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May 07, 2021 12:27 +0100  |  Health 0

I have science running through my veins!

I'll be 42 this July, which was enough for me to make the cut for the UK's COVID vaccination programme. Registration was remarkably easy, and unfettered by any attempts by private businesses to inject themselves into the process: I received a text last week that directed me to the official NHS website, entered a few bits of confirmation info, selected a date and time, and I was done! All I had to do was show up.

Today I rode my bike down the road to a converted bowling club where a dozen volunteers shepherded us around and moved us into a waiting space, to the nurses who jabbed us, and back to another waiting space where they ask us to stick around just in case. That's where I am right now, and I'm thinking I'll stick around a while longer 'cause I want to be sure I'm alright.

I received the Oxford/Astra-Zeneca vaccine, which wasn't my preference, but you take what you can get. This is an adenovirus-based vaccine that likely comes with fun side effects like fever, muscle pain etc. There's also a very small risk of blood clots that I have to be aware of, but the risks are tiny in comparison to actually getting COVID, so I'll take it.

Part of me feels a bit guilty though. I'm benefitting here from "vaccine nationalism", the process of rich countries buying up global stock and vaccinating their whole populations first before poorer countries can get access. I'm at a much lower risk than an 80 year old man in India, and yet I'm now (partially) protected, and that man is going to die. This whole ordeal has been an exercise in understanding monkeyspheres and I don't think I've really come to terms with any of it yet. I just wanted my family protected, and then me protected... is it really so wrong to prioritise these above strangers on the other side of the world?

The question is broader though, as we begin to see how the virus is mutating in India and other similarly unprotected populations. Perhaps selfishness isn't enough. Vaccine nationalism may even prove itself to be a fault in the system that COVID exploits. Only time will tell.

January 03, 2021 21:16 +0000  |  Economy Employment Free Software Health Politics Software 0

This year sucked. That line is probably enough to remember the nightmare that is 2020 when I'm (hopefully) looking back on this post in 10 years, but as it's my tradition to go into depth on the past year at the start of a new one, let's go a bit deeper into the why this year sucked so much.

The Pandemic

This was the year that the COVID-19 pandemic took off. Lockdowns all over the world started around March and for the more civilised countries (New Zealand, Taiwan, a few others) that was the end of it. The rest of the world however could not get our shit together.

From the talks of "natural herd immunity" to the politicising of the virus and its prevention as a left-wing conspiracy, nearly every country failed to do the right thing in the most calamitous way possible.

It's left the people with a sense of reason exhausted. I mean, we have experts in this field. Those experts told us what we needed to do to stem the spread. Our leaders overwhelmingly did not heed that advice and chose instead to let 1.8 million people die (so far).

Even while mass graves were being dug in New York, leaders in nearly every nation were refusing to even close the schools. Here in the UK, (home of the famous "take it on the chin" comment by our fearless leader) we had policies that actually encouraged people to eat out at local pubs, and no mask mandate. Now the UK wears the dubious distinction of being the source of a much more virulent strain of the virus. Other countries have closed their borders to us, but nearly all continue with anti-science policy that inevitably leads to more death.

Vaccine Development

There's some good news though: 3 promising vaccines have made their way through a (very rushed) development & testing process to be cleared for emergency use in Europe and North America (and presumably elsewhere). The roll out has (unsurprisingly) been a mess here in the UK, and now there's talk of actually mixing-and-matching the vaccines which sounds insane to me, but again, unsurprising given the kind of leadership this country has.

From my (admittedly ignorant) read of the science behind this though, I'm currently on-board with getting a vaccine (or a "jab" as they call it here) when it's made available to me. As I understand the risks of so-called "Long COVID" vs. the nature of an mRNA vaccine, it's still a smart move in my mind.

Radicalised

Was 2020 a “bad year” or are we simply approaching the inevitable conclusion of living under an economic system that is fundamentally incompatible with human dignity and happiness?

Throughout all of this, I've become more "radicalised". My contempt for capitalism is more palpable, and I'm angrier every day.

All of this, all of this is a direct result of capitalism. From the Chinese government refusing to crack down on wild/exotic animal wet markets, to the world's pandering to their carelessness, to their covering up of the outbreak until it was too late, to the world's reluctance to close the borders, to anti-science policies in nearly every nation treating the working public like expendable peasants. All of it is driven by capitalism:

China

We've continued to trade with China and support their economy because it's profitable for the rest of us. It doesn't matter that they commit genocide or are among the worst polluters on the planet. We pretend that this is only their problem when logically we know that it isn't. The same is true for their public health regulations.

