Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Epilepsy Surgery Screening, Day 6

UCLA Medical Center, 7th Floor, 10 am -- Oh happy day ... Cheryl was a good little patient and gave the doctors two more seizures, at 2 and 7:30 am. She now feels the way she does when she's going to have a "bad day."

The resident confirmed that Cheryl will be discharged on Wednesday, and that Cheryl will receive her medicines again.

Except for the fact that it looks like she will need more testing, everything has gone exactly according to plan. Procedurally, in fact, it was all perfect. The only problem is that Cheryl's condition didn't fall readily into the box that we would have preferred.

UCLA Medical Center, 7th Floor, 7 pm -- I returned home for the middle of the day to give Cheryl's parents a break from watching the kids. We just can't catch a break, now, though. Michael's fever and cold have finally cleared up, just in time for the school to call us to pick up Kelly early because one of her eyelids is swollen. Terrific.

Cheryl had another three seizures during the afternoon, so the nurses gave her another Valium to stop them, which knocked her out for a while and gave her another raging headache, now being treated with Excedrin Migraine (we've got this whole thing figured out now).

Dr. Nuwer spent a long time with us late in the afternoon to go over what happens next. It turns out that all of the tests have given good, consistent date, but what they show is something that will likely require additional testing. Whereas most of the seizures of her general type arise from the mesial temporal lobe (i.e., within the temporal lobe), Cheryl's are, as best as I can put it in my layman's terms, closer to the surface near the junction of the temporal, frontal and periatal lobes. (Here are the basics of the physiology of the brain at about my speed.) In addition, the anomoly is basically on the surface, as opposed to deeper inside as with the typical temporal lobe cases. Aside from mere location, the doctor described the problem as "cortical dysgenesis." In other words, the problem has been there since before she was born. One journal abstract I found has this to say:

Cortical dysgenesis (CD) describes a wide spectrum of brain anomalies that involve abnormal development of the cerebral cortex. There is a strong association between CD and epilepsy, and it comprises a significant proportion of children and adults whose epilepsy cannot be controlled with medications. "Cortical Dysgenesis and Epilepsy," Steven N. Roper, Anthony T. Yachnis, The Neuroscientist, Vol. 8, No. 4, 356-371 (2002)

Cheryl's case will be presented for peer review either a week from tomorrow or three weeks from then. Dr. Nuwer is certain, based upon past experience that the neurologists and neurosurgeons will recommend further testing to precisely determine the location of the problem. This is somewhat characteristic of this type of issue, as is it more diffuse across the surface of the brain rather than a specific point within the brain. Dr. Nuwer explained that there are major blood vessels that traverse the area, so they can't simply cut everything out there that might be connected with the problem.

While there are several tests than can be undertaken at this point, it appears that the most likely will be the implantation of electrodes in Cheryl's brain. They would be inserted through tiny holes drilled in her skull (lovely), and she would have to stay in the hospital for about two weeks, having seizures like she did this week. This test, however, would enable the doctors to identify exactly where the problem is. Right now, all of the data suggests that the issue is still with the temporal lobe, which is a good thing, since they would be reluctant to proceed with surgery if the frontal lobe were the problem. The additional tests would locate precisely where on the temporal lobe the bad areas are. Cheryl may also be asked to undergo neuro-cognitive testing on an outpatient basis.

We don't have to make any decisions right away. The neurosurgeon who would consult with us about the Phase 2 testing is out of the country (but involved in her review) until October). The success rates for this kind of seizure disorder are also different, and probably not as high, as with the typical mesial temporal lobe surgery. The neurosurgeon will be able to give us more information on that angle, which may have a significant influence on Cheryl's willingness to proceed.

It looks like surgery, if any, will not take place until next year. That's a huge bummer for insurance reasons. However, we have learned a tremendous amount about Cheryl's condition, so money issues become petty and irrelevant as we look at the next steps to take toward a cure.

Finally: Cheryl comes home tomorrow!

