Monday, March 26, 2007

Tonsil Cancer Support eGroup

A few days ago I received an invitation to join yet another eGroup. As usual I put this on hold. But I was very pleasantly surprised when I came back to it a couple of days later...

When I was going through the beginnings of my cancer experience (diagnosis, surgery and then treatments) I was starving for information as regards others who had already been through what I was about to go through or was going through. At that time the best site I found was Raph's Tonsil Cancer Page. Raph had been diagnosed with tonsil cancer in August 2003 and had already gone through most of what I was going through. His page was presented like a blog, with some photos and such, and was a great reassurance for me.

The invitation I received a few days ago was from this very same Raph and I knew I had to join. He, and his wife Lee, had created the first Tonsil Cancer Support eGroup. I joined the eGroup, read a few of the stories or others who have been through the same type of experience as I have, or are going through it now, or know others who have/wiil go(ne) through it. It was a wonderful experience. Although I now consider myself a cancer survivor I also know it ain't over yet (or until the proverbial fat lady sings). As you all know I am still going through my regular checkups, tests and scans and I often think what would I do if it came back. I'm therefore still part of the cancer survival experience. I am just now starting to realise that my story is rapidly becoming the sort of good news factual experience I was looking for when I was first diagnosed. I am becoming living proof that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I do not know how long that light will stay lit or how brightly but I'm in the light somehow. When I read others stories it confirms much of what I had said during the beginning of my treatment: every single cancer is different and unique; every single cancer treatment is differenta nd unique; every single cancer victim/survivor is different and unique. When I read of others experiences, and when I go back and look at my blog entries of only a year or so ago, I realise how lucky I am. I eat very well (with slight limitations), I drink well, I taste reasonably well, I speak well (and too much), I swallow well, I suffer from the lack of saliva but not as bad as many and I am generally a happy, heallthy and optimistic survivor. I am still obsessed with such morbid figures as survival rate charts and I smugly place myself in those minority positions on the lower right-hand side of these charts in the "post 2-year survival" positions and I am looking forward to being a proud member of the tiny lower right-hand side of these charts in the "post 5-year survival" positions... I'm counting on it so much you can write my name in the list already.

The eGroup is a very interesting experience for me. It is the first discussion forum which I have foudn which is so specifically related to my experiences. I have found various oral cancer sites, groups and forums. But never anything this specific. It is a bizarre "team" to be a member of. Nonetheless I feel that I am a vital part of this type of group and there is an important exchange in that I feel I have something to share with the group and I know that I enjoy reading from the others in the group. Although I now try to spend the vast majority of my day-to-day life forgetting cancer and trying to make that part of my life an unforgettable and painful "souvenir" or memory it is this type of group that reminds me that cancer will always be part of me and I will always be part of the cancer survivors.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

BBC Prime is back!

I was zapping through the television this afternoon, a bit groggy after a few days or relatively little sleep, and for some reason I stopped on the channel which used to be BBC Prime on our cable stations. Lo and behold it worked!

BBC Prime used to be about 80% of our television viewing and when it disappeared at the beginning of this year we mourned for quite some time. Now it is magically back and a jolt of happiness and joy has passed through our television hearts.

Another discovery, while zapping amongst the myriad of channels, which could take up an awful lot of my time: The Poker Channel!

Talk, talk, talk

In the past 3 nights I've talked more than in the past 3 months!

This to the great dismay of the rest of my family...

We have had friends visiting from the States: the infamous (Life of Dave) David and his lovely wife Sasha. They arrived on Thursday afternoon and I haven't shutup since. I don't really know why but I feel incredibly comfortable with these 2 people, and we have a lot of similar references in our cultural backgrounds which eliminates the need for a lot of explanations often, and I truly enjoy talking with them. I obviously spend too much time alone in front of a computer and these moments of comradery and communication become an explosion of verbal diarrhea as my friends have referred to my condition before. But with the slight memory of so many months where talking was difficult I guess I appreciate it even more.

