Archive for June, 2011

My Ocular Adventure

It was 7 days ago now that I got my cornea fried by a laser, and here is my best recollection of everything that’s happened so far…

Wednesday 22nd June

Drove up to Sydney and saw a movie with my new girl, Emma (who is lovely). I figured I should enjoy a film before the surgery, just in case things went badly. We saw Super 8, which I thought was quite awesome, but she thought was merely okay because she is less of a sap when it comes to movies. It’s basically like E.T. and The Goonies stuck in a blender with a pinch of Cloverfield.

Thursday 23rd

After megadosing on vitamin C and fish oil for a week it was time for the operation, and I was required to bring a “carer” in with me, something which seemed a formality at first but I soon found out otherwise. Shaun generously donated his time for this, and we caught the train in to the clinic in Darlinghurst.

The first order of the day was of course the signing of the terrifying legal waiver, which included such terms as “equipment malfunction” and “partial or complete blindness”. Then they charged my credit card, sent me to the pharmacy to fetch a bag of assorted medications, ushered us into a private room, gave me a Xanax and began a long lecture about the care and maintenance requirements post op, including various eyedrops, tranquilizers and pain-relievers. It was at this point that I started to feel more than a little bit anxious.

The nice lady handed me a gown and booties and I commenced a retest of my eyes as a double-check. One thing that really bugged me about this testing was the subjective component where I have to say “better” or “worse” as various lenses are swapped in and out– I have always hated the vagueness of this procedure, but this time even more so since my answers would contribute to the permanent modification of my corneal tissue; the whole thing seemed like way too much pressure, with me answering “ummm… I’m not sure” for every second comparison.

That done they stuck me in a waiting room with a bunch of other people who seemed annoyingly less anxious than I was, which somehow just made me feel even more anxious, since I clearly didn’t belong there. I began to sweat, even though it was quite cold, and a pain I’d had in my shoulder since waking up that morning became worse and evolved into a nasty headache. In short I felt absolutely terrible, and I think I must have looked it too. When another nice lady came to fetch me for the op she asked me if I was ok and I answered no, I felt awful and now was nauseous into the bargain. So she sat me outside the scary operating room with the big machine and fetched a third nice lady who sat with me and patted my back as I put my head between my knees and gulped for air. It was about this point that I became convinced that this entire thing was a terrible mistake but that it was too late to back out.

Then came time to lie down on the big table in the icy cold room under the giant laser machine. Even though I should have been shivering I was in fact sweating buckets by this stage, and as the assistants stepped out for a moment a part of me was still saying “there’s still time! Jump up and bolt out of here before they come back!”.

But I didn’t do that of course– I just lay there trying not to throw up all over the nice clean technology, and the friendly doctor with the soothing voice came in and stuck a sheet of plastic over my eye. Then he peeled it back, squirted a bunch of some kind of topical anaesthetic in my eye, propped my lids open with little struts and squeegied my eyeball with something (which thankfully I couldn’t feel at all).

A bright green light came on (they told me it was green, I saw it as yellow) and he instructed me to stare into it as directly as possible. Then an assistant started counting aloud and a high pitched buzzing sound started, followed closely by a burning smell. She counted down from 20 and as she did so the bright green light went from fuzzy to remarkably sharp and then to extremely fuzzy again. That was the only indication I had that the burning smell was in fact my eye, since I noticed no other visual effects.

And then it was over, my eye was flushed with cold water, a protective contact lens popped in, and then the soothing doctor was already walking out of the room discussing an upcoming ophthalmologist’s conference. Unfortunately I was not yet over my panic attack, and still felt absolutely horrible (if slightly relieved that I hadn’t jumped off the table mid procedure).

I spent the next 20 minutes (at least) lying on the floor in one of the small offices while the nice ladies lifted my feet up and tried to get me to calm down. Meanwhile other patients were coming and going as though there was nothing at all unusual about the whole procedure. I also did a bit of dry-heaving but thankfully didn’t end up emptying my stomach.

Finally I pulled myself together enough to stagger out of there, ultimately being one of the last people to leave the office I think. Shaun was very supportive throughout, though not particularly sympathetic since he was also trying to make it clear to the nice ladies that we weren’t gay I think.

