Parts Known All-Too-Well

With two high-profile suicides this week, there’s been a spate of people posting the number for various suicide hotlines. I truly believe everybody who does it sincerely means well. If you have, that’s great. It’s normal to feel powerless in the face of such a thing. You can’t undo what’s happened, but you want to try to stop it from happening again. Posting a number is doing something. Anything.  And something or anything really is better than doing nothing.

But just barely. I’m going to explain that, but the punchline isn’t some hipster “you’re doing it wrong” thing.  You want to do something good. That meets all the requirements for “doing it right.” Consider this a FYI, not an admonition. Because you aren’t doing it wrong in the slightest.

Depression lies. And sits. And rolls over.
Depression lies. And sits. And rolls over. It knows tricks like you wouldn’t believe. That’s why it’s a bad, bad dog.

What makes me qualified to pontificate on this (other than the fact it’s my damned blog)?  I suffer from depression. More precisely, I suffer from existence and depression’s the brand name. I’m on medication.  I’ll be on medication for the rest of my life. If you read that and say “that’s horrible!” I have only one thing to say to you:  Fuck you. I’m way too goddamned in touch with my feelings.  I have no interest in being miserable because you live in some fantasy world where everyone’s brain chemistry works just peachy. Mine doesn’t.  And it sucks.

There are some behaviors that help. We have cats, and friends have dogs I socialize with when we go visit them. That’s right up there with the drugs for helping out the old brain cocktail.¹ Medication helps.   It’s a little of this and a little of that. I manage, and I’m grateful for that. Not everyone does. And that makes me sad.

For those of you keeping score at home, being sad isn’t the same thing as being depressed.  If you think it is, go read a book. Or a pamphlet. Just don’t try to explain it to me, m’kay? Pro tip:  It won’t go well for you.

One behavior that’s helped me is to stop caring what other people think.  There are literally billions of people on the planet. A vanishingly small number care I exist. The number who care you exist is just as small. I’m good with making it smaller. My life hack was figuring out that making someone irrelevant was a lot less work than actively disliking them. There will always be more assholes.² It’s the good folks you hold on to . They’re the rarities. The rest of em?  Fuck ’em.

“Golly, Tom”, you say, “You sound like an awful person and I wouldn’t like to know you at all!”

To which I say “Hey!  Thanks for saving me the time! My day just opened up! Much appreciated!”

I’m not all that terribly unique in this, by the way. I may put a few more f-bombs into my colorful bon mots. than many folks are comfortable with, but that helps thin the herd. It’s a win for me, really, and that’s what truly matters.  But there’s a downside.³ OK, lots of them. But there’s one in particular that’s relevant to helping some one circling suicide: Picking up the phone and calling someone for help is way high on the list of things that aren’t going to happen.

Work with me here for a minute.  You look at the world and it seems completely fucked. Everything’s pointless and will probably work out badly. I’m pretty sure I don’t understand a lot about the way you Muggles think about things, but I don’t see how you get from “Existence is pointless, things never work.” to “Hey!  I think I’ll dial an 800 number and talk to someone who’s an utter and complete stranger!”

Let me stop here for an important point: it happens.  And I’m glad it happens.  I don’t understand it, but I’m thankful it does and that those phone numbers exist. If I ever find myself in a bar with someone who answers those phones, I can assure you they won’t be paying for a drink while I’m there.  I’m not going to stalk them or anything.  I’ll just buy their drinks. I will need to see some sort of proof of employment, though. So no telling me you work at one because you’re too cheap to buy your own booze.  So, once again, I’m not saying you’re doing nothing if you post one of the suicide hotline numbers. It’s that you may not be doing the one thing that you’re uniquely qualified to do: be that person who’s there when you’re needed the most.

When I was thinking about how to kill myself many years ago (spoiler alert:  I didn’t) I actually did call someone. I called someone I knew, but didn’t know all that well. Later I was gently chewed out by someone I knew somewhat better for not calling her. I’m not actively in touch with either person now. I have nothing but kind thoughts about both of them, but life takes twists and turns the longer it goes and you lose touch with folks. It’s the way it goes. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not grateful that at that time and place I knew them and knew I could call.

If you really want to help, be that person. The one who was there. Who said the random thing at the random time that made a difference when shit got real. Don’t go deleting the Facebook  posts and Tweets that give out the phone numbers or anything, but think about how you’re using your time. You see people every day.  Mostly the same ones. Ask them how it’s going.  Listen.  Really listen.  And if something doesn’t add up, say something.  Ask a different way. You’re not making a commitment to donate them your spleen, you’re just asking how they’re doing. No one’s expecting you to solve their problems. You probably can’t, what with not being  omnipotent and all that.  (You really need to work on that. I’m keeping a list). There aren’t any magic words. You didn’t miss that day in school. Just knowing someone gives a shit means more than you can ever know.

