Archive for July, 2008

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Chemotherapy (Cancer Optional)

July 29, 2008

The reactive arthritis—if that is what it is (see below)—continues. Some days are better than others, and it’s much easier than it was a number of weeks ago, but it really isn’t going away. Last night I was able to do some ab[dominal] crunches (something I expect to do daily now), and I also spent a short time on the exercise bike, but couldn’t use my left arm or either leg, only my right arm, because of the joint pain in my knees and shoulder. My prayer is that my legs, fingers, and shoulder will improve enough for me to exercise the way Nichelle wants me to the way I want to. (It also means I’m not likely to be doing any real hiking or bicycling during this glorious summer, which is more than a bit disappointing.)

Of course, there’s a possibility that this isn’t poststreptococcal reactive arthritis—it might be psoriatic arthritis. On the other hand, it might have started as one thing, but be developing into any one of another inflammatory arthritic condition. (I do also have what appears to be psoriasis on my scalp—which Nichelle gets credit for noticing and making sure I discussed it with my doctors as possibly related.) Or perhaps I’m just faking this to get out of Nichelle’s “new and improved” workouts … or maybe it’s Munchausen syndrome … or maybe even Nichelle is secretly causing this, making it Munchausen syndrome by proxy.

I should add that my follow-up echocardiogram and EKG were both fine, so we have now officially ruled out rheumatic fever.

According to Dr. Eranki, I have an atypical presentation, which means that my symptoms don’t exactly match one particular flavor of arthritis, making diagnosis even more difficult than usual. In other words, I am just weird.

I start on methotrexate today. Methotrexate is officially a chemotherapy drug, but is also used to treat psoriasis and arthritis and other rheumatic conditions. For those of you who want to sound smarter than your peers, you can tell them it’s a DMARD (disease-modifying antirheumatic drug), which decreases the pain and swelling of arthritis and reduces both the damage to joints and the risk of long-term disability.

Discussion of the drug prompted a surprisingly emotional reaction. Having a new medication introduced as a chemotherapy drug … knowing the side effects of many chemotherapy drugs, I was leery of trying it. I also realized for the first time that the medication “reduces the risk of long-term disability”—dragging me into the understanding that the near-constant joint pain and swelling isn’t merely an inconvenience, it could make the rest of my life more difficult as well.

At any rate, I spent the past few days reading up on the medication, carefully observing that the arthritis isn’t going away, and a while yesterday peppering the Dr. Eranki with questions, before deciding to go ahead with this phase of treatment. Even with this, it will be at least 6 weeks before the methotrexate has any noticeable positive effect.

However, I am grateful that the fevers finally seem to be mostly gone, and that I am able to work and do many other things normally or with minor restrictions. These blessings have not always been available to me throughout this illness, and I thank the Lord daily for them.

Onward …

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Why Is Programming Fun?

July 25, 2008

A couple of weeks ago, I finished reading The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering, Anniversary Edition (2nd Edition), after leaving it sitting on my dresser for ages. The book is a collection of essays about software design, the most famous of which became the book’s title—expressing the fundamental idea that adding personnel does not necessarily allow a project to be completed faster, just as nine women cannot produce a single baby in one month.

That particular essay, and probably several others, is worthy of a separate discussion; but one Frederick Brooks eloquently expresses has been on my mind for several years.

To be honest, I love my job. (Now, this isn’t to say I wouldn’t rather be paid to travel the world, build with Lego, or quest in World of WarCraft.) I can’t think of anything I’d rather do as a career than be a programmer, except maybe astronaut or Supreme Dictator of the Western Hemisphere. I had been mulling over exactly why this is for a very long time. Frederick P. Brooks has expressed what I feel far more eloquently than I believe I am able:

The Joys of the Craft

Why is programming fun? What delights may its practitioner expect as his reward?

