Sunday, October 21, 2007

Return to Normality...

Well, as time goes on, life around here is getting back to normal. My radiation therapy is finished, although the chemotherapy will continue for some time. I'm happy to report that all signs so far look very positive! (Well, except for my perpetual bad hair day... but that's a minor concern, and anyway will probably improve eventually...)

My posts to this blog will probably become less frequent, but the blog itself will remain up, so that you can go back to old posts and view the highlights (for example, a video of an "old" man trying to shoot free-throws, etc.)

For those of you who are interested in keeping up with our regular daily lives (probably only family will be interested in this!) and occasional trips to exotic or not-so-exotic places, you might try my other blog (

And remember, as far as this "brain" blog goes... no news is good news!

Now that's what I call a party!

Last Sunday (October 14) I had the greatest birthday party I have EVER had! (OK, maybe it does mean I've just passed the half-century mark, but other than that it was fantastic!)

To those of you who were there, thanks so much for taking the time from your busy schedules to celebrate with us! And to those who couldn't make it but kept us in your thoughts - thank you too!

I've got some (actually lots) of pictures of the big event. (Who's the guy with the "punk" haircut?) If you'd like to take a look, go to and select one of the 3 party photo albums).

Special thanks to Toni Morrissey and Huayang Zhu for taking so many great photos!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Radiation Therapy

I have been in radiation therapy since my surgery. The idea is that the radiation (in combination with chemotherapy) kills the microscopic bits of tumor tissue around the edges of the tumor cavity that were too small for the neurosurgeon to see or remove surgically. The process lasts 6 weeks, and so this is my last week. To mark this occassion, I brought my camera in yesterday. Some of the results are shown below...

View of yours truly as seen on the video monitor. (I didn't know they sold these machines at BigLots! The price is certainly right...)

For each patient, they make a mask out of a plastic mesh material that can be pressed to fit the contours of the patient's head, and then cured (somehow) to harden it in this shape. This allows them to precisely position the patient's head each time, so that the beam irradiates the same spot every time. Didn't Hannibal Lechter wear one of these things?

The radiation source is a linear accelerator that generates X-ray radiation at specific energies. The entire machine can be rotated on several axes so that the beam can come from any desired angle, depending on the location of the tumor, and the locations of important things that shouldn't be in the beam path (eyes, etc.). This is a lot better than the alternative of rotating the patient!

I must say I have been very impressed with all of the people who work in the Radiation Therapy department at Huntington Hospital, from Dr. Lam, who heads the department, to the expert physicists who design the procedures, to the technicians who actually run the machines. One of the positives of this whole thing has been meeting this great group of people!

Monday, October 8, 2007

On the Road Again...

The biggest news of the last few days is that I am once again permitted to drive a car! My first trip was straight to the carwash, to remove the thick layer of dust that had accumulated over the last few weeks. Then on to OSH, Starbucks, and other local haunts I had missed going to...

No more need to risk my health by bicycling down busy traffic-filled streets to get to Caltech... I do want to thank my team of "drivers" (you know who you are) who so generously gave of their time to shuttle me between home, hospital, work, doctor's offices, etc. I appreciate it very much, and if you ever need anything that I can help with, just let me know!

Feeling in a very good mood, I was an easy mark when Tim mentioned that it sure would be nice to have an electric guitar... (or maybe I mentioned it first to him?). In any case, Saturday morning we drove over to our local Guitar Center to look over their large selection of electric guitars and amps. We found a Fender guitar that seemed to be just the thing we were looking for... Classic Stratocaster style, cool two-tone paint job... what more could we want? So, feeling generous, and thinking that maybe there is still time to become a rock-and-roll star, I agreed to purchase it. Tim is kicking in some from his own money too, so it will officially belong to both of us...

So our house, where normally one hears sounds of classical piano and guitar, now reverberates with rock and roll... or at least it did until we added headphones to the amp so that it is possible to "rock on" without disturbing others. For my part, I can't quite figure out how to hold the thing. It is very heavy, and my normal classical guitar posture doesn't seem to work at all. It seems one needs to wear a strap, and stand up (preferably in a defiant, rebellious stance) to play it. I have played it a bit, but don't really know what I am doing, although I have learned that classical pieces are not particularly enhanced by lots of overdrive and reverb...

I think my loyalty will remain with classical guitar first, with only occasional forays into the wilder world of rock guitar. I think Tim, however, will take to it, and might even take lessons.

Now that I am driving again, the rhythms of daily life are resuming, which is a very good thing. After this week, I won't have any more radiation therapy treatments, and so I will resume driving the kids to school in the mornings. Then since I'll be just across the street from Caltech, I might as well go into the office and actually get some work done... I am aware of several deadlines approaching (program review meetings, kick-off meetings for new programs, proposals to write, a new energy course that I will offer starting in January that still needs lots of preparation...) so it is time to get moving, and make up for the last few distraction-filled weeks.

One unfortunate consequence of returning to "normality" (whatever that is) is less time for blogging, and fewer blog-worthy events. My issues with balance, memory, and other things that were the subject of much blog discussion, are now largely receding, as the healing process proceeds, and the dosages of various strong medications are ramped down (and for some, discontinued when no longer needed). So as a result, my posts to this blog may become less frequent, and perhaps less interesting... anyway, I'll keep posting as long as there are things that are interesting enough!

But if you don't hear from me in a while, have no fear... I'm probably just out picking up the kids from school, or driving them to soccer, or holed up in my office writing a proposal or paper, or in some committee meeting at Caltech, or doing one of the many other things that define my "normal" life....

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Old Photos

Well, since I'm spending a little more time at home than usual, I noticed that some of our old photo albums are starting to slowly deteriorate. So I've embarked on a new project to photograph all of our old paper photographs to create digital versions that are easier to share, won't deteriorate, and show us as we wish we still looked but don't...

Here are a few of the results so far (not in chronological order!):

I'll post more old photos as I get more of them digitized!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Visit by Steve Harris

Well, it's been a while since I posted anything to the blog... sorry about the delay, but I've been busy with some other things. I'll try to post something every day, so that you don't need to worry that your Faithful Bloggist is no longer blog-capable...

The biggest recent event is that Steve Harris, my long-time friend and scientific collaborator from CVD diamond days, stopped by early Saturday morning and we went out to breakfast (at IHOP - the "International House of Pancakes"). Steve lives in Michigan, where he works for a Big 3 automaker in their Research Laboratory. Steve is a physical chemist, and is very well known for work on the chemistry of soot formation, mechanisms for low-pressure diamond deposition, tribology, and probably other areas that I don't know about too...

Steve and I first met shortly after I started working in the field of low-pressure diamond synthesis using Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD). I'm not 100% sure, but I think we met at the first CVD diamond meeting (of which there would be many more over the next few years...) that I ever went to, which would have been in 1989 in Dallas, TX. Steve was already active in the field when I started, and as I recall he was one of the Invited Speakers at this meeting. We ultimately wrote several papers together, but that was not until a few years later.

[CAUTION: Science ahead! For you non-technical types, you are permitted to skip this section... scroll down until you see "IHOP". To my graduate students: you are not permitted to skip this section...]

One of the first things that drew us together is that I showed by means of simulations that a CH3-based reaction mechanism that Steve had already proposed for low-pressure, low-rate diamond CVD also gave the right growth rates for high-pressure CVD processes such as plasma torches and flames, when one properly accounts for the transport of reactants and products to and from the substrate through the boundary layer. It was thought that some other mechanism must be active in these systems, since there just wasn't enough CH3 in these plasmas or flames to account for the high growth rates - the temperatures were so high that the carbon was tied up in species like C, CH, C2, C2H2, etc. But I showed that right before the substrate, as the gas cools off in the thin (less than 1 mm thick) boundary layer, just enough CH3 is produced to explain the observed growth rates.

For more light reading on this topic, might I recommend...

  • S. J. Harris and D. G. Goodwin, “Growth on the Reconstructed Diamond (100) Surface,” Journal of Physical Chemistry 97 (1), 23-28, 1993 (feature article).

  • D. G. Goodwin, “Simulations of High Rate Diamond Synthesis: Methyl as Growth Species,” Applied Physics Letters 59 (3), 277-279, 1991.

  • S. J. Harris, H. S. Shin, and D. G. Goodwin, “Diamond Films from Combustion of Methyl Acetylene and Propadiene,” Applied Physics Letters 66, 891-893, 1995.

  • OK, now to the important stuff... I had a Country Omelette with pancakes on the side at IHOP. (I have to confess, I don't quite remember what Steve ordered... you now how it is with my memory loss, etc. However, I am happy to report I remember in detail everything about my delicious Country Omelette and the excellent pancakes, which I ate with strawberry syrup.)

    Steve and I had a very good breakfast and a very good visit. Of course we talked some about our current scientific interests - particularly lithium-ion batteries, which, according to an "unnamed highly-placed chemist at a big 3 auto maker" (I won't tell if you won't) are going to be very important for electric vehicles. These batteries work in a very interesting, but poorly-understood way, so there is lots of fun research to do for those who are so inclined...

