I haven't written about my cancer treatment much here recently, but that's not because nothing is happening. It has been exactly two years since I first found out I needed major cancer surgery (though I didn't realize at the time how long this would go on). I've been through several such surgeries, radiation therapy, numerous bouts of chemo, and a whole range of side effects. In some ways, despite its severity, my cancer treatment has become part of the background of my life.
Since this past November, I've been taking a fairly hefty dose of cediranib, a relatively new experimental anti-cancer drug. I take a pill or two once a day, which is an improvement over the hours-long IV infusions I've had before. And of course I have side effects.
They're different this time. Rather than overwhelming fatigue and several days of nausea every couple of weeks, they are intestinal, and less predictable. To summarize and not be too graphic, my family has come to call the bouts of symptoms I get every couple of days "the Poopfest." When it happens, I'll often be in the bathroom for an hour or two at a time, or leave the washroom to come back to bed, then have to turn around and go right back. Sometimes I get what I call "Jurassic Gut," where my abdomen sounds like a Spielberg dinosaur growling, and those substantial gas bubbles can be painful.
For other patients, the drug can also cause tiredness, skin symptoms, and high blood pressure. I've been lucky not to get all of those. My blood pressure is naturally a bit low, for instance, so even when it has risen a bit, it's well within normal range. But this week has been particularly harsh.
I developed a chest cold—the rest of the family got it too—but it has hung on, and that's when the fatigue set in. The past few days I have slept, and slept, and hardly been out of the house. The Poopfest has turned into diarrhea that sometimes lasts most of the day. Last night we all went to a friend's party for a few hours, but when we got home my Jurassic Gut was simply astounding, and lasted for well over three hours. I couldn't get to bed till 2 a.m., and while I think I'm slowly getting better today, it is exhausting.
When I'm feeling well, which I do sometimes, I could almost imagine going back to work. But then things go a bit sideways like this, and I know I'm still pretty ill. In a couple of weeks, I'll find out after my next CT scan in mid-February whether the cediranib is helping to slow down the growth of my lung tumours. Hope so.
I love the Northern Voice conference. I've been part of it every year since it started in 2005. But while my wife Air and I were among the first to register for the conference itself this year, and while she put together one of the panels, neither of us will be attending the February 19 opening-night dinner (tickets for that go on sale tomorrow) because it's sponsored by the BC Liberal Party.
The sponsorship makes us uncomfortable. I'd like to think that we'd feel this way if it were any political party, but it's hard to know. That it is the BC Liberals, for whom neither of us has never voted, and that there is an election coming right up this spring, both add to our discomfort. When my wife mentioned the sponsorship to me, my immediate verbal reaction was a simple, "Ew."
I know almost everyone on the Northern Voice organizing committee, and I think they do a great job, but I also think that accepting this sponsorship was a poor choice, regardless of whether (or maybe especially because of) the current economic circumstances, which make sponsorships hard to find right now. And had it been a provincial or federal government ministry, or the City of Vancouver, the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Committee, or some other government organization rather than a political party, I think I would have been fine with it.
Sponsors are supposed to promote themselves, but a political party sponsorship in advance of an election feels like an attempt to buy my vote, and seems cynical, especially from a party that hasn't been at the vanguard of blogging and podcasting up to now. So Air and I will be at UBC for the main conference, but we'll skip the dinner. If there are others who feel similarly, as I expect there are, maybe some of us will go out for beer elsewhere that night.
The back story: Rick Warren has gajillions of followers across the U.S., and is the author of the bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. He gave the benediction prayer at President Obama's inauguration, much to the chagrin of gay activists and other people who supported Obama's social agenda—because Warren supported California's Prop 8 to abolish gay marriage, and follows the usual conservative evangelical line on most other social and sexual issues too. Even so, he is considered progressive by some people (or not conservative enough by some others) because he emphasizes improving the lives of poor people around the globe, as well as combating global climate change.
When you have one child, it's easy to delude yourself about the magnitude of your influence on them. When our first daughter was young, for instance, I subconsciously assumed that she was the way she was largely because of the parenting my wife and I offered. As soon as her sister was born a couple of years later, we discovered how wrong we were.
Not that parenting (or family, or friends, or society more generally) is irrelevant, but parents of more than one child will tell you that their kids do seem to be born with certain personality traits, and they develop their own interests and approaches to the world as they grow. Children are little people, individuals, right from the beginning, not blank slates to be molded completely by how we raise them. Our daughters have a lot in common, but they're also quite different.
As I've noted before, my younger daughter L, who turned nine yesterday, makes up her own homework in her spare time. A couple of days ago, for example, she was copying equations out of a Math 11 textbook. She's a little too young to understand them—after all, they're eight years ahead of her current curriculum—but she's certainly getting good at writing square-root signs.