I’ve seen the aftermath of suicide.  It’s personal to me. It’s why I can’t see me ever doing it.  But that’s me and I’m lucky in that. I’m coming off a relatively bad stretch and I know damned good and well that I can never say never. My not giving a damn about what people think of me is actually a defense mechanism.  I figure you aren’t going to hate me any more than I hate myself, so it’s OK to ask for help.  But it’s hard.  Because when you need it the most the effort seems all too much.

That’s why asking if someone is OK matters. Because when it matters, it really matters.

You have my number? Or Facebook Messenger?  Then you got the number you need.  Call me. I’m happy to help.  And don’t be afraid to say something if I ask how it’s going.  There’s nothing wrong with asking for help. It’s an occupational hazard of being human. Go with it.  It’ll work out.

Just hang in there.


¹Ironically, actual cocktails have a decidedly mixed record on that.
²See: Planet, No Shortage of Assholes On.
³Yes! Really!

This thing still on?

Idiots advertise
Just a guess, but I think there are definitely asses still involved here.

It’s been six months since I posted on my blog. And that post was, itself, the first in six months. I made a horrible mistake: I started really using Facebook. That’s a year of my life I’m not getting back.

I really hate Facebook. I don’t think anyone really likes it. We’re all in this abusive relationship with it. There are three things it’s good for (and those three things vary from person to person). We like those three things enough that we’re willing to put up with the 6.2 billion things that piss us off. We wonder why the world is fucked up, then go spend hours on Facebook to prove how stupid and self-absorbed we are. THERE’S your problem.

The trouble is I like making smart-assed comments and I like people to see them. I’ve got the first part covered, but the second requires I put it where people can see it. And, for the moment, that’s Facebook. But it doesn’t have to be.

I’m trying something. I monitor Facebook a little now, but unless it’s an emergency or initial contact, I won’t interact on it. If I don’t know how to get in touch with you outside Facebook, I probably don’t need to be talking to you. I’ll make my smart-assed comments here dump them to Facebook and Twitter (which is also a cesspool, but it’s so ridiculous I can’t take it too seriously. Some of the quips are really good). If we come to our senses and call in air strikes on Facebook, my pointless prose will survive for future generations to feel relieved they missed.

So the thing that’s inspired this:

I’ve driven Carla to physical therapy this morning. This car is in the parking lot. Who the hell would put this on their car? Yeah. People need to stay back. There’s an extremely stupid person driving this car. (Do they make “Asshole on Board” signs?)

Peace on Earth and Goodwill Despite it All

It’s been a very long time since I’ve posted. Anyone who follows me on Facebook knows my mood has covered the entire spectrum from cynicism to hopelessness. I firmly believe we’re circling the drain as a country, and who the hell knows?  Maybe as a species.  Let’s hope the cockroaches do better.  God knows they’ve had the time to see everyone else make all the mistakes.

It’s the Christmas season. I’ve put on the Santa suit for another year and I’m really glad I have. I don’t know what it is about putting it on, but it changes me.  Sure people react to someone in a Santa suit differently than Joe Blow on the street, but that’s not it.  I spend a good part of my day looking at the world with mild to outright contempt. But it stops when I put on the suit. I think it makes me a better person.

Part of the reason I like doing the Santa thing is that I utterly refuse to take money for doing  it. Given that I’m sure the Labor Department would call me underemployed, I’d probably be a better capitalist if I took paying gigs. But I can’t do it.  And not because of any aversion to making money or some “virtue signaling” that I get accused of on Facebook roughly every 12.6 seconds merely because I don’t like being an asshole.  I want the act of putting on that suit to represent what the myth represents. Here’s the deal:  that damned thing is hot. I’m not wearing that cool vest for my health.1 My knees hurt. I weigh too much which is a disadvantage every single moment I’m not wearing a red suit. I’m an introvert who’s center stage with a spotlight on me. It’s not easy.

And I love every minute.

I play Santa because I want to be good without expectation. I want people to look at me and not see the miserable person I think I am. I want to be the person I wish I was allowed to be all the time. I play the role because I put on a Santa hat while Christmas caroling when I was 16-years old and I wanted more. It was like a drug. I wanted the whole experience.  And for about a month a year, I get to do it.

I’m very, very lucky. Any man, woman or, or child who puts on that suit is my comrade. We understand. No matter what we believe when we take it off.

I truly believe that all kinds of fans are about to be bombarded with all kinds of fecal matter in the coming months. There’s nothing I can do about that. It’s out of my hands. What I can do is put on a hot red suit and remind people for a little while that it’s OK to be happy. It’s OK to give without expectation of what you get in return. I don’t care who you voted for or how you feel about this or that social issue. My hugs are as big for kids who wear #MAGA hats as they are for #BLM t-shirts. Kids are kids. Parents are a crap shoot, but they love their kids. That’s enough at Christmas.

