Archive for October, 2009

The power of Narcolepsy

October 21st, 2009 2 comments

It is hard to remember back before 10 years ago before I unlocked my secret powers.  Just like in a comic book, a balance had to be made. While my sister seemed to yield amazing levels of insomnia, I gained the power of Narcolepsy. I didn’t exactly know it was happening until much later in life, even though there were always signs.

Many people say they are always tired.  This is different, trust me.

Unlocking the Powers

A few years after I met my now wonderful wife, she convinced me to go to a sleep clinic.   Try to appreciate that she is a medical nerd, while I retain my more classic computer nerd mindset. In 2003 I went to the University of Rochester Sleep Center, for an evaluation on sleep apnea followed by a side order of narcolepsy.

I have known many people now who have gone through the sleep apnea study, where they hookup about a million and a half test leads all over your cranium and tell you to get comfortable for a good night sleep.  The narcolepsy test starts that following morning, after all of you apnea people get to go home.  The premise is simple, they wake you up at 7AM, give you some breakfast, make sure you stay awake for 2 hours, then ask you to go back to sleep.  This cycle repeats itself 4 times throughout the day, while they monitor how fast your fall asleep, enter REM sleep, and all sorts of things that only the medical nerds appreciate.

Needless to say I passed with flying colors.

Stephen: “How many people are taking the Narcolepsy test?”

Nurse: “Just you and one other person”

Stephen: “Well, am I winning?”

Nurse: “We will see after this next one.”

We are given 20 minutes to try and fall asleep, then the monitor things once they start happening.  I do my thing, and then the nurse returns.

Nurse: not actually saying anything but silent and staring at me.

Stephen: “Why are you looking at me weird”

Nurse: “How do you do that?”

Stephen: “Do what?”

Nurse: “Fall asleep so fast”

Stephen: “I thought that is what we are supposed to do”

Nurse: “You have 20 minutes to start to fall asleep.  Some people start to fall asleep during the first 20 minutes, but then it can take an hour before we see them reach REM sleep.”

Stephen: “Well how fast did I make it there”

Nurse: “2 and a half minutes”

Stephen: “Sweeet… I knew I would win.”

While the normal person goes through 5 stages of sleep before they actually reach REM sleep, I bypass them all and jump right to the good stuff.  Not knowing what is happening, the condition actually does suck.  Knowing how to control it however has become an amazing tool to be able to yield.

Before my powers

Before diagnosing that  I had narcolepsy I didn’t know what was happening.  Simply falling asleep at un-intended times was not the only downside.   When you take away somebody’s sleep and they become irritable.  I mean really irritable. I could create mood swings that would rival any pre-menstrual cycles, all within the course of an hour.  It didn’t help my relationships with people, especially with my own family.  I would turn from a normal communicative person into somebody ready to lash out at the world, or whomever was closest.  So, I would strain my body physically to stay awake, sometimes pulling muscles, all in the attempt to use pain to stay conscious. It rarely worked.

For an infliction that revolves around forcing the body to sleep, it certainly didn’t like to stay asleep.  At best, I would make it four hours every night before waking up and needing to take an hour break from sleeping.  After that first cycle of sleep, I would hear everything in the room, able to wake up when a spider burped in the adjacent room.

College is the place for Narcolepsy

I slept through most of my education. Don’t worry, I learned more on my own than I ever did in a classroom. When I actually found a teacher that was stimulating my powers were not called upon, but throw me in a classroom talking about sociology, and I was a goner.   That being said, Narcolepsy was perfect in college. With spread out classes and time in between them, crashing and waking up for a class was easy. Stretch the powers a little and I could stay awake all night working on something, as long as I let my body crash on the books when the time came. I would wake back up in that same position later and keep studying.

