Down the Rabbit Hole

Early today I was updating course materials on when the site started throwing error messages at me. Every text edit produced an annoying new error message. It was a perfect day to pursue the source. I’m housebound anyway and a snow storm was dumping an inch an hour over New England–I couldn’t even take an exercise turn on my crutches in the driveway. I dove into the Drupal installation supporting the site–disabling modules, generating new error messages, updating modules, generating even more error messages–the price I pay for being an untutored trial-and-error site administrator. I branched into a search for new modules to improve site administration and usability, installing a half-dozen that generated their own problems and required their own tweaks. Finally, eight hours later, I’m out the other side. I think. If the site crashes you know who to blame.

Me and My Body

Taking stock nine days post-op:

  • I had 3.5 hours interrupted sleep last night, from 4:00 AM to 7:30 AM, the longest sleep in ages.  I felt so much better than yesterday when I was out of bed at 4:30 AM after five hours of catnaps.
  • The lack of pain is surprising.  The surgeon sliced through muscle to dislocate my hip, clean out the socket, install the new surfaces, relocate the head of the femur into the acetabulam, and sew me up.  That should hurt.  The surgical wound is uncomfortable, not painful, and I only feel the hip when I do something I’m not supposed to do, like roll to my side without a pillow between my knees.  That unleashes a bolt of pain with a simple message:  Stop What You Are Doing RIGHT NOW.  Mostly there is a dull ache and stiffness, caused in part by swelling–my right leg belongs to some old, feeble, fluid-retaining fat guy.
  • No, its not the narcotics.  My post-surgical PCA (patient controlled analgesia) involved a self-administered dilaudid drip with an eight-minute minimum interval.  Sounds great in theory but it induced vomiting and profound nausea that made the thought of food repellant.  I stopped using it about 24 hours after the surgery.  The worst pain occurred while they decided what I should take next.  Oxycodone appeared a few hours later.  It stopped the pain along with the functioning of my digestive system.  I took that for little more than a day.  For the past seven days I’ve relied on Tylenol.
  • The medical world uses a subjective 10-point comparative scale to monitor pain where 0 = no pain and 10 = unbearable pain.  I first encountered this scale when I came across the Pain Journal, kept by my late sister during her treatment for ovarian cancer, containing dates, numbers (generally between 4 and 7), and brief notes.  The subjectivity of it struck me then and struck me this week: what relationship is there between descriptions of the pain from different people?  On the wall across from my hospital bed was a chart showing the number scale with icons bearing happy smiles for 0-1 (no pain), downturned mouths for 2-3 (mild pain), and so on to the howling agony representing unbearbale pain.  How does your “mild discomfort” compare to mine? How do culture, experience, mores, and other factors color one’s perception of pain?  While in hospital the highest I rated my pain was 5 and then only once, to convince them to move faster on replacing the dilaudid.  I didn’t feel my pain was at a 5 but I could see a 5 on the horizon if I didn’t get narcotics soon.  I was between 3 & 4 for about the first 48 hours after surgery, then between 2 & 3 until I left the hospital 24 hours after that.  This week I’ve rated the pain between 1-2.  At this week’s worst I could imagine pain much more severe than what I felt.  My first night’s roommate was hospitalized for surgery connected to the loss of his thumb early this year in an industrial accident.  I’ll spare readers the details of the accident but I knew that pain had to be far beyond anything I was feeling.  Maybe imagination heavily influences one’s pain ratings.  Until you are experiencing the worst thing you’ve ever imagined in your life, how can your pain approach 10?

Kudos, WordPress 2.7

WordPress is a fully-featured open-source content platform. From the beginning I’ve written this blog on WordPress. (I can’t remember which version of WordPress was my first.) There have been a few bumps along the way, all my fault, and WordPress support has always shown me how to solve my problems. Its interface is intuitive and clean. Always a happy user, the latest version of WordPress has blown me away. I’m just catching up now with the upgrade because other things have grabbed my attention recently. The program responds much more quickly when creating and editing posts and the interface is superb, incorporating many features that were only provided before by plugins. Upgrading from earlier versions could be tricky but WordPress 2.7 contains an automatic upgrade feature. Various administrative screens are customizable, menus wonderfully intuitive, and the entire look and feel is clean and professional. Big points for open source.

. . . In a Strange Land

What follows recounts an early-December trip to Florida.  I started it then and applied finishing touches today.

At 11:00 AM on Saturday I was to be found sitting on the bima of Temple B’nai Aviv with the rabbi, the cantor, and the president of the conservative congregation, my arms wrapped around the Torah, as my wife’s niece chanted her Haftorah portion.  I heard David Byrne’s voice singing “And you may ask yourself–well, how did I get here?”

Good question.  I’m neither Jewish nor religious.  I was baptized, received First Communion, and confirmed in the Roman Catholic church.  I abandoned church at age 16 when I started working all day Saturday and Sunday in a grocery store.  Since then I’ve only attended Mass at weddings and funerals.  My wife is Jewish, our sons were raised Jewish and bar mitzvahed, and I have been a contented atheist.