I was at a gig over the weekend and a mom told me her kid wasn’t a good candidate for me because he was Jewish.  “Tooth decay doesn’t care,” I said as I gave him a candy cane. All I ask anyone to believe is that one person can be nice to another person without expecting anything back.

Confession: I’m also not a fan of the crying child picture.  Anytime you see one I can guarantee that no one in the shot was having a good time.  I don’t judge kids.  I do judge parents.

December 26th will come.  My beard will be trimmed. I’ll go back to not being Santa. I don’t know what prayer means anymore, but I pray that I get to do it again next year. But I’m going to enjoy it while I can. It makes the rest of the year worthwhile.

Merry Christmas. It’s not your obligation to me. It’s my obligation to you,


1 Wait. That’s exactly why I’m wearing it. Never mind. Little known fact: you could actually survive in the Arctic wearing a Santa suit.
2 Please tell me what color the sky is on your planet if you don’t see those as opposite poles.

Frozen in Time

Rodins Thinker

Statues are not history. They are not for the dead. They are for the living. They are memories cut in stone and bronze. Those memories are no more impartial and disinterested than any of our own. We don’t build statues to gravity any more than we think of gravity as a thing apart from our everyday reality. Those things just are and there’s no need to think about it, much less carve and cast it. They are there whether we think about them or not.

Statues are not like that. They are objects that tell us what to think about and how to think about them. They tell a story. Given enough time, those stories are told by the dead to the living. Often those stories are about what the dead thought about people who were already dead. Statues are the dead telling us how to remember other dead.

The dead do not speak ill of the dead. There are no statues of Osama Bin Laden in lower Manhattan, Arlington, VA, or Shanksville, PA and I expect there never will be. And rightly so, I suppose. For such a statue to exist we’d have to relegate the objects to mere historical record and we have many other ways to do that. Such an object in those places could never be merely neutral. There would be a message to those who would come after. The dead don’t like their stories to be that complicated.

Statues are stories told by one set of dead people about another set of dead people. Their existence is a fact of history, but they themselves are not history. They are selective memories. They are the stories our ancestors told themselves. They are our ancestors pointing to their past and saying “this is what you should think about when you think about us.” We don’t commemorate the Shoah. We commemorate and honor the memories of those who perished in it. That’s not everyone. We don’t commemorate the guards and the orderlies and secretaries and the train engineers who made it all possible. And we should not. We can’t change the fact they existed. We can only punish them by making them anonymous. Not forgetting what they did. Forgetting them.

Statues do not spring from the earth fully formed, and they do not pass through our generation to the next without our consent. When we pass a statue along to those who will follow us, we say “Yes, this is how we think of this as well.” We, who will be dead, add our voices to those who already are.

It was not for Ozymandias to decide to find himself in that desert. Someone apparently did look upon his work and despair. And decided it was time to stop.

Two Week Tuneup: Electric Boogaloo

heart grahic
A word cloud from the glossary of my device manual.

So I went back to the Arrythmia Guy’s office today for my first followup. It went very well. There was some fine-tuning of the setup that, frankly, surprised me, but in a good way. There was one part of the visit that seriously sucked, though. Because I have nothing but nice things to say about them, I probably ought to mention that I’ve been going to the Arrythmia Center at St. Elizabeth’s in Edgewood. While Dr. Hays is my guy, I wouldn’t hesistate recommending the practice in general (I think it’s four doctors, a nurse practitioner and a whole bunch of other nurses and technicians). It is, without a doubt, the single nicest medical staff I’ve ever dealt with.

Despite the fact that there was one point today I thought they were going to kill me. (Spoiler: they didn’t.)

The nurse who handles the implanted device programming had to test the thing. It started out easy: speed up, slow down. Then it started seriously sucking. She had to text each lead (and there are three of them) under varying conditions. And at one point she shut the thing down. The good news is that in the vanishingly small chance the thing ever fails, I probably won’t die. The bad news is that I’ll want to. Man, that sucked. Not painful, really. More like a fish jumping around in my chest, along with a sudden, profound fatigue. She worked fast. She warned me. It still sucked.

