I put little stock in those things. And a positive attitude is likely to do well for me too, so I'm trying to keep that up.

But in the end, I put my trust—and, more importantly for me, my judgment—in letting the intellectual and medical process (as well as my cancer doctors Dr. Kennecke and Dr. Brown, who are some of the smartest people I've ever met) try to keep me alive too, once more. For most of human history, I'd have been dead twice over by now. Because of heavy brain work, not this time, I think.

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10 May 2007

 

Two notes about the B.C. Cancer Agency

A Picture/Video Message! at Flickr.com
  1. Today is my last day of intravenous chemotherapy, and I received both bevacizumab (an antibody) and oxaliplatin (a chemo drug), as well as my usual daily dose of capecitabine pills and radiation. While I'm relieved the IV dosage is over for now, I'm expecting a brutal weekend from the side effects of everything all at once like this. Unfortunately for both my wife and my mom, I anticipate being something of a wet noodle for Mother's Day.

  2. Based on percentages in the parking lot, the doctors at the Cancer Agency are very fond of Porsches.

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09 May 2007

 

Dragged into rock

YouTube has some videos of The Police at a small concert they played at L.A.'s Whisky A-Go-Go in February to announce their upcoming tour, which starts this month here in Vancouver:

As a musician, I can watch them and see that the band is kind of a mess—they're winging it, forgetting lyrics and chords, yelling out changes to each other onstage. It's brilliant. And if you look closely, you can watch repeatedly (especially here) as Sting mellows things down, and then Andy Summers and particularly Stewart Copeland drag him back into rocking the fuck out.

That's why they're a great band. Sting can write a hell of a song, but it takes the right drummer and guitar player to say, "Hey, Sting, quit with the car commercial music and TURN IT UP."

Copeland is always full-throttle, and always has been, but I'd forgotten what a monster guitarist Summers is. He plays the weirdest jazz-derived phrases and two-note bits and makes them sound like huge windmilling power chords. Plus he's 65 years old. Scary.

I look forward to seeing them, finally.

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08 May 2007

 

Okay, maybe I will blog this

New 14 minutes of Spinal Tap!

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Off the grid

If you've been trying to reach me, you'll have noticed that I haven't been reading email or returning phone calls, nor have I been online with IM. I haven't been posting to this blog or taking photos. I haven't even been listening to music or podcasts, though I have watched some TV (several episodes of MythBusters, for some reason). This is the first I've cracked open my laptop since Sunday.

I am amazingly sleepy. I'm doing okay, but I'm heading into my last week of chemotherapy, and together with the radiation they are taking their toll—on me as well as presumably on my cancer itself. My wife has managed to get me to the Cancer Agency each weekday, but that is the extent of it. Otherwise, I have hot showers where I kneel on the floor of the bathtub to feel better, I eat, I use the washroom, I try to help put the kids to bed, and I sleep.

I'll come back on the grid soon enough, but for now I'll be a flickery presence. Back to bed.

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06 May 2007

 

I hate weekends

Cancer Treatment: Day 93 (Chemoradiotherapy Day 23) at Flickr.comFor most of my life, Saturdays were my favourite day of the week, but not right now. Weekends are now when my body feels the effects of a work week's worth of radiation and chemotherapy. Yesterday I slept till nearly 11:00 a.m., then again from 2:30 in the afternoon until well into the evening, and once again, in fits and starts, from 10:00 p.m. until 12 hours later.

While I was awake I felt like crap being crapped on by a crapload of crap. Not nauseated, really, but more like my body was packed to the skin with some sort of sludge. There is a genuine physical feeling to having the chemotherapy drugs running through my bloodstream. On the plus side, I'm sure the cancer cells feel even worse.

My wife, during all this time, amazes me. She keeps the whole house running, gets the kids to all their activities, arranges for them to visit the in-laws, does laundry and dishes, and more. I was happy that she could take some time last night to visit our friends' house for dinner—I was so crashed out I would have made no useful company anyway.

I'm hoping I might feel well enough later today to join her and our daughters and the in-laws for dinner. I'll just have to see. So much is minute-to-minute or hour-to-hour for me.

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04 May 2007

 

Inside Home Recording #41 now online

PaulAndDerek-11.jpg at Flickr.comWe skipped an episode because of my ongoing cancer treatment, but now my co-host Paul Garay and I have finally posted Episode #41 of our podcast Inside Home Recording. It's extra-long to make up for the delay, and includes a bunch of recording industry news, letters and audio comments from our listeners, a new giveaway contest we're running till July, reviews of speakers from Audioengine, and (most interesting for me) the beginning of Paul's "MIDI 101" series on how the ubiquitous Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) standard arose in the early 1980s, and still persists today.

You can either listen to the show on the website or subscribe in a variety of ways. If you like it, by the way, we'd appreciate a review at the iTunes Store.

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Type B guy with some Type A website compulsions

I'm a pretty Type B guy in most circumstances—just ask my wife. But when it comes to web pages and certain other technical things, I have some compulsions. One is trying to keep the HTML code valid. That's not always possible for a variety of reasons (hmm, maybe I'm not quite so compulsive after all), but I do try.

