08 March 2017

The New Normal

It's really annoying to have to say that my wife's bi-weekly chemo infusions has become "normal". But... well, it has. The shock that comes with a sudden change in the flow of life has worn off. The typical fears, concerns, difficulties are just a fact of life now. This isn't to say all is well, but a routine has developed which makes things easier.

Through it all, and this is a way I have always viewed life, in planning for the worst and hoping for the best, we've seen some personal growth that is - dare I say - worth the trial. The small things are more significant now. Our kids are taking on new responsibilities. My relationship with my wife is better (she finally likes me! I jest, dearest ;), I know you still just put up with me!). This is an opportunity where we can clearly identify true things of value to our children... and ourselves too... such as spending time with one another, helping those in need, and living a life of gratefulness & thankfulness. When you wake up and take a deep breath and you have a moment free of pain... do you recognize what sort of gift that is?

My last post mentioned the difficult days. This one is to say that there are good days too. And during the bad days, there are good moments. And when everything seems horrible, there is always something to be thankful for.

We're thankful for friends and family who pray for and look after us.
We're grateful to have support from work.
We're relieved that our kids are really great.
We're refreshed when worshiping at church.
We're comforted by our God who is faithful.

07 February 2017

Right is Wrong and Up is Down

Supporting someone battling an unseen foe is difficult. For one, how do you see any progress? How do you know whether the effort is making any difference? Each day is different and there is no predictability. My wife's struggle against her disease has drained her physically to the point of a strange exhaustion and the chemo adds another twist to the battle with an emotional component where she must cope with the way it is forcing her body to change and demanding a change in lifestyle.

For those who know my wife, you are familiar with some of her ways. Her desire for everything to have a correct and proper place; for nothing to be left un-done; for things to be planned and anticipated; for a certain level of cleanliness; for the home that she presents to guests to be one where they feel welcomed and comfortable, where they aren't intruding. You also know that she has very strong emotions that can flare up in... unexpected... ways even in the best of times.

Now, take away her ability to stay on task, take away her strength, take away any semblance that a plan will be kept. Add in continual nausea, a battle to keep the contents of her last meal down (she HATES to vomit) or to go in the right direction, headaches, a state of confusion and a foggy memory (caused by the meds that keep her "comfortable"), continual pain whether her head as her hair falls out in rapid succession or from some strange bruise caused by a misplaced step, and so on and so forth.

I'm really proud of the way she is keeping it together. I can't overstate that. So very proud the way she is fighting this battle. Staying brave for our kids so that they aren't afraid. Trying her best to show a good face to those who come near, especially those who she isn't very comfortable with because they are new or are strangers or just people that we're not close to, but who care. This all adds yet another dimension to the struggle... to people how to look towards God and trust Him in these difficult times and to find the good in the midst of it all... I'm so very proud of her.

But, as with all things, that isn't the reality 24/7. Her fear gets voiced when we're alone and everything gets turned inside out.

My struggle is staying calm and to be comforting to her when those walls shatter. To help her regain that ever flagging mental control. When her strength fails and rationality is at an end. When the fog overwhelms and up is down and good is bad and nothing makes sense. When the reality of cancer is most pressing and she just wants to give in and give up.

Pray for us to make it through those times, for us to look up.

24 January 2017

Chemo: Racing Death

A Chemotherapy Drug
Cancer sucks. What is debatable is whether Chemo sucks more. All cancers will kill you, some faster than others, but the outcome is inevitable. Right now, the best cancer killer, the various drugs that are classified as chemotherapy, if taken long enough, will also kill you.

That's a disturbing thought.

Modern cancer "treatment" is really a race: will the Chemo kill the cancer before it kills you. Doctors place a limit on how many chemo infusions you can receive before your body is no longer able to safely recover from the treatments. Even then, Chemo can kill you before treatments end. If you finish, there are long term side effects that can be expected.