We caught the train back with me seeing very little through blurry vision and dark glasses, and Shaun dropped me back at Emma’s place and passed on the enormous list of instructions he had been given for my care. By this time I was popping my second bunch of prescribed Valium, so my memory gets a little hazy here, all I know is that I was in much better humour than I had been at the clinic. They also gave me extra Xanax, but since the first one hadn’t seemed to help I decided against taking any more.

Friday 23rd

I basically slept through the entire day, couldn’t see much and didn’t much care. Shaun called me periodically to tell me which eyedrops to use.

Saturday 24th

I also have very little memory of this day, except that I had flashes of vision and even watched a bit of very blurry TV. Lots and lots of various drops in my eye, which was feeling pretty gunky as I had been very sternly instructed not to rub it or wash it. I stayed with my sister and nieces that evening, and the kids were very kind to me given that I couldn’t really see much and felt very disoriented.

Sunday 25th

I started being able to focus on things, but to my slight dismay only things that were mere inches in front of my face. This is basically how I saw the world on Sunday:

I found that wearing Emma’s glasses (she is near-sighted) gave partially useful results but only for short intervals. The utterly different magnification factor from what I had been used to makes them extremely disorienting to wear, and they still weren’t strong enough anyway. Being able to see things both close up and in sharp focus is certainly a novel experience for me, but not so great when I have to practically touch my nose to the screen or page while reading text. Also I would periodically get double or even triple vision in the one eye, which was extremely disconcerting.

Monday 26th

Four days after the surgery I went back to the clinic for my first post-operative checkup, this time accompanied by Emma who happily is now on holiday. The nice lady popped out the contact lens I’d been wearing for the last 4 days– which thankfully cured the double vision problems, but not the extreme myopia. She shone bright blue lights in my eye and said my cornea had healed well and all looked good– but she did seem perhaps a little surprised that I couldn’t even read the top line of the eye-chart on the wall yet. She then went through my bag o’ medicines telling me all the ones I wouldn’t be needing anymore and instructing me on a couple of new ones. As she cast various items aside she told me sternly that I wouldn’t be needing the Valium anymore. Then she zipped up my bag and sent me on my way, telling me to come back for another checkup in 2 weeks.

Leaving the clinic the foremost concern in my mind became: “Did she really just take away my Valium???” As the elevator doors closed I opened up my bag again, and sure enough it was gone. There commenced much whining and gnashing of teeth, as it had after all been my Valium– I paid for it! How could she take it away? What was she going to do with it? As someone with a history of anxiety, having someone take away medicine that makes you feel relaxed and sleepy seemed like a very cruel blow. I briefly entertained the notion of returning to the clinic and demanding it back, since it was MINE and she STOLE IT FROM ME!!! But then that seemed just too embarrassing (and also I wondered if the power to grant medications included the legal power to take them away again) so I settled for being incredibly grumpy and sulky about it all the way home.

Emma helped calm me down by buying my a nice custard croissant, and in the end I’m quite glad I didn’t barge in and demand the return of my precious Valium, since it actually turned out I had forgotten to pack it in my bag in the first place, and it was sitting on the table where I had left it the whole time. Hence the stern warning from the (once again) nice lady I think, who probably found it suspicious that this was the one medication notably absent from my collection. She probably thought I had been popping them madly, whereas in fact I have merely been hoarding them.

The Last Few Days

Sorry for the excessive length of this post… I’ve been writing it in chunks as my vision improves. I’m not having any of the dreaded halo or starburst problems people sometimes report after laser surgery, and dry eyes don’t seem to be a problem at all. Although I’m still quite myopic there are finally some significant improvements in my focal distance, and I think I’m starting to “get” what’s going on:

  • Laser surgery for hyperopia (long-sightedness) is a little more complicated than it is for myopia (short-sightedness), since in the latter case it is basically the flattening of the cornea, whereas in the former it means I have a little bump carved into the middle, a bit like an organic contact lens sitting bang in the middle of my eye. Apparently this will “slump” a bit over the next several weeks, hence the need for initial over-correction.
  • With hyperopia the muscles in your eyes are never fully relaxed when you’re using them. If you relax the focal muscles completely your focal plane extends beyond infinity, so nothing is in focus. Hence for the last 15-20 years the only time these muscles ever relaxed was when I was sleeping. With myopia even in the fully relaxed state you can only focus a certain distance in front of you. The problem here is that I am accustomed to blurry vision signalling a need to work harder to pull things into focus, whereas this is exactly the wrong thing to do with my new vision. So I have to unlearn a reflex which is decades old, and actually relax my eyes when things are blurry. This is pretty tricky, but I’m starting to get the hang of it. For example, as I type this my face is about 40cm from the screen, instead of 10cm as it was when I first tried to use my computer again a few days ago. The text keeps dropping out of focus and I actually have to relax as though I am starting to doze to make it come back again. It feels very strange.
  • I only had the one eye done since I figured it was the only one I really used, but I may have to get my crap left one done as well after all, because as bad as it is it still tries to converge with my right eye– and having one extremely hyperopic eye trying to work with one temporarily myopic eye could lead to headaches (thankfully not so far) or weird things happening like my left one just giving up completely and wandering off to the side. Ew. At the moment the sensation feels a bit like going cross-eyed periodically.

Post op

A few people are asking how the surgery went, so this is just a brief update. Brief because I am so ridiculously shortsighted right now that I am holding my iPhone 3 inches from my face as I type this, and it’s not very ergonomically satisfying. Although the plan was to over correct, this does seem a bit extreme. They seem to feel everything will sort itself out in a week or so, as the cornea settles into its final shape. Still this does rather belie their original estimates that I could be driving/back at work within 5 days. Seems unlikely.

Colour & Vision

Shitting bricks now about my eye surgery on Thursday… although all the reading I’ve done (including PubMed) seems to suggest that PRK is the better option for me, with lower likelihood of complications such as halo artifacts and dry eyes. Still, it’s my one “good” eye! As the day approaches I am becoming acutely aware of how much I care about being able to see. Not just so I don’t bump into things, but because virtually everything I do (or aspire to) is primarily within the visual domain. Beyond learning Stairway to Heaven on the guitar I’ve never been a particularly musical person.

Lately I’ve been noticing just how beautiful things can look in black and white, and to be honest I was disappointed to finally play L.A. Noire and realize that not only is it stunningly boring (at least when you’re not creepily examining dead naked ladies) but also makes very little use of monochrome, let alone the shadows and light implied by the early teaser screens. The disappointment actually inspires me to think about my plans for Drivey again (but don’t hold your breath, we’ve been here many times before).

I want things to be beautiful, especially things I make, and I want better vision in order to appreciate that beauty.

I could of course just get new glasses, but they would be at least +1D stronger than my current prescription, meaning my field of view would be narrowed and chromatic aberrations would be even more annoying than they are now. To give you some idea what I’m talking about, there is an icon on the far right of my desktop that looks like this:

But if I look at it by moving my eyes rather than turning my head, I see it like this:

And for someone who really cares about getting things looking just right graphically, down to the sub-pixel level, this is a HUGE pain in the arse. Contacts would resolve this problem of course, but I’m not very attracted to poking myself in the eye on a daily basis, nor shelling out for the more expensive lenses required for astigmatism.

Other things that will suck less if I don’t need corrective lenses:

  • Rain
  • Baths
  • Humidity
  • Sunny days (I can wear sunglasses!)
  • Casual sports (hypothetical)
  • 3D movies (I won’t have to wear 3D glasses over regular ones)
  • Using cameras, telescopes, microscopes… anything with an eyepiece
  • Romantic candlelit dinners

Then of course there’s the little matter of vanity. Although I don’t have a huge problem with how glasses make me look, I’d still like to see what it’s like to go without them. For about 15 years I have only interacted with people through a pair of (usually smudgy) lenses… and I’m keen to see what eye contact feels like without this barrier. Will I seem sexier? More dynamic? Less nerdy? Will strangers expect less of me intellectually? I have no idea, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

All of this is why I’m going to have the surface of my cornea vaporized by a frikkin Schwind Amaris laser.