Thus, I spent the past two hours wrestling with my new page template here to try to get it to validate to the XHTML 1.0 Transitional specification. Pretty much no one who visited during that time would have noticed any changes, but it turns out that a lot of Blogger's clever automated code for comments, backlinks, and in-place editing of blog posts won't validate, no matter what you do.

So I got rid of most of it, which makes editing this blog slightly more work, but not enough for me to justify keeping the code permanently invalid. I did find one slightly clever way of making sure the comments still work, but backlinks and edit buttons and stuff are gone.I won't miss them.

Even so, on the individual post pages, where comments appear, I can't get the page to validate at all because of Blogger's semi-crappy code, not all of which I want remove. I'll have to go for Type B on that. Now, time to down my chemo pills and head for radiation treatment again. There's a real problem to deal with.

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Perhaps the best explanation of science I've ever seen

CladogramIt's really long, but this court transcript (no really!) (via Pharyngula) provides a remarkably clear explanation, early on, of the processes the scientific community has developed over the past several hundred years to get better at figuring what's going on in the universe.

Later on, Dr. Kevin Padian, the paleontologist witness in question, goes into more detail about fossils, evolutionary biology, problems with proposals about intelligent design, and so on, with similar verve. I recommend you read the whole thing, but if you're short on time, just the Qualifications section will do.

Some quotes from that part:

I think the term "theory" [...] has to be looked at the way scientists consider it. A theory is not just something that we think of in the middle of the night after too much coffee and not enough sleep. That's an idea. And if you have a hypothesis, it's something that's a testable proposition, you can actually find some evidence that will help you to weigh it one way or the other.

A theory, in science [...] means a very large body of information that's withstood a lot of testing. It probably consists of a number of different hypotheses, many different lines of evidence. And it's something that is very difficult to slay with an ugly fact, as Huxley once put it, because it's just a complex body of work that's been worked on through time.

Gravitation is a theory that's unlikely to be falsified even if we saw something fall up. It would make us wonder, but we'd try to figure out what was going on there rather than just immediately dismiss gravitation.

[...]

For all the world, it looks like, you know, to us normal people, that the sun goes around the Earth. And for most people, it wouldn't make a difference whether the sun went around the Earth or it went around the moon, as Sherlock Holmes famously said to Watson. But when the renaissance scholars understood, found out that, in fact, the sun does not go around the Earth but the Earth and the planets go around the sun, it changed the way we look at the whole natural world in a very important and fundamental way.

And so part of the process of science is to discover things that will make a difference to our understanding of the natural world and not simply to reinforce appearances that are very difficult to test in an objective or testable sense.

And I really like this one:

If you are looking for direct ancestors, if you insist on an unbroken stream of intermediate fossils to document a case, I'm afraid that that's going to be difficult to get under any circumstances, but it's also equally impossible for the historical record of humans.

If we had to come up with evidence of every one of our direct linear or collateral ancestors and know everything about them, it would be impossible, yet we don't question the parentage of our friends and neighbors because they can't do that.

[...]

That seems like a very difficult standard of evidence to live up to. We can't do that with humans most of the time, and I'd be surprised if we could do it with animals that are 350, 400 million years old.

I just stayed up till almost three in the morning reading the whole thing, even in my chemo-sozzled state (it helps that I slept six hours earlier this evening). I do have to say that his slides could have used some work, but the strength of the words and ideas did their job, which was the point. Overall, it's a remarkable piece of written work—even more remarkable for being a transcript of courtroom speech.

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03 May 2007

 

Hacking around my Apache PHP problem

I've had a problem getting this new blog template to work the way I want, but I have largely solved it. Or, more accurately, I've hacked around it. I had been hoping for a more elegant solution, but in the end I simply went back to Blogger's conditional template tags for my individual blog post pages.

That actually imposes less of a load on my server, since Blogger generates those pages as static HTML instead of doing all the PHP rendering stuff on the fly, and I can easily make (and have now made) the sidebar different for the different views of my posts. On the other hand, the PHP is simpler to work with because I would only have to edit the include files, instead of the main template, when I want to make changes. I'm keeping the PHP sidebar and footer for the home page, monthly archives, and for other pages as I deploy the new design around this site.

As I said, it's a hack. Still, as a total non-programmer, I'm not too disheartened. Even Dave Winer, who's been blogging longer than pretty much anyone—and helped invent most of the stuff that makes blogs what they are—writes:

I think we must all go through this rite of passage, the docs for Apache are so cryptic and inadequate. The design of Apache itself is weak. But it is workable, you know that eventually you'll puzzle it out...

I puzzled out a solution. That's no surprise. After that, the server is "a patchy" piece of software to start with.

Dave also has some good followup about why the "community of hooligans" (in Don Park's words) at Digg got so cheesed off the other day about a string of numbers.

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Gonna be a sleepy one

Cancer Treatment: Day 92 at Flickr.comToday for the first time in two weeks, I received the heavy-duty chemotherapy drug, oxaliplatin, via an hour-long IV drip at the Cancer Agency. I also restarted the capecitabine pills after a one-week break, and had my usual every-weekday radiation treatment—and it all took less than three hours this morning.