My wife has Hodgkin's Lymphoma and began a 24 week treatment program where she is given 4 different Chemotherapy drugs every other week. She's on week 3 and already the physical impacts on her health are readily apparent.

Watching the sudden deterioration of her health is painful. That's what is most difficult about this journey. We are all given an allotted period of time to live on Earth. Each day steadily ticks off one of our 26,000 days that we can expect to experience... and normally, we don't really notice it's passage until too late.

Cancer though... I'm watching my wife and the change from day 12,409 to 12,410 was tangible. That shouldn't happen... and this was before Chemo began.

She is currently living day 12,465 (roughly) and the pain she experiences, pain that I can't fix, pain that is only going to get worse, amplified with pain that comes from the emotional distress caused by the sudden physical deterioration being experienced... it's heart breaking.

Doxorubicin is one of the two "Class A, Hazardous" drugs my wife receives and the one responsible for her eventual hair loss. It can only be administered by hand, with a close eye on how her body reacts. If it touches the skin, it can cause severe damage if not promptly washed away. 
This is the race she is running: will her body stay alive long enough for the cancer to be eradicated before the chemo kills her.

I will choose joy today because: we have friends and family praying for her survival and our family's ability to carry on during this journey; we are not alone; I am able to provide her some comfort; the pain caused is allowing us to grow closer; we will get to live day 12,466 together; death is not the end.

07 January 2017

Beyond Control

We live in a deluded world.

It is a curse that comes from the belief that we are in control of our environment, our situation, our job, our lives. That we, in some way, can successfully manipulate and thread our existence over the course of 100 years. We are then further deluded into the belief that some arbitrary definition of success will result in happiness.

Why is this, the most technologically advanced, mobile, connected, and comfortable living society in history equally the most depressed?

If you have seen some recent videos on Facebook, the reasoning for this situation is because this generation believes they are special, they have been given a silver spoon, have never been challenged, etc. While I agree all of this is part of the problem, it is not the root cause. Instead, it is our guaranteed failure in controlling our destiny.

I wrote about this before; the idea that humanity essentially believes that we are gods. It has been perverted to all sorts of areas of life from sexuality to trying to control the climate of our planet.

Inevitably something happens. Something happens that proves the fragility of this existence. That despite all of our planning, our desires, our caution, our denial of the temporal confines of our world, everything can be taken away in an instant. This can come in the form of a car accident, a violent attack, a bad day on the stock market, an attack from a foreign power, or nature itself.

What do you respond when your fragility is fully exposed?

For those who believed that life is managed only by their strength, then the result can be crushing when reality hits. For some, suicide. Others lash out and create a miniature bubble of power and control. Sometimes people who are driven can shake off this realization, and will just try again. Some live with bitter anger. Many seem to find some addiction as an escape. Ultimately, everyone will come face to face with their humanity and the illusion of control will be stripped away.

I've been asked lately if I'm doing okay following the news of my wife's cancer. The reality is, I have no choice, no control, over the outcome of her disease and I am well aware of this position. Only God knows the plan for every life on the face of this Earth and I long ago bowed to this reality. Thus, the exposure of my helplessness is not debilitating or causing me to question life. I can only choose between the options we as a family have been presented, be saddened or encouraged by the potential outcomes that may result, and carry on.

I place my faith in a man who claims to have power over life and death who also demonstrated the ultimate proof that this present existence is broken and inequitable. I take comfort in knowing this existence is not all there is to life.

The next few months are going to be hard. Life isn't going to feel good. But, I never expected it to always be filled with rainbows. More than anything, I am simply saddened at my helpless to take away the pain that my wife must endure each day of this journey.

So, I encourage each of you to stop trying to control life; to accept the world around you as it is. It is freeing to end the pursuit of "controlling" this world, or attempting to establish a little bubble of perfection. Instead focus on the little things in life - family, being warm and dry, friendship. Show others the joy that comes from helping one another. The ultimate freedom, however, comes in believing that God is in ultimate control and has a plan. When you live in that reality, the ups and downs of this world lose their significance and you can look forward to what lies beyond the horizon despite the struggles of today.

