Saturday, September 30, 2006

Tablet PC, Windows Vista and Office 2007

While I was in London I picked up a new Fujitsu Siemens Stylistic ST5032 Tablet PC (http://www.fujitsu-siemens.com/products/mobile/tablet_pcs/stylistic_st502x.html). It's a pretty powerful piece of kit with 1.5 GB of RAM, 60 GB of disk a 1.2GHz Pentium M, WiFi (802.11abg), Gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth, a fingerprint reader and of course the stylus. I also got a docking station which comes with a DVD burner drive. In addition to my already overbusy evenings I played around with this most nights during my London trip. It's really quite a fun piece of equipment. I can already see lots and lots of different, and quite unique, uses for a truly portable computer with no wires at all and no keyboard or mouse necessary.

But one of the major reasons I got this, in addition to testing the Tablet PC concept, is that I have fully signed up to beta test Windows Vista and Office 2007. After getting home from my long trip, and getting a good night's sleep, I spent a good portion of the day installing all of this software on my new tablet to see what it looks like and how it works. For the moment I am both pleased, impressed and underimpressed. Although it looks pretty and more graphical my first gut reactions are "cluttered" and unorganised. But we'll see as I work with it... I have to start preparing as I'll be working pretty intensively with all of this next year and I need to be ready...

A long week

Woke up early Monday morning and headed off to the Eurostar for what was the beginning of a very long week at the London office.

Evenings (after a day at the office) were spent trying to catch up with the e-mails and problems of the day; early mornings (before going to the office) were spent trying to fix clients' problems in France before the London office hours. Working solid from about 07:30 to midnight every day...

Finally got on the Eurostar to come home Friday night, reached Gare du Nord and queued up for a half an hour to get a taxi. I got home about 23:30 to find the entire household already in bed.

A long and good night's sleep in MY bed next to my wife was worth it all...

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The results are in!

Desney and I started up our dance classes again. We had missed out on last year's classes for reasons which should be obvious to anyone who reads this blog.

The class went very well and I didn't feel as though we were behind the others at all even after a year. It was a great hour of fun. It was really hot in the class room... I just wish I could sweat a bit less! More than slightly embarassing. I was a ball of sweat by the end. I didn't want to touch me so I can only fear what it would have been like for the women who had to dance with me...

Just as our class started Dr. Hag├Ęge, my specialist, called me. He had the results of my PET scan in front of him. Everything was negative. That always sounds bad to me and for a moment my heart flutters. But for those in the medical profession negative is good. It means that the scan did not find anything. This is actually quite positive for me. It means that there is no other cancer somewhere else in my body at the moment. That is nothing but good news.

I will see him again at the end of October, beginning of November, for another one of his wonderful exams [tongue planted firmly in cheek]

Monday, September 11, 2006

My 3 minutes 24 seconds of fame...

I am certainly not known for making long stories short and am infamous for quite the opposite. However I really do not have a lot of time recently for anything...

I was at a client's yesterday when I received a phone call from a friend who I've known for years. She had been recently interviewed by BBC World Service for some lexicographical information. Apparently the producer of the BBC World Service Europe Today program had called her looking to speak to Americans as regards September 11th and the evolution of how Americans have been treated in France. She gave him my contact information and he called me. When I was done with my client I had a long talk with him outside and basicaly did a phone pre-interview.

I found the subject quite interesting and was able to throw in quite a few mentions of our school and even our parents' association. I got the feeling during the interview however that I was not necessarily the ideal candidate he was looking for and I also felt that the direction I was going in as regards the treatment of Americans in France was not necessarily what he was looking to portray. I naively thought that this is the news and therefore it didn't matter. After our discussion he asked me to go to the BBC World Service Paris studios to record an interview. It was very close to where I was, it would take 15 minutes and I was just heading home anyway. Hell I get stuck in traffic for longer than that.

I walked to the BBC World Service Paris office which was a tiny little thing with 3 "journalists" working at computers and a small, but impressive, recording studio. I was sat down with an 8-track sound board in front of me. My eyes lit up and I was immediately reminded not to touch anything. That was a good thing as my first reflex was to play...