    But we also talked about "big picture" issues of "what's it all about." I'm not sure we came to any definite conclusions, but we agreed that we liked, in principle, the idea that there is something more to life than just molecules doing what they do... but that's about as far as we got. Maybe this will require multiple IHOP breakfasts to figure out... I'm ready to tackle it: It's a tough job, but someone has to do it.

    Anyway, Steve: thanks for stopping by, and I hope your high school reunion Saturday night went well!

    Sunday, September 23, 2007

    Home Improvement Update

    Things are progressing well on the home improvement front... The biggest recent event was the pouring of concrete for our expanded driveway/basketball court/skateboard area. Here are some photos of the pour.

    We're also progressing well on exterior landscaping. We have the plans formulated of what we want to do, and the work will begin soon. Our major objectives are to create more lawn space, and to clear out the visual clutter of many small shrubs, flowers, etc., in favor of a cleaner, simpler, more open look.

    Some modified blog posts...

    I have gotten into the habit of posting things to the blog shortly after the events occur in a form that is a bit rough around the edges (a first draft). As time permits, I come back later and clean up the text, resulting in the final draft. I've now done this for my posts describing my recent bicycling (mis)adventures. So if you'd like to read the (more or less) "final" draft of these, they are now ready for your viewing pleasure...

    Saturday, September 22, 2007

    Biking to work... maybe not such a good idea

    Flush with the success of my long afternoon bike ride, I decided to bike to Caltech on Friday. Unfortunately, it was not entirely successful.

    I was a little bit shaky on my feet for some unknown reason (I had taken my meds), but I figured once I got on the bike everything would be fine. And most of the way there, things were in fact fine. I rode on the right-hand edge of the right-most lane, and occasionally on the sidewalk, when the lanes were so narrow that a car could not pass me without coming uncomfortably close to me.

    I made it all the way to Caltech (about 2 miles), and then at the traffic light by the tennis courts, I went up onto the sidewalk to push the button for pedestrians crossing in the crosswalk. My plan was to get off at this point, and walk the short remaining distance to my office. But as I started to dismount on the sidewalk, I lost my balance, and ended up falling backwards and sprawling out onto the sidewalk. As I fell, I hit the back of my head on the traffic light pole, which would have probably hurt quite a bit, had I not been wearing my helmet. I was not seriously (or even unseriously) injured, so I stood back up and dusted myself off. A student waiting for the walk signal asked me if I were OK, and I assured her that I was -- just a bit embarrassed, perhaps.

    On the way back home in the afternoon, I unfortunately had another crash. This one was near Arroyo Parkway, also on the sidewalk. No one else was involved, and no one was hurt. Still, I was quite disappointed to have two crashes on this simple route I had ridden many times before without any crash. It showed me that I am not yet at 100% capability, and suggested that I be a bit more conservative in setting my bike-riding goals. Maybe I am not yet ready for a 2-mile ride down California Blvd, full of traffic and lots of traffic signals.

    I think for a while at least, I will restrict my bike riding to streets in the neighborhood, many of which only have traffic due to local residents coming and going, and are very wide and fairly level. Oh well, maybe I was pushing the recovery schedule too much. I'll take things one step at a time, and only allow myself to ride to Caltech, or ride on any of the busy Pasadena thoroughfares without marked bike lanes (California, Del Mar, Green, ...) when I am truly ready. Hopefully it won't be too long, but we'll just see...

    Wednesday, September 19, 2007

    My bicycle and me...

    The California DMV requires that anyone who suffers a seizure must take a 3 month break from driving a car. Your driver's license is officially suspended once they learn that you have had a seizure. Once you have been "clean" for 3 months, then you can take a driving test and if you pass get your license back...

    I am actually not sure if the DMV has officially been notified of the date of my seizure, since I have not heard from them. But in any case, I have promised my medical team to voluntarily comply with the DMV rules, and so I will. So I will not drive an automobile until at least November 4, and only then if my doctors concur that it is safe to do so.

    It must be admitted that if a driver of an automobile were to have a gran mal seizure while driving down the road, the consequences could be tragic, not only for him, but for his passengers, for the occupants of other vehicles, and/or pedestrians. So it is clearly a good thing to minimize the risk of that happening, which is the motivation behind the DMV rules.

    My new status as a non-driver has introduced lots of complications into our lives, since I can't help out with transporting the kids to/from school, soccer, friends, etc. Frankly, at this time I feel perfectly competent to drive and in no danger whatsoever of another seizure (the tumor is out of there, and just to be safe I take Keppra every day...). But I also know that I am not a medical professional, and can't make this sort of decision. For all I know, there may have been lots of people who have felt the same way, but then did have another seizure. So I'll trust the judgment of my medical team over my own feelings.

    I also do recognize there are also some benefits to not being allowed to drive. Chief among them is that I have renewed my relationship with my bicycle. I have an older (~1993) Trek 15-speed mountain bike. I actually never take it up to the mountains, but it works pretty well for day-to-day use on city streets too.

    A couple of days ago, I had to take my camera lens over to Samy's Camera to get it fixed. (It doesn't autofocus in low-light conditions.) After I dropped it off, I decided to ride around town a bit before heading home. It was only about 2 or 2:30 pm, Frances and the kids wouldn't be home until about 4 pm, and my next scheduled task (accompanying Frank to take Tim to soccer practice, to act as navigator since Frank didn't know where the soccer field was, and it can be tricky to find) was not until 8 pm.

    So instead of heading west down Walnut to go home, I struck out in an easterly direction... I first went north one block to Corson, which borders the 210 freeway, but has very little traffic itself and - most importantly - has a dedicated bike lane! Riding on Corson was very nice, but somewhere (around Sierra Madre Villa, I think), the bike lane stopped. So I went over to Foothill, and rode the short remaining distance to Rosemead. When I got to Rosemead, the traffic was fairly dense, and I was getting tired, so I got off my bike and walked it on the sidewalk. I walked down to Colorado Blvd., and then turned right (west) onto Colorado for a long walk/ride home. I walked past Cost Plus, past the many inexpensive motels from the 1950's (my vintage too...) that line this part of Colorado, and past the many various automotive repair shops, etc. Eventually I reached PCC (Pasadena City College), but instead of taking a left at Hill to go to south the few blocks to Caltech, I kept heading straight until Los Robles, at which point I began shifting southward toward California Blvd. I first took a left turn over to Cordova Street, and walked/rode by the fancy hotels there (the Hilton, the Doubletree), then shifted over to Del Mar for a block or so, then down Marengo to California. (By the way, the block of Marengo between California and Del Mar contains many beautiful, restored Craftsman houses, most of which now seem to be offices for lawyers or accountants.)

    At California, I turned right and was now in familiar West Pasadena territory (in contrast to the exotic motels, auto repair shops, etc. of East Pasadena)-- the Chevron station on the corner, Dona Rosa, the Gold Line light rail tracks, etc. And just beyond those lay even more familiar landmarks --Vons, Huntington Hospital, then Singer Park, then Orange Grove Blvd, then ... at long last ... La Loma. I arrived home just about dinner time, after a long afternoon adventure. All in all, I was very pleased with how this very long bike ride / walk went.

    Sunday, September 16, 2007

    How we are doing today

    Well, I wanted to let you all know how Erica and I are doing today... I'm pleased to report that we're both doing very well. Erica feels fine, and yesterday played a full AYSO soccer game (about 1 hour). She started back to school last Wednesday, and that seems to be going fine. Today (Sunday) she and Frances are going on a hike in the afternoon with her Girl Scout troop to see their new camp site. She is also practicing now for her first meal away from home, which will happen next weekend, when she goes with her very good friend Clara Sternberg and Clara's parents Paul and Jane to the LA County Fair. Erica will have to do all of the carbohydrate monitoring, etc., by herself! But she's got a full week to learn the procedures...

    As for me, I'm doing very well too. I have no noticeable side effects from the chemotherapy or the radiation therapy: no nausea, no headaches, nothing. I almost think: "Hey! Better turn up the dosage! I'm not getting enough side effects here!" (But of course I don't really say that - I know that the dosages are set by lots of experience, and are the values they are because those produce the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people.)

    I feel virtually no pain or discomfort of any type. The only symptoms that I could do without are some memory issues... it's not so much that I forget things that happened; instead, I tend to remember things that didn't happen. Usually these are fairly mundane events, not at all different in character from the things that really did happen. I'll find myself thinking, for example, "As I was saying to that guy sitting next to me on the plane the other day..." and then I'll suddenly realize "On the plane?? I haven't been on a plane lately! And strangely enough, I can't remember anything else about this guy I supposedly had a conversation with!"

    I think it may just be an over-active imagination... Probably this will all settle down as time goes on, and I stop remembering my dreams so vividly. It is a bit troubling, though, to realize that it is possible to honestly "remember" things that never happened! How, then, can testimony in criminal trials be trusted? If something causes our "imagination" and "fact recalling" circuits in our brains to get mixed up, then how do we know if anything we remember is real? In some ways, that's the worst thing about this - now that I've seen that a few things that I "remember" could not have happened, I find myself asking how I know that other things are real... Until my imagination circuits stop interfering, the only thing I can think of to do is the collect tangible items throughout the day (business cards, etc.), that "prove" I was where I remember being, and that it is not simply a trick of a still-healing brain.