We knew that China's public health policy was a breeding ground for pandemics. We've seen it before. But isolating them? Punishing them for being a threat to world health? That would affect our profits.

And so we did nothing and China acted exactly as everyone knew they would.

Management once the pandemic started

The science was clear on all of this:

  • Close the borders
  • Close the schools, the churches, the markets, and the malls
  • Limit travel
  • Limit the spread by keeping people at home
  • Track and trace infected cases

But we all had rent and mortgages to pay. Around 300 million of us (the Americans) couldn't even have medical care if they were unemployed. How could anyone possibly do the right thing and follow the science?

Our governments could have stepped in. They could have put a moratorium on rent and mortgages. They could have mandated the expansion of grocery store delivery networks and required that no one be permitted to go to work if that work is not directly involved in a key industry like the food supply, public health, utilities, or the military.

The right thing would have been to do this for just a month or two and get a handle on the virus. Limit its spread and understand its behaviour. It could have been financed through a wealth tax or some other fiscal tool levied against those profiting from the pandemic.

We didn't do this though, because capitalism demands that we all go to work doing jobs that don't really matter so that the very rich few continue to accumulate wealth. It's a given that millions will die, but it's also understood we're all replaceable.

Disaster Capitalism

All of this is what Naomi Klein calls "disaster capitalism": the idea that disasters are leveraged (if not also created) by people who profit from them.

There are absolutely winners in all of this: Amazon and Tesco for example both posted record profits while exploiting their workforce. As The Guardian pointed out:

Bezos has accumulated so much added wealth over the last nine months that he could give every Amazon employee $105,000 and still be as rich as he was before the pandemic.

None of this is to say that there's some sort of illuminati cadre of rich assholes running the world. Only that the world is as it is because these sorts of people profit from it the way things are rather than how we all know they should be.

We don't need 2¢ USB sticks from China or next-day delivery of slippers from Amazon. We need a universal basic income, nationalised health care, and a government that understands the economy as a system of land, water, and people rather than currency.

This pandemic has happened entirely because we have prioritised personal wealth over humanity.

It's not just a bad year

Towards the end of the year, it became fashionable to refer to how we'll all be glad that 2020 is over, because somehow everything was going to be better in 2021. Nothing has changed though, and so even if the vaccine is rolled out smoothly and the pandemic subsides, all of this — in one form or another — will happen again because that is what this system was designed to do.

The worst is yet to come. Next up we're looking down the barrel of a crippling depression and the appallingly inevitable climate catastrophe. The skies above California literally turned red this year, and yet that nation still has no salient climate plan. The world community has done little more than talk about how we should probably do something, but fossil fuels are still subsidised by nearly every industrialised nation.

There's a reason you feel like things have only been getting worse: they have. Disaster capitalism is as much about profiting off of disaster as it is about demoralising the peasantry and keeping us fearful. We've been "holding on" for so long, hoping for things to get better when they absolutely will only get worse so long as we live under this system.

In Other World News

Despite the pandemic, there were a lot of things that happened worth noting that happened this year:

Black Lives Matter

George Floyd was murdered by a police officer and the country, the world was (finally) enraged. From what I've been hearing, very little has come of the rage though, as the pandemic has made mobilisations difficult. Still, calls for defunding or abolishing the police are finally being taken seriously, so that's a start.

Trump

Trump made it through all four years and got clobbered in an attempt at re-election. I maintain that if this pandemic hadn't happened, he would have won a second term (I have that little faith in the US), but with more than 350,000 dead so far and millions losing their jobs, there was no way he was going to win in a fair fight.

The question then was how much would the Republicans have to cheat to win this one, and they did their best: everything from gerrymandering, to restricting access to voting places, to sabotaging the postal system. None of it was enough to give Trump a win, though it may well have been enough to hold onto the Senate. We'll know in a few days with the Georgia run-off vote.

Oh, and there's widespread claims that the election was somehow fraudulent, and that Trump was actually the winner. This has led to Trump-devotees holding (maskless, of course) rallies calling for the arrest of Joe Biden.

And one more thing: Q-Anon is a thing now. There's a lot of overlap between these nuts and the nuts claiming that Trump actually won.

My Life, Directly

In comparison to any of the above, my life doesn't exactly feel significant, but this is my blog, so I'm going to cover that too.

Lockdown

The (limited) lockdown we had here in the UK was rough. I was just holding onto my sanity, being able to send my 1 year old away to the child minder during the work-week, but when that was all cancelled, Christina and I became full-time babysitters while also being full-time employees.

We "managed" this by working in shifts. I would work 4 hours while Christina looked after Anna, then I'd take care of Anna for four hours while Christina worked. When Anna napped midday, we'd both work, and when dinner came around, one of us would cook while the other took care of the kid, then she'd go down and both of us would go back to work 'till 11 or midnight at which point we'd go to sleep only to repeat this... for the entire month.