I’m glad she got that out of the way first because the good stuff came next. I’ve been having minor spasms in my diaphragm pretty much since I got out of the hospital. They’ve been easy to live with. I’ve been aware of them, but that’s about it. I could usually reposition myself and that would be that. Or so I thought. She was able to make adjustments to the leads that made the spasms stop altogether and keep the same safety margins I had before. That’s good, but it gets better. Now that they’re completely gone I realized it was more than just spasms. Apparently all the muscles on my lower left side have been continuously tense. Maybe it was just me anticipating the spasms, but whatever it was, it feels like somebody unwound a rubber band on my left side. Tomorrow will be two weeks since the surgery and I’ve just been attributing some stiffness to that. Nope. That wasn’t it. I haven’t been sleeping all that great and now I think I know why. The technical term for what she did was ‘adjusting the lead vectors.’ The alternate title to this post was “What’s the Vector, Victor?” but c’mon. The word “two” was involved. I never pass up on a chance to work in “Electric Boogaloo.”

Classes start up in three weeks and I’ll be teaching two HTML/CSS classes over at NKU. I’ve let myself goof off for the last couple of weeks, but I really need to get down to getting stuff prepared. Last year I had no time to work on anything but classes because I wasn’t well-prepared. I don’t want that happening this time. I’ve got some writing I want to get done as well as some coding. I think of myself primarily as a freelancer, but I think you have to have actual clients in order for that to be accurate. Otherwise I’m just massively underemployed.

And it’s time to start moving on. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks waiting to freak out. It’s not really happened. I’m having to kind of figure out what’s the same and what’s different, and I still have to baby my left arm until the end of this month. Other than that? I guess I’ll find out as I go along. A few months ago I was seeing my GP about something unrelated to any of this and it came up in the discussion that any more A-Fib was going to mean another ablation, and I was figuring that would be the last. one of those Anything beyond that would mean getting a pacemaker. She shrugged and said I’d be surprised how many people had them and there was no way anybody would know you had one unless you told them. All the stuff you used to hear about avoiding microwaves and the like is pretty much ancient history. I really like my GP because she doesn’t make a big deal out of thngs that aren’t so you pay attention to the things she says are a big deal. Everything about this conversation screamed “no big deal” and I think that’s why I’ve been able to take this all so calmly. If you read this you know me, and if you know me “taking things calmly” isn’t really one of my strong points. This? I’m shrugging about this.

And now I can’t feel it in my left side when I do.

You’re Next

I believe life is hard. The Buddha said all existence is suffering and any Bengals fan can attest to that. I don’t know if everyone is basically good or basically bad, but I do know everyone is just trying to get through the day. Get up and try to make it to night. Try to be better off if you can, but try like hell to keep from slipping backwards. Rinse and repeat. You’re just trying to get through the day. Just like everyone else. It’s never easy. For anyone.

To me the greatest sin I can commit is to make someone else’s life harder. I can’t always make it easier, though I should if I can, but I should never make it harder. What other people do to me is up to them. My actions are not contingent on theirs. I have no obligation to allow someone to make my life harder, by the way, just as I can’t try to make my life better by making yours worse. Make someone else’s life better if you can, but never, ever make it worse.

I do not write the name of the short-fingered vulgarian in the White House. He values it more than anything, so it’s the thing I’ll always deny him. It’s symbolic, petty, and utterly ineffective. That’s my wheelhouse. If clear writing demands the use of a name, I use Don Palmturd (anagram!). Comic Colin Mocherie is a strong proponent of Lord Dampnut and it’s hard to beat. The juxtaposition of mocking nobility with incontinence and impotence is hard to pass up. Mine starts off with a double entendre. It’s a casual nickname sure to annoy someone who uses his full name and middle initial to refer to himself, but also a title of respect — among criminals. The surname juxtaposes shit in the tropics. Like Mar-a-Lago.

They aren’t mutually exclusive names, of course. I like the image of a shabbily-dressed Englishman doorman announcing “The Lord Dampnut, Don Palmturd” and the two-bit Il Douche strutting into the room, jaw-jutting with the smirk on his face. He thinks everyone is applauding him, but they’re really applauding the doorman behind him air-wanking and rolling his eyes.

Don Palmturd doesn’t believe what I believe. Yeah, yeah, yeah, you can’t look into the hearts of others and all that, but come on. This guy enjoys making people’s lives harder. He gets off on it. Many of his supporters do too. You ask them how they’re buying any of this crap and they tell you “Ha, ha, ha libtard, we won and you lost.” (Even though they’re speaking aloud they’ll still manage to misspell three words, but that’s beside the point.) It’s an entire political philosophy built around “neener, neener, neener.” They didn’t win. You lost. That makes them happy. That’s all that matters. They believe their lives are better if someone else’s is worse. That’s winning. That’s making America great again.

Nope. It’s not politics, it’s potty training. I can’t fix it. I won’t accept it. I don’t have to.

I actually don’t care who they hate. I don’t care who you hate. Your hatred doesn’t give you the right to make other folks have a harder time getting through the day than they would have had otherwise. Remember, you don’t have to make anyone’s life easier, you just don’t have a right to make it harder. If I consent to let someone else make your life harder, then it’s as if I did it myself. No one gets a free pass. Making someone’s life harder is always a choice. You make that choice and you’re giving everyone permission to do the same to you.

