Saturday, October 13, 2012

Requiescat in pace

Requiem æternam dona ei, Domine.
Et lux perpetua luceat ei.
Requiescat in pace. Amen.

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord.
And let perpetual light shine upon her.
May she rest in peace. Amen.

A little over two weeks ago (Sept. 26, 2012), my mother, Bennye Ruth (Bucy) Cavnar died in Texas after several years of declining health.  On Tuesday of last week (Oct. 2, 2012), my family came together for a funeral and a celebration of her life. As a result of these two events and all that happened afterwards, my heart has been at times full to overflowing with feelings and memories. This has been a period of intense reflection on what it means to have lived a full life.

In her final years, my mother underwent a continuous and undeniable physical decline. All of us, including she herself, could see what was happening. Consequently, I had months and years to prepare myself emotionally for what the end of her life might be like. Nonetheless, when that time finally came, I was surprised by both the intensity of my feelings at times and by the odd numbness I experienced at other times. Balancing these more painful feelings, I have also been pleased, and even deeply moved, by the way my family has come together since her death.

So much has happened in these past few weeks, and I did not want my memories of this events to slowly vanish into the haze of the past. It became clear that I needed to write down as much as I could about everything that has happened. My usual approach to writing anything is to turn it into an opus magnum, giving full rein to my long-winded tendencies. Fortunately, I realized that this time I did not need to write a novel-length treatment that would take weeks and months to finish. Instead, I saw that I (and any possible readers) would be better served by my approaching this writing as a blog. Using this format would let me write about individual feelings or memories as they came to me, without worrying about trying to organize them all into a coherent whole.

The particular trigger for re-starting my blog was an emotional jolt that hit me two days ago. I received an email from one of the "family service counselors" at the cemetery where we buried my mother. There was something in that email I had not expected, although in hindsight I perhaps should have.

When my father died back in 1985, the memorial headstone over his grave had been engraved with both of my parents' names, their birth years, and the year of my father's death. However, for the last 27 years the stone has remained incomplete. All that was missing was the year of my mother's death.

The image I received two days ago in that email message showed that the stone's inscription is now complete.

When I first opened the email, it took me several seconds to recognize what I was looking at. But then I felt an almost-electric shock when I realized it was a picture of my parent's memorial headstone. As I stared at the image, I experienced a peculiar emotion that is difficult to articulate. It was the feeling you might get when you are by yourself at night, and you try to walk across a very large unlit room, such as a church sanctuary. It was the feeling you get when you hear the dark, hollow sounds of a big place that had once been bustling and full of life, but that is now abandoned. It was the feeling that a night watchman in a big museum must feel every night.

I am in no way despairing over the loss of my mother. She was more than ready to go, and I am convinced that she is even more full of life now than ever. After someone's death, people often glibly say "She is in a better place now." The fact that this statement seems glib makes it no less true. On the other hand, my mother has in fact moved on now, and she has left a very large and very empty place behind her.

The above is a serious, and heart-felt record of a startling and moving experience. However, I must confess something else about the experience that shows what a nerd I am. The feeling I described above was not the absolute first thing I felt when I saw the headstone image. Rather, in an amazing leap of irrelevant free association, the very first thing I thought of when I saw the picture of the memorial stone was that the dry red soil of north Texas looks a lot like the surface of Mars. As the old saying has it, the problem with free association is that you get what you pay for.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Blog Re-Initialization Complete in 3 - 2 - 1 ....

I started this blog on 10/2/2006, and continued to post to it through most of 2007. My last entry was on 11/24/2007, almost 5 years ago. Throughout that period, I had posted semi-regularly. This was easy to do, since I was on medical leave fighting off cancer. But there were issues with keeping my medical insurance (which I obviously still needed). So, early in 2007, I was able to start work part-time with a friend's company, specifically so that I could get that insurance coverage. Sadly, because of how limited my energy and stamina became, I could not devote much time to non-essentials, like blogging. My posts grew less frequent, and eventually stopped.

Today, I am in a somewhat better situation. I have been in remission for over 5 years. Even better, I have been able to drop off almost all of the medications that I had been taking during that entire time. Although these drugs had been necessary to my recovery, they also took a physical toll on me. Frankly, I am relieved to be off of them. I have also gotten a little better at conserving my energy so that I don't burn out as often as I used to. I do have to be careful, because it is easy for me to overdo it.