I won't complain though. It was hard, but at least we remained employed through the fortune of having remote-friendly work. I know that a lot of people in this country were looking down the barrel of no income and substantial rent to pay, so I know that we've been very fortunate.

Our childminder was freaking out when she heard the news that she couldn't keep her doors open, since no kids meant that her income was suddenly reduced to £0. Christina and I decided however that so long as our employment situation didn't change, we would continue to pay her as if Anna was in full attendance as usual.

Fear

The worst part of this though — at least for me — as been the looming fear. Yes the odds of death are low, but they're still very high compared to almost anything you would choose to do on a daily basis. On top of that, the long-term health effects of COVID-19 are almost entirely unknown. There are reports of cramps and migraines lasting months, and permanent heart damage, so this isn't something anyone wants to get.

My parents are both very high-risk, and yet they continue to have regular visits with my brother who flies all over Canada for work. It doesn't help that my brother's attitude toward COVID is more dismissive than anything else.

Personally I've had breathing concerns for years ever since I contracted pertussis in my late teens. Every time I've had a bad flu since then, there have been moments where the coughing and seizing locks up my whole respiratory system and I literally can't breathe. In those moments, I'm taken back to that year where whooping cough was destroying my lungs and I think that maybe this time will be the last... and then it subsides.

...and that's the flu.

I may talk a big game about the macro-level implications of this thing, but I'm honestly — personally — worried.

Christina is less concerned (which doesn't help with my own fears). She's frustrated by the way this year has likely stunted Anna's social development, how we see our friends so rarely (always outside, at a "safe" social distance), and she remains (rightly) concerned about the way the vaccines have been rushed through, and how public health is once again being politicised: you're either happy to give your 2 year-old a vaccine that's never been tested on 2-year-olds being rolled out by a government with a demonstrated lack of interest in public health, or you're an idiot anti-vaxxer who hates Britian.

There's a lot of stress to go around.

Goodbye Workfinder, Hello MoneyMover (again)

On the corporate front, I said goodbye to Founders4Schools/Workfinder back in November, and while I'll miss a lot of the people there, I won't miss working there for a variety of reasons.

For the last 2 months of 2020, I went back to MoneyMover to help move some of their codebase forward. I'd been helping to keep things running in my off-hours for the last 2 years, but there were a lot of things that needed more dedicated attention, so I agreed to come back for a short stint to help out. It's a great place to work, so I've really enjoyed being able to work with with everyone again.

Later this month, I'll be moving onto my next full-time job, this time with LimeJump. That move warrants an entirely separate post though, so I hope to get to that soon.

Majel

Finally, the best news (for me anyway) this year was the "launching" of my latest side project, Majel. I won't be announcing it to the nerd world for a few days still, but I'm really happy with how it's turned out.

Majel is a front-end for Mycroft, an OpenSource Alexa replacement. Imagine being able to "install" Alexa on your laptop or a Raspberry Pi and know that it does what you want without eavesdropping on your conversations. Mycroft even sells dedicated devices that do the same thing (just like an Echo), again, all Freely licensed so you can extend it in any way you like.

Majel is one such extension, my add-on to the Mycroft system that allows you to control a web browser with voice commands. Sure, maybe Alexa can control a "smart" TV and play shows from Amazon Prime, but it's unlikely that Amazon will also let Alexa control Netflix, let alone a local library stored in something like Kodi.

So I wrote Majel to do just that. You can say stuff like:

Play The West Wing

and it'll look at your local library and play those files if you have them (remembering where you left off of course). If you don't have them, it'll ask Netflix & Amazon who has the show and then play it with the service that does.

It also does stuff like:

Youtube baby shark

Where it'll look up "baby shark" on Youtube and play the first search result, full-screen and on a loop. Anna was thrilled.

Finally, it plugs into my Firefox bookmarks to do handy things like:

Search my bookmarks for chicken

Where it'll draw up a touch-friendly web page full of chicken recipes from my curated collection.

It's all licensed under the AGPL and regardless of whether or not there's much interest in it, I'll likely continue to develop on it. I want to be able to tell it to do basic web stuff, like do a Google/DuckDuckGo search for something or pull up a Wikipedia page on an arbitrary topic. I also want to get it to a point where I can say:

Call the parents

and have it start a video call, but that'll likely require working with something like PyGUI, so it may be a while before I can figure that out.

