The WHAT'S NEW! page contains the latest medical updates. If you're wondering how I'm going as far as health is concerned, this is the place to start. Latest: Wed 27 Nov 2013. 7.20AM

Monday, February 28, 2011

Mark Colvin's question

Anyone in Australia who listens to serious radio will know the name Mark Colvin, best known for presenting the ABC’s PM programme. He had mentioned briefly (not on PM) the research relating to brain tumours and mobile phones. Using Twitter, we had a short dialogue during which he asked the question, 'Apart from the Avastin, is there nothing a Charlie Teo, for instance, could do?'

   It was a good question and set me thinking yet again. At this stage of my treatment, what really are the options for me? Which ones matter to me?

   There actually are a few options – more chemotherapy, more brain surgery at the top of the list. I have rejected these for what I believe to be very good reasons, mostly involving overwhelming risk to the quality of life I still have, calibrated against the likely time remaining. Chemotherapy would be a forlorn hope - grasping at straws. My oncologist admitted as much. Anyone who’s followed my blog on these matters will understand those reasons and I won’t go back into them here, but given it’s my life at stake you can bet I haven’t taken them lightly.

   As Mark mentioned Charlie Teo, I’ll say on that point that the treatment using some forms of brain surgery could extend life significantly, but is so fraught with complications that there’s no way I’d countenance it at this stage. Some of those who took the fight in this direction spent much of the gained time in misery. Not for me, not at the age I am.

   So my plan, having exhausted all the traditional options for treating this form of cancer, is to ride the Avastin wave till we hit the beach, and hope the ride is as fulfilling as it can be. No-one knows quite when we may hit a sandbar or find the water too shallow, or be taken suddenly by a Noah’s Ark, but ride it we will. I’ll do all in my power otherwise to assist the fight in using anti-angiogenic elements in my diet, and a mental attitude derived from my philosophical approach, and I am very comfortable with this.

   Below are some of the relevant references to the mobile phones studies. Given that some cellphone companies refuse to let their employees work there unless they use earpieces instead of jamming the phone in their ear, I’d do the latter as little as I possibly could if I were you....especially now that in some countries brain tumours are the greatest killers of young people. You want the reference? I put it on FaceBook some time ago but could unearth it if you can't use google.

   So the jury on cellphones is still out. Care for a smoke?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Reply to Brian

(This makes more sense read in conjunction with Brian Calling)

Hello Brian. There I was, dignifying your existence by creating for you a persona you don’t deserve and never will. I have done you the unearned honour of anthropomorphising you, by giving you a name and crediting you with intelligence you don’t possess, but we’ll go with that for as long as it suits me. About ten minutes, I suspect....

You’re dead right when you say you’re not too smart. When it comes down to it, you are really my flesh and blood, literally, and your one purpose in life is to reproduce your damaged cells. My cells, actually. Nothing and no-one could be more mine than you are. And you are utterly powerless, Brian, to be anything other than what you are. You’re trapped in a way I am not and never will be.

You are different, that’s fatally true. Every other cluster of cells in my body knows when to turn itself off when it doesn’t need to reproduce any more. Not you. You burrow down into the useful parts of my brain (Hi Brain!) and sap its life force. You take its nutrients and its space and smash its structure and leave your detritus – a mess for someone else to clean up. You’re the super-obese man on the crowded bus, Brian – or that’s what you’re trying to become. But you don’t make choices, because you can’t.

In the past I think I’ve respected you way too much, because there’s no doubt that any time you’ve said jump I didn’t bother to ask why, but just went on to asking the old clichéd question, ‘how high?’ And I did everything I thought you wanted. Maybe that was mistake, but we don't know that. I just make decisions and see where they lead.

I can’t be angry with you, Brian, any more than I can be angry with an ingrown toenail. You actually don’t mean any harm; nor could you ever mean any good. It’s just that your program’s faulty and made you a useless malignant parasite. When one of your faulty cells became two in five seconds it didn’t matter, but you are racing towards the time when one billion becomes two billion in that same amount of time, and that does matter. But you can’t help it. You’re just a population explosion of useless cells and nothing more, and we’re locked into a battle to keep that population down, for both our sakes. If and when that fails completely, then we’re in trouble, both of us.

Speaking of anger, I may be angry with myself if I knew the cause of your existence and it turned out to be something I could have prevented if I were a little wiser, but I don’t know that. I’ve searched for that answer a thousand times, just for my own satisfaction and the thought that if I discovered it, a lot of misery could be avoided; not just on my behalf but of the increasing number of people affected by your presence and those like you that have invaded so many others’ bodies and caused such heartache.

I know many of my friends have spoken of their anger at you, but what’s the point? Better that I turn my strength and energy towards learning the best way to accommodate you, if I can’t get rid of you altogether. And there’s always a part of me that refuses to dismiss optimism about outcomes. Stranger things have happened before and they don’t need a newly created saint to invoke them.

But I’m not counting on it. I think that’s foolish as well. I understand well enough the laws of probability in this case. Nor am I counting on some benevolent deity to take an unaccountable interest in just one of us when billions of others far more deserving are being ignored. Surely that would be the height of ego and presumption and irrationality. But that’s another story. I have a reasonable conception of my relationship with the Infinite that you, Brian, don’t even figure in.