My wife Air, who's a math teacher (hence the textbooks in our house), suggested that L try the Grade 8 book instead, only five years ahead, where some of the problems might be closer to her level. So this morning we woke up to hear our daughters arguing vociferously about subtraction problems.
Among her other interests, our older daughter M has liked photography for some time, and we bought her a little Pentax point-and-shoot digicam for Christmas 2007. She likes it, but she also enjoys using my big Nikon DSLR because of the higher quality photos it takes. She often creates some really good compositions, and of course her perspective is quite different from mine. Here are some of my favourites she's taken:
They're certainly better than anything I took when I was ten. Or, as in the case of the top left photo, four (!).
It's lunar new year (of the Ox)! It's Australia Day (well, not in Australia anymore, since there it's tomorrow by now)! It's the birthday of Ellen DeGeneres, and my cousin Tarya, and our friend Kelly!
And, best of all, it's my youngest daughter L's birthday too!
In fact, listen to Gwynne Dyer's documentary anyway (it's on the podcast), whether you want to be scared or not. The key statement:
Everything that is expected to result from global climate change driven by greenhouse gases is not only happening, but it's happening faster than anybody expected.
Learn why, and how global warming and climate change, which should rationally be non-political, became a political and ideological issue anyway, and what might happen—including some potentially nasty wars. Ignore anything else I've been pointing you to. Really. Just listen.
Back in the fall of 1995, after quitting as a full-time musician, I got a job at a magazine whose entire workflow ran on Microsoft Windows—something that was, and still is, unusual in publishing. I was someone with a long-time geek heritage and a passing familiarity with IBM PCs—as well as Unix, CP/M, and even TRS-80 and mainframe computers—but who had used only Apple II and Mac machines at home for more than a decade. So I figured I'd better get up to speed on Windows before I started the job.
My dad kindly loaned me one of his desktop computers, freshly booted up with Windows 95, which was then current and shiny new. The machine was underpowered, with only the minimum amount of RAM to install Windows 95, but I got the general gist of the operating system, and soon enough was the go-to technology guy at the office for many things. I returned the Windows box to my dad, and we haven't owned anything but Macs in our house ever since—10 or 11 of them over the years (I've lost count). Six are still actively working today.
So this view comes as a bit of a shock:
That's the screen of my MacBook, and you can see both native Mac programs (like Safari and the Finder) and native Windows programs (the Zune application and AVG anti-virus) running at the same time. I'm using Parallels Desktop to run both Mac OS X Leopard and the new beta version Windows 7 simultaneously. I can also reboot the MacBook into full native Windows 7 for extra speed and some additional interface eye candy.
Why did I do such a thing, and why install Windows on my Mac on January 22, the 25th anniversary of that famous Mac "1984" ad? Well, mostly because the Windows 7 beta is free (though if you want to get it, today is supposedly the last day), and it will work until August. I wanted to see how the new version is shaping up.
Because, honestly, I was falling a bit behind. After that magazine job, I worked at a Windows software developer for almost five years using Windows 98 and NT 4, then as a freelance technical writer working with NT 4 and Windows 2000. I only had a Windows laptop briefly when I first started at Navarik in 2003, then went Mac at work again. I never really did much with Windows XP, and I'm not sure I ever used Windows Vista at all myself, though I've seen others use it. As I said, our home was a Mac zone the whole time.
I needn't have worried. Windows 7 is a tweaked, improved, more secure version of Windows with better fit and finish, but it's still Windows. The Taskbar and Start menu and Windows Explorer are still there. So is the dreaded Registry Editor. As a listener to the Windows Weekly podcast since it began in 2006 (hey, I should listen, since I wrote the theme music—on a Mac), I knew how to get the beta version working best for me, and what to install for best results (Windows Live Essentials and Live Mesh, for instance).
In this new Internet age, with Macs more popular then ever, I have less reason than I did in 1995 to run Windows. But I like to keep current, and it's a bit of a thrill to see my MacBook boot up Windows like a real PC. Ahem.
The two images were made at almost the same time, in almost exactly the same location off the Cypress Bowl road above Vancouver. But they are two different photos—the clouds have moved, and the tree in the corner shows a very slightly different perspective.
So, to Scott and Blair both: great pictures. I can't say which is better.
Thanks to Buzz Bishop for posting this astonishing photo of our lovely city of Vancouver from Cypress Mountain, taken on the morning of Sunday, January 18 from above the fog that has enshrouded us for a couple of weeks now:
This picture was taken with a brand new Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, taking full advantage of its remarkable resolution and detail in an amazing composition. Check out the large version. Wow. Who took the photo is an interesting question, with an interesting answer I talk about in my next blog post.
