Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Random Act of Kindness

Today was supposed to an uneventful day, one of the last before I head back to work next Monday. For most of the day it was uneventful until I headed out for PT, and made the fateful decision to take a route to I-4 that lead down Hollywood Way (from Turkey Lake) right onto Universal Blvd, which led directly to I-4 east. It was after I'd just turned onto Universal that a car came very close around my right front and I swerved left to avoid them. I hit a low curb with the left front tire and blew out the tire's sidewall. The other car, in such a hurry to get around me, kept right on going.

And that's the way it was, with heavy traffic flowing around, and no-one bothering to stop (there were a number of witnesses). It didn't take long to see I was going to need to put the spare on, the problem being my healing leg getting in the way. So I decided to use, just this once, my AAA Premier service I pay over $300/year for to see if they could schedule a wrecker over to at least help me change the tire. When I called at 1:45 pm, I was informed by AAA that they couldn't get anyone there before 2:45 pm. I called my wife right after to have her call the PT folks and let them know I wasn't going to make it.

While sitting there waiting for the wrecker, a car came around the front and parked. Out stepped a young woman named Julianne. She works at Universal. She was on her way home from a shift that had started at 5:30 that morning. She was still bright and cheerful and asked if everything was OK. I was able to quickly explain what had happened and she could see the now-fully-flat front tire. When I told her how long it would take for a AAA representative to arrive, she asked if there wasn't some way to change the tire between the two of us. She offered to do it herself if not for the fact she was pregnant. So here we two were, a crippled old man and a pregnant young girl, deciding to change the tire.

I pulled out the manual, then pulled out the doughnut spare and the tools. I managed to get down on the ground, hook up the simple car jack, and between the two of us we got the car up and the tire changed.
And all the time we were doing this the traffic kept flowing around us, non-stop. The only time any traffic did stop was if any cars were trapped by traffic in the other lanes. Then the drivers would sit and glower at us for the temerity of getting in their way, until traffic cleared to their left and they could whip around us.

I was so happy to have Julianne, if for no other reason than to have her standing nearby in her bright traffic jacket, to keep me company and to let others on the road know I had a problem.

It took about 30 minutes to change the tire and have everything put away. When finished she bid me safe travel and left to finish her interrupted journey home.

What struck me about her was her cheerful enthusiasm to help, and her idealism. This is what always causes me to stop and think about our young, especially our children. The majority of our young, of every generation, always start out strongly idealistic and willing to dive enthusiastically into whatever task crosses their path. Julianne was kind, considerate, and concerned. Far more so than her elders who were streaming around the two of us on their way to whatever was that was so important to them. That is what separates her cohorts from mine; we oldsters wind up having our idealism ground down and we develop an attitude of entitlement, that whatever we have we've earned and thus deserve, no matter what. We don't have time for small acts of charity.

I was able to drive (slowly) down to Courtesy Toyota on 436 where I had them order a new Bridgestone replacement for $140. Tomorrow I drive back (slowly) and they'll put it on and check the alignment. I have no idea what I'll wind up paying totally for this little incident.

In spite of the cost and lost time, I came away a good deal richer today that when I started. I started off rather cynically, yet I ended the day with a good deal of hope for the future. Julianne reminded me of all the good that is in people, especially the young and young at heart. Thank you, Julianne, for helping me today.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

More Progress

Customer Service
I have been making reasonable (some might say remarkable) progress this week towards healing in my left knee. I'm pushing myself to do as much exercise as reasonable while I'm still off from work. I've been mixing workouts at RDV in the therapy pool as well as regular "dry land" PT, to the point where I'm doing something every day. I've been doing that now for nearly two weeks.

For many of you this may not sound like much, but this past Sunday, three weeks to the day after being discharged from Florida Hospital, I was able to drive to RDV and the pool. And I've been driving every since. Not very far and not for long, but still. Tonight I was able to take both Labs, together, for a regular one mile walk in the neighborhood. They were ecstatic.

