Monday, December 17, 2012

It Wasn't Our World Anymore

              "It wasn't our world anymore. They made it theirs"

When confronted with horrible events, many of us turn to quotes from literature, poetry, or other reading to help us express our reaction. The line above has been running through my mind since the events of Friday in Newtown.

The horror the responders must have found, 20 small bodies lying in blood, must have seemed like a scene from anther world; as if a pustule of hell had erupted in this school. The line is from Prophecy Girl, an episode of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. Willow has walked in on a scene of blood and death in a schoolroom where vampires have had fun and tries to explain it.

That scene is fiction, a metaphor, a writer's attempt to sum up the shock and horror a character might experience in such a situation. It is doubtful the writer ever expected to hear of a similar scene in real life; yet here it is.

Many people are struggling to understand this horror. I am here to say tat there is no understanding. There is no sense to be made. There may be things to be learned, perhaps deductions to be made, but there is no sense because there are no reasons.

There has been a lot of talk about gun control in this case. This is senseless. All the laws of one of the most restrictive states were followed. The shooter took the guns illegally from his mother who owned them legally. Perhaps she irresponsibly did not have them properly safeguarded, but we do not know the circumstances. We should not yet judge her actions as we simply do not know what transpired before her son killed her.

The person who said that evil came into this school issued the cheapest of shots, the least helpful of comments. This was not evil in any spiritual sense. This was sickness and rage. This was human and primate. This young man is to be pitied on one level even as we deplore the monster he became in the last days of his life. I do not defend him. Had he not taken his own life, he would have needed killing. But he is to be pitied as well. Something went very, very wrong in his life, in his brain, in his mind.

It is interesting to hear the clergy try to respond. They have no response, they have no answers, no rationale. Many have even said that now is not the time to try to understand the horror in a theological sense. This, it seems to me, is the truest evidence of the inadequacy of religion to cope with the madness of a random universe.

There are no reasons and no excuse for faith betrayed. I appreciate that faith and prayer may comfort these people. Their religions, I hope, help them cope. But the incredible inadequacy of religion to explain, to justify, to even comprehend such events is deeply ironic. People have to cope...God does not seem to bother.

I have lost two daughters, in infancy, not from violence but from illness. Nonetheless, I can confirm that there is NOTHING so unnatural as a parent burying a child. Nothing inverts the natural order of the universe more. We are not here to bury our children; we are here to raise them and to be buried by them.

The people bringing teddy bears and gifts and toys to the memorials are doing so much more to comfort people than the empty platitudes of the religious. While I appreciate that well meaning clergy are trying to find answers, I suspect the comfort dogs brought in by a volunteer organization are accomplishing more.

The most hopeful thing is the people coming together. Bringing presents, toys, flowers to the memorials, grave goods to provide symbolic toys and comforts for these children in an afterlife, is a custom that predates humanity. Neanderthals used them. As long as we have been human we have done so. These rituals bring more answers to the random senselessness of such unspeakable events than virtually anything else.

I found it interesting to hear the one father say that he isn't angry. He will be. It will come. And I hope he is talking to someone and working his way through it when it does. Anger is both natural and good in these cases. It is cathartic and it is stress relieving. But only if it is properly directed and channeled. All these people will need help to deal and more perhaps than if the shooter were still alive.

The lack of a perpetrator to confront, the inability for this community to take its vengeance or to gain its justice will make closure much more difficult. If everyone involved were not dead, it would be easier to come to terms with the horror. There would be someone to glare at, to confront, to punish. As it is, there is no one. There is no one left to punish, to confront, to demand explanation of. This will make it all but impossible for the horror to be put to rest.

School shootings are, of course, among the most startling and tragic of mass murders. W expect our schools to provide a safe haven. And, of course, they cannot be safe from such madness. Nowhere can.

For myself, school shootings in America dates back to 1979. There were others before then, but I became somehow personally aware when Brenda Spencer, 16, sat in her San Diego window picking off children in the schoolyard across the street with the rifle her father gave her for the previous christmas. Her reason? "I don't like Mondays."

The Boomtown Rats captured the unreal senselessness of this in a song written about the events by Bob Geldof. As he waited to be interviewed about the group's new album he watched news of the event come across a Telex wire in a radio station in Atlanta. As an Irishman, someone foreign to our shores it effected him deeply.

