Thursday, August 14. 2014
One week after the six-month anniversary of my bone marrow transplant, I learned that I'd relapsed and now have leukemia again. Very disheartening, of course. I tried to carry on as normal with everything. Friday, the 8th of August, I rode my bike five miles or so, stopping to run errands or take breaks in between. I enjoyed it even though biking was exhausting: I felt tired even before I got on the bike! Feeling the wind and sun on my face was something I yearned for during my ten-week hospital stay this last winter.
On Monday, the 11th of August, carrying on as normal became very difficult. I awoke with a terrible back ache. Did I do something to it in my sleep? Injure myself picking up that canoe on Saturday? I was having chills and feeling crabby. Once we got done having my blood drawn at the local hospital, and lunching at the local coffee house, I went home and got horizontal -- this seemed like the best way of dealing with the pain. It was a good way of dealing with the pain -- as long as I didn't move. It hurt to inhale fully. I'd get a headache whenever I tried to sit up or stand up. When I'd go back to lying down, pain would course through my back, shoulders, neck and head for a couple minutes, until I settled down. I called my doctors, as I always do when I have weird issues (I have weird issues fairly regularly). They told me I couldn't take Tylenol because that masks fevers. Hours later, I smartened up (i.e. Kerry overcame my usual stubborn take-no-pills approach) and asked if I could take Hydrocodone. Fortunately they said yes. My pain diminished but did not go away fully. "Oh, and can you come to [cancer] clinic on Tuesday instead of Wednesday?" Occurrences such as this are why neither Kerry nor I can get a normal job, even though both of us would like one for various reasons. "I can do Tuesday," I told her. Kerry and I canceled our Tuesday appointments and prepared to leave town early the next morning.
I was nervous, because it's never a good sign when the doctors want to see you early. Is something serious happening? I have flashbacks of television scenes involving defibrillators. At the same time I was excited to see my doctors, so they could find the source of my excruciating (not a term I use lightly) pain, and hopefully do something about it.
At the clinic visits, they draw my blood for testing, weigh me, take my temperature, and measure my blood pressure and oxygen level. This week my weight was down a few pounds, because my appetite was down a lot. My blood pressure was high for some reason, and my oxygen level was low. My PA ("Physician's Assistant") walked me around the hallway with my oxygen monitor on. "Odd," she said when we were done, "I've never seen anybody's oxygen level go up from walking around. It always goes down!" I interpreted this as proof my body's made for walking.
This week they told me my white blood cells had shot up -- bad news. They were concerned about my fever and the pain. We want to admit you to the hospital so we can monitor you more closely, they said. So it happened -- almost exactly six months after I was released from the hospital after my bone marrow transplant, I was going to be kept overnight again.
My readmission began with a visit to the infusion clinic for an infusion of antibiotics, then with a long wait (well over an hour) for a room to be ready for me.
The doctor who spoke with Kerry and I in my new room was full of bad news. She informed us that because my white blood cell count had jumped so drastically, they were going to hit me with high-dose chemotherapy the next day, on Wednesday, along with a drug called Sorafenib which I'd used to get into remission before. "The chances you'll achieve complete remission are low," she told us. There's no way of telling if any combination of chemo drugs will be effective. We can't count on anything working just because it worked before, she said. I felt glum. My early death and all the unpleasant events that could lead up to it flashed through my mind.
Wednesday came upon us and we (Kerry was there, as were my parents) got some surprise news. My Wednesday labs (blood now drawn daily, as I'm a person of interest) revealed that my white blood cell count had dropped -- nearly in half! We'll hold off on all that chemotherapy for now, the doctor told us. We'll just continue to monitor you closely.
This was about the best news we could have gotten. Our current treatment plan involves getting me into a clinical trial at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. They're trying out some very promising drugs that target the aggressive form of leukemia I have. Getting into this trial requires me to "be eligible." Among the requirements, they won't accept anybody who's had leukemia-targeting chemotherapy within a certain amount of time before the trial starts. If my cancer cells multiply too fast, they'll have to hit me hard with chemotherapy so I don't die -- but this would make me ineligible to start this particular trial. The trial was initially scheduled to start "the second week of August" but was then pushed back to September 1st. Hopefully there will be no more setbacks or excitement.