Make no mistake. They will get to you eventually. There are people who currently reside outside the top 1% of wealth-horders who think they’re safe from all this stuff. They tsk, tsk, tsk about everyone freaking out about losing their health insurance, for example, because they get theirs through their employer. As if somehow providing health insurance is something employers will always be required to do no matter what, forever and ever, Amen.

Let’s try a thought experiment. If you have employer-provided healthcare, what would happen if your company decided they didn’t want to offer it anymore? How easily could you change jobs? Remember, you’ll likely be competing with every single other person at your company who does what you do. You that good? What if you’re wrong? And it’s only going to be an “issue” if your company is the first. All someone has to do is be the first. By the second or third it will be the new normal. If you complain you’ll be an entitled whiner-loser-millennial. There will be Wall Street Journal features on the titans of business who disrupted human decency and made the stock market soar. And after all, isn’t that all that really matters?

Of course, it can’t happen. It’s ridiculous. It’d be like an airline started charging you for carry-on luggage! No one would stand for it! Until the FAA becomes a wholly-owned subsidiary of United Airlines and standing-room-only flights are approved, of course. Then flight attendants crews will have to be issued cattle prods, if only for appearances sake.

Yesterday the Senate of the United States of America voted to make a few people more wealthy without having the slightest idea how many people’s lives they’ll make worse. Much effort has gone into not knowing because it doesn’t matter. If you think anyone will hesitate to make your life worse if they think there’s even a chance they can gain from it, you’re delusional. You represent nothing they can’t find in a million other places. You are a commodity. Raw material from which wealth can be extracted. Then you’re slag. To be discarded.

So go ahead and say nothing when you see other people’s lives being made worse. They’ll get to you eventually. And you’ve already given the folks who could say something about it permission to say nothing. Good job!

Your time is coming. Get your hating in now. You’ll be too busy later.

Or dead.

Taking It Slow

Tom's Manual
After 19 years of marriage she finally gets a manual. I suppose I should be encouraged she only asked about the ‘mute’ button and not ‘on/off’.

The bottom line right now is that I’m feeling pretty good. If you’re pressed for time you can stop reading right now and be pretty much up to speed. If you decide to keep reading you’ll know only a little more than you do now and the chances are pretty good that will only be a fart joke.

Hey, I gotta be me.

As the title says, I’m taking it slow. It’s only been five days. I haven’t been out of the condo since we came back from the hospital and I don’t plan to go anywhere until tomorrow. There’s no place I want to go that badly. The dressings are all off and everything looks like it’s healing fine.  I’m learning what positions lead to the diaphragm spasms and how to shift around to make them go away. My follow-up is next week and at this point I’d rather give them a data set with no settings changes. I’m conscious of the spasms, but they aren’t troublesome. And it tells me the damned thing is still working. Right now there’s a lot to be said for that.

I was in bad shape.1 I knew I felt like crap. I just didn’t know by how much. I’m not going to say it was like being a frog in a slowly heating pot of water. One of my favorite writers is James Fallows and he has a special disdain for that metaphor. Turns out that’s not how frogs work. Unless you remove their brains.2 But the left bundle branch block had been damaging things a lot more than I thought.

It’s not like every doctor didn’t tell me it was a big deal, because they did. Imagine hearing every time you went to the doctor that you had a spike in your forehead. It’d kind of take up all your  attention at first,  but after a bit  it’s “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Spike in forehead.  Got it.  But what about this other thing?”

The only one who lost track of the spike in my forehead was me. My electrophysiologist (AKA “the Arrhythmia Guy”) certainly never downplayed it. I’d be all “Yay! I’m out of A-Fib” and he’d be all “Yeah, but there’s still that bundle branch block…” He wasn’t just trying to be buzz kill. Mistakes were made. Let’s look forward and not backwards. I have a lot of denial to account for here.

I’ve found it’s much easier to move around now. Getting up out of a seat isn’t the epic production it’s been.  They told me they wanted me up and walking around and I kind of groaned when they said that. I will be commencing actual walking for exercise, but for the moment I’m just enjoying getting around the house. This is one time I’m actually following instructions. I have lifting restrictions for another five weeks, but I’m getting used to them.

It’s amazing what happens when your heart beats closer to the way it’s supposed to.

No fart joke.  Sorrry.  Next time.

EKG Before and After
What a difference a month and tiny electronics make. I think the technical term for the “before”  is “that’s butt-ass ugly.” And yes.  I have an EKG app. Is that a surprise?

