Can’t be Contained

In Memoriam

When I think of people I know, I always take note of the expression on the face that I see in my head.  Some people are smiling, some laughing, some serious, etc.  None of those expressions are better or worse than the other.  For instance, someone whom I remember as serious might just be a determined person who takes his or her job and life seriously.  Not necessarily cold or distant.  Just serious.

A friend of mine – I worked with him, but he was a friend – passed away this Thanksgiving weekend.  Whenever I think of him, I see a laughing, smiling face.  

Here’s to you, my friend.  I hope that you are still smiling.

Sleeping disorders & sleep studies

Last night I had my 9th overnight sleep study, or polysomnogram.  The first seven were at the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic, which is probably the world’s foremost location.  My proximity to it as a student at Stanford made it possible for someone at our undergrad health center (not exactly bastions of medical genius, though they do make med students do rotations there) to think of referring me over.  The last two have been at the Sleep Center with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation (technically it’s with the Camino Medical Group but they merged.  And they’re all Sutter anyway).

I was first diagnosed with relatively mild but utterly annoying Sleap Apnea in June of 1997.  The first study was on June 3, in fact.  One should certain read more at the wikipedia page, which is pretty good, but apnea, in a very short version, is when one has sufficient obstruction in one’s airway while sleeping that he or she actually stops breathing.  Over time, a person actually gets used to this, and to the decreasing amount of oxygen in one’s blood that results, and eventually has a heart attack and can die (I would think waking up to a heart attack makes it hard to call 911 coherently, even compared to having a heart attack at all but in other situations).

Two things prompted me to go back to the Sleep Disorders center for more help recently.  Of course, I had been sleeping worse, and I’ve never tolerated my CPAP machine well (wow!  shocker!  I don’t like having a plastic tube connected to a mask attached to my face while I’m sleeping!) so I had to do something.  Also, several factors have been exacerbating things such that, despite a whole slate of lifestyle changes (I don’t drive much, I walk to work and used to take the train before that, etc), I am just running down.

When I went in for my appointment with the head of the Sleep Disorders Center I found out my blood oxygen level had hit a low of 70%.  Anything below 95% is cause for concern.  That really blew my mind away.

So, since I’m pretty sure no mask is going to make my issues with a CPAP go away, I’m looking at a major surgery that involves basically cutting my lower jaw loose at the joint so that it can be moved forward, pulling the tongue forward along with it.  It will be my 5th surgery on my jaw or throat.

An Allan by another spelling…

Not quite an effective variant on Shakespeare, but I try.

So my name is Allan Chen.  It is the least common of the three frequent ways to spell my given name – Allen and Alan are far more common.  I honestly have never cared when people have spelled my name wrong.  I don’t bother correcting people or anything.  However, it has been a problem lately, as at work e-mail addresses and names are auto-filled and there is an Allen Chan here, which of course shows up right away if you spell my first name wrong and it sure looks about right as a full name, too.  Recently, someone sent a meeting invitation to this other person, and earlier this year someone sent a whole series of e-mails to him before it was determined that it was the wrong person.

Now I’m confronted with a bit of a dilemma.  I have never made a deal about the spelling of my name, but it has proven to be an actual problem.  So do I start going around telling everyone how to spell it?  Do I come off sounding like I’ve been offended by it?  Ugh.

One thing that has always surprised me is that people don’t notice the mistake.  Especially in e-mail exchanges.  If you think about how e-mail responses are formatted, with the original text quoted below the next text, you have something like this:

blah blah


>hello allen

blah blah previous e-mail

So there’s the correct spelling right above the wrong spelling.  Yet I’ve gotten maybe 5 e-mails my entire electronic life where people have noticed the diference and commented/apologized for it.

A truly terrible commercial

There is a commercial for Sobe Life Water, starring Naomi Campbell, that is so bad, so stupid, that when I am having trouble waking up in the morning and turn on SportsCenter as some random background noise to keep me awake, I jump out of bed to avoid watching or even hearing it.  It involves her walking our out of the water onto a beach, dripping with water, and then these crazy friggin’ lizards jumping up to drink the Life Water that she is spilling now and then.  It turns into a lizard dance-dance-revolution party of sorts where they all fall out of an umbrella and start groovin on a table.

Now, if a lizard started hoping up like it was on acid to drink water I was also drinking, I’d stop drinking that water.  And if I opened an umbrella and a bunch of friggin’ lizards fell out, I’d go to a different resort or beach.  And if I saw lizards dancing at all’well, I better be on acid, too.

The Pickens Energy Plan

I’ll admit – I haven’t read T. Boone PIckens’ book yet.  But I’m listening right now to him live on and he’s making some remarkably intelligent comments about energy independence that really strike a chord with me.