I'm not enjoying being in the hospital again. I'm having all the problems I had the first time: difficulty sleeping, difficulty eating, mouth always painfully dry because the room is dry, being pestered with questions about my bodily sensations all day long, constant interruptions, and being attached to a pole full of IV fluids that never stops beeping. Complaints aside: my doctors, nurses, and everybody else here are great. If something's wrong with you, the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is a great place to be.
One of the doctors actually used the word "hostage" to refer to me - and that's what I'll be until my fever, pain, and white blood cell count are under control. Let's hope that happens soon!
Wednesday, August 6. 2014
Two weeks ago, I celebrated my six-month anniversary of my bone marrow transplant, which was “way back in January” already. The celebration wasn’t very different from an ordinary day: I drank a delicious cup of coffee, ate some things I can’t remember... I also celebrated by drinking a concoction of morphine and Versed (Midazolam). The combination of drugs made me feel very delightfully relaxed. The doctors wanted me relaxed so that they could drill through the bone in my lower back (”Ooh, your bone is really tough!” said one of them) while I laid on my stomach. It feels very odd but I can’t really say it hurts. They were extracting a core of my marrow to test it for cancer. Afterwards they gave me a juvenile pneumonia shot, which I don’t remember. Every day since then I’ve been reminded of the shot, for I still feel the soreness in my arm(s). Come back next week for the results of the bone marrow biopsy, they said.
All my medical records are online. When I got the robo-message that my results were in, I couldn’t resist taking a look at the results - beat the doctors to the punch! We don’t want to spend those extra days worrying! Actually resisting would have been quite easy, if Kerry hadn’t asked me about it: “Don’t you want to know?” I didn’t. If I’m going to get news, good or bad, wouldn’t I rather get it in person, from somebody who can answer questions so my mind doesn’t wander uselessly? Overall, that is how I think. So I caved to pressure, reading the doctorly gobbledygook and comprehending nothing. Nothing but the words “abnormalities.” Yikes, I thought, maybe something here isn’t quite right. I decided to say nothing to Kerry, so as not to disturb her with needless worry, and to wait until Friday. Later that same day, Kerry logged in to have a look for herself. She noticed the word “relapse,” which I somehow hadn’t, and knew what that meant. We decided to live it up that evening: after the coffee, we went to a burrito place (my burrito tasted awful) and then an ice cream place I usually enjoy, where my cone also tasted bad. We hoped we’d misunderstood the online medical records somehow, or that they’d made a clerical error and would be laughing, embarrassed about it when we saw them on Friday.
Nobody was laughing on Friday. Expecting bad news, I invited the whole clan to my cancer clinic visit: Kerry, Amber, my mom and dad. My doctor has been all smiles ever since I’ve known her - ever since January sometime, when we met, all the way up till the previous cancer clinic visit when I saw her. Ever since January, I’ve been getting mostly good news. Sometimes a little bad news, but mostly good. I’ve been clearly on an upward trajectory since the last time I went into remission and had my bone marrow transplant.
My doctor looked very serious. She is always pretty serious, but her seriousness was disturbing this time because this time she was not smiling. “What are we going to do?” she asked. She went on to explain a few things: the return of cancer is why my platelets are dropping again. She said I don’t have a lot of cancer, if you go by the numbers. She talked about getting me into a new clinical trial at the Mayo Clinic, three hours from where I’m currently living. She talked about the various options I have now: how the drug I used to get into remission before my bone marrow transplant (NexAVAR / sorafenib ) is no longer an option for me (I think it’s less effective, or ineffective the second time around). There are other clinical trials. There are other combinations of chemotherapy. Discussing the various treatment options, my doctor used the phrase “high mortality rate.” She also used the phrase “If we can get you into remission.” Hearing the word “if” from my not-smiling doctor was not uplifting. This was the same doctor who told me before my bone marrow transplant, that the two-year survival rate for people who go through that procedure -- ordeal would be another good word for it -- was 15%. I chose to ignore that number when I heard it, and assume it didn’t apply to me. It was only some weeks later, when I became more lucid and realized that statistic could apply to me, that I felt uncomfortable about those numbers for the first time. I’ve survived six months so far...
