Category Archives: Tech

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.

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. ”


“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.


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.


Say hello to my little friend SmoBoT

This is a post I’ve been wanting to write for a very long time. Just under two years ago I was on the Egghead Forum. It’s the one of the online crack houses for members of the Cult of the Big Green Egg. While on the site I came across a wholly remarkable video made by a guy named Eric Reinhart. He had built a robotic damper to fit the top of a Big Green Egg. It differed from other smoker controllers I’d seen in that it was completely passive. There was no blower or anything to change the way the smoker worked. All it did was adjust the top damper in order to maintain a temperature.

I love my Egg in that I can easily dial in a temp for the first six hours of a cook. And, to be realistic, six hours covers an awful lot of cooks. But the thing is stupidly efficient with fuel and long, long (12+ hour) cooks are perfectly within reach — if you’re willing to futz with the damper after that six hour window is up. Why six hours? I’m guessing ash buildup, but it’s just a guess. Anyway, I was looking for tips and tricks so I could contemplate such a thing and still have some possibility of getting sleep. The idea of getting up every couple of hours to check on a fire isn’t nearly as attractive as it was a few years ago. And then I saw that video.

I dropped him an email asking what his plans were. The forum thread was already getting lengthy and there was a lot of interest. I emailed him and said I’d be interested in buying one if he ever decided to build them. I heard back from him within a few days and he said he was going to put some together. I told him I was absolutely interested. Nearly two years goes by. We emailed back and forth every few months. He’s doing this on his own time and his own dime and it wound up being more complicated than he thought it would be. It’s really his story to tell and I don’t want to say too much about it. I do know Eric has burned a sizable percentage of some forest in lump charcoal working out the algorithm that drives this thing.

I’ve been fortunate enough to use two units. The first one was based on the original hardware and it was an amazing experience. I’d wanted to just build a fire and see how well it worked, but when I was three or four hours in I was seeing how rock solid it was holding the temperature, I ran up to Kroger and bought a pork butt to throw on. I’d wanted a small one since it was nearly noon, but they didn’t have any. So I got like a six-pounder. My first run at using this thing and I wound up doing an overnight cook. I dropped the temperature from 220 to 190 (took about a half-hour) and let it run overnight. It apparently stayed in a stall all night because the next morning I had to kick it back up to 220 to get it up to it’s target temperature by noon. The fire went 28 hours. The butt was on for 23:45. I was hooked. I am hooked. This thing rocks.

Christmas Eve I got a second unit. It’s essentially the same until that will be going out in April. The software was a little wonky, but I’ve done several really nice cooks with it. That’s what I used in the video. The software issues have been worked out. That’s not to say there might not be more issues lurking. That’s why this is a pre-production beta. Now you can monitor your cook using your smart phone. You can see a near-realtime (+/- 15 seconds or so) graph of the cook (pit temp and two food probes) on a website. The data are archived. It just works. I think one of the biggest challenges they face is getting people to actually trust it and leave the cooker alone. You get so used to screwing around with them it’s hard to just walk away. But that’s what you need to do.

I volunteered to do a demo video as well as some instructional materials for the folks who will be participating in the Beta. I can honestly say I don’t really know what the plans are beyond the beta testing, but I’d love to stay involved with it somehow. Since I’ve hung out a shingle to do instructional materials for organizations needing instructional materials, this is a good portfolio opportunity for me. I’ve gotten to know Eric and his business partner Curtis (who’s doing a lot of the software work) a little bit and they’re good guys. As I said, I don’t know what the plans are but if and when they start selling these things, they are move a boatload of these things. I feel lucky to be able to participate early on.

So with no further ado, meet SmoBot, your smoker robot.

My two days with Tony

I saw the news about the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia while sitting in a bar drinking a beer. An Urban Artifact Scythe. Quite tasty. My first thought was “holy shit” and my second was whether anyone had put Clarence Thomas on a suicide watch yet. You have to figure the man is going to insist on being buried in the same grave. I never had a personal encounter with Scalia other than living through the disastrous ramifications of Bush v Gore like the rest of the country. I did have a two day period, through, where his whims had a direct personal impact on my life, however trivial.