    So I hope you won't be offended if next time we meet I make some notes in my notebook about where/when we met, who else was present, etc., or if I pick up cards, brochures, etc. that prove I was there. I'm only doing it because I want our meeting, conversation, trip, or other encounter to stay part of my internal "narrative" of what is happening in my life, and not be tossed out of the narrative in the belief that it must not have happened because I have no "proof" that it did.

    I know what I am saying must come across as very odd to many of you. And I hope for your sake your brain circuits controlling constructed storylines (imagination and dreams) and those controlling experienced storylines (true facts) never get their wires crossed!

    I have to say this has been an interesting experience, and gives me new (and highly skeptical) perspectives on any study, poll, survey, or clinical trial that relies on self-reporting of "factual" events after the fact! Our brains are not movie cameras, faithfully recording events as they occur. A better analogy is that our brains are producing a "film" every day, and act not only as faithful jounalists, but also as directors, producers, screenwriters, and editors. Depending on the particular mix of these roles in your brain, you may be producing a documentary (but still perhaps with some political or philosophical slant...) or a super-hero fantasy, in which you (or the much thinner, younger, more attractive actor who plays "you" in your mental "film") save the day repeatedly in so many ways, but the other characters never seem to catch on that it is you doing it. (That is, they think you're just Clark Kent, not Superman too.)

    Of course, there are lots of other possible story presentations too... buddy movies, situation comedies, horror flicks, highbrow art films, lowbrow "guilty pleasures", history-channel documentaries, etc. Whatever sort of productions your brain specializes in determines your belief about "reality," since there is no other source of objective data, except that that enters through your 5 senses, from which your brain constructs a plausible storyline consistent with the sensory inputs.

    So the point of this whole movie analogy (appropriate for me, as a Southern Californian living only minutes away from Hollywood) is to stress that your experience of the world around you is not necessarily the "straight scoop", and just because you are sure of something doesn't necessarily make it so... I think I see this more clearly now, since I know that the balance of power between my "documentarian" and my "screenwriter" is out of whack. But I think it is only a matter of degrees... what I am experiencing now as abnormal (for an engineer who values "the facts") might be considered normal by others, or at least desirable, in the sense that people pay good money for pills to achieve these mental effects that I get for free and would rather not have at all...

    Anyway, enough rambling on for one day! The bottom line: Erica is doing just great. I am too in all physical ways. Now if I can just turn down the volume on some of my imagination circuits, I'll be doing great and even be in touch with reality! What a bargain!

    [Disclaimer: some statements in this blog post have been exaggerated for purported humor value...]

    Thursday, September 13, 2007

    Home Improvement

    Now you might think we would never schedule major home renovation/remodeling work at a time like this, when we are so preoccupied with our health issues. Well, if so, you would be wrong... (Some might argue that this constitutes the clearest evidence to date that I did suffer some damage to the "common sense" center of the brain.)

    Actually, I had already made appointments with contractors to get estimates for several different jobs even before our Africa trip. Our old (1913) Craftsman-style house has long been in need of some work, because, well, things simply deteriorate over time. We love living in an older house with character and individuality, but we recognize the price we have to pay for that is the various maladies that come with old age. (Old houses are like old people in some ways...)

    White-painted fireplace with part of the paint removed to reveal the original fired ceramic bricks. How do you get all of the white paint off?

    Of course, our house, like most older homes, has undergone many different renovations/updates over the years. Some we regard as quite successful: upgrading the wiring, adding forced-air ventilation, modernizng the kitchen and kitchen appliances, etc. But others were less successful, including adding shag carpeting (in the 70's?), painting the living room all white (with the wrong types of paint), etc. Some of our current work consists of undoing the effects of previous "improvements"...

    That havng been said, there are certainly limits to how much we want to restore an "authentic Craftsman look". After all, this is not a museum, but a home where a family lives. And our aesthetic tastes include many post-Craftsman "modern" components: jazz, rock and roll, abstract painting, etc. So what we are looking for is something that is Craftsman-inspired, but also informed by modern sensibilities. This is in fact what most magazines and books that have articles about Craftsman house renovation actually present: Someone from the original Craftsman era would be puzzled to find slabs of polished granite in kitchens, pale pastel walls everywhere, litttle boxes called "outlets" in every room that the residents "plug" various contraptions into to make them "come alive", little grilles that blow cold air in the summer and hot air in the winter, etc. And yet, I have no problem with any of these!

    For a few years, when the kids were very small, we simply lived with things as they were. It was actually convenient to have old carpeting on the floors when they were toddlers, since we were much less concerned with spills than if we had a floor covering that we actually liked and planned to keep long-term. And falls were softer onto shag carpeting than onto wood...

    But once the kids were past the toddler stage, we decided to take up the 70's shag carpeting, and expose the original wood floors. Unfortunately, the wood was in poor condition in many areas, with the result that a new wood floor had to be laid in the living room. In other areas, however, the original floors were fine, although even in these rooms it was necessary to sand the floor back to bare wood, and re-apply the finish.

    By the time the floor work was finished, the oak (original or not) floors looked great, but our checking account balance did not, and our patience for further disruption of our lives had worn thin. So we decided to stop for a while. A "while" turned out to be "until the summer of 2007" - a break of about 7 years.

    Why now? Well, why not now? I knew I would be spending much more time at home, and the thought of looking at the pink stairwell day after day I found annoying. Upgrading the interior would actually be therapeutic... Also, the kids had complained for years that there was nowhere to play in our "small" yard. So I decided it was high time to give them a more open yard, with more lawn (less deck), and more driveway for skateboarding, skating, etc. (no brick).

    So that brings us to where we are today. We first signed a contract for the outdoor (deck, yard, etc.) work. We chose Mr. Handyman for this work (specifically their Pasadena office, run by Jaime R.). We like the work of Jaime and his crews a lot: it is high quality, fairly-priced, and done with open communication with us at every step of the way. For those of you who are local Pasadenans, I recommend Mr. Handyman most highly to you!

    To be continued...

    Monday, September 10, 2007

    Corrections to a previous blog posting

    In reading over the blog post "A Sunday Morning to Remember," I realized I had left out some text. This has now been fixed, so you might want to take another look at that one.


    Hey, No Fair!

    Now you might think that God or "the Gods" (depending on your persuasion) would be content to present a family with major challenges one at a time. Turns out not to be the case.

    When we got back from Cayucos, Erica became very tired and lethargic. All she could do was sleep. We began to think this was something more than a simple case of the flu, as I first thought, since she had no detectable fever. Frances took her in to Huntington Hospital, and quickly they had the diagnosis: Type I Diabetes. This is the type of diabetes that typically begins in childhood (around Erica's age of 10), and is not the result of poor diet, or obesity (NONE of which Erica has), but seems to be just one of those things that happens sometimes, due to some random mutation.

    As I understand it, in Type I Diabetes, the pancreas simply has too few cells that make the insulin that is needed to "unlock" the cell walls so that the glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream can get into the cells where it is needed to provide the energy for the cell to carry out its task. Unlike Type II Diabetes, where the insulin produced is somehow altered so that it is not capable of "unlocking" the cells anymore, in Type I the insulin produced is still high quality, but there is just not enough of it to do the job.

    (To the doctors and biologists reading this: I hope you will excuse this oversimplified explanation... it is based on an explanation given by the Huntington medical staff to the CHILDREN, and designed for 10 year olds with no previous exposure to biology. So it was just right for me!)

    Apparently there is a very promising line of research in which stem cells may be specialized to become extra insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. So maybe before long diabetes will become a curable disease! Yet another reason to support stem cell research! (I don't know if the stem cells in question are adult or embryonic...)

    But for the time being, the treatment for Type I Diabetes is to manually and very carefully control the blood sugar level, using external insulin, and by carefully watching one's diet, so that levels of various things in the blood stay at acceptable levels. With computers and more sensitive detectors, this is getting much easier than it was in the "old" days. So Type I Diabetes is a manageable, chronic disease.

    Very many people lead full and fulfilling lives with Type I Diabetes. Erica's AYSO Soccer Coach (and a good friend of ours, and neighbor on our block) said that he once had a girl on the team he coached who had an insulin pump that she ran during games, especially when she needed a bit more energy on the field. As a mechanical engineer, this reminds me of supercharging (or turbocharging) an internal combustion engine, or adding an afterburner to a jet engine. Maybe I'll be the first one at Caltech to have a turbocharged kid!

    Anyway, all joking aside, Erica is handling this like a champion. She is not complaining at all, and is usually more concerned about how the rest of us are holding up than how she is, because that's just Erica - one of the most giving, considerate, sweet, and kind people you are likely ever to meet (in the opinion of her dad...) She knows she is strong so she's not worried about herself (but she's not so sure about the rest of us...). As her dad, I must say I am very, very proud of her! (I would like to take some credit for the genes she got from my side, but actually I think these qualities may be "Teng" genes. OK, let's compromise and say both contribute...)