We are in Florida for the bat mitzvah.  The religious component involved a Friday night service and a Saturday morning service.  I’ve attended dozens of bar and bat mitzvahs over the past 15 years, heard dozens of thirteen year old children chant their Torah and Haftorah portions, read speeches about the deep connection between the readings and their lives, and pledge to give a portion of the their gifts for Sedakah.  A temple service instantly transports me back to the day-dreamy state I entered in church.

I was in that dreamy state, gazing blankly at the temple’s stained glass windows, when I heard my name:  “Now we call to the bima David Randall . . . ”  Huh? People are called to the bima to participate in the service by reading from the Torah or chanting prayers in Hebrew.  I know that every Jewish prayer starts with “baruch atah adonai” and then branches into specifics that I’ve always covered by mumbling “watermelon watermelon.”  That is the extent of my Hebrew.   I looked at my wife.  She shrugged her shoulders. I walked to the aisle to join our son Samuel, also called to the bima.  “Do we have to read?” I whispered.  He shrugged his shoulders–who knows?  I passed my father-in-law.  “Watch out!” he said.  “They’ll try to convert you up there.”  We joined the third bima guest and received our instructions sotto voce:  we were to prepare the Torah for its return to the Ark.  “You” said the rabbi pointing to Samuel, “will roll the Torah.  You”–gesturing to the other man–“will cover the Torah.  And you”–me?–“will hold the Torah.”  I stood by as the Torah was rolled and covered.  The rabbi instructed me to cradle the Torah in my arms, handed it to me, and led me to a chair at the front edge of the bima.  Samuel and the other guest returned to their seats.  I stayed on the bima, elevated above the rest of the congregants.

Torahs are big.  Torahs are heavy.  They consist of a mile or two of parchment on which a trained scribe has written the Five Books of Moses.  The parchment is wrapped around two long, polished wooden spindles.  Each week the spindles are turned to scroll to the correct portion.  At the end of the Jewish year the process begins again.

My lack of religious belief does not extend to desecrating objects that others hold holy. Not on purpose, at least, or with my wife and her extended family watching.  I held on to this Torah like grim death.  I held on to this Torah as if it were my only personal flotation device in the stormy mid-Atlantic on a moonless night.  I held on to this Torah with conviction.  I used the same technique from when one of my sons fell asleep at the Fourth of July fireworks at Albemarle Field and I had to carry him a mile back to the car.  I joined my hands together beneath the spindles, ordered them not to let go of each other under any circumstance, and bore most of the weight on my right chest and shoulder.  (Maybe that’s how I hurt my hip.)  The Torah did not cooperate by wrapping its arms around my neck.  It was all up to me.  I adjusted my grip, shifted the weight slightly, and settled into the seat to hear Lizzie’s Haftorah portion.  Had Michael Phelps’s Olympic event been Torah-Holding, I would have kicked his bony ass off the podium.

It was about this time when “Once in a Lifetime” drifted across my consciousness.  (Sorry, Lizzy, but you chanted in Hebrew and my attention wanders.)  How did I get here?  “Let’s see, I took a left out of the Towneplace Suites (‘you can tell we are classy because we spell town with an e!!’)  on Three Villages Road and walked past Bonaventure Boulevard to Indian Trace, but then I took a shortcut through the parking lot.”  (I’m told that such a literal answer can be a sign of schizophrenia; aim higher.)  Is there an answer if you don’t believe in binary answers to complex problems? Maybe I got there by

Letting the days go by/let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by/water flowing underground

My thoughts returned to the bima as Lizzie neared the end.  The Torah rested securely, if uncomfortably, against my shoulder.  Lizzie finished and the rabbi retrieved the Torah from my clenched fingers.  I walked from the bima, humming “same as it ever was, same as it ever was.”

Randall Absence FAQs

Where u been?

  • This is a professional blog.  Please use standard English.

Sorry.  Where have you been?

  • Last Friday, about 12 hours after submitting final semester grades,  I had hip resurfacing surgery at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Why have surgery over the holidays?

  • Because I did not want to miss any (1) classes or (2) summer break.   Winter break provides enough time to rehab so I can start next semester without a hiccup.

Why did you need hip surgery?

  • Who knows.  Not because of a specific accident, illness, or trauma.  For about six years I have had symptoms of arthrosis, the deterioration of cartilage, in my right hip.  The cartilage wore out and my pelvis bore directly on my femur, bone on bone.  Whatever the cause I lived with it without concession–except that I stopped running, which I miss.  This summer I exacerbated the discomfort by climbing up and down a stepladder about 10,000 times while installing cedar siding shingles on my workshop.    I saw an orthopedic surgeon, took Piroxicam to relieve the pain, and scheduled the surgery for winter break.

Is this the surgery my grandma had last summer?

  • Similar, but likely not the same unless Grandma is under the age of 60 and a jock.  Grandma probably had Total Hip Replacement.  Both surgeries involve prosthetic implants but my surgery removes less bone and is, obviously, way cooler.