Later that year I moved to the UK and this senseless school shooting was one of the first things I was queried about by my staff. As the big Texan coming into their midst, they wanted to know my take on an event that had occurred 6 months before. While I had all but forgotten it, their abiding interest awakened my interest and I have never forgotten the event, the shooter, her statement, or the song since. Brenda is still in prison, denied parole regularly.

in 1998 two young boys stole their grandfather's rifles in Arkansas, staked out their school, triggered a fire alarm and shot students and teachers as they evacuated the school. The two boys were aged 13 and 11. They were released at age 21. The oldest is back in prison.

In1999 Harris and Klebold murdered 12 students and a teacher before suiciding at Columbine High School. Again, there were many deductions made, much investigation, and lessons learned. But there was no one left to punish and closure has never been achieved for many of the wounded and the families of the dead. These two young men were outsiders, but nothing really indicates what brought them to such a pass as this.

There have been other shootings, mass killings, school massacres, both before and since. In 1966, Charles Whitman shot students at UT Austin. In February of 2012, T.J. Lane killed 3 and wounded 2 at a cafeteria table in Chardon High School, Chardon, Ohio.

These events, and others like the Aurora Cinema massacre, have no reasons, have no rationale. Oh, they have causes. The have genesis, they have triggers, but the triggers and the reasons make no sense.

Gun control will not stop these. It is a good thing, don't get me wrong. But there are so many guns in this country that there is no way to stop a determined person gaining access to them. It does not matter whether assault rifles are banned or magazine sizes are limited. Soon you will be able to print a handgun or a rifle on your Three D printer in the comfort of your own home. This genie, like so many others, is out of the bottle and cannot be stuffed back inside.

The only hope I see is to get better at detecting the signs of impending explosions of violence in these young people. We have a lot of data, we know a great deal about what triggers eruptions of this sort, but we have little infrastructure to intervene and help these people.

And let us not forget that 34 million children go to school every day safely. Our teachers and principals protect them and provide safe, nurturing environments. School is one of the safest places fr children to be. That is why it is so horrible when that safety is compromised.

Let us not forget that the second amendment, which makes such a proliferation of weapons possible, was put in place to ensure the people were able to protect themselves from their government if necessary. And that for 600 years people in this country have worked to make it a safe enough place that the majority of people do not feel a need to be armed even when they can be legally.

I support the second amendment and I am comfortable with well trained, respectful gun owners having concealed carry permits. I feel no need to be such and have only fired a weapon three times, when my brother-in-law gave me a .22 rifle at age ten and took me hunting with him. I did not enjoy the noise, the smell, or the sight of a small bird I shot dropping from its perch. But I see no problem with well trained gun enthusiasts possessing firearms.

Statistics have shown that crime is down and it decreases rapidly in states with concealed carry permits. When anyone might be armed, everyone is a bit more polite.

 But we must find a way to keep the guns away from the crazies. Note that in many of these shootings the shooters gained illegal posession of legally owned weapons. The safeguarding of weapons by gun owners is, it seems, a weak spot. As is the familial blind spots about the mental states of young people in that very fragile, angsty time know as young adulthood.

We need to find ways to identify and intervene in these cases. Without compromising civil rights. This does not promise to be easy.

Children must be protected, but we must also remember that the vast majority are well kept and well protected. Most places we congregate are safe and we must ask ourselves how much safer we want to be. Each bit of incremental safety reduces our liberty, our privacy, our freedom.

Each child is anther chance to get it right. We need to do so. People want answers but there may be no answers.

You can see no reasons
'Cause there are no reasons
What reasons do you need to die?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The World Has Changed

Time passes strangely when you are ill and things seem to fall together in memory. This little story just happened to me and illustrates both that principle and the fact that the world has truly changed.

I have had a non-working power washer sitting in my garage for at least a year. As I recall, it worked until labor day last year (2011) after being purchased in August, then simply stopped.

I called the Lowes service center about getting it repaired and they gave me some interesting details.

First, I had registered the purchase...good to know.
Second, I had purchased it in June of 2010 ... a year before my memory indicated. Their records indicated I first called on Labor day 2010, not 2011.

It was WAY out of warranty, but they suggested I take it to my local store to get a repair estimate

Now here is where it gets surprising

I took it to my local Lowes and told them the story of how I got it, what happened, and that I wanted to repair it or kill it...get rid of it.