I remember sitting in the front row of my college class, where the teacher was adamant about not sleeping. With the proper angle of a hat, and my pen in a writing position, I could come in and out of sleep throughout the class. To the front of the classroom I did not appear any less energetic than the rest of the lethargic class. I would be able to react to changes in tone in the class room and move in and out of sleep at will. I recall performing this maneuver one morning until I awoke a change in silence in the room, only to raise my head as the teacher launched an eraser to the person behind me, obviously not so skilled in the art. I remember the rest of the class looking at me, wondering why I didn’t get caught.  Sorry Mr Woughter, I was sleeping too.

Narcolepsy in the workplace

Sleeping at Work

Sleeping before driving home after work.

While Narcolepsy may have fit into a perfect college model, it did not fair so well for corporate America. I found myself employed with different companies where my job was to be behind a desk on a computer. After 3 or 4 hours of the work day I was useless. I could not stay awake, period. I would need to put my head down and pass out, or suffer the entire afternoon, fighting to stay awake. I learned to drink coffee. It honestly has no effect, and still doesn’t to this day, but it gave me a nervous habit and a reason to get up from the desk.

So, I learned to adapt, somewhat. I would cram work into tighter deadlines that I invented, just to push my brain enough to not allow things to slow down. If I could keep busy and things were hustling, I would not feel the need to sleep. Throw in a meeting mid day however, and I might as well have brought a blanket and pillow along. I learned to stand up for meetings or to mix up activities for the day. Ideally, I would put my head down at lunch, needing to retreat to my car to avoid people waking me up for an entire 5 minutes.

The Super Power

Thank goodness I had this disease after the drug Provigil came around. Every day I take one pill, which fills that little switch in my brain, keeping it from shutting things down. That is not to say I can not take a good nap at will, but my body no longer shuts down at random times.  The drug itself does nothing to keep you awake like caffeine does.  Without provigil, my body tells me to sleep about every 3 to 4 hours. With the pill, I last through the day without my body shutting down. I try to entertain a reboot for 10 minutes at lunch, if I really want to be awake in the afternoon and into the night.

I reach REM sleep in 3 minutes. I sleep about 4-5 hours a night, realistically giving me more sound sleep in shorter amounts of time than most people. When morning comes, I wake up instantly, most of the time without an alarm. I feel no effects of waking up slow in the morning.

For road trips, I can drive those 3 or 4 hours then I start to get sleepy. If I am alone, I pull over, pass out for 10 minutes, wake up and keep driving, feeling more revived than most people have after 10 hours of sleep. Having somebody else in the car, I know to let them drive while I reboot.  It became very useful for our trip this year in One Lap of America, as I was able to stage my sleep in order to rotate the drivers seat when everybody else was getting tired.

The Kryptonite of Cataplexy

Every power has a negative side effect and for me it has been the occasional occurrence of cataplexy. Imagine listening to a conversation, ready to interject with a good joke that will bring a reaction, and upon delivery of the sentence alone, you feel like you stood up to fast and got light headed, almost blacking out.  Sound freakin weird, well it is, but that is cataplexy.  It only lasts for a second or two at most, but is enough to royally mess up a good punch line. Most people outside of myself never notice it.  You can take the Wikipedia definition as cataplexy is a sudden and transient episode of loss of muscle tone, often triggered by emotions.  That’s right, I want to shift emotional state and my whole body gives me a quick physical reboot.  Yeah that’s normal.


Now that I am awake more than the average human, with a condition that attempts to get me to sleep, I envy people who do sleep through a night.  That being said, I am grateful that I am already awake and moving, able to get more done before most people wake up in the morning.  Perhaps life will slow down enough some day where I can sleep every four hours, but for now I will enjoy the advantage I seem to have over the rest of the population.

Categories: History of Stephen Tags:

Watkins Glen – Fall PCA 2009 Trip Report

October 14th, 2009 No comments

A few beers at the Seneca Lodge Sunday night and the Monday morning wakeup came early.  The word for this entire trip will be COLD.  It could have been negative 20 for all I know, but I know it was cold.   Tires were cold, making my limited tread feel like grease, and I found myself huddled in the car instead of wandering the paddock.  The cold air however was like cat nip to the turbo, bringing it to a new heightened state of preparedness.  No worries of over heating and no heat saturation on intercoolers today.