Another year dumber

It seems I’ve swapped one vice for another; in foregoing the purchase of cigarettes I seem to have got into the habit of a stiff drink or two in the evening. Which I guess is an improvement? Either way it’s a little on the self-medicating side, and seems to be about calming my jangly nerves. So I happen to be nice and relaxed at this exact point in time.

After more than a year of avoiding anything remotely resembling work for anyone else, I have finally caved and agreed to try a spot of Ruby on Rails for an old friend (hence the previous post). It’s amazing how incompetent I feel trying to get up to speed with Ruby, Rails, Git etc. It makes me feel so incredibly thick, typing commands I don’t recognize toward an end I don’t yet understand. I guess it offers a glimpse into life for those who don’t have an understanding of software on any level– so pretty much every task seems like some kind of tediously bureaucratic black magic. I’ve always needed to understand something from the bottom up before I feel competent at it, but there are so many layers to technology these days that understanding all of them becomes almost a fulltime job in itself. I need to be more comfortable with knowing just enough to get by.

Also, I’m seeing a girl, who is both smart and cute. Just thought I’d slip that in when you weren’t expecting it. And I just turned 39, which is practically 40, so the combination of those two things makes me want to transform into that respectable version of myself, who doesn’t dodge the question “What are you working on?”, or even the more general “What do you do?”

To put it in more plain terms… I really need to be less of an idiot, and just set about getting my shit together without forever throwing my hands up and asking nobody in particular “when will I get my shit together?” I don’t think that epiphany I’m always hoping for is ever going to come; I just need to grow up before all the people who seem to have an amazing amount of faith in me finally stop giving me the benefit of the doubt.

First impressions fail

One thing that most programmers will be aware of is that proponents of Ruby on Rails never STFU about how awesome and easy it is to use. But like just about every other open source thing I ever tried, something always screws up the moment I try to install it. According to the website, the only thing you need to get it installed on OS X is type a single command. Which for me results in….

WARNING:  Installing to ~/.gem since /Library/Ruby/Gems/1.8 and
   /usr/bin aren't both writable.
WARNING:  You don't have /Users/mark/.gem/ruby/1.8/bin in your PATH,
   gem executables will not run.
ERROR:  Error installing rails:	bundler requires RubyGems version >=
Gems updated: activesupport, builder, i18n, activemodel, rake, rack,
   rack-test, rack-mount, tzinfo, abstract, erubis, actionpack, arel,
   activerecord, activeresource, mime-types, polyglot, treetop, mail,


Ok, so I guess I now have a broken install? WTF am I supposed to do now I wonder? Was I supposed to adjust some directory permissions? Was there an implied “sudo” at the beginning of that command? At least it was nice and fucking easy to cock up. Just what is the point of a package manager if it can’t even keep itself up to date?

BTW this is not actually a request for assistance, just an exasperated sigh at the tediousness of managing configurations and versions. This incredibly familiar speed bump sits squarely in my list of what I have always hated about software, and especially the open source variety. Nothing ever just works. Anything that fails is your own fault for not already knowing X, Y and Z, even though you’ve never needed to before.


After making a big mess and then starting over, I think I finally got it. I’m running OS X 10.6.x, and to get rails installed I typed the following commands at the Terminal.

sudo gem update --system
sudo gem update rails

And that’s it (I think… I haven’t even started using it yet, but at least it seems to be present and not broken now). The first line updates the package manager, which is necessary because Rails won’t install otherwise. Running commands without the sudo installs stuff to your home folder where it just seems to break everything.

My Busy Day

8 hours compressed into 2 minutes.

Sad, but not terribly surprising. Next time I’ll adjust the exposure and field of view to get a clearer shot of the screen. Also I think I should consider killing my Facebook account again (or doing that thing where I let someone else pick a password I don’t know).

UPDATE: The following day was much better… I actually spent more time working than not! Facebook and youtube were blocked, and apart from checking my email occasionally the main time waster is scrabble. This video is 8 hours compressed into 1 minute. Unfortunately the quality is terrible, and the exposure fluctuates wildly for no obvious reason. The room was actually well lit for the entire duration.