20 April 2015

Accidentally Using Apple Photos

I just restarted my Mac and wasn't paying attention when I launched the new Photos app. It opened up with the new screen and so I figured, might was well check it out. I knew it was going to grab my existing iPhoto library and convert it, etc, etc, but I wasn't sure how I was going to like it.

My first reaction: Meh. Just say no to iCloud Photo Library.

My library is well over 100 GB which means I'd need the 200 GB iCloud storage option which would cost $48 to have access to all my photos. Until I ran out of space. And I just switched to shooting in RAW. And now I am using Lightroom for main editing and importing finished photos to iPhoto Photos. Sorry Apple, you need to drop the price here. I'm sticking with Photo Stream until I am forced to change - by using Lightroom, I don't really plan to use the Photos editing features.

My second reaction: How many bloody iPhoto libraries are now lurking?

Then finally: Urg, all my Events are jacked up in this nested album thing.

So, how to manage this... It's not too bad, but it will be time consuming. In typical Apple fashion, Photos works differently than iPhoto. First, it seems my default iPhoto library is now "migrated". But, it can still be opened using iPhoto, there is a simple pop up box that informs you what has happened. Go ahead and "Open iPhoto" for the familiar look.

Events are gone and we now are told to keep everything in an Album. Annoyingly, I managed to be very good at making discrete Events for every "event" and very few Albums. I used albums as a way to generalize events - so items in common from multiple disparate events could be viewed from a single album. It worked for me. But, now I have what looks like hundreds of these old iPhoto Events tucked away in a dedicated album. Can they be moved to be their own album? Why, yes...

Open up the "iPhoto Events" album, then right click (ctrl + click) on one of the Events. From the menu, there is an option to "Move Album Out Of "iPhoto Events". It works as advertised. Rinse, Repeat. 390 times for me.

So, do I like Photos? Yes. It's faster than iPhoto without doubt. The editing options are limited, but good at what they do, straight forward to use, and I expect more features to be added in the coming months/years. However, I can't use it as I hoped as it stands. Had Photos skewed more towards Aperture in capability and iCloud Photo Library was priced at half what it currently it is, I'd use it without reserve. As it stands, I would be willing to spend more time with it if it wasn't for the pricing structure of iCloud Photo Library (the promise of all your pictures anywhere you are is very appealing).

Unfortunately, I can see myself surpassing the 200 GB iCloud storage size in the next year especially combined with keeping my iPhone and iPad backups "in the cloud". Remember, the iCloud space you lease has to keep everything, not just photos. This is your device backups, your app data, and anything else that might get stored there now that it is more like Dropbox.

For now, I am relegating Photos to be a way to easily share pictures with my family and manage photos and videos that I take with my iPhone or have edited fully in Lightroom from my 5D. When I first started using iPhoto, it was my de facto photo management app. I had a Canon P&S and didn't shot in RAW. Any serious extra editing could be done in external apps as needed. But, with the announcement that Aperture and iPhoto were losing support, and having watched the FCP X fallout, I decided that there was no point in really investing time and effort into the ecosystem. If Photos gains capability as FCP X has, then I'll be able to easily move back to using it with more vigor. For the time being, I'll treat it as a half-way house.

Flickr: 1 TB Free, limited uploads in a single session
Dropbox: 1 TB - $120/yr
iCloud: 20 GB - $12/yr, 200 GB - $48/yr, 500 GB - $120/yr, 1TB - $240/yr
OneDrive: 100 GB - $24/yr, 200 GB - $48/yr, 1 TB (plus Office 365) - $84/yr
Google: 100 GB - $24/yr, 1 TB - $120/yr

2011 iMac Upgrade

I originally purchased my 2011 iMac out of frustration. I had a G5 that was long in the tooth so, purchased a Core2Duo model off eBay that turned out to have graphics tearing issues. I tried to sort it out by getting the BGA re-flowed on the graphics chip which just made it worse. And finally, went out and grabbed a new one.