Does it hurt?

  • Surprisingly little for seven days post-op.  I only feel the hip when I do one of the many things I’ve been instructed not to do, like roll from my back to my side without a pillow between my knees.  The incision doesn’t even hurt very much.  The area aches, the leg is stiff from fluid retention, and my hip and thigh muscles are on strike because they’ve been mistreated.  That’s about it.

Can you walk?

  • With crutches.  I can put all of my weight on the surgical (also known as the “involved”) leg, but I can’t do much else with it.  I walk circles around the first floor of my house, sit in one of the few chairs that do not violate the Global Precautions Against Surgical Hip Dislocation, and climb the stairs to lie on the bed and do physical therapy. That’s why I said below that my ass is glued to my chair.  Each day the leg is a bit stronger with greater range of motion.

Who is your orthopedic surgeon?

  • John Ready at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

What’s next?

  • Rehab, football, course prep, rehab.  Pretty dull.  Talking to myself–I mean blogging–helps pass the time.


I must apologize to my regular readers for not posting in 20 days.  (Hey loyal readers, great time at the annual Foolish Consistency Solstice Party!  Next time I’ll drag in a few more bodies so we can play four-person Scrabble!)  I have my usual reasons for light posting activity–papers to read, projects to grade, exams to write and score, course grades to calculate.  I have other reasons that require me to glue my ass to a seat for most of the next few weeks.  I plan to watch football, catch up on my TiVo movie library, and post every little thought that bubbles up through the murk.

What could be better, right?


An article from Friday’s NY Times underscores concerns about the increasing virulence of Internet malware.  “Thieves Winning Online War, Maybe on Your PC” opens with this sentence:  “Internet security is broken, and nobody seems to know quite how to fix it.”  It follows with sobering data:

  • Data theft, credit card fraud, and Internet scams are estimated to cost $100 billion a year;
  • The number of online computers infected by malevolent botnets is expected to increase from 10% to 15% next year;
  • A survey of 36 commercial antivirus products showed that they could identify fewer than 50% of the newest malicious programs;
  • “Microsoft has monitored a 43 percent jump in malware removed from Windows computers just in the last half year.”

If these facts are not depressing enough then read the whole article.

Social Network Cooties

Another report about employers, employees, and network usage, of 200 corporate IT folks in the U.S. and Canada.  The good news:  Employees under 30 “tend to be computer savvy and are brimming with new ideas.”  The bad news:  50% of those surveyed said that Gen Y employees were either “a major security concern” or “somewhat of a security concern” because of their tendency “to frequent social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.”  Gen Y employees, they fear, expose company computer networks to viruses through unsafe downloading and imperil proprietary information through profligate personal disclosures.

The first concern seems reasonable but I wonder about the second.  I’m always surprised by the extent to which many Facebook users reveal personal details as if they lived their lives on Page 6 of The New York Post.  The article, however, provided no link between such openness/exhibitionism (take your pick) and revelation of company secrets.  The money quote on this point falls short:

Users of social-networking sites tend to be unusually trusting and willing to share information, said Scott Mitic, chief executive of TrustedID in Redwood City, which offers identity-theft protection services. While they would never dream of leaving their trash cans out when going on vacation, they often seem unconcerned about revealing details of planned trips on social-networking sites.  “I can tell you right now of my friends on Facebook whose house I should be breaking into,” he said. “I know who’s in Russia now. I know who’s on a business trip to L.A.”

Okay, but there’s no disclosure of state secrets.  I’d expect an anecdote or two, at least, supporting this concern.  Without data it’s a back-handed slap grounded in Gen Y behavior stereotypes.

Malevolent Design

Weston, Florida. An Arvida development.  Broad pedestrian-hostile boulevards, gated communities, steroidal houses, trees, hedges, and artificial lakes screening homes from passing eyes.  Weston Town Center, the aesthetic pure Disneyworld, almost deserted at 1:00 PM.  Our airport cabbie, being helpful, told us that the Sawgrass Mills mall, “the third-largest mall in North America, the second largest mall in the United States,” is about seven miles away.  “We’ll cross that off the list” said Judy.  Weston feels like it was poured entire in a plastic mold about 15 years ago.  Sez Wikipedia, “[d]ue to it being a fully planned community, local realtors often state that “everything is located exactly where it should be.”  As if a soulless all-powerful intelligence poured Weston entire from a plastic mold in 1996.

Monitoring Employees

This report from The Guardian presents the results of a survey of British employment managers concerning Internet usage:

The survey found 65% of organisations monitored usage, rising to 86% in local government and 88% in the police. This led 65% of employers to block access to “inappropriate” sites, rising to 89% in local government and 90% in the utilities. Eighteen per cent of employers limited internet access to certain times of day, rising to 38% in the insurance industry.

The survey notes a generation gap concerning Internet usage.  Older managers considered the Internet “a massive timewaster” and “most young managers wanted to use the internet for research, professional development and other aspects of getting the job done.”

Maybe those older managers need more Facebook friends.