I used the phrase “upward trajectory” earlier because it suits the theme of space exploration, which is how I think of my leukemia treatment. Decades ago, I don’t know how many decades, AML would have just outright killed me, or maybe the doctors would have tried a bunch of crazy experimental things on me, before it killed me. In November of 2013, they tried a bunch of things and the doctors still thought I was going to die. Somehow, I didn’t. I likened my bone marrow transplant in January to the moon landing: how much knowledge had to exist, how many people had to work together, how many things had to go just right, for them to use toxic chemicals to kill my bone marrow, harvest stem cells from a perfect match donor (my brother Andrew, thank you!), and grow new stem cells in my body, all without killing me -- as I had no immune system, and then after some time went by, virtually no immune system. Wow! And the point of my personal moon landing, the Promethean Moment Concerning Dan Rasmussen, wasn’t to show off military might or to embarrass the Russians and other commies -- it was to save my life, to cure my blood cancer and enable me to live a longer life. So that I’d have more time to spend with friends and family and people who aren’t friends yet. To enable me to rectify my shameful progress thus far in saving the whales. As I’ve joked to friends who appreciate dark humor, “After all that effort the doctors went through, I guess I can’t kill myself now!”
Hearing that I again have cancer brings to mind, continuing the space theme, the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle, or the lifeless body of Dr. Frank Poole (from 2001: A Space Odyssey) drifting away from the Discovery One towards Saturn. I like the second metaphor better because it’s more hopeful. As fellow readers of Arthur C. Clarke’s 3001: The Final Odyssey know, in the distant future Frank’s body is recovered and they revive him. He’s reborn to experience all the change that has happened since his first death.
When I first learned I had leukemia back in November, I wasn’t very afraid. I’d been feeling crappy for months prior and was relieved somebody had a clue what was wrong with me and that they were to set about fixing it. I knew very little about leukemia and how serious it can be. I underwent an intense dose of chemotherapy and went into remission in December, only to relapse again sometime in December or early January. I wasn’t afraid this time either. I was still recovering from being drugged out of my mind, and don’t even really recall being aware of what was happening. I recall doctor visits and much talk of “blasts.”
This instance of finding out I have cancer is different from the others. Mentally, I’m about as close to “with it” as I ever am. I’m aware of the situation and of the risks. I feel nervous. Physically I’ve been feeling very near normal, with a few exceptions. Daily headaches, occasional backaches, every couple weeks I poop my pants, and weakness. I’m in better physical shape than “The Average American,” who doesn’t run or bicycle, but pretty weak compared to what I’m used to. Yesterday I was riding my bicycle around town and crapped out trying to go up “rathole hill,” a hill which is challenging but doable when I was in top form. As I walked uphill, I struggled to breathe. My stomach felt tight, and I wondered if I was suffering from anxiety (a familiar feeling from my 20s) or if it was some ominous cancer-related thing going on. Today I felt more winded, just from walking, and suspect it’s because of low platelets.
Tomorrow I’ll head to Iowa City to learn more about my treatment options. I’ll probably spend an extra couple hours getting an infusion of platelets. When people ask what they can do to help me, I can’t often think of much. I always forget to say “donate platelets” or “donate blood,” but those are things you can do to help. I’ve gone through bags and bags and bags of both blood and platelets.
I’m not losing sleep over anxiety* or letting it ruin my day, and I hope you’re not either.
* I’m losing sleep over writing this. Feels like it took all day!
Thursday, July 24. 2014
Headed to the University of Iowa hospital tomorrow (i.e. today, after I get my night's sleep) for the first time in three weeks. It's be the six month anniversary of my bone marrow transplant.
My doctor let me do blood draws at the local hospital the last two weeks, saving much time and driving. Tomorrow the eye doctor will look at my eye -- still pretty bloody and pretty blurry a month after surgery -- and tell me how I'm lookin'. Later, the throat doctor will put a numbing liquid down my nose. I will taste it and it will taste terrible. Then he (or one of the fellows he's training) will navigate a tube camera down my nose to see if my vocal cord is still paralyzed. Hope your Thursday is less exciting! Friday I go back for another bone marrow biopsy, a procedure where they look for cancer cells. I've got a "pulmonary function test" coming up soon, too. That's where I sit in a glass contraption that looks like a phone booth. Except instead of checking for a dial tone and wondering how long ago the phone book disappeared, I wear a nose plug, put my mouth on a mouthpiece, and go through an exceptionally boring series of breathing exercises while the technician looks at graphs on a computer screen.