1To make your reaction more entertaining for me I’d like the left side of the room to handle saying “no” and the right side to say “shit”. OK, OK. You can all say “Sherlock” together.
2Insert Pepe the Frog fanboy jokes here.

THAT Escalated Quickly

I have a pacemaker now.  I keep saying it to myself waiting for it to sink in. To get some kind of reaction.  Something significant. Something momentous. I’ve got a little computer in my shoulder that controls my heart via three wires.

A technician can pull out a large briefcase-sized unit, press a couple of keys and say “Your heartrate is 80. ”

Click-click-click

“Now it’s 70.”

And all I can think of is how cool it is. There’s a box about the size of a set-top cable box plugged in next to my bed that downloads data from the pacemaker and transmits it to my Arrhythmia Guy’s office every night. If they see something funky, I’ll get a phone call the next morning. Having a pacemaker means never being alone.

I didn’t know I was getting a pacemaker Wednesday when I got up buttcrack early to go to St. Elizabeth’s. I knew I was getting one someday, but that was some other time that wasn’t now.  Wednesday was supposed to be an ablation. It’s the same procedure I had two-and-a-half years ago. I’d been in A-Fib since May. I’d been progressively feeling worse and worse. I ‘d cooked at the Porkopolis Eggfest over the weekend and it just about did me in.  I couldn’t walk more than a few feet without having to rest. It’s been hard to stand for any  length of time for quite a while. I don’t even want to talk about the depression. It’s not been a period I plan to look back on with nostalgia.

A-Fib isn’t what got me the pacemaker.  Not directly, anyway.  What got me the pacemaker is something called a Left Bundle Branch Block.  That had first been diagnosed back in 2004 or 2005.  When it was first discovered a cardiologist told me that someday I’d have a pacemaker.

Someday.

My heart apparently decided someday was Wednesday. According to my surgeon, they had run the first lead up my leg to start the ablation procedure when the left side of my heart decided it wasn’t going to talk to the right side anymore. Maybe they talked politics. Could have been Russia.  Might have been a Bernie/Hillary conversation.  I don’t know. Whatever it was they had to go track down Carla to get permission to change directions.  Apparently one of the leads was tough to get in. Took three or four tries. They did a cardioversion and called it a day. The nurse anesthesiologist’s first words to me (that I remember, anyway) were “We’re done and we had to put in a pacemaker.”

I feel OK. I can already tell that I can stand and walk better than I could Monday. Some things are awkward because I have to limit my range of motion with my left arm for the next six weeks. It’s going to take a while for the leads to get really secure in my heart muscle, so I have to be careful about pulling them out. That means I can’t reach backwards with my left arm or go above my shoulder with my left hand.  I can’t lift a weight more than 10 pounds or so with my left arm. It’s going to be difficult. Not impossible, just difficult. Pain in the ass more than anything else.

There are still adjustments to be made.  One side effect is that one of the leads stimulates the left side of my diaphragm.  Imagine having the hiccups on one side and not the other. It’s as pleasant as it sounds. It was bad the first night, but a rep from the pacemaker manufacturer came out and made some initial adjustments. I still get them, but not very bad.  It has a lot to do what position I’m in.  It’s extremely mild (or can be if I shift around) so I’m inclined to let it ride until my next follow-up in a bit over a week. I figure there’s a lot of adjusting to be done.

When I had the ablation done in 2015 I didn’t say much about it. This time I decided to be a bit more open about what was going on. I’m glad I did.  I’ve gotten wonderful support from so many people. I’m grateful for all of you. I still feel a bit shakey. Anesthesia has always kicked my butt and this time is no different.

So I have a pacemaker. That’s not a surprise. Apparently I also have a future I don’t have to dread. That’s what’s different.

 

A SMOBOT Kickstarter Update

SMOBOT Control Unit
I cannot wait to get my hands on this thing.

I made a post about the SMOBOT Kickstarter campaign when it started back at the beginning March. I’ve been obsessively tracking its progress. There are now five days to go and it’s hard to say whether or not they’re going to get funded or not. They need about 50 more people to commit to buying a unit. I have no illusions that a lot of people read this blog, but I’m going to write this in the hope that it might help someone who’s on the fence make a decision. I like the guys behind this. I’ve been using  a pre-production Beta unit for over a year now and I love it.

If you’re not sure what a SMOBOT is, go read the last blog post and watch the video. The tl;dr version is it’s a robotic damper control unit that attaches to the top of a Kamado-style smoker like the Big Green Egg, Kamado Joe, or Primo. A thermocouple tracks the temp inside the cooker and the damper opens and closes to maintain the temperature at the set point. The damper looks like this when it’s operating.

Animated GIF of the damper working
This is a time-lapse of the damper working. In real-time you rarely see the damper visibly move. The individual adjustments are very small. That’s why the whole unit can be powered by batteries.

