Friday, October 09, 2015

On a Serious Note

I have just undergone treatment for prostate cancer.

After reviewing the options - surgical or radiation treatment - I found a fairly new treatment called Cyberknife (a brand name for robotic Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy, or SBRT).

The treatment replaces ten weeks of radiation therapy with five days!   It's much less expensive, and the total radiation exposure over the full course of treatment is about half the exposure from conventional therapy.  Yet the clinical results are essentially the same as conventional radiation treatment.

They are able to do this by using a precisely focussed beam of radiation, which allows them to administer a much higher dosage to the tumor with little damage to surrounding tissues.

Before the week of treatment, they implanted 4 gold seeds in my prostate, and then, using MRI and CT scans, created a computer model of my prostate and the cancer.

During the radiation treatment (which lasted about 45 minutes each day), the computer used real-time CT scans to precisely position the beam of radiation on the places they wanted.  I simply had to lie reasonably still on the bed.  

Click the link to see a Cyberknife promotional video.
A sequence showing the robot arm in action starts at 1:08.
The bed itself was mounted on a robotic arm so they could position it in the general area they wanted; they could also tilt and swivel it in any direction.

The radiation emitter was mounted on the end of another robotic arm.  The arm itself was repurposed from the automotive industry, where it’s used in assembly plants.  It was BIG, and had a number of complex joints that could pivot in several directions, so it was able to move the emitter all around the bed.  The radiologist told me that the system has 1 mm accuracy. 

The only hard part was an extremely restrictive diet.  Anything that causes gas or bloating can cause organs to shift and make it harder for the software to follow the treatment plan developed by the oncologist.  And I was only allowed to have clear liquids after lunch, until the following days treatment.

The treatment sessions themselves were actually restful.  My radiologist dimmed the lights in the room, and I let my mind wander, or slept a bit.  The robot went through the same sequence every day, so after a couple of days I knew what to expect.  As it neared the end of the sequence on Friday, my final day of treatment, I actually felt a bit sad that I wouldn’t be seeing my “buddy” again.

SBRT can be used for different types of cancers, not just prostate, and major medical centers across the country now offer the treatment.  Despite that, many doctors don't seem be be aware of the option. The urologist who initially diagnosed my cancer did not even present this as an option.

I wanted to share this so that others know about this amazing treatment option (if your condition meets the criteria for SBRT).

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Spanish Missions in Arizona

Building on the success of my California Missions and Texas Missions websites, I've just launched a new site,

There were only five missions built in Arizona, between 1691 and 1768. (Apparently even the Spanish missionaries found 115 degree temperatures a bit extreme.)

The first three were founded by Jesuit missionary Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, who was responsible for more than 20 missions.  Most of the missions founded by Kino lie within the Mexican state of Sonora.

The mission church at Mission San Xavier del Bac was constructed between 1783 and 1797.  It is the oldest "European" structure still in use in Arizona.

I've certainly enjoyed learning about the Arizona missions, and in particular the work of Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, who has been likened to Saint Junipero Serra, founder of the missions in California.

For my technically inclined readers, the Arizona Missions site is built on Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Hall of Flame Museum of Firefighting

The Hall of Flame is a surprising cool museum located in Phoenix, Arizona. They have a collection of over 80 vehicles used to fight fires, including wagons from the 1700's up through fire engines from the 40s and 50s... plus a lot of other equipment, like helmets and axes.

At 70,000 square feet, this is the largest firefighting collection and museum in the world. It's well worth a couple of hours to explore.

You'll even learn some things.  For example, cities once had lookout towers with bells to keep watch for fires and sound an alarm.

And in more modern times, a "3 alarm fire" means that three different calls were put in for different fire companies to fight a blaze.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Hiller Aviation Museum

In a place like the Bay Area, there are so many things to see and do that many very worthwhile places get overlooked.

The Hiller Aviation Museum is one of those places.  It's just off 101, on a frontage road near the San Carlos Airport.  In fact, there are windows in the museum where you can watch the airport activity, and speakers so you can listen to the air traffic controller.

The museum has a great collection of aircraft, ranging from a full-size replica of the original Wright Flyer up through modern jets, and a few antique cars to put the aircraft in perspective.  There is a nose section of an actual 747, so you can see the cockpit and even sit in the pilot's seat.   They even have a prototype jetpack, and a NASA spacesuit.

There are several interactive exhibits, including a simulator that allows you to "fly" a Wright aircraft,  and an air traffic control station.

Upstairs the museum has a number of computers running MicroSoft Flight Simulator.  Many of the museum volunteers are pilots, and they are very happy to give kids flying tips and help them out.

This museum is well worth a trip, and once you've visited, you'll find it's a great place to take out-of-town visitors who get tired of driving by tech companies!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Road Trip 4: Downward to Phoenix

I spend a couple of hours in the morning wandering and "old" Flagstaff.  No, this is not the Flagstaff of cowboy legends...  just the old downtown area, consisting of small stores and restaurants in buildings dating to the early 20th century.  It's a pleasant morning, but there isn't a lot to do, so I decide to get on the road to Sedona.