They tried looking it up to see if they could help, but they don't carry it any longer and I did not have a recipe. Yet, they still kept looking for an 'item number' to log a transaction against.

The manager came over and told me that, if they could find an item number to refund against, they would give me a refund.  The customer service clerk was not very hopeful, though, because everything had rolled off their database it being so old.

Then suddenly, he said, "got it". They quickly gave me a full refund in the form of a store credit and the manager helped me pick out another power washer from a different brand.

So, the question is, how'd they find the item number?

Not in their databases


By googling a few choice keywords, the clerk had located a cached page with a record of my transaction. Including the item number needed for Lowes to issue a refund. He said Lowes had just exposed Google to the customer service centers.

Amazing! Here, in the cyber ether somewhere, was an inadvertent backup of my transaction. Now, yes, that may seem a little creepy.  Turns out, the search area was confined to Lowes document data bases, using Google as their in-house search engine.

The world has changed. All the carefully constructed queries, reports SQL statements, Indexes, etc that a business might build to store and retrieve its data were useless in the light of a simple, full powered search engine like Google.

I'm reading David Weinberger's Everything is Miscellaneous right now and this truly brings it home. The key is not indexes, search words, or organization...the key is messiness and chaos...the inadvertent accumulation of data yet still in a form exposed to the power of a full text search engine.

A few years ago, this would have been outrageously difficult to do and Lowes would probably not even have contemplated a 2 year old archive for a single transaction so a customer could get money back?

Now they can, and were willing to do so.

I was amazed and happily so.

Yes, I spent $50 more on the new power was he than I had on the original ... so they made out OK ... but I made out evn better from my point of view.

The world has changed.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Dichotomy of Car Dealers

Bought a car last night. With my doctor moving further away and more traveling to be done for business, I wanted better mileage than I was getting. Also wanted a sedan, not another van. Wanted high odometer, several years old, good condition, Lexus ... yeah, I am addicted and I wanted another car like I got in Ireland years ago...really loved that right hand drive LS 430.

But, I KNOW I have to look around, search the web, compare prices, find models, and...oh with a sales person of some type.

So the loins must be girded, the mind must be focused (fully oxygenated blood coupled with a high dose of anti-cancer steroids really was a plus!!!) Set my mental budget, went in admitting to no more than 2/3 of that and looked for a deal that was only 1/3 ... miracles do happen.

Also remind myself this is no trade in (we keep the van for real hauling and Linda likes it) and a cash sale, no note. I hope that gives me a bit of price leverage, but really, these days, they don't care much about that...I just do not want a car payment. Have not had one for several years now and have totally changed my perspective on such things.

I had a list of must haves and wanna haves...not a big list, but specific...older, around the 100K mile mark, auto climate control, power seats ... and memory seats were a big want to have. The car had to 'fit' both of us comfortably and be in good condition. Looking for a nice older car I can drive into the ground over a few years.

I ultimately searched the web for 2 weeks, and then went to 7 lots, both big dealers and small used car lots. And I ultimately found a deal I am pretty happy with.

2004 Lexus ES 330, a soft grey (millennium they call it) with just over 100K miles. New brakes and fully inspected...we made that a condition of sale to cover lots of mechanical bases. The Texas emission controls inspection can be a real pain.

Came in right at my 2/3 budget mark.

But the GAME, the GAME, the GAME.

Car sales people have no people skills! They do not know how to treat people with any respect. For instance:

After 2 hours of test driving a bunch of T's, I 'meet the manager' of course. First he looks like some wannabe mafia Texas (maybe it's Cosa Nostra here...used to be)...ill fitting pin stripe suit when everyone else was in T-corp Khakis and he had this slicked back hair like it  is to impress me. Yuck!...nearly made me walk away just to shake his hand.

He spins a story of how his used car lot is being demolished on Monday and "ALL THE CARS HAVE TO GO" ... so he want to make me a good deal. I tell him I am pretty sold on a Camry, but I need an hour to think about it and he needs to come up with a firm out the door price.

I psyche myself up to buy the car while at dinner (and discussing it with Linda, of course) then call back in an hour as I promised and the sales person (lowest on the leader board, by the way) acts like he does not remember me, doesn't have the price figured out (any price) and says he'll call me in an hour.