I'm on track to go back to work next Monday, four weeks after the partial knee replacement. My company is still allowing time off for me to go three days/week in the afternoons to RDV for continuing PT through December. I still have tightness around the knee, like a large rubber band, but flexibility and strength are returning at a rapid and constant rate. I haven't felt this good, this positive, in a very long time.

In addition to my physical well being I've also been just playing with the Sony NEX-5N. Every time I think I'm on the verge of putting it down for good, I take it out one more time and just adopt a don't-care attitude. I just play rather loose, experimenting with it. And I'm slowly discovering that I'm beginning to like how it works, if I use it like a Sony instead of like an Olympus.

In particular I'm depending more and more on the out-of-camera JPEGs. All but one of the photos were SOOC, with only cropping and down-sampling applied. I've tuned the Sony to produce JPEGs that are far different (to me) that what I would have done if I'd post processed everything in Lightroom. For color I'm using Standard, but tuned with Contrast set to -1, Saturation set to -1, and Sharpness set to 0 (the default). If I do Black and White, I have Contrast set to -1. I have DRO set to Lv4. And that's what I use for everything. Everything else is set to auto, such as white balance and ISO. I run the camera in aperture priority.

The results out of the camera are softer, without the harsh sharpness I tended towards with the Olympus cameras. There's more detail in the photos, especially in the shadows and highlights. The photos just look brighter all the way around.

And I'm also noticing just how powerful the tilting LCD is. I'm now developing a technique where I hold the camera down in my hands, pointing to my left or my right, with the LCD tilted up. It reminds me an awful lot of how I just to get candids with my old Mamiya c300f back in the day (no, I'm not making that up). Hold up a camera, any camera, while you're looking at the subject and you'll immediately draw the subjects attention. But hold the camera in an way that's "non-photographic" and I've noticed you're pretty much ignored.

The tilting LCD also allows for different perspectives. I used the E-3's LCD for pretty much the same thing. Unlike the E-3, the 5N is a lot lighter and smaller. Even with the LCD tilted out the whole camera is pretty much swallowed up in my rather large hands.

And the shutter is so quiet compared to the Pens I still have. And the release and focus are very very fast. It makes for an fast and flexible documenting camera.
It's what's for dinner
Aluminum burito
Indoor eating
Out-of-business again
This last photo, taken tonight while my wife and I were out to supper, is the one image I manipulated from RAW. In spite of working with it in RAW I did very little. I increased the saturation a bit, and dropped the blacks a bit. And I applied Lightroom's automatic lens correction for the Sony 18-55mm. And that's it. Everything else was left as the camera selected it.
Dream Possible
I'm at a bit of a quandary at this point. I could throw more money at the Sony camera in the form of more lenses and a second body. Or I could follow through and throw that same money at Olympus. For example, I could get the lovely, just released Sony 10-18mm f/4 E zoom (effective 15-27mm) ultra-wide-angle for the 5N. It costs close to $900, which makes it rather expensive to me. That's pretty much the cost of an Olympus E-M5 body. According to a review on Luminous Landscape it looks to be more than decent, with the reviewer calling it "a keeper." Before I do that, however, I may just go ahead and pick up a copy of the "consumer grade" Sigma 19mm (effective 28mm). With the sensor as good as it is on the 5N, I find I don't have this crazy need for fast glass anymore, especially in low light situations. And I remember how I spent $650 on the Olympus Standard Grade Zuiko 9-18mm (effective 18-36mm) and used it quite a bit, and was happy to have it.

Physically (physical therapy) and photographically (shutter therapy) I've been making positive progress, and it makes me happy. They each seem to be reinforcing the other, and I certainly can't complain about that.