The distant peaks are probably Stewart Mountain near Bellingham (left, about 925 m tall) and Mount Constitution on Orcas Island (right, about 730 m) in Georgia Strait, both across the border in the United States.
P.S. Here's a whole set of photos from another photographer.
I was driving to my oncologist appointment just after 9:00 a.m. yesterday when the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court inaugurated Barack Obama as President of the United States. I heard it on the radio, and I teared up a little. The oath of office itself was surprisingly short, and both Obama and the Justice stumbled a little with the words in their enthusiasm—it sounded refreshingly informal and real.
Almost a year ago, even before the economy started seriously tanking, I wrote about Obama, saying:
America and the rest of us need inspiration now. America's citizens need to say to us, and to themselves, "We have been on the wrong path, and we will choose a different and better way." To see and to listen to Barack Obama as president will demonstrate the beginning of that choice. If I'm right, I think he will win.
He did win. Yesterday he could celebrate and dance; today he has to start doing stuff. Web nerds like me see good signs in small things, like the new whitehouse.gov website, which is well designed, has a blog with RSS, uses valid code, and is search engine friendly. More importantly, he has already ordered a halt to military commission prosecutions at Guantánamo Bay. He meets his military advisors this afternoon to plan withdrawal of U.S. armed forces from Iraq.
His response to America's unusual religiosity (for a Western democracy) is also worth noting. President Obama was not involved with and did not endorse this ad in the Washington Post from the American Humanist Association (via PZ Myers), but I think it is a good sign:
The headline is "President Obama: Living proof that family values without religion build character," with supporting quotes from his bestseller The Audacity of Hope ("I was not raised in a religious household..."). Some people are gonna get steamed over this one, I'm sure, and use it to continue maligning the new President. But though he is a Christian now, Obama obviously knows the benefits of a secular state, and why his country's founders created America as such. He understands that the non-religious —like both his parents—can be good people and raise healthy children, like him, who make wise choices.
That he and his administration not only recognize, but celebrate the diversity of their country—and that, in his own carefully crafted words during the inaugural address, "our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness"—is a strength in itself. He, like us, has seen in the past decade how parochial sectarianism can do vast harm around the world.
The man has enough good will from Americans, and many of the other few billion of us, that he need not work miracles immediately, but he also seems to know that he doesn't have too much time. He must work with the citizens who elected him to realign his country's domestic, foreign, energy, and environmental policies. He must translate his ability to inspire as a candidate into a mandate to inspire as the world's most powerful person. I think, and hope, that he is up to the task.
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!
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.
Knowing that I can raise my lip, Stallone-style, my older daughter asked me to make this silly 20-second video:
No strings were harmed during filming. The song is my own "P and P," from 2005.
Since the early days of this blog, I've written about how I dislike copy prevention technologies for software, music, and movies—and have hated them since my early days of computer use more than 25 years ago. That's because it's never wise to treat your customers as your enemies.
Today, crusading Canadian copyright lawyer and professor Michael Geist writes about how finally, slowly (at least for music), the big companies might be getting it. Until 2008, the recording industry was intent on suing file sharers, locking files with DRM copy prevention, and pushing through crummy copyright legislation. Now:
The decision to drop the lawsuit strategy was long overdue as it had accomplished little more than engender significant animosity toward the industry [and] helped to convince some of Canada's best-known artists to speak out against the practice.
Apple, the dominant online music seller, announced that it will soon offer millions of songs from all four major record labels without digital locks [which] reflects the recognition that frustrating consumers with unnecessary restrictions is not a particularly good business model.
In addition to the privacy, security, and consumer concerns with such legislation, laws to protect digital locks seem increasingly unnecessary given the decision to abandon their use in the primary digital sales channel.
I don't know if these changes mean that the recording industry is figuring out effective ways to do business in the Internet file-sharing world, or whether it is just giving up on failed strategies, but I find the trend encouraging. In practical terms, it means that, with six functioning computers for four people in this house, we won't have to worry too much about iTunes letting songs purchased from the iTunes Store play on only five computers anymore.
Alas, movies, audiobooks, and such are another story entirely.
My friend Simon scanned some old photos and sent them over a couple of days ago. They're of me and some of my friends (him included) between 1990 and 1992. We look younger than we thought we did at the time. And yes, the '90s definitely had its own fashion sense, even if we didn't think so then either:
The pictures include photos of The Love Bugs, the predecessor to my current band The Neurotics, which is still playing a pretty similar batch of songs more than 15 years later. If you'd been at the Starlight Casino in Queensborough, B.C. last night, in fact, you could have seen me playing guitar and drums just like in these images—but in a nice suit instead of a ratty t-shirt. Sebastien was there too.