In other news, my phone (no case or protector) and Kindle were stupidly left atop a vehicle today, and survived the tumble and being run over long enough to be found by a kind person who saw to it that we were quickly reunited. I was without my phone for five hours, can you imagine? First contact, man informs me that my phone runs German and explained how he went about tracking me down - at two calls, he was pretty efficient! Around 5pm, I remember my phone's alarm clock rings about ten times a day, reminding me of medical stuff I have to do, and that one of them goes off at 4:30. I gulp my horse pill, call him back, and explain how to shut off the alarm clock on my German-language phone. "Thanks, I was just hitting snooze," he said. Snooze only snoozes for ten minutes, which will drive you batty pretty quickly!
Other notable things: I've had to stay out of thu sun for the last two or three months, because I'm immunosuppressed. A couple weeks ago, I itched all day long, all over my body, for a whole day, and the next day the itching was gone. I've had a dull ache in my lower back (comes and goes) for a few weeks. For the last week I've been pretty low in energy, not waking up very early and getting tired in the afternoon and evening. The stupid kind of low energy where I'm tired but unable to fix it with a good nap. Tried running a few mornings ago and felt really slow and weak. I mostly walked.
I recently took a road trip with my dad. We drove from Iowa to Ohio to visit my uncle Dave, driving from one four-letter state to another. The only other four-letter state, Utah, was not on our way, and driving to Guam (a US territory) is impossible. First time I left the state since last July, an exciting milestone. Had fun, interesting enough trip to merit writing down some more stories and details, hopefully I will pull it off.
Friday, June 27. 2014
A couple weeks ago, despite the laser eye procedure, my retina detached. My vision in that eye was 20/40 when they last clocked it and it was just getting good enough that I could almost read some things with it. Today I have my second eye surgery, which the doctor described thusly: "We'll make cuts in the top and bottom of your eyeball and wrap it with silicon - it'll be like having a rubber band wrapped around your eye. Maybe we'll put a gas bubble in there, too."
I still don’t understand why or how my retina detached - whether it’s related to the blood clot I had in my eye, or a result of the surgery to remove that blood clot. I have almost no vision in my left eye. There’s an area around 10pm in my vision that permits me to detect a bright light source, and. If I wave my fingers right in front of my eye, I can detect that the light is changing. I had a blood clot in my eye because one nasty thing leukemia did to me was dump blood into my eyes, brain, and lungs.
My previous eye surgery wasn't so bad, and I'm no longer taking a medication that used to make me cough, which forced them to cut short my previous surgery sooner than they wanted to.
Due partly to the steroids I’m on right now, I have a very healthy appetite. I eat and eat, and my weight stays the same from week to week. At the moment, my main beef with this surgery is that the doctors want me to go 12 hours without eating, and during that 12 hour period I’m only allowed to drink eight ounces of liquid. It’s only 8:40am, I have a very dry mouth, and when I do drink that eight ounces, I’ll be gulping about nine pills with it.
One thing about looming eye surgery is that I pay more attention than usual to how frequently we use visual metaphors in language. “I see,” “Let’s take a look,” etc. Last night Andrew told me, “See you in the morning!” and I responded with “Rub it in, why don’t you!”
So: I’ll be wearing an eye patch for the next week, taking eye drops for the next week or so. And hopefully I’ll be seeing you soon.
Tuesday, May 20. 2014
Today Kerry and I visited the Cedar Rapids Public Library, again. I knew they had a "green roof" - graywater collection, plants, etc - but then I found out we could walk on it, and that's when I got excited. Had a pretty nice view. Unfortunately there was no shade cover today so lounging around didn't sound appealing. I surmise it'd be a great place from which to observe the sun set. I heard mention of umbrellas sometimes being available. So most of my lounging around was done inside. I wore my bicycle helmet, simultaneously doing my part to promote sustainable transportation and delight the children. Young boy in the elevator asked "Did you ride your bike?" Another boy in a tour group of kids said, "Hey, he's wearing a helmet!" I waved and a bunch of them waved back
Some web pages with pictures of the library and roof:
http://www.opnarchitects.com/work/cedar-rapids-public-library-downtown/ - notes from the architects
One of my discoveries today was that they have a couple computer workstations with treadmills. Planning to try that out and see if it's for me.
