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3G and Broadband Isolation

November 26th, 2010 1 comment

Every once in a while you will catch one of those nature shows where the story was only possible because some scientist isolated themselves from society. They remove all connections with the outside world to become more in emersed in there new environment.

I would like to say that for the past year I have been running a scientific experiment similar to those nature scientists. It would help explain why my blog posts have fallen silent, my status updates span the course of days and my ability to respond to any online message takes over 24 hours.

The truth is my job has taken me past the boundaries of AT&T’s 3G network, causing me to disconnect from my online resources.  Every morning, about half a mile from where I commute to in the center of Newark NY, my iPhone drops off the 3G network, becomes an otherwise useless brick and relies on the old EDGE network to do anything.   The result is a device which I don’t bother using.

I no longer have a stream of pertinent and useful information to keep be up to speed as to what is going on and I no longer have the patience to post my own updates to the rest of the world.

For the first few months, I was in denial, trying to make things work anyway.  Eventually I gave up and realized I had entered a different world.

A mere half a mile from a faster cellular network I had found an entire culture un-aware that there was a thriving and collective consciousness connecting people together.  After accepting my fait and turning to observation, I found that the lack of reliable cellular was only the beginning.  The availability of broadband to the homes and businesses in the region was sparse, causing a leap backwards in the timeline of technology.  It was as if I was witnessing a culture who were stuck in the late 90’s believing that email was something you check once a week.

With so many people unable to connect to broadband, the affect was viral with others remaining perfectly comfortable with dial-up.  I was shocked to find that over half of the IT department didn’t have broadband in their own home explaining the lack of understanding of our own networks.

Walking Amongst the Disconnected

Being disconnected is a lot harder than I could imagine and I have had to adjust my patterns to accomodate. For one, it has meant that my own websites have fallen off the list of things I can get done throughout the day. Normally able to update information during my free moments, directly from my iPhone, becoming isolated has put halt on most of the site updates.

This summer, I have had to remove most of my Twitter following, resorting to retaining only individuals or threads which gave me directly pertinent information. I check it once or twice a day, causing a large disconnect in it’s usefulness.

I take scheduled walks to the South side of the buildings I work in, where if you stand in the right spot you can pick up the wi-fi provided by the town for the Erie Canal.

When I leave work, I drive my half a mile, pull over and connect back up to the rest of the world.

The Larger Problem

I know and work with people who can not get broadband into their home, period.  This is a very rural region, and I am not surprised that broadband is not available. As the federal government still refines its National Broadband Plan, we have witnessed the emergence of services stimulating connectivity such as Google delivering their own service through fiber.

The problem is that the target regions for these plans are not the areas which need the most help.  I hope I am reading this wrong, because according to the map on the National Broadband plan site, 100% of homes already have the availability of 4Mb service to their house in Wayne County NY.  It is almost impossible to think this is a valid statistic and I am not sure if this includes satellite based services.   The number would lead me to believe that nobody is focusing on a region which is in desperate need of some help.

Last year when Google announced that they were going to deploy broadband, there was a lot of communications from rather large towns trying to participate. As far as I recall Newark, NY was not one of them. Perhaps it was because they never hit the headlines, but I am sure that just like Newark NY, there are thousands of small towns around the country who are oblivious to the fact that the project even exists.

Until areas with lower population counts are prioritized or wireless services becomes a suitable alternative, rural america will remain behind the curve of technology.  While I have ventured away from my comfortably fast network into a much slower world, I will continue to bring my technology with me. The likelihood that AT&T will put up another tower to help me out is pretty thin.  While I wait, I will bring my own wireless network to the area and bring fiber connections from providers who are ready to change.

Categories: History of Stephen, IT Perspectives Tags:

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.

Awake

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.

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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.

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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.

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Previous Life with CAD

September 14th, 2009 No comments

Drawing History - Goulds Pumps AssemblyI didn’t start at Rotork as the “computer guy”.  I didn’t last an entire year before I assumed that role, yet some people find it hard to believe I have been anything but an IT centric person.

I found my old portfolio this week, documenting my path through, what used to be, the cutting edge of computer aided design.  It feels like some distant far off planet, where remnants of memories come back from.  While the portfolio may never open again, I figured I would share a glimpse into this parallel universe I used to live in.

It is amazing how much learned and applied knowledge we use over the course of the years.  For me, I went to school at Alfred, because the CAD program was the only relation I had with computers at the time.  It probably explains why I was good at it, and not that I had an engineering mentality.Drawing History - General Electric Fridge Door

After working at Goulds Pumps for a year, I got scare of settling and ran like the wind to Kentucky and worked for General Electric in Kentucky.  It wasn’t until I had a few exposures to sitting in front of a CAD terminal all day that I finally realized, I don’t like doing CAD all day every day.

My path through the beginnings of CAD were not in vein.  It did bring to surface my desire to learn more about the computers.  Back then, all of the CAD systems were based off of UNIX platform, which few people knew about in the actual workplace.  Being able to manipulate remote shells and take over X-windows processes on other machines became the entertainment value for the day, while rifling off a set of drawings only took a few minutes.

Certificate Tube FittingsHaving a mechanical background in CAD, I was lucky to be involved in the pneumatic and hydraulic side of things, giving me a strong foundation into engineering areas which were all around cool.  Of course I wanted to learn about pressure drops in different lines, to apply it to understanding why different brake lines are better on the race car, but I appreciate the education none the less.Certificate - Fluid Power

I had to go through the resume this summer, giving it modernized version and style to compete with the rest of the planet.  Sadly, the resume no longer reports this previous life I had, as it is no longer relevant to the world of Information Technology networking and system administration.

It does make me wonder where I would be if I had listened to my good friend Craig when he suggested going to RIT back in 1996 to enter this new curriculum called Information Technologies.  Sounds like a fad that would never last.

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