Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ears and things...

Where's your hat? Stay out of the sun! I can remember my mother's refrain from childhood. I was a very fair skinned kid and sunscreens were really not available when I was young. Consequently I was regularly burnt and on odd occasions I developed sunburn blisters - unpleasant and painful.
As I've got older I've become increasingly obsessive about sun protection - hats, screen, sunglasses, long sleeves...The problem of course is that the damage is done. All that childhood exposure is now revealing itself in the way of solar keratoses, and various bits and bumps. The dermatologist removes them or freezes them off and I go away for another 6 months.
About 12 months ago I became aware of an area on the face of my ear that developed a small crust and wouldn't heal. The dermatologist gave it a blast with liquid nitrogen but it reappeared. A biopsy revealed a Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC). These things are slow growing but can be difficult to completely remove. I was referred to a plastic surgeon. He said "you'll be surprised how extensive this is". I wasn't! By now it had stretched from inside the antihelix across the face of the ear and up to very close to the ridge of the helix. The decision was that it had to be surgically removed and a full thickness skin graft used to cover the defect caused by the removal.
The ear in question with the graft in place - day 5

The surgery was scheduled as a day procedure. When the time came I was placed on my back on the operating table and the anaesthetist gave me a sedative and a short acting narcotic painkiller through a canula, whilst the surgeon infiltrated my ear with local. I was aware of what was going on but the drugs prevented me from feeling the pain as the local was injected and made me happy to just lie there.
The procedure involved removing the neoplastic tissue and a 2mm margin around it. Then a full thickness graft was harvested from the groove behind the same ear. I could feel the pressure of the cutting, snipping and pulling as the graft was harvested. Then the graft was trimmed for size and sutured in place with lots of interrupted sutures using nylon. I chatted briefly to the surgeon while the graft was sutured in place.
Once that was done the ear and surrounding hair were cleaned up, the drapes removed and then I shifted myself from the table to the trolley to go back to recovery and then after a couple of hours off home.
My ear was numb from the local. As that wore off later in the evening the pain began. Initially the pain was from the donor site for the graft. It was closed with dissolving sutures and because it was quite tight it was very painful. It was reasonably easy to control the pain with Nurofen (ibuprofen) and Panadeine Forte (paracetamol and codeine). However I required regular pain relief every 4 to 6 hours and sleeping was a real problem. I could only sleep on one side and moving hurt - it's amazing how and where your face and neck muscles are interconnected!
The surgery was latish on Friday afternoon. The weekend required regular painkillers but it wasn't too bad. However the pain got worse not better! I removed the dressing on Monday morning as directed and showered as normal before going off to work. My ear was swollen and sore with areas of numbness where nerves had been compromised. The graft looked like something out of a horror movie and there was some bruising and tenderness in various areas. Enough to frighten small children and squeamish adults!
Monday was a big day and I was glad to get home after work for a nap. The pain on Monday night was worse and I spent a fair part of the night awake as I waited for various doses of painkillers to kick in. Part of the pain seemed to be from the swelling and part from the increasingly tight sutures. Early on Tuesday morning the surgeon took the sutures out which was a bit of an ordeal and left me pale and sweating. He cleaned up the graft and declared himself happy. He put a vaseline gauze and a simple dressing in place for 24 hours. After that he directed a daily soak and cleaning of the graft with saline followed by a smear of petroleum jelly to keep the graft moist and supple. I'm to see him in 16 days.
I managed almost a full day at work on Tuesday, despite feeling shaky and looking pale, I had lots that needed doing - the surgery having coincided with a critical stage in a big project. Finally in the late afternoon I had to give in to the pain and go home. Tuesday night was bad from the point of view of pain control. I woke on Wednesday morning, after limited sleep, feeling pretty crappy. I finally gave in to the inevitable and took the day off work. I hope that will let me get on top of the cycle of pain and sleeplessness.
I'm left feeling that I cannot for the life of me understand why people would undergo this sort of pain for cosmetic reasons. In my case the BCC had to be removed before it spread further. However I can't understand why people have facelifts, boob jobs etc. It's just too painful!
Secondly all I can say is: if you are young then please take care of your skin. This kind of procedure is painful, costly and despite the skill of the surgeon, it will never look like it did before.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The anti-Craigslist campaign and other stupidities