Ironically the only way to visit the green roof is via the elevator. There was a stairway, but alas, it was marked: "Emergency Exit Only, Alarm Will Sound."
Sunday, May 4. 2014
I'm happy to announce that several websites I operate now work well over HTTPS (secure http). This means you can take the following URLs:
and change them to:
The first time you visit one of the secure websites, you'll see a scary warning message. You should be able to disregard this warning and find a way to continue. Though if it looks like the site's been hacked, you should tell me!
Once you get past the SSL error, you might see a padlock in your browser, which indicates you have a secure connection, and are less vulnerable to others snooping your connection or making trouble.
Screenshot of the warning message when you visit a secure website
Thursday, November 28. 2013
Those of you who know me are aware I've usually got a healthy appetite.
I've been on a LOT of steroids, and this means I've got a really healthy appetite. A few nights ago, a nurse informally diagnosed me with "steroid hunger attacks." It was very late at night, early morning, and the nurse scrounged around for food. She returned with some energy bars and junk food and donated a cup of fruit. I wolfed them down in order to get back to sleep.
We have to place food orders when the kitchen is open. Ten minutes before they closed today, my mother called in to make sure I'd have enough food for the evening. She started going through the list of items we'd decided on: a Malibu burger, tomato soup, peaches, grapes, cottage cheese, milk. I have some dietary restrictions they have to look out for, low-fat everything at the moment. And all the details: lettuce, tomato, ketchup, light mayo... Soon I realized my mother had been on the phone for close to five minutes, ordering me food! It sounded completely absurd, like she was making a prank call! All this food for one person, as if one person could possibly eat so much food. I started laughing and soon mom was laughing on the phone and she was having a tough time not laughing into the phone herself, trying to complete my meal order like a reasonable person and not some kind of prank caller. We laughed really good and hard.
What makes it even better is that as my mom was on the phone, calling this in .... I was eating. I was eating a whopping double order of meatloaf with a bunch of vegetables, with rice and gravy on the side. A really insane amount of food!
It's midnight and I just ate a big tofu burger, a bowl of fruit, applesauce, a bowl of ice cream, an angel food cake muffin, and a milk. We've stored away a sandwich, some kefir, graham crackers, milk, and various other things in case hunger keeps me awake tonight.
Tomorrow I'll be experiencing steriod withdrawal. That affects people differently. I might feel congested, I might feel tired and sluggish and as if I've been hit by a truck, I could experience arthritis, or nothing could happen. I'm interested in seeing how my body reacts.
Meanwhile I've had a really good day. Walking today felt better than it ever has. My vision got a little better. I feel great. I'm overjoyed by the wonderful constellation of people in my life. I feel blessed. Thanks for all your love and support.
Wednesday, November 27. 2013
Got a lumbar puncture (aka spinal tap!) this afternoon while cranking the B-52s. Great spinal tap music if you ever get the chance. Imagine Dan as maple tree! I took a long time to "drip." Doctor recommended caffeine - a vascular constrictor - to keep the pain away. So I'm about to have the first cup of coffee I've had in weeks. A nice cup of Ethiopian coffee, enjoyed with my mother. Listening to Boxcar Willie, some music my Grandpa Paul and I both enjoyed together. Feeling great.
Sunday, November 24. 2013
Got some news...
I had been suffering a few weeks from what I thought was just allergies and "season changes" (headaches, etc). Then I started seeing doctors, and taking pills that didn't do much. Meanwhile I got weaker and weaker.. I finally lost much of my vision, prompting a trip to the emergency room and leading to my diagnosis of leukemia a few weeks ago.
I'm in Iowa City, Iowa getting treatment (chemotherapy, etc). Recovery is slow going but I've been less of a vegetable last couple days, getting my strength back. My vision is still really bad but expected to improve in the coming weeks..
Friends and family are nearby and I'm in high spirits.
If you'd like to kick in some money to help out with expenses, everything will be very welcomed and the money well-spent.
If you just want to send me a message, the hospital will pass along all your messages. It'd be great to hear from you.