They would go out and play tourist during the day and the rest of the family would get on with their lives. I say "play tourist" as they used to live here so it's not exactly their first trip to the area. In the evenings we would eat, drink, talk, drink and talk some more. Well... everyone would eat and drink and I would eat, drink and talk, talk, talk...

We would go to sleep relatively late (about 1:30) ending each night with long discussions in the living room while the rest of the family slept or tried to. It was one of the most enjoyable 3 nights I've had in a very long time and I was very sad to let them go this morning...

Back to reality...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

VoD and Regenesis

I started using Video On Demand (VoD) rather accidentally several months ago. I watched the first episode of a Canadian television series on Arte in VoST (version originale – sous-titrée (in the original language with subtitles in comparison to being dubbed in French like the vast majority of programming)). Unfortunately, for whatever reason, I missed the airing of the second episode. But I found the show itself interesting and intriguing (more on that below) and I went to Arte’s web site to find out more about the show. There before me was the Holy Grail.

I had been reading about VoD for quite some time now. But I always thought this was yet another example of modern technology available in the Anglophone countries (America, UK, …) and not (yet) available here in France due to our various isolationist policies and our reluctance to import anything Anglophone and, God forbid, popular. However Arte has its own VoD site where one can download and watch documentaries and certain television shows they air. This series was the first they were offering on VoD and I was certainly going to be one of the first to test it out and show them that there is an interested public.

We have a computer hooked up to the (big) television in the living room. We have a wireless keyboard and mouse which we use from the couch. This is the first step towards a Media Centre and provides a certain amount of functionality which I personally greatly appreciate. As you can imagine I love being able to access the Internet from the living room without having to go to my office or my Blackberry. But we also have replaced the separate DVD player with the computer and run all of our DVDs through the computer. This also gives us the mouse to control the DVD features rather than yet another remote control. We also have a TV tuner card in the computer (Hauppage WinTV-HVR1300) which allows us to watch TV on the computer. But more importantly it allows us to record from the television to the computer. This allows us to record as much television as we want, to watch it over and over again without any notion of wear and tear on the medium (video cassette, DVD, …) and to be able to copy or back it up to other media as often as we wish. Unfortunately I am having a bit of difficulty getting the scheduling feature to work. This is yet another case of the cobbler’s barefoot children as I do not have a lot of time to work on the living room computer as I am spending all my time working on my clients’ computers. Nevertheless we can, and do, manually record television shows and they work wonderfully. When recording from the television, however, the quality of the recording can only be as good as the quality of the broadcast. This depends on the channel we are recording from more than anything else. I have personally always hated the idea that I have to plan recording from television, even in these days of wonderfully automated electronic programming guides (EPGs), one had to pre-plan and pre-think so much so as to choose what one wants to record and when that often much excellent programming gets lost in the mass of media.

One of the fun aspects has been to download and collect various video clips on the computer we can watch whenever we want. These include video clips from enhanced CDs, movie trailers, fun Flash/Shockwave animations and even bits and pieces from our home movies. This has obviously been improved upon, and almost revolutionised, by having You Tube available on our living room television.

But for me personally the Holy Grail, the epitome of the home entertainment experience, has been the notion of the online electronic entertainment library. I have been talking about this in my computing classes for a few years now as my vision of the future of entertainment and we are getting there bit by bit. In my mind the ability to watch what I want when I want, even at a price, is exactly what the convergence of the entertainment system and the Internet should be. I should be able to sit down in my living room, check out a library of programming and movies, pick out what I want to watch, download it and watch it (sometimes simultaneously). I shouldn’t have to have shelves and shelves of DVDs like I have. I shouldn’t have to pre-plan my week finding out what programming is available, scheduling the recording and then finding time to watch what I’ve recorded afterwards. I shouldn’t have to be told when to watch the screen and have to plan it. To repeat: I should be able to sit down when I want and watch what I want.

