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!