C/O Dan Rasmussen
200 Hawkins Drive
Iowa City, Iowa 52242
Wednesday, June 12. 2013
Mustard, my usual Android app for Twitter, stopped working yesterday. At first I thought: uh-oh, network problems! Then: ugh, certificate crap? Bingo. Twitter changed their API, and just like that, Mustard, Zwitscher (another nice Android Twitter client), and Turpial (Ubuntu) are no longer usable.
Twitter's heavy-handed way of making people use its website and official Android app did lead me to try the official Android app. It has a nice interface. Perhaps it even delivers a nicer experience than the three programs I mentioned. But it’s the spirit of the thing that matters to me: I prefer inferior an inferior open source experience, to a superior somebody-else-has-all-control experience. I also prefer no advertising. The Twitter for Android app is already showing me “Promoted Tweets” for fast food chains and pro-industry faux grass-roots energy policy advocacy groups . To hell with those.
Hopefully, volunteer software developers, bless their hearts, will find the time to make Mustard, Zwitscher and Turpial function again. I’m looking forward to it.
For now, I’ve got only two ways of interacting with Twitter: through their website, and through their app. I enjoy using Twitter to stay connected to people and information that’s useful and interesting to me, but I don’t need it. They have something kinda nice going for them, but it’s nothing I’m dependent on, nothing I won’t give up if they screw up the Android or web interfaces even more.
Researching this stuff, I caught wind of pump.io. Maybe that’s the next step for microblogging?
Wednesday, March 27. 2013
I’ve had an Android device for over three years. I started with Android 1.5 on an Archos 5 Internet Tablet. Now I’m using an HTC Incredible 2. Here’s a list of the software I use regularly as of March 2013. Maybe you’ll find something you like, or maybe you know of something better. If you do, let me know!
F-Droid. Look for app updates, and new apps to install. Everything in F-Droid is free and open source. Not tons of ad-supported junkware.
Play Store. Check for app updates.
K-9. Email app that supports email from multiple accounts, has lots of fancy features that GMail app doesn’t.
Firefox Beta. My favorite Android web browser.
Google+ . Only social media site I’m using at the moment, besides Twitter. I think Google+ is a nice experience on Firefox for Android beta, but when I load Google+ on Firefox it always pesters me to use the app. Ugh.
Mustard. Twitter app. I’m @dhrasmus and @pdxwifimap . Twitter is irritating to use on Android: the explosion of link shorteners means whenever you click a link in Mustard it will take forever to load in a web browser. I like the Zwitscher app for Twitter as well, and if it were in F-Droid maybe I’d use it instead, or also.
Piwik Mobile. Web analytics app. I use this to see how many people are looking at my websites.
Quickdroid. App launcher. Keeps a handy list of the last apps I used, and allows me to search for anything on the device (installed apps, contacts, media, etc) by name.
TuneIn. For listening to streaming audio. Ad supported, yuck, and they tried getting me to listen to a sports match (yuck) before I turned off “push updates,” but otherwise happy with it. I wish there were an open source alternative.
AntennaPod. For listening to podcasts.
Camera, Gallery. Built-in. I use them often enough. Kerry taught me her trick of using photos to record information, rather than take business cards or pieces of paper or write it down.
AntennaPod, K-9, Mustard, and Quickdroid are available on F-Droid. Get the F-Droid app from http://fdroid.org/ and use it to install everything else.
The Android apps listed above parallel what I use regularly on Ubuntu desktop systems:
Update Manager (ok, I use “apt-get”) for software updates.
Kupfer. App launcher.
Firefox does the same thing as standalone Android apps do: eg Google+ , Mustard, Piwik. Firefox Mobile improves over time and will make those apps less necessary.
Notable differences between the two types of systems:
1) Phones are not enjoyable to type with. Anything that requires typing more than a sentence or two will be put off until I’m on something with a real keyboard
2) As time goes by, more software is created that makes Android systems a more viable replacement for a desktop. VLC (beta) for Android recently came out. It’s buggy, but it filled a big gap.
