September 2004 Archives

First class behind me

My first class was fun. The uncompensated prep time may prove to be a drag after a few weeks, but it is only two months. My students—six male and six female, with ages ranging from 30 to 60—all have little to no experience with web development. This is a good thing; no bad habits picked up during the Browser Wars. Standards compliance all the way, baby.

The facility is posh; twelve computers arranged in a flattened semicircle, a master computer with screen control software, and a 42-inch plasma screen up front. During class I pointed to a web page that I had mirrored up to the screen, and the cursor moved. “Hey, it’s a touch screen. Cool,” I blurted; my students chuckled.

I did have one major gripe, though. This is a class on web development using text editors, and Notepad was removed from the Start Menu of all of the lab’s computers (no Program Files access, of course). Figuring that there would be such hiccups, I had planned on saving the hands-on stuff for the next session anyway, so I lectured on the history of HTML; keeping properly structured content separate from presentation (CSS); and the basic elements of an XHTML document.

There were a few MEGO moments as I yammered on, but I think they all learned something.

First class tomorrow

My first “Web Development with HTML” class is tomorrow evening. The class has full enrollment, so I will have twelve students. I just hope that it still has full enrollment by next week. They are paying $75 to hear me blather on for 720 minutes over the course of eight weeks.

I’m prepping my handouts right now; nothing like the last minute. The nervousness sill hasn’t hit me yet; I’ll probably start getting butterflies around 5 PM tomorrow.

On a lark, I decided to let my beard grow out. It only takes a few days, and it most definitely is not permanent—beards itch; plus I like to keep my face kissably smooth (usually not too successful with that one). The facial fuzz does make me look slightly more professorial. I refuse, however, to dress unstylishly to complete the look.

“Web Development with HTML” is kind of a silly title (not my choice). Is there really any other kind? Next up we have “Carpentry with Wood” and “Needlepoint with Thread.”

Hawaii-bound (in nine months)

Yesterday the budget for our trip to Hawaii next June was approved for all three of our group’s full-time staff! We will be attending a conference hosted by the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.

While Vancouver and the University of British Columbia campus were amazing last summer, I am just bubbling over with anticipation for next June. This week has been full of good news.

Professor Michael

Well, not really… As the title implies, I have an upcoming teaching gig. It is not at the university where I draw my paycheck, but rather at a local adult school. Still, it promises to be an exciting experience (and a bit stressful, of course). The normal teacher is ill; they desperately searched for a replacement; and they ended up with me. Because people have already signed up for and paid for the course, the basic content of the course (description below) is mostly set in stone.

 This in-depth beginners’ course covers page design principles and understanding the document structure. It will cover HTML, HyperText Markup Language, and touch on XHTML, the eXtensible “ditto,” which are the fundamental technologies for creating web pages. However, emphasis is on the design aspects, with coding as the tool, not the substance. Learn how to deal with text, graphics, links, tables, lists, forms, JavaScript, and more. No knowledge of HTML or programming is necessary, but you should be completely comfortable using a browser and a text editor such as vi, Notepad, or SimpleText.

A few of my coworkers agreed that the description is “creepily geeky.” (Who does still design pages in vi?) Fortunately, they will give me some latitude to add subject matter that I feel is essential. Surprisingly, a few subjects near and dear to my heart as a web designer are missing; there is no mention of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), accessibility, or standards compliance in the course description. You cannot design a modern web page without them. Also, rather than “touch on XHTML,” I will focus on it.

Starting on September 30, the course will unfold over eight weeks, one ninety-minute session per week. Of course, the pay won’t even noticeably pad my wallet, but who teaches for the money…

As for the stress part, I just agreed to do this, so now I barely have a week to develop a rudimentary syllabus and the content and handouts for my first session. Ack.

Fat pants

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You may not have expected a guy to discuss his “fat pants” unless you were watching Jared on a Subway commercial. However, I now find myself in the situation that none of my pants fit. The last time my pants didn’t fit, it was a bad thing because I realized that I had hit rock bottom with my weight problem again, and it was time to get serious about dieting once more.

During my first weight reduction, all of my pants with a 38-inch waist ended up in a dumpster, leaving all of my size 36s. Even though my 36s were a bit loose, I held off buying smaller-sized pants because I had not yet reached my weight goal. Circumstance, work, and my own lack of self-discipline thwarted that goal, and as I recounted before, I backslid until my 36s became too tight.

Now I find myself in better shape than I have been in almost a decade, and all of my pants are starting to feel rather uncomfortable and look a bit ridiculous. Unfortunately, I am still about a stone shy of my weight goal, and my progress is slowing the closer I get to 190. I cannot afford to replace all of my pants with an interim size, but yesterday evening I broke down and bought one “transitional” pair of jeans from Eddie Bauer (and a smaller belt too!).