Justice Scalia came to Cincinnati on March 4-5, 2002 to speak to a Law School Alumni group and a general address to students. At the time I ran what was called the Streaming Media Project. We were physically based in the College-Conservatory of Music and relied on the resources of the Electronic Media Division to operate.  We were actually a unit of the Office of Information Technology. That’s who I worked for and that’s where the money came from. We did a lot of webcasts for the College of Law. Looking back on my time there — I left in 2005 — most of the memorable webcasts I remember producing came out of the Law School.

Photo from UC News.

Our main contact was a librarian in the Law Library by the name of Joe Hodnicki. I always loved it when he called. I’m not being sarcastic here. I really did. As I said, the vast majority of the stuff they asked us to do was pretty interesting. I always knew when Joe called that the deadlines were going to be pretty tight. It was (rarely) his fault. He was the designated middle-man over there and people didn’t usually include him until late in the game.

I wish I could say I remember the conversation we had this time, but the truth is I don’t remember much in great detail. I think he called the last week of February to say that there was a possibility we’d be asked to stream a talk by Scalia from the Corbett Auditorium in CCM the following week. I remember that the first time we talked about it he said doubted we’d actually get to do it.  Scalia was notorious for not liking his speeches broadcast. There was nothing nefarious about it, it was just that the guy didn’t make his arguments in soundbites and didn’t like them being presented that way.  I doubt I would have thrown up any red flags from my point of view. Corbett Auditorium could be reached from our offices without even going outside. We had a network drop in the back of the house we could use to get the stream out. It was an easy gig. That probably wouldn’t happen.

It might have been later the same day, or maybe the next, when Joe called back to ask if it was possible to record another speech. He’d be speaking off campus at The Phoenix banquet space downtown the night before the Corbett event. I don’t think we’d done a gig off campus at that point and I was more than a little suprised. Joe was still pretty doubtful the we’d be allowed to record either event, but he’d been asked to check feasibility.  We knew there was no way to get a network connection down there, but they just wanted the speech recorded for posterity.

This was 2002. On one hand we were less than 6 months from the events of 9/11 so everybody had security on their minds. On the other hand, it occurred to us that there was a good chance he and his handlers had absolutely no idea what “streaming media” was. We’d put together a mobile production rig that was relatively advanced for its day, but now reminds me mostly of that scene in Wall Street where Michael Douglas is talking on that massive cell phone on the beach. The three cameras were small and remotely-controlled, so we figured there was a decent chance it wouldn’t trip anyone’s “Hey! We don’t like video! Cut that out!” response.

So we hauled our gear down to the Phoenix on a Monday afternoon and set up in a balcony overlooking the main ballroom floor. We dropped the cables down the side and kept the cameras out of the way as much as we could. That was the day I found out that the U.S. Marshall’s Service handles security for Supreme Court Justices. I remember this extremely tall guy coming into our makeshift control room and looking around. It was pretty cursory, but I remember that his badge looks exactly like the badges in old westerns. It was kind of cool.

We spent the evening sure we’d get the plug pulled on us, but we didn’t. We tore down late that night and set up again first thing the next day back on campus. This time we were going out live and we really expected to get shut down. But we didn’t. Other than what Joe had mentioned about Scalia hating to be recorded, I’m not sure it was really ever an issue anywhere except in our own paranoia. Paranoia was big then.

I remember little of the speeches. I remember him really enjoying talking about how the US Constitution wasn’t a living document, but a dead one. Those speeches were recorded nearly 14 years ago and the links on the press release from then are dead. I found other links that I suspect are equally dead. We did everything in Windows Media format back then, and that’s as good as dead. I’m guessing Windows Media 7 at best, but maybe older. And now the man is dead, too.