* * * * * * * *

As I leave Flagstaff, the road takes on the character of mountain roads in the Sierras.  It's narrow and winding, and along the way there are pine forests, walls of rock, and dramatic dropoffs.  The rocks are reddish brown, rather than the grey of Sierra granite, but otherwise the drive feels familiar.

* * * * * * * *

Sedona is amazing!  The main street is filled with busy shops and restaurants, but the bustling downtown can't begin to compete with the beauty of the surroundings.

* * * * * * * *

The road gradually straightens as I leave Sedona.  It continues to descend, and I once again find myself in desert.  From time to time I pass stands of Saguaro cactus that seem to stretch for miles. This feels like the desert of the old west.

My arrival in Phoenix is anti-climactic.  Traffic builds, and the freeway widens.  There are more onramps and offramps, and soon I am passing by shopping malls and car dealers.

There is a heat alert in Phoenix today.  When I arrive at my hotel, the temperature is 112 degrees. Improbably, there is a basketball court outside my room.  I think I'll skip shooting hoops today.  Maybe tomorrow.  But probably not.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Road Trip 3: Climbing to Flagstaff

Needles, California.  8:00 AM and it's already 90 degrees.  The temperature is predicted to climb to 108 later in the day, and 116 over the weekend.

It's time to get on the road.

* * * * * * * *

Heading East from Needles, the highway starts to rise.  It is still desert, but the land starts to take on more interesting shapes.  There is more vegetation, and it's a bit more green.  The road twists and turns a bit, following the terrain, rather than lying dead straight.

The Colorado River comes as a surprise.  Suddenly, in the midst of the parched landscape, there is a sleek modern bridge across a narrow swath of incredible blue water.  Midway across the bridge there is a marker:  I am now in Arizona.

Across the river the land becomes dry again, and the road climbs a bit more steeply.  Nothing looks like the mountains I am used to...  the California Sierras.  There are no jagged, rocky peaks,  Instead there are tall hills, brownish red, and buttes like something from and old western movie.

By the time I reach Kingman, the elevation is 3,500 feet.  Seligman, my next destination, is over 5,200.

* * * * * * * *

Along the way, I have a flat tire, and I call AAA Roadside Assistance.  The dispatcher asks if I have water, and access to shade.  This isn't Silicon Valley!

While I wait, I see a truck with a light bar on top.  I watch as it goes by, wondering if it's my AAA service.  The truck turns around and drives back.  Up close I see that it's a park service truck.  The driver asks if I need anything...  he saw me watching as he drove by.

A bit later another car stops to ask if I need help.  People seem to watch out for one another here.  It's definitely not Silicon Valley.

The AAA driver arrives a few minutes later.  He asks if I have water.

* * * * * * * *

In Kingman, and again in Seligman, I turn off I-40 onto portions of the old Route 66...  America's first great highway, the mother road, main street of America. Today the old, winding highway has been bypassed, along with many of the communities it passed through.  It's lined with decaying buildings. Small stretches have been rejuvenated as tourist mecca's, paying nostalgic homage to the 40's, 50's, and 60's.

I visit some museums, a couple of souvenir shops, and a diner.  It's fun, and I learn a bit about the history of the road and the communities.

Leaving Seligman, I see a coyote by the road.  I think it's a good sign.

* * * * * * * *

I arrive in Flagstaff by  mid-afternoon.  Flagstaff is at 7,000 feet, and finally there are trees...  the largest Ponderosa Pine forest in the world.  The trees are refreshing, but they seem stunted by lack of water.  It's like a forest of miniature trees.

I stop at a small cafe for a cold drink before I find a hotel for the night.  Later, I decide to walk back to the cafe for dinner.  Clouds have moved in, and it rains a bit.  It's amazing after the past few days!

The cafe is also amazing.  It's definitely a "foodie" place.  I have a wonderful creamy carrot soup, soda bread, and pasta with mushrooms.

It's been a good day.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Road Trip 2: The Mojave

Traveling from Bakersfield to Needles California means crossing the Mojave Desert.

I drive up through the low lying mountains, and the start across the sprawling desert.  The names are like ghosts from my childhood...  Tehachapi, Mohave, Barstow...

The desert has an austere beauty.  There are few places on earth that are still so empty.

There are turnoffs from the highway every twenty minutes or so.  Forlorn signs promise Gas - Food - Lodging, but I see nothing but desert beyond the turnoffs.  Still, the desert can be deceptive.  Perhaps there is a slight rise, barely visible, and just beyond the rise a prosperous town, complete with MacDonalds, Starbucks, and a Ramada Inn with a sparkling swimming pool.  But probably not.