Working hard…?

A still from my upcoming epic: Me vs the Computer, My Brain, and the World in General

At least I’m actually in this one; in most frames I am notably absent.

A test run at 30 second intervals reveals I can get about 8 hours off a single charge in my old Canon IXUS (a camera from the dark ages which can’t be powered from USB and has no external power adapter). I’m going to go and play outside now, and will be commencing a “work sequence” at 4PM local time (when the sun goes down here), which I will then post here as time-lapse (an 8 hour block will result in a video sequence just over a minute long at 15 FPS).

Always start with a haircut…

When you’re waiting for that epiphany it doesn’t hurt to be prepared, and how can you expect to enjoy a fresh perspective when you’re burdened with a terrible hair cut?

Before and After… see how dynamic and resourceful the latter is? I look like such a young go-getter now. When I lose the wonky glasses in a couple of weeks no one will even recognize the new me!

One problem remaining is that my part is apparently on the wrong side, since parting on the right as I do apparently signals softness and femininity, unlike parting on the left, which signals total macho awesomeness.

The cutest example of this rather dubious theory is in the difference between Clark Kent/Superman.

Side note: How fucking awesome was Christopher Reeve

Epiphany… so… close…

I can feel it… or more specifically I need it. Really soon now.

I already know I am a procrastinating idiot– duh. I already know I will look for any distraction I can find apart from the thing I am supposed to be doing at any given time– duh. I know that I fear failure, I know that I fear success. I know that I over-think things. I know that I compare myself to ambitious young go-getters and wonder WTF is my problem (I partially blame it on being a member of gen-X, the under-achieving generation).

I can’t do another work-related compact… I already have a standing one to keep me from buying tobacco, and what with the eye-surgery coming up I am unwilling to gamble any more cash in this way. I have one last idea in my toolbox of desperation which also relies on the fear of humiliation to some degree. Basically I’m thinking of setting up a time-lapse camera to film me, at my desk (or notably absent), “working” for a day. Maybe if I feel like someone is looking over my shoulder I will be compelled to do useful work. I’ve no interest in the notion of a live web-cam (that just creeps me the hell out) but posting a time-lapse of a day seems like a good compromise. I dunno. It’s a thought.

Of course the obvious thing to do is to go back to work, ie salaried or contract, but seriously it seems ridiculous that the only way I can be productive is on someone else’s schedule. Whether or not you believe in evolution (and if you don’t you’re an idiot) humans were not made to work 5 days a week for someone else’s dream. Sure we have inbuilt tendencies to form peer groups and follow charismatic leaders, but that’s not exactly a given in the average workplace. I’m very lucky that when working I’ve always managed to get the sweet coding gigs working for non-psycho types, with a good amount of creative freedom and autonomy minus a lot of that awful accountability ;) That’s great, but never seems quite enough.

It’s not that I want to be rich, although obviously that would be nice. It’s that I want to be independent. Fiercely so. And this is kind of weird because I am fully aware that just like money, fierce independence is by no means a sure path to happiness. It can, not surprisingly, lead to loneliness, in fact that’s kind of the end game. Great if you hate people, but I do not hate people.

So could it be that all my life decisions might be informed by a deep-seated fear of commitment? ANY kind of commitment? Why do I always want to slash at the strings that tie me down? It’s not like I’m in a great rush to go somewhere else. Why my go-to fantasy at stressful times to be living alone on the Moon?

I hope it’s not that I’m terrified of facing reality, that I prefer to live in the realm of potential and possibilities rather than building something real and accepting all the bad with the good that comes of that. But it probably is that. Shit.

So all I need now is that break-through shift in perspective that makes me suddenly embrace that which I fear, sinking into it like a warm bath, and saving up a deposit for a goddamn house.


I quite like this photo from last century…

Adam, Bindi, Jo, Me, sometime in the late 90s. Over time I’ve come to realize I’m quite lucky to have siblings I both like and and get on with. Hopefully they will let me hang around and sponge off them when I am sad and old.