It may not be a big thing on this side of the globe, but in the US there is a major campaign against Craigslist. Broadly the campaigners claim that Craigslist provides a way for criminals to pimp and traffic young women for sex. By inference it appears that they believe that Craigslist does nothing to stop this trade, that it is widespread within Craiglist's listings and that the company is venal. We now have young women's advocacy organisations rejecting donations from Craiglist.
Meanwhile the Attorneys General of 20 States in the US have run a campaign to force Craigslist to close its Adult Services section. Note that it appears that there is no legal reason for Craigslist to do that. One assumes that if even one of those Attorneys General had the legal means to do so they would have taken action in the courts to force Craigslist to take action, Instead we have a campaign that has sought to harness public opinion against Craigslist.
It appears to me that we have the modern day version of the lynch mob chasing Craigslist and without sound reason.
The argument used is that Craigslist and other websites provide the ideal place for criminals to traffic young women, and that they are used by those people in that way. The anti-Craiglist lobby argues that the problem is huge. This quote (and the others to follow) is from a CNN news report:

"Nobody knows what the real numbers are," said Ernie Allen, the NCMEC's (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) chief executive. "I'm also confident that the internet has changed the dynamic of this whole problem. We're finding an astounding number of kids being sold for sex on the internet."

Allen said the best source of information on the number of underage girls being trafficked online are websites themselves. While online classified giant Craigslist shut down its "adult services" pages in early September, other sites like are filling the vacuum left behind, he said. And while there are clues in the way the ads are written, only a small fraction of them get referred to law enforcement or organizations like the NCMEC.

Let's be clear before we go any further that we all know that even one exploited child is one too many. That's something that I feel very strongly about. Equally I feel that in this case the advocates, and as we will later see, the law enforcement organisations are engaged in a massive stupidity. Bluntly they have forgotten that their job is to catch (or advocate for the right action against) the criminals who exploit children and instead have embarked on a campaign without evidence against Criagslist. My message to the NCMEC and all of the law enforcement agencies is this: If the problem is as large as you claim then you are simply lazy and not very good at your jobs. You are not doing your job, rather you are seeking to blame an easy target. When you have driven Craigslist from business you will not have made one single ounce of difference to one single exploited child. Not a single bit of difference.
The first sentence of the quote above gives us a guide to what is going on here. "Nobody knows what the real numbers are". That is the standard line used when there is no evidence. However that's not going to stop him or others. What that really means is that these people don't have a shred of evidence but they're still hell bent on their lynch mob tactics with respect to Craigslist.
Further on in that same report we get this:
"It's an outrageous thing to say, but one of our goals is to move these operators into some other illicit enterprise -- to get them out of the trafficking of human beings and into some other illegal business," Allen [CEO of the NCMEC] said.

Yes it is an outrageous thing to say. He's talking about the people that he claims are pimping young girls via sites like Craigslist. Similarly we have this:

In Atlanta, Georgia, one of the country's busiest prostitution markets due to its position as a highway and air travel hub, police and prosecutors witnessed the effect of the internet on the business of prostitution firsthand.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard told CNN that eight years ago, law enforcement began a serious crackdown on the pimps that control most underage victims, until the pimps vanished.

"At that time, we saw a number of underage girls standing on street corners, and they were usually standing there because a pimp had placed them there," Howard said. "After we started our crackdown, we began to notice that the numbers became fewer and fewer, and we were wondering, 'What's going on?'

"What we found is that there was a wholesale transformation from young girls standing on the streets to those same young girls being sold through Craigslist and other internet vendors," Howard said. "That has put us in a terrible position, because much of the illegal sex activity now goes on almost undetected by the police. The numbers we believe remain the same, but what has happened is that they are now out of sight."