That was 6pm Saturday night ... he calls me back on Thursday afternoon to see if I am still interested in his Camry. THURSDAY! And he seems miffed when I tell him I bought a Lexus on Wednesday!

T Used Cars are still there...have no fear...the lot is full of nice used overpriced cars.

So we keep looking. I was impressed by a 2010 Buick LaCrosse and came VERY close to a 2011 Ford Fusion, but they were both right at my budget limit and I was still leery of an American car...much burned in the 1980's and I have a long memory.

New cars like the Elantra, the Civic, and the Sonata, all right at the budget limit, but do not offer the features I want.

There is pressure to buy a new car. It would seem sensible to buy a new car if the price is only $2K over a 2 year old used model, but depreciation and insurance just make it a sick deal.

We test drive an Elantra (doesn't fit) and a Sonata hybrid ...very interested in the hybrids... but the sales person tells us he is specifically not a hybrid lover and does not like to sell them ... no real reason, he doesn't even know how the engine works, exactly (neither did the Toyota sales person). No, this guy just doesn't like them. Oddly, the T sales dude had a similar attitude about hybrids.

The Sonata is a good car and the hybrid was great...enough power and smooth transition ... just beyond my max number...we will wait.

 I tell the Lexus salesman I want a 6-8 year old sedan with near 100K miles and he says he doesn't have any and lets me drive a 2011 LS 460..Sure, If I had that kind of budget, nothing beats an LS ... I would take another over a Merc, a BMW, a Jag, or even a Bentley...they are just superb cars. (The Hyundai Equus looks very Lexus LS like too...and is valued so). But Lexus is best.

Today when I happen to see him at the Lexus dealership (having new keys made) I mention I bought an ES from another dealer and he switches off immediately...that's OK, I am no longer a prospect, I understand that...but then he tells me he had a 2004 LS with 30K miles for right at my 2/3 number...and that he sold it to a friend.

Now, why did he tell me this little story. It might be true, it might not be, but was he deliberately telling me that he chose NOT to contact me with the perfect car when it came in and that instead he 'sold it to his friend'? Was that just to sort of establish that I was NOT his friend, not even on his contact list? I found it weird behaviour.

After 6 other dealers, looking at N's cars (which NEVER fit head hits the headliner in every model)...we had come across a 2004 Lexus ES 330 at just about the right price. Needs a brake job and some work to make it inspect-able...that's what we set as a contingent and agreed to pay a certain amount of overage if needed...of course it was.

But when we came to collect it, our sales rep was flitting about, not with other customers, but just running from his empty office to someplace else even as he told us the car was being brought 'round. Then, suddenly, his partner, mentor, super, whatever shows up, shakes my hand and says, let's go look at it and get it closed. OK...but this guy has not been involved in the sale at all.

We look at it, drive it a bit, with a new dealer plate on it, then adjourn to the cashier's office area to pay the final piece. I had paid several thousand via Amex as a deposit already to hold the car and get the work done, no problem, and then our new sales guy makes us wait at a table in the lobby, runs back with my credit card (whole car paid for via Amex ... gotta get the points!) and returns saying we're done.

He presents me with an Amex charge sheet where he charged the agreed overage. He's about to let me out the door with this car, signed and sealed (although no one EVER asked me to sign an Amex charge authorization) for several thousand dollars less than the agreed price. Like more than half the agreed price. I looked at the slip and thought, "what if I just drive off with all this documentation saying I've paid, everything is done?"

I presumed they would discover the problem, call me and/or call the cops ... but thoughts of taking advantage of this idiot who inserted himself for no reason of value to me into my sale did, indeed, flit through my mind.

I showed the credit card receipt to him and said, I think I owe you rather a lot more than that. He looked surprised, confessed he knew nothing about the prior sales process, deposit, payments or anything, then ran back to his 'Cashier' and showed up with a NEW bill for the residual.

But there is a wrinkle. He wants me to pay the 2% AMEX merchant charge in addition to the agreed residual amount for the car. Or I could write him a check.

I suddenly realized this was a scam to extract a little more money out of the deal. Just a little more, just a bit, just 2% of half. I told him that if he did that I would just go file a complaint with AMEX since it is against the rules in the US Merchant agreement to force your customer to pay the fee as a surcharge or to direct your customer away from using the card.

