28 November 2010

Just Another Day in Paradise

This photo was taken around 1930 in my grandfather's grocery store in Toledo, Ohio. Standing by the counter to the left of the picture, in the long apron, is my uncle Willie. Behind him, looking proprietary, is my grandfather. To his right is one of the neighborhood kids, and then two men who sold produce to the store. The guy in the back corner is my uncle Leon. The young man at right, wearing knickers, is my dad, the baby of the family. He turned 90 yesterday.

A WWII veteran, he went to the University of Toledo on the G.I. Bill and moved to Southern California for grad school at Cal Tech. A few years later, he and my mom bought a house near the ocean. In those days, mere middle-class mortals could afford such things. My brother and I grew up in that house. My mom and dad still live there.

He got up early yesterday and went for a walk, as he does most mornings. He went to the beach and back, a walk of maybe a mile, including a significantly steep hill. He says he has to stop and rest several times on the way up, but still. Mom says when he goes all the way down to the beach he sits in a chair for the rest of the day, but still.

He has his share of health problems. In May 2008 he was in intensive care with three holes in his gut. Nobody expected him to live through the night. He worked his way back, a little at a time. He still can't do everything he used to do, but he can do a lot more than anybody ever expected. The man is a force of nature.

Whenever I ask him how things are going, he always says, "Just another day in paradise!" He says every morning when he wakes up he thinks, "Another day! And I'm here to see it!" When I was living at home I sure don't remember my dad being such a relentlessly cheerful guy. For whatever reason, he seems to have come to really appreciate what he's got, and not waste much time thinking about what he's lost. Maybe I could learn a thing or two from the old guy yet.

Happy birthday, Pop.

25 November 2010

Giving Thanks

“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.”
-The Buddha (Prince Gautama Siddharta, 563-483 BC)
To blogger buddies in the United States, happy Thanksgiving. To blogger buddies elsewhere, happy Thursday.

23 November 2010

Dog Years

In response to the folks who read my last post and tried to convert my age in dog years to people years, there really isn't a simple linear equivalence. Dogs are sexually mature at six months to a year, which might correspond to human of about 13. They're physically mature at two or three years, comparable to a human in their late teens or early 20s. They're mentally mature at, well, don't hold your breath. For either species. A dog might start to show its age at 7 to 9 years, like a human who can start taking advantage of the senior discount at the movies.

But it's not that simple. While small dogs tend to mature faster and live longer than large dogs, the relationship between size or weight and longevity isn't linear, either. Some breeds typically live longer than others of similar size. It all depends. If you're really interested, and not just trying to guess how old I am, here is a pretty good summary.

My conversion algorithm is proprietary, based on an imaginary giant breed with a mature weight in the neighborhood of 150 pounds. Among other inherited tendencies, the breed is prone to skeletal problems due to its bizarre tendency to walk on its hind legs. Which is to say, I just made it up. Truly, I don't feel a day over 435.

Aside from the birthday thing I wouldn't usually give my age that much thought, had I not picked up a webcam to use to try out a hands-free mouse. Those things are brutal! (The webcam, I mean, not the hands-free mouse. The mouse is kind of remarkable, about which more another time.) Seriously, I have never been under the impression that I look like Charlize Theron and I'm totally OK with that, but one of the advantages of rarely confronting oneself in the mirror was being able to imagine that I was aging gracefully, you know, along the lines of a Jessica Tandy or Jane Goodall. According to my new webcam, this is not the case.

But for 443, I look pretty darn good.

21 November 2010

Two Dog Night

It's starting to get cold here at night. Cold for Seattle, that is. It's not the same as Michigan-cold, of course, but cold enough for narrow dogs that don't carry much adipose tissue or fur for insulation. Although we provide them with dog beds, they prefer to sleep in a pile with the rest of their pack. On our bed.

Or more accurately, in our bed. They bring their wet fur and gritty little feet and cold pointy noses in from outside and hover expectantly until Scarecrow lifts the covers, letting in a rush of cold air, and they burrow to the foot of the bed, jostling for the best spot, between the humans. It can be very bracing.

If Scarecrow doesn't lift the covers, either because he's asleep or because he doesn't want the bed to be infested with cold wet whippets, one of them will insert a pointy little nose under the edge of the blankets and, in an attempt to get under the covers without assistance, will bulldoze them into a pile at the bottom of the bed with its head and possibly its shoulders under the pile. Alternatively, one of them will tromp around on top of the bed until the covers are in a small heap, and will then lay down on the heap.

Best to let them in. They warm up before too long.

After a while, the mattress starts to vibrate. They're panting. It's only a matter of time before one of them stands up and jumps off the bed, taking the covers with them.

I've read speculation that one of the benefits that canine domestication offered to both species was that sleeping together would conserve heat.

I'm not buying it.

On an unrelated note, I had another birthday yesterday. It kind of snuck up on me. You lose track, once you get to my age. That would be... let me think... 443. In dog years. But I really don't feel a day over 435.

17 November 2010

All in My Head, Part Two

After another week using the head array control to steer my power chair, I think it's working pretty well, considering.

