The Great Vaccination Debate Rages On.

2102130614_f6ee7473ff_oBefore I was so rudely interrupted by technology, I had written a bit about vaccinations and looking at whether or not it was sensible – really for people who were sensible. There’s not much to be done about those that are not sensible; that’s just the way humanity is and, should we have forgotten, being sensible isn’t necessarily being right.

Since I wrote that, a few things have happened.

Some old classmates were going back and forth on a facebook post with some amusingly open ended innuendo related to vaccination when out of the blue, I got a Facebook call from one of them. I normally don’t do Facebook calls but for some reason, I picked up because hey, it’s an old classmate, I wasn’t writing and I had sufficient coffee to entertain the thoughts of someone else.

Nigel, as it happens, had a lot to say. He went through the same process I did, he understood that I chose to get vaccinated because I’m managing my comorbidities. We had a pretty good discussion and even though he has chosen not to get vaccinated yet, I’m comfortable with him being sensible about his decision. His stance is educated and nuanced – he’s not a doctor, he knows he’s not, but there are so many vaccinations one can get and choices have to be made. Really, he doesn’t know which one has the most value to him, or any value at all.

We talked a bit about social responsibility, and the possibility of those having taken a vaccination – like myself – finding out that they may have made a mistake.

I laughed about this because, as it happens, the vaccine I did end up taking is the one that was available at the time and isn’t recognized by some countries for travel. Had I known more when making the decision, I might have waited til others were available, but the information just wasn’t there and neither were the other vaccines. Having recovered mostly from my surgery – I can’t go physically full tilt for about a year- I made the choice based on the information I had.

All decisions are like that, you see. Only in classrooms is all the data provided. In life, you just do the best you can with the information at hand. If you have lived long enough, truly lived, then you do not regret the decisions even though you may regret a lack of knowledge before making the decision.

It was a fun talk, really. It wasn’t a debate, it was an exploration of positions between 2 sensible people who have enough mutual respect to not shout down others.

Through this conversation and a few others, I came up with a quick summary of what vaccinations do:

They may keep you from getting as sick from new strains (individual level), and thus they may allow less people to be hospitalized and so reduce strain on medical infrastructure when a new strain shows up in humanity.

I happened to be at the hardware yesterday because I had heard of the mythical power of steam mops, and I ended up listening to some employees talking about vaccinations. There were the two sides of it. One or two were going on and on about how mystical and magical the vaccinations were for slaying the Covid-19 virus and it was a bit much. I would tell them later that they had too much icing for the cake.

When I dropped my summary, both sides of the debate agreed and that was that.

When presented with that simple summary, I’m finding people aren’t as turned off from discussion because it’s short, it’s accurate, and it acknowledges ‘maybe’.

Would I like to see more people vaccinated? Certainly. Does their lack of vaccination create a direct threat to me? No. Fear on either side leads to some really polarizing conversations.

The truth is that most people I encounter these days are a bit tired of being afraid. Maybe – and I say this emphatically – maybe if people stop being so polarizing, we can make some progress, or at the least, not be douchebags to each other.

After all, I don’t really like when people talk down to me, or shout at me. I tend to ignore their message.

I’m pretty sure most people are like that.

Writing and Technology

We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works.
                 Original image by me.

It happens to me far too often. I’ll have an idea, head to a keyboard – there are a few around my place – and something will interrupt my flow of writing itself. Last week, I logged into my Chromebook only to find out that Google had decided that they weren’t supporting it anymore and that they would nag me forever if I used ChromeOS. This was easily beaten sinceI had Linux Mint on it already from years ago, but to remember the login information… update the Linux apps… what was I writing about again?

I shopped around for a replacement to carry around should I be out and about when there was something I needed to do. I can do most everything with Linux, but there is a convenience with ChromeOS for some things I do while out and about, so new equipment was needed, but not too much. I wanted a simple process for, as an example, writing posts like these.

Back in the days before the Internet, younglings, there were standalone word processors that allowed one to simply write. Before that, typewriters – Stephen King wrote about balancing a typewriter on his knees in the laundry room of a trailer when he wrote ‘Carrie’.1 Before that, there was pen and paper, and so on, and so on.

Things somehow still got written.

I ended up with a Samsung Tablet, a simple A7, with a bluetooth keyboard this time around, and was using it to write this –  only to find out that the WordPress.com app does weird things with my keyboard (no other app seems to), which sent me down the rabbit hole on that. And, I’m sorry, I hate the WordPress.com app as much as I have the whole block thing. I just want to be able to write, not do a bunch of blocks of content.