I made it through registration to find out that Tim was my instructor, a position he got without even requesting.  It is hard being in the driver seat with Tim instructing.  Tim knows how I drive and some of my areas I need help on, so like an annoying personal trainer, he makes me work harder into those areas and easily finds my faults.  Where I have a passive approach in a lot of areas, Tim will get me to drive the car in harder than I normally would, watching how I handle the situations.

There is one piece missing however, and that is Tim hasn’t driven this car.  This is where I would “monolog” for about 30 minutes praising the engineers at Mitsubishi.  I will summarize however by saying that I am not even close to pushing this car.  For the early sessions I sandbagged the brakes, mostly because I was on questionable tires and it was cold.  That leads into the highlight, which was making Tim cringe.   We received the late pass signal going into turn 1 after we had some healthy speed out of the front stretch.  Appreciating the late pass, I wanted to make sure it was not in vein, so dove the car towards the corner and hit the gas.  Tim moves into a position that resembles a cat, trying claw for traction before heading into the water.  A tight squeeze of the brakes and the car drops into the corner effortlessly, I reset angles for exit and nail the gas.

The brakes bring a tear to the eye.  No really, you lay into those things and you almost loose consciousness.  It is freakin sweet.   I can’t convey how much more braking I have to the guy sitting in the passenger seat, so it takes a longer time to gain their confidence in the car.

With some great sessions, I get the sign off to solo for the last session of the day and tick off some great laps.

The Track Walk

At the end of the first day of the Fall PCA event at Watkins Glen, they setup a track walk. It really was a drive to each turn, hop out and talk about it, more than a walk.  There was no way we were going to survive the cold weather walk, so it was a great alternative.

Watkins Glen PCA Fall 2009 3787

After seeing the option to jump in the back of a cold pickup truck, I asked if I could just take some people out in the car.  Brilliant move on my part, I must say.  Besides rifling off pictures of the car on the track, it had a heater that was blessed by the turbo gods that day, making the trip out there a little less painful.

The angles of the track are so drastic, yet you never recognize them behind the wheel at 140.  The surfaces of the track are deadly to understand.  They must have had a sale on sealer for some of the pavement areas.  Being able to see the textures of the different surfaces put some better understanding in how to approach some of the lines and offered some alternatives for the wet weather.

While Jim talked about each turn, I was glad to hear he agreed that a lot of the “suggestion” cones were mis-placed on the track.  I have found myself moving the turn in points to get later into the turns going both into the laces and out of the off camber.

The Reliability Factor

I had some lofty goals this summer to make the car faster, most of which turned into dust with some financial strains.  While the car received a clean $10 air filter and a boost gauge which I already had in the garage, it was relatively stock.  The car did not miss a beat and was an absolute blast to drive.  The cold air helped the turbo coming out of “the boot” and it had enough to overtake most everything in the white group, with the exception of the Z06 running slicks.

Watkins Glen PCA Fall 2009 3762The other two teammates however were not so lucky.  Chris had some turbo  problems into the second day, indicating that the larger turbo on the car was shot.  While we mocked that he received car number 13, it certainly was unexpected for what is a relatively new turbo setup.  He had to call off the last sessions of the second day, but got to drive the car home with no boost pressure.

Watkins Glen PCA Fall 2009 3775The Galant VR4 has this tendency to remind everybody that it is an 18 year old car.  If it had a foot, you could almost visualize it kicking Tim square in the family jewels on a regular basis. While the rest of the paddock looks organized, the VR4 needs a constant barrage of work after every run, turning the area into a trama center.

The car has a blown head gasket.  While the temperatures remained cool, the pressure would add air to the system, pushing the coolant to the overflow bottle, causing Tim into a routine of dumping the overflow back into the radiator between sessions.  He ran low boost and made relatively tame laps.  It was a good thing because the water injection wasn’t working right anyway.