My new jeans have a size 33 waist and are a bit snug, but I figure that when I lose the last of my extra weight, these 33s will become my new “fat pants” and I might still get some wear out of them. Plus there is nothing like a pair of too-tight jeans to motivate oneself to lose more weight. It will be a joyous day indeed when I can finally dispose of (or donate) all of my size 36s. The expense of buying all new pants will be painful, but I believe that it will be a good kind of pain. (I would probably make a horrible metrosexual because the idea of spending even $35 on a pair of jeans normally makes me cringe.)

Blogging in academia

Next week, as part of my job, I get to help set up seventy blogs for a university organization that sends interns all over Asia. Actually, I will just set up the template, configuration, and plug-ins for the first one. Then through the magic of scripting, seventy uniquely-named and titled clones will spring forth. One has to love a job where one can “play” with Movable Type during work hours and get paid for it. It is just a shame that it took close to two years to get a production-level weblog server.

It is no secret that the wheels of change in the academic world move slowly, coated with the rust of poor communication, resistance to new pedagogy, siloed departments and sub-departments (groups), and decade-old legacy computing infrastructure. In the media lab where I work, we try to stay as much on the bleeding edge as possible given the bureaucratic, political, budgetary, and personnel constraints that I imagine are far too common in academia. Our media lab’s staff love working with the “latest and the greatest,” as do many of our customers.

One customer request whose frequency has increased over the past couple of years is access to a university-supported weblog host. Most of the time they haven’t used this specific terminology; usually the request is for “a web site where I can post articles, and others can post discussions, but I don’t want to learn Dreamweaver…” Our response, until now, was to admit that we couldn’t help them or to direct them to a third-party hosting company.

LAser in-SItu Keratomileusis 5


Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

It is finally time to bring the LASIK narrative to a close.

I continued to need the artificial tears for another four months, but stopped using them entirely after that. Soon after my surgery, my eyes had trouble focusing when I tried to read a computer monitor from a distance. Words would slowly come into focus if I stared at them or closed my left eye, but I don’t think that my brain fully figured out how to use my reshaped corneas until the fourth or fifth month.

A little over six months following my surgery, I returned to Dr. Dello Russo’s office for my appointment. Results from the vision chart were great—20/20 in my left eye, 20/15 in my right, and no astigmatism. Unfortunately, my eyes were still a bit sensitive to bright lights at night. Headlights and street lights could occasionally blur my vision, especially when my eyes were tired. I had really noticed this when I drove up and back from the Montreal Jazz Festival in July.


I just returned from my very first Klezmer concert. For over five years I have known a librarian slash saxophonist, but I only found out this year that she has been in a Klezmer band for six years. I had missed their last performance and was waiting for this one.

When I arrived, I was surprised to find my colleague/friend’s boss and her daughter there. It was nice to hang out with a familiar face. Apparently, the friend, herself, had also planned on attending, and we saved her a seat for a bit, but she didn’t show.

Being neither Jewish nor having particularly strong ties to my Eastern European heritage—Polish and H.I.N.O. (Hungarian In Name Only)—I had never even heard of Klezmer before. I do have to say that I was most impressed. Klezmer is difficult music to describe, but some have referred to it as “Yiddish jazz.” I suppose that description fits. All that matters, though, is that it was two hours of lively, jazzy, expertly performed music with a distinctive ethnic flavor. One thing that surprised me was that the band members’ talent was not limited to their instruments; at least four of them had written original compositions.

Aside: the building that hosted the concert also had in intriguing exhibit by a local mixed-media artist. One of the artist’s pieces invited the observer to pull a paper-bag–wrapped “truth” out of a basket. My truth was the following:

 One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one constantly makes exciting discoveries. — A. A. Milne

LAser in-SItu Keratomileusis 4

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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

When I arrived at my room at the inn, my eyes stung so badly I could barely keep them open. I fumbled through my belongings for the pain pills that the doctor had given me and quickly downed those. The really expensive eye drops were next. Lotamax is an anti-inflammatory drop that I had to apply four times daily for two weeks; Vigamox, an antibiotic, I applied four times daily for one week. Preservative free artificial tears had to be applied every fifteen minutes for two weeks, tapering down over the next three months.

Before settling into bed, I had to adhere a bug-like clear plastic shield over each eye. This was to prevent subconscious rubbing of the eyes while sleeping. When I awoke four hours later, my eyes felt much better; thank God for pain pills. I made my way to the downstairs restaurant to find dinner.

Unfortunately, the restaurant was adjacent to a smokers’ lounge. As I waited for my meal, the pain pills started to wear off. This, combined with the cigarette smoke wafting in from the lounge, made for a rather unpleasant meal. I understand the need for smokers to feed their addiction; what I don’t understand is the total disregard for others exhibited by those who smoke inside public buildings, but I digress. I was unable to keep my eyes open to eat my dinner, so I navigated my plate by touch. After wolfing down my food, I stumbled back to my room and tried to sleep until morning.