Update 28 November

I broke down and recreated the top photo from RAW. The color balance, once I started to look at it on other devices (especially the Nexux 7) was too yellow. So I went into the RAW file and adjusted to take out the yellow cast and to look as close as possible to the in-camera JPEG. It's more contrasty than the original, but I think that's OK.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Shutter Therapy

Suburban Composition
My personal road to knee surgery recovery continues. Today was my second visit to RDV, with more exercise. More tissue is healing and more feeling is returning across the knee. Flexibility continues to slowly increase. In spite of the increased flexibility I'm still just a passenger, which requires that my wife drive us around. When we arrive at any given destination I get out and help do whatever is necessary, such as carry items to the car.

This photo was taken as a local Bubbalous we'd stopped at to pick up our smoked Thanksgiving turkey. On the way back to the car I spied this combination of items which triggered something odd in my mind. Right before we left I grabbed a shot of this with my Olympus E-P2 and the Panasonic 20mm opened up to f/1.7, the 20's fastest aperture. Ignoring the "quality" of the image for the moment I want to direct your attention the lack of distortion in the photo, all those very straight lines. The JPEG was converted from Raw (ORF) in Lightroom 4.2, with no distortion correction applied. The straight lines came right out of the camera as it were.

Compare this to the latest Olympus 1.8/17mm µ4:3rds lens which Olympus is currently selling for $500. Just about everyone who's tested the lens has damned it with faint praise, except for Lenstip, who came right out and bluntly stated that "it lags behind everything you were used to when dealing with Olympus optics." One particular con was "very high distortion", especially in Raw. When the lens was announced I'd thought I might get the new 17mm and sell the slower 2.8/17mm and Lumix 1.7/20mm. But now, maybe not.

Lucy To The Vet
Earlier in the day we drove Lucy in her new fancy carrier to see the vet. This is her yearly checkup. She was vocal on the way over to the vet. Once in the examination room we let her out and she was happy until the vet wanted to check her ears. That's when she tried mightily to climb back into her carrier. The vet used the carrier to help hold her, and her ears were cleaned. On the way back home she was very quiet and snuggled down into her carrier. Funny how that works out.

Technical

It was good to have the Olympus E-P2 and the Panny 20mm with me today. The Panasonic 20mm image quality is superb, especially when compared to the Sony E-mount 18-55mm, and it would appear, to Olympus' latest 17mm. I have discovered the real differences between the Olympus Pens and the Sony NEX. If you have the time to compose the photo, and are in an artistic mood, then the Pen and its various primes are my go-to tools. But if I have to grab-and-go and I need to know I'll have something reasonably adequate no matter what, then the NEX is the camera to use. It's also the best camera to set up on automatic and hand to someone else. All those photos of my MAKOplasty were taken by the nurse after I set the 5N to full auto. And they all turned out just fine. I'm going to keep both systems.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Walkabout

Christmas at Sears 2012
Every day I get out of the house by running small local "errands" with my wife. I ride in the front passenger seat while my wife drives. I can't drive until I get a clean bill of health to do so from the surgeon. While I walk where-ever I stop, my left leg still lacks the flexibility to bend far enough for comfortable and safe driving. It's certainly gaining in flexibility from one day to the next, but I'm not back to the same level of flexibility I had pre-operation. But as I've written before, I'm no longer at the same level of pain either. I am, for the most part, pain free.

Today's trip was to Sears at West Oaks Mall in Ocoee. We had to return some items we couldn't use. On the way up to the store's second story we passed a lot of merchandise that was marked 10% off. We also passed all the trappings for an early Christmas, including this sparse display. The pink flying pig in the foreground was going for $80. Snooppy on the mailbox was $10 more. And wouldn't you know it, but the wife wanted to get the pink flying pig. I said no...

