Friday, 17 February 2006

(This is not a techie post, but since there are many people out there asking how I am doing after surgery, I'll write about it here. It will also help me remember how things went and what happened when)

It's two days after my surgery, and I'm heading home this evening from the hospital, which I am looking forward to. This hospital is great (truly), but somehow the idea of having a fire in the fireplace and being in familiar surroundings is more appealing.

My body hurts, pretty bad. Like I got hit by a truck. but it's not the old pain, which is great. I can walk a short while (well, it's a lot like walking, but it's labored at best), and the physical therapist had me walk up and down a flight of training stairs. Who would have known it could be so much work? This is a lot like learning to walk all over again.

I was able to take a quick shower today (they do some fancy stuff with the incision when they close you up, and showering is actually a good thing to do once you're up to standing for that long). Thank goodness! The hot water helped relax some of my tense muscles.

Yesterday was hell. Starting with X-rays (which came out just fine), standing up was very painful - I had terrible muscle spasms in my lower back and legs, along with pain and nausea. Nothing like feeling nauseas and (forgive the graphical discussion) having to puke, which of course hurts like hell since your abdominal muscles contract hard each time. I'm glad that phase seems to be over with.

Kineflex-1More than a few people have asked me what exactly they did to my back during this surgery. I've decided its not a big secret or anything, and that in fact it's really very interesting. First they removed the inter-vertebral disc in the lowest part of my lower back, at the L5/S1 space. Discs in your back are the softer tissues between the bony vertebrae that act as shock absorbers and allow your back to move in all directions. think of them as like a little pillow filled with squishy stuff (well, sort of). Mine was herniated (torn and pooching out into the space where the nerves run) and degenerated (loss of water and height, thinner than it used to be). In other words, pretty much all ragged and shot. The medical term for the thinning and drying out of the disc is "Degenerative Disc Disease." You body won't correct it on it's own - the physical damage is done and it usually just gets worse over time.

Once they removed the bad disc, they put in an artificial disc replacement implant - a spinal prosthesis, you could say. It's called a Kineflex lumbar artificial disc, and you can see a quick video of what it looks like and how it works here. The Kineflex device is a newer design, and I received it through a study program that is comparing the Kineflex disc to the Charite disc as part of a FDA clinical trial in the United States (email or call me if you want some details - contact info is in the right-side menu bar). I did a lot of research - on fusion options, artificial disc options, do-nothing options, individual surgeons, etc - before I decided to go this route. Artificial discs are - in the right patients - an alternative to fusion of the two bones. The ADR devices don't act like a shock absorber (neither does fusion, for that matter), but they do retain close to natural motion in the joint. As you might imagine, it's a fairly expensive procedure, and at least for now insurance companies in the United States are rarely paying for the procedure because it's too new for them (the first model to get FDA approval was the Charite and that was in the fall of 2004), and they instead prefer the fusion route. That's the way health care works.

And for those people looking here for technical posts - well, sorry. They'll be back soon enough.



Add/Read: Comments [8]
Kineflex Artificial Disc Surgery | Personal Stories
Friday, 17 February 2006 13:59:15 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  Trackback
 Monday, 13 February 2006

I've been heard on occasion to suggest that it might be a good (or at least interesting) idea to turn off email in the workplace and to resort to more personal means of communication, like say in-person. Or on the phone. Anything that's not written.

Why? Because, it can be so hard to really understand what someone is saying, and especially difficult (if not impossible) to tell what they mean. When you're talking about business relationships, it's hard to believe one can make good, solid decisions based on conversations as limited as email.

Now there's some research that supports my hair-brained suggestions:

According to recent research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, I've only a 50-50 chance of ascertaining the tone of any e-mail message. The study also shows that people think they've correctly interpreted the tone of e-mails they receive 90 percent of the time.

"That's how flame wars get started," says psychologist Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago, who conducted the research with Justin Kruger of New York University. "People in our study were convinced they've accurately understood the tone of an e-mail message when in fact their odds are no better than chance," says Epley.

One thing's for sure: Simply knowing what the results of this research tell us could make a difference in daily email communication practice.

Does your place of work ever discuss email communication, its pitfalls, and etiquette? Now that's a topic that's worth some face time.

(via wired.com)



Add/Read: Comments [1]
Tech | Things that Suck
Monday, 13 February 2006 07:19:07 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  Trackback
 Sunday, 12 February 2006

If the knife doesn't kill me, the stress just might... On Wednesday at around 7am I'll be up in the Seattle area on a table in a surgical suite, and with any luck about an hour and a half (or so) later I'll be hallucinating and stuff in the recovery room as the proud and successful recipient of a artificial disc replacement at the L5/S1 joint in my lower back. I get to lay around in a hospital bed for a couple/few days, then can head home to lie around a whole lot more.