He sullenly said he didn't know about that and then thanked me and shook my hand.

Looking into the sales person's eyes, I knew what the problem was. His eyes were totally dead, devoid of emotion, reptilian or snake like. He's a sociopath. He's high functioning, and it may be a learned sociopathy, but he has no sense of community, his place as a member, empathy for fellows, or even a sense of people as person. He also has no social skills.

It has been said that most successful high end executives are high functioning psychopaths. I suspect that middle tier, barely making it car salesmen are on the sociopathy or ASPD scale.

This guy interrupted me three times as I was using my iPad to bind over my insurance for the car, then when I said, I was doing that, he gets startled and says,"Oh, I haven't given you my friend's card...he'll get you set up with insurance..." I just looked at him and said, "no", hit the button on my policy site and got the message that I was covered. It IS the 21st century, after all.

He thanked me and shook my hand an hour he shook my hand four times and told me he would follow up with the missing paperwork the next day and wanted to "stay with me and the car" to be sure everything was right. I, of course, never heard from him again.

I went to the service folks today and collected the inspection report...the work order for the repairs was "not in the computer yet" ... we'll see if the title and plates show up without another visit. Probably have to go to the DMV myself.

The man is an IDIOT!!! He actually thought I would stop using my regular insurance company and switch to his 'friend'? He thought we were so stupid as to even WANT to do that?

What is wrong with these people? I don't mind the tactics, the good sales guy, bad sales guy routine, the  make you wait and sweat a deal out of you. But they have no subtlety in their con, no finesse, not even social engineering. When I first showed up alone, every sales person tried to play the macho man card..."you can make this decision, right? You don't have to ask anyone else?"

Of COURSE I have to consult with my life partner, wife, lover, best friend, and the saint who has seen me through more medical crap than you can shake a stick at. And, frankly, these guys could play THAT card more subtly than they do...some are so blatant (the T guys) that you could swat flies with their rhetoric!

These N guys are also amazingly blatant about bending or edging the law.  They put an inspection sticker on the car, but Texas law says they HAVE to give you the inspection report. I was very suspicious that they had not really inspected the car...after all I received the car with a new inspection sticker and the first thing the car did was report a dead tail light to me on the dash (good info system on this car)

We did encounter one sales rep who really did earn our business with a good, friendly, non-manipulative style. I wanted to do a deal with him, but we could not come to terms on the price. But he was not miffed, not dismissive, nor condescending when I said no. He was a pro. HOPE HE DOES WELL.

Which brings me to the dichotomy: Service

I went to Lexus this morning to have new keys cut ... old car, one key, held together with tape. This is non-trivial at Lexus as new keys are about $200 each  .. .they carry an immobilizing  security transponder and the remote control is in the key head. No master key, no car start...period.

I saw someone online asking if anyone knew where you could get such keys cheap...the best answer was, "you own a Lexus and can't afford a $100 key?" Good answer!

The service rep was polite, professional, helpful, not pushy about other services, which we did discuss. he was prompt with answers and did not try to hedge  amounts or mislead. When I declined something he did not become miffed or anti-social, nor did he keep coming back to something trying to sell it.

Two keys took an hour and I was made very comfortable with good espresso and plenty of TV.

He was NOT a sociopath, nor ASPD. He had people skills and he won my business and will win more with that attitude.

I went back to the N dealership, but straight to service and the service people were very concerned about why the light was out. They pulled the inspection report, then opened the light bulb compartment, but the light was not was dead in their driveway and working in their garage. Loose connection apparently and they tightened that.

No upsell, no pressure, no resentment, serious concern and then a solution. No charge. And they said to watch it and bring it back if it happens again. Slick and pro and restored my faith. They DID do an inspection, the sales dudes (2 of them) had just not bothered to pull the report and give it to me.

So why is service attentive and sales repulsive?

Why is this so? Sure, they may make more money with a good service department and one reason I just acquired my 4th Lexus is the service..amen to that!

But a calmer, more attentive, more interested sales person would go further toward closing a sale at least with me. Oh yeah, car sales are just booming aren't they? Used cars are so in demand that the prices are almost as high as new.

But with deceptions, lies, misleadings, weird stories about closing the lot and all else, it would appear these tactics are not working.