    She is already reading about how to give herself insulin shots, and learning which foods she can eat, which she can't, how to account for the "carbohydrate content" of each item of a meal and stay within budget, etc. I am very confident that she will come through this with flying colors! (And yet, I still think it is somehow "unfair" that she has to go through this at all.... Oh well, nothing good can come from following that line of thinking. No use in complaining - all we can do is take whatever comes our way and make the very best we can from it.)

    She has spent the last 2 nights in the hospital, with Frances sleeping on a couch in the room, right by her side. But tonight she gets to come home! I am looking forward to having my little girl back where she should be! However, she has more nuanced feelings.... although she too misses all of us, they do serve quite a good breakfast, selected from a menu just like in a restaurant, the bed can be adjusted to a comfortable angle to watch TV (and they have quite a few cable channels), and all you are expected to do is rest, eat, read, watch TV, play games, ... (no chores, homework, etc.). Hard to compete with that... but we'll do what we can - we'll at least clean up around here so she comes home to a sparkling clean house. Well, that will at least please Frances, but maybe we'd also better pick up some tasty (but approved and appropriate) treats to win over Erica... OK, I guess I'd better get into action and shape this place up!

    Saturday, September 8, 2007

    "My, What a Beautiful Brain You Have!"

    I asked for and was given the pathology slides prepared from the tissue taken during the surgery on August 12. Liz Boyd took pitures of the slides using the microscope in George Rossman's lab at Caltech (Geology). She also measured Raman and fluorescence spectra.

    I actually have no idea what the various features are in these pictures. Can someone enlighten us regarded the structures shown in these images?

    (Note: you need Adobe Flash Player to see these images)

    Friday, September 7, 2007

    News from Shingle Springs

    Sounds like you guys had a great time in Cayucos. We would have loved to have been with you. Unfortunately, my doctor had just put me on some new medicine for my osteoarthritis (wearing out of joints...aka old age) so we thought it best we stay home.

    For those who don't know, I'm Dave's dad. His mother, Verma, and I live in rural Shingle Springs, California about 30 miles east of Sacramento. We are in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains at roughly 1500ft elevation. We live on five acres and are surrounded by folks who have five or more acres. We have deer, Jack rabbits, squirrels, wild turkeys, birds and an occasional skunk. We have no livestock or pets of our own. We have had many dogs and cats over the years but those years are behind us. We have made our last trip to the vet with an old dog or cat that had to be put down.

    Downtown Shingle Springs, about three miles from us, was once a thriving community of gold prospectors, hotels and saloons. Now it's a few restaurants, antique shops, car dealers, real estate offices, etc. There is and old railroad station where the daily train from Sacramento ended it's run 100 years ago. It's now a small market.

    In those early years the railroad didn't go any farther than Shingle Springs so at a long loading dock the freight was unloaded and transferred to large wagons pulled by mules to take the freight on over the mountains to Placerville and places beyond. We have a bunch of second growth oak trees (sprouted from an old stump) and neighbors tell us that was where trees were cut down to provide firewood for the trains.

    We are about 20 minutes from Coloma, California where gold was discovered in 1848 which brought on the gold rush of 1849.

    For a week or so I have been pressure washing sidewalks around the house and garage. I just bought this small pressure washer which puts out 1550 psi of water pressure. It does the job of removing dirt, grime, moss, etc. that has built up over the last 18-20 years on sidewalks I poured years ago. That's sort of what I do just keeping things up around here.

    Yesterday, I went in to Sacramento to visit my daughter, Ellen, and her family.
    One of the boys has a wooden bed that needs some work on it. I sized up the job and we made a trip to Lowe's in my pickup truck to get some materials but only after she provided lunch for every time. I'll return soon and hopefully fix the bed.

    While I was there she had me look at an Adirondack chair that needed some work on it...well I hauled it home and it's in my garage-shop. I think it will be good for at least another lunch.

    We are watching the blog everyday for what's going on in Pasadena. A bunch of relatives back east are also reading it every day. My brother, Dick, says it's the high point of his day...he doesn't get out much. Ha!


    Wednesday, September 5, 2007

    Our Last Day in Cayucos

    Well, all good things must eventually come to an end, and Monday (Labor Day) it was time for us to drive back home to Pasadena. We decided we would leave about 8 pm, with the goal of getting home before midnight. The kids (and I) could sleep in the car, so we didn't need to sacrifice precious beach time just to drive home, at least as long as Frances was able to stay awake.

    This also gave us some time to do some more fun things... We had a picnic lunch at the beach outside our motel, played in the water a bit (I went in up to about 6 inches depth...), and later went to dinner at Skippers. We ate out on the back patio at Skippers, and it was actually a bit cool... We knew that LA had hit a peak temperature over the weekend of 109 F, and we were about to head back into that heat... So when Erica said she was shivering, I told her to try to save that feeling so that she can recollect it when we're back to Pasadena and it is boiling hot. I'm not sure that actually works, but in any case our food soon came, which warmed us all up. She had ordered hot, spicy chili, and so very soon she forgot all about being "chilly" once she tasted here "chili", which may have had some "chiles" added too.

    We left Cayucos about 8 pm, and everything was fine until just a bit north of Santa Barbara. The traffic began to become heavier, cars slowed down, and eventually all south-bound lanes of Highway 101 came to a complete stop. We found out the next morning that the problem was a brushfire. Because of this fire, all southbound lanes of 101 were closed!

    So we were stuck. According to the map, there were very few other ways to get to Pasadena. We decided to backtrack a considerable distance, all the way through Buellton, and then perhaps another 10 miles. We would go to highway 457, which met up later with !01 just south of Santa Barbara and beyond the brush fire zone.

    This detour worked, and once we got back on 101 south of Santa Barbara, the rest was smooth sailng. We got home about 1:30 am. Unfortunately, we all had to get up early the next morning! The kids had to be at school at 8 am, and I had to be at the hospital at that time for my daily radiation treatment.

    But the kids and I both slept much of the rest of the drive, so it ended up that Frances was the one who got little sleep. (I must say she has been wonderful in all ways in dealing with the unexpected turn of events of the last few weeks, including getting me safely back from Kenya to Pasadena, providing emotional support when needed, and providing expert assistance in navigating through Huntington hospital. Thank you so much, Frances! )

    Although we had a great weekend at the beach, it was also good to be home again.

    Monday, September 3, 2007

    Later Sunday

    Later that day, we went to the "Fireman's Barbeque" that the Cayucos Fire Department was sponsoring as a fund-raiser for the department. It was really good. We all had barbequed ribs, and sat outside the Veteran's Hall and listened to a local bluegrass/country band (banjo, guitar, steel guitar) that provided the entertainment.

    Then, when we were done, we went to the "Peddler's Fair", which is a large outdoor art, craft, food, etc. market. Although I usually don't buy anything when I (rarely) go to such events, I saw a lamp I really liked, and it was marked down from over $100 to $50. So I bought it, and hopefully we'll have room in the car for it somewhere. Here are some pictures of it:

    Sunday, September 2, 2007

    A Sunday Morning to Remember

    This morning (Sunday) I woke up very early, as I described in my last post. I got up, got dressed, and logged onto the laptop to do some e-mail, blog posting, etc. But about 4:45, I decided to go out for a walk to get some exercise. Of course, it was still quite dark, but I jogged/walked from our motel near the pier, up Ocean Avenue to 6th street, over to the public beach access stairs, down to the beach, then back almost to the pier, but I stopped when I got to our motel.

    I finished up just before 6 am, and was interested in getting a coffee and something to eat. I had planned to go to Kelly's Espresso Bar, but when I showed up there a little after 6, they were still closed. As I was walking away from Kelly's, I noticed a man leaning out of a second-story window across the street, talking to a woman in a truck down on the street. So I yelled up to him: "Excuse me sir, do you know when Kelly's opens?" He said they may not open at all today (!!). But then he told me that "O'Neil's" coffee shop was just about 3 blocks down the road, and he knew for sure that it was already open. So I set off for O'Neil's.

    As it turned out, it was less than a block from our motel, so it was actually very convenient. I went in, and there were just a few customers at this early hour,
    and a woman working behind the counter. I ordered a coffee and a muffin, and sat down at an empty table to look through some of the local newspapers.

    But then I noticed a man talking to the person working behind the counter. (They seemed to be old friends, as did most of the people in O'Neil's; maybe there is a confederacy of "6 am coffee drinkers.") I overheard him mention that he had had some health problems, and that they caused him some problems with movement.

    That sounded pretty familiar to me, and I wanted to know what the nature of his health problem was, and whether it was anything like mine. So I did something pretty out of character for me: I said to him "Excuse me, sir, but I couldn't help overhearing your conversation about some health problems you have; personally, I have Parkinson's Disease (diagnosed in 1998) and Brain Cancer. Would you mind telling me what your condition(s) are?" I've found that "Brain Cancer" seems to get people's attention, and among others with health issues confers a certain respect or credibility -- this is not the flu we're talking about here!