Anyway, I'm really happy with it, and it represents the culmination of roughly a year's work, squeezed into my off hours after Anna's gone to bed and when I'm not already expected to do some off-hours contracting. I'm hoping it'll show the Mycroft project a way toward making these digital assistants a more visual experience, but even if it flops, I'm still happy to have it running on my old Surface Pro 3 in the kitchen.

March 14, 2020 15:42 +0000  |  Family Health 0

I'm honestly freaking out.

This feels like we're just at the beginning of a story and so many are acting as if we already know everything that's going to happen when all the evidence points to the fact that no one has any clue, no one has anything resembling a plan for the long term.

Here's what we think we know at this stage:

  • The virus is believed to have started in China, in a Wuhan wet market. It appears to be the result of a crossing of a bat virus with something else, possibly a pangolin. The resulting mutation hopped again to humans in the city.
  • It's everywhere. Obviously it's all over China, but in this globalised world, it wasn't long before people carried the virus to every continent.
  • Governments are all responding differently. Typically, the more authoritarian/right-wing the government, the more irresponsible they are.
    • Trump's United States has just gotten around to admitting there's a problem, but has stopped short of actually doing much of anything about it.
    • Here in the UK, conservatives are suggesting that we just "get it over with" to establish "herd immunity", ignoring the fact that (a) this is counter to all advice from medical professionals, (b) hundreds of thousands will most definitely die if they contract it, and (c) we don't even know if herd immunity is even possible. It may be that the virus mutates too quickly, and there have been reports of people re-contracting the virus after they've survived a first round. This may be related to reports that there are in fact two separate but related versions of the virus circulating.
    • In Italy especially, harsh quarantine measures are in place. More than 1200 people have died there already, with around 17,000 listed as having contracted it.
    • South Korea has gone all-out with testing, issuing government funded tests to anyone who wants one, available via a drive-through. Their numbers are generally thought to be most accurate because of this policy. They have more than 8000 infected and 72 dead.
    • Brazil's fascist Bolsanaro said he wasn't infected, then there was a report that he actually was, and then he responded that this was "fake news".
    • Justin Trudeau's wife tested positive, so their whole family is in self-imposed isolation.
  • The projected death toll is all over the place, ranging from millions to tens of millions of people.
    • For the most part, it seems that this virus is killing older people (60+) as well as the immunocompromised and those with diminished breathing capacity, like asthma.

I'm scared that I'm going to lose my parents and not even be able to be there to comfort them. I'm scared it'll kill my aunt, or Ruth, or any number of beautiful people in my life that fit the profile for most-likely-to-die. I'm scared that it could kill me too.

On top of that, I'm worried about what's to come. If this virus can't be contained (and it's a decent bet at this stage) and it mutates as readily as the flu, we could be looking at a hard limit on the typical human life span of 60 years... forever. Put another way, I just lost 30-40 years of my life. If I survive this, every "coronavirus season" will be a gauntlet between now and when it finally manages to kill me, my wife, my daughter, her kid, and so on. The collective life span and ability for our species to retain knowledge may very well be irreparably damaged by this one virus.

Then there's the question of how society will change.

In the short term, we're looking at global quarantines and self-isolation. Much of the West has spent the last 30 years destroying job security in favour of zero-hour contracts and the "gig economy". This translates to millions of people with no sick pay, and therefore considerable motivation to go to work anyway and infect others.

Even with those people going to work though, we're still looking at a catastrophic global labour shortage. The vast majority of developed countries are both highly integrated with the global market and operating on a just-in-time system. Food is picked by people, processed by people, transported vast distances by people, stocked by people, and delivered by people... all of whom are being asked not to work. This applies to every industry that produces a tangible product: food, medicine, clothing. In other words, there's a critical amount of work that people do to keep us all alive, and none of those jobs can be converted to "remote work" or automated anytime soon.

It's through this lens that the US and UK positions are beginning to make sense to me. They don't want a quarantine. They're looking down the barrel of a permanently shortened life span vs. supply chains atrophying and people starving/rioting and they're opting for the lesser of two evils. It's horrifying, but I'm not sure I can blame them. Still, Christina points out to me that other countries are experimenting with more progressive options: keeping schools open only for children whose parents have no other option than working: paying out weeks of leave partially by reducing wages, partially through government funds, and partially through the employer. There's hope there that we'll find a way through this, but it's a terrifying mess.

More than any of this though, I'm angry. If we're right that the origin is indeed a Wuhan wet market, then I'm pissed as hell at China. This is a country that knew that wet markets selling wild animals were a dangerous source for breeding new viruses. They knew this because it happened once before with SARS. The government even shut down wet markets after the SARS outbreak, but that didn't last. The government allowed this to happen knowing full well what the implications would be. They did it anyway, and now millions are going to die.