Because of the above changes, I feel like I can now afford to take time to blog at least a little bit. More importantly, there have been some recent events that have had a big emotional and practical impact on me and my family. I believe it will be helpful, at least to me, to blog about these different changes in our life. Also, the topics I hope to touch on may be of interest to my family and friends, at least for a while.

Let's see if I can turn a good intention into a good habit.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

On Stonehenge's Location

A friend on Facebook who read my earlier post on Stonehenge asked this question:
You hinted at it, but do we have any idea why this location was selected for the building of Stonehenge?
Since Facebook's message system limits the message length, I am replying here.

If memory serves, it so happens that there is a subtle astronomical relationship between the 'standstills' (extreme rising/setting points of the sun and moon) at Stonehenge's latitude. There are 4 particular spots around Stonehenge where there are or have been markers of some kind, such as standing stones. One could use these markers to observe the standstills. The curious thing is that these spots form a rectangle. If Stonehenge had been built a few miles north or south of the spot it is on, i.e., at a different latitude, these markers would not have formed a rectangle but a non-rectangular parallelogram. Thus it appears that the original builders chose that particular latitude in order to take advantage of that fact. The amazing thing is that archaeological evidence indicates that the very first structure at Stonehenge was erected around 8000 B.C., which is basically at the end of the last ice age. So the shaman types who were running the show back then apparently already had enough astronomical smarts to figure that out.

Another factor in the choice of location is that on the Salisbury plains where Stonehenge sits has a relatively clear view of the horizon all the way around. Other places have too many trees, hills, etc. Even so, the ground is not exactly level at the site. Nonetheless, the final architect who designed the actual henge (hanging stone) structure, managed to do so in a way that the upper surface of the megalith ring is within about 6 inches of being level across its whole diameter. This is also amazing given that the builders had only the crudest of stone tools to shape the stones.

There are lots of amazing things about Stonehenge. I'm sure there are more we have not learned yet, and some we may never learn.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Re-Purposing Stonehenge

Some months ago, I posted an article about a Michigan man who had worked out a set of techniques that Neolithic people could have used to erect megalithic monuments like Stonehenge. That iconic ring of stone has been the subject of the wildest and most bizarre kinds of speculations for years:

The Wikipedia article referenced above provides a good overview of many of these wilder ideas, so I won't bother with trying to include any here. However, a few minutes of Googling and link-chasing will produce a dismaying number of other sites with views at least as bizarre as those suggested in the cartoon. (I found a totally new one just today, a suggestion that Stonehenge and other megalithic monuments were actually cosmic impact early warning systems.)

Still, the serious question remains: "Who built Stonehenge, and why?" Over the last decade or so I have occasionally spent a little time looking into this. The most comprehensive and sensible explanation I have found is given in archaeoastronomer John North's book Stonehenge: A New Interpretation of Prehistoric Man and the Cosmos. Prof. North (and doubtless several generations of trusty grad students) have done an enormous amount of research reconstructing orientations and alignments of hundreds of Neolithic stone and earthen monuments thoughout northwestern Europe. Briefly, North's research confirms that these monuments reflect the development of several different religious practices over the course of millennia:
  • a star-oriented cult that placed emphasis on the ceremonial observance of star risings and settings that occurred daily
  • a moon-oriented cult that placed emphasis on ceremonial observance of the complicated pattern of lunar risings and settings that repeats itself over an 18.6 year period
  • a sun-oriented cult that placed emphasis on ceremonial observance of the rising and setting sun at soltices and equinoxes that occurred annually
The many earthen barrow and ditch structures in England and surrounding countries mostly reflect the first cult. The megalithic structures reflect the second two cults. Stonehenge, in its final form, is best suited for sun ceremonies, but has strong features associated with the lunar cult as well. Of course, both cults might have been active co-temporaneously at different points, as well as a few star cults as well.

Some years ago English astronomer Gerald Hawkins caused a great stir with his well-publicized books claiming that Stonehenge was an astronomical observatory or 'calculator', used to predict astronomical events. Although there is certainly an aspect of prediction associated with the monument, North's interpretation points more to its religious uses. This can perhaps best be seen by considering the basic alignment of Stonehenge, which is oriented along a very precise northeast-southwest axis. You can see in the photo to the right the so-called 'avenue', outlined by ditches, leading in a southwesterly direction toward the center of the monument. Hawkins claimed, and supposedly demonstrated, that Stonehenge was oriented towards the rising sun on the day of the summer solstice. If you stand at the right spot in the ring at dawn on that day looking down the avenue, you can in fact see the sun rising over the 'heel stone'.