There are also two food probes that allow you to track the temperature of whatever you’re cooking. And since we live in the future, all the data is available on your local Wi-Fi network and even through a free cloud service. When you’re a nerd like me, that’s pretty damned cool.

What the SMOBOT doesn’t have is a fan or blower. There are other temperature control units out there, but they require you attach a blower unit to the lower air inlet of the cooker. That’s where the airflow control comes from. Clearly the things work because lots of people swear by them, but they never appealed to me. The whole idea of something like a Kamado is that it’s built to draw in air. The things work essentially like a convection oven. Getting air into the things is not the issue.  The issue is how much and when. That’s what the SMOBOT takes care of. It constantly watches the temperature and fiddles with the damper when it needs to, and leaves it alone otherwise.

The data from my last cook. Winds were 18mph gusting to 30mph. They were blowing directly into the damper-opening side of my Big Green Egg. It was like sticking a hair dryer in the lower damper and randomly turning it off and on. To say these were challenging conditions is an understatement. I never touched a thing from the time I put on the food to the time I took it off. I was actually cutting the Kickstarter video the whole time.

I have no idea how much charcoal Eric Reinhart and Curtis Pope have burned developing the algorithm that runs the thing. There’s probably an sixteenth of a degree of global warming with their name on it. Small coal plants in China look at them and say “See?  Why are we getting all the blame? Hey, is that honey-glazed pork?” Whatever rainforests have been depleted, the algorithm is solid. The published control range is +/- 5°F, but I’m convinced the thing takes a 2°F error kind of personally. You can see from that graph up there that the unit never stops looking for that equilibrium point. It’s sort of Terminator-like that way.  Except for the whole traveling-back-to-the-past-to-kill-your-mother thing. I can saw with absolute assurance mine has never done that. Mark that worry off your list.

I really like the design of the production units. I’ve used my trusty Beta unit for a long time, but when I get my new one it’s going to be displayed on a shelf. From that picture I can’t be certain, but I think these units are quite a bit smaller than the Betas were. For one thing they aren’t trying to jam two 9v batteries in there. It’s powered via a USB port now. I’m assuming that’s a micro-USB cable plugged into the side in that picture, which means that whole thing isn’t very big at all. They’ve decided to ship a 4000mAh external battery pack with the Kickstarter package and the estimate is that it should last 48 hours in continuous operation. Worried about weather?  You should be able to toss the controller and battery in a zip-top bag. It doesn’t matter if the damper gets wet. Mine sits out in the weather continuously and laughs at rain. At least that’s what it tells me it’s laughing at. I think it might actually be me it’s laughing at. I’m very insecure that way.

Something that people are really paranoid about is the damper getting gunked up with grease and grit. It can happen, but it doesn’t really cause a problem. If the damper gets bound up with dried grease, you can easily free up the mechanism by lifting up on the arm that moves the damper just a little. It’s not like it’s welded or anything. The bond is pretty weak.  I light my Egg with a torch and I just swipe the flame over the metal part a couple of times.  That melts the grease and then it’s lubrication, not a binder.

They’ve added an indicator light to confirm the unit is actually attached to your Wi-Fi network, which is nice. Once you get it set up on Wi-Fi the first time there’s not much reason to mess with it, but it’s nice to have the visual feedback without having to reach for a phone to check each time. I’ve used the Beta unit at our local Eggfest using a LTE hotspot and it works great.  Cooking at one of those things can be hectic (and loads of fun), and it’s nice when you can resist the urge to fiddle with the dampers, especially since the lid gets opened and closed so much more often than with a normal cook.

The best new feature after the overall size and USB power is that “auto” button.  You’ll usually want to turn on the unit when you’re first lighting the fire. The lid’s up and at that point, though, and you really don’t need the damper working so it powers up in “manual” mode. On the Beta units you had to scroll through a menu to kick it into “auto” mode so the controller would take over.  It was remarkably easy to forget to do.  Or so I hear. Just like I heard a rumor it’s easy to forget to attach the thermocouple to the grate. Don’t think there’s anything they’ll be able to add to fix that.

The coolest thing that’s happened during the Kickstarter is that they’ve been able to add the Char-Griller Akorn Kamado grills to the lineup of cookers the SMOBOT can work with. For whatever reason, most of the ceramic Kamados have top vents that are similar enough that mounting the SMOBOT is just a matter of using one screw. The Akorns — which are made of steel and are typically much less expensive than the ceramic types — use a different type of top vent mount. Apparently a guy with both an Akorn and a 3D printer really wanted a SMOBOT.  After a little back and forth with Eric and Curtis, he came up with a prototype mount that works, so there’s an Akorn version of SMOBOT now. I’m pretty sure the same thing is going to happen with other models of cookers, but probably not in the next five days.