A last word, my Unwelcome Stranger. Avastin is your friend, as much as mine, because it keeps you alive. You would have been dead months ago if it weren’t for our exotic mate. You depend on him just as much as Brain does. Not that you know, for you can’t know. You are, let me again remind you, as thick as two very short planks. I’m done wasting my time talking with you.

So you’re wrong, Brian – I OWN YOU! For all your bluster, we can’t get away from that. It’s more likely than not that my decisions govern your future.

If anything, we are Blood Brothers, just like the ones in the play. You know, the twins who end up killing each other. We are our own and each other’s destinies.

That's all I need to say to you. You deserve much less.

Some stories to check out

Here’s an interesting question for you to ponder - does your employer have the right to ask you for your FaceBook login? It seems that some think so. (Not your password, by the way, but your FaceBook identity so they can snoop on what you’re saying and when....)

Fascinating and scary – a seriously dangerous computer worm (virus) called Stuxnet infecting the main Iranian nuclear reactor and forcing a massive shutdown. Now I wonder how that got there?

Obama is acting so weakly over Libya. I’ve always thought US intelligence agencies were next to useless, as they were over Egypt and for decades before that. Worse than useless because of the damage they have caused around the globe over that time. It seems to have happened again. Maybe that explains so much of the bad judgement. Read this:
Why is it so critical for Libya right now? 

If you have the time and you really want to know what’s going on with Scientology, this explains it all. It’s long and you'll need some stamina, but it answers questions. It’s also disturbing. It's like poker machine addiction really, preferably the super-rich with super-egos, from the cult's point of view. And it has tax exempt status. Oh well. There are an awful lot of other institutions that have that and deserve it about as much. 

The addiction to gambling as an illness is real. Well, anyone could have seen that just by observation, if you notice the immense range of people who suffer from it, but this is the real scientific evidence that it's as hard to cure as addiction to crack cocaine. 
   Specially interesting is the fact that what keeps the poker machine addicts glued to their seats is when a near-miss at a huge payout is programmed in so that it comes up every so often. The rush the addict gets doesn’t come from smaller winnings even when the player is ahead (for the moment!), it’s getting close to the BIG one that really keeps 'em going. (Or, so the research shows, staying rather than going, even when they do literally wet their pants at the machine.)
NOTE: I once wrote rather a nice computer program for a poker machine and it made me realize how easy and imperceptible it would be to program in the occasional ‘near miss of the giant payout’ as well as to ensure that by the end of the day, the program would always make a profit of x% no matter how lucky someone might get for a while.

Here's another scary one. If you've watched the addictive Mad Men or the Gruen Transfer, then you'll find out from this story just how commercial and political advertisers and strategists are using the web to build an amazing false world to convince YOU of something that isn't so. 
   So what, you say, advertising agencies have been doing that forever. Not as well as this, they haven't. You're not concerned? I would be if I had to live in the world they're mapping out for you. You DO need to know this. I'm not sure what you do about it, but it's better to know if there's a pickpocket around rather than pretend there isn't.

And finally, here’s a really good one on the economics of sex, alcohol and happiness – how people adjust to what’s available!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Brian calling. Don't hang up.

Oh. Gidday.

   You know who this is, don’t you? Yes, it's me, Brian. That’s right. Brian, your friendly brain tumour. Your tenant up in the attic. I hope you like my name. It’s a bit of a joke really – sort of, reverse of ‘brain’.

   Oh, you got it already. I wasn’t sure. I’m not too smart you see, though you have to give me full marks for persistence, don’t you? Top marks in fact. You better. I have ways of reminding you, don’t I?

   That was fun this morning, wasn’t it? Well, I kinda enjoyed it. There you were, sleeping like a baby, at 6.15 AM, and I thought, it’s about time I reminded my pathetic little host just who’s the boss around here.

   So, I gave you a wake-up call, didn’t I? Got the old neural sledge hammer and slammed your fingers and wrist around for a couple of minutes, yes? Not all that long and not all that hard, I know. I went easy on you, but I might not next time.

   You’ve been so smug lately, after that last shot of that blasted Avastin stuff nearly three weeks ago. No seizures since you had the last hit, right? You had two friends over yesterday afternoon and finally got round to skiting to them about it. You got quite excited talking about Christchurch and the uprisings in Africa, and you practically ignored me.

   Respect! That’s what I want, get it? I want to dominate your whole existence and be the subject of your every pathetic thought.

   Admit it, you started to think, seeing as things were so hunky dory in the last couple of weeks, that maybe, just maybe, I was in retreat, just a little. Oh yes you did. You dared hope Brian was backing off, did you not?

   Well, that’s disrespect, old pal, and we can’t have that. Brian runs the real estate market up here, though you think you’re the host. The landlord. I’ve got squatter’s rights here and you don’t get away with the idea of being in control of anything.

   Respect, OK? And I might go easy on you.

   What I really like is that you are now in a bit of a quandary. A dilemma. A jam, a predicament, a fix, a sticky situation.... you expected to wake this morning and do all those stupid exercises that were starting to allow Brain to triumph over Brian just a little bit, weren’t you?