This is why I often do drafts by hand, still, surrounded by all this technology, a somewhat former software engineer that writes. I’d mentioned that to someone yesterday, about my process of writing starting by hand. They looked at me funny, offering tech solutions to a problem I have wrestled with for years.

I shook my head and smiled. I just want to write, not fiddle with tech.

1 Stephen King, “On Writing: A Memoir of The Craft (2002).

Vaccination? Think It Through.

2102121338_e3e031aeff_oYou might have heard something about this Covid-19 pandemic. It’s been a thing for a while. It’s causes all sorts of people to say all sorts of things behind masks, in front of masks, or without masks.

And everyone, of course, is an expert except, apparently, actual experts who disagree with one’s point of view. Covid-19 had nothing to do with that, it’s a common human problem which oddly has not been as self-limiting as some would wish it to be.

Covid-19 is relatively new to us, and it’s been demonstrating all sorts of weaknesses in human societies, from medical infrastructures to economies. We’ve been wearing masks and washing our hands, and hopefully the rest of our bodies, pretty well at this point. From a collective perspective, we’ve done pretty well. The argument against masks – remember, there’s still that – is that they don’t block everything. Of course not. But they block some, and the whole point of that was to ‘flatten the curve’ – a trendy way of saying, “we just want to slow things down so our medical infrastructure can handle things”.

There are still people posting on social media against masks. There are still questions about it’s efficacy. Yet in the grand scheme of things, masks aren’t as much trouble to wear. People complained about wearing condoms when HIV first came out when there were a multitude of other reasons to wear condoms (STDs and unplanned children), but some people were still pretty strongly against condoms.

So, in response to this pandemic, very well educated and experienced people who don’t post much on social media because they have stuff to do have created vaccines.

There’s different brands of vaccines, different countries that produce them, and different marketing. We’ll get back to this

Governments have varying levels of access to different vaccines, and they’re trying to vaccinate as many as they can because that’s what we expect governments to do: To at least try to do things.

And of course, we expect vaccinations will help.

Generally, I’ve found both the arguments for and against vaccination somewhat dumb. I’ll explain why.

Bear in mind I’m no expert, bear in mind I am not pretending to be, but bear with me.

(1) The Covid-19 vaccinations are largely untested at the level that other vaccines have been tested. This is no surprise. They were pushed out fast. And yes, they didn’t go through the rigorous testing. Let’s face facts, we are indeed the experiment, and yes, the data is messy because we’re in the middle of the experiment. So that argument really doesn’t go to either side.

(2) The Covid-19 vaccinations may not work against new strains. Well, we sort of knew that going in. That’s how vaccinations work. Influenza vaccines get updated frequently for this reason, perhaps too often, and are a multi-billion dollar industry. In 2020, the market was 5.86 billion US dollars. And there’s 290 000-650 000 influenza-related respiratory deaths worldwide, annually.

Compare that to over 4 million deaths in a year from Covid-19. So, if you’ve been getting your influenza shots, you have no business arguing the Covid-19 vaccinations from this standpoint when deaths are roughly around
800% to 900% more per year. If you haven’t been getting influenza shots, the same argument applies. Vaccines win here.
And the marketing? The different vaccines? The different articles? Works in progress. We’re in the middle of the experiment and there are no good answers.

(3) Vaccinations may have side effects. Sure. And this is why you talk to your doctor and why you should listen to what your doctor has to say about your particular case when it comes to Covid-19 vaccination instead of someone on social media. The lethal side effects of the vaccinations have been so small as to be considered negligible. In the case of Moderna, 339 million doses went out, 2 cases of TTS (Thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome) happened in the United States.  That’s 0.000000571%. Side effects: Not a good argument against vaccinations.

Yes, there may be side effects we don’t know about yet, but the odds are likely lower than the ones we do know about, and if not, we’re sort of screwed anyway, aren’t we? So vaccines win here.

(4) YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!

OK, you win, I can’t tell you what to do, nobody should tell you what to do. I agree with the principle. You’re all grown up. But if this is your argument, I’m thinking you spent more time deciding what to get in the fast food line at lunch than you did about the vaccinations. If you’re truly going to act in your own best interests, perhaps you should research just a little bit more. And listen to Doctors. After all, while they may not have your social media connections, they did study medicine for, in the case of young doctors, roughly 1/3rd of their lives.

So, all in all… while there are good arguments against vaccination, they’re not quite good enough. This is the what I did before I got my own vaccination, because I have comorbidities, I recently had surgery, and I’m not going to screw around with this stuff.

No, I don’t think it should be legislated, I think that people should have the right to refuse it. I do. It’s a civil issue. But if we’re going to have that civil issue, we need people to actually think about their decisions – and even then, I know it’s complicated and it’s likely to get legislated because people aren’t thinking through their decisions. A misfortune, really, because by not thinking through one’s decisions…. in cases like this… eventually, decisions are made for individuals.

Refining a Soundtrack Of Whispers

Whisper Fiercely
Original image by Henry Woods, 1894, via OldBookIllustrations.com.

I’ve been delinquent a while as I have pretended to live, going through the motions as I waited for inspiration to strike. It’s a rut that many people live in, doing the same things over and over, a life of repetition that some enjoy. I have found that I am passable at being normal. As a writer, I have procrastinated more than written. I tried using my other experience to help others, and I I’m not sure that I have failed as much as they have – there is a wisdom in that to contemplate.

In doing all of this, I have shot tendrils of myself out into things I haven’t done before, or haven’t done well, or could do better. One of these things relates to one of my passions, music – but probably not the music you might enjoy, those who find themselves neatly in a category. I am at home listening to The Hu, Marillion, and Passenger, to name some. The top 40 is a curse of radio in the world of social media.

My former music teachers in will tell you that I was a dismal failure, that I did not apply myself, etc. My former art teachers would say the same.A few weeks ago, it struck me that my math teacher would have said the same, and I am not deficient in Math. My former Physics teacher actually kicked me out of class in high school only to find out later that I was studying Nuclear Propulsion in the Navy. Why did I listen to some and not others? Perhaps who I was at the time, and who I was at the time is not who I am now.

At Karaoke, with enough alcohol in me a few that I know and many that I fortunately don’t have heard my violent and bloody attempts to sing, and some were drunk enough to appreciate them. Perhaps I’m not that bad, but the point is that I’m not that good and I’m quite certain of it. Still, I have a love of music – it has been my opiate when things are bad, it has been my pedestal upon from which I dove into enjoying accomplishments that few could understand much less appreciate.

As someone who read poetry under the unwavering tutelage of Tom Reese at the old Beaux Arts in St. Petersburg, Florida, a way of connecting with my mother who also wrote and read her own poetry, I found I had some oratory ability and with his patience and sometimes complete lack of it (those who knew Tom Reese will know well what I mean), but the expressiveness of voice was something I appreciated more than I practiced. I’m sorry, Tom, and ‘Mad’ Anthony Wayne Waite, my bill collectors made me choose the pragmatic path. Plus, I am an introvert, after all. 

Thus, I found myself enjoying The Charismatic Voice channel on YouTube. A whole new world opened up for me. I began to understand how different singers could evoke different emotions and effect. It’s an amazing world. I shopped around for different ‘reaction’ sort of YouTube videos and ended up sticking with The Charismatic Voice, through subjective good and subjective bad. It’s actually a pretty interesting business model in that every video becomes it’s own ‘channel’ that attracts some more than others. Some hop. I finally did find one song being analyzed – one artist – that I was completely blech about, but as with writing, reading bad writing or styles one doesn’t agree with often gives us tools we don’t use the same way, or to different effect.

I found, as with most things like this that happen in life, that it made me revisit my own life soundtrack, a soundtrack of what I consider my personal whispers in a world that continuously shouts and screams. As we grow older, it becomes more and more difficult to do this – I can’t tell you how many times over the last decade that I have read new books on old topics and had to re-evaluate for days, how decisions need to be weighed differently, how I need to look at things differently, and now, how I need to listen to things differently.

This, I suppose, is what the elite call refinement.

Bread

So, there’s this sourdough bread I found at a local store, and I like it a lot.
 
The texture is perfect. If you toast it, the inside retains it’s inner texture while the outside becomes toasted – something I consider ‘proper toast’, which commercial breads generally don’t make well because they are mainly… air, and they dry faster in toasters, and they come out with the chewing texture of poorly made bricks – brittle, and a hint at something one could throw a rock at and just miss being bread.
 
Proper toast your teeth love. First, there is a satisfying crunch when it is toasted, as well as enough resistance for your jaw to slow ever so slightly. This makes for happy incisors. The bread then gets chewed, and all the way to the molars, the texture rolls over them in a wave of happiness.
 
This, I did not realize, is important to me. Almost 50 years on the planet and I had no idea that this was important to me. All those years of eating stuff accused of being bread by overzealous marketing departments.
 
So, thinking about all of this, I stared at myself in my mental mirror and gasped at the sight of someone I see more distant than I had thought.

Who is this guy, and where has he been?

My Days These Days

187049408_10158850138365860_7150073462340448210_n

Someone asked how I get through these days where people are forced to act like introverts.

I start my morning early, in the dark with a lamp behind me, reading. The light creeps into the world and begins coloring it with palettes beyond our eyes interpretation. The spectrums clash magnificently with sunrise. This is the signal of my first break.

The desk suffers only the electronics of reading devices, dominated by paper and ink. Different books grace it’s cedar surface over time as the world revolves, as mankind’s world spills through like the spill of an oil tanker, suffocating what is beneath it.

Our minds can easily become as cluttered as the world inherited from and modified by other cluttered minds. I don’t know about anyone else, but I have found it to weigh me down since my teenage years, so I normally shake it off with some free writing – something I call ‘pre-writing’ these days. I sit and write what’s on my mind until there is nothing on my mind, or something I find extraordinarily interesting pops up.

The pen scribbles on paper, these notes kept on the desk until something inspires cleaning the mess – and I leaf through them to see if there’s anything that is worth keeping. Generally, no, but sometimes there’s something worth fleshing out. This continues until it doesn’t, and normally it gets stacked onto the pile of loose sheets that accumulate. Today, it made it over to the ‘Keyboard desk’, the place where I interact with the world.

I’ve been speaking with a few people here and there who suddenly find themselves forced introverts while Trinidad and Tobago goes through increasing lock downs and now a State of Emergency because of the Covid-19 resurgence, and they seem desperately out of sorts at times.

algorithmsfearWhatsApp chats flare up as the ever present harbinger’s of doom inundate them with every possible negative thing that they can share. As if the world wasn’t challenge enough, there are some who just want other people’s noses in it. “See! You’re depressed? Frustrated? Well, here, get more depressed, more frustrated!” seems the intent of those who, in reality, who should have been tested for their neuroses before being given license to use a communication device.

The sources of all this media fodder creeps in through algorithms that likely feed everyone’s favorite neuroses. I often tell people that if they are surrounded by information that sucks, maybe they’re looking for information that sucks. Garbage in, garbage out. 

The mouthpieces of politicians will also have their say in these chats, whether they are knowing or unknowing mouthpieces, and the words of politicians are as distant to me as the worlds they live in are to my world. Our worlds rarely collide, and when they do I generally roll my eyes and sigh.

Also, I get copies of the local newspapers in these chats, in PDF form, and I wonder how that has happened for years when it’s a violation of copyright laws. For those of you old enough to remember the kind thoughts you might have had when someone propped open the newspaper box so you didn’t have to fish for coins, screwing over the owner of the box that day as people continue propping it open. That is why you rarely see those boxes now – and may be why physical papers are doomed. We just love sharing things, even when someone says they don’t belong to us.

People are anxious. They’re picking at any little bit of information they can find and magnifying it beyond original meanings. News from trusted sources is slow, news from untrusted sources is fast, and social media seems more of a curse these days than a blessing. People want fast media like they want fast food, and like fast food, they generally don’t care too much about the service. The rude person as a cashier at a fast food place runs rampant even while the lines for fast food stay constant. The same holds true of crappy media.

Why this love affair exists defies me. I never understood it.

The metaphor extends well into how healthy fast food is. What fast food does to your body, bad media can do to your mind.

Then, I suppose, are the editors that demand 4,000 words for a 400 word story because they need to cover more space in a newspaper or because their Search Engine Optimization require it – “and would you mind adding these keywords into the story?”

I have friends fighting anxiety. I advise them to watch comedy on YouTube, or do something that keeps them away from their phones. The reality is not that horrible, really. Cut down on physical human interaction, you’ll find the people that actually matter most in your life and, hopefully, treat them appropriately. The grocery story cashier. The doctors. Maybe the police, always the pharmacist for those tied to their life or quality of life through the threads of chemistry, pharmacology. You may be actually happy on the odd occasion you run into someone you normally would avoid, simply for that small bit of human contact, and appreciate them that much more.

Those are the relationships that tide us through some of the most difficult times. People who have not truly seen difficult times do not understand this – you’ll know them by their spoiled demeanor. Those who look down on others from a height, not realizing how fragile their shells are until they fall from that height and find no one to catch them. All the king’s horses, all the king’s men…   

Isn’t it peculiar that these are the jobs paid small amounts, but the non-essentials make better money? Odd, our priorities.

I look out onto the road outside during the hours when traffic is normally high on a Monday morning. It’s quiet, the odd car dashing sprinting where they were doomed to crawling amongst the non-essential masses before. The birds shout and grow quiet, surprised at their own volume in the relative stillness.

Misty Outline
Illustration by Odilon Redon (1840-1916), France

It is about that time to write, for I have uncluttered now. The world as it is accepted by so many has floated away, the mind unfettered can do it’s work as it was meant to, and after 6 hours, my work will begin after some coffee, a read of where I left off, some bouts of procrastination, etc.

I will write til I can write no more, and then I will nap, and then I will write more or try to. If even I write one page for the day, I will sit at the desk for at least 8 hours today, occasionally stopping to look for a reference, obscured in my mind, or to look up something to make sure I’m writing something accurately or as accurately as I can.

The darkness will come, eventually, the light growing weaker as the day streams to an end. Tomorrow, the day will be the same.

Wondering About Blogging

One of the things that I consider just about every time I log in to write something here is how much the world suffers from incessant social media posts about the same things. See, I’ve been blogging since 1999 – and I’ve seen it all start, seen it all go crazy, and seen what it is today which, in my mind, is a hangover of that crazy.

I recall a period when I was a Communications Manager for a Drupal shop for a brief period, and the constant barrage of “we need to write stuff on the blog” from the CEO. Certainly, I found the CEO a jerk and even told him so in person in NYC, but all of that notwithstanding there is a constant pressure to produce when blogging because of the way it all got monetized. Being first became more important than being right – and I do believe that this has leaked across the media, where journalism itself is constantly on trial with a readership that is baited by headlines into things that can, and sometimes do, misrepresent the story completely.

I used to blog incessantly. At least one story a day. And where I ‘failed’ and continue to ‘fail’ as a ‘successful blogger’ is not writing about the same topic because I like exploring different topics, mixing them, and making sense of them in a broader way. Where ‘blogging’ wants me to be frenetically writing about the same thing ad nauseam, I want to fly and explore and take anyone interested with me.

Some people, I suppose, thrive on specialization, but some of us don’t.

The other side of it is the pace at which we publish: Search algorithms are tailored for more frequently updated websites to show up higher in search results. Everything is moving faster, but really, maybe it’s not a bad idea to slow down and think things through before communicating in any manner.

Maybe people need to think a bit more.

I don’t know, I’m just putting it out there with my own biases on open display. I write when I want to, when I feel that there is something to say, because to do so when you don’t have anything meaningful to say is of lesser value to me than a well thought out bit of writing. One that takes the reader on a journey. One that points at things and asks, “What if?”

Are we with blogs simply adding cacophony to this ubiquitous human nervous system on the planet, looking for reflex actions of likes and shares instead of conscious and coherent thought?

Thoughts?

The Unremarked Lives.

Misty OutlineA day or so ago, someone commented on my post about my first surgery on this slab of meat that I inhabit. And they said, “One might call you generally unremarkable.” Taken out of context, that’s a bit of a slap. Taken in context, as it was done, was also a bit of a slap filled with assumption, but I gauged the intent otherwise and decided to interpret it as, “One might call your health generally unremarkable.”

But take a moment. Why would one have to dig into that? Because we all want to feel that we are remarkable in our own way. That somehow, we’re special.

I’m certain of who I am, and I’m certain that my life so far has not been like others, and I can say that with a grim authority that only I may have because I am special in my own right and, gentle reader, no matter how unremarked your life is, there is something remarkable about you – if even it is that, should you somehow be unremarkable, that you are remarkable.

To be unremarkable is certainly worthy of remark. There has to be something about cognitive dissonance regarding the uniformity vs. being special aspect of humanity.

While someone who doesn’t know you well could say that you have an unremarkable life, the reality is that they cannot tell because they have not seen any remark and thus have paid less attention to you – because that, too, is how it works. Popularity, a complex subject by itself, drives what people think is remarkable. If someone sings very well and sells their music, it doesn’t make them popular. Are they unremarkable? Or are they just unremarked? That a relatively small newspaper writes an article about you – let’s assume positively – means to that audience, you are considered remarked upon and therefore, possibly, remarkable. Possibly.

The harsh reality is that the vast majority of people live unremarked lives other than being statistics for revenue streams or votes, and the only reason that they are seen as remarkable is when they affect them. In social media, we call them social media influencers. This sounds like a really impressive thing to be because one who is an influencer and gets to find out can have all sorts of effect on society. They can convince people to drink Kool-Aid in Jonestown, Guyana, or to work together for bettering something or the other in society. To be an influencer is to have a level of responsibility that, arguably, wiser people might avoid.

And so, the only truly unremarkable people in an age where social media has made it possible for everyone to shout or whisper, “Look at me!”, are those unremarked.

To be unremarked today is to be quite remarkable.

The Surgery

doctors-call-768It was planned, this surgery, and while the particulars aren’t important, I found the process worth writing about. After all, people poking about in one’s body has become remarkably commonplace in the last century.

No one holds the gas light anymore, since Nikola Tesla blessed us with alternating current and Edison takes credit for the light bulb. Centuries prior to that, bacteria was discovered by Antoni van Leeuwenhoek in 1676. Robert Hooke who described the fruiting structures of molds in 1665, which also puts him in the running on that. We could go on and on about all the technology that brought us to modern medicine, and we probably should at some point though I leave it to the reader to affect their own diversion on this.

Suffice to say, medicine has come a long way, and as an old Navy Corpsman who had peered into the insides of others, I was well heeled for this. I went in at the appointed time, was promptly tested for Covid-19, the ever present reality of our time. I then found myself upstairs with a Cuban nurse who matter-of-factly told me I should take everything off and put on a gown, surgical slippers and a hairnet which I was told was for my hair – and I had to wonder where someone else had placed it in the past to create such a need.

A young man, 19 years old, was in line before me for the Surgeon, so I knew I would wait until he was off the assembly line. He looked calm up to the last moment I last saw him, but his calm was that of a bomb, appropriately scared of what would come next. At 49, with the life experience I had, I had an idea.

The anesthesiologist came in and saw him – quite clear and calm, hailing from India if I had to guess, brisk and efficient, which promoted confidence in me but not as much in the younger man as I heard his voice quiver with answers. He would not be getting the general anesthesia I would, and he had concerns that he felt he was being rushed through – but it was just the unfamiliarity of it all, I think. There is little that really prepares you for this sort of thing except actual experience, and mine was not that of being on the bed that much.

Myself? I have been poked, I have been prodded, I have been stitched and I have stitched, having performed minor surgeries myself in the Navy. Still, the mind wanders. I would not calm him with the history of why Surgeon’s are called ‘Mister’ in the UK, a history of the surgeons being that of butchers – really, butchers – that came in through the back door to homes to ply their trade. We are all simply slabs of meat made kinetic through ways we still do not fully understand. Admittedly, I am more marbled than I used to be, but this surgery would allow me to lean up again.

The anesthesiologist then visited me, a loud and clear voice, and we spoke at length about pain management, alternative pain management (he had just read a paper out of Jamaica on the use of marijuana for pain management, a topic we both warmed to), and I was comfortable with him as I was the surgeon who showed up not much later. 

The young man left for surgery, and I wish I had brought a book though I was not comfortable with the gown. I understood why I needed to wear it, but I did not like wearing it, but preferred an attempt at dignity provided rather than what I knew was coming.

Time passed.

I heard him come back and his discomfiture. The nurses had their hands full, he was panicked and possibly in pain and cold. I empathized knowing my time was coming, but with a bit more experience. I’d never worked the OR myself, only in emergency situations at that old Naval Hospital in Orlando, now a VA clinic. My experience was all about emergencies. It was not about the planning and hoops one must jump through for a planned surgery. He calmed, I suspect that they sedated him while piling a blanket on him.

Now they would be prepping the OR for me. It took an indeterminate amount of time – my timepieces were not with me, but it seemed long waiting and short in retrospect. And then I was wheeled off, an uncomfortable experience. And then the worn ceiling tiles made way for the solid ceiling of the OR, two lights above and I commented to the nurses and anesthesiologist and scrub nurses that they really had a nicer ceiling than elsewhere. We wrestled me over to the surgical table, parts of me helping and parts of me not for reasons I could not describe. I was told firmly that they would be doing everything and I should stop helping.

“I’m not used to that.”
“We know. But you have to let us do this.”, the Cuban nurse said.
“OK.”, I responded, sounding hollow. I do not like losing control. I do not like it at all, but I knew I had to, and thus… I tried.

The gas mask came down, “Breathe in deeply, then breathe out”. Simple instructions, easy enough, though the gas took me back to when I was a young boy – I knew the smell. It was the smell of the gas that a dentist once tried to use on me and failed – his mistake being telling me about pink elephants, which through power of suggestion, I saw. He and I did not know until then that I was not fond of pink elephants, trunk to tail, one baleful eye each staring at me as they slowly trudged.

I struggled, surprising myself. The anesthesiologist had it under control, “You are anxious. It’s ok. You know this, you can do this, breathe in and out.” Perfect. Had a dentist told me that 4 decades prior, I would not have reacted this way that time, but there it is. In, out. Deeply in, deeply out. Deeply in, deeply out. 

The recovery room. Surgery was over, I was awake and hooked up to monitors – my oxygen saturation was low 90s and high 80s, so I focused on my breathing through the remaining haze of the anesthesia. I needed to get that sat up. I could hear the young man going downstairs in the wheelchair. It had not taken that long, this surgery.

Within about 15 minutes of consciousness, my mind was clearing – I had latched onto my pulse oximetry as a thing to focus on and change, and change it I did – getting back up to the high 90s, then rewarded with the removal of all the equipment and the ability to get dressed – the nurse let me know that she could help. I dressed, practiced as someone who had pain but working through and around it. She was back within moments, I told her to come in – I was fully dressed.

And within another 10 minutes, I hopped in a friend’s car after following protocol to be wheeled down. That part was over.

Now, the recovery, which seems to be going well enough at this point. Everything works. Swelling is going down, and pink elephants no longer are an issue.

An End, a Beginning.

190791_5430910859_2445_nIt was strange when I revisited this image on Facebook. Everyone seems to like it. I’m not sure exactly why it is popular, but it is.

For me, now, I look back at this image and remember that day and what a confusing period of life it was, where I had simply decided to continue placing one foot in front of another for a while on paths that showed up if only so that I would keep moving.

It was taken at the first Mobile Active Convergence, in September of 2005. The links are all broken, the MobileActive.org site gone to the wayside with other internet detritus, the 1s and 0s being recycled to form other stuff that will later become detritus. It was a horrible event for me. Non stop. People who had more passion than ideas, I would reflect on later, as every little thing they were using mobile phones for was spun so positively yet I could see so many negative effects that would, later, rear their head through the use of the devices for bad things.

I did not fit in. It was a younger crowd – in the picture there, I’m just about to turn 34, and was taking a moment between assaults on my faculties by what I considered overly positive people with overly positive ideas that did not seem to account for the bad side of what their stuff could be used for. And I was becoming angry. Angrier, perhaps, because it was a constant barrage.

And then there was the backdrop. The BBC article on the Alert Retrieval Cache had come out that January, which should have been a good thing. Every time something happened around the world, I’d get contacted, and it was something that never get traction. The idea of text messages getting to the internet was so new that – get this – Twitter had not yet come into being (they showed up in March, 2006, over a year later after our work we were trying to give to NGOs for free). A quote from the article makes the point:

…But there’s still another challenge. You have to get people to know that the system is there for them to use.

“It’s amazing how difficult it is to find someone to pass it along to, and say, look this is what we’re trying to do and everything like that,” says Mr Rampersad. “So the big problem right now is the same problem we’re trying to solve – human communication.”…

I saw the MobileActive Convergence as a means to better make the idea visible for humanitarian reasons – a gift to the world, if you would, in my own naiveté. It was a year of naiveté, I would find later.

2005 Was A Crazy Year

I had spent most of 2005 living out of bags as I pinged about Latin America like a lost packet on the Internet, then editor of LinuxGazette.com which was at odds with LinuxGazette.org, Corporate Publishing vs. Community, and I found myself unwittingly smack dab in the middle of it, trying to broker peace between an angry community and an angry publisher so that we could move things forward. I was a believer at that point. I saw potential with everyone working together, but I had no idea of the animosity, even from one of the editor’s of SSC’s Linux Journal. You can read the sanitized version of how that Linux Gazette debacle ended on Wikipedia. It was not that clean, and at the time I had no idea of the USPTO stance as well.

So I worked myself out of a job, telling my boss Phil Hughes that the community was not interested in middle ground – given the temperaments of people on both sides of the fence, I can only imagine the history prior to me showing up thinking of rainbows and unicorns. It was an acid bath for me that lasted about a year.

The View The travel was good, though. I had started in Panama City, Panama, with my Spanish the failure that had simply progressed from Secondary School. So I had to learn Spanish, and the way I learned was not too different than the way people learn English in such conditions – and the people in Latin America, I was to find, were very helpful in this regard once they realized you authentically were trying. And I was.

Humility is getting a haircut when you can’t communicate in the same language as the barber, or ordering a sandwich when there’s nothing to point at. Necessity might be accused of being the mother of invention, but I found it to be the mother of learning. And so when I closed the loop after my travels and ended up in Panama City again, to house sit for friends who were attending a graduation of a daughter in Malta, I met some of the same people and one said that after all the months my Spanish was improved, but that I spoke with a Brazilian accent. I’d say that was progress. We laughed. We drank. We ate pizza with salami. My Spanish got better.

My most amusing anecdote out of that trip was being in Estelli, Nicaragua, and despite being warned by my then boss, Phil Hughes, I managed to break the carafe for the coffee maker and left early to see if I could find one in downtown Estelli. I wandered through the open market, from shop to shop, looking for one, until finally, exasperated in (of course) a coffee shop, I asked them what the word for carafe in Spanish was. Carafe. I asked for one at the first place I stopped, laughing, and I bought it for $10 US and happily returned to the home of Phil Hughes who had no problem telling me he had warned me about the carafe.

I saw so much country, and I did not stay in the tourist places. I made friends wherever I went, people who helped me out, whose couches I slept on. We talked about Linux, sure, that was part of the job, but I was enriched by a truly South American perspective of the world from gente real. That was good.

After closing the loop in Panama City, Phil let me know that I was no longer needed since LinuxGazette.com would no longer be around. I don’t know if he did hire me originally because he wanted it solved – I think in retrospect he just wanted to say he tried, which is fine, because I gained much out of the experience – even the bad parts of trying to find middle ground with the folks from LinuxGazette.org. I think some of them knew that I had really tried, but man, there were some nasty folks in there too who I wish no kindness upon. In all of their nastiness, I never once responded in kind. I unapologetically do not wish those people well, for they were intent on simply beating a whipping boy while I was there sincerely to try to get things to work. I do not wish them poorly. I simply do not wish them well.

And so, untethered, I found myself in Panama City with no real prospects for about a month, when suddenly I was being requested in Guyana to network St. Joseph Mercy Hospital since IBM wanted an unconscionable amount to do it. And so I went there to find out that the head IT person there at the time was completely against connecting the hospital because of nothing more than hubris. In the middle of dealing with that nonsense, my father passed away – August 5th, 2005, so I flew to Trinidad, cremated him, got angry with family who – within less than 24 hours- had emptied the house and picked all the avocadoes without waiting for me… but was patient. I even endured the Hindu rites and did them properly just to keep the peace, when peace was the furthest from my mind.

Then to Guyana again to network the hospital – we ran the cables for, literally, pizza, but these would later not be used because of their IT head who felt that the project had been ‘stolen’ from her.

Then along came MobileActive Convergence, and I thought, “I could really use a win now.”

190791_5430910859_2445_nIn this picture, oddly enough, I had begun accepting that there was no win for me there. That the world didn’t want things to be better, that people were petty and uninterested in the common good – they were interested in their own ideas gaining relevance even if they had not themselves been circumspect, and they were not open to constructive criticism to make their ideas better or, worse, to demonstrate the ideas were not good.

This is a picture of naiveté defeated, crushed into the dirt even before people abused even my name to make their projects look to be of worth. This is the picture of me realizing that the crabs in the barrel do not want to make the barrel a nicer place. They want to escape the tragedy of the world they see and will ignore reality to make that happen. This is me beginning to make peace with that before I turned 34, the beginning of a slow turn to who I am now.

The world did not beat me. I did not join it. I wasn’t myself crushed beneath the wheel, but I was changed and this picture, to me, shows the peace of that turning point.

I knew that guy. It’s a bit tragic he’s gone.