Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Re-Thinking apple - oh yeah, one more thing...

A follow-up to my last post...

The recent news regarding apple is another thing for me to seriously consider (i.e. the government is trying to get them to break into a dead terrorists encrypted phone and they are refusing).

Once upon a time I had this dream, of a single card you could carry in your pocket, which could as as your cash, your debit cards, all your credit cards, your insurance card, your drivers license, your passport. one card that would do it all, no more bulky wallets nor more hunting through piles of membership/rewards cards...

The smart phone is hovering near the edges of that dream. You can handle credit card pay through your phone now, some membership programs now send their special offers/rewards coupons directly to mobile phones....

Our phones are holding an increasing amount of extremely sensitive data: Financial data, health data. Friends' data...

A device with that much of my information NEEDS to be impregnable.

And the simple fact is - if the government has a back door, so does everybody else. So, I am watching this case to see whether technology will take a step forward, or backward. I am encouraged that Apple has said no, they won't decrypt it. I would feel much better if they said no, they CAN'T decrypt it.

But that being said, how this all shakes out could have a significant influence on my views on apple, in spite of my dislike for the 'cult of apple' and for the personal restrictions...

Monday, February 22, 2016

Re-thinking Apple.

So,just over a year after making this post about Why I don't own anything apple sells, I found myself the unwilling owner of an iPhone, forced upon me by my company. Then a few months later, company policy changed, and Android phones, and some Microsoft phones were added to the list of allowed devices. I was of course stuck with the iPhone for two years, and I was eagerly awaiting the day when I could switch the thing out and be done with it.

That time is fist approaching, and now I find myself second guessing.

From a technical perspective, my views haven't changed much, I still find them fairly equal. For me, apple is frustratingly restrictive. I am constantly annoyed by the seemingly simple things I can't just easily do on the apple device because, I am apparently not doing it the way apple thinks everyone should do it.

My chief example of this is alarm clocks. I don't think I am asking for that much. I want the ability to assign a playlist as my wake-up   alarm and I want the clock to randomly select a song from that list (nothing ruins a favorite song more quickly than using that one song as your wake-up alarm every day. I want it to start softly and slowly fade in, so as to gently wake me, rather than jar me awake.

It was easy to get this working on Android. Not so on apple. first it was not easy to find an app that had this feature set. And then none of them actually work reliably. If you forget to leave the app running on the fore ground before you go to bed the alarm won't work at all. And I can't let the alarm clock override the Do not disturb function. If I set the alarm, I do in fact want it to 'disturb' me.

I still don't like Apple's business practices. I still find them to be innovation killers. And I still disapprove of their practices in China.

However. I have been gaining some new political education on the subject of  "conflict minerals". You see much of the fundamental minerals used in the creation of electronic devices comes from conflict areas in Africa. In a number of cases, mines have been taken over by guerrilla forces, who then implement genuine slave labor from the locals to extract these minerals for profit to warlords. Apple's behavior in China is downright civilized in comparison to this.

I haven't been able to find any numbers more recent than 2012. But for 2102 company progress at eliminating conflict minerals, Android companies aren't making much of a showing. Motorola is the one exception. Microsoft is Neck and Neck with apple, and Nokia is right in close. So Apple or Microsoft gain a strong lead for me, in spite of my general preference for the Android ecosystem.

So which of those two? I like Cortana better than Siri, she's much more personable. And in my experience she seems to work more reliably. But, then I also like Speakto it Assistant, and that one is cross-platform.

I like the Microsoft ecosystem, I like the convenience factor of my phone and laptop all peaking the same language. That is likely to lead to better integration and cooperation. I really like the efforts Microsoft if making int he area of family safety. I like the controls they offer to monitor and manage children's devices.

On the other hand, Microsoft is still struggling in the phone space. The current round of Lumias aren't performing well, and rumors are they are going to drop that line. There are rumors that they might pick up with a new phone based on the Microsoft surface platform, but for now, that it vaporware.

What to do, what to do?

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Health update: peeling back the layers

I keep putting this off, holding my breath, waiting to see if I am really where I think I am. Which is silly, as the main reason I started posting about my health was to document the process, and information as it was gathered. oh well.

So, a quick recap. 5 years ago, I began experiencing severe abdominal pain, and spasms. A number of tests and procedures later, and I was given a diagnosis of Crohn's. I lived under that for four years. I learned a great deal about Crohn's in that time, as well as a modest amount about various treatments, with their various drawbacks. I also experienced the pain of a change in healthcare policy, which increased the cost of treatment by a few orders of magnitude.

I was still experiencing some symptoms, but sporadically, and not as intense. My life was certainly not what it once was. My wife mentioned a few weeks ago how hard it was to see me wasting away.

Then last march, the abdominal pain and spasms returned with a vengeance. I went to a third Gastroenterology specialist, and switched to a new Family Dr. A number of tests later, and it was concluded that either the Crohn's had gone into remission, or more likely, I had never had Crohn's.