   Now you don’t know whether doing them will cause more seizures before Wednesday when you’re scheduled to have that next hit. You generally get a couple in a row once you start, and look even now at those right hand fingers you’ve been so laboriously straightening out over past weeks. Two minutes with me and they’re mine again, I guess you noticed. They’re curling back up just the way I like them. It’s my public branding so there’s no way you can hide from any one of your little mates just who’s boss round here.

   But you now don’t know whether to go on with the physical stuff and risk a more damaging seizure, or pretend that this warning I gave you when you were beddy-byes earlier today didn’t happen. Don’t forget I messed with your mind and body with seizure after seizure for three hours last time, down your whole right side, just a couple of weeks or so ago.... so what are you going to do?  Hah hah, I’m having fun here.

   Listen. We can do this the easy way or the hard way. Easy is you just give up this Avastin nonsense right now and let me fulfil my purpose as quickly as possible. You know my purpose. It’s just to replicate my cells until... well, I don’t have to spell it out for you – you have some squeamish friends and we don’t want to upset them, do we?

   That’s all I ask. And then we’ve done with it. My job is finished. And you can rest in peace after fifteen months of life-sucking fighting.

   Be careful how you say that. Ha ha.... Just a little joke. You have to have a sense of humour, right? You've said so enough times. Oh, it's all right to laugh at Brian just so long as things are going your way.... but not when I'm calling the shots.

   You don't seem to be laughing. Come on now, don't be like that. You've made enough fun of me in the past fifteen months. My turn. Smile.

   Oh, I know you have some grand thoughts that your reason for existence might be loftier than mine, but get over it. The little ripple on the state of human existence you made or make will disappear after a bit of hoo-hah.... why don’t we just do it like that? The easy way. You hate them sticking that needle thing into your collapsing veins, don’t you? You don’t have to do that, you know. Give it up. Go easy on yourself.

   Or, we can do this the hard way. I know this is the way you’re going to choose, because you’re just like the rest of them, and want to stick around, messing with your pals. You’re going to have another hit of that stuff, aren’t you? And I will have to stick around a bit longer until I get some extra strength to beat it. Brian has time on his side.

   Can’t you see you’re interfering seriously with my quality of life while you fill your body with that Avastin junk? Give it away, save yourself and everyone else the bother of being a blight on their existence. They need to get on with their lives. They have things they can do a lot better without a millstone around their neck. And you, with your Sword of Damocles poised up there above us all this time.

   Let it fall. It’s me, little old Brian, telling you like it is, or should be. Trust me.

   Whoo hoo, all those clichéd metaphors I’m using this morning. Not as dumb as you think, am I?

   What’s this? You’re demanding equal time? A right of reply? Up to you, sunshine. Try to convince yourself to stick around. You’ll have some smartarse thing to say, I’ll bet. But just remember, I have till Wednesday at least to have a bit more fun with you this time round. And there's always next time. For a while.

   I am boss. Don’t forget it again. I own you.

   That’s right.   I   O W N    Y O U.   Have a nice day. 

   This is Brian, over and out. For now.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Incompetence or dishonesty?

Note to whoever charted the course of Angus & Robertson into administration:

   Thank you for managing your company so badly that you couldn’t see its crisis coming from much further away than you did. Then again, maybe you did see it coming and decided to let someone else take the rap.

   Today I tried to buy a book with a gift voucher that was a present to me from a friend. The local A & R franchisee was unable to honour it, owing to incompetence or dishonesty on someone's part. Mine was a paltry loss, if you can call something like this a personal loss. Mind you, there were gift vouchers to the value of $9 million around the country also dishonoured. That’s seems as close to theft as it gets in my opinion.

   No use blaming your local franchisee. It’s not their fault and there’s nothing they can do about it. I was way more sorry for the one here than for myself.  Last week, they honoured $1500 worth of gift vouchers and then discovered that A&R in the hands of the administrator now refuses to reimburse them. Think of how many books you would have to sell as a retailer to make a PROFIT of $1500. Lots, particularly in a small town like ours. $5000 gross, I'd guess. They worked hard all last week to give A & R a $1500 donation....

   Even worse, the local franchisee told me that just a fortnight ago, A&R allowed them to pay for the renewal their franchise for ten years, and that franchise is now worth who knows what? Nothing, possibly. Poor sods.

   So here's another local business stabbed in the back with little recourse. I imagine they are also under rental contract from their landlords for quite some time in the future, and that will have to be paid regardless of the local business's capacity to trade. Their outlook is bleak indeed.

   Frankly, I don’t know exactly who’s to blame, but if it was someone who didn’t see it coming and didn’t move fast enough to save the franchisees then they don’t deserve the salary and perks they've been getting for years. If it was someone or some group who DID see it coming and deliberately ignored it, they deserve to have their personal assets frozen and suffer along with (or instead of) the people who put their trust in them.

   Yes, times are hard for the printed book trade. But hey, eBooks have been around for quite a long time, and as a manager if you didn’t plan for this change in customer behaviour, then you’re totally incompetent. Not, let me add, are eBooks likely to be the only problem. But what I suspect is that you’ll get off OK while the people who trusted you will foot your bills.