I don't know what's happening to this particular Sears store, but there was a person out on the main road leading to the store flashing a sign about a big 10% off sale going on at that specific Sears store. West Oaks Mall has been a poster child of the poor economy since 2008. Fully 50% of the stores, both in the mall as well as around the perimeter, are closed. My wife and I wondered if Sears is getting ready to shut this store down, leaving the store at Florida Mall as the only store on this side of town.
On Sale
Walking through this Sears was depressing. Lots of minimal displays with cheap merchandise. A classic example of cheap were these Vivitar V25 Freelance digital "cameras." I remember Vivitar from the 1970s and 1980s. I still have a 90mm Series 1 Minolta mount lens, and it's as good now as the day I purchased it. But Vivitar fell on hard times and the brand name was shuffled off to several different owners. Today it's owned by Sakar International out of Edison New Jersey. Now, all they seem to produce is junk, like this $20 digital "camera".

It's tough growing old. I once worked for Sears in Atlanta back in 1973 as a freshman attending college. Back then both Sears and Penney's were at the height of their game as far as department stores were concerned. All the stores were of good quality as was the merchandise we sold. Especially the camera equipment. But a lot has certainly changed over the last 40 years. I feel I'm waiting for all the old department store chains (Sears, Penney's, and K-Mart) to finish dying.

Technical

As much as I want to hold the Pens in my hands again, I keep hauling the Sony NEX-5N with me. It is faster focusing with greater assurance than any of the Pens I have, especially in limited indoor lighting. The 5N, combined with the 18-55mm lens, is an excellent cost-effective reportage camera, especially if the images are going to the web.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Aftermath

I didn't realize it until I went back and looked, but it's been a year and a day since I first had to deal with my left knee, other than to use it and ignore it. It was a year ago that I took my first trip to the hospital emergency room and from there to physical therapy and then more doctors, leading up to the MAKOplasty operation two weeks ago.

Since that event I've been home recuperating, daily following the directions of the physical therapy people to slowly gain complete reuse of the left knee, and the left leg. The pain caused by the loss of cartilage within the joint is gone. Completely gone. The pain I feel now is different, more a healing pain, and far less intense than before the operation. My walking is limited, but I no longer walk with a limp. That's gone completely.

The only issue at the moment is lack of flexibility in the left knee. It's still swollen, but the swelling goes down slowly but steadily. The home-based PT helps me to build up flexibility in the knee, although somewhat painfully. The pain is not intense and subsides rather quickly after PT, especially when cold is applied. I've got a trip scheduled to the surgeon next Monday for a follow-up examination. I will probably spend one more week at home, transitioning to external physical therapy again at RDV Sportsplex in Maitland.

The Rest of the World

I voted by absentee ballot because the presidential election last week was the Tuesday right after I'd gotten home from the hospital. Based on all the reports about long lines and waits it's a good thing I did.

I could, as one commenter wrote to an earlier post, gloat a bit. But I won't. Frankly I see nothing to gloat about. We have nearly insurmountable problems with our economy and sequestration (the "fiscal cliff" we face in January), global warming, terrorism, China's surging nationalism, Iran's nuclear ambitions, the ongoing economic collapse in the Euro zone, and many more issues beyond those mentioned. During the campaigns neither candidate offered any real tangible solutions (or hint of a solution) for any of those problems, tending to ignore a few of them altogether (specifically global warming).

Closer to home I was embarrassed yet again that Florida can't count... its votes in a timely fashion. Florida didn't officially declare for Obama until the Saturday after Tuesday. It didn't matter anyway; Obama won without Florida. Florida had become an irrelevant footnote to the process, helped in no small part by our current governor Rick Scott and his rubberstamp Republican-based state house. Many of us in Florida have seen Scott run roughshod over our ability to vote, especially cutting back on early voting and contributing to the long delay in the final tally. If there was any reason to limit Scott to one term, then how Florida's 2012 presidential election turned out is the final straw.

The map you see above is a more nuanced and sophisticated voting map for the presidential election. It is based on individual counties and includes both Republican and Democratic voting mixed together. The "spikes" include population density, especially over large urban centers. Note that the large spikes are Democratic or heavily leaning Democratic. The deep red areas indicating Republican are in the west. Note the large Democratic voting oasis in New Mexico. If you want to read the article and the individuals that created this graphic then read this.