Monday, August 29, 2005

Epilepsy Surgery Screening, Day 5

Glendale, California, 9:15 am -- The phone rang at 5:30 this morning. All I could do is say hello to Cheryl before our phone line went dead (one of many technological failures that has oddly begun to afflict our household over the last few days). So, a seizure, then? I didn't call back because of the hour, and figured she would call back whenever she was awake, since she should be able to fall asleep after having a seizure.

She did call back later to say that she'd had a weird night, and finally took her one our of allotted sleep between 4:30 and 5:30. She though she might have had seizures during that time, which is why she called. However, the nurses didn't notice anything, so the doctors will have to review the tape to be sure. We'll know more later. Unless she had one, or has one soon, she will almost certainly not come home today.

UCLA Medical Center, 6:30 pm -- This was a difficult day. The doctor came by in the morning and provided Cheryl, who was terribly fatigued, with some less than encouraging news: it was not clear whether she had had a seizure, and it looks like she will have to have electode probes implanted in her brain ("Phase 2") to really narrow down where the seizures are located. She was upset for a while, but gradually got things under control. The staff was very nice to her, knowing how tired and upset she was.

The nurses allowed her to take a one-hour nap in the afternoon. I spent the time revisiting old haunts on campus, and returned to find Cheryl still tired but in a better frame of mind. Her roommate is still cranky, but she will probably be moved tonight because the nurses have to monitor her more closely. Good. She wasn't too understanding of Cheryl's need to be up all night.

The doctor didn't return in the afternoon, so I left with the plan to return early tomorrow to catch morning rounds.

Glendale, California, 8:30 pm -- As it turns out, the resident stopped by shortly after I left. Cheryl got an opportunity to spend a lot of time and ask a lot of questions. They still want her to have another seizure, although they also tentatively plan to discharge her on Wednesday.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Epilepsy Surgery Screening, Day 4

UCLA Medical Center, 7th Floor, 12 pm -- No seizures overnight or this morning. Cheryl's roommate has been discharged. I was lucky enough to run into them in the parking lot on my way in. We are happy they have finally been released (she had expected to leave yesterday, but had to wait an extra day to get some levels correct), but we will miss them. There must be something in the water in the midwest. They were the most upbeat, cohesive little family unit you could imagine, and they offered a lot of help to Cheryl when I wasn't around. Even though we were only about half a generation off from them, there was something nice about having parental figures in the room, especially ones so genuinely cheerful. Kansas City will be a better place when they return.

I'm off to find the Corner Bakery Cafe, a restaraunt that our friend Dave, the UCLA grad and expert, discovered for us when they delivered great food for Cheryl yesterday. Oddly, their menus show a website but not a street address.

UCLA Medical Center, 7th Floor, 2 pm -- Thanks to the miracle of cell phones, I was able to locate the sandwich shop without checking a phone book (good luck finding one these days) or asking anyone where it was, which would have been far more sensible.

We have a new roommate, an octagenarian woman who is friendly enough, but has very particular ideas about her care. We felt for the woman's nurses and daughter as she tried to instruct the nurse that her doctor, whom she had been seeing for year, told her that she was to take a particular kind of medicine, and that she really wasn't interested in what the doctors here had to say, and would she please go get her medicine? Oh, and she's ready to go home now, thank you. "No, Mom, the doctors will tell you when it's time to go home." "But why? I'm ready to go now."

No seizures yet today, although Cheryl has felt "off" at various times, has battled a headache, and has continue to feel significant tingling in her hands. Her nurse today has taken Cheryl on a couple of brisk walks that leave her feeling a little giddy from the sudden rush of activity after days on the hospital bed. The doctor has also informed us that Cheryl will be allowed one hour of sleep between now and tomorrow at 9 pm. Cheryl just laughs at them, knowing that nothing will keep her from her appointed rounds of shuteye.

UCLA Medical Center, 7th Floor, 7:30 pm -- The remainder of the afternoon passed with visits from a lot of our friends. It is always good to see friendly faces, especially since Cheryl isn't really recovering from anything, so except for the Medusa-like tangle of electrode wires on her head, visits are easy to take.