   In the end it’s no skin off my nose, as technically I didn’t actually lose anything, though my friend would be disappointed to know that the gift voucher they paid good money for turned out to be worthless. Not that I’ll tell them, of course, but it’s time the people who should know better and didn’t have integrity or professionalism to deal with it got their comeuppance.

   If you have a gift voucher from A & R, I suggest you frame it as a memento. I suppose they MAY trade their way out of trouble if people need books to read while their houses are being rebuilt, but I am not holding my breath. Even if A & R do survive, it will probably be over the prostrate bodies of a lot of their franchisees.

   Ah, and Borders, the giant bookshop, is also under administration. So the problem is endemic to the trade, yet none seems to have foreseen where it all was heading. Maybe the experts can enlighten us laypersons on what's happening - minus the excuses!


About two months ago, it must have been, my eldest sister did the dumbest thing. Well, not quite the dumbest – my getting a brain tumour was a good deal dumber, it has to be said. Second dumbest then, and no doubt her dumbest act ever. What did she do?

   She slipped over on the kitchen tiles, fractured her left shoulder in several places, and did some serious damage to her left hip to boot. She always had a spinal problem I won’t go into because it’s not your business, nor mine really. So, doing all that to her left side, especially at her age (sorry, Jan, age does come into the picture and you’re nearly five years older than I!) was not one of her finest moments. I’m pretty sure as she lay on the kitchen floor in terrible agony, and right up to this moment, she would readily agree with me on that.

   Jan and Ken both have led lives where physical activity has been an essential part of their makeup. Ken used to play tennis for years with the Laver brothers, Rod and Trevor, and my other sister Lyn was in Lois Laver’s class at high school. (Now I’m just namedropping on the family’s behalf. It’s a reflected glory sort of thing in the absence of any genuine talent on my part.) If you haven’t heard of Rod Laver then forget it, you’re much too young to be reading this Blob. Go and do something else.

   Ken still plays a mean game of tennis and in fact the whole family is so good at all sorts of sports that their trophy cabinet is ridiculous – truthfully, they started taking the cost of the trophies as prizes i.e., the cash, rather than try to find another spot in the trophy cabinet for yet another figurine kicking a football or holding a tenpin bowling ball. I guess they’re one of the few families in the world who have financed a fishing launch solely on the at-cost-to-the-club value of sporting trophies. (OK, that’s a slight exaggeration but you get the point. Ken had his beloved boat long before the trophy cabinets ran out of space.) 

   And if it’s on TV and involves a bat and ball, or just a ball, or in some cases not even a ball but something with a steering wheel or a propeller, then at least two of the TVs in their house will be following the action. And not only that, they will know exactly where the action is up to even though they’re doing several other things at the same time. They multitask on a scale that would make Deep Blue green with envy.

   Anyway, where I was getting to before I so rudely interrupted myself in the tangent to my main story was that Jan and Ken usually take early morning walks along a wonderful walkway above the tidal flats at Currumbin. It’s a glorious spot for coastal people like us. I’ve gone with them a couple of times in the past and would dearly love to go again. But with Jan’s shoulder in roughly six bits, all in the wrong place for quite a while, and spectacularly damaged hip and leg, there were going to be no such walks for a long time.

   I’ve never thought of Jan as being especially competitive in that way, but with me rabbiting on about the problems I have had with my right side, what does she do? Upstage me, totally. I mean, look at this she wrote this morning:

   I’m having some little victories with my left hand and I feel such a sense of achievement.  It still can’t do much – but even a little thing brings encouragement!  It’s funny though..... the messages getting through to my hand from my brain are not quite accurate.  I can raise my hand to my face now – and the first time I went to touch my mouth, I found that my hand had barely made it to my chin!  I couldn’t believe it – I was SURE I was going to touch my mouth!!  It’s gradually getting better – I can reach my hair now – just can’t make the hand DO anything with it yet!

   OY! Big five-foot-nothing sister, this is my patch! If anyone is going to do uncontrollable things with limb and digits, it’s I!

   It’s me. Grammar can be ridiculous.

   I’m so offended I’ll have to finish this tomorrow. I haven’t actually got on to the main point of my posting yet.

   Sisters! But what can you do? You don’t choose ‘em do you? If they’re older than you, you just come sloshing out of the chute on the day of your birth, and there they are, grinning at you, figuring already how to win the limelight back.

   OK Jan, you win on this one. But I have my new achievement with brain-limb co-ordination too, and I’ll have more to say on related matters tomorrow. Right now I have visitors about to knock on the door, and all their limbs work, AFAIK. Whoops – they’re here now. I will have to post this later.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


OK is a wonderful word. Not only is it universal, it signifies assent in any language without commitment, which makes it an amazing contribution to unofficial diplomacy. It’s neutral. It can save angst for that reason, though admittedly signals can get crossed as a result.

   What I mean is, Uncle Fester may email and says, 'I’ll be down there for a few days next week. I’ll look you up.’ You know the visit is almost inevitable, so you respond ‘OK....’ Even better is the fact that he can’t see your face or hear the tone of the ‘OK’. Diplomacy is preserved. Who knows, the visit may not happen if some minor miracle like a Category 5 cyclone occurs.