But interested service with full disclosure and professional attitude, non-condescending rhetoric and punctual results pulls customers back...I wonder why?

Service at my local mechanic is much the same. He's helpful, punctual, doesn't try to oversell me, and is happy to help as he can. Of course, good service is his bread and butter...he has no cars to sell. But the tactics work and work better than the traditional sales tactics seem to.

I think that is because the sales people and their management and their management are sociopaths...the business seems to attract them. I don't really mean to criticize; sociopaths need work too. It is a character trait, a brain chemistry thing, probably augmented by social environment and then being able to find a culture where they can be anti-social as instinct dictates while still being part of a weird, competitive, dysfunctional community. And the weak do not last long. Low man on the leader board is probably gone quickly.

Service, on the other hand attracts people who like to solve problems, understand problems and enjoy interactions...or at least the dealerships seem to architect their departments this way. And it works; I WANT to go back and spend money with a good service department. If I could open a hole and have every sales rep sucked into the hell-mouth, I would.

Why does it perpetuate? Surely, with so much info online, so many comparisons to be done, so much intelligence to be garnered about the products, silly, manipulative stupid sales people must be at a disadvantage? Aren't they? Or are they perpetuating a tradition as a last dying scream since they will have little place to go if buyers reject the tactics and buy what they want, as they want, for a price they want, without the histrionics.

CARMAX is making a dent there, and I researched with them a lot, but most cars fell outside my budget because they were too new or they were too far away and the transport cost would add more to the cost. But the no haggle price (plus the no haggle fees they barely disclose) is a step in the right direction.

Someone needs to do a serious, perhaps longitudinal, study on the psychology of car dealerships and their business models, ethics, tactics, and style in both sales and service. I have been unable to find anything very much in-depth or academic...a few popular magazine articles, but not much more.

But I do like my new car...excellent condition, very smooth and drives like the bubble bath I enjoy. A bit smaller than the LS, but not so much I care.  Much better gas mileage. I'll get an LS hybrid when they become common in a few more years. If they ever do...yeah, they will.

Thoughts anyone? Am I just letting off steam after a memorable and not totally pleasant experience?

By the way, buying my LS 430 in Galway, Ireland was totally different...very pleasant, none of the manipulation...sales and service felt as one..of course, the dealership went bankrupt later...what does that say?


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Little Touch of Heart

As many of my friends know, I have had severe breathing problems for several years. I could not walk far or fast, could not climb stairs, and was often huffing and puffing after the mildest exertion. This began, in earnest when I was working at Adobe systems in the 2004-2005 timeframe, even as I was walking 3 miles a day to work and back in downtown San Jose. After a bout of pneumonia in 2006, I was severely restricted as my colleagues at DERI in Ireland may recall.

I want to thank all the friends and colleagues who tolerated my disability and my slowness. I also want to let everyone know that those days are behind me now.

No, it was not my lifestyle or my weight..I am the same 280 lb or 129 kg now that I have been for a dozen years. No it was not my Myeloma which I am still living with and undergoing treatment for.

No, I had a hole in my heart. A little hole which I have had since birth. A minor congenital birth defect. And I have had it repaired. As I say, I have been darned like an old sock!

A Patent Foramen Ovale or Atrial Septal Defect is a remnant from the womb. Everyone has this little hole while gestating. But it is supposed to close up upon your first breath, when your lungs take over the job of supplying oxygen to the blood.

In 25%-30% of people it does not close. un-oxygenated blood from the venous side of the cardiovascular system is forced under pressure into the oxygenated arterial side, thus lowering the percentage of oxygenated arterial blood flowing to muscles and organs.

For most, the hole is so small, the effect so benign that it causes no impact. This is the current medical line. However, as we age and our heart's stiffen, it can become a possible site for clots and can lead to stroke. Protocol at many hospitals now is that once you have a stroke, a special type of sonogram is performed to see if a PFO or ASD is present.

In May I had two strokes while on Myeloma meds which increased the thrombophilic properties of my blood. Fortunately, they were minor, left no impairment, and pushed me into this protocol.

The 'bubble' test, where microscopic bubbles are dissolved in your blood while a cardio echogram is performed, was very positive, showing a literal stream of bubbles flowing from my right to left ventricles in just the way that is never supposed to happen. I have it on DVD. It is the most compelling video of myself I have ever seen. The test is not dangerous or painful and took less than 15 minutes. It needs a nurse to assist (she mixes the air with the sterile saline and shoots it into a vein through an IV). microscopic bubbles pose no threat and dissolve rapidly into the blood.