Maybe after all of this settles, the global community can finally adopt a policy of isolating countries who, through carelessness or ideology, conduct themselves in a way that's dangerous to the rest of us.

For now, I'm just going to hope a vaccine is developed soon, and that the virus doesn't mutate too readily.

January 12, 2014 21:24 +0000  |  Canada Christina Greece Health Ripe NCC Travel 0

I started this year with a grand plan: travel out of country 12 times, once for each month in the year. It didn't quite work out that way, but I got close, so I guess I'll start this Great Big Annual Post with the sightseeing:

Travel

Copenhagen, Denmark

Following what would appear to be an unfortunate pattern, Christina and I went North in winter, and did a weekend in Copenhagen. We saw Cirque du Soleil, wandered around the city a bit and ate as many danishes as we possibly could.

Honestly, I'd go back just for the danishes. Maybe we will in 2014.

Photos from our trip can be found in my image gallery.

Brussels, Belgium

It was my first FOSDEM conference, and knowing basically nothing about it other than the fact that it was about Free software and didn't cost anything to attend, I booked a train and a hotel for the weekend. I had such an amazing time, I'm already booked to go back for this year's conference.

FOSDEM is a big deal in the Free software world, and it's probably the biggest conference of its kind in Europe. I met some of the developers of my favourite Linux distribution and bought one of them dinner. I got to publicly thank the GNOME developers for all of their hard work while they were battling a mountain of user backlash, and got some stickers, which was pretty awesome.

Gibraltar, UK

Stephanie loves to travel, and so do I, so when she's in the neighbourhood (ie. within a few hours flight) we usually try to meet up and go somewhere interesting. After much deliberation over Skype, (and some scoffing from Christina regarding our decided destination) we settled on Gibraltar... and it was awesome.

Incredible views from the top of the rock, fascinating military history, and beautiful caves. Oh, and did I mention the super-crafty monkeys? If you've got the time, and don't mind potentially getting stuck there an extra day when the plane refuses to come due to weather, Gibraltar is pretty amazing. If you don't feel like making the trip though, there are some photos in case you're curious.

Edinburgh, Scottland

At last, Christina was able to share her love of Edinburgh with me. She'd been going on about its fabulousness ever since we met, so it was time that I saw it with my own eyes.

Truth be told, Edinburgh is quite beautiful, with a diverse surrounding landscape influencing the local architecture. We hiked to the top of Arthur's Seat and the crags, saw a choral concert and toured the underground with a guide I'm reasonably confident was high at the time. Oh! and I also got to eat a deep fried Mars bar. Not at tasty as you might think. Ew.

Photos are on my image gallery if you're curious.

Warsaw, Kraków, and Auschwitz, Poland

I'd hoped to do more travelling into the old Eastern block countries this year, but unfortunately I was only able to visit Poland in 2013. Fortunately, since DjagoCon EU was based there, I managed to bookend the conference with some personal time and save on airfare in the process. Before settling down to the conference, I toured Warsaw and Kraków, and saw the remnants of the horrors of Auschwitz. I'm still deeply effected by what I saw there.

There's photos from my entire Poland trip in my image gallery if you'd like to see what I saw.

Athens & Santorini, Greece

This was apparently my Greek year. Christina and I visited in June: first Athens (Αθήνα), and then the Island of Santorini (Σαντορίνη). The weather was hot, but not beyond my capacity, due mostly to the dryness of the climate. The food was wonderful, and the people both friendly and accommodating. Christina's family took us to the Acropolis (Ακρόπολις), and the Temple of Poseidon (Aκρωτήριο Σούνιο). I also got to meet the extended family, and Eat All The Foodz. With the exception of one horrific boat ride from Santorini to Athens, the trip was wonderful.

Here are the pictures if you're into that.

London, UK

Theresa made the trip to her favourite city in the world, and we arranged it so I could meet her one weekend while she was in town. We didn't have a lot of time, but we got the important part in: actually seeing each other and catching up on what's going on in our lives. We toured a cemetery, wandered through Hyde Park, and spent an unfortunate amount of time looking for a good steak house.

It's funny, but every time I go to London my opinion of it changes. After some trips I despise it, and after others, I can actually see myself choosing to live there.

Athens, Greece (again)

I didn't expect it, but my company chose to send me back to Athens for RIPE 67, so that I could help out for a workshop about the RESTful API I helped write for our ATLAS project. It was an exhausting trip, that saw me rarely leave the hotel, but there were a few evenings that I managed to get out and explore. I took a few hours one evening to visit Plaka (Πλακα), met Christina's father for a tour through a local museum, and for dinner at their house, and on my last night in Athens, Vesna and I hit the beach with a couple of her friends, had dinner there, and then headed across town to the local hackerspace, closing the night with drinks at the foot of the Acropolis. That was a really good time.