However, there are some problems with this claim in being the principal way to use Stonehenge for observations. One is that the avenue slopes downhill towards the northeast. Seeing the sun rise at a particular spot on the horizon is totally dependent on whether there are trees at the horizon line, and how tall they are. A change in height of these trees would cause the apparent point of first visibility of the sun to shift left or right.

An even more serious objection to this theory is that only a very small number of people could stand at the appropriate viewing spot to see this supposedly important event. While there are certainly antecedents in various world religions for events that only the high priests can observe, from a believer's point of view, it is much more satisfying to see the event for oneself.

Prof. North noted that one can turn the orientation around 180°. Standing on the avenue, looking southwest, uphill toward the monument, one can also see the setting sun at the winter solstice. This claim has a number of advantages. The first is that, since you are looking uphill, the stone ring forms an 'artificial horizon' which precisely defines the moment of sun's last visibility. There is no vagary depending on the presence, absence or height of distant trees. Moreover, there is room on the avenue for literally thousands of observers, all of whom could participate in watching this event. Finally, based on other archaeological evidence at many other sites, it was much more important for this ancient cult to pay attention to the setting sun at the winter solstice, because it effectively defines the end of the solar year. Sunrise on the next day begins a new year, with each day growing longer and more alive, as it were.

Stonehenge was built in stages, from 3100BC to 1930BC, with some evidence of wooden structures being used on the site as early as 8000BC. The builders were pre-literate, although obviously energetic and well-organized. Other sites in the general area show settlements big enough to house thousands of inhabitants, as well as many large farms. Although theses people lacked metal-working and writing skills, they must have had a robust social structure and a high culture. Building these monuments was important to them, considering how much work it took to cut and move the stones, and to dig the huge amounts of earth involved, all with stone handtools.

By the way, the Druids had nothing to do with building Stonehenge. They didn't show up until 300BC, over a thousand years after the last addition to the monument. And the 'neo-Druids' who dress up and do weird things in the stone circle on Mid-summer's Day are sadly mistaken, or just silly. Real druids tended to shun flat open spaces like the Salisbury Plain where Stonehenge is, and performed their rituals in groves or hilltops. Still, they might have used the monument some, since they were concerned with solar events like solstices.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Nothing New Under The Sun vs. You Can't Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

I mentioned in an earlier post that I'm doing a bit of 'remedial software engineering' at my new job. This project involves taking a large bit of legacy code, and re-organizing it. After talking about it with several of my colleagues, it occurred to me that the proper way to do this was to split the functionality up into Unix-like filters that can be piped together.

Filters and pipes are just one of the reasons that programmers tend to fall in love with Unix. In general, a program that acts like a filter reads data from a standard input, performs some operation on it (select part of it, change part of it, sort it, etc.), and then writes the result to the standard output. A pipe (or pipeline) consists of a string of filters, each of whose output becomes the input for the next filter in the pipeline.

This is an extraordinarily powerful idea. It allows the programmer to concentrate on having a program do just one thing (e.g., select all of the lines in a file that contain a given string), yet be able to use that program in conjunction with other programs to achieve some more complicated results.

Consider a simple example. Here are some commands that work on my Linux machines here at home:
  • 'ps -e' = list all of the processes currently running, showing their process IDs and their names
  • 'grep ' = read all of the input coming into the program one line at a time, but only write out those lines that contain .
  • 'wc -l' = read all of the input coming into the program one line at a time, but only write out how many lines were input
By themselves, these program are certainly useful, but using the pipeline notion, I can quickly combine them to do something very useful. Suppose I wanted to know how many processes my webserver had running, ready to answer web requests from outside. Since I know that the webserver processes are named 'httpd', I can then answer my question like this:
ps -e | grep httpd | wc -l
(The vertical bar symbol is called, appropriately enough, the 'pipe' symbol.) The above command line first executes 'ps -e' to get a list of all the running processes, then puts the resulting list through 'grep httpd' to select only those lines in the list that contain the string 'httpd', and then counts those. Of course, I could have written a program to answer this question. However, since I have these filter-type programs, and pipes, I didn't need to write anything new, but could simply string together the functions that I needed to solve my immediate problem.

The filter/pipe idea is so powerful and useful that even competing operating systems, like Microsoft Windows, have borrowed it. Microsoft's DOS, which Windows sits on top of, implemented a very similar kind of idea years ago (but of course long after Unix had it). Neither Unix nor DOS, nor any other operating system that I know of, has come up with an approach that really matches the power and simplicity of this idea for organizing computation.