I opted for the i5-2500s with a 500GB HDD and whatever the base RAM was. Since it is a socketed, desktop CPU vs mobile, I knew it could be swapped provided Apple didn't do anything intentionally locking in the CPU model numbers.

First step was to upgrade the non-warranty voiding parts - so, I added an SSD (using an OWC kit) and made a Fusion drive while also upgrading the RAM to 16GB (generic Kingston from NewEgg). This saved quite a bit of money vs the Apple build-to-order options.

Eventually, the CPU performance was starting to annoy, and after waiting for the AppleCare warranty to expire, I have fully torn down my iMac and am now working with a significantly faster i7-2600s.

However, it didn't happen overnight. Here's some of the lessons I learned:

1) The i7-3770s will NOT work in a 2011 iMac. I was really disappointed to discover this as it's really just a process change from Sandy Bridge to Ivy Bridge. The biggest reason was simply due to availability of processors. Sandy Bridge prices had gone back up due to limited availability.

2) Fortunately, I had a 2600k laying around the office, so I tried it. And, I can verify that the i7-2600k WILL work in a 2011 iMac. But not perfectly. The issue comes at boot - my iMac would have a kernel panic on the initial boot, but make it through the second time. This made software updates challenging, and some that require a reboot would never install properly. Further, Airplay stopped working with the 2600k.

3) I really don't blame Apple for the continual quest to make computers monolithic, one-use machines. Building or Repairing these machines with their carefully routed cables, delicate connectors, etc takes significant effort and possibly makes QA an utter pain. Going the way of the new Retina MacBook just makes sense from a manufacturing stand-point.

4) The i7-2600s, while not as fast as either the "k" or the Ivy Bridge, works fantastically! All the quirky behavior exhibited with the 2600k is gone, which makes sense, seeing as it was an offered build-to-order model by Apple. Finding the 2600s was fun. I eventually broke down and bought it from a questionable seller as a "Like New" item on Amazon. To be fair, it works great, so the seller was legit!

Hopefully, my upgraded iMac will keep me content for another 2-3 years. At this point, Apple has stopped making computers that can be modified in any way by users. My 15" RMBP needed to be purchased exactly as I wanted it since every single component that used to be user-replaceable is now soldered to the board barring the at-the-time unique PCIe SSD. So, I can't go the "cheap" way next time 'round... and it's kind of sad to realize that.

Note: OWC has a helpful video to follow and iFixit has lots of pictures to help so that you don't have to pause it every 2 seconds. There is no need to take out the PSU as iFixit shows. I'm not showing the steps since other's have done a great job already.

15 February 2014

Online Backups Can Kill Internet Speeds

Several months ago, I decided to get an online backup service so I had an offsite backup of all my pictures, files, etc. After a lot of research, I went with Backblaze. They offer unlimited storage and will grab any external drive attached to the computer that isn't a "backup" drive (like a Time Machine partition). At $5 a month, it is also reasonably priced.

Fantastic! I went off without a care. However, without realizing it, I made a small fatal error when setting up the service: use unlimited bandwidth for backups. Little did I know this would cause lots of fun and games as for the last few week I've been trying to diagnose why my internet was suddenly so slow!

Today, I finally figured it out, my Backblaze uploads suddenly got faster. It now saturates my upload bandwidth. For those that understand how networking works no explanation is needed, but suffice it to say, this can easily cause all network activities to grind to a halt. <- that link explains it fairly well. Below is a picture of my degraded situation =)

After determining the issue, I have now throttled my backups to about 25% of my standard bandwidth. Everything is back to normal! However, I still wanted to understand what changed. A little bit of perusing the Backblaze blog revealed something that may be related: recently (past 6 months) they brought online a new data center.  Congratulations! I wonder if their bandwidth has suddenly increased to fill up those disk drives?