    Without a moment's hesitation, he told me that he had had a couple of strokes, and has continuing movement-related issues as long-term side effects of the strokes. Very soon another customer, who was sitting nearby at another table and seemed to know the first guy very well, told me that he has severe back pain, and is getting Workman's Comp, but has a lot of problems with the "bureaucracy" and rules of the California Workman's Compensation program. For example, he is learning guitar (blues, rock, ...) and is willing to play through considerable pain in order to keep up with his lessons. (I can relate to that...) The problem is "guitar playing" is something that people in his condition aren't supposed to be able to do, according to the Workman's Comp guidelines. So the conclusion is that if he can do this, he must be cheating, and can be kicked out of the program. What the guidelines don't take into account is that he absolutely loves making music, and is willing to put up with considerable pain to do what he loves.

    A woman who seemed to be a good friend of his and was sitting at a nearby table told me how happy she was to meet me, and she thought I had a very good, positive attitude about the Brain Cancer. The three of them were all permanent Cayucos residents; I told them that I was not a local, and was only here for 3 days, although we have been to Cayucos every summer for several years. Then she happened to mention that she was originally from Carmichael! Of course, I immediately told her I grew up in Rancho Cordova, and went to Cordova High. (Carmichael and Rancho Cordova are both Sacramento suburbs, not far from one another at all. We often played the teams from Carmichael in high-school football and other sports.) So then we talked a bit about high schools, etc. She graduated in 1969, I graduated from Cordova in 1975, and the other guy graduated from somewhere else not in Sacramento (near Cayucos, I think) in 1977.

    All three of the people I talked to had faced health issues themselves, or had had friends with serious health problems. But they all had put aside feelings of depression, or anger, or other negative feelings, and were trying to focus on the positive.

    When I had to leave, they gave me a sticker that said "Live in Peace," and had a peace symbol on it. Apparently it had something to do with the 40th commemoration of the "Summer of Love" in San Francisco in 1967 - of course, none of us were old enough to have actually participated in the Summer of Love. (I was 10).

    I promptly went back to our motel room, and applied the sticker to my Mac PowerBook.
    The people I talked to at O'Neils were very, very nice, and the thing that struck me is that they had all faced significant health-related adversity, but had come through it with a positive, peaceful attitude. It was a real pleasure to meet and talk with them, and they said that they enjoyed meeting me too.

    A great way to start the day!

    Note: although all 3 introduced themselves to me, I am not using their names because I didn't mention the blog to them (I forgot!), and so don't have their permission to appear in the blog.

    A Good Place to Be

    Ah--- Cayucos, that's the place to be. It is supposed to be 102 degrees here today. We just returned from having lunch at the Apple Cafe. That is up past Placerville just before you get to Apple Hill. Now we will stay in the house with the air conditioning for the rest of the afternoon.

    Cayucos is a good place for a vacation, whether it be short or long. I know we have enjoyed all the times we have been there. It is great that you gave Beachfront Rentals credit for refunding the money you paid for the rental of the house there that you had to cancel. Not every company would have. They deserve a gold star.

    I am going to post a couple of pictures of our stay in Cayucos last year just to see if I am smart enough to figure out how to do it.

    Well, I think I did it. It would be hard to say which the kids enjoyed more, the video gaming/pool hall or boogie boarding. Anyway, have fun for the rest of your Labor Day weekend.

    To Sleep - Perchance to Dream?

    Saturday night I got to bed just after 9 pm, which meant, as usual for me, that I would be ready to get up and start the day 6 hours later: about 3 am. Sure enough, just about 3 am, I woke up, got out of bed, and got dressed. I was not in the least sleepy, had no desire to sleep any longer, and wanted to see what was new outside or on the internet. To most of you, this must seem very odd, but that's just how sleep is for me. When my head hits the pillow, I am usually out very quickly. I hardly ever have any memory of lying in bed trying to get to sleep. It feels to me as if I almost immediately go into a dream, and when I wake it often seems to be directly from a dream. Most people have 4 stages of sleep, and dream only in stage 4. But I seem to either skip right to stage 4, or else dream in all stages. This has one annoying side-effect: sometimes I have a hard time telling dreams from reality. I've even asked others how they know what's a dream and what's real. Is the dream in black and white? Or is there a flashing subtitle saying "Not Real! Don't Try This at Home!" How do you do it?

    I think for most people, their dreams are so wacky that afterwards it is very clear that it was a dream, not reality. But lately I've been having dreams that are very similar to real life. For example: many old friends have called me once they heard about my health issues. Then I have had dreams in which other old friends called, or in some cases came by the house. So afterward as I think back on these visits or phone calls, it is really not so easy to figure out who really called and who didn't...

    I've concluded that I need to start collecting tangible evidence of where I have been or who I have talked to. For example, in the next blog post I'll describe a conversation with several people on Sunday morning. I know this conversation really took place, and was not just some dream, because they gave me a sticker that says "Live in Peace" that now graces my Powerbook. If it were a dream, then where did the sticker come from? So I'm going to try to get a business card, or something tangible, each time I meet with someone. This will then serve as proof to me later that the meeting really happened...

    Hopefully, all of these problems of distinguishing dream from reality are a temporary side effect of the recovery from the surgery, or the radiation or chemotherapy, and will not be a permanent problem...

    Maybe I just need to get out more, so that I have MORE INTERESTING, less-realistic dreams! Unfortunately, not much chance of that for a while...

    Saturday, September 1, 2007

    Saturday in Cayucos...

    We had a good time today in Cayucos, and look forward to the next 2 days. We checked in around 2 pm, and didn't do anything structured for the rest of the afternoon. The kids and Frances spent some time down on the beach, while I went on a walk down Ocean Ave. (the main street in town) to get my legs used to moving after a long ride in the car this morning...

    Along the way, I stopped in a few of our old haunts: the video arcade and DVD rental store; the small grocery store; and Beachside Rentals, the rental agency that handles the listing for the beach house we rented last summer and were going to rent this summer.

    At Beachside Rentals, I spoke to Kathy, who remembered me well when I told her my name. She asked how I was doing, so I told her quite truthfully that I felt great. When I told her the brain tumor that I had referred to in our correspondence regarding our need to cancel the rental turned out to be malignant (i. e. brain cancer), she told me that she knew someone who had brain cancer similar to my case, and who has now been cancer free for 5 years! That's what I want to say 5 years from now too! (OK, let's say in 5 years and a couple months!)

    Beachside Rentals gave us a full refund on our 1-week rental fee, even though we had to cancel quite late and had pre-paid in full. They are a great company, have great rental listings, and if you ever want to rent a house on the central coast of California, I recommend them to you most highly!

    . Once I got back to the motel, we got ready to go to dinner. We had a very nice dinner at Cafe Della Via (Caesar Salad, Fettucine Primavera, Iced Tea for me), and then walked back full and contented to the room, and got ready for bed.


    I'm writing this post from the little central California beach town of Cayucos. We have come here every summer for the last few years, but thought we would miss it this year. Fortunately, Frances has a 100% functional brain, and had the bright idea that we could drive up to Cayucos for Labor Day Weekend. We left early this morning (Saturday), and, after lunch in Cambria, arrived at our motel about 2 pm.

    Unlike all other years when we have come here, I didn't do any driving this time - I was just a passenger! We have a motel right on the beach, and I think these 3 days will be very relaxing. Then we need to be back in Pasadena by 8 am Tuesday morning, since the kids have school (for Erica, it is the first day of school). And for yours truly, I have a radiation therapy session. The radiation is not causing any problems. Each session lasts only 10 or 15 minutes, and all I have to do is lie still - that is one skill that I've perfected over the years. So far at least, I don't have any significant side effects of the radiation. But they told me that the side effects peak a few weeks into it, so... we'll see. But so far so good!

    Thursday, August 30, 2007


    My history with the game of basketball goes back to 1965, when my uncle Dick came out from Illinois and spent a couple of weeks at our house in California. I was 8 years old at the time, and Dick was 19. There were several things about him that made him "cool" in my opinion. He listened to rock and roll music, not the country western music that my Dad (and Dick's older brother) favored. And he preferred white bread for sandwiches, not the "healthy" whole-wheat bread that we had always eaten. For the first time ever, we had white bread in the house, and it sure was good!

    While he was visiting, Dick and I often went down the street to our elementary school (Williamson) to practice shooting the basketball. The "courts" were asphalt, and were playground size - certainly not full NBA regulation courts!

    I had fun playing basketball with Uncle Dick (well, most of the time), but I'm not sure he did. I had the habit of walking, not jogging or running, to retrieve balls that had bounced out of the court. I figured: "What's the hurry?" Plus I was not in great physical condition, and actually running, in any form, seemed to be a very bad idea to me. Dick often told me I needed to "hustle" more.

    After Dick left us to go back home to Illinois, my interest in basketball began to fade.

    Looking back on it now, I agree completely with Dick's point of view about "hustling". It really slowed things down if I leisurely ambled to where the ball was. But from the perspective of a lazy 8-year-old, "hustling" took too much energy. Anyway, I still enjoyed Dick's visit very much... it was an introduction to a world that I didn't know existed (white bread, AM top 40 radio, hanging out at th local McDonalds, ...)