   Not that anyone in this household has an Uncle Fester we like much better at a distance than knocking at the door, as far as I know. I hope you understand that. It’s just an example. OK?

   If you want to know the origin of this fascinating word, go to

   It’s a quick but worthwhile read. Well, it’s certainly OK.

Today I had an itch at one point on the right side of the hamstring muscles of the right leg. I leaned down carefully and scratched the area with my right hand. Until now, I have had to reach over with the left hand and do the scratching.

   I haven’t been able to use the fingers of my right hand like that for eight months, because seizures smashed the connection between brain and muscles. But some of my hard work in reconstructive self-physiotherapy is starting to pay off.

   Now that’s not OK – that’s bloody fantastic!

Correspondence with a vagabond

This email came to me under the Subject Header 'Return of the prodigious son'. My revenge for his Biblical illiteracy (bordering on heresy) is to post the entire correspondence here. It serves him right! Needless to say, it is entirely in jest (especially the bit on Catholics) but some things better be spelt out clearly for posterity - or 'prosperity' as he would prefer.

Dear Denis and Tracey,

I've not been in touch for quite a while," Maxie Cooper, Maxie Cooper..." as we Catholics might say.  

   Maxie Cooper indeed! Generally I have nothing to do with Catholics. Life is much more pleasant that way, but I'll make an exception just this once. I thought you must have dropped off the edge of the planet, but it seems you have only been doing insignificant things like getting the fourth of your progeny off your hands halfway across it instead. Too bad you had to go so far afield to do that, as I know that in spite of the genes on their father's side, these girls are lovely creatures. I trust you got a goodly price for her even though you had to bargain with a Pom, and that the Ashes were at least part of the deal. No? 

   Oh well. I guess we may have to retrieve them by playing test cricket then, which at the moment seems a rather hazardous enterprise. They must have given you hell over there about fluking an Ashes win twice in a row. I trust you trashed a pub or two in Soho maintaining Australian sporting dignity.

   At any rate, very good to know that you are both back safe and sound after contact with the northern hemisphere barbarians.

We went overseas for a month in mid January, largely to see my fourth daughter marry a nice English boy, in London, and as she's the second of my daughters to do so, one assumes that surely the supply of nice English boys must now be exhausted. 

   I'd say so, but should he become troublesome you can at least batter the lad into submission if she lures him out to the colonies at some stage. Or she can do it herself, coming from a Rugby family and all.

During that time I have thought of you often, and at one point planned to send you a postal-type card from the Loire Valley, but my phone book, by definition and not too surprisingly, contains phone numbers, not addresses. So now I shall, first chance I get, bestrew the table with a selection of postal-type cards, and let you choose your own! How tacky is that!!?

   I think it is an excellent idea, given some of the French postcards you've collected in your time. We might have a viewing out of eyeshot of the women. Then again you might cleverly confuse the issue with a smattering of Sound of Music type postcards or wineries along the Loire. After all, Europe is pretty much the same wherever you go, isn't it? Vienna, Ibeza, what's the diff?

I have been reading your terrific blog, Denis, and am pleased that you are feeling and operating better, you do deserve to. 

   Thanks old buddy. It has been a bit of a struggle at times, and the Dex has blown my body up like a balloon, as you shall sadly see. I can't believe how deeply it affects one's body chemistry, but you will have to put up with the frightening reality of a fat partially thatched cripple who vaguely resembles a Chinese court eunuch of the early twentieth century to greet you. You know the ones - though I hasten to point out that in any other respect the similarity ends right there, buster. Any snide remarks about my manhood will end in a spelling contest, so do not press the point. As it were.

   No doubt if it weren't for the Avastin I wouldn't be around now, but it has been doing its job so far. I can't say how long for. The chance of brain aneurysm is ever-present but we live with that, and so far so good. Of more concern is the 'half-life' factor of the Avastin, but we live with that too and fortify my anti-angiogenic strength with natural foods that we hope are having a positive effect. Nothing like beetroot on Weetbix soaked in 2004 Coonawarra Cab Sav for brekkie. I mean, really. There's nothing like it!

So then, would you like a visit from JNH sometime in the not-too-distant future? 

I don't know about 'like', but we'll bravely cope with it, I guess....  :) You do know, don't you, that Moxon's Bakery does an excellent carrot cake?

I recall that, following my return from Europe in 2010, you deemed it wise to delay such a visit until whatever exotic bugs I might have imported had had time to disperse. Maybe that is still the best plan. We've been home for ten days now, in case that piece of information is relevant. Anyhow, do let me know, and I shall act accordingly.

   I think if you don't have large black spots all over your dissolute frame or any body parts falling off unexpectedly when you're in a fit of uncontrollable sneezing, we may safely assume that you will not be bringing any sort of foreign plague with you. This is not a reference to the au pair who so regularly seems to arrive on the same return flight as you.