So when was the last time we heard about the need for law enforcement to move with the times? These guys are still stuck in a 1960s time warp. The world has moved on guys and the way you need to catch criminals has changed. Why is it that your definition of law enforcement is to run campaigns against legitimate businesses? Why are you too lazy to work out how to enforce the law with respect to the real criminals: the people who place the ads.
By all means if, in the course of doing your job, you arrive at evidence that Craigslist is breaking the law then prosecute them. They have no right to special treatment. But at the moment what's happening is that the law enforcement establishment is targeting Craigslist and allowing the real criminals to go on exploiting women unchecked. That's a shameful situation.
This campaign has moved to the point of mob hysteria is some quarters. A search of Twitter will turn up reams of increasingly bizarre posts lauding the campaign against Craigslist.
What really makes me angry is that all this effort is misdirected. Direct the energy to smart, effective law enforcement. Catch these people and imprison them. At the moment all this campaign is doing is diverting energy from the real actions that will help the young people who are being exploited. That's shameful.

PS: sorry about the formatting in this post...sometimes Blogger defeats me!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

iPhone 4 - Ho, hum

The title says it all really. We wanted another iPhone and it seemed pointless to get a 3Gs when the next model had already been released and the price point for a 3Gs was not that attractive compared to the price of the 4.
If you care about design, this is a nice looking piece of technology. The problem however is that it's too thin. If you have big hands then you'll like the old 3Gs better probably. It had a bulge on the back that fitted nicely into your palm and altogether it felt better to hold and use. What is good about the 4 is that it doesn't have the "slippery" character of the 3Gs - the tendency to slide off things and to be slippery in your hand. It's about a draw in my view: the iPhone 4 is designed to sit on a flat surface more than anything else!
If you're using a 3Gs with the latest iOS then you won't actually notice a lot different with the iPhone 4. Yes granted the phone is slightly, and I mean only slightly, quicker. It's not an "oh wow" thing though. It is just a tiny bit more responsive.
The screen on the 4 is however gorgeous. Indeed the screen is the one stand out on this phone. Without the new screen I'd say it was simply a nice revision of an existing product. But this new screen is very luscious. The retina display makes the task of using a small screen just that much easier and it looks delightful. I can't speak for all iPhone 4s but mine certainly has a greenish yellow cast to the screen. It reminds me of the 1980s Nikkor ED lenses. They had a very similar cast and it added a brightness and spark to photos taken with them. I can't tell whether the screen is supposed to have this cast, as mine does, but if it is supposed to be there then I bet it's about making the screen appear as good as it possibly can. The cast is strong enough that it is just barely acceptable. Whites certainly ain't white!
Speaking of colour casts the camera on the 4 is shocking under tungsten or fluorescent light. It simply doesn't know what white balance is. In daylight the camera produces nice photos, but under artificial light it's simply a shocker.
Now for the real cruncher: It doesn't keep the proper time! How hard is that? If you set the time to automatic it is always slow. Please don't give me rubbish about cell towers and carrier software. When sat alongside a 3Gs, using the same tower, it is always, always slow, as it is compared to a MacBook using a time server or any other item of timekeeping equipment. This and the camera and the screen colour cast, taken together, represent my biggest beef with this phone. It isn't ready for real life. Apple need to fix this NOW.
Other issues and problems with the iPhone 4 for me are:
  • In iTunes it repeatedly throws errors saying that it requires backups to be encrypted. I don't want my backups encrypted but iTunes with iPhone 4 won't backup at all for me without encryption turned on. When I turn encryption on that's it - I can find no way to turn it off again! What's that about? Also the whole issue of encryption passwords is buggy. I really don't know what my encryption password is because of some aberrant behaviour around setting and changing passwords. That is very bad in my view and requires an early fix from Apple. (iTunes 10.0 (67))
  • iPhone 4/iTunes 10 reject perfectly good provisioning profiles for beta software. I have one that's good for another month and it simply won't install the software.
  • The home button occasionally does nothing...that feels really buggy;
  • Battery life is NOT better than my old 3Gs. I used to barely get a working day from the 3Gs and I barely get a working day from the 4. That means say 6:00am to 6:00pm - it will often shut down on the way home. I religiously charge it to 100% every night but it simply doesn't last the distance. I use it all day every day at work with both private email accounts and several Exchange accounts as well as shared calendars. That's the way my life is and I suspect that's why the battery life is so poor. It isn't good enough though. I find myself obsessing about making sure I have a charger and USB cable everywhere I go. Not terribly useful;
  • Now this issue isn't an Apple issue but it really, really bugs me: On the 3Gs I had a great silicone case. It had, in addition to a cover for the back, a piece that covered the home button and a similar piece at the top and was thick enough to provide some grip and protection to the iPhone. The silicone cases I've seen for the iPhone 4 and the one I have are, in a word, useless. They are these little soft skinny things that seem more like a little black dress than a working item. They give the phone no protection, they come off when you pick up the phone or pull it out of your pocket. They seem designed only to show off the iPhone 4 in all its anorexic, super model skinniness. These are working tools not fashion accessories. Can't some manufacturer give us a decent silicone case that stays on and protects the phone? It's not that did it for the iPhone 3 so you know how.
So overall a pleasant upgrade to the iPhone but nothing startling and with some unresolved problems. I haven't had the death grip problem but its country reception is worse than the iPhone 3Gs.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The resolution of the election