All of the above was just to explain the notion of filters and pipes so that you could understand what I wanted to do with the legacy code I inherited. My idea has two key parts. First, re-group the existing code into discrete, well-defined chunks, each of which takes some standard kind of input, performs a single operation, and then returns a standardized kind of output. Second, implement some sort of framework that allows the user to choose these well-defined chunks, and string them into a desired sequence. With this scheme, one can quickly put together a system to solve a particular problem without having to write a customized piece of code to do it.

All of that seemed like the obvious way to go. Then I began having second thoughts. Perhaps one of the (dis)advantages of growing older is that the absolute certainty of youth slowly gives way to the gray-colored ambiguities of middle age. Was a pipe/filter scheme really the best way to handle this design? Would a more integrated platform be a better approach? Was I so stuck in a particular mindset that I could not see a better way to do it? Is there a better new trick that this old dog just can't learn?

I sometimes fear that is so. When I bump into new software development approaches (Java and its menagerie of associated folderol comes to mind), there are times when I just can't make myself buy into it. In fact, I find myself making excuses to avoid having to use the new approach. It feels like the costs of learning the new system far outweigh any visible benefits of doing so. However, if I am honest with myself, that might simply be because of an old-dog syndrome.

I don't have an answer to this particular question with regard to the task at hand. So, I guess I'll proceed along the path that I can see. Unfortunately, it can be demotivating not be sure of the wisdom of one's approach.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Multiple Desktops

It's no secret or surprise that I greatly prefer Linux to Windows for a working environment. However, reality being the stubborn and uncompromising force that it is, I've found myself increasingly having to use Windows just to decrease the amount of friction in my life. Ideology is for the young.

That said, there are some things that Linux provides that I have sorely missed in Windows. One of those is the ability to have multiple desktops. That is, under Linux, I can have, say, four desktops active at the same time, with different windows open on each of them. Moreover, I can switch back and forth between them with a keyboard shortcut, or a mouse click in a special widget on the taskbar.

People who have only used Windows are always puzzled by this concept. "Why would you want to do that?" they ask me, with genuine befuddlement evident in their faces. The reason for having multiple desktops is that it allows me to separate my concerns, to organize my work into distinct places that help me keep my tasks straight.

Here's another way to think about it. Would you want to live in a house with only one room, where your refrigerator, your toilet and your bed were all within the same four walls? Unless you are pathological in some way, the answer would clearly be "No way!". However, that is precisely the predicament that Windows users are in every day.

Using four desktops, on the other hand, I can put email on one, iTunes and other media players on another, my current major task on a third, and still have a fourth desktop available if another important task pops up later in the day. When that second task pops up, I don't have to futz around minimizing windows and such to clear things away so that I can work on the new problem. I just switch to a new desktop, do whatever is needed to, then go back to my previous task's desktop. In the meantime, I can also handle a bit of email, and fiddle with iTunes to pick another playlist. And one is not limited to four desktops. There were occasions a few years ago when I made regular use of eight desktops, although that was really more a symptom of a problem with the way my job was defined (or rather, not defined).

Sure Windows let's you minimize and maximize individual windows easily. However, that does not really address the fact that a working context almost always involves two or more windows. For example, when I'm programming, I have at least one window running a code editor, and another where I can test the code. When I'm composing an email message or working on a document, I am usually looking at other email messages, documents, or web pages someplace else. When I'm updating my calendar, I'm looking at email, to-do lists, and the like.

Each of these sets of windows constitutes a working context. You use all of the windows in a given context, shifting your attention quickly back and forth between them. Having to minimize/maximize or shuffle windows around with mouse clicks is a big impediment to productivity. It is this problem that has made the use of multiple monitors more popular lately. However, multiple monitors are not really feasible for the laptop user, or for the budget-constrained.

The real problem arises when I want to go back to an earlier context that I was working in. With a single desktop, I would have to bring several windows back into view at one time, either by maximizing windows that I had previously minimized, or by riffling through all the windows open on the screen to get the ones I wanted back "on top", that is, in view. That is simply too much bother most of the time, so my productivity slowly drops as I lose track of where I am. In fact, I often found that I have had to open the same window two or even three times because I could not find it when I need it.

So, given the need to have multiple desktops in Windows, what are the choices? Lately I have taken to checking out the ever-growing pile of well-done posts at, which is an outstanding multi-author blog devoted to personal productivity. They have done several posts over the last year or so about tools for multiple desktops, or as they refer to them, virtual desktops.

