No time to tame time
Where does the time go? It's been months since my last post. Time moves so quickly. If you have any extra time, are you willing to lend it? Actually, if you can just spare some it, I have a story to share.
In 1982, my life was changed forever when I decided that I wasn't going to be an astronaut after all. Instead, I put my astronomy books back on the shelf and replaced them with worn, three-ring binders filled with smudged and dotted text from dot matrix printers. The TI-99/4A came with 32 kilobytes of total memory. The Commodore 64 was an upgrade that doubled memory, improved graphics and offered superb three-channel sound. I imagined myself programming Commodore 64s for the rest of my life. It only lasted a few years, but I was hooked on writing code.
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A little-known fact is that Commodore BASIC, the programming language that came built-in with the breadbox, was based on 6502 Microsoft Basic. I discovered Microsoft a few years later when I downgraded from the Commodore 64 to an IBM PC that ran MS-DOS, supported a cartoon-like four-color CGA palette, and for sound felt it could get away with a few random beeps.
The Ponte Umberto I bridge was built in the late 1800s to span the River Tiber. In May 2017, I snapped this picture of St. Peter's Basilica and enjoyed the company of a close friend, Bob, while we watched the skies darken and lights began to flash on across the eternal city. One topic of conversation was my upcoming interview with Microsoft. How would I do? What are the odds that a college dropout like me can work for a tech giant like Microsoft? It was 35 years after I wrote my first lines of code.
After we flew home from Rome, I escorted my wife to the parking shuttle, then turned around and went back through security to fly from Atlanta, GA to Seattle, WA. I landed at midnight and was greeted by a chauffeur who delivered me to downtown Redmond. I went to sleep at around 1:30am with a 5:00am alarm to work out then take a rideshare into the office for a long day of interviews.
I've now been at Microsoft for more than five years. I recently received a major promotion. When I joined the company, I set the goal thinking I would need to earn it through business acumen and technical merit, but my diagnosis changed many things. The promotion announcement mentioned that I work "tirelessly to raise disability awareness" and that my "visibility and openness have helped create a safe space to discuss disabilities" in our organization. I am deeply grateful for and value those accolades far more than any technical achievements I may have earned. It's exciting that I'm able to engage in addressing my condition at work through our employee resource groups (ERGs) and by testing products and providing feedback to our inclusive technology teams.
We'll soon be reunited with Bob and his wife for another vacation together. We'll have plenty to reflect on. Although we experienced our share of downs since that trip (my brother-in-law, father-in-law, and German Shepherd all passed away from cancer, I was diagnosed with PD, the pandemic hit, and I learned that my habit of wearing gray shirts with gray pants is frowned upon by the fashion community) there are too many ups to mention here.
Since Bob and I shared that moment on the bridge, I joined Microsoft, moved to the Pacific Northwest, and traveled the world. These are the places I visited after the summer of 2017:
Silicon Valley from San Francisco to San Jose.
St. Petersburg, Russia
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Johannesburg, South Africa
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
London, United Kingdom
Add to that the places I've already been like Ireland, Spain, Belgium, and Bermuda, and I guess you could say "I've been places."
Parkinson's Disease Update
Parkinson's is still the same uncurable chronic progressive disease it was when I started this journey, but what has changed is the symptoms I experience from the toll PD takes on my body. My symptoms have progressed slightly since my last update. My tremors are more pronounced and starting to interfere more when I type or use the mouse. I graduated from Stage I to Stage II as of my last visit due to some symptoms manifesting on my right side. My movement disorder specialist increased my medication dosage to address these issues and I'm the process of increasing my intake of Carbidopa-Levodopa in small steps to minimize the side effects.
I consistently experience three main side effects for a few weeks anytime we increase the dosage. First, I have a strange feeling that I'm out of place, don't belong, and am not myself, and that creates a hefty dose of stomach-churning anxiety. Fortunately, I've done this enough that I know what to expect and that it will pass so I'm able to handle it. Second, I also get dizzy if I standup too quickly. Third and finally, I experience intense nausea at random moments that never turns into actually being sick but is very uncomfortable. These typically last from a few days to a week and then disappear.
For the most part, my symptoms have not interfered with my career or my astrophotography hobby. I take advantage of accommodations like special hardware and speech-to-text. The one way it's impacted me the most is when I present. I've presented domestically and internationally to live audiences from two to two thousand in venues from small classrooms to IMAX theaters. I love presenting, but it does create positive stress and adrenaline, both of which are triggers for my symptoms. I found with recent presentations my tremor can get so severe it makes it difficult for me to handle the mouse let alone the keyboard. I consider this to be a positive challenge. First, I can find and learn ways to manage my stress and change the format of my presentations to require fewer motor skills. As much as I love to live code, it's perfectly fine to pre-record those segments. Second, I really don't need to be the presenter. This is a great opportunity to find others interested in speaking and support them. I do believe regular exercise is helping. I shoot for 100 push-ups, squats, good-mornings and burpees multiple times a week. I eat a mostly plant-based diet with occasional fish and egg, but never dairy. I supplement with multiple vitamins and herbs but feel the most strongly about fish oil, Vitamin C, and probiotics.