The producer came over the headphones, from London, and briefly went over our original discussion and then finally the interviewer. He asked me the questions for the "real interview" and it was very obvious we were going in two different directions. It was obvious that everything I had said about the school was no longer of interest. It was also obvious that I was not the proud American citizen in France they were looking for. They were not that interested in my positive comments as regards the general treatment of Americans in France and they took some of my comments as regards treatment of foreigners in general and applied them to the Americans. And this was just within the interview itself! The interview ended on a sour note as I was not able to give them the sound bite they were looking for. He wanted to end the interview with the question "So Derek are you proud to be an American and in France?" I replied "I'm afraid I can't say that I am." He then came back with "Can you say you are proud to be an American?" and I replied "I certainly could not go on the record with that remark... all I can say is I am pleased and proud to be in France." After the mike was supposedly shut down he thanked me for the interview and I apologised for not being the ideal American interviewee.

In the evening I listened to the end result on the Europe Today web page. If you hurry to that page you can hear the entire show online... until they upload the next show to replace it. I realised just how naive I was. Through some rather brilliant editing they had actually made it sound like I felt that Americans were treated poorly in France for a time. They even took one of the things I just generally mentioned and threw in a question before it, which they had never actually asked me during the interviews, so it sounds like my remark was in reply to the question. My remark as to speaking French so as not to be recognised as an American was not in relation to anything as regards snide remarks. It was in relation to a separet discussion about the fact that I am not proud to be an American and am pleased to be an expatriot.

The entire experience just goes to enforce my skeptical and cynical beliefs as regards the bias of the news media around the world. The more I am personally involved with events which are newsworthy and then see how they are portrayed in the news the more I realise just how far reality is from the news.

I obviously recorded my part of the interview for prosperity. I have stored it all in one MP3 File which is 1.6 Megabytes in size. I stand behind very little of what it appears as though I actually said.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

My first PET scan

I woke up late as I knew I wasn't going to be able to eat all morning. There was no need to prolong the uncomfortability. The girls had already left for school and Desney was doing her, now daily, workout in the gym. I therefore was left to putter around trying to find some way to keep my mind occupied and off of food without starting work which I would not be able to stop in time to leave for my appointment. Eventually I went off to Darty to pick up the new electric toothbrush my dentist had prescribed for me. It took me quite some time to choose between the two he had recommended and eventually I chose the Oral B Professional Care 8500. I personally found 100 € quite a lot of money for this sort of everyday tool. But with all I've been spending on my health over the past year this is a grain of sand on the endless beach.

I finally drove off to Sarcelles to find the special clinic for my scan. I had calculated an hour with traffic and gave myself a few extra minutes as well. Of course it only took 20 minutes and I spent over a half an hour just strolling through the suburb of Sarcelles. This is one of those amazingly ugly suburbs with concrete block tower flats all over the place. I walked around the area where my scan was going to take place and felt like I was in the cancer capital of the world. Next to my PET scan hangar was an IRM scan speciality building, and then a clinic providing radiotherapy and chemotherapy and then a private hospital with specialist cancer wards and surgery and then an ambulance building and last, but certainly not least from an impact point of view, was a funeral house. I obviously turned away from this area and headed to the centre of town.

What I was amazed to find was that this was probably the biggest Jewish neighbourhood I've been to in France next to the rue des Rosiers. The radioactive hangar which housed my scan laboratory was behind what is the biggest synagogue I've seen in France. Absolutely every single restaurant was Beth Din kosher, as was every butcher and even the greengrocers and bakeries. 90% of the males walking around had yarmulkes on and the vast majority of women and little girls were wearing very old-fashioned dresses. It was quite an interesting walk around. Unfortunately for me however the bagel shops and felafel restaurants were making me very hungry. I headed back to the car, which was parked in the blazing sun in the parking lot in front of the scan centre, took out my bag with all of my x-ray and scan results and my small bottle of water and headed off for my scan.

PET ScanI arrived about 10 minutes early which, as usual, was a good idea due to all of the necessary paperwork. The PET scan itself doesn't cost me anything. However I had to fill out and sign the papers which go to the social security for them to pay directly so I know that normally it would cost about 1,250 €. I can understand why they don't want many of us having this sort of thing too often. I had a visit with a doctor which lasted all of 5 minutes. He looked at the results of my scans and x-rays and noted that there was nothing to note. He asked me about my cancer, my surgery, my treatment dates and any allergies. He then told me what they were going to do to me and to sit in the waiting room. This 5-minute consultation cost me 89.00 € (which will be entirely reimbursed).

I sat in the waiting room with all of the other cancer victims or survivors. This was a much easier situation than sitting in the normal treatment clinic waiting room as everyone here had finished their treatments at least 3 months ago and generaly longer. One can not have a PET Scan earlier than that. This was therefore the "Survivor's Room" and I was damn glad, and actually quite proud, to be one of them. Looking around I realised, yet again, how lucky I really should start feeling some time soon. The long-term effects of my cancer and treatments could have been so much worse than the annoying little discomforts I have to live with. I don't have a sack hanging out of my body for my waste, I have all my hair, I still have all of my organs (except for my appendix which is a different, unrelated and ridiculously trivial matter), I can still speak and taste (to a certain extent), my legs and arms still function perfectly and so on and so forth. None of us said a word to each other. But we all knew why we were there and we all had a pretty good idea as to what the other had been through to get there. There is a sort of mutual respect and admiration amongst cancer survivors. We don't need to describe things to each other for we know what we're talking about without even talking. This is the exact opposite of trying to explain chemotherapy to someone who's never been through it. It's like explaining sex to a virgin. There is just too much which is beyond intellectual explanation. That said I would certainly prefer telling a virgin "Don't worry about it you'll know someday" than even faintly wishing chemotherapy, and the various other cancer treatments, upon even my worst enemy. We all sat there in silence, reading our books and magazines, waiting for our turn.

The exam was not a big deal. It was just very long. First they take some blood and then put in an IV unit. I then have to lie down while they run through some liquids to dilute me and protect me from the tiny quantities of radioactive stuff they put through afterwards. This involves me lying down for about an hour and a half with liquids running through me and a nurse coming around to change the IV bags every now and then. This reminded me way too much of my chemotherapy treatment periods. Eventually I am then taken to the scan room where I take off my shoes, trousers, earring, eyeglasses and watch. I was then told to lie down on the scan bed and placed in a position with my hands above my head, my chin in a specific position and my hips in a specific position. I was then told not to move for a little over 20 minutes. I was not strapped in our physically held in any way. Twenty minutes may seem like a very short amount of time in the scheme of things. But remaining perfectly immobile for that long can become excruciatingly long. At the same time the scan tunnel is passing up and down my body. My eyes are closed of course and I am trying to think of other things... I make all sorts of plans during these moments and create long lists of things to do in my head. They are almost all completely forgotten about 5 minutes after the procedure.

Once the scan was finished I was told to sit in the waiting room and was allowed to eat. I was not that hungry so the fact that I hadn't brought anything with me was not a problem. About 15 minutes later I was allowed to leave. They explained that the results of the scan would be sent directly to my doctor who should have them in about 10 days.

I am assuming that if the results show any bad news then my doctor would contact me directly. If it's good news it will probably wait until I see him again sometime in October.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Books Online

I know there are a whole lot of entries I should be adding here before this... But I've been spending (wasting) quite a lot of time on this stuff recently and thought I'd mention it.

Library Anything

I've been using Book Collector Pro for many years now to organise my library of books. The program works wonderfully well and the fact that it gets all of its information online makes entry very easy. However, by definition, it's a private program which runs on my computers. In order to share the information I have to publish it on one of my web sites somewhere. I will probably continue to use Book Collector for quite some time to come as there is a lot of information in their database which I can't (yet) store somewhere else.

Library Thing is a completely online library collection service where one can store one's book collection online where it is always available. There are a few big advantages to this. One is what they refer to as "tags". With this notion you can add any sort of tagged information to books to find them, group them or sort them later. Even more interesting is that you can see other people's libraries with the same tags and browse. I find the tag cloud and the author cloud functions quite fun and the statistics function can be quite interesting.

But one of the functions I found to be the most interesting and practical for me is the PDA version of the site. This allows me to access my library, or anyone else's for that matter, directly on my Blackberry or my Palm via the Internet. This can be invaluable as it allows me to see if I already have a book when I'm looking for books in stores or talking to people.

Adding books from Book Collector was really easy as Library Thing works almost entirely with ISBNs. I exported the list of ISBNs from Book Collector, imported them in to Library Thing, waited a few hours while it compared the ISBNs with books in Amazon and elsewhere and when I awoke the next morning I had about 500 books in my online library.

I have since been spending way too much time fine tuning my library entries and browsing around through my library and other people's libraries...

You'll find a couple of new references to Library Thing down on the bottom of the right tool bar...

Book CrossingBook Crossing
Wihle browsing through Library Thing I got sidetracked over to Book Crossing. It looks like another very interesting web concept. We have a whole bunch of books we're about to ged rid of, as the kids have grown out of them, and this looks like a really great way to do so. I immediately set up an account, ordered a bunch of stickers and will start registering books when I get some time. Looks like an interesting project along the same lines as Freecycle while throwing in a lot of literary aspects and references.

Now you know why I've been too busy to update my blog!