It's not as convenient or as easy to use as a joystick, if you can use a joystick. I can tell you from personal experience, though, that it's a whole lot better than trying to use a joystick if you can't use a joystick.

For the most part I've still been keeping to a speed that can be best described as 'glacial', although I prefer to think of it as 'stately.' Or perhaps 'dignified.' Getting down hallways and through doors at home and at the warehouse where I spend my days is enough of a navigational challenge for the time being.

Turns out one of the hardest things to do is go in a straight line. My chair (Permobile C300) doesn't track worth a darn anyway. With the lateral switches on the head array being either on or off, it's hard to straighten out just a little bit. Being front wheel drive, the chair has a tendency to fishtail when going downhill. I don't remember noticing it that much with a joystick, but it's really hard to control with the head array.

We've been dinking with the position of the headrest and the lateral switches. Really small adjustments can make a huge difference in how easy this thing is to use. If the side pads are in close, it's easier to turn the chair but harder to go straight. The best position for the head rest really depends on how you're sitting in the chair, which changes during the course of the day.

To respond to the comments on my last post (which I do appreciate very much even if I hardly ever respond to them directly because I'm a lazy slime weasel), using this thing does require a fair amount of head control, but not that much range of motion.

I don't need Scarecrow's help to change the speed profile. Although I can't press the buttons on the display, I've got a separate switch I can use as a kind of mode selector. That gets me to the settings menus, where I can select a different speed profile, or change the tilt, recline, etc. Navigating the settings menus and selecting options entails a series of taps on the side and back pads of the array, which is kind of awkward but not complicated. Sure beats having to ask somebody to do it for me.

Yes, I'm still learning (the hard way) that leaning my head against the head rest when the chair is on can send it crashing into walls or furniture. The dogs? Well, they're whippets. If they can't stay out of the way of a chair set to 'glacial', there's no hope for them.

I haven't taken it out in the real world much, yet. Excursions to the UW Medical Center and the optometrist went OK. I'm feeling like I'm safe enough to give it a try, but the weather has been crummy. This being Seattle, it should stop raining sometime next July.

OK, so. Mobility problems under control, for the moment. Thanks to TinMan, Cupholder v.3 is working great. My next quest is to find a hands-free way to control the cursor on my computer.

It'll be fun!

08 November 2010

It's All in My Head

I've been using the head array control to drive my wheelchair for a couple of weeks now, and I know you're just dying to hear how it's working.


OK. Most people will never need to know this. Even people with MS will probably never need to know this. I sure as heck didn't figure that I ever would. But in the unlikely event that you should go looking for information about using a head array -- what the equipment looks like, and how you use it to steer a power chair -- I can tell you from experience that there isn't much of anything out there. Besides, Herrad at Access Denied was curious about how it works and how it looks. So, here:

This is the head array control installed on my power chair. There is a switch installed in each of the three sections of the headrest. Touching the headrest lightly activates the switch in that section. All the rest is software.

The way my chair is currently set up, touching the center section of the headrest makes the chair go forward. Touching a side section makes the chair pivot that direction. Touching the center and a side section simultaneously makes the chair veer to that side. 

Unlike a joystick, where the distance and direction you move the stick controls where you go and how fast, each of these switches is either on or off. To change speed, reverse direction, or control other chair functions (tilt, recline, etc.), you select options from menus on a control unit.

If you could see this better, you could see that it displays battery status and whether the chair is moving or on standby (duh). It also shows which speed profile is selected, and whether the chair is going forward or backward. Each of the five speed profiles is preset to accelerate, travel, turn, and decelerate at a selected speed. To change speed, you go back to the menu and choose a different profile. The profiles are configurable, but the wheelchair tech is probably the only one who has the software to do it.

This is just one example of a head array control set up. There are head arrays with more switches, fewer switches, or different kinds of switches. Newer control units are a lot cooler, but my three-year-old chair is too old to be compatible with them. The software is pretty much totally customizable.

So what's it like to use?

It takes some getting used to. You'd expect that it takes practice to direct the chair where you want to go, and that's true. It does. And you might expect that your neck gets sore, because you're using it in unaccustomed ways. That's true too. You might even expect that you need to make sure the power is off before you rest your head on the head rest. Unfortunately, I keep forgetting to do this. And it's surprising how often you need to look at the display to see if you're going to go forward or backward. And it's surprising how often I forget to do this, too. It's not nearly as convenient or intuitive as a joystick. It seems like I'm always having to stop and dink around with a menu to change a setting.

Still, I have better control with the head array now than I have had for a long time using a joystick. Although it took forever and cost a lot, I've caught up with the Red Queen again. For a while.

05 November 2010

Remember remember

Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot...
Maybe it's just me, but being burned in effigy every year since 1605 seems a little excessive after the man was tortured, and then sentenced to being hanged, drawn, and quartered. Even if plotting to blow up Parliament was a really bad idea.

I don't suppose it's any creepier than Halloween. Any excuse for a holiday, I guess.

Happy Guy Fawkes day?