I know I know a lot of people who own some kind of Kamado cooker. Let this be my gentle reminder to you that you need one of these things. It works. It’s easy to use. It lets you sleep when you when you want to cook over night. It’s also just a cool gadget.

SMOBOT: Where Your Inner Geek Meets Your Inner Cook on Kickstarter

Something genuinely good is happening today. It’s nice to be able to say that. It’s been a long time since I’ve posted here. I’ve had to step back from the world a little to maintain my own sanity.  But today something good is happening. Something that makes me happy.

In May of 2014 I saw a video on one of the Big Green Egg forums by a guy named Eric Reinhart demonstrating a gadget he’d built. It was an automatic damper controller for his Egg. It controlled the temperature inside his egg by controlling how much air was being drawn in to feed the fire.  Like any kind of grill, the Egg takes in air from one damper to supply the fire oxygen and expels it out another as really good-smelling smoke. On an Egg (and other similar kamado-style cookers) the air goes in on the bottom and out the top. One of the reason people love this style cooker is that they’re very fuel-efficient. The heavy walls (typically ceramic or very thick metal) allow a very small fire maintain a temperature for a long time.  I’ve gone longer than 24 hours on less than 9 lbs of lump charcoal and had fuel to spare.

I have heard tell of people who can set the dampers once and walk away until it’s time to pull the food off the next day.  I am not one of those people. I can dial in a temperature that will hold for about six hours before it starts wandering. Realistically, I’d probably do better just to leave it alone and let the thing find it’s own equilibrium, but I’m not that person either. I mess with things.  It’s what I do.  The gadget I saw Eric demonstrating neatly solved the problem.  I wanted one. So I emailed him to find out what the deal was.

The deal was that this was his hobby.  He had a full-time job that kept him busy and (I later learned) a daughter on the way.  He was exploring the idea of building a few of the things and I asked him to put me on the list. I was completely paranoid about an announcement email going to spam and missing out, so every six months or so I’d email him to see what was happening. He’d always respond quickly and reassure me I’d not missed out. He’d been busy. Life is life , after all.

Then one day he emailed me (and it didn’t go to spam!  Yay!). He was finally pushing ahead on building some units  and asked if I was still interested. “Oh HELL yes!”  I thought,  though I was slightly more restrained in my response. But only somewhat. There are other temperature-assist units out there. What they have in common, though, is that they force air into the smoker using a blower.  People who use them love them, but it somehow seems like cheating to me. It’s not. There is no “cheating.” There’s not a rulebook.1 It’s just a personal preference, but it’s the one I have and I’m going with it.  I wanted to hold out for a passive system.

I learned as we chatted that Eric had joined up with Curtis Pope to refine and, eventually, market the gadget. It had a name now:  SMOBOT.  And a logo (though it changed later). I got to try out one of the Alpha-stage prototypes and was instantly hooked. I learned that part of the reason the timeline had stretched on was Curtis was working to wi-fi enable the device and that meant the control unit was basically rebuilt. The Alpha was Bluetooth-only, and even that was wonky. You could reliably control it remotely from up to four feet away. As long as you were outside. The Beta units would be controllable via wi-fi.  When I got my hands on an early Beta, I threw together a video they were able to put up on their website to explain what the thing did. Anytime you can use the words “robot apocalypse” in a project you know it’s going well.

It was definitely a beta unit. New software would be pushed out, and sometimes we’d get an email a day or so later saying “Um. You might not want to do that update if you haven’t already.” It only happened a couple of times, but it was still a work in progress. I’ve pretty much quit using my Egg without the SMOBOT attached. The Beta units are powered by two 9V batteries and the original leads were terrible. Eric came up with better ones and I sent mine back to him to be retrofitted. I made sure I did it when we were traveling so I wouldn’t have to be without the thing when I wanted to cook.

A little over a month ago Curtis and Eric contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in cutting their Kickstarter video.  I jumped at the chance. Some of the copy from my original video made it into this one, but this is a lot more polished project. I guess I should disclose that I have gotten paid for this, but the negotiations were pretty much “whatever is fine.”  These units are also going to be more polished. The Beta cycle taught a lot of lessons. You’ll be able to power it using anything that can charge a cell-phone, for example.  The wi-fi has always been solid, but I’m looking forward to seeing what’s been done with it using an upgraded chipset.

So the Kickstarter is live as of now. I think I’ve told everyone I know who has a kamado-type smoker, but in case I’ve missed you:  BUY THIS!


1Please don’t yell at me if you have a blower-type controller. Your happiness with what you’re doing is all the justification you need to use what you like. Seriously. I’m not going to tell you you’re wrong, because … well … you just aren’t. This isn’t Highlander. There can be more than one.