I guess our digital music system is really spoiling me. With all of our CDs inside of a music server we can all listen to what we want without having to find the specific CD or the song on a CD. With a combination of Sonos and Squeezebox players throughout the house we have the entire music collection everywhere. The Sonos system even plays the Podcasts I download so I don’t have to listen to them on my computer or download them to my iPod first. Nevertheless now that my iPod connects to the car stereo I also no longer have to burn my Podcasts to CDs to be able to listen to them in the car either. The only remaining limitation, and it’s a huge one, is that the current Music on Demand (MoD?) system, whether it be via iTunes or any other online music store, is handicapped by Digital Rights Management (DRM) and crippled quality.

Here on Arte’s VoD site I found I could watch every episode of this television series whenever I wanted. I pick the episode I want, I pay for it (2.49 € per episode) and I download and watch it. I had to try this out. To my great surprise it worked the first time and perfectly. Not only was I able to watch the show immediately, in full-screen looking exactly like a film rather than a computer file, but it was also of a better quality than when I watched the show via cable broadcast. Excellent! This is revolutionary for me. I don’t have to remember to schedule a recording, or find out when the show is on, or make sure no one else is watching something at the same time, or plan on when I will watch it after I record it. I just sit down, decide I feel like watching the next episode and in 7 minutes it’s on and I’m watching it. I watched episode 11, out of 13, last night!

I obviously realised that VoD could be more than just television series. About 95% of Arte’s offerings actually are documentaries many of which are excellent. I then started to look around, without much hope, as I dreamed of being able to have VoD cinema in France like I’ve read about elsewhere. It’s happening slowly but surely. Of course even when I do find French VoD sites the first great limitation is VoST. Most French sites only offer French films or films dubbed in to French. Very few offer films in VoST and when they do the selection is very limited. But it does exist and recently we’ve expanded our family arguments about what to watch on a Friday night to include the VoD offers as well. We’ve watched several movies now from the VoD sites and have been quite pleased with what we’ve seen. I am under whelmed by the selection and choice at the moment. But I hope that will evolve and improve with time. Some of the sites we use:

  • Canal Play: Canal Plus’ VoD site with a reasonable selection of films in VoST and the ability to search/filter for just those --- television series (dubbed), most films are for rental and a (relatively small) selection of films for purchase

  • Virgin Mega VoD: A very good selection of films, some in VoST but no way to search for those separately, some documentaries --- most programming is for rental with a very small selection of films for purchase

  • TF1 Vision: No films in VoST --- most films are for rental and a very small selection of films for purchase

  • Imineo: Huge selection, very few in VoST, all films available for purchase and not rental

  • M6 Video: Lots of television series, a few movies, everything in French or dubbed with nothing in VoST --- all for rental only

  • Vodeo: Exclusively documentaries, almost exclusively in French or dubbed --- all programming available for rental or purchase.

Digital Rights Management (DRM)
DRM is what has killed commercial music downloading for me as well as commercial eBooks. DRM may even kill electronic media distribution completely if it continues to evolve in the direction it is going at the moment. We, the consumers, need to revolt against DRM.

I purchased hundreds of songs from iTunes over the years. Then I got my digital music systems and realised I can’t play my iTunes songs. Then Desney got an MP3 player which is not an iPod and I realised I can’t give her any of these songs either. I want to buy music online. I want to be able to get the music I want immediately and I want to pay the artists, not necessarily the music labels but that’s a different story, for the music I listen to. But I expect to get the same, if not an actually better, experience from this purchase as I would if I had gone to a store and purchased a CD. The fact that I can not use the iTunes songs I purchased nearly as easily, flexibly and on various media as I can with songs I rip myself from my CDs has completely removed me as a customer of DRM-protected musical content. I even went so far as to burn all of my iTunes songs on to CDs and then rip them in to MP3 files so as to add them to my digital music collection. But never again.

In addition the best I can purchase and download (192 kbps) is almost half the quality of what I get when I rip the songs myself from a CD (320 kbps). With digital music at least I have another option: I can always procure a CD and rip the music as I wish. I have to admit that I am now a rather regular customer at our local libraries’ mediathèques where I borrow 7 CDs at a time and rip them to our digital music library.