Jesus Wasn't a Capitalist
16 And, behold, one came and said to him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? 17 And he said to him, Why call you me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if you will enter into life, keep the commandments. 18 He said to him, Which? Jesus said, You shall do no murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and your mother: and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 20 The young man said to him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? 21 Jesus said to him, If you will be perfect, go and sell that you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. 22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

23 Then said Jesus to his disciples, Truly I say to you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. 24 And again I say to you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

Matthew 19, American King James Version
I quote this in light of all the money the conservative billionaire-funded super-PACs spent on this election, such as Karl Rove and Crossroad's $300 million "investment" in the election.

Monday, November 05, 2012

At home recuperating

Day One Recouperating
They discharged me Sunday afternoon from the hospital. I'm home ensconced in my big leather recliner in the TV room to keep the knee up at a proper level. I get up to go to the head because I'm drinking lots of water to rid my body of the residual anesthesia. That gives me lots of opportunities to exercise the knee.  I've also got plenty of time to do my 11 physical therapy exercises three times a day. Thing hurt, but it's a healing hurt, and I'm taking my sweet time to make sure I don't do anything wrong. The physical therapists at Florida Hospital worked with me Friday, Saturday and Sunday to go over the key exercises. Today I'm flying solo. Starting tomorrow for the next two weeks I'll have a nurse come by once/day to check and make sure progress is being made and nothing goes wrong.

And of course I have my security camera with me. Photo was taken with the Sony in black and white and post processed on my wife's Macbook Pro. I resized it in Olympus Viewer 2. I tried to use iPhoto for my very limited post processing needs, but iPhoto is so limited it makes Viewer 2 look like a programming marvel. I'm not saying Viewer 2 is bad. I'm saying iPhoto is very bad.

The photo: Yes, that's Helen Mirren playing Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Jane Tennison in "Prime Suspect 6: The Last Witness." And that's my walker, and my socked feet, and lots of books and DVDs Blu-rays all around. So I sit and sleep, chase the cat off my knee, watch some Netflix, read some on the web, do my PT, take my meds, and stay home bound. Very. Home. Bound.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

So I got myself a new (partial) knee

Right before surgery
WARNING: NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH

After a year of limping and increasing pain in the left knee, I finally went under the knife on Friday to have a partial knee replacement. I'd already gotten three separate opinions that all said essentially the same thing: the knee was a bit of a mess and needed some degree of work/reconstruction/whatever. I eventually went with the Florida Hospital Fracture Care Center. My wife had her left knee replaced by them (a second time) in 2008. Her surgeon was Dr. J. Dean Cole. I knew and trusted the group, but I was still too chicken to do it before now. My surgeon from that group was Dr. Brian Vickaryous (pronounced "vicarious" or simply Dr. V). I like Dr. V for a number of reasons, but the most important is his past. In the mid-2000s he was a Major in the Army and an orthopedic surgeon with the 8th Forward Surgical Team in Iraq (In Iraq, 'it's us versus death'; Mass.-based unit on constant call). Dr. V has seriously got his act together.