Cheryl's nurse has given her compression (anti-embolysm) socks to try to help eleminate the tingling in her hands by improving blood flow. No seizures yet, although Cheryl has felt significantly off at times. We agreed that she would give me a call whenever she has one.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Epilepsy Surgery Screening, Day 3

Glendale, California, 3:45 pm -- I haven't been to the hospital yet today, but I've spoken twice to Cheryl, who is in very good spirits. The migraine medicine did its thing last night; being headache-free makes a huge difference in Cheryl's ability to cope with her confinement.

Interestingly, she had another seizure last night after I left. According to the doctor today, that one counts as "set 2" of three, since the first four were all in a cluster. One more seizure and they will have everything they need. She might be able to come home a little early!

One detail I forgot to mention is the activity that takes place when she is having a seizure. The watch nurse gives her a word to remember, although the one time I saw it happen the word was given too late. The attending nurse then peppers her with questions relating to spatial and time awareness and physical coordination. Cheryl doesn't respond for the first 30 seconds or so, but locks in on the nurse thereafter. Her speech gradually becomes more clear as the next minute passes. She didn't remember doing it, though, until I reminded her of it later.

I'll be headed to UCLA this afternoon to spend a normal Saturday evening: dinner and a movie (on the laptop). Thank you to everyone who has sent kind words to Cheryl or visited her, to our friends who have or will be providing our family with dinners, and especially to her parents, who have steadfastly taken on the task of watching the kids and feeding us without a second thought. I would not be able to be with Cheryl and be involved in this process directly without their help. Even in the midst of this trial, we know that we are blessed beyond measure.

UCLA Medical Center, 7th Floor, 9:00 pm -- This evening brought a lot of variety. I smuggled in Taco Bell for Cheryl and I, which proved to be a welcome substitute for the hospital's hamburger and fries. We watched part of a movie on the laptop, and then Cheryl's sister and brother-in-law arrived for a visit. All in all, it was a pretty relaxing day; the only complications being a lack of seizures and constant tingling in Cheryl's hands.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Epilepsy Surgery Screening, Day 2

UCLA Medical Center, 7th Floor, 2:30 pm -- Bad news can be good news sometimes; this screening process depends on it. By the time I returned to UCLA this morning, Cheryl had been taken to the nuclear imaging center for her PET scan. What I didn’t know is that she had had three seizures that morning prior to the test. She had another one after we returned to her room. All of the seizures were observed by medical personnel, so they all “count,” which is the good news. We also don’t have to worry about her not having seizures here after several months of clean living. Also, all of them were consistent in form with other seizures I’ve witnessed, so our minor fear that cutting off the medicine could induce a more severe seizure seems to be unrealized. Unfortunately, they came with a whopper of a headache, and the doctors would not let Cheryl take the migraine headache medicine she uses at home. After several please to the nurses, however, the doctor authorized Vicodin. It may not solve the headache entirely, but it has allowed Cheryl to rest for a while.

We look forward to hearing from the doctor now that she has had several seizures, an MRI and a PET scan. It has been gratifying that all of the issues that might have been obstacles to this process (insurance, inability to have seizures, more severe seizures) have not come to pass.

UCLA Medical Center, 7th floor, 4 pm – The resident tells us that all of the morning seizures appears exactly as they should on the EEG. So far, everything is textbook. We’ll know more from the PET either this afternoon or Monday morning (assuming we’re still here by then). They need another couple of clusters of seizures. We have every reason to believe, based upon past experience, that Cheryl will have those seizures within the next couple of days.

The Vicodin seems to have helped Cheryl get a little bit more comfortable. The resident has also allowed us to bring migraine medicine from home for the nurses to administer, since they don’t have it in the pharmacy.

