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September 2005

August 2005

The Risks of Changing, and of not Changing, Careers

In introducing this week's segment of "Take Two: Life Changes" on NPR's Morning Edition today, Ketzel Levine gave an update on the subject of a previous segment, 58-year-old Terry Rusinow and her mobile espresso cart, "Duck, Duck, Brew", who is now pursuing a "Plan B" in her entrepreneurial venture(s) -- seeking high-volume, half-day events she can espresso-ize rather than continuing her daily installation at the park ... bringing to mind Mark Horowitz' Mobile Coffee Unit.  Ketzel then goes on to tell the story of 24-year-old Brea Evans and her life (and work) during a 6-month stint aboard a fishing boat.   

I have enjoyed all of the stories in this series; today I was particularly inspired by Ketzel's observation about Terry and others who have been profiled:

She's gutsy ... and that's a common theme with all our Take Two people. Now I'm not saying they're not worried or anxious about changing careers.  Many of them have no choice, they've lost jobs, they've reached dead ends, but at a certain point they all take a risk, even if that risk is simply acknowledging that what they've been doing no longer works.

This brought to mind a whole flood of inspirational quotes on risk ... I'll restrict myself to listing only three below:

Don't be afraid of failure; be afraid of petty success.  - Maude Adams

The biggest risk in life is to risk nothing at all.  - Anonymous

Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive - the risk to be alive and express what we really are.  - Don Miguel Ruiz

A Duct Tape Solution to Videogame Addiction

Evan had some friend over last week while Amy was trying to rest.  They were loudly enjoying their video games, and after admonishing them once to keep quiet, I told them they would have to go outside to play (it being a beautiful, sunny afternoon with temperatures around 75 degrees F).  They pleaded with me to let them continue, and suggested that they tape their mouths shut to ensure that they didn't keep shouting while they played.  So, we decided to experiment.


Much to my surprise, this seemed to work for nearly 45 minutes.  I don't know how long they kept the duct tape on, but they were relatively quiet.  Eventually, of course, the noise level grew to unacceptable levels, and they were banished from the house.

Now, YMMV, and I do not mean to make light of video game addiction (in fact, I think we may start experimenting with other measures once school starts), but I thought it may be helpful, or at least amusing, to share this tactic in case other parents might find it useful.

More Cybershaming via Cameraphone on a Train

Another recent incident of cybershaming, involving a subway passenger in New York who used a cameraphone to create and share a photographic record of shameful behavior, was reported in the New York Daily News yesterday. 


On August 18, Thao Nguyen was on her way back from an interview when a man sitting across from her on a nearly empty subway car started staring at her and then started to masturbate.  She snapped a photo with her phone and the man got off at the next stop.  Nguyen filed a police report, and then later posted the photo on Flickr and craigslist, allowing a far broader set of people to participate in identifying the man.  Given that the photo has been on Flickr since August 19, I'm surprised that the man has still not been identified.

I welcome the empowerment of broad participation in community policing exhibited through this incident and the earlier example of cybershaming in Korea.  However, I suspect it will not be long before someone uses a manipulated photo to publicly humiliate an innocent person ... perhaps it's already occured ... and we've seen some pretty serious repurcussions from an earlier incident of broadly publicizing forged documents.

[via BoingBoing]

[Update, 2 September 2005: WNBC reports "A Manhattan man was arrested Wednesday and charged with public lewdness after a rider in a subway car used her camera phone to snap a photo of the man exposing himself and posted it on the Internet."]

Cancer Counterinsurgency Update

Thanks to all who have expressed their concern and support as Amy progresses through her cancer treatment.  For the benefit of those who are interested in following her progress, but who may be, er, somewhat less interested in other topics I post about, I decided to add a new category: Cancer Counterinsurgency (and added a list of categories to the left-hand column of the blog -- I'll also categorize such posts under Family and Friends and Health).

As of today, the main and side effects of the chemotherapy should be at or near their peak.  On Monday, a blood test revealed her white blood cell count was very low, and even lower when it was retested on Wednesday, so she was given injections of some medication (don't know the name) once daily for the past three days, and her white blood cell counts are all within acceptable ranges again.  Given her extremely depressed immune system, we are still washing our hands frequently and thoroughly, just in case.

She has been experiencing gas, diarrhea and constipation at various times throughout the week; today she was having the worst gas pains of her life (though she thinks it was due more to a banana than anything else, and it has since dissipated).  Being a generally tough cookie, she's maintaining a good perspective throughout, and we are happy that, gas pain excepted, she has been doing so well through the treatment.