There is also a TTE test which I had that is a bit more involved (tube down the throat so the sonogram transducer is in the esophagus. Also safe, non-painful, but requires a bit of sedation for 15 minutes or so. 

On Monday, July 23, I went in for robotic open heart surgery for an ASD repair at the Baylor Heart Hospital in Plano, Tx. On Wednesday I went home feeling ten years younger.


The robot is used to penetrate from the right side in four or five small incisions where catheters, cameras, drains, and any other tools can be inserted. The chest is NOT cracked as in the old days and there is no long scar.

I do look as if I battled a samurai and the camera went in through a slit at the base of my right nipple...that was a bit of an ouch for a few days. But only thin scars remain and they will fade in a year or so. Even the neck and groin incisions where the bypass catheters went in (had to stop the heart, so a little pumping help was needed) are soft, thin, and fading already. It has not been 2 full months yet.

The pain was virtually nil. I was standing Monday afternoon, walking Tuesday and Wednesday I went home. The folks (Nurses, PTs, OTs, Admins, Doctors, Dietitians, etc) at the hospital are a) wonderful, b) impressed, c) amazingly well trained and helpful, and d) did I mention wonderful.

My surgeon was friendly, conversant, articulate, and wonderfully competent. Among the best in the world as the Plano Heart Hospital has just been recognized. Thank you, Robert Smith!

My cardiologist is also friendly, articulate, competent, and very, very impressed that this returned me to such energy and stamina as I have not had in years. thank you Kevin Theleman!

But I have to thank my oncologist/hematologist for sticking with me and being smart enough to NOT make it all about the Myeloma. When we met I told him better breathing was a goal and we had to find out what was wrong there. He never wavered from thinking about that and helping me even as he also fought the Myeloma aggressively as he had to do. He has moved his offices somewhat further away now, but is worth the drive (and possibly a new car with better mileage) to stick with his treatment and his wisdom. Thank you Lee Drinkard!

I spent a couple of days and nights on the living room couch, then climbed to my bedroom with virtually no effort by the end of the first week. Today I carried a 100 pound piece of granite chess set down the stairs. I was huffing a bit, but my O2 saturation never fell below 96%...before, a 30 foot walk would drop me into 70% "go to ER immediately range".

Now, walks, stairs, lawn work, swimming, even scuba are once again no-fear activities. I literally feel like I am back in my mid forties. Doctors all agree; no cardiac restrictions, and I can resume my normal activities as I wish.

Which, of course, now includes Myeloma treatments. I was off all treatment for 4 months to get the heart and breathing thing fixed. That did give the Myeloma time to regroup and to start coming back...but now I am MUCH, MUCH more capable of tolerating the treatment and seem to be doing so quite well.

Six years! Six years of heavy breathing, tiredness, avoiding stairs, not going to conferences, and many other restrictions I put on my life. Six years of asking doctors why I did not have enough breath for normal activities. Six years of looking at my lungs and my blood, but never seriously at my heart. I had an Echo done in Ireland and was told my heart would last 100 years. And well it might...but THAT Echo was not the bubble test Echo and so did not reveal my little birth defect.

Fifty-seven years to find and repair a congenital heart defect. Fifty-seven years. Is this why I never could excel at sports? I tired very easily even at my peak in high school...running laps and bleachers was the world's worst for me.  I could hit softball homers repeatedly, but could not rapidly run the bases. Who knows?

But that is all over. I feel fantastic and, as I said, the normal activities of a middle aged man no longer hold fear and trepidation for me. I don't carefully plan my walks to the curb or my trots up and down stairs in our house. I know longer worry if I need to walk up a flight of stairs at a client site.

Twenty-five to thirty percent of you have this defect, too. You may never notice it. But if n ot found and treated, it can lead to strokes. Unfortunately, it is not typically tested for until AFTER the first stroke. But you CAN talk to your cardiologist about it and ask for it.

So life continues, work continues, and I continue. Looking forward to a vacation next year where I can get some downtime in a pretty lagoon or on a nice drift dive. It is GOOD to be back!