UCLA Medical Center, 7th Floor, 4:45 pm – Dr. Newer paid us his afternoon visit. He was pleased, and a bit surprised, that Cheryl had so many seizures this morning. We need a few more, from other days, in order to be statistically sound. He mentioned that they gave her a valium after the first three, as it is an anticonvulsant, in order to slow her down. A nurse had mentioned earlier that they had given it, but the significance of the drug was lost on me at the time.

Dr. Newer also said that the MRI, upon further review, showed a bit of haziness near where the expected to find it. Near, but not exactly. Cheryl has what he termed “cortical displasia,” which is essentially a region of misfiring synapses near the edge of her temporal lobe. The MRI showed the haziness to be about an inch above and anterior of where they expect to find the source of her seizures just above the right temple. In order to be a good candidate for surgery, the doctors will have to be able to refine the location more precisely; right now, the EEG points to one spot, and the MRI points to a spot an inch away. The doctor noted, however, that the MRI images sometimes are akin to showing the smoke of a nearby fire. In other words, the problem shown on the MRI may be evidence of a flaw not in that location, but in one nearby, which would be consistent with the EEG results. It is hoped that the PET scan and further EEG information from additional seizures will help tune in the precise location of the seizures.

By late afternoon, Cheryl was resting more comfortably. I headed home in another gorgeous SoCal summer evening to handoff to Cheryl’s parents, who would head to UCLA to spend the evening with her. Almost more importantly, they will deliver Cheryl’s stash of Excedrin Migrane.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Epilepsy Surgery Screening, Day 1

UCLA Hospital Admissions Office, 10:50 am PDT -- Everything has gone according to plan and ahead of schedule so far. Cheryl and I arrived at UCLA at 7:30 this morning, an hour ahead of when they requested her to check in for a 9:00 MRI. We took the opportunity to stroll around the lower campus, which was a beautiful as any university setting can be. The low angle summer morning sunlight glinting through the spray of sprinklers, slanting across carefully manicured grounds now fully recovered from a year of undergraduate abuse, provided a welcome opportunity to work off nervous energy.

Cheryl went into the MRI as soon as she arrived, so she started and finished about 20 minutes early. The noise in the waiting area whenever the heavy, warning-label festooned doors opened was incredible, which of course is nothing compared to Cheryl’s experience, stuffed as she was head-first into the tube. She equated the din of the scanning mode to a jackhammer or fire alarm, which was coupled with a constant mechanical clicking that was simply the noise of the machine in “on” mode. Earplugs are provided, but she still emerged looking (and feeling) like she just stumbled out of the Whisky after a particularly energetic Van Halen show.

Bloodwork followed shortly thereafter, the technicians drawing enough blood to make her fingers tingle. But we’re still early, so we have that going for us, potential blackouts notwithstanding.

We arrived at the general admission desk for the hospital early enough that they do not have a room for Cheryl yet. Happily, we ran into one of our pastors who was visiting our friend Daphne, who had surgery this week and is recovering on the same floor that Cheryl is likely to occupy for the next several days. We took the opportunity to say hello to Daphne and her parents, glad to see her sitting up and enjoying visitors.

Now we wait for a room. I’ve seen far too many unhappy children today who are suffering from various maladies of their own. We just met a little girl, no more than three years old, sniffling in the arms of her father after enduring a bad night of epileptic seizures. She will be spending the week here on the pediatric floor doing exactly what Cheryl is doing. No matter how bad things seem to be for yourself, the same condition applied to a child is instantly orders of magnitude worse.

One other thing: Michael woke up with a fever. Cheryl’s parents have the dubious honor of dealing with that while we sort things out here at UCLA. He is apparently in good spirits, though, but he misses Mommy.

UCLA Medical Center, 7th Floor, 2 pm -- We had to wait awhile for a bed to open up, but by noon Cheryl was beginning to settle into her home for the next several days … across the hall from our friend Daphne. Daphne’s roommate had gone through Cheryl’s telemetry regimen two weeks ago, and was recovering from surgery that had been ordered suddenly due to the discovery of a tumor.