During a meeting on Monday, we found out that only one patient who has undergone this kind of treatment for anal cancer in the past 15 years (at Evergreen) has been able to continue straight through without a break of some kind, because of the harsh burns that typically develop in the pelvic region (due to the non-uniformity of skin surfaces and the extreme sensitivity of some of the tissue in that area).  So, we are now prepared for the possibility of up to a one week "break" in the treatment sometime in the next three weeks. 

We were also told that most of the side effects of the treatment should substantially subside within about four weeks following the end of treatment.  They will not be able to do a biopsy to check on the [local] effectiveness of the treatment for four more weeks after that; if the cancer is gone from that region, she has a 90% chance of it having been "cured" ... other milestones that may increase the probability of cure will occur at the 2-year and 5-year marks, assuming negative test results.  So we'll be optimistic about negativity.

Will Pat Robertson be kept out of the UK?

Pat Robertson recently made some remarks condoning the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez:

"If he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think we really ought to go ahead and do it ... We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability."

If one couples the recent UN definition of terrorism as any act

"intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act."

with Tony Blair's recent announcement of new rules restricting terrorism-justifying or glorifying speech by immigrants, then I suspect Robertson would be a candidate for deportation were he living in the UK.  In the US, however, official reaction to these statements has been rather mild: dismissing rather than condemning the remarks ... suggesting that terrorism is in the eye of the beholder.

Another one of the Blair's proposed new rules calls for "creating a list of preachers who will be kept out of the UK" ... I wonder if Robertson will be placed on that list.  It would help demonstrate that the UK does not equate terrorism with Islam.

Roadcasting: All the Road's a Stage

Roadcasting is a prototype (really, a meme) in which people can share music in and through wirelessly networked car audio systems.  The concept was articulated by a team of graduate students at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. There are some graphical and textual descriptions available at the Roadcasting web site, and a Quicktime movie availabler on the HCII site.

The clearest overview I found on how the system works is in the Roadcasting article by Timothy McNulty, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

The technology is largely theoretical but would probably work like this: Besides having traditional radios or CD players, cars would also have a Roadcasting feature. When it is turned on, it would search for all the digital playlists being played nearby, probably over some kind of mobile Wi-Fi network, the same kind of technology that allows you to flip open your laptop and check e-mail at a coffee shop or airline terminal.

The Roadcasting screen would show song and DJ names, and music genres, then judge which offerings match your musical tastes. As you selected songs, the software would keep refining and learning about your tendencies, and would use them to find other songs that match them. Other listeners could listen to the same playlist and vote on songs at the same time, influencing what the ad hoc networks played.

The concept sounds intriguing: it would be interesting to see whether / how roadcasting might help form communities among commuters ... and whether it would help reduce road rage.  There are alot of important details that would need to be worked out, e.g., an interface that was not too distracting (perhaps speech recognition would help, though the background "noise" generated by the music might be a problem ... unless the system could use some kind of "music-cancelling" filter, which may be possible since it could have direct access to the digital source of the music), a variety of legal issues revolving around digital rights management, and a host of social issues that may impact the acceptance and use of such technology ... many of which would be difficult to identify, much less resolve, in the absence of a deployment.  I wonder how much of the burden of technical infrastructure requirements (e.g., WiFi in cars) could be alleviated by the use of short range FM transmitters.

A Wired article on Roadcasting mentions a few related systems, such as SoundPryer (from the Mobility Studio of the Swedish Interactive Institute) and tunA (from the Human Connectedness Group at the former Media Lab Europe).  A few others come to mind, such as

  • CommuterNews (from the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University):
    CommuterNews engages the: driver with questions and relevant clips selected from a standard 3-4 minute radio news story. The system keeps track of how many questions have been answered correctly and gives the driver opportunities to earn prizes and compete with other CommuterNews players. The session can be interrupted at any time, but a typical interaction with the prototype (4 news stories, with 4-5 questions per story) approximately correlates to an average commute of 20 minutes.
  • FolkMusic (by Mikael Wiberg at the Interactive Theory Lab of Umea University):
    a mobile peer-to-peer entertainment system that builds on the current trends towards: 1) edutainment software, 2) increase in use of peer-to-peer technologies, and, 3) the current trend towards mobile computing solutions. Further on, the research reported in this paper builds on prior research on "folk computing" for which mobile ad-hoc peer-to-peer solutions are a focal concern.
  • Jukola (by Kenton O'Hara, et al., at the Appliance Studio):
    a digital jukebox which was tested in Watershed's Café/Bar in Oct 2003. Using wireless technology, handheld iPAQS and touch screens, visitors to the Café/Bar were able to try out Jukola by viewing a selection of nominated tunes, finding out more information about them and submitting their vote to determine the next track. Jukola was networked to allow access over the web to review a history of the music played and for musicians to submit MP3s remotely - providing an opportunity for any unsigned bands out there to upload their own music and put it to the public vote.
  • Adaptive Radio (by Dennis Chao, et al., at University of New Mexico): a system that selects music to play in a shared environment. Rather than attempting to play the songs that users want to hear, the system avoids playing songs that they do not want to hear. Negative preferences could potentially be applied to information filtering, intelligent environments, and collaborative design.
  • MusicFX (by me and Ted Anagnost, when we were both at Accenture Technology Labs):
    an example of an active environment that uses a group preference arbitration system to allow the members of a fitness center to influence, but not directly control, the selection of music in that environment. The system contains a database of members' musical preferences, a badge system for determining who is working out, and a weighted random selection algorithm for selecting music to best suit the group inhabitants at any given time. MusicFX was in daily use in the fitness center at Accenture Technology Park in Northbrook, IL (USA), between November 1997 and December 2001.