I remember him being funny. I remember disagreeing with him vehemently. What I mostly remember is that we managed to pull it off.

Building the “Building Braxton” Video: Part I

Braxton Brewing Company officially opened last Friday and one of the things done during the opening is play a little video I dreamed up and then had a chance to edit. Here it is:

You can go to Hoperatives to read more about Braxton and the opening, but I wanted to say a bit more about how the video came about and the challenges of putting it together. This is anything but a woe-is-me exercise because I had an awful lot of fun doing it. There was some pressure, but it was mostly the kind I put on myself. I wanted the final product to be good and it seemed like there were roadblocks every step of the way. It’s a story in and of itself and it ought to be written down somewhere.  Luckily. I have a place to do that. This goes on for a while, so I’m going to go ahead and make a jump. It’s not like I update this blog all that often, but I would like the page to be a bit manageable. So click on down if you want to experience some video nerdery

Continue reading

There’s nothing wrong with vertical video. Nothing. N-o-t-h-i-n-g.

Hi. I’m Tom. I’ve been shooting video for more than 35 years. And I don’t have a problem with vertical video. In fact, I’m starting to have a problem with people who have problems with vertical video.

What am I talking about?  Here’s a video shot the “right” way:

Apparently this is virtuous video. Video that won’t curl your hair, lead to halitosis or Make America Lose the War™. (I think I owe George Carlin’s estate royalties for that line.)

This is vertical video:

Even Dunkel is bored with your aversion to vertical video. And yes, I snuck in a cat video.

I first learned this was a thing when I saw this video:

I’ll be the first to say that this is hilarious. It’s also about as intellectually rigorous as most of the arguments I’ve seen. I haven’t (and won’t) do an exhaustive analysis of those arguments, but there seem to be four of them:

  1. History:  Video has always had a horizontal orientation.
  2. Physiology: Our eyes are side-by-side and our perceptual range is roughly horizontally-oriented.
  3. Wasted space: A vertically-oriented video is often presented with black bars on the left and right when presented on a horizontally-oriented
  4. It looks funny: I think this is really just some fuzzy combination of the first three, but maybe not.

I’ll say right up front that the first three sound perfectly reasonable on their face. Each statement is actually true. Irrelevant, but true. Here’s why:


The ratio of a video’s width to height is referred to as its aspect ratio. Most of the time it’s expressed as a proportion:

Number Units Width : Number of Units Height

So a 4:3 aspect ratio would equally describe a screen 4-inches wide and 3-inches tall as well as one 40-inches wide and 30-inches tall. Don’t misunderstand: the units can be anything:  feet, millimeters, squares of chocolate, or the mark my forehead makes on the desk as I collapse from tedium. You’ll also see aspect ratios expressed as the quotient of width divided by height. Our screen with a 40-inch width and 30-inch height can also be said to have a 1.3333 aspect ratio.

I didn’t just pick that size out of the air as an example. You’ll learn, if you go to the Wikipedia article I just linked to, that this was film’s original aspect ratio. For reasons lost to the mists of time, Dickson and Edison (and likely more Dickson than Edison) decided the height of a frame would be four sprocket-holes and the width was based on what was left over on 35-mm film after you accounted for the space the sprockets took up.  So the Ür moving-image aspect ratio wasn’t sent down by the Almighty on stone tablets, it was tied to the physical characteristics of the first standardized film system.

So it’s true that video images have historically been horizontally-oriented. First it was a little wider than tall, now it can be a lot wider than tall. The thing is, it’s pretty tough to flip a movie projector or TV on its side. Still images never had that limitation. You’d never hear anyone being taken seriously if they tried to argue that landscape orientation is the only true photo orientation and portrait is the spawn of the devil. Digital video images are closer to still images than traditional analog moving images in that the display devices can be made to arbitrarily rotate the image so that up is always up and and down is always down.

So sure, we’ve always had horizontal video. We had to.  Now we don’t.