First is the sheer joy of making things. As the child delights in his mud pie, so the adult enjoys building things, especially things of his own design. I think this delight must be an image of God’s delight in making things, a delight shown in the distinctness and newness of each leaf and each snowflake.

Second is the pleasure of making things that are useful to other people. Deep within, we want others to use our work and to find it helpful. In this respect the programming system is not essentially different from the child’s first clay pencil holder “for Daddy’s office.”

Third is the fascination of fashioning complex puzzle-like objects of interlocking moving parts and watching them work in subtle cycles, playing out the consequences of principles built in from the beginning. The programmed computer has all the fascination of the pinball machine or the jukebox mechanism, carried to the ultimate.

Fourth is the joy of always learning, which springs from the nonrepearing nature of the task. In one way or another the problem is ever new, and its solver learns something: sometimes practical, sometimes theoretical, and sometimes both.

Finally, there is the delight of working in such a tractable medium. The programmer, like the poet, works only slightly removed from pure thought-stuff. He builds his castles in the air, from air, creating by exertion of the imagination. Few media of creation are so flexible, so easy to polish and rework, so readily capable of realizing grand conceptual structures. (As we shall see later, this very tractability has its own problems.)

Yet the program construct, unlike the poet’s words, is real in the sense that it moves and works, producing visible outputs separate from the construct itself. It prints results, draws pictures, produces sounds, moves arms. The magic of myth and legend has come true in our time. One types the correct incantation on a keyboard, and a display screen comes to life, showing things that never were nor could be.

Programming then is fun because it gratifies creative longings built deep within us and delights sensibilities we have in common with all men.

I also loved the way Brooks closes his preface: “Soli Deo gloria—To God alone be glory.” This isn’t a perspective one generally finds in books about software.

(Excerpt from Frederick P. Brooks, The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering, Anniversary Edition (2nd Edition), © 1995, Addison-Wesley Longman, Inc., p. 7.)

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Cute Faces … Dorky Glasses (Why Fashion is Irrational)

July 17, 2008

It isn’t often that you’ll find me writing about the world of fashion, but I feel it’s time for me to stand up to a modern gullibility of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” proportions.

To be frank, those “cool,” often expensive, glasses frames that many women (and men) wear, look just plain dorky. They looked horrible in the 1950s, and they still look horrible today. Just because it’s old, doesn’t mean it’s better. The thick-framed glassed of the 1950s and ’60s were popular because materials science and manufacturing expense required they be made primarily from plastic, and to get plastic to be strong enough (especially at the time), they had to be big, thick, and ugly.

Modern materials give us a host of inexpensive and classy glasses designs. So why do these horrors persist?


You have a cute (if somewhat pale) face, honey … great color for the glasses, but … dang …


Jeepers, Uncle Ian, what were you thinking?


Dorky in 1950 … dorkier still if you think these are cool.


Yes, even the uber-cool companies are not exempt from marketing trash for your face. Be smarter!

Now, I’m going to prove my point by borrowing one of the world’s most beautiful faces, normally belonging to Catherine Zeta Jones.


Let’s see how dorky glasses ruin even Catherine Zeta. Here she is before a trip to the local optician nee fashionista.


And … here’s Catherine with her super-cool fashion-statement spectacles.


We hope Catherine Zeta Jones has better fashion sense than this, but many people with beautiful faces do not.


See how bad it can get?


Do you believe me now?

So … don’t be tempted to look like a dork just because all the cool people are doing it! Just like wearing your breeches half falling off your butt, tramp stamps, and bell-bottoms (and virtually anything from the 1970s), just because it is or was popular, trendy, faddish, or in some way nifty, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Spend your hard earned dollars on something useful, like foreign missions, books by John Piper, or World of WarCraft.


And the cooler they pretend to be, the worse it gets.


Note: Virtual glasses are from a cool-if-slightly-pokey (showing the dangers of not-careful-enough AJAX development) service called FrameFinder, courtesy of FramesDirect.com .