Tim cracked a rotor on the second session of the first day, and spent the lunch hour replacing the front rotors and putting things back together.  So that Tim could take a minute to eat the sandwhich we grabbed for him, I went to take the car out for a spin to bed the brakes in.  I made it 10 feet, the car died and wouldn’t start.  Long story short, the MPI fuse was blowing, a result of the O2 sensor wire melting and shorting out on the manifold.

The almost final straw is the throttle body breaking on the last session before we go home.  The bar that crosses the throttle body and mounts the throttle plate corroded through and snapped.  It looks like one screw was missing for a while, and it fatigued it’s way out with a little corrosion help over time. Through a miracle of DSM availability, the Archer Racing built Talon was on site with Greg Sterman becoming the savior of the day.  After the last run of the day and the talon in the trailer, Greg let Tim take his throttle body off, so that he could drive the car home.

After surviving that beating, we got on the road a few hours late for home, being the last to leave the paddock.  A few miles down the road, I told Tim to pull over because his chains were dragging on the trailer.  They were dragging because the trailer hitch assembly had let go, breaking the welds that held it to the rusted bumper.  This would be another kick in the jewels area, especially after surviving the throttle body incident.  After emptying the entire trailer on the side of the road and shoving it back into cars, an extension cord acted as a torsion bar to keep the hitch in place for the trip home.

If it were a horse, the car would have been put down a few times over.  Even Tim, who finds his pride in squeezing out the most bang for his buck, looked tired after this weekend.  That man needs an Evo for Christmas.


The more I attend the events, the more I am impressed with how well they run the group.  Everything from coordinating food on the site to getting TSX Sports to make everybody a quality looking event shirt, it really is a bargain to get onto Watkins Glen.  While I don’t own a Porsche and probably don’t intend to in my lifetime, the group makes you feel like family.

They had a driving simulator company come out and show off a motion based simulator driving none other that Watkins Glen.  They should have picked a different track, because it felt off in some of the dimensions and I couldn’t drive it worth a crap.

Late Passing Drills

The PCA has adopted a more progressive, say it realistic, approach to track driving. The early run groups (white, green) were put through 10 minutes of “late passing” drills, in which it enforced slower cars to give late pass signals into turns and faster cars to learn to adapt to a different turn approach and exit.   In the fall, this didn’t exactly go smooth.  With some feedback from last time and some clear instruction in what was expected, this turned out to really progress things along.

Categories: Automotive Tags:

The good the bad and the nerdy (Hackerfest 2009)

October 9th, 2009 1 comment
Hackerfest 2009 Dox 8026

It's all about the pens

Every year Dox Electronics puts on a good sized trade show in the Rochester area called Hackerfest.  Although it is perhaps the worst name possible for what amounts to be a trade show of Dox security vendors, the name is what draws in the attention of area companies to attend.   The name is so bad, they even had a contest this year for people to pick a different name. Unfortunately this would ultimately destroy the marketing angle they have by using Hackerfest, as it sounds more like an open gathering of security professionals, which in reality it is not.

Hackerfest 2009 Dox 8007I have been to many of the Hackerfest events over the years, for one simple reason.  There is little going on in the area that gets me out of the office for a valid reason.  I sort of dissolved that reason this year, by being the wild card attendee without a company name on my badge.  I owe Maggie and the group at Dox for putting me in the attendance list, while I transition between companies.  It did however give me the chance to assess really who does come out to the event and what can be taken away from it.

The people who go to Hackerfest are not the people who need to be there.  The majority of people there are in the IT department by chance, have accepted their position of out inheritance or perhaps were absent that day when they drew names.  Among the crowd are a handful of actual IT professionals, not necessarily identified by title, but already know what they are doing. Whom everybody knows should be there are the layers of upper management of small businesses.  These would be the decision makers don’t have the time to hear that their laptop is a walking lawsuit, that they should just leave the door open and still find all of this security talk rather cumbersome if their password isn’t the name of their kid.  Without their understanding that security isn’t a single focus item or that the entire organization needs to be involved, even the best laid plan will fail.