Of the many features of MusicFX that people enjoyed, the two most frequent complaint categories involved the abrupt music changes (the system would sometimes change channels mid-song, as people entered or left the fitness center) and the "occasional" exposure to bad music (the price of variety, serendipity and democracy) ... factors that may be exacerbated in a mobile environment such as a car.  While people generally enjoyed the increased variety, the most oft-cited advantage was the ability to have some influence over the music in the shared environment of the fitness center.  Given that most people have far more control over the music playing in their car, it would be interesting to see whether the increased variety and serendipity offered through Roadcasting would compensate for the loss of control.  The biggest factors may well be the communty-oriented issues of contribution and reputation ... factors that would be very difficult to assess without some kind of deployment.

Rules of the Roadgames

I was driving Evan and Jake in to their basketball camp several mornings this past week, and they played some interesting games during the rides.  What struck me most about these games was the elasticity of the rules, and the fact that negotiating the rules consumed at least as much time as playing the games themselves ... and perhaps that was a good part of the fun, as well.

One game, Punch Buggy, involves identifying vehicles that granted the identifier rights to punch or poke the other player (I'm not sure how this would expand to multiplayer scenarios).  The first person to spot a Volkswagen Beetle shouts "punch buggy" and the color of the car (e.g., "punch buggy blue") and punches the other player.  The first to see a yellow vehicle yells "click it" and punches the other player.  Spying a Coca Cola truck provides a license to "poke" (because it rhymes with "coke"?) the other player.

Now this games seems simple, but complexities arise in practice.  For example, what if one person spots a yellow VW Beetle?  Is that "worth" two punches?  What if one yells "punch buggy yellow" and the other yells "click it"?  What if each player calls out simultaneously?  How often can the same vehicle be identified?  (We passed the same blue VW Beetle driving in the opposite direction two consecutive days; we also passed a parked yellow mini Cooper two days).  I'm just glad we didn't pass a Coca Cola bottling plant.

The other game is called Alphabet.  Each player starts on the letter "A" and tries to find a sign with a word that starts with the current letter; once such a sign is found, the player can advance to the next letter.  A word on a sign can be used by at most one of the players.  Negotiations took place regarding whether the letters had to be in words (e.g., did the "G" in "G-sale" count?) and whether hyphens counted as word boundaries (e.g., the "H" in "Adopt-a-highway").

I don't remember my childhood games being so filled with rule challenges and changes ... and I wonder why, as I've "matured", that I have such a hangup on searching for order and stability in the "rules" that govern my activities.  I'm reminded of Finite and Infinite Games, a book by James Carse; I don't remember much about the book, except that it, too, helped me question assumptions about games ... and gamesmanship.  I'm also reminded of Calvinball ... and wonder if maybe this flexibility in rules isn't more the norm than the exception, at least for kids (and tigers).

Anal Cancer: A Real Pain in the Butt

I decided to use a subtitle with a bit of humor, as laughter will be increasingly important over the next few months.

On May 18, Amy had surgery to repair a rectocele, which also involved draining a fistula.  A routine biopsy revealed an unexpected and unwelcome result: carcinoma in situ, or "non-invasive" anal cancer.  We met with a radiology oncologist shortly thereafter to discuss treatment options, and since further surgery in that area carried unacceptable risks (due to proximity to the sphincter), we decided upon a 5-week course of chemotherapy with Fluorouracil (5FU) and radiation.  We scheduled a followup biopsy six weeks later, to allow time for the wounds from the initial surgery to heal. 