   I think it must be four months or so since we set eyes on your homely but not totally unwelcome visage. Let's try for a little later in the week. My social secretary is not up yet; clearly I have not been beating her enough but have to await a little more physiotherapy on the right arm before I attempt that, or the tables (or a kitchen chair) may be turned on me. That as you will know is not good for the maintenance of authority in the household, especially if a failed attempt at any show of brute force is directed at she who fills one's weekly box of medications. It would be like living in the household of Octavian's mother, so I observe diplomacy and caution. I will consult her and see how you may fit into my heavy schedule of sleeping punctuated by short periods of somewhat manic consciousness. You may already have noticed the latter.

   Oh well, you asked for it. I expect you'll be wanting coffee as well. Is there no limit to the demands of retired galloping Pro-consuls? I'll check with the kitchen staff as to its availability when the secretarial skirt is exchanged for the cook's frou-frou. The coffee's availability I mean. Staff in frou-frou garb do not mingle with the hoi poloi.


I, Claudius Denarius

PS I am breaking etiquette and all the bounds of common decency by posting this letter in its entirety on my blog. If you do not veto it within two minutes of my hitting the SEND button, I will assume that silence signifies consent. (I learnt this technique from the way resource companies write their development applications.)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Me, normally

I slept till 8.30 am today. That’s good. Well, I did wake once through the night but went back to sleep again. Now, as I’ve been up for four hours, the fog in my head is turning into low-level pain, but tolerable. I’ll rest soon.

   Both the palliative care people and the GP have told me that the best thing to do is to take paracetamol (such as Panadol) fairly regularly in this situation, as its effect needs time to build up. That’s a bit like the way the anti-seizure drugs work. They take weeks to build up to a regulated resistance to seizures, though I find it’s important to take them at fixed times. I don’t know how purely psychological sticking to precise medications times is, but it helps.

   So there’s not much point just taking the Panadol when the headache is at its worst - I need to take it earlier and more regularly than that. I can’t tell you how much that goes against the grain for me. I am just not a medications type person. I want to tough pain out.

   That’s bad strategy in these circumstances, it seems. But at least the only other drugs I am taking are to maintain seizure control, keep blood pressure in order and a low dose anti-inflammatory. I probably don’t take much more medication now than a lot of ‘normal’ people, apart from the critical life-preserving Avastin, which so far hasn’t had unduly bad side effects. Oh yes, and the Clexane for clots – I forgot about that. I wonder how much I need it but like blood pressure tablets, you don’t just decide to stop taking them on a whim, unless you have a death wish. Do that and you can drop dead in a week.

   But, you know, all things considered, I feel better now than at any time since all this began fifteen months ago. Tracey and I have talked about it. Why I think I feel like this is that the last of the chemotherapy poisons have been flushed from my system. I started chemotherapy 14 months ago, first orally and then intravenously. You can never feel ‘normal’ when you have those toxins coursing through your body, being topped up at regular intervals.

   They had a job to do, but whatever they did, it’s done, and I’m done with them. I don’t ooze the smell of chemicals from my pores or my breath. I don’t feel like someone has booted me in the stomach once or twice a day.

   And now that I am seriously starting to exercise as much as is advisable, good things are happening. I can pick things up (carefully!) with my right hand for the first time in many months, as long as I do it the right way. And what is quite exciting is that occasionally I find I have done something using both the left and the right hand coordinated, in the way you might do it – without thinking about it. But I can’t cut any food up with the right hand yet. When I can do that, you know I am really on the right road. I tried the other day. It was an abject failure. It  reminds me that though progress is progress, there's a long way to go.

   I might still shuffle around a bit as if some five year old has their arms around my right ankle and I am pulling them along. But, by doing ankle exercises, the swelling in the right foot has disappeared completely - for the moment at least. How about that?  I can get up out of a chair easier. That's because of some upper body work. I can walk on tip-toes – a bit anyway.

   I have to say that I know this feeling isn’t likely to last – not with the signs as they are. There’s always that caveat. Even in just an hour this bravado could all look a bit hollow. I remember how, after two months of no seizures, when I got that sudden one out of the blue, I saw my right hand fingers starting to curl up like a spider sprayed with insecticide, and I am still trying to get them completely straight, even now. 

   But I am doing my best. I said to Tracey that I want to start earning my keep again – a bit anyway. More cups of tea for the Carer? I can do that. I know they’re appreciated. And I will avoid walking over the nice carpet with that cup of tea!

   It is just good to feel more like a normal human being again. You really don’t know how good if you’ve never not been there!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Tweetie Pie

I said several times on this Blob that I was a slow learner. I suspect some think that’s just an attempt at false humility, but it’s true - I AM a slow learner. Mind you, there comes a point when the penny drops and I can get quite good at what I’m trying to do, and use it in inventive ways. I happily admit that. But it takes me longer than most people to reach that point.

   Take for example new computer programs – self-taught ones. After finally coping with Microsoft Word twenty years ago or more, I tried PageMaker for desktop publishing. I loathed it. It just didn’t do things the way I wanted. I gave up trying with it for some time, then came back and persevered. Bingo! Something clicked in the old grey matter and it just fell into place for me. Suddenly I couldn’t imagine why I had a problem with it in the first place. Photoshop, FinalCutPro, even FaceBook – you name it, I had trouble with them all, conceptually. Progress was painful for some time, and then out of nowhere it seemed, the lights came on and someone WAS home.

