Bag Claim Etiquette

This seems so simple that it should be obvious, but it apparently it’s not, so I guess I have to spell it out. When waiting at a baggage claim carousel, you should stand back a few feet until you see your bag. Not only does it make it easier for everyone to get a view of the bags, but it leaves room for unloading the bags. Don’t crowd the carousel like these people:

One guy has the right idea, but he can’t see the bags that are coming because the others are blocking his view.

On a recent flight I saw my bag coming around , and had to squeeze my way through the people crowding the carousel. When it came, I grabbed it and lifted it off in order to put it on the ground. In the process it struck one of the people crowding the area, and he gave me a dirty look. I gave him one right back. It’s simply rude not to give a fellow traveler enough room to retrieve their luggage, and when you see someone grabbing their bag, it’s up to you to get out of their way.

Trump Is Not The Enemy

Are you numb yet? To all of the outrageous, dishonest, and self-serving things that Donald Trump does? Or does your blood still boil every time his name is mentioned? I find myself in the latter camp, but I’m here to remind you of something very important: Trump Is Not The Enemy.

He is an enemy, of course, but by focusing on him, we miss the bigger picture. Thought experiment:  imagine that tomorrow morning you wake up to see that Trump has tweeted his resignation. He’s gone. Not only that, but Bob Mueller also announces indictments of Trump Sr., Trump Jr., and Ivanka Trump. They’re all going to prison for a long, long time. Would that mean that things will be all right again?

Hardly. The Republican party controls all 3 branches of government, and they have been more than happy to ride along with the Trump populist train in order to achieve their goals. They have confirmed nominees to cabinet posts who are not only unqualified, but who have expressed views that are 180° opposed to the office they occupy. They have tried to take away health care to millions of people, and are currently planning on redistributing even more of the income of the masses to the extremely wealthy. They have wantonly ignored the truth, and instead parroted Fox News talking points. If Trump were to disappear, we’d have President Mike Pence, who would gladly continue, if not accelerate, the decline of our country.

It is not Trump, but the Republican party that is the true enemy. The only way we can progress as a country is to remove them from power.

How do we do that? My suggestion is to tie everything that Trump does to Republicans. If Trump hints about nuking North Korea or killing gay people, don’t place the blame solely on him. Place it on the enablers. Place it on the Republicans. Hold them accountable.

There are several Republicans in Congress who have expressed privately that they feel that Trump is unstable, but instead of acting on that, they just let it continue. Hold them accountable.

There is an overwhelming track record of violating the emoluments clause, and personally profiting from government use of his properties, but the Republicans turn a blind eye to that. Hold them accountable.

If in the weeks to come, evidence of Trump’s collusion with Russia surfaces, or any of a number of other  potentially impeachable offenses are revealed, the power to impeach is 100% in the hands of the Republican majority. If they don’t act as swiftly and as thoroughly as they did investigating Hillary Clinton for Benghazi, they are excusing those acts, and thus complicit. Make that the headline, and hold them accountable.

We need to constantly tie our outrage to the Republicans, and not just to Trump, if we ever hope to move this country back to a positive direction. We need to stop focusing on winning the White House, and focus instead on winning state legislatures so that we can undo the gerrymandering that has allowed them to control the House with a minority of votes. We need to be sure to target every single Republican who is up for re-election in 2018, and tie them inextricably to Donald Trump. Trump is going down in flames, and we need to bring all of his enablers down with him.

Lasik post-op

Two days ago I underwent Lasik surgery to correct my nearsightedness. It went as well as could be expected, and I’m currently seeing 20/20 without glasses or contacts. There is a little bit of hazy ghosting around bright objects, but that’s supposed to go away as my corneas heal.

First, the place where I had it done, LasikPlus, is first-class in every respect. They understand customer experience, and do everything to make the experience, including coughing up around $4K, as pleasant as it can possibly be. And my doctor, Bruce January, M.D., had a positive energy that was so infectious that it inspired confidence. The staff also did a great job explaining just what will happen, including trying to explain what it will feel like. The thing is, that only goes so far. So here are my impressions.

The first step in the process is cutting a flap in your cornea’s surface to expose the main part of the lens. There are two separate machines involved, so they have you lay down on a small (comfortable!) table that pivots between two machines. The first machine is where they place a circular device on the eye to hold it still.

operating room
I’m getting ready for the first part of the procedure to start.

Before this is done, some numbing drops are placed in your eyes, so there is no pain. You are told that you will feel it pressing on your eyeball, and that while there won’t be any pain, it will feel a little weird. That’s an understatement! After the device is on your eye, they move you a few feet to the second machine, which does the actual cutting of the cornea using a femtosecond laser. This is where it gets trippy.

