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  • Writer's pictureJeremy Likness

Finding my new normal

I wanted to write this several weeks ago while the feeling was still fresh. The memory is sharp, but the feeling is fading. One weekend, I experienced something completely unexpected.

One weekend, I felt ... normal.

Normal is such a loaded term. I spent more of my life living without Parkinson's Disease than with it, so you could say that's my normal. I woke up and wasn't in pain. I didn't have to shuffle to the bathroom. I didn't feel the severe cramping that causes the toes on my left foot to curl and contort so severely I have a permanently damaged "hammer toe." My arms didn't hurt when I moved them, and my left hand didn't freeze and lock in place when I was gripping things.

I guess if stress is a trigger for symptoms, maybe peace and calm have the opposite effect. That weekend, a close friend who I haven't seen in several years came to town and stayed with us before heading into Seattle for a workshop. He brought beautiful weather with him. My hiking partner Dan took us on a hike to Lake 22. This hike is rooted in nature. Literally.

A trail covered in tree roots.
The root of the problem

The hike is a short 5-mile out and back that climbs a modest 1,500 feet. After sliding across a short section of the trail buried in snow, we burst into the basin that holds the lake and caught our breath. The water was frozen in places and calm, making it a perfect mirror.

Lake 22
Lake 22

The skies were clear and blue.

A snow-covered ridge in front of blue skies
Blue skies

That evening, we enjoyed our first fire pit of the season and the sun cast its own fire on Mt. Rainier.

A mountain reflecting pink sunshine from its snow-covered slopes
Mt. Rainier at Dusk

It was a relaxing weekend and chance to recharge before tackling two major work projects, an inclusive design sprint and our flagship conference, Microsoft Build.

Accessible and inclusive design sprint

I usually work remotely, but last week was different. On Wednesday and Thursday, I drove to campus but parked in a different spot. That's because I wasn't going to see my team. Instead, I participated in an accessible and inclusive design sprint. Although there was a hybrid option, I wanted to do this in person.

A door to the inclusive tech lab
Microsoft's inclusive tech lab

What is an inclusive design sprint, anyway? This was an opportunity for developer teams to work with the inclusive tech lab to learn how we can make our products more accessible. A panel of subject matter experts joined us onsite. All of them were developers and they shared the challenges they face working with software with low or no vision, mobility challenges, missing or nonfunctional limbs and neurodiversity. We learned a lot about their unique accessibility needs and received feedback to improve our ability to design for accessibility from the start. We also collectively uncovered some common problems and brainstormed potential solutions to pitch to leadership.

Microsoft Build

Microsoft Build is our company's flagship developer conference. Pre-pandemic it sold out fast and attracted thousands of developers from around the world. Many IT professionals have a bucket list item to speak or volunteer at Build in some capacity at least once in their career. The team I joined when I started at Microsoft was responsible for hosting the event the few years I was there. This event was a big deal to me for several reasons.

  • The opportunity to speak is a tremendous honor.

  • I now own a product that is used by millions of developers.

  • This was the first Build held in person since the pandemic.

  • This was my second major in-person presentation since I was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease.

The Build team takes the presentations seriously. We had several meetings to prepare, had our outline, slide deck, and demos reviewed by a panel and did several dress rehearsals and dry runs. I even had a 20-minute visit with the makeup team prior to going on stage! Presentations are stressful enough, but technical demonstrations add a new level of risk because the demo can malfunction due to bugs and/or speaker error. I am not afraid to show my symptoms in public, but I do worry that my symptoms could trigger onstage and make it difficult or impossible for me to type code or even operate the slides correctly.

Fortunately, I did not have these challenges. Although I had positive stress from adrenaline because I'm always excited to present, I've delivered presentations frequently enough to not get nervous or caught up in "what if." I also timed my medications to peak during the presentation. We had a large, packed room and presented live to several thousand developers both in person and on our livestream. The on-demand video has been watched over 31,000 times in the last week.

I'm so grateful for the experience and the confidence I've gained to represent our Parkinson's community by not letting the symptoms keep me off stage. The best part about the conference, however, wasn't the presentation. It was definitely the in-person connections. I spoke with many customers, shared contact information, answered their questions and introduced them to colleagues on other teams. I saw longtime friends that I used to travel around the world with for the first time in years and met their new(er) teammates.

Cloud advocates pre-Build dinner

Photo credit: @LBugnion

I got to know my own team better as we supported each other in person.

Microsoft's .NET team at Build

Photo credit: @davidfowl

I'm so happy that I was able to participate. Here's the proof. See me smiling? Or at least trying my best?

Me. Happy. Purple. Build.

Astrophotography firsts

On May 19th, 2023, a new supernova was discovered in the Pinwheel Galaxy, M101, a galaxy that is easily visible high in the sky this time of year. I spent two nights capturing images of the galaxy and supernova, which resulted in over seven and one-half hours of total exposure time. This is the result. My first supernova!

I have both raw and annotated images of the 2023 supernova available in the print shop.

I also received an eclipse kit. The filter worked great, and I decided to try to make one for my telescope from a raw sheet of eclipse filter. The resulting $5 project was a success, and I can now track sunspots on the sun. My first solar shots!

If you can spot these spots on the sun then you're spot on.

I also scoped out a new spot for dark sky imaging not far from home. This night was a full moon, so between that and some technical difficulties, I didn't shoot much. What I did shoot was this view of stars over the North Fork of the Skykomish River. That light you see isn't direct sunlight. It's moonlight from the full strawberry moon. Every shadow, reflection, and ray of bright light in this photo is from the moon (which of course is mostly just mirroring the light from the sun).

A stellar view of the Skykomish

...and the adventure continues. Until the next time,

Jeremy Likness

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