   I could go on providing you with many more examples but you get the idea. I comfort myself with the thought that maybe even Einstein was a slow learner.

   I love the piece in his biography where he gets a letter from a ten-year-old girl. I read this biography many years ago, so I have to paraphrase. She wrote complaining she was having difficulty with her maths. Einstein wrote back to her something like, ‘I can understand that you are having this trouble. In a way it makes me feel better. You’re able to appreciate the terrible problems I am having with mine!’

   Anyway, this is by way of an introduction to my slow-learning problem with Twitter. For years, I confess, I just didn’t get it. I am barely getting it even now, but the penny has dropped and is on its way down the chute to some real understanding at last. It’s so obvious now I barely know what my problem with it was.

   I’m always fascinated by something that seems so important and easy to use for other people, but which can leave me totally confused for ages. Like many of you, I suspect, I am not a ‘read the manual’ person. I try something and start to explore it, or look for things to happen when I press this or that.

   This has its good points and bad points. Good is that you learn lots by accident or, by doing things wrongly, you discover a whole heap of things you probably wouldn’t have learned otherwise, like how to get out of the mess you have just created for yourself. Bad is that if you RTFMd (which I’ll delicately translate for you, if you aren’t familiar with the term, as ‘READ THE FLAMING MANUAL’) you’d almost certainly get the hang of most of it a heap earlier.

   But my brain just doesn’t seem to work in that sensible way. Christian’s does. Before he began flying lessons, he had read up so much on it that in theory, he could have taken that little Piper Cherokee straight up in the air, done two loop the loops and then helped the instructor hone his flying techniques. In theory, I said.... in practice as we all know - and he learned very quickly - it doesn’t work out quite that way, especially when he flew solo for the first time.

   But it’s true – his RTFM method is eminently more sensible than groping about in the mud and the blood and the beer than mine. My general learning technique is not one you’d encourage kids to use. Well, I sure wouldn’t.

   I opened a Twitter account years ago, because it seemed to be something people I respected in the computing world were doing. I then sat back, waiting for something to happen. I don’t know what I expected, but one or two people who knew me did actually FOLLOW me almost immediately. If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry. It didn’t make all that much sense to me for a while either.

   The problem was that I had nothing to offer people. It was like I’d opened a shop and not stocked it with anything. Worse still, I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to put on the shelves. I don’t think I even understood to begin with that I suddenly had a shop. It was like building a website without any clear idea why I was doing it. Any idea at all, if truth be told.

   So what was it that people were doing with Twitter in places like Egypt, to bring down a dictator? What were they selling and how were they selling it?

   It’s something like this, if we consider it a logical progression. Think of the now infamous eight-second grab for the news on TV. A Government Minister has to make a statement. They’re going to show him or her for a maximum of eight seconds. Talking politicians' heads are not exciting (unless maybe they refuse to say anything at all for eight seconds as happened recently here in Oz, but let’s not muddy the waters). So what’s said is tailored by the politician or press secretary to be the strongest statement possible that fits those eight seconds.

   This means one person gets to talk to thousands who happen to be watching the news at the time of the eight-second grab. It’s one-sided but it may get a simple message across – or maybe I should say, a simplified (often simplistic) message across – to a diverse group.

   Now, think of FaceBook. If you’ve never used FaceBook then this won’t mean much to you, but stick with me for a minute anyway. FaceBook allows you to talk at one time to a group of people you've chosen as friends, and for them to talk amongst themselves and/or with you. It’s like a group at the bar or a café. And like such groups, one person doesn’t hold the floor for long. They make a short comment and the conversation moves on. FaceBook isn’t a place for long serious conversations. People can’t be bothered with them.

   So, most things you say to anyone on FaceBook are limited to a couple of sentences at most. It’s only as deep and meaningful in public as you can make it in a couple of sentences. Most of it's ephemeral and some's plain rubbish like the nonsense I put on there sometimes. The chat-like character of FaceBook means that it’s easily adaptable to a mobile phone, if you’re good at texting, which I’m not.

   And so at last to Twitter. This lets you talk to people by creating a tweet at the Twitter website (I know, how twee! But that's what you do). People may view your tweets either on the computer screen or on a mobile phone. But the innovation with Twitter is that it gives you only 140 characters in any one tweet. So your tweet must very brief and to the point. (What’s above in green is just 140 characters).

   And that's it! Sort of....
   The number of people who see your tweet depends mainly on how many people you are following, or who follow you. Who you follow is your choice. Twitter has a powerful search engine to help make that choice depending on what interests you.

   The power of Twitter is how many people you can get to at any one time. If you’re using a mobile phone and the message is texted to you, then you get it any time your phone is on – but it doesn’t have to be on a mobile phone – it can be completely computer based if you like. I tend to like... though I set it up to go to my (rarely used) mobile phone just to see how it worked. (A lot of people use FaceBook like that too, I know.)

   On a computer you just go to the Twitter website to see what’s happening in your Twitter world of Followers and Following, just as you’d sign in to FaceBook to see what your friends are doing.