It's not quite Steve Austin style stuff, but the plan is to replace a collapsed, herniated and generally failed lumbar disc with a mechanical replacement. I'll be like a scaled-down version the bionic man. Not quite six million dollars worth of work (more like in the tens of thousands), but I am told they can rebuild me, they have the technology.

MRI picture from a while backTruth be told, I'm just a bit scared. I've never been through surgery anywhere near this extensive before, and the decision to do this has been a long and tedious process involving a lot of risk and personal decisions. In the past I've had epidural injections of cortisone, lots of physical therapy, a minimally-invasive microdiscectomy surgical procedure, more physical therapy, medication, rest, exercise, you name it. But when a body part's shot, it's just shot.

Since then I decided - after meeting with a few highly regarded and experienced surgeons who told me I'm just delaying the inevitable fusion or artificial disc surgery - to stick it out for a while and see if I could just deal with the pain. The problem is, in order to do that I've had to keep myself from doing a lot of the things one needs to do in a normal life from day to day, as well as a lot of the things that help make life enjoyable, and that's no good.

So, here I am. Surgery could mean a great improvement in my quality of life. Of course it's not without risks (you really want someone operating on your spine?), and the past year has been mostly about deciding whether the risks of the procedure are worth the potential benefits and avoiding surgery. The pain has not improved much if at all, it always limits me, and at many times it's quite unbearable. Life's no good like this. So, it's time. My doctor is very experienced and I have lots of confidence in him. The facility is great. No more excuses.

As always seems to happen (Ask Murphy why, I sure there's a law about it), workplace and life situations, stresses and pressures are coming to a head right about the time I have to do this surgery, but I've decided that I really only get one life, and one body for that life. Jobs are something that can flex and be molded and true friends will wait, so while I'm wanting to get back to work and life as soon as it's realistic, I have to take care of this other stuff first, slow and steady as they say.

But I'm not just worried and scared. I'm also excited. The prospect of healing and being able to do many of the things I used to take for granted is truly something to look forward to - things like loading the trash cans into the truck to take to the dump, or walking the dog more than a quarter mile, or riding a bike or my motorcycle, or sitting in a chair for more than 15 minutes at a time, or even just being able to pick things up off the floor. 

That and not falling flat on my face in the hallway because I twist or step the wrong way, or because I drag my leg and pain shoots out my foot - That's just one of many things I am looking forward to no longer experiencing.

Anyhow, It'll be lighter than usual posting here probably for a little while 'til this is behind me. Maybe a little bit more to write over the next couple days, but come Wednesday I think I'll be rather out of it. Cross your fingers for me.



Add/Read: Comments [11]
Kineflex Artificial Disc Surgery | Personal Stories | Random Stuff
Sunday, 12 February 2006 13:30:38 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  Trackback

This world's really not a very fair place.

Robert Scoble called "foul" on the whole Google GMail for domains story yesterday, which has since engendered a whole set of responses to his post, in both his comments and on a number of other weblogs. For what it's worth, like Robert and others, when I saw the Gmail for domains news spread I also wondered where the heck everyone was when MSN did the Windows Live Custom Domains thing (heck, they day it was announced back in November I set up a domain on it and wrote about it here on this weblog). So yeah, Microsoft already did it, and did it quite well for the record. And I guess maybe you could say it went mostly unnoticed, if you want. Not sure I'd agree, but that's debatable. You could also say that hey, it's not about the domains, it's about the GMail (which, face it, people love).

The fact is, Google is in the spotlight right now, and all the people sitting out here in the audience are paying close attention. Google plays it smart - they tend to hold new ideas somewhat close and secret, and then kick them out the door and into the pool one day to see if they'll sink or swim. This they call a "beta." Microsoft has done a little of the same, but not in quite the same way. Google is a company that has - quite effectively - captured the eyes, ears and imaginations of a huge and hungry audience, so it's no real surprise when the company does something new and people talk a lot about it. Apple's another example of a company that's capturing audience attention cycles. Microsoft, while having made great strides in terms of being viewed by the greater audience as a creative, agile and "imagineering" company, still has a bit of an uphill battle to fight with some in the audience. But things are much better than, say, a year ago. That's progress.

It's also important to understand that the audience wants a Google character - the colorful, mysterious yet well-known underdog that you're are not quite sure about, who gets the attention of everyone in the room every time he (or she) walks through the door. It's a good gig for an actor like Google to land at this point in its career, and the audition's been a tough one. Microsoft, on the other hand, is more like the established, experienced character actor. The audience knows what to expect and many even like the character, who's gained in popularity recently due to some decent films and scripts. But the character actor mold is a hard one to break out of and the scripts have changed. It takes a great vehicle to get the audience's attention, and even then the proof is in the performance. Only then can you win over a whole new audience. It can happen, but it sure can be difficult.