    Although we didn't know it at the time, Dick's life was to change dramatically in another year or two. He was with a bunch of friends in a car, and they had a serious traffic accident.(I don't know the details, but apparently Dick was a passenger, not the driver.) I think Dick was thrown from the car. He broke his spinal cord near his neck, and wound up in a wheelchair. He is in a wheelchair to this day.

    This came as a great shock to him and to his family. I still remember getting the call to tell us what had happened. It was one of the few times I can remember that I couldn't keep from crying.

    But a funny thing happened. Over the next few months and then years, Dick began to act like he was a new person, with a new and much better outlook on life. It was if he had a reason to live that he didn't before. He had been a kid without a future - he said he was on the road either to prison or to the graveyard before the accident. But after the accident, he started to grow up quickly. He enrolled in college, and finished four years later with a degree in Sociology, and then even got a Master's Degree.

    After he finished with his MS, he got a job with "Impact", an organization that helped people with many different kinds of disabilities to live independently, and eventually became its director. From wild teenager to (a few years later) director of a center for independent living -- that's quite a transformation, and a very inspiring one. I do regard Dick even today as a inspiring example of how adversity, illness, or disability does not have to be the "end" -- in fact, it can be the beginning of a new and very satisfying life. Dick was with Impact for a long time (25 years, I think) and did an enormous amount of good for people with many diverse mental and physical ailments.

    OK, now back to basketball...

    In recent years (starting about 2002) I became a fan of NBA basketball. This was out of character for me, since I had never been much of a sports fan before. But I found it enjoyable to watch the Sacramento Kings, who had never been good at all, but suddenly were holding their own against teams like the Lakers, the Dallas Mavericks, and the San Antonio Spurs - the "elite" NBA teams. So, since I was born and raised in Sacramento, I enjoyed seeing them come in as the underdog and defeat these powerhouse teams.

    When the 2003 season rolled around, I even took the kids a couple of times to Staples Center when the Kings were in town to play the Lakers or the Clippers. We had fun. The kids found the basketball game a bit boring, but the liked the half time show, and especially the various things to eat and drink that were on sale.

    Since then, it has been my habit to watch not only the Kings games, but also other teams I came to like - the Clippers, Lakers, San Antonio, Phoenix, Dallas, etc. Even my kids were amazed at the extent of my transformation from total non-sports fan to ardent basketball fan. But it didn't carry over to other sports. I still find baseball boring, and football is OK but I never seem to get around to watching it. Same with soccer. But somehow for me, basketball is much more interesting.

    Now just so we are clear, I have to state that my new-found interest in basketball has not yet extended to actually playing the game. I should, of course, for exercise. But I think my skill level is not so high, so I would have to find other players without very high expectations...

    In any case, we do have an old basketball hoop mounted on our carport, and I have a fairly new basketball. The kids and I occasionally play around with it, but never play "serious" games. But I have learned to shoot a bit, and I think this is a good way to test and to improve skills involving hand/eye coordination.

    So I thought it would be interesting to try to do some free-throw shooting, just to see if I can still do it at all...

    The movie below, taken by Tim, tells the story of our "basketball experiment" today.

    Monday, August 27, 2007

    Thank You for Your Prayers

    Many of you have told me privately that you are keeping me and my family in your prayers. I want to take this opportunity to thank you all. We may or may not share the same beliefs or be of the same faith, but I regard prayer of any type, offered sincerely, as one of the highest forms of love. So again, thank you all.

    Caltech is a very international place, and I have friends, colleagues, and relatives who, taken together, cover the bases of the major faiths. In particular, I have relatives who are profoundly spiritual Christians, and we know we are in their prayers. I also have some devout Hindu colleagues here at Caltech, and they are offering prayers to their many Hindu gods. Another friend is Buddhist, and has lit candles for us in a Buddhist temple. Still other friends who are observant Jews have offered prayers for us.

    I don't want to get into discussions of which religion is "correct" in this blog -- that could only divide us, when the most important thing is to be united against this disease. So I will not go into my own personal beliefs (or lack thereof) about matters theological in this blog.

    The most important thing, from my point of view, is that the prayers are offered in all sincerity. Even if I don't fully understand your faith tradition, your sincerity, concern, and love for us comes through loud and clear. Thank you all.

    But now for those of you who do not typically pray, I am not asking you to do anything that does not come naturally for you, or that is inconsistent with your beliefs (or lack thereof). I am equally grateful to the many people who have told me that they are keeping us in their thoughts. I sincerely thank all of you too!

    Sunday, August 26, 2007

    Dave the Comedian

    I just watched Dave's video...very funny. I didn't know he was an actor but then he was in the drama club in high school...the dream still lives. I didn't know however, that he was a stand up comedian and well Dave, don't give up your day job.

    Oh yes, that protrusion you want to get rid's inherited and doesn't go away easily. Just ask Uncle Dick or Uncle Ron.


    Saturday's Gathering

    It's a quiet Sunday in Shingle Springs after quite an active day yesterday. Ellen and kids came up, also Jenny, Stuart and kids (with dog, Shorty.) The kids played games, the adults talked, Shorty ran in and out, and everyone ate.

    Kathryn is into rock painting (she's even sold some) so there was a paint table set up outside covered with paints and rocks (some bickering over who stole/spoiled whose rock.) After dinner, when it was cooler, Ellen, Stuart and Ian trimmed the front shrubs with Dad/Grandpa supervising. That is his specialty.

    We discussed Dave's birthday party which will take place in October and we all plan to be there. Ellen was having trouble figuring out how to put comments on the blog but with Dave's instructions today I think she will get it figured out.

    We are all proud of Dave's spirit. He is putting us to shame with his bike riding and exercise regimen. I'd better get my walking shoes out and quit using the hot weather as an excuse.

    [notification] How to get an email every time there is a new post

    If you would like to be notified by email every time there is a new post, just send me an email listing one or more email addresses that should receive the notification.

    How to Post Comments

    Several people have had some problems posting comments, so I thought I'd mention a couple of points:

    1. I disabled posting of comments anonymously, so now you have to have a Google account to post comments. They are free and easy to get. All you need is an email address.

    2. To sign up, go to
      You can also just click on this link.

    Once you have a Google account, log in to it. Then you can return to the blog and post your comment.

    Another Bike Ride

    After the success of my bike ride / walk Friday morning, I decided to take another bike ride this morning. I wanted to carefully document my ability to walk and balance myself on my feet, since I had some problems yesterday, and it seemed like some of my pills were not working, or certainly not very effectively. I walked around the driveway a bit before the ride, and I was not very good. I was not standing on my own two feet, but found the need to always reach out and grab some support.

    I have started doing some tests to determine, to the extent possible, which medicine I take is the "magic pill" -- the one that gives me back my balance temporarily. So last night at 1:50 am, I took a Sinamet, then at 5:20 I took a Mirapex, then at 6:20 I took the rest of the morning pills except the steroid, which I took at 7:30. A little after 7:30 I headed out for the bike ride.

    What I found is that the Sinamet seemed to be only slightly effective. By 3 am, I was still careening around, from one support to the next. It didn't get much better if any when I added the Mirapex, and even the other meds had not done much by the tie I left.

    So I wasn't expecting much this time. But right on schedule about an hour after the last med (the steroid) was taken at 7:30, I was able to balance standing up and walk with a normal gait. This occurred once I had reached Trader Joe's. As I got off the bike, I could feel that my "balance system" was back in action.

    The ride ended up as a very successful one. By the time I got back home I was fully "on," with no balance problems whatsoever. This state has persisted until now, about 2:30 pm, and I hope it lasts much longer.

    When I got back home, I set up the video camera on a tripod to get some movies to document how my motor skills are doing. So with no further ado, let me present the film "After the Bike Ride":

    Saturday, August 25, 2007

    My Theme Song

    I liked the message of this song even before this all started, but now it has special meaning for me. I really believe what they say!

    Another thing I like: these guys are even older than me! This live version was performed in 1971.

    Rare Earth - I Just Want To Celebrate lyrics

    I Just Want To Celebrate
    By Rare Earth
    Note: These lyrics are taken be ear and may not be entirely correct. Any
    Corrections would be welcome at
    One, two, three, four
    I just want to celebrate another day of livin'
    I just want to celebrate another day of life
    I put my faith in the people
    But the people let me down
    So I turned the other way
    And I carry on, anyhow
    That's why I'm telling you
    I just want to celebrate, yeah, yeah
    Another day of living, yeah
    I just want to celebrate another day of life
    Had my head on the dollar bill
    But the dollar bill flew away
    But the sun is shining down on me
    And it's here to stay
    That's why I'm telling you
    I just want to celebrate, yeah, yeah
    Another day of living, yeah
    I just want to celebrate another day of livin'
    I just want to celebrate another day of life
    Don't let it all get you down, no, no
    Don't let it turn you around and around and around and around and around
    Well, I can't be bothered with sorrow
    And I can't be bothered with hate, no, no
    I'm using up the time but feeling fine, every day
    That's why I'm telling you I just want to celebrate
    Oh, yeah
    I just want to celebrate another day
    Oh, I just want to celebrate another day of livin'
    I just want to celebrate another day of life
    Don't let it all get you down, no, no
    Don't let it turn you around and around, etc.
    Round, round, round, etc.
    Don't go round
    I just want to celebrate
    I just want to celebrate
    Well, I just want to celebrate
    Said I just want to celebrate (celebrate)
    I just want to celebrate (I want to celebrate)
    I just want to celebrate (I got to celebrate)
    I just want to celebrate

    Song lyrics | Rare Earth lyrics

    A Trip to OSH

    Later this morning, about 10 am, Tim, Frances, and I went to OSH in South Pasadena. I had taken my morning meds about 7:30, and by 10 I was really doing well. I was balancing just fine, and walking like a normal person (with a funny hat). I walked up and down the aisles without needing any extra support.