The Good Talks

This year they had Chris Nickerson return to the stage by demand. He relates to that small piece of the audience that already knows what is going on and provides entertainment for the rest of the people who live with their heads in the sand. Give him a google search and watch some of the Tiger Team videos to get the idea.  Chris is easy to spot, as he looks like the guy who does not belong and has a permanent case of jet lag.  I caught him in the hallway, shook his hand with a thank you for showing up, and let the Dox officials take him away before he hit the stage.

So what is the large change in security and keeping the business safe?  I will have to agree with Chris’s keynote speech and say “nothing”.  I have always attested that security is like a large strategy game, with multiple layers in place to protect your key assets.  It is the companies who throw all their money into a technology to secure one door, yet leave another open that don’t quite get the game.

Screen shot 2009-10-08 at 9.08.48 PM

Schedule of Events

After the keynote, you must choose from 8 different presentations with 4 slots.  Sometimes you choose well and sometimes you don’t.  I met Todd Wilson from Cisco in the hall, and after knowing more about VOIP than most humans should be subjected too, I opted not to go to his seminar.  I know that was a good one to go to, without even walking in the room.  I have also known Todd since the lab days at RIT, making the conversations go beyond just a sales pitch into the technology behind the magic.  I would recommend if you ever want to talk about VoIP to insist to get Todd to sit down for the conversation.  Just remember he only wears a Cisco hat.

Hackerfest 2009 Dox 8016rs

Over Capacity Seating

The second seminar was saved by Sophos after a song and dance by Blue Coat. For some reason, Blue Coat and Sophos shared a booth, and we ended up seated in the room which turned into standing room only for the presentation.  The Blue Coat presenter was good, but danced around a myriad of higher

concepts that nobody really cared to hear.  The Sophos guys were a little more in line with the presentation, but were tight on time.  Offering some visibility of the methods to step through a website attack, with actually demonstration, it was a welcome glimpse at defining what the industry really needs to see.

The last presentation of the day, I sat in on the WhiteHat seminar, which turned out to be really good. While scripted with virtual servers running to do the background work, we were presented with a step by step sql injection attack, and the methodology behind making it happen.   I think I fell asleep after he handed it over to the sales guy, but he did a good job helping visualize how easy it really is.

The Bad Talks

Some of the vendors that they send in are not prepared to sit in front of a room of technical people and give a presentation they usually show off to corporate slugs.   My first seminar I sat in with was ZixCorp who were covering email encryption.  Before my unplanned exit from Rotork, I was working with the DOD to setup certificate based email encryption.  I am pretty sure nobody finished that after I left, but it opened a perspective into what I would need out an email encryption solution.

Unfortunately the presentation would lead you to believe that this is the only natural step other than establishing point to point network connections between corporations. Their client does not approach a complete client to client encryption model, does not integrate with native corporate servers, there is no client for groupwise.  It does however lock you into this “elite” group of 17 million clients (read users) who were bought into the proprietary solution like a bad time share scheme.  So the only reason you will be looking at this will be because the guy you are doing business with demands it.  They certainly threw out the HIPAA buzzwords enough to understand who does buy in. In fairness ZixCorp might have a better product than expected, but they sent the wrong team to deliver the message to a technically savy group.

Hackerfest 2009 Dox 8020

News Coverage at VMWare

The third seminar of the day I headed into VMWare.  I had a great experience talking to the VMWare experts years ago, and was ready to see them sit down and tear apart the new desktop virtualization approaches.  So was half of the attendance of the entire conference, as they packed the seats in tight.