Although I feel nothing from them right away, I dreaded downing the capecitabine pills this morning after the break. They're poison. But poison that's doing me good. And unlike my previous oxaliplatin treatments, I can feel some effects from the drip right away today: the skin on my inner right arm tingles from the site of the intravenous needle on my wrist all the way up to my bicep, and I was tired almost immediately after the chemo session.

But I'm well over half way now. I'm 22 days into a 36 day chemotherapy regimen, and there will be three extra days of "boost" radiation at the end, taking me to May 22 or so. Then I meet Dr. Brown again on May 23 to talk about my surgery (probably in late June) to remove the cancer itself.

I tell you, all the chemo and radiation is doing something to my body. I can sure feel that.

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I play a Facebook skeptic on the radio

Last week I mentioned that I'm not using Facebook yet, and why. My wife does use it, and likes it. So CBC technology columnist Tod Maffin interviewed both of us about it. You can listen to his mini-documentary (MP3 file) as part of his Todbits podcast, or you might have heard it on CBC radio today.

I have to say that the peer pressure for me to get on Facebook is certainly an order of magnitude stronger than it has been for other social networking sites (except maybe, briefly, Twitter)—but I'm still holding out. I'm busy enough now as it is.

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02 May 2007

 

Bony butt

The Morning Handful at Flickr.comAs I mentioned before, I've lost close to 20 pounds during cancer treatment. But it hasn't happened as I expected. I haven't suffered any nausea to speak of, and I still have all my hair.

What I don't have is some of my butt. Whether because of the radiation treatments, the chemotherapy, or just my body's general pattern of weight loss, I'm lacking a lot of, er, padding down there.

It's actually uncomfortable to sit down for long periods, especially in bed. My tailbone and surrounding spine and the back of my pelvis start hurting.

My wife noticed it particularly today—the gluteus loss has been gradual, but now it's quite obvious. And tomorrow, after a week's break as part of the schedule for my clinical trial, I go back on the chemo cocktail for the final two weeks.

So, even more bony butt, here I come.

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How do I get Apache to treat URLs with no file extension as PHP?

Feel free to ignore this if you're not a web development type. If you are, it should be a simple question, but I don't know the answer.

I'm re-doing this website, as you've seen, and I'm using some PHP includes. On pages that end with a .php extension (instead of .html or something else), that works great. It's why you see the navigation sidebar and the footer at the bottom of the page on the home page and monthly archives (they're really only single files that get sucked into each page as it loads):

http://www.penmachine.com/index.php
http://www.penmachine.com/old/2007_05_01_.php

But for some reason, Blogger is generating individual post pages without extensions, like this:

http://www.penmachine.com/2007/05/dont-cheese-off-geeks
http://www.penmachine.com/labels/encryption

By default, the Apache web server software I'm using treats these files as plain text (showing all the code gobbledegook), but I want them to be treated as PHP, so I tried editing the .htaccess file thus:

DefaultType application/x-httpd-php

But that creates a 500 Server Error. Strangely, this works:

DefaultType text/html

So you see the pages above properly as HTML web pages, but of course they don't have the sidebar includes, because Apache doesn't know they're supposed to be PHP.

What am I doing wrong? Is there a better way to approach this problem? All I want is for Apache to say, "Ah, a URL with no file extension—that's PHP," then the rest should Just Work, as it does for files ending in .php.

Suggestions?

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01 May 2007

 

Don't cheese off the geeks

Digg home page, 1 May 2007Okay, this is immensely nerdy, but it's also important, in a nerdy way. So bear with me.

Here's the basic summary: new-generation high-definition video discs like HD-DVD and Blu-ray include heavy-duty encryption to try to prevent people from copying them. Unfortunately, since people actually need to watch the movies they buy, and since eyeballs cannot be encrypted, the fact is that no matter how heavy-duty the encryption, the only way to keep it that way is to keep the digital decryption key (a string of numbers) somewhere on or in the playback device—but to keep it a secret.

In other words, to play by the movie industry's rules, your HD-DVD or Blu-ray player or hi-def disc-compatible computer needs to hide something from you, its owner. Needless to say, that didn't work for too long. Some geeks extracted a decryption key and posted it online.

The movie industry has used the execrable Digital Millennium Copyright Act to try to get Google to stop indexing the number—a string of hexadecimal digits—and has sent takedown letters to numerous bloggers and other websites that had posted it. One of them was the social news site and geek darling Digg.

Digg rolled, and started deleting posts and banning users, possibly permanently wounding its credibility among its users. And prompting a flood of stories about nothing but the decryption key, which now has its own MySpace profile, as well as T-shirts and songs and stuff.

Yup, that worked really well.

UPDATE: Digg has given up and decided the blocking/banning was a bad idea.

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Blankly slatey

Don't panic. I said a few weeks ago that I was going to redesign this blog, and right now what you see is an extremely minimalist beginning. It will change, and get nicer and prettier and all that.

Also, all the old stuff, right back to the year 2000 and earlier, is still here. I'm just starting at the beginning of May with a blank slate, which I'll play with and you can watch as I add to it.

And yes, I still have the cancer. No restarting that!

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