    I bought lots of new fun "toys": some WD40, paintable calk and a new calk gun, a socket wrench set, a new hammer, a new hat that looks better than my Gilligan hat (Frances' suggestion), some power strips, spools of wiring, new wire cutters, a circuit tester, ... things that provide a middle-aged man hours or days of fun in the workshop!

    On the way back home, we stopped by Dave and Angelica Clark's house, so that Tim and I could help them set up their very nice new iMac. I strode right up to their door, and when we went in didn't need to support myself on anything. For the next hour or so, my attention focused on trying to get their iMac communicating on the network, and installing some new software Angelica bought for the girls to use on school projects.

    When we were finished and I got up out of the chair, I found that my balance was off again. Angelica drove us home, and by the time we arrived (around noon), I was back to careening around the room. So at 12:30 I took my noon meds, and now I am waiting to see when I recover my balance... hasn't happened yet (1:22 pm), but I'll keep waiting and monitoring.

    About Balance

    I was thinking the other day that it's odd that so many people with various neurological conditions have problems with simple things like walking, but can still do "complex" things like solving differential equations.

    But as I thought about it more, I realized that walking is in many respects harder for the brain than is any intellectual activity, no matter how sophisticated we regard the latter. If my brain has a small time delay in responding to sensory input, it doesn't affect in any significant way purely intellectual tasks. But walking or even standing still requires co-ordinated commands from the brain to the body (especially the feet and legs of course). The timing has to be precise. If you are standing, and start to fall over, your brain doesn't have the luxury of pondering what to do. It has to step into action quickly, before you end up on the floor.

    So I conclude balance is actually really hard. The amazing thing is not that I can't do it very well, but that you all can! More on balance in the next post...

    First Post-Operative Bike Ride

    Yesterday I took my first bike ride since the surgery. Of course I wore a bike helmet, which served the dual role of protecting my head and protecting those I meet along the way from having to view my punk hairstyle underneath... I am happy to report I had no falls whatsoever, so its first role was untested.

    Our neighborhood has lots of beautiful street with minimal traffic, just right for bike riding. Despite this, I set as my goal the Starbucks on Fair Oaks Blvd., just north of California Blvd. Maybe this is due to some mental deficit, or maybe I just wanted a good cup of Jo...

    Anyway, after practicing getting on and off a bit in our driveway, I set out at about 6 am up our street to California, then right on California to Orange Grove Blvd., where the light was red. I managed to successfully negotiate getting off, walking the bike in the crosswalk, and getting back on on the other side. I rode on the sidewalk, figuring that my extenuating circumstances justified this minor violation of traffic laws.

    My next stop was Huntington Hospital. I felt like it has been my "home away from home," so I rode up the main entry road, past the entrance, and then back out to California Blvd. I thought I might see someone I know, but I didn't, so onward to Starbucks...

    When I got to Fair Oaks Blvd., I had to get off to cross the road. I walked the bike across Fair Oaks, and then when the light changed, across California. On the sidewalk outside Boston Market, I mounted the bike again, and rode the last few feet to Starbucks, where I dismounted, leaned the bike up against the window of Starbucks near an outdoor table, and went it to join the line of early-morning Starbucks customers.

    I do have some distinct balance issues, although I found it quite easy to ride the bike. Much more difficult is walking on my two feet. By using the bike as a big two-wheel "cane," I was able to walk outside pretty well. But inside Starbucks, I didn't have my bike for support, so I leaned on the various tables or displays along the way to the counter. I did get a few strange looks. There were 2 guys dressed in hospital garb that suggested to me that they worked at Huntington in some capacity. I saw them looking at each other as if to say "who let that guy out?"

    Anyway, I finally made it up to the counter in my lunging way, and ordered a Grande Coffee and an Apple Fritter. The latter is probably disallowed on an anti-cancer diet, but i figured one couldn't do too much harm, and it sure would taste good. So after I paid, I reversed my path, like a billiard ball bouncing off obstacles, until I made it over the the milk/cream/spoon station, where I added non-fat milk (see? I can be good too!).

    Then it was just a few short hops and richochets out the door to the table by my bike. I let myself down into the chair, and enjoyed the coffee and fritter. About 10 minutes later, I was finished, so it was time to hit the road (figuratively). I headed out with my two-wheel Trek 15-speed walking cane. I walked all the way to the Vons parking lot (across the street from Huntington Hospital), where I mounted and did a few laps around the parking lot. Satisfied with my bike riding abilities, I decided to walk home, in order to practice walking.

    I find that if I don't think about it, I often put my foot (especially on the left) down incorrectly, making contact at the front first. This is a long-term, Parkinson's-related characteristic, but now post-surgery this tendency is a little bit stronger. Maybe (hopefully) it is only a temporary deficit.

    So as I walked my bike back home, I consciously worked on getting my leg out in front, and making contact with the ground with my heel first. Once I got into the rythm, it went fine.

    So my "bike ride" ended up mostly as a walk. But it was very valuable for me to see what balance issues I do have, and maybe the practice will begin the process of my brain rewiring some circuits to take over control of balance, to replace ones that were damaged at some point by the tumor. I plan to go out for a ride/walk with my Trek 2-wheel walking cane most days. As they say, practice makes perfect.

    Wednesday, August 22, 2007

    Another Good Day Today

    Today was a good day. There were two major events.

    First, at 12:30, we went to the follow-up post-surgery meeting with Dr. Fineman. I like Dr. Fineman very much -- he is an excellent neurosurgeon, and also a real "mensch" (a good, down-to-earth person). Plus he is a regular reader of this blog, which counts for a lot too!

    He took the staples out of my incision, and says that in a couple more days I can even wash my hair (such as it is) again. It feels good to be staple-free!

    He gave us some prescriptions, mostly continuations of things I am on now (Dilantin, for example), or lower-dose versions of meds I can ramp down, like the steroid.

    We also talked about various aspects of the chemo- and radiation therapy, including who is good in the local area and would be covered by my insurance. We agreed the strategy to follow is to pursue the current standard-of-care procedures until they have done everything they possibly can. Then once the limits of conventional current-practice medicine have been reached, begin to think about various experimental approaches being developed at leading research centers in this area. We mentioned we may take a trip up to UCSF to talk to some people there, and he thought that was a fine idea. Also we told him we're going to go out to UCLa next Monday.

    Dr. Fineman knows that I am very interested intellectually in some of these advanced methods (most of which use nanotechnology in some way). He thought I should start in now on the big job of reviewing the published literature on concepts for treatment, so that I'll be up to speed when the time comes to pursue getting into some clinical trials, etc. I also am planning to learn as much as I can about relevant work in my colleagues' labs at Caltech. Most of this is very basic science, but I want to know as much as I can about this whole field.

    He also asked if I'm getting sleep - I think he was concerned that I'm staying up all night blogging and not resting... but I told him I'm getting 6 to 7 hours of sleep a night, which is my norm, going back to college days. He said that's about how much sleep he gets too, and was satisfied with how much I sleep.

    He asked us to come see him again in a month, so we made that appointment with his staff, and said goodbye and came home around 1:40 pm.

    Click image to enterThen the other big event was that Emre came over to the house around 2:30, and we had my first post-operative guitar lesson. It went very well, even if we did spend some considerable time simply chatting and catching up. We worked some on the Mazurka Choro (Villa-Lobos), especially the last passage with the triplets, leading to a final sustained A-minor chord.

    But mostly it was just great to see him, and to get back to guitar playing. He told me one thing that I am a little worried about -- this Fall, he has to go back to Turkey to take care of his mandatory military service. Apparently, if you are highly educated (he has a Doctorate in Music, and a Master's in Mathematics), and own a business (He and his partners own the Los Angeles Guitar Academy), then the military service requirements are less stringent. But it is still possible he may be gone several months, which means no guitar lessons for me. But much worse, I would worry about him having to go to some very "hot" regions on Turkey's borders with its various middle-eastern neighbors... Hopefully, he will figure out some way to minimize the time he has to spend over there, and away from all his students here in Pasadena, who will miss getting together with him each week to make some beautiful music.

    What I look like...