The nurses took Cheryl’s vital signs and the resident came by to obtain a medical history and perform some seemingly innocuous tests: how many animals can you name in a minute? Where are you? Touch my finger with yours then touch your nose. Lots of reflex, memory and coordination exercises. The nurses have been unable to set an IV line, however, much to Cheryl’s discomfort.

Daphne is going home, so the staff moved her roommate across the hall to be Cheryl’s roommate. This is a nice development, because she has already gone through what Cheryl is going to experience. Despite our requests, however, no lunch has arrived for Cheryl. She insisted that I eat, at least, so off I go for hospital cafeteria food.

UCLA Medical Center, 7th Floor, 3:30 pm – In my absence, the charge nurse managed to insert an IV stub in her left forearm, which is now in so much pain that she can’t move it. That’s probably a good thing, because as I walked into the room, another doctor was affixing electrodes to her head for the EEG. Each electrode is held down with gauze and glue. I can see already these will be no fun at all to remove. Once all the electrodes are in place, the doctor puts a little cap on her head through which the multicolored wires run like a Technicolor braid. She is now tethered to a 17 foot cord, and distinctly uncomfortable.

Still no lunch; I went to the nurse’s station to ask more forcefully this time. Everyone is shocked that it hasn’t arrived, but others’ shock don’t take the edge off of hunger when you haven’t eaten for 10 hours.

UCLA Medical Center, 7th Floor, 6:30 pm – Things are improving. Lunch, in the form of a ham sandwich, finally arrived (after the resident scrounged up graham crackers and applesauce in horror that Cheryl hadn’t been fed). Even better, dinner also arrived on time, so things seem to be sorted out on the dining front.

Dr. Newer stopped by to let us know that the MRI is reportedly normal. So, no tumors, which is always good news.

We have gotten to know Cheryl’s roommate and her mother better. They have already been a great resource about what to expect next. In particular, the PET scan that Cheryl is to have Friday morning, while similar to an MRI, is much less noisy. Good news. The bad news is that the PET scan involves an injection of radioactive sugar, so Cheryl will not be allowed to eat again in the morning until after the test. The scan traces sugar consumption by the brain; where it doesn’t consume, it doesn’t work.

The doctors have cut off Cheryl’s use of Lamictal, which she takes in relatively small quantities but, probably because it is a newer drug to her, seems to have been effective in quelling seizures lately. She will also take only half of her usual dosage of Tegretol. Even with these measures, the doctors think she might not show seizures until Monday when the medicines have flushed from her system.

When I left for the night, Cheryl’s clothes and activities were unpacked and put away, she was fed, wired (literally) and as content as one could expect to be.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Epilepsy Screening, Update 1

We heard today from UCLA to go over preadmission details. Amidst the ordinary procedural issues, we found out that our insurance company had authorized the 7-day stay that UCLA needed, and we've been told that UCLA will work out any longer stay if it becomes medically necessary.

This is a huge burden lifted, one that had been weighing on us for weeks. We are very encouraged that the insurance issue no longer appears to be a potential obstacle. We are also encouraged that UCLA has taken on the task of negotiating with the insurance company, as we hoped they would.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Testing for Epilepsy Surgery

I think all of you few, you happy few, who patronize this site know that Cheryl has epilepsy. She has been on medication for it ever since she was diagnosed in 1990. The medication has never fully controlled the seizures, although she has had stretches of weeks at a time without any events.

Something about having children upset her system. For the past nine years or so, after her teaching career ended, what had been an occasional annoyance became a way of life. Seizures had become frequent enough that she withdrew from activities that required her to make any sort of consistent commitment or required her to drive. Early in our marriage, she taught in a public school and would drive solo from SoCal to the Bay Area or Fresno. Today, she drives three blocks to the grocery store only under the most desperate of circumstances. It’s a matter of confidence rather than actual likelihood of an impending seizure, but the result is the same. It is only through the close proximity and generosity of Cheryl’s parents that we are able to maintain the household, what with the need for shopping and other errands, as well as the kids’ frenetic schedules.