Anyhow, bad analogies aside, where the debate starts to break down and turn sideways is when suggestions of AdSense ethical hipocracy and bought motivations are tossed around. According to that theory, I'm beholden to Google because I run AdSense ads? Or is that only if I write about Google's new services and run AdSense ads? What if I use Google as my main search engine? What if I have a Gmail account? Seriously, people... Let's think for a few minutes about AdSense and blogging and influence and being beholden to anyone.

I have AdSense ads on my weblog. It's pretty obvious. And my ads earn more than the couple of bucks a day that some others have mentioned (substantially more, by following a few basic design and placement rules - worth checking out). But just because my AdSense ads made a notable dent in my tax return refund this year, that doesn't mean I am in any way influenced by or beholden to Google. I think Google's a cool company that's doing some very interesting things, but anyone who knows me is perfectly aware that Microsoft is a company I have many ties to, and that their products are ones I have leveraged extensively. The fact that I have AdSense ads on my site is indicative of only one thing: that they are there. If I wanted, I could choose some other ad vendor, and there are plenty of others out there.

In fact, from what I hear, Microsoft's coming out with something similar to AdSense... So, if I switch over to that program and drop AdSense from my weblog, does that mean if I then write about Microsoft products and skip over Google's stuff that I would be bowing down to the Microsoft money? Should Google employee bloggers complain out loud if that happens? Would they? Questions worth pondering.

Heck, if I switched to a Microsoft-provided ad program, I'd likely be accused of being too one sided, not enough fair-and-balanced in my overall approach. But then again, that whole equal-time thing was thrown out years ago.

Look, people have opinions, and not everyone has mine. I actually kind of like it that way.

I write about things that capture my attention and things I believe in. I don't really give a damn who's ads are running where, or whether it's Microsoft, Google or any other company that's serving them up. And Google doesn't seem to care what I write about, and I don't even think about it when it comes time to author a weblog post. In almost every case, I believe others operate in pretty much the same way. I was one of those people who wrote about the Windows Live Custom Domains when that service was released, but I didn't have to. I haven't had a chance yet to see what Google has to offer in it's new service, but when I do get to see it I'll probably comment about that here, as well. We'll see if it captures my attention.

On average, people are generally smarter and more ethical than we want to give them credit for when our feelings are hurt. The group-think mentality that occurs in the blogosphere is an interesting phenomenon, and can even be problematic. And it goes both ways. Group think leads to closed lines of thought partners, and if one thinks there's undue influence from AdSense, one might want to look instead at the influence that comes from the same closed groups of bloggers feeding each other like ideas and thoughts all the time.

And then if you think that's bad, get a group of opinionated bloggers together in a room, raise a controversial point, and in my experience the problem can get even bigger. Much bigger. But it sure is a lot of fun to stand back and watch. Heh.

Speaking more generally and stepping back from this particular debate, realize blogs are complicated things under the hood - in the content. They're really only conversational in that there's a way to respond (in comments or on your own blog). But in terms of mimicking a face-to-face conversation, I've noticed more and more recently that there's no opportunity to stop somebody in their tracks and to challenge their point before their foot gets lodged in their teeth. It's more often a speech platform with a method for the reader to write a quick letter to the editor. Not that it's a bad model - I love it. But it does lend itself to rants (hence my weblog URL) and diatribes when authors use them for that purpose. Sometimes that means grandstanding, not conversation. At least we have comments, on most blogs.

And let me say this: Robert's not entirely wrong about this whole mess. I don't always agree with him, but I like him and he's a smart guy - and he has a valid point to make. The positioning of the new Google service as being ground-breaking or even substantially original was not well researched and was simply incomplete in reporting and writing. Is the world giving Google credit for something Microsoft did? Well, maybe, but not really. They're definitely talking about what Google's been up to. Did they miss part of the story? Yeah, they sure did, but more important than drummed up hypotheses about whether or not bloggers are influenced by small-potatoes advertising is the fundamental question: Why isn't Microsoft getting more attention when it does great things? I know people who work on the teams that didn't et the credit in this situation, and I agree - someone needs to cry foul. But not with weak advertising ethics accusations. That just muddies the waters and takes the conversation to the point of nastiness.

I like the way Reeves confronted the same issue on the MailCall blog maintained by HotMail team members:

"Working for Microsoft in Silicon Valley can be a surreal experience.  Just the other day I ordered cheeseburger and the person serving me my lunch asked me if I knew that Google had invented the idea of cheesy meat between two slices of bread three years ago… and it's been in beta ever since. :-)  Yeah, yeah, perhaps I’m being dramatic but sometimes I feel like Google is going to overshadow Al Gore and get credit for inventing the Internet.