You’re staring up and see several very bright white lights, but of course, you can’t blink. When they have you lined up, the machine presses down hard on the aforementioned circular device, and sure, it feel strange having that much pressure on your eyeball. But is even stranger is that you go blind in that eye! From bright white lights to black in a split second! Then you start seeing all sorts of colored patterns moving around. If you ever pressed against your closed eyes when you were a kid and saw the resulting visual effects, it’s sort of like that, but 100 times more intense. I saw spots of different colors that moved around randomly, leaving a trail of dots behind them. And while the visual show was interesting, the whole eyeball pressure thing was getting more and more uncomfortable. I’m not sure of the elapsed time; it was probably less than 30 seconds. But it felt a lot longer! When it was done, the pressure released, and the white lights reappeared. Now it was time to be wheeled back to the first machine, and repeat for the second eye. This time I had a much better idea as to what to expect, and while it was equally uncomfortable, it seemed to go more quickly.

This was the view on the monitor as I was about to have the flap cut into my cornea

Now it was time to get up and walk to the machine that actually reshaped the lenses. It was odd – I could sort of see where I was going, but felt quite a bit disoriented after the previous procedure. The operating room assistant guided me over, and I laid down for part two.

This time there was no discomfort; nothing pressing on the eye, just a small device to keep you from blinking. They told you to just keep focused on the green dot in the middle, while the red lights around it danced and blinked. After a few seconds of blinking it sounded like someone turned on a vacuum cleaner, and the red lights got more intense. The green dot turned into a green patch as the laser etched the lens. Then there’s the smell – you’ve smelled burning hair, right? Well, it’s pretty close to that. I don’t know why I was surprised, since I knew that the whole point of this procedure was to have a laser burn away parts of your lens to re-shape it, but smelling it brought home the reality of what was going on.

The whole process lasted only a few seconds. The smell went away, the vacuum sound stopped, and the green light returned to a dot. Then I saw what looked like a small brush going across my eye. This was the surgeon replacing the corneal flap over my eye. My wife was watching this on the monitors and said it looked like the doctor was smoothing wallpaper. Oh, I didn’t mention that the whole procedure area is viewable from the waiting area, including monitors that show what the doctor is seeing. Just one more thing that showed that they put a lot of thought into the whole experience. The photos here were all taken by my wife Linda while I was undergoing the procedure.

The view on the monitor during the second half of the procedure

Repeat with the other eye, and done! When I got up, I could see clearly enough, although everything had a fuzziness to it. Off to the side room where they give your eyes a quick once-over, repeat the instructions to you for applying the various drops, and we’re done!

post-surgery goggles
Wearing the protective goggles over my very bloodshot eyes 10 minutes after the procedure

I put on the sunglasses they give you, and got in the car for the ride home. Even with sunglasses and my eyes closed, it was uncomfortably bright outside. I kept my eyes closed for the whole ride home, only opening when we arrived. By now the numbing drops were beginning to wear off, and my eyes were watering like crazy. They were also beginning to burn a bit, and soon reminded me of the time I was cutting jalapeño peppers and absent-mindedly rubbed my eyes! Every so often my eyes would get uncomfortable and I’d open them a bit, only to have tears come gushing down my cheeks! It was clear that my eyes were not very happy! I did end up going through a lot of tissues that day!

They advise you to keep your eyes closed for several hours, and recommend that you take a nap. They give you some Tylenol PM to help you sleep, but that didn’t do anything at all for me. I have some over-the-counter sleep aid pills that I use when flying overseas, so I took a couple of those, and slept for the next 5 hours. When I awoke, my eyes felt better, although still a bit scratchy. I kept the drops up, and tried to keep my eyes closed as much as possible.

The next morning I awoke to much clearer vision. Bright areas had a soft halo around them, but that’s to be expected as the cornea heals. I kept up with the drops, as my eyes would start to feel a bit scratchy if I went too long without them. I had my day-after exam, and all was fine.

eye bruising
Some bruising is visible the day after surgery

So 24 hours after having my eyes zapped by lasers I was able to return to working, which requires staring at a screen. The trick is to limit it to 20 minutes at a time, after which I put in more eyedrops and get up to walk around and let my eyes focus on other things for a few minutes. And yes, this post was written in small chunks to give my eyes some rest.

Some post-Lasik thoughts:

As is common with people my age, I need reading glasses. Before the surgery, when I was wearing my contacts and needed to see something up close, the readers were necessary. However, when I removed my contacts I could see perfectly well up close. This was handy when I would awake in the morning and want to set an alarm on my phone for, say, 5 minutes of snoozing. Since the surgery I can’t read my phone when I pick it up in the morning! Guess I’ll have to keep a pair of readers on my nightstand.

Somewhat related to this, when I rolled over to say good morning to my wife, I couldn’t see her very clearly, either. This was far more troubling to me. I guess I had taken it for granted that I would always be able to see her when we woke up. This will take some getting used to. I’m hoping that as my eyes heal, this will not be as severe. I’m not sure the convenience of not having to wear contacts is worth losing this.