Another major reason for going with Dr. V was his MAKOplasty robot. Yes, there's a robot in involved, the MAKO Rio. And you know how I am about robots; if there's a robot involved then I have to get involved.
Like a scene from the Andromeda Strain (or measure twice, cut once)
Like a scene from the "Andromeda Strain",  Dr. V (left) and a nurse are prepping my left knee for surgery
There's a fair amount of preparation involved. Monday before the surgery I had a CT scan performed on the left leg. They used the scan to build a model of my leg, then used that to help program the Rio, specifically around the joint.
The MAKOplasty robot
The Rio coming in
Pushing aside the kneecap
The kneecap and other bits exposed
Grinding away the bone
Grinding away on the lower leg bone. This is the view from a monitoring station.
Dr. Vickaryous and the MAKOplasty robot
Rio doing its thing on my knee. Dr. V is standing off to the side and smiling with pride.
Partial Knee Resurfacing Lateral Upper Thigh at the joint
The upper part of the partial knee replacement that fits into the upper bone at the joint
All of this is new technology to me. I've heard of robotics being used in surgery, but I never knew of anything like the Rio in orthopedics. I deal with modeling (and simulation) in my job, but what was used for my knee opens up a whole new aspect of modeling and robotics I've never considered before.
On-Q Pain Relief System
The On-Q pain relief system feeding a catheter in my upper inner thigh
Another interesting technological advancement is the pain relief system, or pain killer pump. It was a catheter and a valve that together fed a very tiny but constant stream of pain killer into the nerve cluster feeding the knee. I felt very little pain until they finally turned it down and removed it, at which point it all woke up and I hit a wall. Now I feel the pain. But it's pain that can be managed with regular pain killers.

What's more amazing is I'm up and walking around. Yes, I have to use a walker to help, but I can walk around the floor flexing and exercising the leg. The last time I had a knee operation it was my right knee back in 1972, it was in a cast for four weeks and it required a lot of painful physical therapy after the cast was removed. That was state of the art back then, and I certainly appreciate what they did, because it still works 40 years later. But what I've seen lately is nothing short of amazing.

I'm writing this up in my room at Fl. Hospital. I'm tired and on another dose of pain meds. So before I get too incoherent I think I'll sign off and get some sleep. It's been a wild 48 hours and I'm tired.

P.S.

If you're wondering how the photos in the operating theater were taken, I got Dr. V's permission to have a nurse that was helping him at the time to take them during the "quieter" moments of the procedure. I just handed them my Sony after putting it into full auto.

Editorial

Some of you are probably thinking that  we should robotize all of medicine and get the human out of the loop so we can (falsely) drive costs down. I hope that never ever happens. The robot in this case was there as an extremely precise tool to help the human surgeon perform this one particular procedure. There is a tremendous amount of medical "human in the loop" planning and diagnosis that only a specialist like an orthopedic surgeon can provide before the robot is even allowed near a patient. The robot is there to enhance, not replace. And the patients are not machines.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

The Good Old Days

Polaroid of my past
You're looking at something I'd completely forgotten about, something I built around 1980. It's a custom perf board I built on a slab of aircraft-grade aluminum, on which I wired a complete 6502-based embedded computer. It has 4,096 bytes of static RAM, 16K of EPROM (2716), a combo-peripheral chip that included two serial ports and two eight-bit-wide parallel I/O ports, a fully decoded keypad and a six digit display broken into four digits for an address and two for data, all in hex. I was proud of those displays. They were special HP multi-segmented alphanumeric displays that read ASCII bytes. I had them display hexadecimal and special words, and then got them to scroll text. Although the keypad looks like it will only handle hex digit input, I had added software so that if you held the key down it would give you a display of the function and an alt function. Primary and alt key functionality was toggled by the tiny switch on the top left.

The calculator is a TI Programmer (hexadecimal calculator) for scale.

I used it for 6502 software testing as well as driving external devices. Software development was on an Apple II using a source assembler. The resultant binary file was written to tge 2716 with an EPROM programmer. I was proud of the fact that the 6502 was clocked at 2MHz, twice as fast as the Apple II's 1MHz clock speed. That and the fact its memory was fully static meant the system ran with no wait states. I used it for driving stepper motors at one point, and then built a light tracker and then combined all that into a simple wheeled line tracker. I had big dreams back then. I was going to build Asimov-like robots. I wonder what happened to them all...

The image at the top is a scan of a black and white Polaroid I took of it all and sent off to someone I haven't heard from in 32 years. He scanned it and sent it back to me this evening.