   So what? It’s not all that much different to FaceBook, MySpace etc, you might say, just briefer. More chatty. In a way, yes – but its real power is threefold.

   (a) to provide immediate spot information on some important event, by the minute if necessary. As I write this, Nick Kristof in Bahrain is eye-witness reporting using tweets on dramatic events very similar to what we saw so recently in Egypt (at considerable risk to his life, I might add).

   (b) to organise people very rapidly.

   (c) to use that 140 characters to direct people to a hyperlink – to some page on the net that may be an article or expert advice or something. Or a command, for that matter.

   This is its power. By being part of a Twitter grouping that you choose by following people or being followed by them, you can exert influence or follow directions in a way never before possible. Your group will be unique and include all sorts of people, many of whom you won’t know personally even though you chose them. That’s different in some respects to FaceBook. If you're wise you choose your FaceBook friends carefully. Not quite so with Twitter.

   No wonder dictators fear the internet or seek to manipulate it to their own ends. No matter what sort of society you live in, power over others and social networking has reinvented cooperative power of diverse groups and individuals. It also turns out to be an enormously powerful research tool if you know what you're doing.

   If you don’t get how it works you need to start to do so right now or you won’t understand how its power can bring down or set up any type of government or system. It’s that serious. We just saw it work in Egypt. The only way to stop it is to cut all digital communications, and that's cutting off your nose to spite your face.

   I doubt it will be my problem as I may not be around for all that long, but for most people who made it to the end of this posting, it surely will be yours.

   The thing is, you just finished reading 1500 words. Congratulations. What might it be like to be controlled by those in power who find anything over 140 characters (say, 20 words) too much of a challenge? 

PS If you have a Twitter account, please find me (deniswright) and follow me and I'll reciprocate. It will help me to learn more about how it networks people and information.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Julius and the stone giraffe

Well now, this time I am on a precarious ledge on a barren mountainside, and I haven’t a clue how I got here, but it’s wide enough not to feel unduly alarmed by having been transported mysteriously to this lonely spot.

    Yet I am not alone. I can see, right in front of me, the head and neck of huge giraffe. That’s what I said, a giraffe – and not just any old giraffe. It’s stone, much larger than life size, and its eyes are at my level. Somewhat disturbingly, the eyes are as real and black and beautiful as a live giraffe’s are. It looks at me with little interest or curiosity, but stone or otherwise, it knows I’m here.

    The animal is tethered by a series of stone rings – a chain that has been created by carving the rings out of a single piece of rust-coloured stone, the craftsman taking away what needs to be removed to create each linked ring.

    It’s like those little sculptures you could buy at any touristy spot in India that are made from a solid piece of marble or ivory – a lacy ball within a ball within a ball within a ball, painstakingly carved by some poor artisan in order to put food on the table. I marvel at their ingenuity, but am not fond of them because they seem such vast effort for so little reward for the craftsman or woman or child.

    But back to my cliff perch on the ledge with the chained stone giraffe that I realise now is part of the chain itself. It and the chain of stone links were created as part of one whole sculpture. Heaven knows why or for whom. These are not questions you ask when looking into the liquid black eyes of a stone giraffe.

    Then some disembodied voice declares that the stone rings will be replaced by timber ones. The eyes of the giraffe light up momentarily. This change to wooden links occurs in front of my eyes. (Hell's bells, what DID I have for dinner last night?) The giraffe turns into a living creature. I have always been shocked and delighted by just how incredibly tall and strong giraffes are when you see them in the flesh, and this transformation from stone pleases me.

    Suddenly there is a thump, and the wooden rings tethering the animal collapse in pieces and it runs away towards thin woods in the distance, only it’s no longer a magnificent giraffe but a miserable little frightened creature with its tail between its legs like a small mangy hyena. It disappears into the woods.

    I hear another thump and waken. My right arm is in tremor but not seizure. I wonder how often or how much during the night it moves like this when I am asleep, under no control except for the anarchic forces that take it over when I can’t focus on it consciously. But that’s not the immediate concern. I try to think about that heavy bump, and how useless I would actually be if there were a stranger in the house, even a twelve-year-old boy.  But that thought is shaken by yet another thump, and I am relieved to realise it is nothing but the garbage trucks outside lifting the bins up to empty them.

    We’ve been watching a TV series on DVD called Rome loaned to us by our dear friends Jackie and Austin. It’s as engrossing and addictive as Mad Men or Dexter, a brilliant mixture of a fairly authentic story line gleaned from real historical accounts of Rome round the time of Julius Caesar and a fanciful take on this through the eyes of two centurions that fate or the Roman gods have thrust together. Wonderful characters. It so happens that Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, and Bernard Shaw’s play Caesar and Cleopatra are three of my favourites, so the series ties in nicely with my memories of those from long ago.

    In the one we were watching last night, Julius Caesar, back in Rome from Egypt after defeating Pompey and having had a year-long dalliance with Cleopatra, describes a giraffe to his disbelieving audience of society friends (and enemies!) and voices his frustration at not being able to bring a live giraffe home to Rome to show them, as the giraffes always die on the sea voyage back.

    Maybe, just maybe, watching three gripping episodes of Rome just before bed is one or two too many....