After a particularly ugly spell last year, Cheryl had had enough. She started researching surgical options in the belief that somebody must be trying it. Thankfully, the medical field has made a lot of progress in the last 15 years, and surgery is indeed a viable option for people suffering with epilepsy.

We have now met twice with Dr. Newer of UCLA’s Epilepsy Program, once last year to get a preliminary consultation, and again a few months ago to finalize our decision to enter the program. The program begins with a testing regimen in which Cheryl will be hospitalized at UCLA and induced to have seizures. She will be hooked up to various machines and videotaped, and nurses will perform functionality tests as she goes through the episodes. Coupled with PET scans, MRIs and language tests, the testing scheme is intended to precisely isolate the area of her brain that is not functioning properly. If the damaged area can be identified and isolated, and does not adversely affect other tasks occurring in other parts of the brain, she may be a candidate for surgery. That decision is not made until a panel of about 20 neurologists and epilepsy specialties review her file and agree that she is a good candidate to go forward.

Cheryl will be going to UCLA on Thursday and staying through Monday (all the time our insurance company would allow). We fervently hope, perversely, that she will have a horrible time and have lots of seizures early so that we don’t have to worry about running out of time for the doctors to get their data. Incidentally, this is why we got the iPod, to cover the hours of boredom.

We intend this post to be a source of information not only to our family and friends to drop by here regularly, but to anyone to is considering the same procedures and finds us through an internet search. I will provide updates and further detail about the testing as we go along. If you are one of those people who is in the same situation, or has been through it, please feel free to leave a comment. It is our hope that by adding our experience to the information pool, we can help other people who have suffered with epilepsy.

Spam, spam, spam

Silly me, thinking my post about buying an iPod would generate a flurry of comments. No, it wasn't Andy posting a series of reasons why all Apple technology is superior to all other technology (as I expected). It was spam. Friendly, "hey, this is a cool site" spam, but spam nonetheless, as each comment contained a link to a completely unrelated commercial site.

There is no corner of our lives that is spared from unwanted advertising.

Are You Ready For Some Fantasy Football?

Yep, it is now that season: fantasy football time. As my fantasy baseball team continues to humble the rest of its league, I turn now to my personal Waterloo. It's not that I haven't been successful in fantasy football. However, I have only won one league championship, which in my organization makes it an underperformer. Last year, I led the league all season, but flamed out badly in the playoffs.

We had the league draft yesterday. I had perhaps my most "conventional" draft ever: two running backs before the quarterback; kicker, defense and backup QB in the last rounds. No more picking QBs in the first round, as I have done every year in the past. Of course, this means I'm likely to have a poor season. Conventional wisdom, in drafting fantasy sports teams as with so many other endeavors, often leads to mediocrity by excising the bold strokes of genius that inevitability creates the opportunity for success in a highly competitive environment.

Especially among this crew. We have quite a league, which gets more intimidating as the years pass and we proceed in our careers. When we started a few years ago as a way to keep the college "house" guys in touch, it was "house" guys, which included graduate students, two lawyers and a Microsoft millionaire, plus a bunch of other young lawyers. Now, we have a doctor, a lawyer, a former lawyer turned state department diplomat, a university professor, and a guy with a Ph.D. who does something scary with chemical and biological weapons, in addition to the usual mix of computer geniuses who make up the rest of the league's owners. The best thing about this league, which is the best thing about any fantasy league, is the comeraderie that characterizes our interactions. It's a silly activity, to be sure, but anything that allows me to remain in contact with old friends in a way that recalls the freedom and jocular, friendly competition of university days is well worth the effort.

Stay tuned for season updates ... if I'm doing well. If I'm failing miserably, we'll just forget this whole thing ever happened.

Welcome to the 21st Century

I think we have finally joined the now. After years of indifference, we finally bought an MP3 player yesterday. Not just any MP3 player, but ... an iPod. Let me unabashedly proclaim what a cool little device this is. It makes me want to paint a room some bizarre bright color, backlight myself so that my features are indistict, and gyrate crazily to funky yet compellingly dancible music.