    My last photo was not so pretty, so here's a better picture of what I really look like now. The main difference is that this one is taken with my expensive Nikon D40X digital SLR, instead of the tiny camera built into my iMac. But it helps too that I dropped the goofy expression, and picked up a beautiful prop (my guitar).

    Some people have told me I look like the guy in the picture below... a certain "Gilligan," who endured a weekly "3-hour cruise" on television for three years in the 60s.
    Each week, the weather started turning rough, and the tiny ship was tossed. If not for the courage of the fearless crew, the Minnow would have been lost. The ship set ground on the shore of an uncharted desert isle, with Gilligan, the Skipper too, the Millionaire and his wife, the Movie Star, the Professor and Mary Anne, here on Gilligan's Isle.

    I can relate to him, since for me too the weather has had its rough moments lately. I am happy to report, however, that due to the diligent work of the Millionaire and his wife (government agencies such as NIH that fund research on brain cancer treatments, and private foundations that do the same), the Movie Star (those who raise public awareness of this potentially-devastating disease), the Professor (scientists and doctors involved in brain cancer research) and Mary Anne (family, friends, and others who provide the all-important emotional support), the castaways on the uncharted desert isle will be rescued, and returned to their lives before the ill-fated three-hour cruise.

    Tuesday, August 21, 2007

    Types of Brain Damage

    One thing that is always a concern with brain tumors, and with the various forms of treatment, is the possibility of irreversible brain damage.

    Physicians speak of the possibility of "mental deficits" due to the tumor invading or impinging on areas of the brain that govern important functions (memory, emotions, speech, vision, etc.) In some cases, there may be temporary deficits after surgery that eventually go away, or there may be permanent ones.

    I was very pleased that when I woke up from the surgery I was "still me." I had my mental facilities intact, still remembered everyone, and still thought the same tired old jokes were funny that I did before the surgery.

    Before the surgery, I met with a neuro-psychologist, who administered a series of tests to assess my pre-operative mental function. These tests mostly focused on memory. For example, she asked me to name all of the animals I could think of. Of course, having just returned from an African Safari, where I had the seizure that set this whole thing in motion, I tended to come up with African animal names: "Wildebeast, water buffalo, baboon, monkey, vulture, lion, cheetah, hyena, ...". I don't know if I got extra points for "exotic" animals or not.

    Then another test went like this: She told me the sad story of Suzie Thomson of South Boston, who was a cook in a school cafeteria, and had 10 hungry children of her own. One day Suzie was out on State Street, and was mugged and robbed of $56. She went to the police station, and the officers were so moved by her story that they took up a collection among themselves to reimburse her for her losses.

    The test consisted of her telling me this story, then another unrelated story (which I must admit I don't fully recall, but seemed to involve a young male driver out west in Texas or somewhere, who ran off the road into a ditch, and damaged his car).

    She asked me to repeat the driver story, which was easy, since she had just told it to me. But then by surprise she told me to now tell her the Suzie Thomson story. It's hard to get back into a Boston frame of mind after thinking about the wide open highway in Texas!

    Anyway, I did pretty well in recalling the details of the Suzie Thomson story, and it seemed that most points were given for recalling details. I remembered her last name because it is the same as that of the famous physicist Lord Thomson, who proposed the "jellium" model of the atom in the early days of atomic theory. And I've been to Boston many times, so I know just where State Street is. (Although the concept of Boston police taking up a collection from their own funds led to some mental dissonance...)

    I wonder if the story had been about, say, "Hedda Jmnanovich of Vransk, Poland" if I would have done as well. I've never been to Poland, and can't think of any clever tricks to remember those names... I don't know any streets in any city in Poland.

    Anyway, she told me overall I scored above the 99th percentile. As a Caltech academic, this meant a lot to me. At Caltech, we like the 99th percentile. If you are much below than in your high school class, you won't get in as a student. And if you're not at that level as a graduate student, no search committee will recommend you for an Assistant Professor position. So that sounded good to me.

    We didn't do a post-operative test, but I don't feel like I'm in any lower percentile now than before.

    But it was eye-opening to me to see how they typically measure mental function. It is essentially what we engineers would call "unit operations:" elementary operations, not reducible to simpler steps. For example, they are interested in measuring how fast you can pull words out of memory: "List as many words as you can in 30 seconds starting with the letter S, not including proper nouns". But there was no test concerning pulling the right words out of memory!

    For example, an interesting and practical test would be: "Name your wife", or "name your oldest son". If your wife is "Mary" and you say "Sue", I could imagine that this mental deficit might have some very long-lasting and severe consequences. These are the memory tests that matter in the real world! Other practical tests might be "When is your anniversary?", "What is your wife's birthday?". For the record, these are deeply ingrained into my brain, tumor or no tumor.

    And then there is the question of mental deficits in reasoning. I was told that the left temporal lobe was responsible for, among other things, integrating individual memories, or sensory input, into more complex ideas. So what really concerned me was that either due to the tumor, or to the surgery to remove it, I might come to find nothing wrong with the following nonsensical statements:
    1. One plus two equals five.

    2. The laws of thermodynamics may be revoked.

    3. A machine that takes in no work and transfers heat from a cold to a hot reservoir with no other effect on the environment is possible to build.

    4. The evidence presented by Colin Powell at the UN before the invasion of Iraq constituted proof that Saddam Hussein had or was building weapons of mass destruction.

    5. There was credible evidence of a link between Saddam Hussein and Al-Queda.

    6. George Bush is a good President.

    7. The profit motive is good for the US education and health care systems.

    The mental deficit characterized by belief that the erroneous statements 4 through 7 are true I will call "republicanism", a very widespread affliction of the brain in the areas that govern logic and common sense. This mental disorder only a few years ago afflicted approximately 51% of the American voting public. I am happy to report that today the disorder (especially as measured by question 6) only afflicts about 1/3 of the voting public. It seems that this great success was not due to advances in neuroscience, but to the ability of the brain to identify patent absurdities, and reassess the premises that led to absurd conclusions, such as "Dick Cheney is a smart man who values the opinions of all, and would make a great President."

    It is this sort of mental deficit that would really impact my life and career. For example, it would be mildly interesting to ask a question like: "List as many hyperbolic partial differential equations (PDEs) as you can in 30 seconds." But far more relevant would be "list an appropriate set of boundary and initial conditions for a hyperbolic PDE in 2 dimensions; repeat for parabolic and elliptic PDEs." I have to say that if I confused hyperbolic and elliptic PDEs (one of which has wave-like solutions with finite propagation speeds, and the other of which propagates information infinitely fast -- I assume you know which one is which) then I would really be concerned about a mental deficit. Fortunately, the distinctions between hyperbolic, parabolic, and elliptic PDEs is as clear to me today as it was in graduate school, or as it was pre-surgery. I guess we can conclude that the tumor was far from the PDE center in my brain.

    Or another thing that would have devastating personal consequences would be if the "thermodynamics" center were affected. For example, if I agreed with any of the following erroneous statements, it would be clear and devastating evidence of a career-ending brain disorder:

    1. It is possible to fully convert heat into work.

    2. Entropy can be destroyed.

    3. Energy can be created.

    4. Global warming is not a problem, no need to change anything about our society to minimize emission of CO2.

    5. Perpetual motion machines are possible, and research into these "novel concepts" deserves DOE funding.

    Fortunately, as far as I can tell, my "thermo center" is still functioning well. This means I will be able to keep working on my current research projects, including:

    1. A new collaboration with Sossina Haile in Materials Science, funded by Stanford's Global Climate and Energy Program, to develop high performance solid oxide fuel cell electrodes using recently-developed nanofabrication methods.

    2. The ONR "Research Tools" program, in which we are developing quantitative models and modeling tools for high-temperature solid-state electrochemical systems

    3. Cantera, my object-oriented C++ software package for simulations involving coupled chemistry, electrochemistry, transport processes, surface chemistry, etc.

    4. Our DARPA-funded work on plasmon-enhanced heating via nanoparticles as a tool for deposition of nanostructures, and for pumping, distilling, and concentrating liquid solutions for "lab on a chip" applications.

    Also, a mental deficit in the "software center" would be devastating for me professionnally. This could be diagnosed by checking for agreement with any of the following erroneous statements:

    1. If a project presentation has colorful PowerPoint slides, the science must be good.

    2. MS-Windows is just as good an operating system as Mac OS-X.

    3. Fortran 77 is a fine programming language; I don't need to learn any C++.

    As far as I can tell, my software center is still intact.

    So in summary, it seems the essential parts of my brain for my life and work are still functioning as well as ever (but unfortunately no better than previously... ). So somehow this ~ 1 inch by 1.5 inch tumor was located in some part of my brain that doesn't seem to do much of anything. Perhaps it was located in the "team sports playing" center, or the "civic club joining" center, neither of which seem to work anyway.

    Well, that's about all for now -- its nearly my bedtime. I suspect some of you may be thinking about now: "Don't you just hate it when someone thinks surviving brain cancer suddenly makes them qualified to be a stand-up comedian?" I suppose it is possible that I have a deficit in my "tasteful humor" center, or my "knows when to shut up" center. If so, probably years of therapy will be needed...

    OK, good night all!