3) Despite the increasing capabilities of the Android platform, I still trust my desktop/netbook machines (Xubuntu and Ubuntu) much more. They are larger, and therefore less likely to disappear or get dropped into a watery grave or damaged. Netbooks for some reason are not very popular, which offers some peace of mind against the threat of theft. My Android device came pre-loaded with tons of junk software, courtesy of Verizon. It’s fishy that there’s no way to remove it, and I don’t trust Verizon or their pre-loaded apps. Who knows what kind of personal data they collect from everybody with one of their phones. It’s probably better not to know.
Wednesday, February 13. 2013
OpenStreetMap is "a free worldwide map, created by people like you." It took me a long time to really understand what this meant and become excited about it. OpenStreetMap's homepage, openstreetmap.org, isn't very flashy or impressive compared to Google Maps and MapQuest. OpenStreetMap.org doesn't show you driving directions, phone numbers, website addresses, satellite photos, or Google Street View. I discovered OpenStreetMap, got bored by the homepage, and forgot about it.
Several years later I began to understand that OpenStreetMap is more than its homepage. The big idea is that everybody can edit the map, and anybody can use the map data to do some really useful and interesting stuff. This dawned on me when I purchased one of the first Android devices available in the USA that didn't require a contract with a cell phone company. It was 2010. The Google Maps app worked great when my tablet was connected to wifi. When disconnected from wifi, I was mapless.
OpenStreetMap first became useful to me when I discovered MapDroyd, an app that would let me download map data to use offline. I used it frequently during my last visit to Europe, and it was often better than using paper maps. Paper maps made me feel like a tourist, attracted unwanted attention, and were difficult to use in the wind. Also, free paper maps are full of ads. Yuck. In 2013, OsmAnd does the same thing as MapDroyd and a lot more. It's no longer necessary to drag bulky paper maps and guidebooks everywhere, or to buy a separate GPS device and subscribe to a map subscription service. Not when hordes of volunteers around the world are collaborating to build a great map and give it away to everybody. You can watch this process in real-time, and I find it fascinating.
Downloading free-of-cost map data and using it on your choice device is exciting when you first realize it's possible. Even more exciting is what others do with that data. The Open Brewpub Map is one of my favorite uses of OpenStreetMap data. Traditionally, somebody creating such a handy internet resource would compile a list of brewpubs, make a map of the results, and then struggle to maintain it. The genius of the Open Brewpub Map is that its creator has made maintenance much less of a struggle - he's gotten the OpenStreetMap community to do it for him! The brewpub map regularly updates itself using data from OpenStreetMap.org - whenever a brewpub is added or removed, or its details are modified, those changes appear on the Open Brewpub Map. Its creator is free to neglect or even forget about it, and the map will remain up-to-date!
A few years ago I helped petition Google to implement a "Bike There" option in Google Maps. At that moment in time, perhaps only Google could have done such a thing. Google had the map data, the expertise, and the resources to tackle bicycle routing. Fortunately Google Maps did implement a "bike there" feature. But what if they hadn't? What if Google had decided that bicycle routing was too costly an effort or that bicyclists were a minority not worth catering to? What then?
Thanks to the efforts of OpenStreetmap contributors, Google is no longer the only entity in possession of a vast amount of data about roads and highways worldwide. Now anybody can download and use lots of high quality transportation data. The Open Source Routing Machine uses OpenStreetMap data to generate driving directions from one place to another. Had OpenStreetMap's data existed a few years sooner, people with the necessary skills could have programmed "bike there" directions themselves rather than petition Google to do it. As of December 2012, anybody with a GPS-enabled Android device can install OsmAnd (make sure it's version 1.0 or later), download map files for where they live, and use the OsmAnd app to direct them to their destination whether they are driving, bicycling, or walking.
Can you imagine a commercial entity creating something like Google Maps for a niche group such as wheelchair users? A small group at a university in Germany did just that with their "Rollstuhl-Routenplaner." Along the same vein, there's OpenRouteService.org and Wheelmap. These undertakings would have been, fairly recently, prohibitively expensive and time-consuming. Because there's now so much map data -- open data that anybody can legally use, not just companies with lots of money -- and computer programming tools to work with that data, we have myriad new ways of viewing the world that didn't exist until recently.