Everyone’s a little different, but we have a little bit more range of vision side-to-side than up and down vision.  It isn’t in focus all the time and we actually pay attention to very little of what’s in front of us, but our visual fields of view tend to be horizontally-oriented. Not as horizontal as even old-school 4:3 video, but horizontal nonetheless. The argument against vertical video seems to be that moving images are somehow “wrong” if they aren’t mimicking the physiological characteristics of our eyes. That seems like a safe assumption on its face, but it falls apart pretty quickly.  Here’s a non-exhaustive list of things people accept in film and video all the time that the human eye isn’t capable of:

  1. Zooms
  2. Pans and tilts
  3. Fast-forward / Slow-motion
  4. Dissolves.  Heck, pretty much any transition except for (possibly) the cut.

Don’t start on me about pans and tilts. “What do you mean?” you say “I can certainly turn my head from side to side! I can look up and down!”  Yes you can. But what you don’t notice is that your eyes don’t stay fixed forward as your head moves. What basically happens is your eye tracks very quickly to where you’re looking and your neck catches up. You change your “shot” as fast as you possibly can and “edit out” the motion of your eye so you aren’t disoriented. Google “fixation” and “saccades” if you want to know more.

That’s why I’m willing to say the eye can sort of mimic a cut, but unless your name is Steve Austin and you’re the Six-Million-Dollar Man, your eye isn’t doing a zoom. So it’s kind of silly to insist on a horizontal orientation for video when we accept all kinds of things the eye can’t do.

At a deeper level, the whole language of the moving image is predicated on two things:  The interplay of light and shadow and the notion of directed attention. The camera’s gaze isn’t supposed to fall equally on all objects in the field of view. One of the hardest things to do is watch video shot by an unmoving camera. It’s like talking to someone who doesn’t blink. It takes a while, but after a couple of minutes your skin is crawling.

Is vertical video always the best choice to direct attention? Of course not.  Lawrence of Arabia would have been a silly movie shot vertically. What I find hilarious, though, is that the effectiveness of the Vertical Video Syndrome PSA up there really relies on the vertical video to create the negative space necessary for the joke to work. And speaking of negative space …

Wasted Space

This is the one I find the funniest: that somehow you’re not getting your money’s worth if every pixel of your display device isn’t taken up with video. It’s kind of like back in the days when TVs had a 4:3 aspect ratio and you’d hear screaming from people when they saw a letterboxed video. Or now when people are perfectly comfortable distorting the aspect ratio of a 4:3 source video to fill a 16:9 screen. Somehow people looking shorter and fatter (and circles appearing to be squashed ovals) is preferable to there being pixels on the screen that aren’t earning their keep by just showing black. To each their own, I guess. For the record, videos with distorted aspect ratios drive me nuts, but Carla can watch them without noticing. And I love her very much. I can accept mystery in my life.

For reasons no one will every really understand, YouTube doesn’t accommodate vertical video and to people who leave comments on YouTube (a scary, depressing group of people), that makes vertical video A Bad Thing.™   Here’s my video from above as it appears on YouTube.

Note how they blow up the still frame and then BAM! Black bars left and right. Other services allow vertical video. The fact that YouTube doesn’t isn’t a valid indictment. Sounds more like a lack of imagination on their part to me.

I really don’t know what to do with the wasted space argument. It’s a taste thing, I guess. But just because it bothers you doesn’t mean it bothers everyone.

And finally!

It Looks Funny

When I’m being charitable I say that this is probably a way for people to express their discomfort over some combination of the other objections. When I’m not being charitable I ask when in the course of human events we’ve ever seen things go wrong when humans immediately dislike something because it’s strange and unfamiliar. It usually works out pretty well, right?


This has been a long post.  I have a simple point. You may not like vertical video. That’s fine.  You don’t have to. No one’s making you. Just understand that it’s not the video that’s having the problem.

It’s you.

Don’t mistake the two.