The followup biopsy of four sites surrounding the original excision on July 6 revealed one to be "probably invasive" and two to be "possibly invasive", raising our anxiety level and the scope of chemotherapy, which was expanded to include Mytomycin, which has greater main and side effects in treating anal cancer.  Despite the somewhat more advanced stage of the cancer, the planned treatment has a 90% cure rate, so our anxiety was/is tempered by optimism.  We already had plans for visiting and being visited by friends and family throughout late July and early August, and since we needed to wait for additional internal healing following biopsy, we decided to schedule the start of treatment for August 15 ... this past Monday.

Monday morning, we arrived at the hospital at 6:15 a.m. to prepare for the surgical implantation of a "port" in Amy's chest through which the chemotherapy drugs can be administered.  After surgery, for which she was sedated (rather than anesthetized), she was able to rest a while before heading to the chemotherapy area at 12:30 to receive her first injection of Mytomycin and to be outfitted with her 5FU infusion pump.   At 3:30, we proceeded to the radiation oncology area for her first dose of radiation.  We returned home around 4:30, by which point Amy was tired, and feeling some pain from the surgical incision, but otherwise doing remarkably well given the circumstances.

Since then, Amy has gone in every day for radiation treatment.  On Wednesday, she also received a refill for the infusion pump and had her wounds checked, and Friday she had the pump removed.  Wednesday, she also had an opportunity to meet with a nurse to discuss skin care.  As Amy is fair-skinned and burns easily, the side effects of both the chemotherapy and radiation therapy are likely to be more significant for her than they would be for a darker skinned patient.  We've also learned that the cumulative effects of the chemotherapy and radiation will be increasing over the course of treatment, may continue for several more weeks or months afterward, and it may well be a year (or more) before she returns to anything approaching "normal" ... and, indeed, that we will likely have to redefine "normal" as even under the best conditions, some changes may well be longer-lasting or even permanent.  I just hope one of those changes is complete eradication of the cancer!

We both continue to work through the stages of grief, often looping back as new information -- and subsequent thoughts and emotions -- come into play.  I say "we" liberally here: I think each of us is progressing and regressing at different rates at different times.  Amy is doing pretty well: still feeling some pain from the port implantation surgery, experiencing a little nausea, some dizziness and fatigue.  She is feeling well enough that we will go for a while to watch Evan play soccer in the Jamboree this afternoon.

With the start of Amy's treatment this week, I've scaled back on my business focus -- particularly difficult given the early stage of my new venture -- trying to make time for her, for the family and for myself and avoid the temptation to indulge the workaholic tendencies that have characterized periods of my past.  I hope to find and maintain the right balance as conditions in all of these dimensions continue to change ... and to maintain my underlying faith that somehow this will all work out for our greatest good ... and that we will rise to meet the challenges -- known and uknown -- that lie before us.

Failure, Persistence and Heroism

NPR's Morning Edition aired a segment this morning called "The Aftermath of Movie Flops", introduced by Steve Inskeep as "a chronicle of failure, [part of] a series on flops, about what happens when the next big thing isn't." Kim Masters interviewed a number of movie people, who had some gems to share:

  • Laura Zisken (producer of Hero): "You think about your failures, way longer and way more than you think about your successes." [Reminding me of don Miguel Ruiz' observation in The Four Agreements that "The human is the only animal on earth that pays a thousand times for the same mistake."]
  • Akiva Goldsman (screenwriter for Batman & Robin): "The trick to a career is hanging on, it's just being stubborn enough to stay in the game." [Substitute "getting a Ph.D." for "a career" and you have my view of what a Ph.D. really represents.]
  • Judd Apatow (producer of Cable Guy, quoting Warren Beatty): "You never really know if you made a good movie for ten years." [Interestingly, an IMDB comment on Cable Guy suggests at least one person considered this a good movie 8 years later.]

My favorite part of the segment, though, was an excerpt from Hero, in which the reporter, Gale Gayley (played by Geena Davis), asks John Bubber (played by Andy Garcia), "If everyone thinks of you as a hero, Mr. Bubber, how do you see yourself?" Bubber answers

"I think we're all heroes, if you catch us at the right moment."

More Community Displays in Cafes

Shortly after my last post about the community display at Common Grounds Coffee Company in Woodinville, I visited C. C. Espresso in Duvall and discovered another collection of community displays (photos of members of a community -- in this case, customers -- on a posterboard).



An interesting variation is their "Customer of the Month" display -- a photo, name and little bit of info about one of their customers. 


Some Starbucks stores use posters like this to profile / showcase one of their baristas.  I like the notion of turning that around and putting the focus on the customer(s).