There's been a lot going on, so these are just some random thoughts about the (non) election which, whilst indecisive, I believe is all to the good. Already we've seen Tony Abbott in his true colours, first refusing to submit his policies to Treasury for costing and then, inevitably having to agree to do so. Why didn't he just agree in the first place? He looked very silly behaving the way he did: result shot in foot with own gun!
Julia Gillard on the other hand is desperate about this: she wants to "win" this election so badly she can taste it. By that I mean that she wants to be able to form a government. If I was her I wouldn't want to be the shortest lived Australian PM. It also appears that she isn't sleeping very well - she looks tired and drawn.
What we are seeing, despite the missteps from Abbott, is that both sides realise that this is the end of their picnic. They can no longer behave like they have been and expect the Australian public to cop it. I hope the independents keep whoever forms government on their toes. In this regard we want no backsliding.
The other thing we want no more of is Julie Bishop's heckling from the sidelines. As a deputy leader of a major party she has a very limited repertoire and none of it is either very useful or very flattering. My view is that she would do her party a great deal of good by learning a new repertoire that had some positives in it, which focused on what her party was going to deliver and how, and which stopped with the bagging of all and sundry. Enough already from you Julie.
Now to the "independents", Katter, Oakeshott, Windsor, Wilkie and Crook. This is where it gets interesting. The first three are tending to hunt as a pack, Wilkie has said he wants none of that and Crook has simply said that whilst he's a National he won't be on the coalition benches. Whilst Alby Schultz might claim that Crook has "done a deal with the ALP" I think we can be pretty certain that Crook won't help the ALP form government. There's the matter of the mining tax. Julia Gillard is in the position where she can't win on that: if she drops it Crook might well support her but a great big chunk of Australia will say "they've done it again, first the ETS now this". That would be pretty terminal in terms of public trust in the ALP. On the other hand Crook is on the record as saying he can't support the tax.
Andrew Wilkie may well be the first to show his hand, and maybe as early as today. Adam Bandt has already shot his bolt, saying very early on that he would support Labor. So the next cab off the rank is Wilkie. Ordinarily I would expect him to support Labor - that represents a win-win for him. He will keep the Labor voters happy in his seat and he will be able to exert independent leverage therefore keeping his own voters happy. However I suspect it is not that simple. Andrew has moments when he appears to be a zealot of the purest type. That being the case he won't do what appears logical to you or me. Watch this space.
As for the other three, whilst Bob Katter points out that the three state electorates within his seat all vote Labor and that his vote is personal rather than party aligned, I nevertheless believe that it will be hard for him to align with Labor. More importantly he is appearing to act as a bloc with the other two independents. Whilst he might want to align with Labor I think that Oakeshott may well be the stumbling block.
My guess, and that's all it is, is that we'll end up with a coalition government supported by the bloc of three. Please note Julie Bishop that has nothing to do with who got the greatest two party preferred vote or any other measure - all that's irrelevant. The only thing that matters is who can go to the Governor General and form a government and who can survive on the floor of the house. But I'm sure you don't get that - you show no public signs of doing so.
The next few days will tell and it will be interesting. What will be perhaps more interesting is whether, in the longer term, the independents and Adam Bandt can move beyond a pork barrelling mentality to understand that they have obligations to the whole of Australia and that they will be badly punished if they don't live up to them.