Thursday, August 02, 2012


I was struck, as I usually am, by the surprise the media evince when discussing the actions of people at the Century Cinema in Aurora, Co during the recent shooting there. The reporters always seem to find it hard to understand when they tell a story of a man throwing himself on top of his girlfriend or wife (or even a stranger) to shield her from the bullets and dying as a result. On occasion the genders are reversed, or the story is of a mother defending a child, but most commonly we read of men who step or dive between death and others.

The reason I find the reporting somewhat disingenuous in this particular case is of course, because the people who shielded these innocents were doing so at a movie about a comic book hero.

They were just doing what they had been taught; what they had been shown repeatedly in works of fictional literature,  heroes do. They were just being heroes.

By no means do I intend to trivialize these actions. What I do want to say, however, is that these actions, these heroic actions, are NOT unusual to people. They are common and normal. When sudden danger presents itself, REAL people act as heroes, even to the "last full measure of devotion".

"The marvel is not that the bear dances well, but that the bear dances at all." — Russian proverb

We are, at our core, an altruistic social species. We actually do NOT instinctively seek the course of action which guarantees our individual survival. Rather, we instinctively act to preserve and protect our families, our friends, our companions, our crowd, our tribe, our nation.

The people who do this are not acting unusually, nor above and beyond. They are acting normally and that is all the more noble because they are acting to preserve that very character in our species and culture.

The depiction of heroes like Batman helps preserve and propagate this tendency, this meme within our societies. Every culture has them as well; the heroes. But, frankly, I think comic books and graphic novels have some of the best. In sequential  art we have returned to a method of storytelling that engages and exercises multiple aspects of our cognitive abilities. Sequential art (comics) tells stories with pictures, words, framing, temporality, and imagination...comics are, when looked at carefully, one of the finest literary art forms ever devised.

When events such as the Aurora shootings occur, there are rules which, one can trust, were both instinctual and learned; reinforced as it were by the literature these people had consumed. First, get women and children to safety. This is not at all misogynistic. If we, as a society, do not make such a rule primary, the species may die out...this reaction is evolutionarily encoded in our genes. Besides, of what other value are we males in such a situation than serving as self selecting shields. Again, genetically, we are predisposed to do this.

Of course, there are always plenty of women who act as heroes in this manner as well. Sacrificing themselves for their children or for any children. Or for their mates and other people in the vicinity. Such heroism is also both instinctual and learned from a society's hero literature. Protect, defend, preserve...first for the next generation, then for the ones who can create the next generation.

This is what REAL people do in terrifying, dangerous, life threatening, chaotic, insane situations such as a movie theater filled with complacent, relaxed, comfortable, overweight spectators of silly fictional stories about bizarre characters dressed in caped armor to fight crime.

They step up and act heroically because, at our heart, we are a heroic people.

It is very important for our media to recognize heroic action, yes. But they should not seem so is what we do.

And, we SHOULD take our lessons in heroism from these hyperbolic characters.  From classic myth through James Bond to Batman, literary fictions are the lies we tell ourselves to reveal the truth of our condition.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

An American Teen Died Today

Dick Clark died today

America's oldest teenager was 82 when he left us

Anyone who ever enjoyed music between the years 1945 and 2012 will have heard of Dick Clark and will have been influenced by his ability to be the world's greatest music show host.

Much is made of his influence, his friendliness, his eternally youthful appearance (comparisons with Dorian Grey are always rampant).

But another aspect of his contribution to TV which is being mentioned a lot today is his boldness in crossing race barriers in the 1950's and 1960's.

Did this TV host, who did not really perform, but rather introduced, managed, delivered the very notion of youth music to a nation undergoing change, did this man have a positive effect on race relations?

He did, but not by saying anything, not by preaching, not by being controversial.

Dick Clark helped integrate America by assuming it was being simply assuming that youth would want to listen to anyone's music if it was good, had a beat and you could dance to it

In this he embodied America and the American spirit of tolerance and innovation.

Dick Clark was intensely respected and trusted. In many ways, he was the Walter Cronkite of every teen generation from 1945 to 2012. Teens trusted him to bring them wonderful music and to treat them with respect as adults...always referring to them as Ladies and Gentlemen.

An American teenager died today ... but he gave us the optimism of youth for over 60 years

He'll be sorely missed ... we need another eternal teen.