The first of these tools that I tried was Virtual Desktop Manager, which was one of Microsoft's PowerToys. These are apps that you can find on Microsoft's website, but which come with this proviso:
We take great care to ensure that PowerToys work as they should, but they are not part of Windows and are not supported by Microsoft. For this reason, Microsoft Technical Support is unable to answer questions about PowerToys. PowerToys are for Windows XP only and will not work with Windows Vista.
Given that ringing endorsement, I thought it only fair to give it a try. Although the Virtual Desktop Manager did in fact more or less provide multiple desktops, it was flat-out buggy. In particular, it kept losing windows. I would open a window on one desktop, switch to a different desktop, and then later switch back, only to find that the window was gone, or at least invisible. I could see from the Windows Task Manager that the application was still running, but there was no way to access the window. I suffered through this for a few days, and then uninstalled it and went looking for something else.

Next I tried Virtual Dimension, which Lifehacker listed as a 'Download of the Day' for 4/27/2006. It worked pretty well, and was nicely configurable. The basic application worked well enough that I never even got around to checking out a lot of the options that it had. Sadly though, it began to really annoy me. Once in a while it would simply close down a window. This seemed to happen most often with Windows Explorer, so there was no real harm done. Also, it had an odd penchant for opening new windows on the wrong desktop. This happened most often with Internet Explorer. When I was using Microsoft's Outlook Web Access in IE to access email for my new employer's mail, Virtual Dimension would sometimes open windows for new mail messages on the current desktop. However, most of the time it would open them on some other desktop, usually one where I had previously moved a mail message so that I could work with it. It took me a while to figure this out, because of course there was no indication that the window I wanted was already open somewhere else. One of the most annoying things was that for some applications (such as MS Access, which my new employer uses to track our time), Virtual Dimension would show the same window on every desktop, thus defeating the raison d'etre for multiple desktops.

My annoyance level got high enough that today I decided to try out another multiple desktop tool. I went back to Lifehacker and found another package called Dexpot, which was the Download of the Day for Dec. 28, 2006. It also had good reviews from other Lifehacker readers. Other good signs are that (1) it was produced by a German software company, who (2) gives away the product for free to individuals, but charges for companies. If they expect to charge for it, you'd hope that they would have spent at least a little bit of effort with software quality.

Dexpot installed easily. It has lots of configurable features that I've only begun to check out. The biggest thing for me, though, will be that it not lose windows, nor put them in the wrong spot. So far, so good.

Of course, I wouldn't have to mess around with any of this in Linux, whose window manager software works reliably, and which doesn't drop windows, move them around spontaneously, or make them show up in multiple places unexpectedly. Microsoft is still trailing behind, not providing features that other operating systems had years ago. I guess I should be grateful that the folks in Redmond haven't made it altogether impossible for third-party software vendors to at least attempt writing applications to make up those deficiencies in Windows.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Radioactive Non-Superheroes

Numerous comic book superheroes start their careers by being exposed to radiation or radioactive substances of some sort. In those (fictional) cases, the effects are sometimes bizarre (not to mention unsightly), but our erstwhile heroes always find a way to turn their new situations to some advantage.

It turns out that exposure to radioactive substances happens in our much more boring reality, too. Unfortunately, it never confers superpowers. If anything, it tends to produce occasions for great annoyance. This Reuters report describes the rising incidence of innocent civilians triggering radiation detectors at security checkpoints because of the presence of medical radioisotopes in their bodies. The article tells how six people triggered the radiation detectors at this past year's Christmas tree-lighting party at NYC's Rockefeller Center.
"All six had recently had medical treatments with radioisotopes in their bodies," Richard Falkenrath, the city's deputy commissioner for counterterrorism, told a Republican governors' meeting in Miami recently. "That happens all the time."
The article also tells of an even more humiliating incident:

In August, the British Medical Journal described the case of a very embarrassed 46-year-old Briton who set off the sensors at Orlando airport in Florida six weeks after having radioiodine treatment for a thyroid condition.

He was detained, strip-searched and sniffed by police dogs before eventually being released, the journal said in its "Lesson of the Week" section.

Something like this happened to a friend of mine a couple of years ago. Ermanno is an Italian-born naturalized citizen. At the time of this incident he was living in upstate New York, but working a lot in Ann Arbor. As a cost-saving measure, he actually drove back and forth between the two locations. He began having back problems, which became increasingly severe. One night they were so severe, he ended up in the ER at the University of Michigan Hospital. He had a whole battery of tests. They finally determined that his back pain was caused largely by the fact that he was sitting on his rather out-sized wallet for those ten-hour drives back and forth to New York.