During the Democratic primaries, I kept saying that my most important issue was energy independence.  Health care reform will take probably more than 2 terms – Bill Clinton made it one of his campaign points and didn’t get it done, not even close.  There is just too much to fight through, and, in reality, most people just don’t see the problem.  The people that don’t have insurance certainly feel it, but if you do, co-pays have stayed about the same ($15-30 for most people I know) and all we really see is that our paycheck goes down $40-$50 depending on the year.  The year-long amortization of increasing health care costs just doesn’t smack most people in the face.

But our energy issues do.  $4/gallon gas.  The amount of dollars spent on foreign oil is staggering but easy to comprehend (‘foreign’ always strikes people).  The debate about oil drilling in the US has been going on for years.  The concerns about natural gas, nuclear, and coal have been well documented.  The promise of fuel cells, electric vehicles, etc has been in the news for a long time, too.  It’s all back and forth but it’s there.

Pickens makes some simple and logical points.  I haven’t read his book so I’ll just summarize what I’m getting in this one broadcast:

  • We got a huge problem right now.  We are spending a tremendous amount of money on foreign oil.
  • We aren’t ready yet to go immediately to something like electric, solar, wind, etc
  • We can go stop-gap for about 10 years with natural gas on the big trucks alone.
  • If we were to go with natural gas on just new trucks (not all big rigs), they could go cross-country on just 10 fueling stations, and would decrease our oil consumption by something like 20+%
  • If you take the major wind and solar corridors and build like mad you could generate enough power to realistically hold up the grid, but they’d have to be built in the right spots, and start building them now
  • Natural gas is one of the biggest resources we have, and we don’t even have to touch ANWR or other contested areas to get it (people talk about how much oil is in ANWR but there is more NG our of shale elsewhere)
  • And aim realistic, don’t aim high.  Yes, off-shore wind gets you closer to cities, but they are too expensive.

I was just struck by his realistic approach to things.  I really need to read his book.

Fuel-efficient cars – not that big of a deal if you’re even close to 30mpg

So my wife and I have been looking for a more fuel efficient car.  She has taken a nursing job which will require her to drive about 150 miles one-way twice a week (and stay at location for 3-4 days).  Our current car, a 2005 Mazda 3s, gets an almost constant 27mpg per tank (note that current 3’s get slightly better mileage – the first generation 5-door 3s came only with a 4 speed automatic and the bigger 2.3 liter engine).  It’s shockingly consistent, actually.  But with cars out there that can get anywhere from 45-55mpg according to some reports, we thought it might be worthwhile to look at them considering the cost of gas (about $4.00/gallon for regular right now in this part of CA, though that’s new – it was $4.50 like 3 weeks ago).

The results of our research are actually quite interesting.  It turns out that if you’re current car gets anywhere near 30mpg and you don’t have a huge down-payment ready, you’re not going to save nearly enough.

EduPunk?where did this come from? How did schools lose their way in the first place?

Introducing Edupunk | BlogHer

Edupunk is an interesting idea. To quote from the linked article, ‘edupunk is student-centered, resourceful, teacher- or community-created rather than corporate-sourced, and underwritten by a progressive political stance.’

The example given of why Edupunk is important is that of Blackboard – we implement this technology supposedly to improve the educational experience of students, but Blackboard is a commercial product, designed to sell well, marketed by a commercial company that is watching the bottom line. And that this is – well, the implication is that this is evil.

I don’t know about this. That’s why this is ‘can’t be contained’ rather than just an ‘interesting link.’ I mean’a lot of the examples of what edupunk is – ‘Lego is edupunk. Chalk is edupunk. A bunch of kids exploring a junkyard
is edupunk. A kid dismantling a CD player to see what makes it tick is
edupunk.’ – are, in my opinion, too deviant to really be of use. Are we to all go super open-source/build it yourself/stop buying from “the man?”

I have two perspectives and experiences that are relevant. First, just because a technology is from a company doesn’t mean it’s evil. It’s only evil and manipulative of how we are able to educate students if we let it be. If we lose sight of the goal, which is to improve the learning experience of students. Personally, I am ridiculously demanding of vendors – I tell them what we want to do (based on our (progressive) ideas on improving education) and tell them that they have to meet my needs. I don’t let them tell me what I need based on their products. Yeah, it costs money, and I have to consider those costs. But the issue is about how I and my department see the technology. Not whether the technology is from a company or not.

Another issue is that, if DIY is the essence of Edupunk, then let’s look at some of the monsters that have arisen out of such efforts. You want to displace something as big as Blackboard? That’s one heckuva system one has to build, and that takes a lot of resources. And do Edupunk-heads think that managing resources for a huge project like that isn’t also dealing with capital and the issues associated with compromising educational benefit for the sake of actually being able to afford to do something’