We can all be thankful that I won't, in fact, do that.

There is actually a specific reason why we bought the iPod, which will be the subject of a post to be published later tonight. Until then, I'll just marvel at this little device's ability to swallow our entire (admittedly modest) CD collection.

Lucky Me

I may be the only person in recorded history to have lost a cell phone in a taxi and get it back. While in San Francisco on business last week (part of the reason for the recent blackout in postings here), my phone popped out of its cradle while I was in a taxi from court back to my hotel. I realized it once I got to my room. My head immediately swam with dark thoughts about how much it would cost to buy a new phone and how complicated it would make the rest of my day, which involved flying home, then driving down to San Diego to join the family at a vacation already in progress.

Thankfully, because I was traveling on business, I had collected a receipt from the driver. A taxi receipt isn't much more than a slip of paper smaller than a business card that has blanks for date, amount, route, etc. Crucially, it also has the name and telephone number of the cab company. Since I never look at or care what taxi operator is providing the ride, I would never have been able to figure out whose taxi I used.

I called the operator of the cab company. He eventually was able to figure out who the driver was, and they delivered my phone back to the hotel.

Of course, the story can't have a completely happy ending; I had to pay for my phone's solo ride from the financial district back to my hotel.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Andy, It's Time to Push Away from the Computer

Beware, all ye you are consumed by computer gaming. It can kill you:

A South Korean man who played computer games for 50 hours almost non-stop died of heart failure minutes after finishing his mammoth session in an Internet cafe, authorities said on Tuesday.

The 28-year-old man, identified only by his family name Lee, had been playing online battle simulation games at the cybercafe in the southeastern city of Taegu, police said.

Lee had planted himself in front of a computer monitor to play online games on Aug. 3. He only left the spot over the next three days to go to the toilet and take brief naps on a makeshift bed, they said.

That describes college for a lot of people these days.

Nostalgia for Not So Old Things

CNET has a list of the top 10 tech things its editors miss, which include manned space exploration, LPs and GM's EV1. Number 10 on the list? The Apple Newton:

When Apple gets things right, it's spectacular (think iPod), but when the company messes up, it's a hoot. The first popular pen-based PDA, the Apple Newton, was big, expensive, and too smart for its britches. Early models tried to interpret handwriting with often amusing results, making words out of users' scrawls that often combined into surreal "Newton Poetry." We miss the Newton because what it thought we meant was often far more interesting than what we were really trying to say.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

I Guess I Didn't Miss Much

In addition to its thoroughly depressing "news" account of the landing of the Space Shuttle Discovery (headline: "Safe Landing but Fragile Future"), the LA Times ran a brief story about people that went out to the Edwards area to watch the Shuttle land. According to the paper, about fifty people (ooh, fifty people!) gathered in the predawn darkeness north of the base to watch the orbiter land. The needle on the Unintentional Comedy Meter swings pretty far on this one:

About 5:06 a.m., it happened. Boom. Boom. A sound like fireworks, or rifle blasts, as Discovery entered the atmosphere. The crowd, some gathered around a portable television, clapped and hollered.

A small white dot descended, as though a star were dropping from the heavens. It circled clockwise, and spectators tracked its journey:

"Whoo!" "There it is!" "A little dot. It's just a little dot." "I never thought it would be that high up."

On a car radio, an announcer called out: "Three minutes until touchdown," in a deep baritone.

Two little boys tried to repeat: "Three miles till touchdown."

The crowd scanned the predawn sky for the moving dot, and lost it among the stars. They never saw it again.

At 5:12 a.m., the radio announced: "Touch down. Discovery is home."

"I didn't even see it," several spectators said. "That went fast."

"Wow," was all one woman could muster, as the rest of the shuttle fans silently retreated to their cars, lugging their chairs, just as the black sky began to lighten.