Paris, France

Christina took a work-related trip to Paris, and I decided to surprise her for her trip home. We didn't have a lot of time for sightseeing (we'd already been a few times each, so this wasn't all that high a priority). We actually spent most of the night looking for a good place to eat and eventually found ourselves disappointed at a place I thought would be good. It's the thought that counts though right?

Vancouver, Canada

Finally, this was the year of Christina's first trip to Canada. We set off at the tail end of November to see Vancouver and Kelowna, and gauging her reaction, she seems to really like my country :-)

We met some of my friends, and most of my family, wandered through Stanley Park, and I ate as much food as I possibly could. Seriously, I nearly broke into tears biting into a proper cheeseburger (oh how I've missed those!) We drove over the Rockies up to Kelowna where we did a little sightseeing and a lot of just hanging with my family.

Photos from both Vancouver and Kelowna are available in my image gallery. Bonus: there's a shot in there of my fabulous Movember mo.

I'm hoping that 2014 will see us make a trip to Eastern Canada, maybe a road trip form St. John's to Toronto? We'll see.

Personal

Joined Houses

On the personal front, the big news of the year was Christina and I moving in together. This is only the second time that I've managed to get this far in a relationship, and the last time we sort of fell into it, after having moved from Vancouver to Ottawa. I'm hoping this time works out better.

Christmas in Amsterdam

Having a home of our own meant playing host to the Angelopoulos family over Christmas. Christina's sister is in the UK, her cousin in Belgium, and her parents in Athens. This made our place a logical destination for the big dinner shindig. Her parents were here for roughly two weeks, while her sister and cousin were crashing for only a few days. It was nice to have someone to spend Christmas with, given that my family was thousands of kilometres away, and I even learnt a few new Greek words in the process.

I also took a few pictures that week.

My Health

The big cloud over my life this year has been an as-yet-undefined illness that makes me dizzy at times throughout the day. I assumed that this all started after that horrible boat ride from Santorini, but it's impossible to tell at this point. Since August I've had regular dizziness spells, and even fainted once. It generally doesn't get in the way of my day, but it's still rather disturbing. My ENT assures me that there's nothing wrong with me, which is both encouraging and disheartening: a person knows when something isn't right, and when their doctor just smiles at you like you're wasting their time, it tends to get under your skin.

I've had blood tests, an ECG, and an MRI, all of which returned with "all clear" results, so I can see where Dr. Smiley is coming from, but the symptoms are real, so I don't know where to go from here. Christina and I talked about it and we're going to wait a few months to see if things get better on their own. If they don't I'll be asking for a referral to a dizziness clinic in the hopes that they can figure this out.

I'm also getting fatter, which obviously sucks. At 34 years old, I've never actually had to work at maintaining an appropriate weight, and the realisation of this new reality is not a happy experience. We did just move into a building with a gym though, and I've just started making use of it. Hopefully by this time next year I'll be able to report that I've lost about 10kg and holding comfortably.

This Blog

This was also the year of version 5 of this site's software going live, as well as another big milestone: 10 years of blogging. I don't post here as often as I used to (it takes a good chunk of your day let me tell you), but I do enjoy going back over this thing to see how my life has been, so this is a labour I intend to continue. Thank you, for sharing this with me :-)

Corporate

Started on Spirithunter (again)

You know those people who have a great idea, who tell you all about how amazing their idea is, and how one day this amazing idea will be amazing? Well I've been one of those guys now for three years. This past few months have seen a renewed interest in the Spirithunter project, what we me having an actual desk to write code on now, and I'm actually starting to see traction on that front. It'll still be a while before there's anything I can show you people, but I think it's worth noting that things are coming back on track now.

My Father's Project

I've also got another, much smaller project going to hopefully help my family out with a website for their own business. It's on a tight deadline though: I started on it not long after I returned from Canada in December, and it has to be finished and ready by February. I'm about 30% done at this point though, so it's time to knuckle down.

RIPE: 1year

Lastly, I hit my 1 year mark at RIPE back in August, and strangely, this is the first company I've worked for ever where I'm not already bored after 1 year. Sure, RIPE isn't perfect, and the code doesn't look anything like what I'd like it to, but the environment is interesting, the field actually important, and not evil. And they fly me to Athens and Warsaw to do work related stuff. Seriously, this is a pretty good gig. You should work there.