Many more fruitless tests later, and my new Dr. decided to call it IBS instead, then after trying a few unsuccessful, direct treatments for IBS, we did a little out of the Box thinking.

Many years before all this, I had been diagnosed with a mild social anxiety disorder. Where it was mild, and where I was not eager to go the pharmaceutical route with its various side effects, I utilized Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as treatment.At that point, It seemed to be working well, and I thought I had the problem licked.

My Dr. and I decided to include that in the list of possibles, And as it was one of the easier, less expensive ones to explore, she prescribed an anti-anxiety medication. For me to try for a few months.

The first two weeks were horrible! Horrific nausea, a drastic increase in insomnia - that was already a problem for me... I couldn't function! She switched me to a similar alternative medication, and the The symptoms were... lessened... at least to a level where I could mostly function. After about a month, the nausea had passed, and the insomnia was ... well... better...

The spasms were also fading away. Less and less with each passing week. My wife observed that my temperament was much more even as well. I was more patient, less stressed. So we stuck with it. Within a few months, the spasm were gone. I was still experiencing occasional abdominal pain, but now, with the other problem under control, this problem was predictable, and we were finally able to link it to lactose. (A big think you to the person/s who invented lactose free milk and butter!). Years before, I had experimented with that, but could  make no link, due to the other issue masking it.

So a few lessons learned:

Patience - I'm not going to say positivity, is necessary, though I suspect it helps, but stoicism is crucial. Sometimes it just takes time to find the right person or place to start peeling back the layers.

Persistence - Don't be afraid to talk to more doctors. The other Dr's weren't necessarily bad. They just missed a crucial piece of information, or made the diagnosis based on their experiences. They did the best they could with what they had. Sometimes a different pair of eyes can understand the information in a different light...

Compassion - My problem - as it turns out - was all (mostly) in my head :). But that doesn't make it any less real. There are many people in this world who are dealing with real health issues which you, me, even they likely don't understand. Their pain is real. Be patient with them.

Science - The scientific process is crucial, examine the evidence, and see where it leads. It is so easy in situations like this to latch onto any idea that offers a cure. And there are so many theories, with compelling sounding defenses, and an abundance of anecdotes. Note, lactose is now a problem for me (along with roughly 50% of the human population). But that doesn't mean that I believe Milk (or Grain, or Meat, or ....) is bad for humans. I can point to just as many anecdotes of people who have thrived on diets of most every sort. It just proves that we are all different. I can imagine a day in the future, when they will be able to perform a genetic test and tell each individual which foods they uniquely should avoid, and which foods they specifically should seek out and make a regular part of their diet, and when that will change as they age.

Faith and Fellowship - There are times when personal stoicism and positivity aren't sufficient. There are times when it is more than you can personally bear. I frequently found myself there. And at those times, I relied upon  my Friends, my family, and my Faith in Jesus Christ. I am blessed to be surrounded by wonderful neighbors, and to have many friends around the world who were willing to offer me an ear and a shoulder. I am blessed to have family - also throughout the world who offered both comfort and service in my moments of need. I am fortunate to have had so many people praying on my behalf. Just knowing that gave me hope. And I am fortunate also to have my Savior to turn to. There are many times when I felt like giving up that I would start singing to myself "Fear not, I am with you, oh be ye not dismayed, for I am thy God, and will still give thee aid, I'll strengthen thee help the and cause thee to stand. Upheld by my righteous omnipotent hand."

"In every condition, in sickness and health. In poverty's vale or abounding in wealth. At home or abroad, on the land or the sea. As thy days may demand, so thy succor shall be."

Inevitably as I sang that song, I would feel peace. And I would feel comforted. And I would know that I was being watched over by a loving, caring Father in Heaven. That while pain and sorrow and suffering are sadly a part of this life experience, they are not the end, they are a small part of the grand plan. And even in difficult times, we can experience peace, and joy.

So, now life is slowly returning to something more closely resembling normal. Of course, now I am beginning to experience some effect of growing older, so I am not likely to return to the vigor I had before all this started, but there is now hope again that I might keep one of my long term goals regarding a 5k run at a certain speed after the age of 50 (which my wife was so kind as to smirkily point out was just around the corner. Thanks sweetie).

Onward, ever onward.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Young Men's Basketball

This Saturday, I went with my son to a young men's basketball game - One of those things the LDS church does, to give youth something good to do with their time, to try to foster fellowship and good sportsmanship etc...

As I was watching the game, I noticed something - There was one boy who has some... relatively minor - physical challenges/limitations. Whenever he had the ball, the opposing team players all eased up a bit, matching there playing level to the capability of this boy.

I went to the coach of the opposing to and asked him, was this his doing, or the boys? He informed me that he had said nothing to the boys. These 12-14 year old young men had each independently made the choice to do this. I should note also that they lost the game, and it is quite possible that their easing up on this one boy may have been key in that.

There are some very exceptional young men in this world!