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.
My daughter is 10, but she has already learned something about email that I didn't get until I was in my 20s. A screenshot of the message she sent me earlier:
Well said. We'll work on that layout and typography as she gets older.
P.S. Here's what her younger sister, age 8, just said to me now in tones usually reserved for chocolate vs. regular milk: "Dad, instead of Safari can I have Firefox?"
One way to get lots of people to see a photo of yours on the image sharing site Flickr is to take a good picture. That requires talent, skill, and dedication. A few of my pictures have become popular simply because they're good photographs—at least I think so.
And what do you do to attract huge numbers of viewers and comments and favourites? Simple, go full nerd: just make a picture of a whole bunch of cameras and encourage people to argue about them. More than 38,000 views in six months, 208 favourite votes, and dozens and dozens of comments:
An earlier attempt of mine at the same thing even had commenters threatening to kill each other about the kind of camera they like! But my favourite comment was from Axl Van Goks: "I like the black one with the buttons and stuff."
Since the digital camera market changes like crazy, my big collage from June 2008 was out of date within weeks. I waited for all the pre-Christmas camera introductions to shake out, and now I've made a new version that includes all the current digital SLR cameras I could find (almost 40) from Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus, Pentax, Panasonic, Leica, Samsung, Sigma, and Fujifilm:
I expect the arguing to begin soon in the comments. The picture has 139 views and 4 favourites since I posted it three and a half hours ago. And yes, yes, I know, I know: they're not all strictly SLRs, but I think they're all of interest to SLR buyers.
Ah, art. Have at it.
UPDATE: My thesis appears to be correct. As a rule of thumb, the more cameras you put in a picture on Flickr, the more popular it is:
...and, my favourite, just for the title:
I've lived in this small section of town, near Metrotown in Burnaby, B.C., for the last 37 years, since I was two years old. I've never seen snow accumulations like this, not even in the record-setting 1996-97 season. Maybe it was like this in 1964, or in the early '70s when I was young, but I don't recall it.
The shovel pile on the left side of the bottom of our driveway is nearly as tall as me. I minimally dug out the driveway before going for groceries at 7 p.m. today. I got back at 8 p.m. and could not drive up, even in snow tires, so I shoveled again, because 3 or 4 cm had accumulated. I managed to finesse the car in.
Trees are coated. Houses look like marshmallow sundaes. Power and telephone lines are unpredictably dropping thick ropes of snow to the ground, then swaying from the release.
This is after regular snowfall since mid-December, little of which has melted. Around here (some altitude above sea level), we had very low temperatures (–15°C) in early December, then snow in the middle of the month, continued cold, more snow before Christmas, a bit of melt after, then a freeze, then more snow, and more, and more.
Up the street where people have bigger driveways, the snow piles are considerably taller than me. Street signs are becoming obscured, and sidewalks have disappeared—people must walk in the wheel ruts on the street:
Since Greater Vancouver has little history of lasting snow, most people around here don't have proper snow tires, which makes it worse for driving. My wife and I do have them on one of our cars, but even with those I had trouble on the steep driveway this evening.
Some people have abandoned their cars tonight in our neighbourhood. Others are putting on tire chains even on major bus routes that have been plowed. Still other vehicles have been so buried since before Christmas that you can't see them at all, just big lumps in the snow. People with 4WD but not snow tires are getting stuck now.
Today's bout is taking things over the edge. Forecasts have called for rain several times in the past week, and in some parts of Vancouver it came, but here it has been snow every time. The roof added above a sundeck on a house a few blocks away collapsed, and our neighbours lost a large cherry blossom tree after Christmas for the same reason:
Tonight the whole region is in a blizzard, and police are recommending no one drive unless they really have to—and then chains or snow tires are necessary.
Some of the streets are getting hemmed in from shoveling, buried cars, and the occasional plow heaping stuff up, plus the ruts are getting so deep that the snow in the middle is scraping the bottom of our car when we drive there:
I should say that the City of Burnaby crews do plow side streets when the clearing of major roads is sufficient and time permits. One of the streets on our corner was plowed several times in December; the less-used street out front, once.
But neither has been done in some time since the snow kept coming up here on the north brow of the hill. The trucks need to keep the highways and main streets open. It's beautiful, but pretty soon walking (or snowmobiles, or dogsleds) will be the only option on our street.
I never thought I'd say this in winter in this city, but I sure hope for rain, and lots of it. Not all at once, mind you—for a gradual melt, a nice steady drizzle for a week or two would do. You know, normal Vancouver weather?
Here are my 200+ favourite photos from 2008, posted to my Flickr account. I took most, but not all, of them:
In which I revisit what I wrote here in 2008 and pick out some highlights:
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.