Conclusion

I started 2014 with a goal of more travel, and despite missing the quantitative mark, I look back on all the things I've seen and done this year and I'm pretty happy with it. For next year: even more travel, this time to more Eastern block countries like Romania and the Czech Republic would be nice, and a public beta of Spirithunter would make for a good grade. Keep checking back here to see how I do on that front.

August 06, 2013 23:15 +0100  |  Health 6

So I've been pretty sick lately. For those interested, I'll do a quick run down of the symptoms:

  • Constant fatigue
  • Virtigo/Dizziness
  • Stiff neck
  • Fainting (just once, but it was scary)
  • Overheating
  • Nausea

After the fainting episode, (long story, no I don't want to talk about it) I went to the Expat Medical Centre to have a pro check me out. The problem is that those symptoms match a lot of things, both scary and benign. The doc figured I had <code>BPPV</code>, which is a scary-sounding acronym meaning my ears are out of whack and I need to do some special exercises to make them work properly again. I did said exercises and some of the dizziness/virtigo went away, but not all of it. The other stuff is still around.

So, back to the doc. This time they took lots of blood and tested for a bunch of stuff. In order of scariness:

  • Sugar levels (Diabetes)
  • Hemoglobin (low oxygenation)
  • A thyroid condition
  • Mononucleosis
  • Hepetitis

They also did an ECG just to be sure my heart isn't broken somewhere. I was told to wait about a week for all of the results to come in, and today they called, asking me to come in and talk to the doctor. In the past, they'd always just told me that my results came back fine, so this was kinda scary, hence my somewhat ominus tweet.

Mono Plushie But, after freaking out over this for a few hours, I went into the office and the doc tells me that everything came back fine... except for the mono test. For that, the results said that I had had mono in the past, which is weird because I've never felt like this before. The doc ordered another quick test, this one to confirm if I do in fact have it at present, so we can rule it out or not.

"But Dan", you might say, "how the hell could you contract mono when you don't cheat on your girlfriend and you don't share drinks?" Well I asked the doc the same thing, and she said that in the Netherlands, people don't wash glasses properly in the bars. Instead of using soap and hot water, they use a tiny brush and cold water, for about 2 seconds on all glasses. Frankly it's disgusting. The thinking is that if I do in fact have mono (and we don't know for sure yet), it's likely that I got it from this nasty process, or via Christina when she shared a drink with someone. Apparently it's common for people to get it and not show symptoms.

There's also one thing that I keep forgetting to ask the doc to test for: West Nile Virus/Fever. Apparently there was an outbreak in parts of Greece a few years ago, and contrary to popular belief it's not always fatal. There are in fact a number of subsets that just make you feel terrible. If this mono thing doesn't pan out, I'll have to remember to ask them about that.

So, for those of you who asked, thank you for your concern, but it looks like whatever I have isn't going to kill me. I'll post here when I know more.

February 11, 2011 23:30 +0000  |  Family Health 0

If you're honestly curious about the technical details of Multiple Sclerosis, don't read this blog post. Read the exhaustive Wikipedia article instead. Same goes for the CCSVI treatment. I'm going to try to simplify it here in my own words/understanding.

MS is basically a disease which sees toxins in the blood stream build up in the brain, leading to a degradation of the nerves connecting the brain to the spinal chord. This results in reduced mobility, significant pain, and eventually near immobility. A debilitating disease, those afflicted often can't work, walk, or in extreme cases even hold a fork to eat. Within the western scientific community, the cause is unknown, and there is no cure. Also, my aunt has it.

Now the deal with CCSVI. A few years ago, there was this vascular surgeon named Paolo Zamboni whose wife was diagnosed with MS. The romantic that he is, he devoted his life to finding a cure, and in 2008, he claimed that he'd found one. As a vascular surgeon, he looked at MS from a perspective of blood flow as opposed to a neurologist, who typically approaches MS from the brain. Zamboni found that in most of the MS patients he examined, the veins from the brain to the heart were constricted, leading him to believe that his was causing a backlog of iron deposits in the brain leading to MS. He performed a simple operation of re-expanding those veins and lo-and-behold most of the patients got better.

Now there's more to this of course. There's a lot of criticism for Zamboni's results: claims that it wasn't sufficiently scientific, that the numbers and proportions of sick vs. control were inappropriate -- all good criticism and there are new tests being done along the same lines all over the world now.

Now here's where things get sticky (and anecdotal). As horrible as MS is, people aren't waiting for additional clinical trials. This discovery was made in 2008, and here in 2011 we're still waiting on the scientific establishment to give the nod. MS patients all over the world are frustrated and angry, and a lot of them have been getting the treatment anyway -- with amazing results.