I made sure I had gas and water before starting my trip; I don't take any of the turnoffs.

* * * * * * * *

At Barstow I take a small detour to visit the Barstow Route 66 Mother Road Museum.  I've been looking forward to this for days.

The museum is closed.  Perhaps I'll see it another time.  But probably not.

* * * * * * * *

I have better luck with Calico Ghost Town.  It's an 1880's silver mining town.  Surrounded by 100 miles of desert in every direction, I wonder how people ever found thier way here...  and why?

Now the town bustles with busloads of tourists.  I spend a few minutes chatting with a German family. They are fascinated by a display of old west guns, and each family member takes an individual photo of the display.

I wander through the town, taking time to examine old wagons and mining equipment.  The buildings now sell souvenirs, crafts, and food.  I have a beer and a couple of hot dogs before getting back on the road.

Road Trip 1: The Central Valley

California's Central Valley is BIG.  You can drive for hours and see nothing but road and fields, stretching away in all directions.

It is one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world.  It contains 1% of the total farmland in the US, but accounts for 8% of the country's agricultural output.

And it desperately needs water.  Driving south, I saw many fields that were not cultivated, and had returned to dust. There were signs posted everywhere:

No Water = No Jobs

Congress is Creating Another Dustbowl

Build Reservoirs, not Railroads

I don't understand all the political issues, but it's clear that there is a lot of pain.

* * * * * * * *

I arrived in Bakersfield hot and tired...  I suppose everyone arrives that way.  I noticed right away that I had a flat tire, and pull off the road in a sketchy looking warehouse area.  I called AAA, and waited for the tow truck in the 95 degree heat.

I watched as a man walked slowly up to me.  He looked at the flat tire and asked if I needed help.  I told him a tow truck was on the way.

He said he was out walking because he was out of work, and he pointed up the road to his house.  He said if the tow truck didn't show up I should come and get him.

We chatted for a couple of minutes, and then he looked at me and said, "I've been in prison.  I raped and killed my stepdaughter.  I'm not proud of it, but I did my time."

He said that after prison he got a job working for a local auto parts store, but had to quit because the owner had two teenage girls that were just too much temptation for him.

I didn't know what to say.  I told him something else would probably come along for him.  I think he just needed to talk to someone...  a stranger.

The tow truck came and I sat in the air conditioned cab as the driver loaded my car.  

The man walked away down the road, toward his house.

* * * * * * * *
I was in my hotel room in Bakersfield, lying in bed.  Someone knocked at the door.  I looked at the clock and it was 12:15.  

I went to the door and looked out the peephole.  There was a girl standing outside wearing tiny shorts and a crop top, showing lots of skin.  Through the door, I asked her what she wanted.  She said that she had just talked to me on the phone, and I had given her my room number.

I told her she had the wrong room, and I went back to bed.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Online Courses for Website Operators

As the operator of a large number of websites, I've learned a few things that I'm happy to share with other web publishers.

I've recently launched a new site,, to produce online training, and the first two courses "short courses" are up and running!

Managing Your Site with WordPress - a 60-minute course that teaches the basics of adding and updating pages, posts, and pictures on your WordPress website.

A Practical Introduction to Search Engine Optimization - a 75-minute course intended for a website owner or website designer who needs to increase traffic to the site through achieving better placement in search engine results. It's an introduction to all of the principles, tools, and techniques required for effective SEO.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

The Roadstop Guide to Roadside Attractions

One of the best things about roadtrips is discovering the fun, quirky little places along the way.  A drive-through tree, a museum of farm plows, a wig-wam motel...

There is a new website, the Roadstop Guide, aimed at helping you find those fun-and-funky places on your travels.  There are relatively few listings so far, but you can help by sharing YOUR favorite places.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Spanish Missions in Texas

There has been a lot of interest, over the years, in my California Missions website.  The missions gave birth to the modern state of California.

I recently started learning about Spanish missions in other parts of the US, and I was inspired to create a new site, the Texas Mission Guide

The Texas missions are different from the California missions in several ways.  They were built much earlier (the LAST Texas mission was built just a few years after the FIRST California mission).  They were often built in groups, just a  few miles from one another, instead of forming a long trail of individual missions as they do in California.  There is also less known about the Texas missions, because many were abandoned and fell into ruins, with few records being kept. 

But just as in California, the missions laid the groundwork for today's culture.  The famed Texas cattle drives were started by Spanish missionaries moving herds to supply the missions!

The new site is a work in progress, but I am looking forward to learning more and visiting the Texas missions soon!

Sunday, March 01, 2015

How Far We've Come

This is a screen snapshot of a very early version of the website.

Given the appearance of the site, it's amazing that large numbers of people (including me) trusted them with credit card information.

I recall getting a free traveling coffee mug with the Amazon logo at Christmas the first year...  a gift to reward their early customers.