"Joke as I may, it does get to me every once in a while...especially when we've been working like crazy on something, already have it in market, have gotten great customer response, but everybody thinks someone else did it first."

My opinion? Microsoft has a lot of people who worked hard and delivered a product that Google later released a remarkably similar version of (with less features), and the Microsoft people didn't get notice. And they should be. But none of this was likely brought on by financial influence - real or assumed, big or small - from Google-provided advertising.

One problem in this particular situation might be that Microsoft's product is called "Windows Live Custom Domains." Now, I know what the WLCD service is and how cool it is, but only because I went and looked. Not from the name. The fact that I have to acronymize it is one clue that the name could be better. It doesn't say "email and instant messaging services" to me. And yes I know there's a bit more to it than mail and IM. Google calls theirs "GMail for your domain." That's a name I can quickly get my brain around. In the "Don't Make Me Think" department, Google creates and names most things quite aptly.

Now we can just wait to see if Google will start telling us how they're "innovating" with all these "borrowed" ideas of theirs. Heh... Now wouldn't that be perfect?

At any rate, in my opinion it's really not a question of ethics this time around. It is a question of audience, actors, script and venue. It's a question of who's paying attention to whom, and why. And sometimes that hurts.

Get my attention, and I'll tell others. Heck, I already do. And you don't even have to pay me.



Add/Read: Comments [0]
Blogging | Tech
Sunday, 12 February 2006 13:08:13 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  Trackback
 Friday, 10 February 2006

My co-worker Alex sent this across in email today...

Programmer or Serial Killer?

Take the quiz - can you tell the programmers fro the serial killers?

My score - 7/10.



Add/Read: Comments [1]
Humor | Random Stuff
Friday, 10 February 2006 17:56:28 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  Trackback
 Thursday, 09 February 2006

People everywhere are commenting on the press release sent out Thursday by Research in Motion (RIM) earlier today regarding their software workaround that they have ready in the wings, should they lose an injunction hearing in a US court later this month.

Interestingly, the comments lean toward overwhelmingly positive. While I'm certainly glad RIM's doing something in the contingency planning department, and while I truly appreciate RIM's service and excellent devices, I just don't see things as all happy and cheerful and rosy. Call me a stick in the mud, or call me pragmatic. Whatever. I'n not a Blackberry or RIM hater, just someone who's caught in the middle of a problem that many other IT pro's can relate to.

RIM's has this workaround going for some time, and their announcement today comes just a couple weeks before the ruling. Previous reports indicate the judge in the case, if he issues the injunction, might provide a four week buffer before the injection would become active (that's what the complainant, NTP, has asked for, anyhow). That means in about six weeks, every Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES) and every Blackberry handheld in the United States (maybe everywhere) might have to be updated with a software patch that RIM has yet to describe or provide. Not only that, but there's no indication made as to what versions of the BES software will be upgradeable and when that software might be delivered.

Or - who knows - maybe it will only apply to new devices when they're sold, and not ones already out there. But the servers - well no way to avoid changes there if the injunction is issued.

For what it's worth, I think this whole thing is an unfortunate pain in the backside, one which could and should have been avoided by both sides of the dispute long ago. But now we're stuck here, all of us, and it's no good. Invalidated patents being used to claim intellectual property rights are at issue, and millions of people are potentially impacted.

So I don't know about you, but no matter what happens in the court, this situation represents an expensive, time consuming and complicated set of upgrade circumstances. If RIM wants to do this the right way, seems to me maybe it's time to issue the workaround software now, get it out there in the hands of the people that need to deploy it, and then leverage it if and when it's needed. From RIM's statements, it looks like that should be a viable option:

"BlackBerry Multi-Mode Edition is a software update that enables underlying changes to the message delivery system. BlackBerry Multi-Mode Edition provides two modes of operation: Standard mode and US mode. When users are outside the US, and receiving service from a non-US service provider, the BlackBerry device operates in Standard mode and there are no changes to the current message delivery system or BlackBerry functionality."

Or at least state what versions of the server software can be upgraded should the need arise, and when. In a world where enterprise change management and production system testing requirements reign, especially on a platform as fundamentally sensitive as the BES system (secure messaging is a critical piece of infrastructure), four to six weeks is so little time as to be impossible for some.

I've carried Blackberry devices now for years, and I've worked with and managed the BES software for just as long. It's not the simplest stuff, and it's something companies rely on for their day to day operations. It's not just a nice-to-have, it's an integral piece of operational infrastructure.

Regardless of who's right or wrong in the legal case, it might just be time for RIM to stop the dancing, get off the floor, and pay the valet to bring the coach. It's getting late, and someone's ride is starting to look a bit like a pumpkin.



Add/Read: Comments [3]
Mobile | Tech
Thursday, 09 February 2006 22:59:45 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  Trackback