09 April 2010


What does it mean to be old?

New Scientist has published a widely-linked article (via Kottke) this week called "The Shock of the Old," about how the world's population is aging. Author Fred Pearce is perhaps a bit too optimistic about what that means, but it's nevertheless a worthwhile read. It reinforces something I've written about before. As Pearce puts it:

We should be proud that for the first time most children reach adulthood and most adults grow old.

But old doesn't mean what it used to. I regularly hear news reports about an "elderly" person of age 70. But that's how old my parents are, and they don't seem at all elderly to me. Yes, my mom retired some years ago, but that doesn't seem to have slowed her down. My dad is still running his own business and driving to service calls almost every day. He'll happily climb a ladder to the roof of the house to clear out the gutters.

And of course, these days they're both in better shape than I am, at age 40.

I think societies like Canada's, where our population is aging rapidly, will have to adjust, to support people based not on the number of years they've lived, but on the capabilities they have. In some ways, we already do that—I'm receiving Canada Pension disability benefits, for instance. I don't know what that adjustment will look like, and I may not even live long enough to see the change, but it's coming.

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07 April 2010


My first microwave experience

The first time I ever used a microwave oven was at my friend Brent Spencer's house, sometime in the mid-1970s. I'm pretty sure it was an Amana Radarange. Brent's father Ken, who would later go on to found the digital printing company Creo, is an engineer, and often had interesting gadgets well before the rest of us got them.

(Some examples: Ken borrowed a projection television for a few weeks, which I got to watch in their basement; was the first person I knew to have a phone in his car; and loaned us their family's TRS-80 microcomputer while they went on a long vacation in 1980.)

Anyway, the first thing Brent showed me how to make in the exotic Radarange was Triscuits with Kraft process cheese slices melted on top. I stared in wonder through the oven window as the cheese rose into what seemed like an impossibly big bubble, then popped into a goopy mess. Delicious.

Recently I did the same thing: 30 seconds on high power, with Triscuits and Kraft slices. You know what? They still tasted great.

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30 August 2009


Old man, look at my life

Hello turtleI've come to realize something in the last few days. My cancer treatment drags on, keeping me alive but not really getting me better. I continue to manage my diabetes and live with an artificial IV port in my chest. I take lots of pills and shots, get medical tests, and see doctors all the time. I can't safely travel very far.

More to the point, I hurt, and I'm tired. Many parts of my body simply don't work the way they're supposed to. Most of the time, I'm nothing close to genuinely well. I may never return to my great job. I've been like this in some form or another for more than two and a half years.

So here's what I realized. I'm a 40-year-old man whose body has become much older. I'm a youngish guy in an oldish container. There are plenty of people three decades beyond my age—including my own parents—who feel better than I do, and can do more. And the hard part (for all of us) is knowing there's a good chance they'll live longer than me too.

For the vast majority of human history, living to age 40 was an achievement in itself. Even a hundred years ago, Type 1 diabetes like I have was a death sentence too—I would have died in my early 20s, before I had a chance to marry my wonderful wife or have two great children. I'm glad I've had those chances.

If I were (for instance) 75 years old now, it would be easier to accept what cancer has done to me, and to acknowledge that living (for example) another five years would be a pretty good achievement. I'm trying to think more like that—not to be fatalistic, but to be pragmatic, to know that while I'll keep fighting, without radical new treatments or some very good luck, it's probably a losing battle. But that's not a failure.

I'm sitting on the back porch in the sun, drinking a coffee. In a few minutes I'll help my kids make some cake. It's a good life.

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15 March 2009


Plus ça change...

Here's our friend Lisa at her wedding yesterday, saying hi to our other friend Christina during the reception dinner:

Christina and Lisa

And here was Lisa in a plaid skirt back in 1992 dancing to my band (a later incarnation of our band also played at the wedding yesterday, by the way):

Lunatic Fringe 2

Other than the wedding dress in one and the early-'90s fashions and hair in the other, she looks the same, 17 years later! I certainly can't say the same for myself.

Thanks to Simon for the '92 picture.

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14 February 2009


Party 11

Birthday 5On Valentine's Day in Vancouver, on an afternoon in the midst of the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, our first daughter, M, was born. Today she turned 11, and had a party at our house.

I remember being that age, in 1980, quite well. It was the fourth year in a row that my parents and I traveled to San Diego for summer vacation, and it would be two years before I quit studying classical guitar. It was the first year we had a computer in the house (a borrowed TRS-80 Model I).

My daughter came home from the hospital to a house full of computers. She has been taking music lessons for more than five years, longer than I ever did. She has never been to San Diego, but she has seen Hawaii and the Oregon Coast. She has a little sister, two years younger, while I was an only child. This year she started reading novels. She is smart, and articulate, and loves the Beatles.

Happy birthday, Miss M.

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26 April 2008


Ba-doomp, ba-doomp, ba-doomp, ba-doomp, bom bom!

Genesis Parc des Princes, Paris 30-06-2007 at Flickr.comSometime in 1983 or so, I got really into the band Genesis, after the release of their self-titled album of that year. I still look back at that record and its two predecessors from the turn of the '80s, "Duke" and "Abacab," as their best, where they managed to mix art-rock and pop deftly, without turning silly.

Yes, I turned into a pretty big fanboy: I went back into the old catalogue and bought the Peter Gabriel-era prog-rock sets too, and I enjoyed them. The later stuff, like "Invisible Touch" and "We Can't Dance"? I think I picked those up more out of duty than pure enjoyment. But I never tired of Phil Collins's drumming, whether on "Selling England By the Pound" or Gabriel's epochal third album or his own solo work. He remains one of the reasons I'm a drummer today.

I saw Collins play live a couple of times, once on the final pre-reunion Genesis tour in the '90s, and once at an arena tour with his solo band. He always put on a good show, with great lighting. At his solo performance, his then-teenaged son sat in on drums, despite having recently broken an arm.

It's not a huge surprise that Collins announced his retirement (via Paul) from recording and performing this week (although whether it will be a Cher/Celine Dion–style retirement or a more real one is an open question). He's been in the entertainment business for something like 45 years—as a child actor he was an extra in A Hard Day's Night—and he certainly has little left to prove.

He's taken his share of slagging over the years, especially when you couldn't avoid him during the '80s, and as he slid into mellow late-period Elton, Rod, and Sting–style music a decade later. But put on a track like "Turn It On Again," "No Self Control," "Misunderstanding," or, of course, "In the Air Tonight"—you can't deny something brilliant there. And he was a pioneer with drum machines and electronic percussion too.

One interesting thing about his drumming: his drum kits have always been set up left-handed. That's unusual even for left-handers like Collins, since so much in drumming requires a kind of ambidexterity. (Ringo Starr, conversely, is also left-handed, but has always played a right-handed kit.) In my case, with a regular right-handed set, I hit the main beats with my left hand, on the snare drum, and my right foot on the bass drum. My right arm handles the hi-hat and most of the other cymbals, and both hands work the tom-toms.

I'm not sure how Collins's reversed setup has affected how he plays, but it certainly hasn't hurt his career. If he doesn't retire fully, I wonder if he might return to his early foray into jazz fusion with Brand X (not that I would actually enjoy that) or something equally strange?

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14 April 2008


Join The Neurotics for the Sun Run next Sunday

Sun Run 2003 - 06.jpg at Flickr.comBack in 1994, I was making a go of it as a full-time rock and roll drummer, and my cover band The Neurotics managed to snag a spot along the route of the annual Vancouver Sun Run, where we got paid a bit of money and had the chance to entertain tens of thousands of people as they ran 10 km through Stanley Park.

We were pretty silly (as we always are), and the runners liked us, so somehow the next year we were recruited to play on the scaffold above the starting line for the race, downtown at Burrard and Georgia streets. We've been the band there ever since (among numerous others along the route), and next Sunday, April 20, 2008, marks our 15th appearance at the Sun Run. (The band's lineup varies a bit each year, but for once the group of four musicians will all be guys who've done this show before.)

It's a strange gig, and one of the reasons the organizers keep calling us back is that we've honed our ability to play what guitarist Sean calls "heads-up hockey" up on the temporary stage. We have to show up before 5:00 a.m. to beat the road closures, haul our gear up some rickety scaffold stairs, do a very quick setup, and then go get some breakfast. Once we start playing around 7:30, it's pretty much a continuous performance until all 50,000-plus runners and walkers have gone by. That takes several hours.

But while we're up there playing much of that time, there are a lot of stops and starts, dictated on the fly by the race organizers and announcers on the platform with us—and we get little warning. Sometimes we only play 30 seconds of a song. Others we get 10 seconds (or less) of warning that we'll have to stop another, or just as much notice that we have to start. The mayor might speak, or other local celebrities. There are speeches and announcements, and each group of runners has its own starting announcement and air horn. A group of Fitness World aerobics types helps everyone get warmed up. We need to fit into the gaps, so we learned years ago that a set list does little good.

It is an awesome thing to see tens of thousands of Vancouverites thronging the streets below. It's also a huge load of fun. I was unable to play last year because it was early in my combined radiation and chemotherapy treatments. This year the timing is better, so while I'll be tired, I expect to be able to play the show without a hitch.

If you're in downtown Vancouver early on Sunday morning—especially if you're running by on Georgia Street in front of the RBC tower—look up, way up, and maybe you'll see me bangin' like Charlie Watts. But I'll probably be too busy to wave.

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12 April 2008


Bomb days

A few days ago I wrote about the 50th anniversary of the Ripple Rock detonation, which sent me hunting around the Web for information. Inevitably, I came across lots of pictures of explosions of all sorts.

I think many people in a broad cohort around my age (38), who grew up during the Cold War, have a morbid fascination with photos of nuclear bomb tests. Some of them are chillingly, starkly, awfully beautiful, especially this set from the French Licorne ("Unicorn") test in the Pacific in 1970:

Licorne Licorne 2
Licorne 3 Licorne 4

Reports say that the day of the Licorne detonation had "cloudy conditions but good visibility," but notice how the bomb's shockwave punches right through those clouds, sweeping them entirely away and leaving blue sky in the later pictures. Scary.

Of the hundreds of above-ground nuclear detonations by the U.S., the U.S.S.R., the U.K., France, and China between 1945 and 1980, no two seem to have looked the same. The photographs that freak me out the most are those where the surrounding landscape (and thus the scale) is clear. Or where soldiers walk towards a mushroom cloud in the Nevada desert.

China performed the last atmospheric test of a nuclear weapon almost 28 years ago—these sorts of photos are all, thankfully, now historical. But North Korea conducted what may have been a failed atomic explosion uderground as recently as 2006.

So those mushroom-cloud images don't worry me like they used to when I was a kid. But the worry isn't entirely gone either, is it?

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18 March 2008


Farewell to Sir Arthur

While I have to admit that his fiction was sometimes a bit wooden, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, who died today, was one of the true visionaries of the last century. Geostationary telecommunications satellites—the ones we all use now for all sorts of things—were his idea. He helped with the deployment of radar in World War II. And in novels like Rendezvous With Rama and Childhood's End, he imagined how humans might react if we find out we aren't alone in the universe.

In many ways, he helped build the frame around our modern ideas about astronomy, cosmology, and space travel. He was no doubt disappointed that we didn't pursue the kind of space program started in the 1950s and '60s. We're certainly far from the routine orbital and lunar trips he and Stanley Kubrick forecasted in 2001.

He was, in many ways, an eccentric, married only once, briefly, decades ago, and spending the last 50 years of his life in Sri Lanka after leaving his native Britain. He was also a master of pithy quotes: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." "If there are any gods whose chief concern is man, they cannot be very important gods." "Any teacher that can be replaced by a machine should be!" "There is hopeful symbolism in the fact that flags do not wave in a vacuum." "I don't believe in astrology; I'm a Sagittarian and we're sceptical."

I read a lot of his stuff when I was young, and he is one reason I turned into a geek and a science major. He lived a long life, to 90, but it's still a sad day that he's gone.

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14 March 2008


Probability, the Fab Four, and my kids

As always, there are some people who think those darned kids today are taking us all to hell in a handbasket with their ignorance and filthy habits. However, I seem to recall titles like this only in my university statistics course textbook:

L's grade 2 math worksheet

But that's not where it comes from. It's a school math worksheet for my younger daughter, who is eight and in grade two. I'm not sure "data management and probability" were words I could even say at that age. (Then again, I did know what "carbon monoxide" was from my first favourite book.)

As for my other daughter, who is ten, she drew a picture the other day. It's taped to her bedroom door:

Beatles by M (she's 10)

I liked the Beatles at that age too, but she loves them. I had no idea who the individual Beatles were, never mind what instruments they played—especially that Paul played piano as well as bass.

Notice that while John and George are playing their guitars left-handed, which isn't correct, Ringo's drums are frighteningly accurate. And even though his kit didn't have one, hers has a soundhole in the front drum head as most do these days. I guess my work as a drummer has rubbed off a bit.

Kids today. Too damned smart.

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13 March 2008


Chemotherapy will last longer than I expected

Northern Voice 2008 - Chemo hairI thought that yesterday's chemo treatment (which continues, with a bottle I'm hooked up to right now at home, till tomorrow) would be my second last for now. But it won't be. My oncologist Dr. Kennecke recommended yesterday that I take at least four more treatments, totaling 16 since I started in October, then perhaps move on to a different mix of drugs.

That's disappointing, though not a complete surprise. As I mentioned, my last CT scan was good, in that the blood clot in my lung is gone and the small metastatic tumours there have not grown. But that's the thing: the chemo is keeping them at bay. Taking a break as I was hoping to—in order to recover a little and have the surgery that can reconnect my intestines together (so I can poo normally, rather than into a bag glued to the side of my belly)—might risk letting the cancer grow.