With eBooks unfortunately there is no other choice. Either I purchase DRM-protected commercial eBooks or I purchase the paper version (hardcover or paperback). There are a certain number of DRM-free eBooks. But these tend to be older (public domain) publications or textbooks. As an avid Palm user I purchased over 70 eBooks over the years. I adored reading them on my Palm and especially being able to carry a dozen books or more with me wherever I may be. Then I got a Blackberry. The same would be true if I got a Windows Mobile device instead which I will more than likely be doing in the relatively near future. I found out that I could not transfer the eBooks I had purchased for my Palm on to my Blackberry. I then realised there were very few places I could transfer my DRM-protected eBooks at all. There are some I can’t even read on my Tablet PC! That decided it for me. eBooks could have been the electronic revolution to get people like me reading again by providing the “always available” convenience of having books with me wherever my handheld device was. The other great advantage for me personally was being able to buy English language books as soon as they came out rather than having to wait a very long time, sometimes years, for them to come out in France if ever. But I will no longer purchase a DRM-protected eBook.

As regards VoD there are 2 choices: either we can rent a film which we can watch for a limited time (generally 48 to 72 hours after the first viewing or in some cases up to 7 days) or we can purchase the film. In my opinion the rental prices should be the same as, or actually cheaper than, renting videos in a video rental store. This is especially true as there is no media production price nor the need for handling back and forth. However VoD rentals are actually a bit more expensive than normal video rentals. Most films run around 5 € for a VoD rental. Generally you can rent the DVD for about 3 or 4 € for a day or two and you can buy the DVD for about 20 €. Purchasing a move via VoD, on the other hand, does tend to be cheaper than buying the DVD: about 12 or 14 € in comparison to 20 to 25 €. Where it falls apart for me is the aspect that I find the most interesting: individual television episodes. I pay 2.49 € per episode to watch my favourite series. I can watch each episode for 48 hours after that my file is no longer valid. At the end of a 13-episode season rented this way I will have paid 32.37 € and can not watch the episodes again. But I can generally buy an entire season of a given series on DVD, which I can watch as often as I want and as long as it lasts, for about 25 €. Even though this isn’t going to be stop me, as I am currently willing to pay the price for this type of freedom and flexibility, this is the type of thing that needs to evolve and change.

The PC as a game console
One of the other reasons I had hooked up a computer to our computer, aside from professional reasons which were appropriate at the time, was to prove that the PC could be a better game console than a Playstation (now PS3), a GameCube or even an Xbox 360 who's graphics I find unbeatable. I went out and got 2 wireless gamepads (Logitech Cordless Rumblepads), spent a weekend trying to get them to work simultaneously and tried out a few PC games. Every now and then, hopefully more then than now, I have to admit it: I was wrong. The PC, at the moment, just does not live up to the game consoles for the gaming experience. It should. It's got better graphics, better connectivity and better processing power. But it just has not been oriented towards games (yet). The games look great on the screen and, in my opinion, better than on most consoles. The XBox 360 comes close. But it's practically impossible to play with more than one person at a time and almost all of the games appear to be designed for one person sitting in front of a screen with a mouse and a keyboard in front of them. It just doesn't work as a living room game experience.

I have been reading about Nintendo's Wii for quite some time now and finally got the chance to actually play with one in a store. Having spoken to many people who have used it I was intellectually prepared for the experience. But the feeling itself is just plain wonderful. The revolution is the gamepads, or remote controls, which completely immerse the player in the game and (finally) get the player off of his/her ass to play. This is not the couch potato's game console. I had seen the advert. When you play golf you get up and swing the club; when you play baseball you stand and swing the bat; when you bowl you... well... bowl. But without the heavy ball. This is what the game playing experience should be like. You'll find one in our living room sometime soon...