Hackerfest 2009 Dox 8023

Unfortunately what I received was less than what I could have obtained on the website, delivered not by VMWare, but from a Dox employee.  The attendance was so large, that it drew in the news crew, and all I could think of was out out of his league the presenter was.  Too much time was spent on the why, what and perhaps who could use desktop virtualization that it never dug far enough into the “how” section.  It instead brushed off the top of the topic.  I spent my time taking random pictures of my neighbors taking pictures.

The Show Items

Hackerfest 2009 Dox 8032b

DOX Team handing out Prizes

People need to understand that this is a one vendor show, as competition to Dox in the area is not really invited. I like Dox as a vendor, although I am not sure I have actually bought anything yet.  Ken Michaels is a terrible presenter, but gets the concepts and roles of IT in the organizations and is genuine about his infatuation with the technology.  He walks around with a pocket full of lock picks and has more of a firm grasp on where corporations needs to be than most of the vendors I have spoken with. He also has a loyal team behind him, making it a positive experience to do business with Dox.

Dox and the subsequent vendors offered up a huge list of door prizes.  Ken broke tradition by handing out the XBox 360 first, which I really could have used.  I did walk away with a $50 price from McAfee, so I can’t complain.  All of the give aways are at the end of the event, compelling most people to stay.  I still think it would be more effective to have drawings throughout the day on the hour, saving the large drawings for the end.

My Suggestions

I would pay to sit down with Chris for a beer.  Have a limited sign up security round table, with Chris spending more than 5 minutes in town, offsetting the cost to bring him in by having a buy in to have that time with him.

Have round tables for lunches based off of discussion topics, perhaps planned ahead.  Sitting with my “appropriate Dox representative”, which didn’t actually sit with, felt pushed.

Accept submissions for seminars from non-vendors. I realize the Dox interest to keep other vendors out, so pay some of the professors from RIT to come in and talk, or involve the area user groups.  After sitting through the ZixCorp presentation, I was ready to offer a presentation on Email encryption options.

Keep the name.  I am afraid it is a curse, but also the only marketing hope you have of keeping the momentum you have.

Categories: IT Perspectives Tags:

My Employment 2.0

October 5th, 2009 No comments

I have accepted a new position as the IT Coordinator for Wayne ARC.  While I do not take the helm until October 19th, I wanted to let people know I was going back to work.  After 12 years of growing with Rotork, I wanted to make sure I found a place that I not only wanted to work but needed my help.   The number of people who have been helping me to find a job has been overwhelming, even though I have ensured everybody that I don’t mind staying at home.

Wayne ARC is one of  57 NYSARC chapters in NY state, assisting people with developmental disabilities get help with job training, medical support, education, and a list of services related to community support.  From a technical scope viewpoint, Wayne ARC employes over 500 employees spread over multiple locations around Wayne County to bring their services to businesses and individuals. While they have been operating and supporting the community for many years, they have grown significantly in recent years.

I am excited about this position for many reasons.  For one, the thought of working for an organization whose premise helping people is such a positive feeling walking into the door.  I have always stated that I only want to help people understand how they can use technology to improve their lives. Having an organization that is open and focused on helping peoples lives already, makes my job easier.

There is a strong sense of community about Wayne ARC, making this strange welcoming feeling within the halls.  People are smiling and actually like being there, making it a little different than mainstream corporate America.

In a much lighter reason, the commute is awesome.  For those of you who know my automotive life, a good drive is pretty important for me. Having a good commute sets the pace for the entire day and being able to unwind in a nice drive home makes for a perfect drive.  I get to drive 30 minutes headed east through back roads and along the erie canal where there is no traffic.

I definitely did not mind the summer off, still have more projects at home than I can consider feasible, but proud to be back to work for a place that needs my help.

Categories: History of Stephen Tags:

Adirondack Road Trip 2009

October 4th, 2009 No comments

This weekend we headed up to the Adirondack Museum and on to Lake Placid for a weekend away trip. The hardest part about the trip is turning around and trying to figure out why we don’t live up there.  While they leaves are not quite in peak color yet, they are getting pretty vibrant and will be ideal in another week.

Categories: History of Stephen Tags: