18 December, 2007

Low iodine confusion

Even though I am drawing near to the end of my current cycle of the low iodine diet, I have still been looking into the specifics more and more closely over recent days. This is especially after receiving a print-out from my doctor's office yesterday (I had been instructed over the phone to begin the LID, thus never received it before) which brought up many questions for me.

You see, every publication I have found regarding the low iodine diet disagrees on some points... usually several. In general, they agree on most things. I have found some almost disturbing discrepancies, however. For instance, every guideline I have seen so far says no soy products. Well, almost. According to Dr. Kenneth Ain, in The Low Iodine Cookbook (Norene Gilletz; Your Health Press, 2005)
Soy lecithin is extracted from soy oil, rather than the protein parts, and has just trace amounts of soy proteins (only enough to bother people with soy allergies). Soy oil, in reasonable amounts (usually as part of a vegetable oil mixture or a minor ingredient) won’t add any discernible iodine to the diet and is not goitrogenic. There is no reason to think that soy lecithin is in any way unsafe for the LID.
Okay, good to know. SOME soy products are safe. Then I receive these guidelines from my doctor's office yesterday, and there is NO mention of soy at all. Not a single word of it.

Another point of confusion is with fruits. Yes, fruits. According to the ThyCa LID guidelines, there are no issues with fruits, aside from maraschino cherries and rhubarb. They make for wonderful snack foods and there are no problems with any fruits aside from the two mentioned. I have been going by this notion for the duration of my diet so far... only to find that this may be grossly wrong. The banana & strawberry smoothies I have been making for breakfast may in fact be quite high in iodine. The guidelines I received from my doctor yesterday states:
Allowed fruits and fruit juices: Apple (fresh only), apple juice, apricots (fresh only), avocado, berries, cherries (fresh only), cranberries, figs (fresh only), grapefruit, grape juice, grapes, mangos, lemon juice, melons, nectarines, oranges, orange juice, peaches (fresh only), pineapple (canned), pineapple juice, plums, tangerines
Disallowed fruits: Bananas, dried fruit (raisins), applesauce, fresh pineapple, canned peaches or any fruit not listed in the foods allowed.
Now I have found, through my own research today, thanks to The World's Healthiest Foods Website, that strawberries are in fact one of the most iodine rich foods in the world. This source, at least, provides solid numbers. This I can work with. I'm tired of all of these lists of do's and don'ts with no numbers or resources to back them up. I need to start finding solid numbers.

I could continue on and on with the discrepancies between the diets, but what's the point? Nobody really agrees. For my own sanity, however, I need a single definitive source. I need to know the iodine content of different foods. I need to know what foods I can and cannot eat while on this diet. I was astounded yesterday when I was reprimanded for drinking orange juice on the diet, by a lab technician who was assisting with my case! Not even doctor's staff knows the specifics of the diet! This should go to show just how contended the diet really is!

I think I have some work ahead of me...

Cancer haiku!

I'm disappointed
I got irradiated
...and I still don't glow.

Don't ask. These things just come to me out of the aether.

14 December, 2007

Hooray for TSH!

I get radiation Monday! Yay! (I know. Strange to be cheering for being irradiated... but it is a good thing.)

Obviously, it did not happen this past Tuesday. When I first got my blood tested for TSH levels, on the 4th, I believe my I was at a 12. Now I realize that this number, by itself, means nothing... it will become slightly more clear though. This past Monday, I went in to get checked again (see my previous posts...) and my levels came back at a 25. Unfortunately, this did not meet the required level of 35. Hence the lack of radiation on Tuesday. Of course, this does not get me off the hook for radiation, nor would I want it to. So yesterday, I went in to get tested again. I just got the call from the doctor, and obviously, from the beginning of the post, I met the required levels. Not only did I go up to 35... I shot all the way up to 52! Holy crap! (I *believe* these measurements are in parts per billion, in case you're curious.) I guess I've been doing a good job with this diet after all! Hell, I've already been working on planning a Christmas feast with all low iodine ingredients! ...and if anybody has recommendations on that, I'm open to them...

Anyways, I'm happy! 10:00am on Monday, I go in to get my dose! YAY!

EDIT: It turns out, the TSH measurement unit is in uU/ml, which means picograms per milliliter... a picogram being one trillionth of a gram. Learn something every day!


After almost 9 months with 0 gauge holes in my ears, I finally stretched up to 00. I guess it really was just a matter of time. I was just sitting here at home the other night, getting ready to cook some dinner, and I suddenly said to myself, "Self... I need a stretch." So I ran down to my friendly local piercer, HTC, and got some new suckers popped in! This means that the holes in my ears are now 0.365 inches, or 9.27 millimeters. I wonder how long this one will last...

Plus, on another happy body mod note, I will hopefully be getting back in contact with a tattoo artist I used to know, who I would absolutely LURV to have start my ink!

10 December, 2007


I feel a bit like I'm floating right now. Not the happy Cloud 9 floating that everybody talks about... this is more like an "in limbo" floating. It's a bit odd.

Right this moment, I should not, by any means, be awake. I should not have the least bit of consciousness. From when I woke up Saturday morning until now, I've had a total of right around 9 hours of sleep... all of it restless, waking constantly, tossing and turning. Basically useless sleep. Yesterday, I was running on mostly adrenaline. Today, I woke myself with coffee which would easily be mistaken for tar. I'm sure that kept me going most of the day. The rest of the day, I've had to keep myself moving. Do a few pull-ups... pace around the house... move some things around... clean, go shopping, whatever. I just spent most of the past 3 hours in the kitchen, cooking. I made a pizza from scratch, each piece of it, from the dough itself, to the hamburger and other toppings. Even the pizza sauce was cooked during all of this. Not only that, I made enough dough for a second pizza, which is now in the freezer... and I took the leftover hamburger that I cooked up and turned it into a mini stir fry of sorts (which would work wonderfully for some fajitas, I must say.) Regardless, my point is, I kept myself running around the kitchen all that time in order to just keep myself going. As soon as I sat down to enjoy the fruits of my labor, I could feel the energy draining from my body. The only problem is, now that I want to go to sleep, I find myself unable to again.

It's an odd thing, being unable to sleep, when you feel exhausted enough to sleep for two days straight. I've never had a problem with insomnia before, but I certainly feel sorry now for people who suffer this chronically. I don't know what it is, really, that's keeping me awake. It could very well be stress. Stress over my cancer... over whether I get radiation in the morning or not. Stress over work... whether I will be able to live up to my word and meet the deadlines that have been set, despite the fact that I can hardly keep myself focused on one thing right now. Writing seems easier to focus on, but this is just a pouring out of my thoughts. I'm not having to think through every possible scenario that this writing could go through, like I have to when I'm writing code.

I think this whole radiation thing may really be getting to me. I'm chomping at the bit for this right now. I've been so freaked out over my diet, I've cut my iodine intake to practically nothing. I take no risks with what I eat. Aside from meals I have cooked myself, the only ones I have had were at my favorite bar, Boulders on Broadway, where they actually have my diet restrictions pinned up in back so that they can figure out things to make for me. I love those people, I really do. How many places would do something like that for just one patron? I can't personally think of any others. They even custom tailored a beer dinner for me. This was an event with around 40 people, eating dishes custom crafted to go with the particular beers that were being presented. Obviously, some of these things, I was unable to eat. Going above and beyond, they created a whole different menu for me to replace these things. This was something I never expected. In fact, I told them I wouldn't be able to attend because of my diet. They would have none of that talk. Obviously.

Possibly the biggest reason I'm still anxious about the radiation right now is that I still don't know if I'm going to be receiving it... and I'm scheduled for 11:00 tomorrow morning. This morning, I went in and got my blood drawn again for my final test. It was written specifically with orders to get the results immediately, by this afternoon. Of course, as has been the case lately, Murphy was lurking in the shadows. The machine which would analyze my blood for TSH levels was not working this morning. This means that they had to send my blood over to Sonora Quest Labs to get the results. Sonora Quest, however, was unable to get the results by this afternoon; they aren't ruled by my doctor's office... they have other orders to fill. Because of all this, my results were delayed until 8:00am tomorrow morning. Three hours before I'm supposed to get my radiation dose. The absolute drop dead cut-off point for my results is 9:00am in order for me to receive the dose at 11:00am.

Several people have suggested sleeping pills already, but honestly, I refuse. Maybe it's that I don't trust the pills. Or maybe it's that I don't trust myself with them. I don't really know... I don't think it really matters. Whatever the case, I won't be using them. I fully intend to simply let myself drift off to sleep in a natural fashion. How I'm going to accomplish that, I'm still not certain.

But I'm certainly going to try.

05 December, 2007

The real effects of cancer

Lance Armstrong said it right in his book, It's Not About The Bike: My Journey Back to Life.
When you have lived for an entire year terrified of dying, you feel like you deserve to spend the rest of your days on a permanent vacation. You can't, of course; you have to return to your family, your peers, and your profession.
Now granted, I haven't gone through anywhere near the ordeal that Mr. Armstrong did, and I am eternally grateful for that, but the same thing still applies. You see, when I was first in Dr. Glenn Rothman's office and he told me that I had cancer, I had no reaction. None at all. I just said, "Okay. What do I do now?" as though it were an everyday thing. I said it the same way I would place an order for food. No emotion, just a routine piece of conversation. This was my personal form of shock. Any and all emotions I had in reaction to what I had just found out went straight to the back of my mind, locked away in a little box, marked "Do not open."

Eventually, however, as this whole ordeal unfolded, that box did come open and I did start to react. I think one of the biggest triggers was when I started reading Mr. Armstrong's book. In the beginning of his book, he recounts his initial trip to the doctor when he first found that he had cancer. Not only did he have testicular cancer, it had metastasized into his lungs. Reading this piece, seeing another person's situation, his reactions, his emotions, was just too much for me to handle. That box opened wide and I finally reacted. I cried. This is cancer. This is serious.

The quote I cited earlier is so true it hurts. After you have cancer, no matter what form, no matter how curable, everything else seems inconsequential. It doesn't matter how successful you are in life, cancer can take all of that away in one fell swoop. So what's the point? These are, in fact, thoughts that I am still fighting with. It's made especially difficult by the fact that I am currently without any thyroid hormones; I was taken off of my pills in preparation for my radioiodine treatment. This has put my entire chemical balance out of wack. Earlier this morning, I was freezing cold... now I'm sweating. I had to fight myself for a half hour to even open my eyes this morning, when normally I jump out of bed as soon as the alarm goes off. Another unfortunate side effect has been my mood changes. I have begun to experience mood swings so bad that I would be labeled as bipolar. All of this is still just the tip of the iceberg though. Needless to say, this has been quite a trying time.

One thing that I have learned from this whole ordeal, however, is more patience... if that's even possible. Since November 23rd, I have been on a special "low iodine" diet. Essentially, I have to cook all of my own food. I can't trust almost any processed, packaged food to be free of iodine. As another nice side effect, this has gotten me into the kitchen much more, and I have been becoming much more handy at cooking. In addition to the diet, I have also been, as I mentioned, off of my medication since November 29th. This is all in preparation for my radioiodine treatment which will be, I am hoping, on December 11th. This is supposing that all of my blood tests come back with the desired results.

The way this whole thing works is, on December 11th, at 11:00am, I will go in to my doctor's office and he will give me a pill. I'm somewhat fuzzy on the exact details at this point, but I'm fairly certain that I will wash down this pill and head home. Now here is a bit of frightening information. For 72 hours after I take this pill, I can not be around infants or pregnant women, as I could cause irreversible damage to the underdeveloped thyroids. It is also recommended that I keep at least a one to two meter distance from other people, just to be safe. Once I have received this pill, 7-10 days later, I will go see the doctor again for a body scan to make sure that the radioiodine was sucked up and is doing the job that it's supposed to be doing. At this point, I will finally be able to go back on a normal diet (first thing I'm eating after is sushi!) and will start taking my medicine again. This will be a glorious day, I assure you. Just in time for Christmas vacation as well! Of course, this is all assuming that the TSH levels in my blood are at an appropriate level, indicating that my body is severely starved of iodine.

So now, this whole thing has been going on since August, when I first went to see Dr. Smith. The main part of the treatment will be finished near the end of December... but it won't really be over. I'm going to be taking pills for the rest of my life, to replace the hormones that my thyroid would be producing. I am also going to have to go in for yearly body scans... meaning that I will be dealing with this diet and no medicine again, once a year. If I ever move, I will have to get copies of all of my medical records (which I have been keeping a personal copy of now anyhow) and find a new endocrinologist immediately near my new home. Then again, Dr. Duick is, in himself, a reason not to move. From everything I have heard and experienced so far, he is one of the best. Hell, when I scheduled my first post-op appointment with him, I wasn't able to get in to see him for over a month! That says something about his demand, for sure. What are the chances that I can find somebody as good in a new location?

I said before that all of this has taught me more patience, and it had. That's not the only thing it has taught me though. Through all of this I have gained more humility, awareness, compassion... and certainly knowledge. You don't go through something like cancer without learning about exactly what is happening to you. I ask the doctors and nurses about everything; what they're doing and why, what they are looking for when they draw my blood, what the results are and what ranges they are looking for on everything. Cancer is certainly not something I would ever wish on another living being... but it is most definitely a growing experience which most people would benefit greatly from. A bit of an odd sentiment, I realize, but very true. Here's an even stranger way of putting it: I think that society as a whole would benefit, and be much better for it, if everybody had to go through the experience of dealing with cancer in some way. Then again, we may just end up with a society full of lazy people, never wanting to work again...

03 December, 2007


That is all.

14 November, 2007

All Your Data Are Belong To Us!

I just had a rather interesting article pointed out to me, on Computerworld UK. According to David Litchfield, a UK based security researcher,
"There are approximately 368,000 Microsoft SQl Servers... and about 124,000 Oracle database servers directly accessible on the Internet,"
Given these numbers, I have to wonder what would be found if he were also to look for other widely used databases; MySQL, PostgreSQL, Firebird, etc. It's a bit of a frightening prospect to think that I probably have personal information stored on at least one, if not more, of those exposed servers. Things like this make me wonder how so many IT professionals keep their jobs when they really have no clue as to what is really going on. The most likely scenario is that these people are all book trained, they have their degrees and certificates and all that nonsense... then they get into a real world environment, thrown up against a huge ball of servers, and they have no idea what to do. Hearing about these things makes me very glad for the opportunities and experience that I have had. I learned better, LONG ago, than to make amateurish mistakes like this.

You can view the full text of the article here: http://www.computerworlduk.com/management/security/data-control/news/index.cfm?newsid=6198

26 September, 2007

Small annoyances

Despite everything that is going on right now, I still somehow manage to find time to be annoyed by the smaller ... annoying things. When I got in to work this morning, my roommate sends me a message, asking me what happened to my car, because he had noticed a large dent. "Well that's odd," I'm thinking, "I hadn't noticed one." So I go out to check and sure enough, most of my right rear quarter panel is dented in. It must have been some idiot driver who bumped into it when they were pulling into/out of the bar last night. Why me?

Oh well, I need to learn how to pull out dents anyhow... a larger one will be easier to practice on.... I think.

24 September, 2007

Why I Hate Doctors.

Or, "Surprise! You've got cancer."

Yes, that's the news I heard today when I went to a second doctor. Luckily, it's not a serious cancer. The name is some ridiculously long medical mumbo-jumo for thyroid cancer. Am I scared? Not really. Every person I know in the medical field assures me that this is the "best" cancer you can have. It's basically 100% curable. I just have to have my thyroid removed, take a radioactive iodine pill, and then take thyroid supplements for the rest of my life. Simple enough.

For my last surgery, yes, I was scared. Everything was unknown. I had never had surgery before. I had never been put under before. I wasn't even sure I trusted the doctor. I was scared. Luckily, his colleague was there to assist with the surgery, and was greeted warmly when we went into the OR. This made me go under with a nice warm fuzzy feeling, not entirely brought on by the medications they were pumping through my system.

This time. I know what's going to happen. I already have the experience of being put under, and I already trust this doctor who will be performing the surgery. Let me explain this whole big trust thing going on here a little more. I'll start from the beginning. First off, right when I meet the first doctor, Dr. Douglas Smith, he's got a smile that belongs on a used car salesman. A bit creepy. But he seems to know his shit. He checks the lump, looks down my throat with a scope, says it's most likely just a cyst but we're going to get a CT to check it out and then proceed with surgery to get it removed. We are also going to try, as another possible route, some antibiotics... according to Dr. Smith, cysts will sometimes react to antibiotics because they can be just large infections. Sounds good to me.

So, head from the doctor's office, off to the pharmacy to pick up that antibiotic. May as well get it taken care of right away. Get to the pharmacy, give the script to the pharmacist.... he pulls up my medical records... looks at the script... looks back at my medical records... looks at me... and asks, "What doctor gave you this prescription?"

A bit confused, I tell him, "Dr. Douglas Smith."

After which he asks me for Dr. Smith's phone number. Still confused, I give him the phone number for the doctor and inquire as to why he might need it. "Your records state that you are allergic to amoxicillin." I confirm with a nod. "What kind of reaction do you get when you take it?"

Getting even more confused, since I know the doctor didn't prescribe me amoxicillin, I simply tell him "Hives."

"That's one step in allergic reaction before anaphylactic shock. This prescription is for a derivative of amoxicillin and could possibly kill you if you have the same reaction to it."

This was quite shocking. Obviously. A major screwup which could have been potentially very disastrous. At this point, I should have gotten a clue.

I never claimed to be very bright.

So we got my prescription fixed and, being that it was only a far outside chance that it would have any effect anyhow, it did nothing. A week later, I got a phone call telling me that a surgery date had been set and I needed to come in and finalize some paperwork. "Well," I figure, "he specializes in surgery... not medicine." Stupid rationalization, I know. I managed to convince myself with it though, because I wanted this over with. Plus I was scared out of my wits... that may have had something to do with it. I need to get somebody to go along with me for these types of things and smack me with a billy club when I do something stupid. But I digress...

On the morning of Wednesday, August 29, 2007, I go in for surgery. Dr. Smith comes in with his far-too-toothy smile to greet me before surgery. I'm bodily shaking... only in part because of my reaction to needles... what with a large IV needle sticking out of my arm now and all. However, when we get into the OR, I hear a friendly "Ah, Dr. Bartell, it's good to see you!" (Dr. Thad Bartell is Dr. Smith's aforementioned associate.) Next thing I knew, I was waking up 2 hours later in the recovery room, receiving several doses of morphine and demerol. I was happy.

About a week later, Dr. Smith calls me up to tell me that I need to speak with a Dr. Glenn Rothman. He's rather vague about why. All he tells me is that there was "a growth" in the middle of the cyst that was removed, and it is likely "a common thyroid problem," which is "easily curable." Well, that doesn't sound so bad. I set up an appointment with the new doctor and go about my business, figuring it's something caused from hyperthyroidism. That's not so bad. I can deal with that.

Today, I went in for my appointment, and after talking for less than a minute, Dr. Rothman asks me, "Wait, what exactly did Dr. Smith tell you about why you were coming here?" So I tell him what Dr. Smith told me. The next words out of his mouth, I could never hear again from a doctor and be live perfectly happy. "I'm so sorry," he told me. He then proceeds to tell me what Dr. Smith should have. That this growth was in fact cancerous, although it is easily treatable. Amazingly I maintained my cool through this whole thing... I think. Next step, Dr. Rothman is ordering the results of my CT scan and scheduling a chest x-ray and ultrasound just to be absolutely certain that nothing is missed. He's thorough. I like that. He's candid, he's kind, to the point, sincere. This guy, I feel I can trust. I hope. At least I can be more analytical with this one. I've already looked into his credentials. They seem impressive enough. I don't know anybody who knows of him, but I'm going to keep asking around.

I just want this all over with.

Then, no more doctors. For a long, long time.

31 August, 2007


So uh yea, for those who don't know, I had surgery on Wednesday morning. I just now took the gauze off, and this is what I was greeted by!

Holy monkey! When he told me 9 stitches, I was figuring on something smaller than this! Kinda cool though... just too bad it isn't Halloween, I wouldn't even need a costume! Anyhow, just thought I would share this with the world. :)

28 August, 2007

Geeky happiness

Okay so uh, I just have to let out a little explosion of happiness. I'm finally getting my boss to order servers on par with what I think they should be... and we just ordered what is, by far, the beefiest machine we've got. I think it may actually be pretty much the beefiest I've worked directly with. This thing has got 2 quad core Intel Xeon CPUs, each with dual 4mb cache... it's got 8gb of RAM... and the hard drive is SAS; Serial Attached SCSI. Basically, this thing flies. It makes me all kinds of giddy.

Okay, that's really all I needed to say.

Happy! Eeeee!

Now off to have some fun tonight before my surgery in the morning.
Catch ya'll on the flip side!

27 August, 2007

Why Safeway rules.

Okay so just a very short post here.

Aside from having one of the best organic sections I've seen at any large chain grocery store (including their own "O" organics line of products,) I saw something on the way to work this morning which definitely impressed me. I ended up behind a Safeway semi... at a stop light. Definitely not my favorite place to be. However, in my boredom while waiting for the light, I started reading the back of the semi and saw a large stamp which said "Powered by BioDiesel." Is it just me, or is that totally awesome? Granted, I haven't done a lot of looking into the subject, but this is the first time I've seen any semis using BioDiesel... at least, advertising it so blatantly.

Anyhow, that's just one more reason for me to shop at Safeway.

17 August, 2007

Management frustration

Okay so it's been a while since I've posted on here. Today, however, I have to rant.

Now it's not that I have anything against Indians (dot, not feather -- thank you Simrin) but I have to say that I absolutely hate hate HATE the offshore IT industry! It all started with tech support. You call up some large computer company, only to find that you are not talking to a native English speaker... you are speaking with somebody who very likely learned English just for this job, and has a vocabulary limited to the subject matter at hand. I'm not saying that I'm some linguistic genius. "I speak two languages: English, and bad English." But when I'm calling an American owned company, as a native English speaking American, I expect to speak to another native English speaking American so that we can both fully understand what the other is saying, without having to slow down our speech, repeat ourselves, and watch carefully not to use any colloquialisms which the other person wouldn't understand simply because of their cultural background.

So we started with the offshore tech support.... but wait, it gets better! Now we've moved to offshore programmers. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure this is an alright idea for some companies. They have no IT staff, they need something done and need it cheap. This solution will accomplish those goals. Now take an instance like the company I work for. We do have an IT staff ... well, if you count myself and a part-time sysadmin. Anyhow, we do have a staff. I do all of the programming, tech support, assist with sysadmin work (our sysadmin is an intern... so I'm tutoring him part of the time) and, well, whatever else needs to be done. However, we also have an offshore programmer working on one of our projects. He appears to be a very competent programmer from what I've seen, don't get me wrong. He's also fairly good with English. I don't believe we have had too much trouble with communication; a few small cases where the English language simply failed to explain itself. There are some major frustrations, however. There are days I really wish I had somebody sitting here in front of me, so that I could directly guide then on this project. I could also beat their head in, if necessary. In fact, I could throttle them, slap them around, throw things at them and tell them "NO NO NO STUPID! THIS is how it needs to be done! L-I-S-T-E-N to me.... do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth!?" That's the joy of having somebody working directly beside you. Or at least, in the same general area.

See, what got me all riled up this morning is an email I got from this offshore programmer of ours. He's working on a project that's going to involve some audio and video processing. This is obviously not a simple process. In fact, in a previous post, I discussed just how easy this isn't. I also talked about how intensive a process it is on a system. So right now, this offshore developer is actually working on building this part of the system. This is a rather important part of the system... despite the fact that there will not be a heavy load imposed from video and audio processing; i.e., we aren't going to have people uploading constantly like YouTube. There will be at most 50 videos uploaded per day. Still, we have currently 3 web servers, and these servers are not very powerful machines. They deliver web pages; they don't need to be anything special. With this in mind, we definitely don't want to be doing the video processing on these servers. Our encoding time -> video time ratio would be through the roof. If somebody uploaded a 3 minute video, it could take upwards of 5 minutes to encode. This would tie up the web server for 5 minutes, starve it of RAM, kill its swap space, send the server into a processing frenzy. All the while, this server still needs to be able to deliver other web pages. Remember, only 3 web servers... and we're serving thousands upon thousands of web page requests per day... and with this new project, that number will potentially increase exponentially. This is simply NOT an acceptable situation. Keeping this in mind, I sent our developer some specifications saying that video and audio files are to be processed on a separate server. I won't go into exact details here... but I imagine it's actually an extremely scaled down version of how sites like YouTube actually work. Offload the work, keep the web servers freed up, continue serving web pages effortlessly, and get the media processed on a nice beefy server. Sounds great, right? Well apparently our developer and his "technical team" do not agree on this. I got an email this morning which said the following:
50 / day is not a big number to think of a separate server. So we can do this on the Web Server itself, instead of a new one.
Wait wait wait..... what? Did you not listen to what I was saying? (See my previous examples of screaming in this post to see how I would have liked to react to this ridiculous statement.)

Well, needless to say, my Friday morning buzz of happiness is now 6 feet under. In fact, more like 10 feet under. That sent me into a bit of a rage... and I still have to reply to this email.... the worst part is, I have to be polite! This is also taking me COMPLETELY off track from the project I've been working on, which is a very very bad thing.

So not happy right now.

Oh and to those who were wondering, yes I'm still alive. I just keep forgetting to post here. Thanks for the reminder!

21 May, 2007

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

One of my favorite short pieces of literature has always been one by Robert Fulghum, titled "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten." Sadly, it seems that most people have never read it. I know that my life, for one, would be much better if some of the people around me were to read it and actually learn from it. So for the benefit of all those near and far, I give you this wonderfully educational piece:


Most of what I really need to know about how to live, and what to do, and how to be, I learned in Kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandbox at nursery school.

These are the things I learned: Share everything. Play fair. Don't hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don't take things that aren't yours. Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work some every day.

Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the plastic cup. The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the plastic cup - they all die. So do we.

And then remember the book about Dick and Jane and the first word you learned, the biggest word of all: LOOK . Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation, ecology and politics and sane living.

Think of what a better world it would be if we all - the whole world - had cookies and milk about 3 o'clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for a nap. Or if we had a basic policy in our nation and other nations to always put things back where we found them and clean up our own messes. And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.


07 May, 2007

Job Hunters

Right now, I am trying so hard not to laugh that my eyes are watering. I'm having trouble breathing, and I'm getting light headed.

What's so funny, you might ask?

I'm reading resumes. I am hunting for potential candidates for a job opening in the company I work for. We're trying to find a qualified systems administrator to take a chunk of my work load and get all our systems running the way I want them to be. Simple enough. There should be plenty of those people out there.

Wrong. WRONG.

After doing my initial filter and having to discount most of the resumes immediately because they're from out of state... I start to dig a little bit more. A lot more of them are thrown out pretty quickly because all I see are jumbles of letters starting with MS. Yay Microsoft certifications. TRASH! So far, I think I've had 3 people who got past these filters... one of them was actually fairly impressive, but works with technology that's on a scale I only wish we could afford here. The other two, however, are the ones who have me laughing so hard.

The first little gem I found was somebody who had been working for several years in the US Navy as an "Information systems technician"... alright, he's got my attention there. I'll bite. Looks like he's out of the Navy now... should be holding a fairly decent job but... wait, this says he's a "Cement finisher" now. Hmmm. He's a cement finisher, and he's asking for a $75k salary. BZZZZT! NEXT!

I found that previous one pretty amusing... but the one that's causing my asphyxiation is even better, at least to me. The headline on this resume reads "Information Systems Operator/Analysist". Even better, in his work experience, he lists "2006-2007 U.S. Army Signal Core - Information System Operator/Analysist". Will somebody, anybody, PLEASE tell me what in the world an "analysist" does!? I love it when people make up words... especially on a document as important as their resume!

Also, notice a common theme with these two applicants? That's right, they're both fresh out of our United States armed forces! I thought they were supposed to be able to get good careers (or at least be able to spell...) when they got out of the military. Things ain't looking so good for Uncle Sam...

23 April, 2007

I hate customers.

Okay so I like their money... but I hate dealing with customers. Every single one is so self-important and certain that they're the center of the universe, that they can't stop for one moment to realize that you're just trying to do your job and keep things running smoothly, just like they are. I really wish I didn't have to deal with customers; it's not even in my job description. IT people aren't suppose to interact with end users, it's just not how it's done. That's like telling Rainman to teach a math class. It's just not a good idea!

I think this is proof that I should never work in a job of any form where I need to deal with the public.

19 April, 2007

Milk does the muscles good

Just a small bit of interest... a new study suggests that skim milk is far more likely to promote muscle growth than alternative soy supplements. It's something to do with differing types of protein. While soy does have sufficient protein to keep you healthy, it isn't as helpful as casein for building muscle mass. Now that I've started working on building muscle, maybe I should be drinking more milk...

Anyhow, here's the article: http://www.cnn.com/2007/HEALTH/diet.fitness/04/19/skim.milk.reut/index.html

Social Networking

It seems to me that social networking is getting somewhat out of hand nowadays. Personally, I've got accounts on Blogger, last.fm, MySpace, Flickr, LinkedIn, Facebook, Hi5... and I can't even remember others I may have signed up on in the past. This is just ridiculous. Worse yet, on most of these accounts, I have very similar friend lists. Other people I know who have signed up on some or all of these sites. So when does this all end? Does it ever end?

Now granted, some of these sites have definite differing purposes. Blogger is more for pouring out your thoughts as I'm doing now, than for networking. But there is still that social aspect to it. Flickr is for sharing photos... but again, it has a very community-based design, and it's becoming more so all the time. Last.fm is about tracking music listening habits and discovering new music... but it also has a very social aspect to it: friends, "neighbours", forums, groups, etc. Still, why do we need ALL of these sites? Despite all of the ones I have an account on, I know there are far more that I still haven't signed up on!

It's actually starting to get pretty frustrating keeping up on all of these... what I need is some method of consolidating all of this collaboration into one single point of contact. Some method for keeping up on all of them from one central system. I'm trying out this Flock web browser in the hopes that it would provide something of the sort, but no such luck. It provides an easy interface for blogging (which I'm using right now) and drag-and-drop uploading for Flickr images... but that's about it. What I'm looking for is... a control panel or command center of sorts, for all of my social networking and collaboration sites. Some way to get an overview of what's happening on all of those accounts, without having to log in and load them up individually. I want to be able to "link" friends on different networks, so that I can see who I have added where. Hmmm, perhaps this calls for a brand new website... SocialControl, or something of the sort. Couldn't hurt to try. After all, my contact page is getting way too cluttered with all of the sites that I'm on now. Now this is an idea I may have to run with.... does anybody else have any input on this? Similar thoughts? Does this seem like something that might be useful?

On a side note, I noticed a very important feature missing from that Flock browser as I was publishing this post. It doesn't let you tag your post... I had to come in and do that by hand after the fact. Oh well, not everything can be perfect.

UPDATE: 3 hours later, I decided to do a quick google search for something along the lines of what I was thinking, and I came across The Internet Address Book. Could this be something useful? It's apparently been out since September '06, and I've never heard of it before, so I'm guessing it's not faring as well as most of the network it claims to connect to. On the other hand, from what I see so far, it doesn't so much connect to these networks as simply lists your IDs on them. I was definitely thinking of going beyond that. More to come later... perhaps?

30 March, 2007

Encoding Flash Videos

One of our clients recently sent us a video that they want to have displayed on their website... and we've decided that the best option would be to use an FLV (Flash Video) file. We're also going to be using the same video format for an upcoming site of our own... one small part of the site will have uploaded videos, so they will need to be automagically converted to FLV. This sounds simple enough, right? Sure, it should be.

Turns out it's not all that simple.

After lots of trial and error, I came up with this command:
mencoder -vf scale=216:144,hqdn3d -af resample=44100:0:2 -hr-edl-seek -ovc lavc -lavcopts vcodec=flv:vqmin=3:v4mv:vmax_b_frames=0:vme=4:vqblur=0.0:tcplx_mask=0.2:mbcmp=6:trell:cbp:naq:dia=2:aic -oac mp3lame -lameopts vbr=2:q=5:aq=0:vol=2:mode=1 -ofps 10 -of lavf -lavfopts format=flv:i_certify_that_my_video_stream_does_not_use_b_frames dvd:// -o test.flv

Finally, I got a decent quality encode, with a decent file size, and not too ridiculous of an encode time... about 45 seconds encoding time for 1 minute of video. This was, however, on an already-busy 1.6GHz Pentium Mobile with 1gb RAM.

Now all I need to do is find another switch or perhaps another command to detect the video resolution and automatically maintain the proper aspect ratio when downscaling it... with that command, I scaled 720x480 down to 216x144 (0.3 times the size), but I had to pull out a calculator and figure out those numbers by myself... that doesn't work with an automated process. Oh well, one step closer at least!

Hell, I could make my own YouTube or Google Videos equivalent with this.... nice!

Okay so, a couple frustrating hours later, I've finally got this down pat. I was getting some very nasty distortion on parts of the video... turns out that was due to the "tcpl_mask" option... according to the mencoder manpage:
Temporal complexity masking (default: 0.0 (disabled)). Imagine a scene with a bird flying across the whole scene; tcplx_mask will raise the quantizers of the bird’s macroblocks (thus decreasing their quality), as the human eye usually does not have time to see all the bird’s details. Be warned that if the masked object stops (e.g. the bird lands) it is likely to look horrible for a short period of time, until the encoder figures out that the object is not moving and needs refined blocks. The saved bits will be spent on other parts of the video, which may increase subjective quality, provided that tcplx_mask is carefully chosen.
In theory, it sounds like a great option. It could potentially add a lot of compression.... in reality, it barely effected the file size at all, and it cause all kinds of headaches. Along the way to finding this, however, I did find some other useful video filters, and I learned a bit more about encoding videos. (I thought for some time that it was possibly interlacing or interleaving that was causing the problems... so I ended up reading up on them, learning exactly how they work and what they do... only to realize there was no way they were guilty). I also managed to find that magic switch to automagically scale the video. I just have to specify one dimension now and it figures out the matching dimension... I love it! So, finally, here is the fully functional, heavily optimized version of that command:

mencoder -vf pp=h1/v1/dr,scale=216:-3,harddup -af resample=44100:0:2 -hr-edl-seek -ovc lavc -lavcopts vcodec=flv:vqmin=3:v4mv:vmax_b_frames=0:vme=4:vqblur=0.0:mbcmp=6:trell:cbp:naq:dia=2:aic -oac mp3lame -lameopts vbr=2:q=5:aq=0:vol=2:mode=1 -ofps 10 -of lavf -lavfopts format=flv:i_certify_that_my_video_stream_does_not_use_b_frames dvd:// -o test.flv

Yay! My work is done here.

27 March, 2007


I've recently been reading another novel by my favorite author, Robert Heinlein. This one, titled "To Sail Beyond The Sunset," is rather interesting. It's the account of one Maureen Smith's life. At least, that's what it has been so far. Considering that I'm about 2/3 through the book, I think it may well continue along this line. Anyhow, it's quite interesting to me as I've already read several of his other books, and this is giving me quite a bit of background and insight into some of the past of his worlds, his timelines and his characters.

But none of that is really the point I'm getting at here. In reading this book, I found a very interesting quote. I had to read it over at least three times before I really got it. And it really made sense.

"Gratitude": An imaginary emotion that rewards an imaginary behavior, "altruism." Both imaginaries are false faces for selfishness, which is a real and honest emotion. Long ago Mr. Clemens demonstrated in his essay "What Is Man?" that every one of us acts at all times in his own interest. Once you understand this, it offers a way to negotiate with an antagonist in order to find means to cooperate with him for mutual benefit. But if you are convinced of your own "altruism" and you try to shame him out of his horrid selfishness, you will get nowhere.
Damn, he's right. I've never been terribly interested in reading Mr. Clemens' works in the past... but the more references I pick up from Robert Heinlein's works (and they are plentiful,) the more I'm intrigued. He sounds like as much of a cynical bastard as myself. Perhaps more... that's a scary thought. Either way, I think I may need to get ahold of some of his writings. Especially this particular essay, "What Is Man?"

19 February, 2007

Selective Racism

If "racist" terms offend you, I would recommend tuning out now.

Alright, now that the warning is out of the way, I can get on with my rant. This is another of my "why I hate people" rants. See, it started out yesterday when I went to see a movie. It was "The Departed", a movie about corrupt cops in Irish Boston. Original, I know. Pretty good movie anyways. So, being set in Irish Boston, dealing with organized crime, they start off right away talking about "guineas". For those of you who may not know, guinea is a derogatory term for an Italian. I laugh the first time I hear the term, and not a single other person in the audience seems to even notice it. Now at this point, I should mention the people sitting in front of me. In the row directly ahead of me is a black woman, and in the row ahead of her are two more black women. Nothing against them, it's just vital to the story. Alright so after a couple minutes of Jack Nicholson talking about guineas, he also uses the word "nigger". And oh boy was there a reaction to that one! The woman directly ahead of me said "I don't like this so much already," or something along those lines. A bit of hooting at the screen, general disgust at the use of the word. The movie goes on, lots more talk of guineas, he had to have used that term at least 20+ times throughout the movie. At one point, he also used the terms "mick" (Irish) and "chink" (Chinese); again, inciting laughter from me and no reaction from the rest of the audience. Then he says "nigger" again. More disgust and hooting from the rows ahead of me. Oh and did I mention the vacuum that was created by every white asshole in the theatre puckering each time that word was mentioned?

So let me get this straight. You can say "guinea", you can say "mick", you can say "chink" and nobody cares. They could have probably even gotten away with dago, wop and goombah without a hint of notice from the crowd. But as soon as you say "nigger", everybody is up in arms. This makes absolutely no sense to me.

Honestly, I don't really understand "racial slurs". They're only offensive if you take offense. I'm Irish, I call myself a mick and laugh about it. I'm white, I call myself cracker, whitebread, honkey and again I laugh about it. One of my best friends in high school was Chinese and Vietnamese. He got called to the principal's office one day because he was walking through the halls, chanting "I chink I can, I chink I can..." When he was in there, the principal told him that he couldn't use racial slurs. His reaction? "How can it be a racial slur? I AM a chink! A slanty-eye! A gook!" And he's right. It's not a slur, because he takes no offense.

Our society has turned into a bunch of coddled pussies. Hasn't anybody ever heard the old saying "Stick and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me." Get over it, people.

09 February, 2007

I fought the law...

...and I won? Irrefutable proof that The Dead Kennedys had it right with their version of the song.

I love the intarweb.

01 February, 2007

The terrorists have won.


I give up. I used to have some glimmer of hope for humanity. That's all gone. My absolute favorite quote, from this additional article, reads:
"It is unconscionable that in this post-9/11 environment that Turner Broadcasting would do something like this in an urban setting," Boston Police Superintendent Ed Davis said.

Wait wait wait .... "post-9/11" environment?!?!?
Hold on, let me think for a second, do a bit of math here... They're talking about September 11, 2001... today is February 1, 2007... that makes it 5 years, 4 months, 20 days. Nearly 65 months. 1969 days. You get the point. A LONG FUCKING TIME! By the same right, this is a "post-WW2 environment", a "post-Great War environment"... hell a "post-Civil War environment!"

I don't really know where I'm going with this... but this crap makes me both very angry and very sad at the same time. It's just pathetic.

30 January, 2007

An interesting perspective

I just found this article on the brand new Windows Vista, and although the article has a lot of words without saying a whole lot, I like how this guy put it into perspective. It seems similar to how I might evaluate it.

I'm a bit anxious myself to get a look at Vista... but I don't know that I really want to make the switch yet. I'm also not sure I want to fork over that kind of cash right now, when I can still be perfectly happy on a free Fedora Core installation.

23 January, 2007

New website!

Yes, I've finally made my new website design live! Yay!

It's all new content, very much trimmed down from what I had before. I've removed my "news" page, as I just post here on my blog now. The programming section isn't up yet, as I'm working on some fancy new ways of displaying the code... but everything else was ready, so I decided to go ahead and turn it on!

Oh and I have a much better URL now, too: http://www.tarken.net/

Let me know what you think!

21 January, 2007

Happiness is...

...warm, freshly washed sheets, straight out of the dryer. I could just lay here smelling them all night. Mmmmm :)

19 January, 2007

Concert ticket bullshit

I'm rather annoyed right now.

I just went online to buy tickets for a Flogging Molly concert. That, in itself, is totally awesome. I'm Irish. They're Irish. It's on St. Patty's day. All good! Or, well, so it would seem.

So I go to the concert ticket page and proceed to order tickets for myself and my good buddy Don. $29 per ticket. Not too bad, considering it's Flogging Molly on St. Patty's day. Okay, I'm cool with that.

Then I get to the checkout page, and the charges begin to add up. Here is a breakdown of the costs, PER TICKET.
Ticket price: $29.00
Building Facility Charge: $3.00
Convenience Charge: $5.00
(What the HELL is so "convenient" about that?)
That adds up to $37.00 per ticket. A bit more ouch.

Then on top of all THAT, I have to pay an additional $2.50 to have the tickets delivered via "TicketFast". What is TicketFast, you might ask? Well, let me explain. It emails the tickets to you. So that you can print them out. It's an AUTOMATED SYSTEM to email the tickets to you. It costs them nothing to do. And yet, it costs $2.50.

Hahaha, and get this. As if all of that weren't enough, I get to the final page where I put in my credit card info, and there's a $3.35 "Order Processing Charge".

This all adds up to a grand total of $79.85, for 2 tickets to a concert. Tickets which started out at $29.00 each. That's $58.00 total. What the hell is this crap about?

The final crowning achievement of this horrible website is that they have time limits on each page. You find the tickets you want, you have 2 minutes to claim them. Creating an account on the site so that you can buy the tickets, you've got 1 minutes. Putting in all of your credit card information, you've got 3 minutes. What about people who type slow? What if you have to get up and take a piss? What if you get distracted in the middle of the order process? You have to start all over. From the beginning. That's what I call a piss poor user experience.

I definitely won't be using TicketMaster again.

Piercing... so far

As a few people have mentioned, and as I've come to agree with myself, I've become a monster. See, let me explain that a bit.

On December 2nd, I got my ears pierced at 10 gauge.
On December 24th, I stretched my ears to 8 gauge.
On January 13th, I stretched them again to 6 gauge.
Now it's January 19th, and I want to stretch them to 4.
I don't know if my ears are ready for it yet, but dammit, I want them stretched more.
I would say I should get another piercing to take my attention off of these, but I think that might backfire. I would then just have more piercings to obsess over. sigh. What a vicious cycle. Well, not to say that I won't get other piercings. There are a few others I want to get. Most likely the next will be a septum piercing.

I've gone from being scared to death of needles, to being obsessed with piercings. How weird is that.

...I can only imagine how bad I'm going to be once I start getting tattoos...

15 January, 2007

Free stuff

I never thought I would have so much difficulty giving things away... for free.

I put up a post on Craigslist yesterday for an extra bed that I've got sitting around at home, that I just need to get rid of. Sure it's used but it would be great for a starving college student or something along those lines. It's not a bad bed or anything like that. It's full size... matress, box spring, frame... all free.

But so far, I've had 2 people back out and a third not responding. What's the deal!? It should NOT be THIS difficult to give things away... seriously!

UPDATE: I forgot to mention, somebody finally came and got the bed that night! Yay! I got an email asking me, "Do you still have it? I can come get it right now!" ... and suddenly, it was gone!

10 January, 2007


Anybody who knows me knows that I've got this issue with needles. I can't stand the sight, or even thought, of needles. I just freak out. And it pisses me off every time that I do. I really want to get past this, because it's absolutely ridiculous and unfounded. It's not the pain that bothers me; the needles don't hurt. It's not the blood that bothers me; I've certainly seen worse. It's just something about the needle itself.

Well, I decided to do a bit of research on it finally... and I found that I'm far from alone. This article on Wikipedia was extremely informative. According to this, I'm even on the right path to getting past it. What I've been working on is a form of desensitization... although I didn't know the fancy word for it. On December 2, I got my ears pierced. I nearly passed out as soon as the first needle passed through. I wasn't freaking out or breathing abnormally. The piercing didn't hurt. My body just reacted instantly and went into its own state of shock. Pissed me right off. I had to lay down and recoup for a while to let my body calm down. Then came the second piercing. But lo and behold, I didn't react nearly as bad to this one! I remained sitting up... I shook a bit... I probably went a bit pale again... but I felt better. Obviously an improvement.

This was definitely not enough though. I'm still having quite a reaction, which is simply not acceptable. So on the evening of December 24, I decided to stretch my ears. Granted, I wasn't using a needle, but it was something at least similar. I was using something like this to stretch them:
Not too friendly looking... but not a needle. And not creating a new hole in my skin, so it shouldn't cause any problems... right? Wrong. I hooked these things into my ears, and almost instantly started to feel slightly light headed. I didn't react nearly as bad as I did to either of the piercings, but it was certainly not good. So I laid down for a while, drank some water... and got over it. Not an entirely pleasant experience, and a very odd one.

So I want to try this again. See if I still get the same results. These talons go up to a 6 gauge piercing, and I only stretched up to 8 so far. Out of curiosity, tonight, I pushed one of the talons into my right ear, just to see how easily it would take to the wider end of the talon. Surprisingly, it pushed about 2/3 - 3/4 of the way through before I started to feel a slight pinching. I didn't get light headed though.... which is a big win. I felt almost like I had gotten a small jolt of adrenaline, but that may have been just from excitement. This is the first time I haven't reacted adversely to things piercing my skin. Then again, I've also been removing and replacing my piercings daily now to clean them. Perhaps this is helping in some way. I certainly hope so. I guess I'll see how I do when I actually stretch them up to 6 gauge. Unfortunately, I have to wait a little bit... I need to let my ears heal up some, build up at least a little scar tissue, before I go torturing them more.

Next test: Tattoos.

09 January, 2007

Strength of Character(s)

When did it come to be that you need a degree in cryptography and computer science in order to build a simple form on a webpage?

I'm running into some issues lately upgrading our web software so that it can be used on international sites, and hence with international languages and character sets. It sounds easy enough, really. Translate the sites and they should be good, right? Well, not quite. As it turns out, there are some major conflicts with the character sets that get thrown around on the web. By default, things use the "latin-1" or "ISO-8859-1" character encoding. It uses one byte per character, giving you a possibility of 256 different characters. This is all well and good, for languages based on latin characters. This isn't so good, however, when you get into other language with special characters... like, say, accented characters.

"But wait!" you might say, "Spanish uses accented characters!" Yes, that is correct. That's actually what got me started on this whole train of research today. A Spanish speaking user input an accented character on a form, which apparently we weren't set up to expect, it got put into an XML document as an "unknown character", the XML ended up failing validation because of this one little accent and things blew up.

So I start reading a bit. I know that there are a number of different character sets that can be used... and I know that "UTF-8" is the one that should be used for things of this nature... it uses multiple bytes per character, allowing for a much wider range of characters to be displayed. Perfect. Surely PHP will support this natively, right? PHP is matured enough that strings should just automagically be UTF-8 and it should just work. Right? Wrong. To quote PHP's strings page:

In PHP, a character is the same as a byte, that is, there are exactly 256 different characters possible. This also implies that PHP has no native support of Unicode. See utf8_encode() and utf8_decode() for some Unicode support.

Lovely. Apparently this isn't so easy. Now I'm stuck reading an entire treatise on character sets in web forms. What the hell? What makes this all so ridiculously difficult? It's obviously something that every web developer is going to have to deal with. My not just make it WORK, out of the box, no effort? What is so bloody difficult about that? Well apparently this document I've found is the one that should help me figure all of it out, from what I've been reading. Then I'll need to read up on the UTF-8 support in PHP, as well as their multibyte string functions... at least I think I'll need those.

This is just stupid.

03 January, 2007


I guess complaining can sometimes do some good, after all! This just appeared in our office:


I swear, taking a dose of tussin is like taking a shot... you pour it, plug your nose, toss it down as quickly as possible and hope it doesn't even touch your tongue.

Come to think of it, "Tussin" might be a good name for a shot in a bar... one of those that just makes you shudder after you take it... like the 3 Wisemen and 4 Horsemen.

02 January, 2007

Last straw

I just got asked to make a basic mundane tech support call. The kind of thing that would be handled by level 1 support, if we had such things. These are things that used to be handled by our admin, who is no longer with the company. This makes me a not happy boy.

Update: sigh. I think I was talking to a level 1 support monkey. He had no idea what he was talking about.