All of this started because I watched the first episode of a Canadian series called Regenesis. My children recognised immediately that this was going to be my kind of show. In their minds it’s all about a bunch of scientists who work with modern technology and talk gibberish. The show is about a bunch of bioscientists (geeks), who are workaholics obsessed with their jobs, experts in their field and who work solving problems under stress every day of their lives. I admit it. I can relate. But the major enjoyment for me is that these are geeks with lives. There is one stereotypical geek who is unable to properly live and communicate in the real world with people and is much more comfortable in the science lab. But there is only one of those! The lead character is an internationally-renowned bioscientific expert (Ubergeek) who, in addition to finding viruses and cures and genetic advances, actually is quite cool: he curses like a truck driver, drinks regularly, smokes grass and has sex with most of the sexiest females who appear in the episodes (scientists, victims, intelligence agents, …). That is what a geek should be like and that is what *I* watch the show for! These people may work with biotechnology rather than computers and converged tech but I can definitely relate. The dialogue tends to be quite intelligent, sometimes a bit too scientific or technical for most people’s tastes I can assume, and it is a real pleasure for me to watch. Their web site ain’t bad either and I’ve just started listening to their Podcast. I’m a fan.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

My eyes are older than I am

I went to the eye doctor today... just a checkup... I knew my eyeglasses needed replacing... it's been a long time...

The last time I went, about 2 years ago, I was getting contact lenses. Unfortunately not too longer after getting the contact lenses I got sick and stopped wearing them. I therefore went back to my old eyeglasses. However it's been obvious lately, for several months now, that I have to take my eyeglasses off when I want to see something close and if something's too far away it gets even more blurry than usual.

Because she askedm I explained to the doctor what I had been through since I had last seen her. She was rather compassionate about everything, gentle and kind. She said that because of the combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy my eyes were going to be too dry for contacts for at least another 3 years. She also had a look at the back of my eyes, with some special drops which sting like hell, and said that my left eye will now always age quicker than my right eye. She could see scars from the radiation therapy behind my left eye as they went right up to behind my ear both surgically and with the radiation.

Apparently my eyes are about 47 to 50 years old now... so I need "progressive lenses". I think the closest translation would probably be bifocals. I'm going to be getting new eyeglasses as soon as possible... I will probably go with something bright-coloured and cheery to take attention away from the rest of my face and to more than likely embarass my children...

I'll post pix here with my new look...

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Life WITHOUT cancer goes on...

Today was my horrific quarterly checkup. Same old, Same old.

Anesthesia in the nostrils and throat; cameras up the nose and down the throat; stick out my tongue and let him shove his rubber-gloved finger down my throat without gagging, ... the routine.

Even with the Xanax beforehand and all the relaxation techniques I could think of it still is ridiculously torturous.

But it is (almost) worth it when it ends in good news. This is what I wait 4 months for. This is what I worry about at least several times a week which is already an improvement over daily. This is the only reassurance, albeit temporary, I can get.

He found nothing suspicious in me at all. No cancer there!

He was very pleased with everything he saw which means I was even more pleased. He nonchalantly gave me the rest of the schedule in his mind:

Quarterly checkup in July;
CAT scan in September;
Quarterly checkup in November

If the CAT scan results look good in November then I get to reduce my checkup to twice a year rather than three times a year which is nothing but good news.

After my CAT scan results I can also go back to my beloved general practitioner and start talking about getting them to remove the catheter port from my chest. Another hope...

I also spoke to him about sun as we are starting to have beautiful days here. Unfortunately I still have to avoid the sun as much as possible and he was unable/not willing to tell me for how long. I will have to wear a total screen cream on my scar and my irradiated neck skin, cover it with Biafine in the evening and drink twice as much water when exposed to the sun. There had to be some not so good news along with the rest.

I got out of there feeling physically awful as always but with a big stupid grin on my face. Back home to sleep of the anesthesia for a while. Unfortunately as the anesthesia starts to wear off my nostrils start to remind me that they just had a camera pumped through them and they're not happy. But I really don't care and pain is nothing if not relative...