Within Portland, home of the PDX Wifi Map, TriMet uses OpenStreetMap data for their Trip Planner to help you navigate Portland and some neighboring cities with bicycles, public transit, and your feet. On pdxwifimap.com, when you change the map view to "Bicycle Map" or "Public Transit Map," you are viewing OpenStreetMap data that has been processed to visually highlight and emphasize certain features over others, such as bicycle-friendly streets and public transit stops. Neat, huh?
If you use the internet much at all, you probably see lots of OpenStreetMap-based maps without even realizing it. Lots of people in lots of places spend their time towards making a better map of this world we live in -- a map that everybody can use and benefit from. Some OpenStreetMap volunteers walk everywhere carrying smartphones, GPS units, or even very odd-looking equipment, enjoying the opportunity to better explore an area. Others sit at computers, improving the map through aerial photos and GPS data from the people who are out walking everywhere. If you think you might enjoy mapping, have a look at openstreetmap.org. Browse your area, search for a favorite place. If it's not on the map, try adding it. Visitors and newcomers to your town will be happy you did! The OpenStreetMap Beginner's Guide has some good tips on getting started. Enjoy!
Thanks to Andrew Rasmussen and David Schilmoeller for a fine job proofreading and otherwise improving what you see here.
This document made its initial appearance at pdxwifimap.com/openstreetmap/ on 2013-01-23. The pdxwifimap.com version might change. This one essentially will not (except for maintaining working links, and the obvious.)
Monday, February 13. 2012
Once upon a time, music was something that took effort. It took effort to play music. It took effort to listen to music. A king would act as a patron of the arts, sponsoring the creation of a new piece, and for the performance of a piece. Common people would gather where one or more people performed, or even take part in performances themselves, some even taking part in dancing. If performers stopped performing, the music and dancing would stop.
Contrast this with modern day - post 1940, I suppose. Audio recordings mean music is everywhere, effortless, inescapable. It's quietly piped at you at the mall, interrupted by notices for people who've gotten lost. Your grocery store plays music - differed according to who's shopping at that time of day. Oldies for the elderly during working hours. Pop songs when the employed start to filter though in the evening. Rock songs later on, to keep tiring shoppers and grocery employees awake. Restaurants play music to cover up the silence when there's hardly anybody there. Bars play music, getting louder as the night goes on. Coffee shops also play music.
I spend a lot of time in places that play music. I wonder if these places would play music if it took more effort, or costed them something. Would my favorite cafe employ a musician during all the hours if audio speakers and storage devices (cds, records, ipods, internet streaming audio) didn't exist? But we do have these technologies. Does that mean they should be used without pause?
Scanning my comrades in caffeine consumption at a cafe, I see most of them are wearing headphones. What are they listening to, and why? Do they dislike the cafe's selection - is it a form of protest? Do they like it, but have something they want to hear more urgently? Or have they tired of hearing the cafe's selection, and simply freed their ears to explore new aural terrain?
Leaving a cafe a few days ago, I was annoyed that their music was still playing in my ears. Music was not the reason I went in. I went in because I'm addicted to coffee, and their couch looked comfy. Last night I made a decision: that this will be the week of no earworms. If any music enters my ears, it will be because a human being is putting forth effort, or because I have pressed the play button on something myself. I will not be held hostage.
That means I'll be changing my habits for the next week. I imagine I'll be spending more time at home, outside, and in parks. Coming up with suitable situations for my body will take some mental effort as well as some guessing.
At present I'm enjoying music in a John Cage sort of sense. I'm sitting in a library. I hear people slamming books down on checkout tables, shuffling papers, removing newspapers from racks. A child is thumping his feet in rapid succession away from me, and a woman just coughed.
Tuesday, October 4. 2011
Today I awoke hours before I expected I would. Lying in bed, I thought over the possible reasons for it. Did I have to urinate that badly? Was yesterday's dinner of coffee and donut not sitting well? Was the hunger (which I definitely felt, even at that early hour) sufficient to shorten my slumber? Or perhaps God was calling me to go streaking. He works in mysterious ways, I hear.
As I lay in bed, not yet feeling the necessity to get out of it, I thought of science fiction scenarios I've read where people unexpectedly come out of hibernation. In my experience, they usually don't end well.
Monday, July 18. 2011
I started writing this a week ago, so if it feels stale, that is why. My next thought delivery will be fresh from the oven of my mind, or your money back.
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