Changes

I have two major updates to my senses this week: my eyes and ears are both getting an upgrade. On Wednesday, I am undergoing Lasik surgery to correct my nearsightedness, and on Friday I am getting hearing aids.

I have been nearsighted since I was around 10 years old, and have worn glasses or contacts ever since. Here’s a photo of me from way back when:

school photo with glasses
My 7th grade school picture. What a nerd!

So I’ve spent most of my life with poor natural vision, but I’ve always been able to correct it so that I could see just fine. My hearing, though, is another story. When I was 18, I had just come home after an evening out, just beating an oncoming thunderstorm. As I walked from my car to the house it started pouring, and I made it inside without getting too soaked. Now I’ve loved thunderstorms since I was a little kid; all that power fascinated me. So once inside the house, I stood at the front screen door, watching the lightning, and counting the delay of the thunder to determine how far away it is. After a few minutes I remember seeing lightning flashes on both my left and right that were within a mile, and thinking that this must be the center of the storm. Right then, I saw an incredibly bright flash that was accompanied by a simultaneous loud thunderclap. It took a few seconds until my eyes could see again after the bright flash, and I stood there in a bit of shock and wonderment, as I knew that the strike had to have been very close. A few moments later I felt a tap on my shoulder, and I turned around to see my mother talking to me. I say that I saw her talking, because I couldn’t hear a thing she was saying. I then noticed that I couldn’t hear the rain or thunder or anything else!

The next day we went outside to discover that the lightning had struck a tree about 5 feet from the front door where I was standing. It had gone down the tree, and then jumped the gap between the tree and a grounded power line going into the house. This was evidenced by the hole in the side of the house, and a matching burnt patch of bark and wood on the tree.

After a day or so I was able to hear a little bit over the loud ringing in my ears, and a few days later was pretty much back to normal. I didn’t really think about this again until a few years ago when I took a hearing test. I’ve had a hissing tinnitus in my ears for several years, and I noticed it was getting worse. The hearing test showed a very sharp decline in the higher frequencies. In the charts below, a person with normal hearing would have all the points in the grey band along the top. As you can see, mine drop off severely after mid-range frequencies.

hearing test results
My hearing test results.

I thought that this could have been the result of too much loud music; after all, I do love to crank up good songs loud! But the audiologist said that too much loud noise over time would result in all frequencies losing sensitivity. My pattern suggested some hearing trauma, and asked me about any events in my history that I could remember. I told him about the lightning story, and he confirmed that this was the sort of damage pattern you might expect from a trauma like that.

So what does this mean, in practical terms? It means that I have a harder time understanding higher-pitched voices, such as women and children. My poor wife has to endure me asking her to repeat what she said all the time! And even with male voices, most consonant sounds are in the higher frequencies, so I have often have trouble understanding men, too. It also means that I miss things like birds singing and other delicate sounds of nature.

I tried hearing aids a few years ago, but the technology at the time hadn’t progressed enough to make a significant improvement for me, so I just lived with limited hearing. But I went back recently to try the latest technology, and it was amazing! Everything sounded so different! It will take a while to get used to them, of course, but I hope that once I’m acclimated to them, I will be able to hear what I’ve been missing for so many years.

The Lasik procedure will give me the ability to see without corrective lenses, and that will be wonderful, of course. But I’ve always been able to see well, so after the procedure I won’t be experiencing anything new. It will make my life a bit easier, but not richer. But since I’ve lived most of my life without being able to hear correctly, I’m really excited for all the new experiences that my hearing aids will make available to me that were simply not possible for me to enjoy before.

Being Punk

I came of age in the mid-1970s, and at that time, punk rock was just starting, with bands like The Ramones in the US and The Damned in the UK. In those pre-Spotify days, most of the music you listened to was on the radio, and radio was dominated by record companies pushing their artists, and the big trends at the time were disco and arena rock. Unless you could get a college radio station, these over-produced songs were pretty much all that you could listen to.

Punk arose as a reaction to this stifling control of music. The original idea was DIY – do it yourself! Who cared if you couldn’t play guitar very well, or sing like an angel? Who cared if you didn’t have access to a studio with the latest recording equipment? It was the feeling and energy that mattered above all. Several punk bands started out very raw, but in time learned more about music, recording, and songwriting. They started experimenting with different styles in their songs, and some of the fans would have none of that. The most memorable example of that was when The Clash released their epic album London Calling: there were songs with horns, for crissake! This wasn’t punk! Punk can only have…

And this is where punks fell into their own trap. As a reaction to having to slavishly follow an established musical style, some were now insisting that their favorite bands adhere to this new musical style! They forgot the DIY part, and only thought about the fast, simple chord structures and relentless drumming. They wouldn’t allow these bands to grow and change.

Which brings me to my actual topic: Agile software development. I’ll have more to say in a follow-up post, but I’m sure most can already see the connection.