I may be a NASA geek, but at least I know when it makes sense to stay home on the couch.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Welcome Home

NASA geek that I am, I’ve worn myself out trying to follow the journey of Discovery. Any time there is a hint that the Shuttle may come to California I pay careful attention. Several years ago we had a fun time dashing out to the high desert to see the Shuttle come home to Edwards, and when the possibility arose that Discovery might have to divert here, I went back to my old tricks.

I watch NASA TV habitually when the Shuttle is up anyway, but our local cable access station only shows it between 10 pm and 7 am (PT), regardless of what is happening. Since the astronauts work on a different “day” schedule, there is usually something interesting happening, like historic spacewalks and repairs to the orbiter, when the feed abruptly shuts off and we are returned to footage of old city council meetings. (That’s okay; NASA TV is on the internet!)

Since most of the crew’s work is at night in our time zone, I end up watching hours of very quiet footage of the earth passing by, or the tracking map from Mission Control in Houston, when the orbiter is preparing to come home. In this instance, because there was a possibility that the Shuttle could come to California, I needed to pay attention to what the mission bosses were concluding about the Florida weather. Unfortunately, those decisions came very late at night here.

How would I know when to pay attention? By examining the landing data sheets. They describe, down to the second, the eight or nine major milestones the Shuttle will reach from de-orbit turn to touchdown, with speed, time and elevation data provided. For this flight, there were six different landing scenarios, two each in Florida, California and New Mexico, over a span of four potential orbits.

So, my activities last night consisted of staying awake until the first opportunity to land in Florida was scrubbed on orbit 217, then leaving the TV so that I could wake up randomly to hear Mission Control advise that the second Florida landing opportunity would also be scrubbed on orbit 218. With a sleepy smile, I turned off the TV and set my alarm for 4:30 (of course, I knew without looking that touchdown would be at 5:11 following orbit 219; because the weather was good, there would be no need for a landing on orbit 220).

I woke up at the appointed time, with the shuttle just beginning its nose-high decent through the atmosphere. There were unspoken anxious moments as the orbiter progressed through its speed-shedding S-turns, with the narrator once saying only that Mission Control had confirmed data acquisition from the orbiter. Looking at the map on the screen, it became clear that the Shuttle had progressed closer to the landing site than Columbia did, which mean that it had made it through the maelstrom of reentry.

Because the Shuttle would pass between Oxnard and Ventura in excess of 55,000 feet, there was a chance it would be visible from home (we sometimes see propellant trails from rockets launched at Vandenberg, twice as far away). Unfortunately, trees on our street block the view to the west, so an eyeball view was not to be. We didn’t escape the sonic boom, though, which was thrilling by what it represented: the bird was over Edwards, less than four minutes from the ground. The double boom, and the rumble that followed, also provided tangible proof that it was, in fact, here.

Landing at night is somewhat anticlimactic, as only the infrared cameras can see the orbiter until it flies through massive spotlights aimed at the approach end of the runway. Still, it was a perfect landing, and a beautiful thing to see.

Edwards expressly warned on its website that the base would not be open to the public for viewing the Shuttle as it landed. I suspect it will not be opened for viewing of the orbiter now that it is down either. Too bad. It’s an amazingly capable yet shockingly fragile instrument of national pride and human capability. If you have the chance, go see the Enterprise, the original test Shuttle, at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at the Dulles airport outside Washington DC. Even better, find a way to see the Shuttle in action.

I need a nap.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Sounds of Saturday Morning

If you grew up, as I did, glued to Loonie Toons cartoons on Saturday morning, your subconcious is full of the many characters Mel Blanc brought to the screen. If you just need to hear a particular phrase again, you can go to this site, a virtual warehouse of Warner Bros. cartoon sound clips.

You can start with classic Bugs, ultra-classic Bugs and Elmer, Daffy Duck, Foghorn Leghorn, Tweety Bird and all (and I mean all) of the rest. They also have more rare characters like Marvin the Martian, the Abominable Snowman, Blacque Jacque Shellacque, and, of course, Michigan J. Frog.

If you're like me, you could spend hours poking around here. Enjoy!