Today is March 13th, 2007 and I do not have cancer!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Power tools are for the young

As many of you are aware Desney is redoing our garden(s). I obviously should be helping about a thousand times more than I do. But today was just one of those manly events I could not miss out on.

We are replacing our old brick terrace in the back garden. We are still deciding what we are replacing it with. But we are certain that it is going. It was a beautiful morning so I had no excuse. I went off to Kiloutou and rented a Jackhammer to start some serious destruction. This was the first time I ever used one of these and probably the last. This power tool is basically every boy's dream: a powerful machine which allows me to break things, make a big mess, crush and shatter, make a lot of noise and show man's absolute power over naturally big and hard things such as rocks and stone. I have to admit it was a great feeling breaking up the stone in to little bits.

Feeling as healthy as I do lately, in sharp comparison to how I felt a year ago, I forget that I am not Superman or even just a man about 20 years younger than I actually am. About 10 minutes after starting I knew I had made a mistake. However I had rented this thing for the day, the job needed doing no matter what and I was damned if I was going to give up. Sheer stubborness has got to be the cause of the greatest number of accidents and physical ailments. The jackhammer itself weighed a ton (actually about 18 kg but it felt like a ton). Lifting the thing, holding it in place precisely where one needed and then angling it to displace the pieces and such while the shuttering operation was basically slowly destroying my lower back was just plain painful. I went upstairs and got my "back belt" and I would break up rock for 10 minutes, bend over and pick out the pieces from the rubble and pile them up, sit down for 5 minutes in lower back agony leaning up against the wall, and repeat the process over and over again. Sheer stubborness won over and the job was done. I'm sure a younger man, or one if reasonable physical shape and not a physically lazy office worker such as myself, would have finished the job in an hour and a half, gone off and had a couple of beers and then gone off and tackled another rock quarry somewhere else. I, on the other hand, finished the job, took a shower and immediately took a couple of pain relievers and lied down. I knew perfectly well who I would be calling first thing Monday morning: my beloved chiropractor.

I will be seeing my chiropractor as quickly as possible as of Monday morning. I haven't seen him since I was sick so he's in for a bit of a shock and a story. But I am really hoping he's going to put me back in shape quickly. However I've learned a bit more about just how bad chimotherapy was. Up until cancer treatment the worst pain I had ever felt was my various episodes with sciatica and my herniated disc in my lower vertebrae. Not being able to stand up straight, not being able to walk without a crutch sometimes, painfuly in the slightest movement. That was really some of the worst pain I had felt. Some of my back episodes were worse than what I recall of appendicitis. Severe back pain was just plain deblitating and crippling. This is the first time I've had it again since my cancer treatments. Although it is extremely painful, and probably just as much as before, it has made me realise how bad chemo was because this is nothing in comparison. Everything in life has become even more relative than before, even pain and maybe pain more than anything else, as I know for certain... this too shall pass.

Monday, March 05, 2007

That new car smell

As many of you loyal readers are aware I lease my car through my company. The lease ends at the end of 2 years and the car then gets replaced with a new leased car for another 2 years and so on and so forth.

Today was the exchange of cars. I was very impressed with the service as this time they actually came to our home, delivered the new car and drove off with the "old" one. I had been negotiating the various aspects of the new car for about 3 months now so I had a good idea what to expect. I had signed the contract at least 6 weeks ago. But it's always a pleasant surprise when a new car drives in to your garage and you know it's yours.

I took exactly the same model as before (Renault Mégane). The only major differences are that this one has one more horsepower (7 instead of 6) than the previous one and it's black instead of royal blue. I appear to be in the minority in my family as regards the choice of colour and they'll probably never forgive me for it.

As a loyal customer I was able to negotiate a few options while maintaining the same monthly price as I was paying before. One was just for fun: a sun roof. I haven't had a car with a sun roof since California and it was a lot of fun to sit in the garage, open it up and stare up at... uh... the ceiling. I'm sure it will be a lot more fun to look up at the stars or the sun whenever I finally get the nerve to pull this beautiful thing out of the garage and in to the frighteningly dangerous "real world".

The other option which I felt particularly strong about was a box to allow me to connect my iPod, or any other digital audio player). When I take long drives, to Normandy for example, I tend to download specific Podcasts and then I have to burn them to CDs to be able to listen to them in the car. There is even one which I particularly enjoy, the Engadget Podcast, which I can't even get to fit on CDs and therefore can't listen to it in the car. As many of you are aware I have a reasonably impressive digital music collection with currently over 1,000 albums or 18,000 songs. It seems ridiculous to me, in the 21st century, to have to burn my songs to CDs every time I want to listen to them in the car. As you can see the iPod connection was one of the most eagerly anticipated aspects of the new car. To summarise: it didn't work.

I found the box in the glove compartment, which the dealer had proudly showed to me but had never tested, and the 3 different cables for the 3 different types of connections. I plugged in the iPod and I could see that it recognized the connection. The Renault logo appeared on the screen of the iPod. But no sound came out. This was one of those rare cases where I actually cracked open the manual. I realise there are several readers who have known me for years who find this act completely unbelievable. But exceptional circumstances require exceptional measures. I followed exactly what it said in the manual, as well as a few bright (or not so bright) ideas of my own, and still no sound came out. I called the leasing company. They sent me off to the neared Renault dealership as it turns out this is the first time they have installed one of these new ultra-modern devices in one of their cars and they were unaware of the specific and complex functions. I was personally unaware that the concept of playing music from an iPod through a box which was supposedly designed specifically for that purpose was exceptional.

I found the nearest Renault dealership, in Asnières, and showed up with my iPod Nano, my iPod Shuffle and a USB Key with some MP3 files on them. After about a half-hour of talking to 3 different "technicians" they sent me to a bigger Renault dealership in Courbevoie. They were unhappy that I was coming to them with a problem with a system which they had not installed. They sent me to a total of 5 different departments (ateliers) before I finally just gave up and came home.

Once at home, in the pleasurably dry situation of my garage as it was raining outside, I started plugging in the various equipment to be able to report what I had tried and did not work.

  • I plugged in the Nano and this did not work. I knew this already

  • I plugged in the Shuffle, through the headphone jack, and... it worked!!!

  • I plugged in the USB key, expecting it to work as the Shuffle had, and it did not work

I felt as though I had made a landmark discovery and should be congratulated by the entire Renault organisation throughout the world and immediately. However the iPod still did not work and I was not going to driving around with this amazing new contraption and only able to listen to the sounds stored on a Shuffle.

Looking through the manual they described, in several different languages, how there is a sort of priority system: if the headphone jack is plugged in to a device it works and the others don't; if the USB key is plugged in to a device then that works and the iPod does not; if the iPod is plugged in and nothing else is plugged in then it shoudl work. But this is what I had been doing. Each time I had only plugged in one device to its cable. A lightbulb lit above my head in my comic book universe...

I unplugged all 3 cables in the glove compartment and rolled them up neatly. I plugged in the Shuffle to the headphone jack cable and plugged it in to the box and it worked. This was a step sideways as this already worked. I unplugged that cable. I plugged the USB key to the USB cable and plugged it in to the box and it worked. A major step forward. I unplugged that cable. I plugged the iPod Nano to the iPod cable and with a hand shaking with excitement plugged it in to the box. Eureka! Sounds!!

The box works with only one cable plugged in at a time. Duh!

I left the Nano plugged in, neatly rolled up the 2 other cables for future use, pumped up the volume and bopped my head up and down in sheer audial pleasure for as long as I could stand it.

As you can see from this rather long explanation: For me a car needs to get me from A to B as easily and reliably as possible. Therefore I don't care that much about the motor, the innards, the mechanics and the various practical elements of the machine. It's the accessories that makes my car... mine!

Sunday, March 04, 2007


I obviously should have written this as the event was happening as there are several days of wonderful experiences to write about and they are simply going to be forgotten. I am writing this a week later...

I accompanied 6 students from Jessica's school, including Jessica herself, to the Genoa Model United Nations (GeMUN) in Genoa, Italy. Through a various combination of political changes in our country and a personal need to get away for a while I ended up accompanying our student delegates rather than one of the school teachers. The event was happening during our school holidays.

It took us a half a day to get there (drive out to Beauvais airport, catch an incredibly cheap Ryan Air flight to Milan and take a minibus taxi from Milan to Genoa). We were greeted by the families who would be hosting the students and I was taken to register our school at the event. I was then left to wander around Genoa for the rest of the afternoon and that's exactly what I did. I walked and walked and walked for over 4 hours all over town. It was wonderful. The weather was nice and dry and neither too cold nor too hot... just right.

I listened to people talking while I ate my ice cream or coffee wherever I stopped and I tried to reply in my best pigeon Italian whenever possible. As always hand and body language is such a vital part of Italian communication, and everyone knows I have that down pact, that I could get my point across long before I ever opened my mouth. As everyone knows if you want to shut Derek up hit him with a serious dose of throat cancer, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. As you can see it takes weapons of mass destruction to shut me up. But, amazingly and wonderfully, even that is only temporary. If you really want to shut Derek up for the moment, and at any moment, just get him to put his hands in his pockets. Due to a wonderful combination of Italian and Eastern European Jewish ancestry the man is practically completely incapable of communication without his hands. In the evening I went out for dinner at a local pizzeria and just watched everyone else talking. The hands flying about the tables, with miraculously nothing being knocked over, and the wonderfully exaggerated facial expressions as everyone looks each other directly in the face as they speak. It was like my last trip to Israel... it just felt like home.

I spent whatever moments I wasn't at the event walking and walking and walking. I spent evenings eating wonderful food... I took breaks in the afternoon for amazing cups of coffee (cappucino generally) and I had ice cream as often as I could. I discovered that Italian ice cream is even better than Haagen Daaz for my throat as it seems to coat the inside of my throat thicker and for a longer time than Haagen Daaz. If I lived there I would get a doctor to prescribe a couple of scoops twice daily.

We spent the next 3 days with our students, including and especially the jewel in my crown in my obviuosly compltely unbiased opinion {vbg}, doing an absolutely brilliant job in the conferences of the model United Nations. There were private schools from around the world participating (Lebannon, Cyprus, Egypt, Portugal, Poland, Russia, Korea, Turkey and of course Italy) and our girls were just plain outstanding. In any given conference there are maybe 20% of the delegates who truly participate: standing up and defending their clauses, debatting the others' clauses and getting their resolutions through using all of the very realistic political methodology. In each of the 3 conferences our students participated in absolutely all of our 6 students were in that 20% and I was proud of them all at the end of every day and I'm not even their teacher. It was a particular pleasure to watch Jessica get up, quite regularly and sometimes annoyingly regularly {g}, and absolutely eloquently present her arguments with her wonderful English accent with bizarre American overtones every now and then.

At the end of the event, out of the several hundreds of delegates, 6 delegates are awarded Best Delegate for their specific conference. One of our students won a Best Delegate award!

The organisation of just about every aspect of the event was deplorably, ridiculously bad. But I will not go in to that... it's just not worth it and in the end we all managed to have a great time and nothing was penalised.

The event ended with a disco event for the kids which was ridiculous as these European adults weren't allowed alcohol and were thrown in to a tiny room to dance. They all ended up leaving and going elsewhere to drink and dance their Saturday night away. I then spent most of Sunday afternoon trying to find them around town and get them assembled together to prepare our departure.

After a quick visit to the Genoa Aquarium we made the reverse trip home on what was the hottest and most beautiful day of our trip. I don't believe anyone really wanted to go home including myself. Worst of all, for the students, was the knowledge that tomorrow morning was the first day back in school after a fortnight of holiday.

We got home a little after midnight and went to bed dreaming a bit about the days we had just passed and a bit about the future...