I thought that I would take a break from my unexpectedly epic laser surgery saga to write another Google poem. This one is a bit more freeform and took seven pages of results. It amused me that some of the returned results were snippets of other poems, a bit reminiscent of musical sampling. Coming tomorrow — ocular hematoma jocularity (with pic), but now…


an unexpected lust, a longing for something
The tango is lovely longing
Longing is like the Seed

longing, fear, and hope were part of everyday life
Longing for home
Longing for Simpler Days
we retain a longing with lifelong nostalgia

Take this longing from my tongue
because of our longing for the muse,
we become more, better, deeper, wider
When the lad for longing sighs
Longing to Belong

Sexuality and Holy Longing
Longing for Paradise?
Deep longing
I’m longing for you.

to kindle a fire of longing
wistful, soft tearful longing
My love is as a fever, longing still

LAser in-SItu Keratomileusis 3

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Even though my consultation had been way back in October of 2003, I waited until January for my operation so that I could take advantage of two benefits offered by my employer. The first, Vision Service Plan (VSP) costs me $12 per month throughout 2004, but it discounted the laser surgery by $1000 because Dr. Dello Russo is part of VSP’s network of doctors. The second was a medical expense account, where I set aside a portion of my 2004 income ($4600) that would not be subject to federal income tax, and I could use that money to pay for my operation.

So, on Friday, January 16, I made the ninety minute drive up to Bergenfield. My surgery appointment was scheduled for 10 AM. After the operation, I would stay overnight at a nearby inn, and return the next morning for a follow-up. While laser surgery is an outpatient procedure, driving oneself home immediately after is not a wise course of action.

When I arrived at the doctor’s office, I received about a dozen pages that I had to read, initial, and sign. In addition, I had to copy a number of ass-covering statements in my own handwriting such as, “I am fully aware that I may experience a corneal abrasion.” A doctor then answered any remaining questions I had.

Happy birthday to me

So begins year thirty-two…

At least I have today off from work thanks to Labor Day, although being alone on one’s birthday kind of sucks.

Being alone kind of sucks, period.

LAser in-SItu Keratomileusis 2

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Before I describe the events of my surgery day, I suppose I should provide some basic background info on LASIK and explain those “three key technologies” that I mentioned in the last post. The LASIK procedure is often referred to as “flap and zap.” A thin surface layer of the cornea is cut away in an incomplete circular arc (the corneal flap), the flap is lifted up, a laser pulses away at the corneal tissue underneath to reshape the eye, then the flap is reset.

Normally, to cut the flap, a medieval torture device known as a microkeratome is used. Just do a Google image search for microkeratome and try not to cringe. There was no freaking way I was going to have one of those get anywhere near my eyeball. With all-laser LASIK (IntraLase®), the flap is precisely cut with a femtosecond laser. Now granted, a speculum is still used to keep the eye open, and a suction device holds the eyeball steady, but the key is that there is no hand-held metal blade. Apparently, most complications from LASIK arise from poorly cut flaps that can’t reseat properly after the operation.

LAser in-SItu Keratomileusis

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Over a week ago, I promised that I would write a few entries about my recent laser eye surgery (LASIK) in the hopes that recounting my experiences might help others considering a similar operation.

I will begin by saying that, overall, I would consider the operation to have been a success. The procedure had a few minor complications (more about those later), but it has been nearly eight months since I underwent the procedure, and most times I completely forget that I ever wore glasses. Having near-perfect uncorrected vision just seems so natural to me now.

I have been encumbered by glasses since I was twelve and have always felt self-conscious about my appearance with them. In addition, I did not want to spend the rest of my life saddled with the annoyance of cleaning them, making sure I don’t break them, not being able to see the television from bed, worrying about them when engaged in athletic activity, et cetera. I had tried contacts a couple of times (rigid gas permeable and soft disposable); however, because of the discomfort and inconvenience, I even found them to be inferior to glasses.

Body by Bowflex® - Progress record

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Below are the results of my weigh-ins (every other day, skipping weekends) to mark my continuing progress on Dr. Ellington Darden’s The Bowflex Body Plan. Starting weight was 246.5 lbs. In another post, I describe the plan in more detail.

The Bowflex Body Plan cover

Week 24

12/17 — 183.5 lbs., 12/15 — 185.0 lbs., 12/13 — 187.0 lbs.

Week 23

12/10 — 186.0 lbs., 12/08 — 186.0 lbs., 12/06 — 186.0 lbs.

Week 22

12/03 — 188.0 lbs., 12/01 — 188.0 lbs., 11/29 — 189.5 lbs.

Week 21

11/26 — 190.0 lbs., 11/24 — 189.0 lbs., 11/22 — 188.5 lbs.

Week 20

11/19 — 189.0 lbs., 11/17 — 188.5 lbs., 11/15 — 189.5 lbs.

Week 19

11/12 — 189.5 lbs., 11/10 — 190.0 lbs., 11/08 — 190.5 lbs.

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This page is an archive of entries from September 2004 listed from newest to oldest.

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