As my family is directly affected by MS, we've been following this "Liberation" or treatment for some time now. Canadians can't get it here, as it's still not a sanctioned procedure, so we've been looking overseas. Ameds Centrum, one of the most prominent hospitals in the world for CCSVI is in Poland, and they've been doing this procedure for about a year now. You fly in, they pick you up at the airport in an ambulance, rest you at a hotel and do an MRI the next day. If in fact you have the aforementioned vein constrictions, They can do the vein re-expansion in a few hours and then you're monitored on-site for another couple days. Costs vary depending on the amount of expansion done (if you need stents etc.).

My grandmother managed to contact one of the patients who had this procedure done, so we went to meet her on Vancouver Island this week. I must tell you, scientific study aside, CCSVI appears to work. Before her trip to Poland, this woman suffered from dramatic loss of mobility. She could walk, but only against a wall, and only very slowly. Bending down wasn't an option, turning her head made her sick and dizzy, and her concentration was vastly diminished as well. But now you wouldn't know she ever had MS. She walks, she talks (a lot), she can do squats: 100% mobility. Her cognitive response is right back where it should be, she is a changed woman. She even claims that she felt the effects almost immediately: before the procedure, she couldn't hold a fork, but 10minutes out of the operating room, she was clenching her hands into fists repeatedly. She was totally amazed.

I'm writing about this because I want to share this woman's story, and the controversy surrounding this new treatment. I also want to point out that drugs with known damaging side effects are actively being used to treat MS symptoms in this country, while there's been little or no movement on CCSVI. Dangerous drugs have somehow managed to be pushed through to the pharmacy counter in record time and yet a relatively low-risk procedure like this somehow still requires more study. The aforementioned patient voiced her sincere distaste for both the MS Society and her neurologist, and while I understand the need for careful controls on new drugs and procedures when it comes to public health, I can't help but share some of her frustration when it comes to the apparent double-standard in this case.

If they can clear their backlog of requests, my aunt will likely be going to Poland for CCSVI this year. It may not do anything, but given the low risk involved, and the potential for getting her life back, we all feel that it's a good choice.

February 06, 2009 06:20 +0000  |  Health 3

Just to keep you all up on how things are going since my face-shifting altercation a couple weeks ago, I thought that I might mention my trip to the doctor today.

You see, there's an odd little mass forming under the skin just beneath my left eye. It's not obstructing my vision, hell it doesn't even affect my outward appearance, but it's creepy, and I can move it around over the surface of my skull by sliding my fingers over my face... Frankly, it's creepy.

So I went to the doc to ask him what was going on. He explained that it was likely the result of a migrating bruise or a pooling of the blood from the face-pounding that has since coagulated and hardened in it's own happy place. While the risk to my health is nill he says, it can be a bit annoying and creepifying (my word), so I can opt to remove it, but it's not covered by Medicare.

It is however likely covered by my company's medical plan.

So I'm going to try to book some time this week or next to get it removed. The procedure apparently involves bombardment by sonic waves which sounds so cool it almost makes the whole thing worth it :-) I'll try to remember post when it's all over.

November 28, 2008 01:30 +0000  |  Charity Health 9

All this month, I've been growing out my facial hair (I'm beginning to look like a Mountain Man and it's damned itchy). "Why would you do this?" you might ask. Well, a short time ago the Prostate Cancer Research Foundation of Canada decided to do a Movember fund raising effort for men's health, specifically targeting prostate cancer. The idea being, I grow hair like crazy and you all give them money to support my pain ;-)

To donate to my Mo you can either:

  1. Donate online using your credit card or PayPal account
  2. Or write a cheque payable to the ‘Prostate Cancer Research Foundation of Canada', referencing my Registration Number 2194621 and mailing it to:
      Prostate Cancer Research Foundation of Canada
      Attn: Movember
      145 Front Street East
      Suite 306
      Toronto Ontario M5A 1E3
    

Donations are tax deductible to the extent permitted by law.

The money raised by Movember is donated directly to the Prostate Cancer Research Foundation of Canada who will use the funds to create awareness and fund research across the country into prevention, detection and treatment, with a goal to ending the threat of prostate cancer.

Did you know:

  • Every year around 24,700 Canadian men are diagnosed with prostate cancer and about 4,300 die of the disease, making it the number one cancer threat to Canadian men.
  • 1 in 7 men will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime.
  • All men over the age of 40 are potentially at risk and should talk to their doctor about the disease and early detection. Prostate cancer is 95% curable if detected and treated early.
  • The results of last year's fund raising are available online.

Thanks for your support.

More information is available at movember.com.

Update: Proof!

Photographic evidence
Angela requested photographic evidence, so here it is... in all its hairy glory... ew.