It's also amazing to have such a strong support network. I have had a blast hiking and kayaking with the Seattle Young Onset PD activity group. I'm also very actively involved as a member of the board of directors for the Young Onset Parkinson's Network. I have a very supportive community at work that I meet with frequently and help drive communications for.
We recently purchased property in Oregon with the intent to build and move in the future. We wanted to show the property to our daughter and meet our architects in person, so we planned a short summer vacation. We always have a great time in Oregon. As luck would have it, the one night I was able to make it to the Cape Foulweather parking lot (a very dark location suitable for astrophotography) the clouds rolled in and left us appreciating how dark it gets but lacking for anything to see. That same trip, we visited the tidal pools in Yaquina Bay and captured photos of sea anemone, starfish, and seaweed. I caught these starfish sunbathing on a rock getting slammed by a wave.
Yaquina Bay has a lighthouse. It was an overcast day, but the sweeping vista of the ocean contrasting with the landlocked lighthouse piqued my interest. I pulled out my Samyang 12mm and swept across my field of view, then used outdated software to patch the resulting photos together into this panorama:
We also stayed "inland" for a bit in a lovely town named McMinnville. I brought my telescope and mount and was able to set it up in the backyard of our rental house. Despite fireworks and smoke from the 4th of July celebration, I was able to capture a galaxy. Here are a few shots from June and July.
We returned from Oregon in mid-summer, but it took several weeks for the snows to finally melt.
Hiking in Washington
I planned an overnight hiking trip with my good friend, Dan. He let me try out a new pack so I could fit my camera gear. It is an Osprey Atmos 65L. For a shakedown hike, I took it on Beckler Peak. I was amazed at how comfortable it was. I had the summit all to myself, so I took out my camera gear and made this panorama.
The actual hike was tough. I'm guessing my pack was a good 50 pounds and we climbed over 3,000 feet in elevation the first day. It was absolutely worth it. The trail, called West Fork Foss River, meanders through the Alpine Lakes Wilderness past Trout Lake, Lake Malachite, Copper Lake, Delta Lake, Little Heart Lake and Big Heart Lake. This is Copper Lake.
As we approached Big Heart Lake, a side trail led to an outcrop with breathtaking views of Delta Lake.
Almost all of the lakes emptied into a waterfall. In the upper right is the falls beneath Big Heart Lake.
The real reward for me happened on day two as we returned to our vehicle. Dan took us on a side trail that was more of a 100+ foot climb over 0.1 miles that dumped us out on the shores of Lake Malachite.
I plan to camp there some day and capture the Milky Way over that ridge. I wanted to get some awesome night shots, which is why I lugged almost 50 pounds of gear. The skies were perfectly clear as night fell. When it was dark enough to see stars, none appeared. A cloud mass had slipped over the campsite and remained there all night. It cleared up completely in the morning, but I did not get to take any sky photographs.
Practice, research, and clear skies led to several personal milestones with my hobby of photographing the night skies. My first breakthrough came during the day. I learned it is easier to set up the scope and focus it during the day using a faraway target like Mt. Rainier. My "test shots" turned into some of my best shots of the mountain.
The moon is always a bright and easy-to-find target, so I've been practicing both detailed full lunar shots and high resolution zoomed pictures of the surface.
I had a rare and rewarding opportunity to photograph the International Space Station as it transited the moon. I recorded this video to capture the experience.
The actual transit it 1:33 in the video.
I've been practicing planetary imaging too and finally achieved a level of detail I'm pretty excited about. There is still room for improvement.
Although I've taken Milky Way shots in the past, they've always been stacked from multiple long exposures because I live in an area with so much light pollution. I decided to head out one clear night to Index, WA, a small town in the Cascades that is much darker than my town. I found a parking lot for a trailhead and set up. I saw the Milky Way with my naked eye for the first time. The next evening, my wife and I went to a different trailhead for a stargazing date, and I managed to get another set of good shots.
Finally, I've been working on detailed images of my favorite targets. 8 hours of exposure time over several nights went into this Andromeda Galaxy picture.
I have a gallery on my website with hundreds of photographs I've taken. I also recently introduced what I call the "Signature Series" of hand-picked favorites.
That's all for now. I'm doing great and although my symptoms have progressed since my last check-up, they are still less severe than the day I was diagnosed. After almost two years I'm getting used to the pill schedule, the tremors, the unexpected cramping and my innate ability to randomly drop things with my left hand. I'm mastering the use of adaptive accessories, donating to find a cure, exercising and eating healthy. But you know what? All these things are trivial in the bigger picture. God is in control and God is good. The most powerful step I take is getting close through prayer, reading His word, and fellowship with the amazing group of believers in our town and at our church. My faith has done more to pull me through this than anything else. Thanks for your time and attention, and may God bless you!
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