And, reasonably enough, I don't want that.

So I've had to readjust my thoughts for this year. When will I be able to start work again, even part-time and from home? I don't know. Will we travel as a family this summer? Likely, but probably not far. Will the chemo keep working, and maybe shrink the tumours eventually? I sure the hell hope so.

I had hoped that the limbo I've been living in during the last five months of chemo—a somewhat sisyphean routine of three days of crappy, foul, vile side effects interrupting two weeks of feeling relatively normal while my hair thins and goes rapidly grey, my fingers get strangely discoloured and dry, and I see pink whenever I blow my nose—might change soon. But no, and I'm okay with that. Just okay.

If my hair gets any scragglier and thinner, I'm seriously considering shaving my head to match my co-host Paul (whose baldness comes more naturally). Fortunately, I've returned to essentially the same weight I was before this whole mess started at the beginning of 2007 (about 90 kg, or 200 pounds), so if I do that I shouldn't look too much like a cancer patient, especially since I still have my big bushy eyebrows.

More positively, my doctor also said I should start exercising regularly again: there's no hazard from my lungs, which seem to be functioning properly, and I've regained most of my strength since my worst state in the summer. I may even ride my bike around Central Park here in Burnaby soon, more than a year and a half since I last took it out. Those tires will need pumping.

So on we go, still alive. On on on.

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14 February 2008


Ten and twenty

Ice cream dome - 2The stereotype is that children seem to grow up instantly, but that's not my experience. Our older daughter turned ten today, Valentine's Day. She was born the same day that Catriona Le May Doan won a gold medal at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. Coincidentally, a couple of our good friends had their first child, also a daughter, two days ago. It occurred to me that by the time this new little girl reaches ten, my daughter will be twenty—the age I graduated from university.

The past ten years haven't, as the saying usually goes, gone by in a flash. They feel like ten years, really. And that's great. When my wife and I each held our friends' newborn yesterday, in the same hospital where our daughters (and I) were born, the little one's tiny sleeping face and delicious infant smell took us back to those early days when we first dove head-first into the sleep deprivation of early parenthood.

Since then we've had another daughter, now eight, and the kids have grown, learned to walk and talk and read and write and ride bikes and play piano, gone to preschool, made friends, started kindergarten, and now are in the second and fourth grades. They're learning math and spelling and have their own blogs and Gmail accounts. It doesn't surprise me that it took a decade to get here.

This spring also marks the twentieth anniversary of the day my wife and I first met, when we both worked as park naturalists for the Greater Vancouver Regional District parks department (now called Metro Vancouver Regional Parks). We were friends for a few years after that at the University of B.C., then lost touch until spring 1994, when we met again and started dating. By our first Valentine's Day, in 1995, we were already sharing a house and planning our wedding, which took place that August:

20 years on

She's been my wonderful Valentine ever since, and I've never wanted another. Twenty years doesn't seem an unreasonable time since then either. We've shared and endured a lot together.

Simply being able to say "I met my wife twenty years ago" does make me feel a bit old, but I like that too. Grey hairs might or might not be a sign of wisdom, but they are a sign that I'm still alive. So 2008 is an important anniversary year, especially following the last one. Happy birthday to my daughter. Happy Valentine's Day to my wife. Happy one more day for me.

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04 January 2008


Grey band

I got my haircut yesterday in the midst of my cancer rollercoaster, so I was away from home all day. My daughters stayed at my parents the whole time, and when I got home, my oldest said, "Daddy, did you lose all your hair in one day?!"

I told her no, it wasn't from chemotherapy. I just got a haircut. But I have noticed that there is now a band of grey hair across the back of my head, from temple to temple, that wasn't there last time I got a short haircut a few months ago:

Grey band

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11 December 2007


Not quite almost impossible

I managed a respectable 37 out of 58 (63.8%, or "Whiz") on Rolling Stone's Almost Impossible Rock 'n' Roll Quiz (via J-Walk). That surprised me, because the questions span the decades, and as is typical for someone like me, my musical tastes and pop-culture knowledge start to peter out around 1995.

Then again, it is Rolling Stone, not exactly the hippest of music magazines anymore. I was also surprised at some of the obscurities I knew, such as who first recorded Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U."

And speaking of oldies, evidence from YouTube and Google Video indicates that Led Zeppelin (with Jason Bonham, son of deceased original drummer John) were in damn fine form yesterday. Check for "Kashmir," "Dazed and Confused," and the opener of "Good Times Bad Times" (always one of my Zep favourites) in particular.

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18 November 2007


Stylin' with age

There's lots of grey hair in the soul patch I've been growing. Maybe I can attribute some of that to chemotherapy, but I think most of it is just age:

Grey soul patch

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