The good news was that this diagnosis showed him how to eliminate his back pain immediately, namely, always take out his wallet before he went on long drives. The bad news occurred a day or so later, when he drove back to New York. He always took the most direct route, which went from Ann Arbor, to Detroit, through Canada, and back into New York at Niagra Falls. All went well until he tried to cross back into the States. To his mystified dismay, he triggered the radiation detector at the security checkpoint.

The border guards didn't put him through a strip-search, but they did turn his car inside out, searched his luggage, etc. It didn't look good: here he was, a foreign national, driving a rental car, triggering a radiation alarm as he crossed into U.S. territory. (Remember, this was only a year or two after 9/11.)

Finally, after questioning Ermanno about his recent activities, one of the more intelligent border people had the bright idea that the radioactivity might be due to one of medical procedures he had been through. They called UM Hospital's ER and found that, sure enough, one of the tests he had been through involved injecting a radioisotope. If had waited another day or so, the natural decay of the radioactive material would have reduced it to below detectable levels. But alas ...

The Reuters article speculates that it might be wise to start carrying a note from your doctor describing the reason you seem radioactive. This problem is probably just going to get worse, as detectors become more sensitive, and able to pick up radioisotope traces even weeks after their use. It isn't entirely far-fetched to worry that eventually we may all have to start carrying not only our identification papers at all times, but our medical records, too.

Thawed Out But Still Behind

Once you get behind, it certainly is hard to get caught up again. The power outage of two weeks ago took a big toll in almost every part of our life here, my writing included. As I described a few days later, we eventually got our power back and began to put everything back in place.

However, I was not really able to get back into my normal pace once power returned. I'm not complaining, though, since the reason was that I started a new part-time job, something that my family and I are very happy about.

I haven't worked since March 11, 2005 when I went on medical leave to deal with multiple myeloma. During the intervening months since then, my employer decided that they didn't need my position any more and terminated me in absentia. Their reasoning in that decision was quite faulty, in my opinion, but perhaps it's just as well. The company has continued to do poorly under that same management, and it doesn't look like it will survive long anyway.

Since I was terminated, I have been able to continue my family's healthcare coverage using a COBRA extension. This allowed us to get the same coverage by paying the insurance premiums ourselves. However, doing so is almost prohibitively expensive. Our coverage currently costs over $11oo/month. Worse, one can use a COBRA extension for only 18 months. One way or the other, I knew that I was working with a limited amount of time to find an alternate means to provide healthcare insurance.

My new employer made me a very generous offer that allows me to work at a reduced pace, yet maintain decent healthcare insurance. Moreover, the work itself will be quite interesting, and I should be able to make a useful contribution. Another bonus is that I'll be working with some old friends, whom I have collaborated with a number of times over the past 15 years or so.

I started this new position on January 22, 2007, and I have been quite busy ever since then. There has been the usual bit of administrivia, filling out a seemingly endless number of forms, all asking for slightly different variations of the same information. There has also been a fair amount of computer setup, trying to get my laptop properly configured to work both inside the corporate firewall, and through a VPN connection from home. And of course, I've been trying to learn more about the tasks at hand.

My first project involves my becoming very conversant with a scientific programming language called Interactive Data Language (IDL), which is a quasi-descendant of the venerable Fortran (a language I first used in 1968). My new employer has built up a large body of legacy IDL code that needs to be re-organized and cast into a more readily usable form. I've always said that I'm really a frustrated librarian, so I expect that I'll be able to do some good here.

I find blogging to be therapeutic, so I have really missed my regular writing times. I'll be trying to re-balance my schedule so that I can get back to those. I'm glad that I'm only working part-time. One of my frustrations these past few months is the realization at how much more 'inefficient' my life is now. Everything I do seems to take longer than it used to. Although I am in remission, I still have a large number of medically related tasks that take up significant parts of the day. Also, I need more sleep than I used to be able to get by with. Finally, I am just plain slower than I used to be. Every activity, from eating to walking down a hall, I now have to do at half the speed I used to be able to manage. On off days, I'm even slower than that. I guess I'm supposed to learn patience from this. So will everyone else, if they are waiting on me. My brain still seems to be working at close to normal speed most of the time, so I'm hoping that I can learn a style of working that makes better use of thinking and less of moving.